Veteran Stories:
Peter Fane

Navy

  • A photograph of Peter Fane in 2010.

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"We had received a hit which killed the Officer of the Quarters and a loader who was holding a four inch shell which exploded and killed him. This shell hit the deck between the legs of another gun loader and he fell through the hole with both legs blown off."

Transcript

[The following was submitted by Peter Fane and recounts the events covered in his interview]

On the 3rd of October, 1952 while serving in HMCS Iroquois on her first tour of duty in the Korean conflict, we were going on patrol up the east coast of North Korea. Part of our patrol was spent going into a bay and firing our main armament at a rail line tunnel. It had been damaged previously and there were North Koreans repairing it. This line came down from Vladivostok, Russia and was a main supply line for the North Koreans. By firing on this line it caused delays in the repair job for as soon as the workmen saw our gun flashes they ran for cover into the tunnel for safety. Sometimes when we went into the bay at night, in order to conserve ammunition the ship’s main searchlight would be quickly flashed on and off and the workmen would think we had fired a salvo and would run for cover.

On this particular day we had gone to Action Stations at about 1615 (4:15pm) and my station was in the P.O.’s Mess directly beneath ‘B’ gun battery which was twin four inch guns. In this mess were two ammunition hoists coming from the magazine down in the bowels of the ship below. My job was to push the 4 inch shells up a chute where a gunner would grab it and hand it to a gun loader. At this particular time there were a total of five men in the mess, myself and one Victualling storesman (A victualler was a person who looked after the food stores in the ship), a Ldg. Sick Berth Attendant (normally called a Sick Bay Tiffy), his assistant who was the Captain’s Steward and a Ldg. Stoker who was the damage control man assigned to that area. We had a ship’s broadcast system over which we could hear the orders coming from the bridge. Suddenly we hear “alarm surface port, gunfire”. A bridge lookout had spotted gunfire blast ashore and it came just as we were in the middle of a turn so our main armament could not be brought to bear and fire on it. Instead out secondary armament consisting of a twin 3 inch 50 calibre gun and one of our Bofor’s AA gun batteries opened fire and quickly silenced the battery.

However before this was done we had received a hit which killed the Officer of the Quarters and a loader who was holding a four inch shell which exploded and killed him. This shell hit the deck between the legs of another gun loader and he fell through the hole with both legs blown off. When this shell hit there was a terrific bang above our heads and our of the corner of my eye I saw daylight. I immediately yelled for someone to close the deadlight over the scuttle. A deadlight is a very heavy round piece of metal which is clamped over a scuttle or porthole to protect it. Just then the French Canadian Victualler who was taking shells from the magazine hoist and placing them on the chute for me to send up to the guns above spoke up and said “But Chief, dat’s not the deadlight but a shell ‘ole”. Before I could react I saw the Ldg. Sick Bay Tiffy grab is bag of first aid equipment and disappear behind the support column for the four inch guns above. His assistant had been badly wounded and could not help.

Now when this shell hit and exploded it sprayed shrapnel down into where we were and thankfully a clothing locker bore the brunt of it but the PO Cook on duty in the galley had all his kit shredded to pieces and was left with only the white cook’s rig he was wearing. As soon as we had a pause in supplying the shells for the gun’s above I looked around the gun mount and I saw that the Ldg. Sick Bay Tiffy had got a tourniquet on the remains of one leg of the man who had come from the deck above and the Ldg. Stoker had got another tourniquet on the other leg. Both these tourniquets had been applied above the knee as the man had no legs below that. This man lasted for about 5 hours before he succumbed to his wounds. The Captain had visited him in Sick Bay and the man asked the Captain not to be buried at sea. HMCS Iroquois thus became the only Canadian Naval ship to suffer losses due to enemy action.

Before we secured Action Stations the gun crew above had started to wash down the deck above as it was wet and slippery with blood and this water came pouring down the shell hole in the deck above and we ended up wading around in about 3 inches of bloody water and this was made worse by the fact that most of us there were wearing our tropical sandals which meant no socks. Quite an uncomfortable feeling.

As stated before our secondary armament had silenced this enemy gun battery which was a piece of field artillery which had been put in place without our intelligence services being aware of it.

Our Captain then took the ship and started back to Japan to land our dead and seriously wounded. A message came through ordering us to meet up with a U.S. Navy tanker and transfer our dead and seriously wounded to them as they were returning to base in Japan and we were to continue our patrol which still had a few days to go.

The next day we re-entered the bay where we had been hit and were closed up at Action Stations for just over an hour and a half and I think this was the longest period of time any of us lived for we had no way of knowing if the North Koreans had brought in another field gun battery. Thankfully they hadn’t.

Our deceased shipmates were buried with full military honours in the Commonwealth Military Cemetery near Yokohama, Japan.

Our Commanding Officer was Captain Landymore, later Rear Admiral and he was a first rate Commanding Officer. One that I was proud to have served under.

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