Veteran Stories:
Donald Ross “Potts""” Green

Navy

  • Mr. Green's crew mates before leaving for the Far East. Mr. Green is the 7th top from the right.

    Donald Ross Green
  • Mr. Green's Certificate of Service in the Royal Navy.

    Donald Ross Green
  • Newspaper clipping with the official report about the Fardale's Submarine Capture from December 1941.

    Donald Ross Green
  • A gun in action on escort destroyer HMS Farndale

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"The crew abandoned the submarine. It sank very quickly. And there were bodies all over in the sea. We put the body nets out, picked up 54 survivors."

Transcript

We arrived in Malta intact. They dumped all four of us in Malta to man the shore station there. I stayed there for about five months I think, something like that. It was very safe, even though there were all the air raids and the [HMS] Illustrious was destroyed; they blewthe dockyard up and everything else. Our radio station was underground in a fort dating back to the Crusaders.

I didn’t join the navy to go on a shore station in Malta. I wanted to go to sea. So every time a ship came in, I would go down, “anyone want a change?”. And of course, the Mediterranean was very, very hot then, hot meaning active. Eventually, I arranged a swap with a guy on a destroyer called the [HMS] Diamond. I went back ashore, got permission to exchange with a telegraphist on the Diamond. I went back with my kit bag, saluted as you go aboard and within a short while, the signal officer asked me one question – are you familiar with fleet radio operations. Well, I wasn’t so I told the truth and I said, no Sir. He said, well you can take your bag and you can go back and I’ll arrange for the other guy to come back.

Three months later, Diamond was evacuating troops from Greece. The Diamond and another destroyer was escorting a troop ship. First the troop ship was sunk, then the Diamond was sunk and then the other destroyer was sunk. Of the 1,000 people involved, according to what I’ve looked up, there were 18 survivors, including eight soldiers, one officer and the remainder were ratings [navy tradesmen]. So I was sort of lucky. You have to realize that in the Mediterranean, land held by the axis is very close. The waters are shallow, they had airfields all over the place. So you had a shadow in aircraft and, and then dawn and dusk was a favourite time to try and bomb you or torpedo you.

We were now based in Alexandria [Egypt]. Tubruq [Libya] was surrounded by the axis forces. The only way to get supplies in was by sea. Tubruq was shelled 24 hours a day, because it was limited to the perimeter. They made numerous attempts to break into Tubruq, the Germans and the Italians. But didn’t manage to do so.

We went up the North African coast. We’d take about two and a half days to get to Tubruq, which was only 500 miles, but you’d got to sea. You were shadowed all day long. They attacked morning and night. Aircraft, submarines. The axis, they wanted to take Tubruq and they figured if they cut off supplies, ammunition, food, and everything else. So they made a big effort.

We were the target of a number of raids. One time, we picked up a merchant ship, which had been pressed into service and was fit to go to sea from Tubruq. We had only just left Tubruq and it was sunk. We picked up about 350 survivors.

Shortly afterwards, we were on a convoy to Tubruq, the pom-pom [gun] crew reported torpedoes passing underneath. The captain had a look around and decided that they made a mistake. A little while afterwards, they sighted a submarine. We attacked, depth charged, and then the submarine came to the surface. We chased it. In official report, it appeared that we were doing pretty good but in fact, the submarine at that time was faster than we were. It was an Italian submarine, had a crew of probably 60. Had a general and his staff onboard, which had been evacuated from Bardia. We fired about 200 shells, four inch shells at it, before we disabled it. The crew abandoned the submarine. It sank very quickly. And there were bodies all over in the sea. We put the body nets out, picked up 54 survivors and they were all ship’s crew except one person. So when he came aboard, scrambled up the nets, he said, I’m an officer, Luftwaffe [German air force]. So someone gave him a kick in the ass, said get forward. (laughs)

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