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HMS Vernon Torpedo School in the Second World War 1939-1945 - The Wartime Memories Project -

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HMS Vernon Torpedo School

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Those known to have sailed in

HMS Vernon Torpedo School

during the Second World War 1939-1945.

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Able.Sea. Norman "Prof." Scarth HMS Matchless

I joined HMS Collingwood as an HO volunteer Ordinary Seaman early June 1943. I had only been there two weeks when a lone German bomber, unheralded by sirens, dropped bombs on either side of the hut opposite ours (No. 26 I think). 36 were killed, with more injured. The grave of one of those killed is in Killingneck Cemetary Leeds. I must visit it again.

After Collingwood it was HMS Vernon Torpedo School to become a Seaman torpedoman, then to Scapa Flow to join the destroyer HMS Matchless (Russian Convoys & Scharnhorst battle). Then to HMS Vernon again to become Leading Torpedo Operator prior to joining Dido class cruiser HMS Cleopatra & joining East Indies Fleet. Cleopatra, carrying CinC Admiral Arthur John Power, was first ship into Singapore (behind the minesweepers) after the war ended. When Cleo came home, I was not due for demob, so stayed with the East Inies Fleet to join Fleet Minesweeper HMS Niger.

The BBC Radio World Service recently interviewed me for its 'Witness' programme about Boxing Day 1943 (the sinking of the Scharnhorst). It was broadcast several times from Boxing Day 2011 to New Years Day 2012, & can be heard now by going to their website.

On Christmas Day we had been ordered to join another convoy because it was rumoured that the Scharnhorst was out. The Scharnhorst was greatly feared. She was the most successful fighting ship of any navy during World War II and she was the bravest ship. We were full speed at 36 knots and going through those mountainous seas. It was a full gale blowing. To go through that at full speed, the bow would rise in the air and come down, hover there and come down with a clatter as if on concrete; mountains of water coming all over the ship.

We were ordered to join the 10th Cruiser Squadron - HMS Belfast, Norfolk and Sheffield. They had met up with the Scharnhorst and they had engaged her. There was a brief skirmish, then the Scharnhorst broke off - she was a very fast ship - and with her superior speed she was able to get out of range. But our vice-admiral guessed that she was heading north to attack this convoy that we had been escorting and the guess proved correct.

She had a reputation and she deserved it. There was an awe of her reputation, the excitement that we may be able to end the career of this most dangerous threat to us, to Britain, to the Allies - and fear knowing what we were up against.

It was Boxing Day when we finally met up with 10th Cruiser Squadron and the Scharnhorst. She had abandoned her mission and set off for the Norwegian fjords, which was her base and safe haven. It was pitch black and we shadowed with the use of radars. We knew that she was heading straight towards HMS Duke of York, which was cutting off her escape. She was hit by the Duke of York and was damaged and her speed was slowed. There was the Duke of York, the Scharnhorst, the 10th Cruiser Squadron with various destroyers and another cruiser, the Jamaica.

All of us met up and all hell broke loose. Although it was pitch black the sky was lit up, bright as day, by star shells - fired into the sky like fireworks - providing brilliant light illuminating the area as broad as day. Towards the end we had been ordered to fire a torpedo. Because the weather had eased a little I had taken up my action station as lookout on the starboard wing of the bridge. The Scharnhorst was close and she was lit up by the star shells and by the fires aboard her. As we steamed past to fire the torpedo I was the closest man - on the wing of the bridge - to the Scharnhorst. She looked magnificent and beautiful. I would describe her as the most beautiful fighting ship of any navy.

She was firing with all guns still available to her. Most of the big guns were put out. They were gradually disabled one by one. As we were steaming past at full speed a 20mm cannon was firing tracer bullets from the Scharnhorst. A 20mm cannon was like a pea-shooter compared to the other guns and it could have no part in this battle, but it was just a gesture of defiance from the sloping deck of her. And that's one of the things that remains in my memory - a futile gesture but it was a gesture of defiance right to the very end. I can picture that man on the sloping deck of the Scharnhorst. I can picture that man to this day. Eventually it took 14 ships of the Royal Navy to find her, trap her and sink her. At that point it went pitch black.

