Saturday 19 December 2020

Lt-Commander Gordon Frederick Cracknell, RN

I realise that I am always writing about other people's Dads and not my own. So this story is about my Dad who served in the Royal Navy in WW2. 

My father, Gordon Frederick Cracknell, was born 10 December 1923 in Wickford, Essex. His father, my grandfather, Frederick James Cracknell, had served in the British Army on the Western Front during the First World War and had risen to the rank of Captain. After being demobbed he worked for a small company, I don't know the name of it, but I think they did garment manufacturing and I think he had a sales role. He married Annie Wilson on 25 December 1919. A Christmas Day wedding. My sister, Lynn, has a pen and ink drawing he made of her while serving in the trenches. They got married at St Mark's Church in Lewisham. They had two children, Gordon (b. 1923) and Basil (b. 1925).

My father attended Battersea Grammar School. He left at the age of sixteen and got a job working with the Sun Life Insurance Company. This would have been around 1939 at the time the Second World War began. He later applied to join the Fleet Air Arm in or around 1942 after he had reached the age of eighteen. He once told me that all the men that he trained with were killed in action and he may have met the same fate had he not been dropped from flying training. I recall him telling me that he was sick every time he flew and that was why he was dropped. He was very disappointed but he had at least learnt to fly. He was then moved to the seaman side of the Royal Navy and became an officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve  (RNVR) known as the 'wavy navy' because of the wavy stripes worn on their uniform sleeves. I don't know where he served in 1942/43, but I know that from 1944 to 1946 he was serving on the destroyer HMS Undaunted. The photograph below shows my father as a Sub-Lt RNVR probably taken on Undaunted in the Far East during the Pacific War.

Sub-Lt RNVR in the Pacific War (Source: Author's collection)

The photograph below has scribbled on the back 'taken at the Admiralty Islands (Manus)'. Manus was where the liberation fleet sailed from to repossess Hong Kong in August 1945, although this photo would have been taken sometime in 1944.

Taken at Admiralty Islands (Manus) (Source: Author's Collection)

HMS Undaunted in Sydney Harbour (Author's collection) 

HMS Undaunted sleek and fast  (Author's collection) 

The U-class destroyer, Undaunted,  was built at Cammell Laird and launched in 1943. After fitting out she was commissioned in March 1944. Most of the ship's company joined her in February 1944 and I assume that was when my father joined her as a 21-year-old Sub-Lieutenant. She was fast and agile with a top speed of 37 knots (43 mph). Her main armament consisted of four 4.7-inch guns in single turrets (A, B, X and Y). My father commanded X and Y (the two rear guns). The armament included two 40mm Bofors and six 20mm Oerlikon guns. In addition, she carried two sets of torpedo mounts. Her 4.7-inch guns could elevate to an angle of 55 degrees making her a useful anti-aircraft vessel. Her guns could also be used to provide bombardment to support land operations. 

A and B guns surrounded by the crew. (Author's Collection)

After completing her work-up at Scapa Flow she acted as an escort for the aircraft carriers involved in the operation to sink the Tirpitz. At about this time she also served as an escort on the Arctic convoys.  After my father retired from the Navy, at the age of 35, he was placed on the reserve of officers and kept his uniform at home. I remember this included a pair of thick yellow and black arctic gloves. My sister once used these gloves to pick up a hedgehog from the road and bring it to the safety of our back garden. In June 1944, Undaunted took part in the Normandy Landings where she covered Sword Beach presumably providing bombardment and naval gunfire support for the Army. 

It was at Normandy that she took aboard General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander, and Admiral Ramsay. The two senior officers were embarked from the cruiser HMS Apollo which had grounded and damaged her propellors. Undaunted gave them a fast passage back to Portsmouth Harbour. After D-Day, Undaunted operated in the Mediterranean. She then sailed through the Suez Canal to Aden and Bombay acting as an escort to troopships. At this time she was assigned the pennant number  'D 25' shown in the photograph below from my father's wartime album rather than her normal pennant 'R 53'. 

HMS Undaunted with wartime camouflage and bearing pennant number 'D 25' (Author's Collection) 

She joined the British Pacific Fleet acting as an escort for the larger ships and providing anti-aircraft support. My father remembered the kamikaze attacks and particularly the impact they had on the American carriers with their wooden flight decks. He recalled the bravery of the US Marines at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. It was at this stage that his fellow officers played a rather mean trick on him. His fellow officers knowing he could fly aircraft, from his time with the Fleet Air Arm, told him that the Admiralty was looking for volunteers to fly kamikaze missions against the Japanese. He thought about it, he wrestled with it, but the fact of the matter was that he could fly and volunteers had been called for. He offered his services only to find it was a practical joke.

