Veteran Stories:
Murray William Knowles

Navy

  • Murray Knowles checks his heading while onboard the HMCS Louisburg during the invasion of Normandy.

    Murray Knowles
  • A shipmate displays his catch after taking a moment to get some fishing in while underway.

    Murray Knowles
  • Murray Knowles pose for a photo while onboard the HMCS Louisburg.

    Murray Knowles
  • Murray Knowles (bottom left), poses with his crew after surving a torpedo attack.

    Murray Knowles
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"And I had to make that decision when the lifeboat was halfway down because if I didn’t make that decision to jump at the time, I wouldn’t have made the lifeboat."

Transcript

Well, as you probably know, the commanding officer is responsible for whatever happens onboard a ship at any time. He should be kept pretty well advised, generally, by the second-in-command who would be a first lieutenant or by other officers as well. If the commanding officer had the confidence of his officers and the men, there would be no trouble. In other words, he would have to win their respect; and a lot of commanding officers didn’t have that leadership quality.

Apparently, I guess I must have had it because when I had my first command, naturally you’re scared to death, but I guess it has to be in your being, so I went right along and did my duty when it comes to instructing and guiding, and teaching, and working with my subordinates.

Well, when we were torpedoed off Iceland, I was just a young acting sub-lieutenant for training, as I said before. While we were waiting for the ship to go down, the captain having ordered abandoned ship, there were 200 sailors aboard the ship or 240, we were all standing by our lifeboats, as pre-allocated, of course; and as my team, my lifeboat survivors came along, I had to, as a junior officer, tell them just when and what to do. And I had to be the last young fellow off the big ship to jump in the lifeboats. And I had to make that decision when the lifeboat was halfway down because if I didn’t make that decision to jump at the time, I wouldn’t have made the lifeboat. I’d have missed it.

So that was a decision I made and when I did that, all the sailors in the lifeboat, I was the only officer, there were 40 other sailors, they all gave a great big hurrah sort of thing. So that was one instance in my life that I made that decision. If I missed it by a minute, I’d have been in the water or missed the lifeboat and then been picked up. So I often reflect on that.

Sadly, on the starboard side, because the ship was listing to port, the starboard side came down the [life]boats, and they’d hit. The falls would be coming down perpendicular on my side, the port side, was perpendicular in my favour when I jumped. So I went straight down. On the starboard side, they would hit and then one boat knocked all the sailors out of the boat, down into the water and we lost, I’ve forgotten how many at the time, they were drowned. Altogether, it was 43 lost on that ship that morning when a second torpedo was shot. The first one was 5:00 in the morning; the second one was like almost an hour between torpedoes.

So the ships just drifted apart after 12 hours or a bit longer, more or less. Luckily, the wireless operator got a message after some difficulty to admiralty and admiralty had a message off to Iceland. The navy came out with two destroyers [large well-armed escort vehicle] and picked us up. And we headed back for Reykjavík, Iceland at full speed.

In the corvettes [lightly armoured patrol and convoy escort vehicles] when we did the invasion of Normandy and ran back and forth, we escorted what they called the, during the invasion of Normandy, I can’t think of the name. We escorted huge 6,000 ton concrete caissons and they were used to make the sea wall for the oncoming landing craft, for the soldiers to get ashore. And we did that. One night, we got attacked by five German E-boats [Schnellboot: small, fast torpedo boat] out of, north of, on the Normandy shore there where they had, 1942, was it, the one they attacked then. Anyway… Dieppe.

And they came out of there and we picked them up on our radar; and we were only four knots escorting these great big ocean going tugs, towing this great big 6,000 ton concrete caissons. So we weren’t very maneuverable. And we didn’t like to leave our convoy. We had four corvettes I guess it was, each one escorting one of these big concrete pontoons. And that was a very difficult night. Luckily, we were unscathed, fired 144 rounds. As fast as they flying at the E-boats, they were moving very quickly. Our shells were laying around the deck, the boys would kick the shells over into the sea, over the deck to get them out of the ropes. So that was a lucky night for us.

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