The star shells had finished and I presumed the Scharnhorst had been sunk. We set off to do another torpedo run to fire from the port side and the Scharnhorst was nowhere to be seen. So we slowed and we soon saw many men floating in the water - most of them dead, face down in the water, but some were alive. We switched our searchlight on and I remember our captain calling out to the men in the water "Scharnhorst gesunken?" and the reply came back "Ja, Scharnhorst gesunken", so we threw scrambling nets down and began to haul these men aboard. Thirty-six were saved out of 2,000 men.

We then received an order from the commander-in-chief to join the Duke of York. So we switched off the searchlight, pulled up the scrambling nets and steamed away. We could still hear voices calling from the black of that Arctic winter night, calling for help, and we were leaving those men to certain death within minutes. It seemed a terrible thing to do and it was. But it was the right thing to do. If we had stayed a moment too long we could have joined those unfortunate men. I can hear those voices and I grieve for those men every day of my life. I've even had someone accuse me of being a traitor because I praised the bravery of the German sailors. I can imagine their feelings as that searchlight went out and they heard that ship steaming away. I truly can imagine the feelings of those men.

Norman Scarth

A B Francis Gordon "Mac" McVittie MID HMS Nelson

My father, Gordon McVittie (known as Mac),volunteered to join the Royal Navy in Nov.1941 when he was 17. He, in fact, altered his birth certificate so it looked as though he was born in 1923 and not in 1924 his actual birth year. His certificate of service shows that Mac's first posting was the 'Collingwood'. Presumably this was a training ship? In Jan.1942, he was sent to HMS Victory and served there until his transfer to HMS Nelson in March 1942.He stayed on Nelson until Jan.1944, during which time he was made up to Able Seaman. The certificate then shows that Mac served on a number of ships including; The Pembrook, Odyssey, Dartmouth and Vernon. HMS Vernon was where he under took training to become a deep sea diver and was instructed on the dismantling of unexploded bombs, the clearance of mines and underwater obstructions. Following this training Mac was sent to wherever he was needed in order to clear the seas and create a safe passage.It was during this time that he was twice mentioned in despatches.He then returned to HMS Victoria in Jan.1946 from where he was discharged in June 1946. Mac had very fond memories of serving on HMS Nelson and always considered this to be his ship,despite having served on many others. After the war,Mac married Norma,joined first the fire service and then the police service, from which he retired at the rank of Inspector in 1976.At the time of his death in June 1986,he was survived by Norma,two children and three grandchildren.All of whom love and miss him, especially his 'old sea tales'.

Diane Parkes

Able Sea. Henry Bowdell HMS Collingwood

My father Henry Bowdell S/N JX 275361 went to HMS Collingwood on 25th June to September 1941. His service record is as follows:

Collingwood (Foretop Div) Ordinary Seaman from 25/06/1941 to 02/09/1941

Victory Ordinary Seaman 03/09/1941 to 30/09/1941

Canopus Ordinary Seaman 01/10/1941 23/05/1942

Lent to Sphinx 29/04/1942 to 03/05/1942

Hurworth Ordinary Seaman 24/05/1942 to 30/06/1942

Acting Able Seaman from 25/06/1942; Able Seaman from 25/06/1942

Revenge Able Seaman 01/07/1942 to 23/11/1943

Victory Able Seaman 24/11/1943 to 06/01/1944

Vernon Able Seaman 07/01/1944 to 23/03/1944

Victory Able Seaman 24/03/1944 to 29/11/1945

Lent to Admiralty 12/01/1945 to 12/01/1945

Harry Bowdell was released to shore in class A on 29th November 1945.

Gordon Bowdell

Brian Haynes HMS Rosneath

I was a JPEM [Junior Provisional Electrical Mechanic] (fore and aft rig). I ended up in landingcraft - the Mk 4823, Mk8 4037 and 4042. I was at HMS Rosneath, HMS Duke, HMS Appledore and HMS Vernon. All in my H O time from February 1945 to July 1947. PMX 739377 and DJX was towed on an LCI from Southampton to Poole by a small naval TID (tug). I would like to know when I was at the Grand Hotel in the New Forest - my memory is not good because of a bout of polio. Can anyone help?

Brian Haynes

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