In early September, the formal signing of the surrender of Japan took place in Tokyo Bay aboard the battleship USS Missouri. HMS Undaunted acted as Guard Ship. I recall my father telling me that he once had to take a party of sailors from Yokohama to Tokyo by train. The train was utterly crowded. He spoke to a member of the platform staff. The staff member spoke to the passengers and they quickly and willingly cleared a carriage without demur. An insignificant incident but I think he was impressed by the discipline and lack of hostility from ordinary people to the victors that were occupying their country. He even got to do some sightseeing in post-surrender Japan. There are photographs of temples, lakes and waterfalls at Nikko. 

In Nikko - my father in front with a midshipman (Source: Author) 

The war was over and the destroyer now sailed south to Sydney. She then sailed to Auckland, New Zealand where she undertook a 6-week refit having steamed 150,000 miles since commissioning some 18 months previously. In January 1946, she sailed home via Sydney, Melbourne, Cape Town, St Helena, Freetown and Gibraltar. She arrived at Devonport on 19 March 1946. My father's album has photos of some of these stops on the homeward bound. 

On the homeward bound - HMS Undaunted in the foreground (I think either in Sydney or Melbourne) - (Source: Author)

Portrait photo of my father as a Sub-Lt RNVR. (Source: Author)

After the war, my father decided to stay in the Royal Navy. He loved the service. He was promoted to Lieutenant and given a permanent commission (straight stripes on the uniform sleeve). It was a difficult time, the Navy was putting ships into the reserve and reducing the personnel. In 1947/48 he served on HMS Hind, a Black Swan class sloop. In 1949 he served on HMS Largo Bay an anti-submarine frigate.  He was the executive officer but I think these ships had skeleton crews and were in the reserve fleet.  He used this time to study and qualify in Accountancy. In 1950/51 he was back in a sea-going role on HMS Pluto, a fleet minesweeper. At a cocktail party on Pluto, he met the love of his life, in the form of Leading WRN Elizabeth ('Terry') Walker. They married at Portsmouth Cathedral in September 1951

    Bridesmaid, Basil Cracknell, Annie Cracknell, Frederick Cracknell, Gordon & Terry Cracknell, Bill & Lilian Leonard,
    Bridesmaid. (Source: Author's Collection)

Basil was my father's younger brother. Annie and Frederick were my father's parents, Lilian Leonard was one of my mother's sisters. She was given away by Bill Leonard. The happy but exhausted-looking couple took their honeymoon in Lynton, Devon. 

My mother at her wedding aged 21 (Author's Collection)

My father, aged 27, on honeymoon in Devon (Author's Collection)

In 1952 my father was attached to the Royal Australian Navy. As a newly married couple, they sailed from Southampton on the MV Dominion Monarch on 11 January 1952 (my mother's 22nd birthday). They arrived in Sydney, Australia on 11 February 1952. The ship had stopped at Las Palmas and Cape Town. They lived in Sydney and later in Frankston, Melbourne. My father served on HMAS Hawkesbury (1952) and Cerberus (1953)

'Omaroo' my parent's bungalow in Cronulla NSW. Their first real home (Author's Collection)

I always thought they had a Holden but a friend tells me the car in the pic (above and below) is a UK-built Standard Vanguard. So perhaps they shipped it out from the UK  when they moved to Sydney.

My mother with the car outside their first home at Cronulla (Author's Collection)

They moved from Cronulla to Gordon. 

Their second home at 59, Nelson Street, Gordon, NSW.  (Author's Collection)

My elder sister Lynn Elizabeth was born in Melbourne in May 1954. Two months later my parents with their baby daughter returned to the UK on the Oronsay.  On return to the UK, my father was stationed at Portsmouth Barracks as Assistant Training Officer. The family then moved to Dovercourt in Essex when my father was stationed at Harwich. I was born in Colchester, Essex in April 1956. My father was by this time a Lt-Commander. He was commanding officer of HMS Clarbeston a coastal minesweeper involved in fishery protection.

HMS Clarbeston - ship's company with my father in the centre (Author's Collection)

Mother, Father, me and my elder sister around 1959 - just before my father left the Navy (Author's Collection)

The family moved from Harwich back to Portsmouth where my younger sister, Julie Anne was born in January 1959. At this time the Navy was making cuts. Officers were being offered early retirement at a reduced pension. My father had responsibility for his wife and three children. What would best for the family? The service life was less well-paid and involved long periods of absence. It was a hard decision because he loved the Navy and he was doing well in his career. He had passed the staff course and had been given his own command. However, he decided to take the option for early retirement at the age of 35 in 1959. He was accepted for a role with Unilever in the Audit Department. The family moved from Portsmouth to Banstead and my father commuted to Unilever House near Blackfriars Bridge. In 1964, my father was posted overseas and the family moved to West Pakistan, then later to Venezuela, Trinidad, Chile and Uganda. 

