I Was There! - I Jumped from the Sinking "Courageous"
Exclusive to The War Illustrated is this first-hand story of the sinking of H.M. Aircraft Carrier "Courageous" on September 17. It is told by R.F.R. 1572 Marine M. Reidy, who was called up from his job in the machine-room of The Amalgamated Press when the reserve fleet was mobilized at the end of July.
"At five to eight I was on the flight deck. The submarine attacked us broadside. We were struck about five to eight, and she had disappeared about a quarter past.
"The destroyer behind us came abreast and dropped depth charges. After one of these the submarine came up out of the water. This was before we had abandoned the ship. We saw the submarine blown out of the water. Everybody cheered. I am firmly convinced that she was sunk.
"Following the two explosions, 'Courageous' took a definite list to port. I jumped from the flight deck on to the C.P. (control position) platform and waited a while for orders and to see what would happen. The next order came about five minutes after the torpedoing. It was 'Abandon Ship', sent by word of mouth along the decks. The broadcast which normally gives orders had been ruined, so the order was passed from man to man. The only boat they could get out was the cutter, and directly they got down to the water she sank. Then they lowered the motorboat on the after end of the port side. The marines ran out from the mess deck, and directly the order came through 'Abandon Ship', most of us jumped right over. The rafts were cut adrift and some of the men jumped on to them. But I was a strong swimmer, so I swam. Some of the chaps made the mistake of running up the starboard side, but as it got higher and higher they found they could not jump into the sea, and some started to run down the flight deck. A lot must have lost their lives that way.
"The engines did not stop directly 'Courageous' was hit, and we ran on for a good couple of hundred yards. I wondered at first whether she was really very seriously hit as she did not stop. The explosion partly collapsed the bridge, because it hit just under the bridge.
"Some of the men kept their money in their pockets and left their trousers on. When we all jumped over the side these men got away so far and then found that they could not keep up with their trousers on. Then they tried to kick them off and could not do so. Several were drowned in this way. There were plenty of logs of wood floating round and rafts and the motor-boat, but I just swam till I saw that everybody near me had something, because I had no fear at all. I knew I was a good swimmer. When they all had one I grabbed a log.
"The Captain of the destroyer manoeuvred his ship so that the rollers were breaking against it and rolling the men down towards her, and then he threw ladders and ropes and hailed the men up as they came towards him. Some of the crew dived off the side of their ship and pulled up exhausted men.
"When I entered the water the destroyer was about 1½ miles away, but when 'Courageous' went down she gradually closed in, although she was afraid to move her screws in case some poor fellows got caught in them. Another destroyer was dropping depth charges until they were sure the submarine was gone. A Dutch and an American ship were also in the vicinity and helped to pick up the survivors.
"I got into the water at ten past eight and was picked up about 9.15.
"I should like to pay a special tribute to the captain of the destroyer for his fine seamanship in keeping his ship to the rollers, and to the seaman for the way in which they worked to rescue us. They emptied their kit-bags for us, and I was dressed in two blankets strapped round me with a belt and an oilskin jacket when I arrived on shore."
Historical context, by the webmasterThe German submarine U-29 which sank the H.M.S. Courageous wasn't sunk at all. She was eventually scuttled on May 4th, 1945.
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