Veteran Stories:
John Harmer

Navy

  • Photo taken from the bridge of HMS Victorious - convoy escort to Murmansk, Russia, May 1944.

    Ship's Photographer - HMS Victorious
  • Aerial View of destruction of the German ship Tirpitz, at the Alten Fjord, Norway, April 1944. Photo taken during reconnaissance mission departing from HMS Victorious.

    HMS Victorious
  • Fleet of Aircraft carners in Leyte, Philippines: HMS Formidable, HMS Stricker, HMS Infatigable, HMS Illustrious. Photo taken from the HMS Victorious, March 1944.

    HMS Victorious
  • Pilot Sub-Lieutenant J.B. Gass lifted of after being rescued at sea. His corsair aircraft was shot down during a raid on Japan, April 16, 1945.

    John Harmer
  • Photo of impact from kamikaze, taken by ship's photographer aboard HMS Victorious, April 1st, 1945.

    Ship's Photographer - HMS Victorious
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"And I’ve got a picture of the few moments before it crashed on the side of the ship. It didn’t hit the ship, it was on the side of the ship and terrific, great spray went up."

Transcript

The fleet were going to be relieved to go and help the American fleet, when we were operating as a British unit from Ceylon [now Sri Lanka]. But then when Admiral Montbatton came onboard, he showed us this horrific film of these Japanese suicide bombers crashing into the decks of the ships. We just couldn’t believe it, but I don’t know why, but it didn’t seem to strike fear into me, but it gave me an idea that hey, we were going to get a pounding like that. But there was a certain amount of satisfaction, we felt, because aircraft carriers had a sheet of four inch steel over the decks where the aircraft landed, but the American ships had wood. So that when the suicide bombers hit the ship, of course it caused a hell of a lot of damage. But we really sustained very little damage from the kamikaze trips.

We had three or four hit us. The first one just missed us, it dived and it went into the water on the side of the ship and just about sprayed us with seawater. What they used to do is they used to fly a little above the water, about 20 feet above the water, then go up into the air. They did this because they could come in under the screen and wouldn’t be picked up by radar. And then when they were a certain distance from the ship, they’d go up into the air, climb right up and then dive straight down towards the ship. Well, the first time it happened to us, our captain was up there and he was watching this aircraft coming down and suddenly, it’s hardly believable, but slow moving aircraft carrier could dodge this aircraft, but it did. And I’ve got a picture of the few moments before it crashed on the side of the ship. It didn’t hit the ship, it was on the side of the ship and terrific, great spray went up.

Well, I was inside, I was not conscious of this happening at the time because of the noise that was going on. It didn’t occur to me that there was an aircraft attacking us because we were concerned more about our work of repairing the aircraft. It was such an intense work period for the crews.

Although I might be sounding strange saying this, but yeah, I thought it was exciting, myself, I enjoyed it. If you could say such a thing! The scariest thing to me, at one time, was the fact that they had three asbestos curtains that would be lowered into the hangar that separated the hangar in three places, if a bomb did go off you see, it would cause minimum damage. So these curtains were lowered and when they were lowered, there would be an automatic stream of high pressure water from the roof coming down. If there was an inferno, it would swamp it. But first of all, of course, it would be the inferno. So that was a concern I had once. Of course, it happens only once and after the first time, you’re experienced. Especially you get so tired. Really, we were working 24 hour shifts, sometimes 36 hour shifts. If we had time to sleep on the steel deck in the hangar itself. Most of the time at sea was spent in the hangars repairing the aircraft. The one I really loved, I think, was the American Chance-Vought Corsair, which was a gold wing type of aircraft, very sturdy and very strong, and it did a marvelous job of working the war against the Japanese.

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