In about 1983, my father retired for the second time. My parents settled in a pretty village in Kent. My mother passed away in 2015 and my father in 2017. They had a long and happy marriage and they always remained cheerful. As for HMS Undaunted, she was taken into the reserve fleet after returning from the Far East in 1946. She remained 'mothballed' until 1953. She was then converted into an anti-submarine frigate. She was recommissioned in 1954. In 1959 she was fitted with a helicopter flight deck. In 1974 she was back in the reserve fleet. In 1978 she met an ignominious end. She was used as a target ship for missiles including Exocet, Sea Cat and Sea Slug. She withstood these but was finally sunk by torpedoes fired from the submarine Swiftsure. Today she rests in her watery grave somewhere out in the Atlantic Ocean.  



HMS Undaunted (D 25) to starboard of the cruiser HMS Euryalus.  (Source: Internet) )

Undaunted converted to a frigate F 53 with a helicopter flight deck fitted aft. (Source

Undaunted used as a target - the damage done by an Exocet  missile (Source: Internet) 

Thursday 3 December 2020

Beach Defence Units - PB 31, 32, 33 and 33 (A) Taitam Bay

In the two to three years before the Pacific War began, some seventy pillboxes were constructed at intervals around the shoreline of Hong Kong Island. The combination of pillbox and Lyon Light (searchlight)  is referred to as a Beach Defence Unit (BDU). They differed from Line of Gap pillboxes and Gin Drinkers Line PBs which were not equipped with searchlights. The Lyon Light (LL) was contained in a reinforced concrete structure manned by two men. The LL structure was normally positioned 10 to 50 metres from the PB.  The LL communicated with the PB by voice pipe.  The LL had retractable bunks on the rear wall to sleep the two-man crew. There was a steel entry door and there were steel shutters around the searchlight aperture. The light was powered by a petrol engine with an exhaust outlet in the back wall. The PBs were connected to Coy HQ and other PBs by telephone line. 

In this article, we will focus on four BDUs located on the east side of Tai Tam Bay as illustrated in the wartime map below. These four PBs were manned by 'D' Coy 1/Mx. The PBs were manned from 7 December until 19 December when all troops in the eastern sector were ordered to withdraw to Stanley. 'D' Coy garrisoned the Maryknoll Mission House at Stanley. A large number of 'D' Coy were killed in action or executed after having been taken prisoner at Stanley.

PB 31

This is a 4-loophole PB situated on the beach at Tung Ah Tsuen village. This PB is situated quite near Obelisk Hill where both  'D' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada and 'D' Coy 1/Mx had their Coy HQ. On my visit in October 2020 - I started at Obelisk Hill and followed a path that led to the beach. From there we clambered over the rocks along the shore-line to look at PB 31 and PB 32. The commander of this PB (PB31) was Cpl Albert Devonshire. Her survived the battle and incarceration. PBs 31to 33 were under the overall command of 2/Lt Gurth Blackaby, 1/Mx who was killed in action on Christmas Day 1941.

PB 31

LL 31 Lyon Light structure (the concrete structure on right is a post-war add-on.)

Side view of PB 31 (showing the blocked up doorway). 

The original key for this PB was found by Tim Rankin at Stanley. The PB with all its stores would have been locked when not in use. When the PBs were evacuated on 19 December the PB would have been locked by Cpl Devonshire the PB commander.  The fob is labelled with the PB number and the grid reference for the PB.

The PB key found after all these years (Courtesy Tim Rankin)

PB 32

This PB is located at Tung Ah Pui Village. It is a 2-loophole PB. It has a concrete MG post nearby. The most unusual feature is the two towers which house the Lyon Light structure. This PB was under the command of Sgt Thomas Harvey. He was killed in action at or around Maryknoll Mission House.

LL 32

PB 32

MG post at PB 32

PB 33

This is a 2-loophole PB located at To Tei Wan village - also known as 'Hobie Cat Beac'.  The PB was commanded by Cpl. Charles Goddard, 1/Mx. He survived the battle.

PB 33 (used for boat storage) and LL 33 taken 1994 (Courtesy Rob Weir)

PB 33 (A)

This PB is unusual because it has the Lyon Light (LL) structure on the roof. It is located near the village of Hok Tsui Yuen. The PB is very weathered and stands on an exposed rocky outcrop. To reach it there is a steep descent on a path from Cape D'Aguilar Road. The commander of PB 33 (A) was Sgt Thomas Baker 1/Mx.  He was killed in action on 25 December 1941. PB 33 (A), 34, 35 & 36 were initially under the command of 2/Lt Thomas Harris, D Coy, 1/Mx.  Harris was moved to Z Coy on 17 Dec and replaced by Lt James Witham. Harris was killed in action at Causeway Bay 19 December 1941. Witham was killed on Lisbon Maru in October 1942.

