Memories of Leading Seaman C Walker, P/SSX 17369
A SAILOR'S STORY - THE BATTLE OF CRETE
|Born Derby, England, 5th June 1918
- HMS Hereward 1936 Destroyer
- HMS Exmouth 1938 "
- HMS Blanche 1938 "
- HMS Atherstone 1940 "
- HMS Fiji 1941 Light Cruiser
- Cape Sable 1941 Q ship
On the 22nd May 1941 HMS Fiji was sunk by enemy aircraft 50 miles south
west of Gavdo Island. The Fiji, along with HMS Gloucester, HMS Kandahar and
HMS Kingston, had been sent to assist HMS Greyhound which was under air
attack. By the time this group arrived, however, the Greyhound had sunk.
Whilst rescuing survivors the Gloucester was bombed and brought to a halt,
her upper deck a shambles and fiercely ablaze. The Captain of the Fiji
reluctantly withdrew, leaving behind boats and rafts.
For the next three and a half hours, as the Fiji withdrew to the west, she
was relentlessly attacked from the air until finally having exhausted all
her live ammunition and surviving twenty bombing attacks, was hit close to
the portside amidships. The ship took up a heavy list but was able to steam
at 17 knots until half an hour later she was hit again by three bombs above
the 'A' boiler room. The list increased and at 2015 hours she rolled right
My father, Leading Seaman C Walker, was an ASDIC operator on the Fiji. The
ASDIC cabin was located well below decks. In the very early stages of the
bombing attacks, explosions from near misses rendered their instrumentation
useless. The operators (usually 2 or 3) received permission to abandon the
cabin and move to their No. 2 battle stations which in my father's case was
a first aid party, located aft of the bridge. After leaving the ASDIC cabin
they had to close and lock a number of water tight doors behind them. They
had closed and locked one door when they were alerted to an urgent banging
on the other side. They opened the door again to find one very frightened
stoker who had been sent down to assess and report on any damage. The ASDIC
crew had not been aware of this. The stoker used a heavy Davis lamp to bang
on the door to attract attention.
At his second battle station he witnessed the sight of HMS Gloucester badly
damaged and on fire. After leaving the Gloucester, the Fiji headed west.
She eventually ran out of live ammunition and resorted to firing flares,
star shells etc in token resistance. As soon as the attacking pilots
realised this they flew low targeting the anti-aircraft crew with cannon
and machine gune fire. The first aid party then had to dash out from behind
cover hoping to avoid schrapnel and bullets, place any wounded gunner on a
stretcher and take him to the sick bay. My father remained at this task
until the ship lost way and there was nothing else he could do.
When the order came to abandon ship (shouted from the bridge) he made his
way aft with the Fiji on an ever increasing list. He recalls encouraging a
'Roy' (Royal Marine) to leave the vessel. When the last of the bombs hit
the ship above the 'A' boiler room, he was holding on tightly to part of
the deck machinery (a winch). The shock waves from their explosions blew
him into the sea singeing his eyebrows and with such force, ripping parts
of his uniform off him. The sea was relatively calm, fortunately there was
little ship's fuel in the water and it was twilight. He swam to a floating
net (buoyed by cork) and hung on. Because the ship had earlier jettisoned
its life rafts and boats for the Gloucester, the crew of the Fiji had
resorted to throwing objects over the side. Anything that would float like
wooden gangways, scaling nets, lifebuoys etc. Those in the sea now clung to
whatever they could. Meanwhile the threat from air attack had not stopped.
Aircraft continued to strafe the stricken vessel and survivors in the
water. Eventually the ship rolled right over and remained in that position
for some time. With barely enough daylight left and with aircraft gone (to
refuel and re-arm at their bases) HMS Kandahar and HMS Kingston returned to
pick up survivors. My father was rescued by HMS Kandahar. The ship did not
stop in the water but made its way slowly alongside groups of survivors.
The crew threw ropes over the side and hauled men aboard. Each survivor was
given a mug of naval rum and sent below. My father says he has no
recollection of the return to Alexandria. He slept from total exhaustion
but did learn later that the Kandahar had been attacked on several
occasions on its return to Alexandria. He, along with others, was
repatriated to England, in convoy, on the Empress of Australia.
My father agreed to share his story in remembrance of all ship's personnel
lost on that day. He would be pleased to hear from any surviving crew of
the Fiji or their descendants via this email contact.
| Lest We Forget
HMS Gloucester sunk Thursday 22nd May 1941 with the loss of 736 crew
HMS Fiji sunk Thursday 22nd May 1941 with the loss of 241 crew
|They shall grow not old
As we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them
Lest we forget.
God bless the Royal Navy.
Brian Walker, Adelaide, South Australia
(My father asked that all who read his story take into account that he is
nearly 82 years of age and the events he has recalled are as accurate as
his memory allows)