My Dad’s first ship, HMS Aurora, or the ‘Grey Phantom‘ as she was known by the Italians because of her stealth movements in the Med. Dad could talk about her stats but very seldom would he talk about his experiences on her except where he went.
She brought King George VI to Malta in 1943 following the ‘Relief of Malta’ where in my dad’s words, there was not a cat or a dog to be seen on the Island as Malta had been under seige from June 1940 to November 1942 in the fight to gain control of this strategically important island by the the air forces and navies of Italy and Germany against the Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Air Force (RAF). It was their resolve to bomb or starve Malta into submission, by attacking its ports, towns, cities, as well as ships supplying the island. Malta was one of the most intensively bombed areas during the war. The Luftwaffe (German Air Force) and the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) flew a total of 3,000 bombing raids, dropping 6,700 tons of bombs on the Grand Harbour area over a period of two years in an effort to destroy RAF defences and the ports.
Looking back on his history with the Aurora, in 1941 she helped escort the HMS Prince of Wales into Reykjavik, Iceland following the battle with the Bismarck and subsequent sinking of the HMS Hood. I am remembering all these events as I go on along so I apologise if I have them slightly wrong. The Bismarck was Hitler’s, and the Nazis flagship, and as far as Hitler was concerned, she was still undergoing sea trials when she was chased by the Royal Navy (one of the cruisers being the HMS Aurora) and attacked by the HMS Ark Royal duly being sunk following the damage. I don’t think I would have liked to have been the person who had to inform Hitler that the pride and joy of the German Navy had been sunk when she wasn’t supposed to have been involved in a sea battle! The Prince of Wales later lead the convoy in the Med to escort Allied supply ships get desperately needed supplies to Malta.
Between July and August 1941, as part of Force K with the Home Fleet, Aurora was also involved in operations to Spitzbergen and Bear Island (Operation Gauntlet). After one of these sorties, in company with the cruiser Nigeria, she intercepted a German troop convoy off Northern Norway, and the German Bremse was sunk.
Whilest off Tripoli in 1941, she was heavily damaged in a mine field and was forced to retire to Malta. After the ship was attacked by the Italians whilst being repaired in dry docks, the crew were accommodated in local caves on a hillside. They wondered who had painted the walls of the cave red. That night they found when trying to sleep. The red pant was in fact human blood from the mosquito infestation in the caves. To the day he died, my dad hated mosquitoes and flies due to the sores on his body from the bites which got badly infected.
The Aurora also took part in the invasion of Sicily and the Salerno Allied landings in September 1943 which initiated the Italian Campaign, Churchill’s belief was to attack the ‘soft underbelly of Europe’. It has always been unfortunate that these types of campaigns which also played an important part in freeing Europe were overshadowed by the D-Day Landings in June 1944, especially by the media and this continues even to today.
In 1944 dad returned to Rothesay in Scotland where he joined the HMS Nigeria who was assigned to operate with the Eastern Fleet where the fleet first withdrew to Java and, following the fall of Singapore, to Trincomelee, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
My dad always spoke about so fondly about his first ship which he joined as a young 17 year old Royal Marine lad, despite the hard trepidation he and others endured during those years.
One notable member of crew was the actor Kenneth More, who used his theatre skills in his role as ‘action broadcaster’ to describe to the crew below decks via the public address system what was happening when the ship was in action