PB 33(A)

PB 33 (A) showing LL on roof

Interior of PB 33 (A) showing two of three loopholes

PB 33(A) on its rocky outcrop

General Observations

It was interesting to read that the stores in each PB included mosquito nets, mosquito veils and mosquito gloves. They were supplied with hurricane lamps. They had anti-gas ointment, detector spray and a rattle (for gas alarm). Each soldier was issued with a gas mask.  They had petrol cans for the Lyon Light and paraffin for the lamps. They had 7,000 rounds of .303 ammunition. Twelve grenades and a Verey pistol. Their stores included binoculars, prismatic compass, hand torches, 50 sandbags. There was one 'canvas bed bottom' for each bed frame. The bed/bunk frames were retractable and fixed to the wall as in the photo below.

Retractable bunk frames at PB on CHK Beach

Each PB was issued with 2-days of reserve-rations, salt-water soap (Beach Defence Units only) and the 1/20,000 standard military map of HK. One brown single blanket per man. Each PB had one telephone. Other equipment included hammers, spades, axes, buckets, brooms and wire cutters. There were a lot of stores maintained in the PBs and accordingly when not in use (ie in peace-time) the steel entrance door was locked.

The garrison of each BDU was generally one NCO in charge (Sgt or Cpl) and 5 to 6 ORs plus 2 ORs in the Lyon Light structure.  There was one Vickers Gun per loophole. There were 2 to four loopholes on each PB. At night two sentries were required to be on duty, one of whom was inside the PB and one outside the PB.  White Verey lights were used to illuminate and red Verey lights were used to signal a sighting of hostile craft. The telephone will be used by the PB commander to order artillery barrage. 

Addendum:  List of Stores held in PBs  and standing instructions (Source UKNA) 

PB Stores

PB Stores (Contin) 

Standing Instructions for PBs (UKNA)


Wednesday 18 November 2020

HMS Glorious - The controversy around the tragic sinking of HMS Glorious - June 1940

At a recent lunch in Hong Kong, I found myself sitting next to a friend who had served in the Royal Navy during his national service. I  knew he had an interest in naval history.  I had just been reading about the Battle for Norway and the tragic loss of the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escort destroyers, HMS Ardent and HMS Acasta, in June 1940. It turned out that he had a personal connection with HMS Glorious. His father, a naval officer, had served on Glorious and lost his life at the time of the sinking. She was sunk by the German pocket battleships, sometimes referred to as battlecruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. I was curious to find out more about this incident, and in so doing came to learn about the controversy that has surrounded this tragic naval incident which resulted in the death of 1,531 officers and men from the three warships. 
   HMS Glorious had started life as a First World War battlecruiser. She was launched in 1916. She was one of three battlecruisers belonging to the Courageous class which included Glorious, Courageous and Furious. In 1924 Glorious began the conversion process to an aircraft carrier. The conversion was completed in 1930. The three battlecruisers were modified in compliance with the Washington Naval Treaty. The treaty, signed in 1922, was an early attempt at arms control by restricting the tonnage and gun calibre of capital ships possessed by the major powers. The treaty allowed up to 66,000 tons of existing ships to be converted into aircraft carriers. The 15-inch gun turrets were removed, a flight deck was built over the main deck with a huge 2-deck aircraft hangar constructed below the armoured flight deck. The gun turrets from HMS Glorious were later installed on the battleship HMS Vanguard

Glorious refitted as an aircraft carrier (Source: IWM)

Courageous before conversion  (Source: IWM)

                                                  An aircraft taking off from Glorious (Source: n/k)

After completing sea trials, Glorious served in the Mediterranean. When war broke out in 1939, she was dispatched to the Indian Ocean to participate in the hunt for the German surface raider Admiral Graf Spee. The Graf Spee was later scuttled off Montevideo, Uruguay. Glorious returned to the Mediterranean from where she was sent to join the Home Fleet.
Glorious at Valetta Harbour Malta (Source: Times Malta Feb. 2015)
In April 1940 she was deployed with HMS Ark Royal to support the British landings in Norway.  She ferried aircraft from Scapa Flow to the Norwegian coast. These included a squadron of RAF Gloster Gladiators, several Walrus amphibians and a squadron of Hawker Hurricanes. These aircraft took off from Glorious's flight deck and landed at airfields ashore. Hurricanes had never before taken off from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Glorious also carried her own Sea Gladiators and Skuas. These were used to support military operations ashore. 

