Veteran Stories:
Thomas Treherne

Navy

  • Thomas Treherne in 1964 while Commander of the Naval Depot in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

    Thomas Treherne
  • Thomas Treherne as Paymaster Sub-Lieutenant in 1945.

    Thomas Treherne
  • Thomas Treherne (left) during his time as the Captain's Secretary on the HMCS Ontario in 1945.

    Thomas Treherne
  • Thomas Treherne while on leave in 1944.

    Thomas Treherne
  • Thomas Treherne as a Paymaster Midshipman in 1942.

    Thomas Treherne
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"It was something to see Scharnhorst just before she sank, lit up by star shell, black smoke billowing from her superstructure, midships played on by search lights."

Transcript

I have an extract from the letter I wrote to my mother following a bit of action we had.

“Christmas Day for us was far from pleasant. The sea was tossing old [HMS] Jamaica around just like so much butter. We were heading roughly toward the north of Norway. That night I had turned in early, but didn’t get much sleep because my hammock kept bumping against the rod gearing shaft continually, as it does when we roll around 25 degrees each way. Anyway, the next day I had the morning cipher watch that was from 8:00 in the morning and had the various messages coming in continually, including one from the [British] Admiralty, which read “The Admiralty appreciates the Scharnhorst [German battleship] is now at sea”, which of course, went right up to the bridge. We had an early action tea then closed up the action stations proper because we were on an intercepting course. We were due to meet the Scharnhorst, which was around 5:00, 17:00. Everything worked out as planned. We opened the fire at about ten minutes to 5:00 as we contacted the enemy. Jamaica was straddled twice and I think there was only one near real miss, which brought a shower of water all around us and, which, incidentally, drenched my legs. Time to go below.

The sea itself was gradually got down all day until during the action itself, by now the sea felt calm. At this stage there was a lull as the enemy gradually increased the range. It is now understood that the [HMS] Duke [of York] had hit Scharnhorst below the water line and this gradually slowed her down so that the destroyers could go in and make their attack. They got three torpedoes home. When we heard the destroyer attack the sub-lieutenant and I went back in to see what was going on. We were on the southwest closing fast. We saw the destroyers lifting off their close-range weapons and the Scharnhorst replying with their own short range as well as their secondary armament. At this stage, it was a terrific sight to see the streams of tracer [bullets with bright charges] in the air encroaching on their target and the occasional star shell. I think her 11-inch guns were still paying attention to the Duke. As the Duke and Jamaica closed in, broad sighs roared out and it was very unpleasant on the bridge deck. When our own guns went off we went below. However, we did take one long squint and saw our salvoes, those of the Duke and those of the other cruisers, crashing in and scoring untold number of hits. The whole target was lit up like daylight by star shell and the damage at that range of five or six miles must have been terrific. Scharnhorst was still replying with everything she had, including her 11-inch. But she was getting knocked out of the fight very fast. However, her star shell was cracking all around us. At this stage CC [Command Ship] made to Jamaica, “Go in to finish her off with torpedoes.” When this was broadcast a cheer went up from the various quarters. We at once checked fire and turned 90 degrees to port and headed straight for Scharnhorst. The Duke continued firing at first to attract Scharnhorst fire. We went in about two miles and then turned to starboard and did our first torpedo run in firing position at a fine inclination, and they missed! At about this time, [HMS] Belfast was making its torpedo run on the other side of her. We turned to get our tubes [boilers] to bear, but the target was obscured by smoke so we had to turn to bring our port tubes to bear again. As we were doing this the Scharnhorst became aware of our presence and began putting tracer over our masts, but not low enough to actually hit us, if he were it’d have laced the port, but [it] missed the other way. At this time after we had fired our torpedoes, we were still firing our 6-inch guns. At some point I had gone up again to see what was going on. We got two torpedo hits this time at about a mile range. The 6-inch must have caused terrible damage as at the end of the run she was just an inert mass. Our destroyers had gone in with torpedoes so the whole thing was covered with ships helter-skelter.

During the above, I had been going over to the engaged side of having a grand view. I must say, that through the whole affair, I must have been scared, but like everyone else, I didn’t notice it. As for myself, it wasn’t much fun just being a passenger. I had nothing to do but watch and nothing doing on the other side. There were plenty of us in the same boat. It was something to see Scharnhorst just before she sank, lit up by star shell, black smoke billowing from her superstructure, midships played on by search lights. There were so many ships around at the end that it’s hard to tell exactly who finally sank it. I can say that we had our last defensive action aimed at us. Our destroyers picked up almost 40 survivors, a small percentage of her crew of 2000-3000.”

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