I Was There! - 'The Hermione Reared Up Like a Huge Whale'

The War Illustrated, Volume 6, No. 134, Page 126-127, August 7, 1942.

How men sang and joked in the oily sea while awaiting rescue after the torpedoing of the cruiser Hermione in the Mediterranean convoy battles in June was described by survivors who reached Alexandria.

LIEUT. SIDNEY BEADELL, of West Dulwich, London, a former Fleet Street cameraman and now Naval photographer, said: I was having a cup of cocoa in the charthouse of the Hermione when there was a terrific crash. The ship gave a violent shudder and heeled over sharply.

All the lights went out except the emergency lamps. I was flung across the charthouse, but managed to wrench open the door and got up the narrow ladder to the bridge, where I saw the captain directing a signalman who was flashing a red lamp asking for assistance. I grabbed a camera which I had left on the bridge and went down to the ship's waist.

It was impossible to get the whalers out owing to the heavy list. When the order was given to abandon ship some men jumped into the water, while others slid down the hull. The man standing next to me said he couldn't swim, but he jumped and found a piece of wood to hold on to. There was absolutely no panic, and the men where very cheerful, although the water was thick with oil. There was no moon, but the stars were bright.

I swam away from the ship and when I looked round her bows were rearing up like a huge whale. Then she went down stern first. Some of her depth charges exploded on immersion, making us feel as if we were being ripped open. After swimming for nearly an hour I found a float with an officer on it. He dragged me on to it and then we dragged on two other fellows. One was the sick bay officer, who had medical supplies slung round his neck and a torch which he kept flashing.

We were unable to use the paddles as these were lashed to the float and we had no knife, so we used our hands instead. But the strong current carried us farther and farther from the destroyers which were picking up survivors. Finally we managed to free the paddles, reached a destroyer and were hauled aboard.

Another officer said: I was in the director tower of the cruiser when there was a colossal explosion on the starboard side. The order to abandon ship was given within five minutes. Timber was cut away and thrown over the side and men clung to the pieces of wood and to floats. Except at the point where she was hit almost everyone below managed to get up before the ship sank. I jumped over and swam away to avoid being sucked down; then I found a float.

While I was in the water the men sang songs such as It's a Bit Wet, and We're All Together Now, and although the water was thick with oil nobody lost his cheerfulness for a moment.

Here is the story of the battle as told by another of the Hermione's crew:

We started westwards with a strong force. On Sunday evening, June 14, there was a dive-bombing attack. The planes started dropping flares.

The next day we were bombed all day by Stukas. I have never seen such a barrage as every ship put up. It was like a Christmas snowstorm. The whole sky was a great mass of white bursts of A.A. shells.

The destroyer Airedale was struck by three bombs during the attacks, and she sank almost immediately. She just blew up in a great cloud of smoke. I thought it was impossible that there could be any survivors, but nearly all were saved.

The Australian destroyer Nestor had to be taken into tow after being hit by a bomb, and subsequently had to be sunk. -Reuter

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