RAF Gloster Gladiator (Source: Wikipedia)

Skuas on the flight deck of HMS Ark Royal  (Source: IWM)

HMS Glorious: Photo was taken in May 1940 from the flight deck of Ark Royal  (Source: Wikipedia)
The photograph above, taken by a member of the crew of HMS Ark Royal, is thought to be the last photograph of Glorious before she sank. The Norwegian operations proved unsuccessful, and in early June a decision was taken to evacuate the troops and aircraft. At the time of the evacuation, Glorious was carrying a reduced number of her own aircraft (nine Sea Gladiators and six Fairy Swordfish) to allow for the embarkation of the RAF Gladiators and Hurricanes. The Hurricanes were landed on the flight deck. It was the first time such aircraft, monoplane fighters, with their higher landing speeds, and without tailhooks had landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier. On Saturday 8 June 1940, Glorious set course for Scapa Flow escorted by the two destroyers HMS Ardent (Lt Cdr John F. Barker) and HMS Acasta (Lt-CdrCharles E. Glasfurd). Their smoke was spotted by the German pocket-battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau at 1546 hours. The battleships closed in at top speed. At around 1600 hours the German ships were observed by the British vessels. The destroyer HMS Ardent was sent to investigate and determine the identity of the vessels. At 1620 hours Glorious closed up for action stations with her five serviceable Fairey Swordfish readied for take-off. At 1627 hours Gneisenau opened fire on Ardent, and minutes later, at 1630 hours, Scharnhorst also engaged the British destroyer at a range of 15 km. The destroyer, although completely outmatched by the two German battleships gallantly went to the attack even scoring hits on the Scharnhorst from her 4.7-inch guns. The destroyer deployed smoke screens and repeatedly fired her torpedoes, but was sunk at 1725 hours by Scharnhorst's secondary armament. 
   The German battleships engaged Glorious with their main armament at 1632 hours at a range of 24 km. At 1638 hours the Scharnhorst secured a direct hit on the carrier's flight deck. The shell went through the flight deck and exploded in the hangar below starting fires which destroyed some of the aircraft. The carrier's aircraft were unable to take off due to the large hole punctured through the flight deck. At 1658, a shell hit the bridge structure killing and wounding most of the personnel on the bridge, including the commanding officer, Captain Guy D'Oyly-Hughes. The Executive Officer took command of the stricken ship. The smokescreen deployed by Ardent and Acasta was effective in screening the damaged aircraft carrier. However, at 1720 hours, the smoke dissipated and Glorious came under observed fire from the battleships and was hit in the engine room. The ship lost power and steerage and then developed a list to starboard. The German battleships moved in for the kill firing salvos at close range that finally sunk the aircraft carrier at 1810 hours. HMS Acasta gallantly attacked the Scharnhorst with torpedoes and her 4.7-inch guns. The Scharnhorst was seriously damaged by one of the torpedoes, but the plucky destroyer received numerous direct hits and was sunk at 1820 hours with her guns still blazing. The damaged Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau did not stay to pick up survivors. They were concerned that the British vessels had signalled for assistance and the battleships withdrew at full speed to Trondheim. While heading back, the Gneisenau was damaged by a torpedo fired by the British submarine Clyde. After the damaged battleships returned to Trondheim, the German naval commander, Admiral Marschall, was reprimanded and relieved of his command for disobeying orders and endangering his ships.
   William Smith, a seaman on Glorious, made his way from his action station, the dynamo room below decks,  to the stern after the order to abandon ship had been given. He could see the German battleships and the flash from their guns. He recalled the number of dead and wounded lying on the decks. One marine had lost both his legs,  but when offered help, wanted no assistance to get away, simply saying he did not want to go home like that. 
   For the British, it was one of the worst naval disasters of the Second World War. Approximately 900 men from HMS Glorious took to the water, hanging on to Carley Floats in the freezing temperatures of the North Norwegian Sea. A rescue was not ordered, because seemingly the Royal Navy did not know about the loss of the three ships until it was reported on German commercial radio. More than 1,500 men lost their lives in this appalling tragedy. Only around forty men out of the 900 that had abandoned ship were rescued after spending three days and three nights in, or on, the water. Survivors recalled men quickly dying from exposure and just slipping off the rafts to their deaths. 
   The Carley Float is an odd contraption. The men sit on the flotation ring with their feet in the water or stand in the well with water level up their waist. Others, still in the sea held on to ropes dangling from the sides of the raft. William Smith swam out to a raft, but it was full of men. He could not get on until room was made for him by people dying from the cold. Fred Thornton, a Boy Seaman on Glorious, had manned one of the forward 4.7-inch AA guns. He recalled getting on a raft which had twenty to twenty-five men on it. By the time he was rescued by a Norwegian trawler, there were only two men left. Many of the dead had been left in the well because the survivors were too exhausted to heave them over the side. 

Carley Float schematic (Source:
There was no food or water on the rafts. William Smith recalled that some people drank seawater but those who did soon died. After twelve hours he recalled there were only three men left alive on his raft. Vernon Day, an Aircraft Mechanic, recalled the shell coming through the flight deck and setting fire to the Hurricanes in the hangar. He had got on a Carley Float but was one of those standing in the well until one by one the survivors died, and he was able to get on the rim. Squadron Leader Kenneth Cross, who commanded the RAF s Hurricanes, recalled only a handful of men survived on his raft. On Tuesday 11 June, after three days and three nights on a flimsy raft in Arctic waters, they were picked up by the crew of a Norwegian trawler. There were less than forty survivors picked up from the rafts. Given that the survivors had no food or water, had little clothing, and were wet through,  it is a testimony to human endurance that any survived at all. The trawler took them to the Faroe Islands, and from there, an RN destroyer took them to Rosyth, Scotland. 
   The German crew on the battleships had been amazed to find an aircraft carrier, not at full steam, not in convoy, without spotter aircraft in the air, and with only two escort destroyers. They were impressed by the courage and audacity of the two destroyers.  The commander of Glorious was forty-nine-year-old Captain Guy D'Oyly-Hughes.  He was a veteran of the First World War. He had been a submariner and had won the DSO, DSC and MiD for gallantry. In one incident he had swum ashore at the Dardanelles with explosives which he used for blowing up an important rail link between Constantinople and Baghdad. 

Captain Hugh D'Oyly-Hughes
Undoubtedly brave, and somewhat enigmatic, he has been described by some as being an authoritarian officer without strong leadership, or man-management skills. It has been said he was an old-fashioned Edwardian type of naval officer. A strict disciplinarian who did not always temper authority with understanding. However, other reports suggested that he was popular with the men on the lower deck, if not with always with his own officers. Although he had learnt to fly, and perhaps because of that, he did not always trust the advice of his senior aviators. Some said he did not see the importance of maintaining regular air patrols and reconnaissance. At one stage he had ordered his Commander (Air), John B. Heath, to attack certain ill-defined ground targets in Norway. Heath objected because of the unsuitability of using Fairy Swordfish for this type of ground attack. D'Oyly-Hughes was not an officer to have his orders questioned or challenged. Of course, Commander Heath should have obeyed the Captain's orders to provide air support for the ground forces. It was an order which had emanated from the Commander-in-Chief. Perhaps it was a clash of character, but the row with his senior aviator had been going on for much longer than this one incident. It also involved Lt-Cdr (Air) Paul Slessor, Heath's second-in-command. Slessor had supported his immediate senior and in so doing had also incurred the wrath of the Captain. PO Dick Leggott described how when he joined Glorious he was taken up to see the Captain who had indicated that he (Leggott) would be of more use to him (the Captain) than these two (referring to nearby Commander Heath and Lt-Cdr Slessor). On return to Scapa Flow from that deployment, the Captain had Commander Heath put ashore and placed under arrest for his refusal to obey orders. As a result, Heath was not aboard when Glorious set out on her final fateful voyage. The Captain intended to institute court-martial proceedings against Heath and presumably Slessor when the carrier returned to base at Scapa Flow. Slessor remained with the ship to take charge of air operations and was one of those who lost their lives following the sinking.

This sinking of these ships and the huge loss of life raised several questions and controversies which have never been satisfactorily answered or resolved. 

Why were the three warships sailing on their own rather than in the main convoy to Scapa Flow?
Captain D'Oyly-Hughes asked permission from Vice Admiral (Aircraft Carriers) Lionel Wells, who was embarked onboard HMS Ark Royal, for Glorious with two destroyers as escort to proceeded independently. The reason given was a shortage of fuel necessitating a lower speed. I assume that Wells accepted this explanation, which sounded plausible, and there had been no intelligence provided about the proximity of German capital ships. 
   However, post-war analysis of fuel usage by Glorious on the voyage from Scapa Flow to Northern Norway suggests that there would have been ample fuel. So either the Captain believed that fuel was in short supply, and it may have been, which was consistent with their reduced boiler usage, or he had another reason to return without waiting for the convoy. Some have suggested it was because the Captain wanted to get back to Scapa Flow to initiate the court-martial proceedings against Commander Heath who had defied him. 
   After the death of D'Oyly-Hughes on Glorious, Commander Heath was released and never charged.  He could not be charged without the Captain or other relevant officers to give evidence. The official story remains the shortage of fuel. However, had the ship returned in convoy it would have been at a lower speed than going solo and would have saved more fuel. Going solo at reduced speed, notwithstanding the two escort destroyers, exposed the aircraft carrier to submarine attack. Her sister ship, HMS Courageous, had been sunk by a submarine in September 1939.

Why was no report or signal made requesting assistance by Glorious or the destroyers? 
HMS Devonshire was the nearest vessel, and the signals personnel on Devonshire reported they had received signals from Glorious indicating sighting of German pocket battleships and their positioning. The Gneisenau had also intercepted the signals from Glorious and had attempted to jam them. There are reports that the messages in Morse code lacked signal strength and were relayed on different frequencies. Vice Admiral John Cunningham on HMS Devonshire claimed that the messages were garbled. The Devonshire was carrying the Norwegian King, Cabinet Ministers and Norwegian gold to England. Was this the reason that Devonshire did not alter course and left the Glorious to her fate? Some reports indicate that a radio silence had been ordered, but others indicate that orders had been given to report any enemy sightings. Common sense would suggest that one would break radio silence to report enemy sightings, especially a sighting of capital ships. Were the messages really garbled? Not according to several members of the crew who were interviewed for the documentary film Secret History. Did Cunningham have orders not to stop in any event? If that was the case, why did he not instruct other naval units to assist Glorious? Why were the Admiralty files marked as closed for one hundred years until 2040? They were recently opened but do not offer much more clarity. If Cunningham had not received the message from Glorious, why did Devonshire increase speed and exercise the main armament? Or was that just a coincidence? It is not clear why the two destroyers did not send out enemy sighted signals, which would be normal procedure rather than assuming somebody else would do so.

Why was HMS Glorious not flying a Combat Air Patrol (CAP)
No aircraft were flying. They were not using the vital 'eyes' that a CAP provides. The CAP, assuming clear weather which was the case, could have spotted the enemy vessels at long range and prevented the loss of these three ships. At least one survivor reported that Captain D'Oyly-Hughes had stated there would be no flying on the way back to Scapa Flow. Some reports say there was not even a lookout in the crows-nest. 

Was the Royal Navy aware of the presence of German battleships in the sea area
In Secret History Professor Harry Hinsley, who was an Intelligence Analyst at Bletchley Park, confirmed that his team were aware that the German pocket battleships had left Kiel and sailed northwards. They were tracking the vessels. However, at this stage in the war, the information they supplied was not fully trusted, and while it reached the Admiralty,  it never got passed all the way up the line.

Summing Up 
It was ill-fortune running into two battleships, but there were a series of mistakes, which had they been avoided may have saved the carrier and her two escorts. If Cunningham had received the signal ungarbled could they have prevented the sinking - probably not, but they would have saved many hundreds of lives of those that had taken to the freezing water. If the report from Bletchley of enemy battleships had been relayed, perhaps Glorious would not have been allowed to detach from the convoy, or at least might have had spotting planes in the air. Mistakes happen in war. We will never know all the answers, and the controversy will no doubt continue. The most important thing is that those who gave their lives, and just as importantly, those who survived against all the odds are still remembered for their service and their gallantry, and they are.
The Glorious - Ardent - Acasta (GLARAC) Association helps keep the memory alive and in June 2019 they arranged for a  plaque, shown below,  to be installed at Plymouth Ho in commemoration of all those who gave their lives in the tragic sinking of HM Ships Glorious,  Ardent and Acasta.


Wednesday 11 November 2020

Patrick Fallon - HKVDC

Patrick Fallon, together with two of his three brothers, served in the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC) during the Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941. After the Christmas Day capitulation, Patrick and his brothers were incarcerated in POW camps in Hong Kong and Japan.  His father was interned at Stanley Camp with Patrick's sister and one of his brothers. Patrick's Chinese mother was not initially interned and remained at the family home in Kowloon but later she became an inmate at Rosary Hill Red Cross Home established in 1943 for the dependents of British soldiers and internees. The whole family were incarcerated in Japanese prison camps for three-and-a-half years.

     Patrick Fallon as a POW in Japan (Source: Tony Fallon)                         

The story starts with Patrick's father, Christopher Patrick Fallon. He was born in Wicklow, Ireland in March 1888. After initially serving with the Royal Irish Constabulary, he joined the Hong Kong Police Force in November 1912. His Police Number was '140'.  This number would have been worn on his uniform collar. He served in the HK Police for twenty-one years. He was awarded the Merit Medal in 1919. In 1928, he received a commendation from the Governor, Sir Cecil Clementi. By the time he retired in 1933, he had been commended on six occasions and reached the rank of Chief Inspector. After retiring he became a Probation Officer and ran a remand home in Causeway Bay. He married a Chinese lady, Sai Mui Leung. They had four sons, Patrick, John, William and Peter and a daughter Mary. Another daughter, Alice, died during childbirth.

During the Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941, Patrick served in the Field Ambulance, John and Peter served with Field Coy Engineers. Patrick, at nineteen,  was the oldest. His youngest brother, Peter, was only sixteen-years-old and was the second youngest soldier to serve in the HKVDC during the battle.
I had another brother [William] who wanted to volunteer, but they would not let him because there were already three of us joining. I should have recommended this to be a film 'Saving Private Fallon'. During the battle,  I was in action only once, exchanging fire across a long valley in darkness when I fired a maximum of five shots. However, I did come near to death when I was visiting my parents during the fighting while walking along the street. I heard a loud clanging noise and this piece of smouldering shrapnel from an artillery shell landed right in front of me. (Source: Speech by Patrick Fallon at the British Embassy in Tokyo April 2005)
The Royal Engineers together with Field Coy Engineers (HKVDC) were responsible for demolitions at the frontier and on routes leading from the frontier towards the stop line known as the Gin Drinkers Line. The demolitions were carried out on road bridges, cuttings and tunnels. Patrick's brothers were involved in these demolitions before being withdrawn to Hong Kong Island. After the capitulation, the three bothers were incarcerated at Sham Shui Po (SSP) Camp. At SSP Camp, they were on starvation rations, treatment was brutal, and diseases like diphtheria and dysentery were rampant.  

Their father, Christopher, was interned at Stanley Camp together with his seventeen-year-old son, William and his fourteen-year-old daughter Mary. They were billeted in Block 11 which was the former science block of St Stephen's College. Christopher's Chinese wife, Leung Sai Mui, was not interned.   She stayed at the family home at 10, Peking Road in Kowloon. It would have been difficult and dangerous eking out a living in Japanese occupied Hong Kong. Food was in short supply throughout the occupation. She became an inmate at Rosary Hill Red Cross Home in 1943 where at least a meal was provided.  Christopher and his wife remained in Hong Kong after the war. He passed away in 1961 aged seventy-three and was buried at Happy Valley. His wife, Sai Mui Leung, passed away in London aged eighty-seven in 1978.

In September 1942, Patrick, John and Peter were loaded on to the ill-fated Japanese freighter Lisbon Maru as part of the second draft to be shipped to Japan to work as slave labourers in dockyards, mines and factories. They were lucky because they were amongst one hundred POWs who were taken off the ship because it was overloaded. While on passage to Japan, the ship was sunk by an American submarine, not realising that it was carrying British POWs and over 800 POWs lost their lives. In January 1943, just after receiving news from their mother (see the postcard in the photo gallery below), the brothers were shipped to Japan as part of the third draft on the former liner Tatsuta Maru. They worked at the Hitachi Dockyard at Innoshima some thirty miles from Hiroshima. All three brothers made it back home having survived the incarceration in Hong Kong and Japan.

In 2005 at the age of eighty-three Patrick Fallon returned to Japan on a reconciliation trip organised by Keiko Holmes. Keiko Holmes was born in Japan in 1948. She married Paul Holmes in 1969 and later returned to London with her British husband and two children. Paul was killed in a plane crash in 1984. Keiko had become a devoted Christian after her marriage. She remembered the memorial in her home-town of sixteen British POWs who had worked as slave labourers in a nearby copper mine. The memorial which bore the name of each POW was lovingly and respectfully cared for by local civilians even long after the war. This memory, and in grief for her husband, prompted her to set up a charity that would arrange reconciliation trips for former POWs to Japan and other parts of Asia. Many POWs found it difficult to forgive the Japanese for their brutality and still harboured much resentment for the atrocities, killings, beatings and the appalling treatment that they were subjected to in prison camps in Japan and in Japanese occupied territories in Asia. On these trips, the ex-POWs would sometimes meet their former guards and foremen in the factories, docks and mines where they had once been forced to work.


Patrick Fallon summed up his thoughts at the time. 

For me I have forgiven but I shall never forget. For others who have been Japanese Prisoners of War it is not so simple and I ask you to respect that as well. (From Patrick's   speech at the British Embassy in Tokyo in April 2005)


Patrick Fallon was an old boy of La Salle and St Joseph's College. He and his brother John were amongst the first to enrol at La Salle in September 1932.  They moved to St Joseph's College after their father moved to HK Island. Patrick graduated in 1939 and became an apprentice engineer with Whampoa Docks. He passed away in London aged 91 in 2014. 

Patrick Fallon with war medals



Tim Gibbs: For putting me in touch with Tony Fallon.

Tony Fallon:  For providing me with information about his family, in particular relating to his father, Patrick Fallon and his grandfather, Christopher Fallon,  and their experience during the Battle for Hong Kong and their subsequent incarceration. 


Patrick Fallon in POW Camp in Japan

Postcard addressed to Patrick at SSP Camp

Postcard from mother sent to SSP Camp

Letter from IRC to Patrick with a message from his father at Stanley