Friday, February 5, 2016

Story re Combined Ops, "Revenge for HMHS Talamba"

Germany Sinks a Hospital Ship. Lone Skipper Strikes Back

HMHS Talamba: 10/07/1943 - Bombed & sunk off Syracuse during the landings
in Sicily. Attacked even though fully illuminated and showing red cross markings.
Photo Credit - TyneBuiltShips

Canadians who served in Combined Operations during WW2 write about the sinking of the Hospital Ship Talamba by German aircraft in July of '43. A brief passage found in With The Utmost Spirit by speaks of the Allies' revenge.

References to the loss of HMHS Talamba follow:

The comparative quiet was broken at nine o'clock in the morning (July 10). An enemy bomber came in very fast and dropped a stick of bombs  along a stretch of shoreline occupied by two British vessels and by the Canadian landing craft carrying the Senior Officer of the 80th Flotilla. The smaller British vessel, a tank landing craft, was squarely hit and blown to pieces. The other British ship was heavily damaged, and every man on her bridge was killed. The Canadian craft, well up on the beach with some of her shore nearby, had a miraculous escape. The force of the explosions knocked down the men on the beach, and the Flotilla officer was blown back into the well deck of his ship, but no one was injured. Considerably dazed, but marvelling at their luck, the men recovered and went to the assistance of the British merchantman, helping to take off her wounded and transfer them to a hospital ship.

Two hours later a series of heavier raids began. Throughout the night and for the next forty-eight hours the attempted blitz rose to a total of  twenty-three separate raids. costing the invasion forces five merchantmen (ships) and a hospital ship. The decline of the Luftwaffe's efforts was rapid, however. Air cover from Malta began to show its murderous effectiveness, and by the third day planes flying from captured Sicilian bases were adding their strength to the Allied umbrella.  [An excerpt from pages 83 - 84, Combined Operations by Londoner Clayton Marks]

We eventually found a cave where we slept safe from the Luftwaffe who in the first 48 hours launched 23 air raids on our sector, sinking five ships including the hospital ship (Talamba).... [From "Miss Canada", LCM 1022 by John Rimmer]

Saturday, July 10: Boat broke loose. Had one helluva time to stop from losing her. Lots of fireworks at zero hour. Battleships shelling the shore. Put the boats over the side and made our first trip in. See wrecks of gliders. Ships and a few dead bodies lying around. Had air raid at 1600 hours. Straddled us with a stick of bombs. One ship hit. Three planes shot down. We fired off our Lewis guns but they were too high for us.

July 11: Hospital ship bombed and sunk last night. Had quite a few raids after midnight. Dropped flares. Another air raid after midnight. Two ships hit. One forward of us. Don't mind the big fellows but the "Stuka dive bomber." Everything going fine. Another raid. Two Gerries shot down in flames. [From "Ed Corbett's Diary"]

July 11: Gerry and Italian planes over bombing but are kept high. Sank a hospital ship. RAF very few but hot when around. 11 raids since yesterday at 4 a.m. [From "Bill Lindsay's Diary"]

The Stukas were overhead like flies. It just went on and on for days. And as I said before, everybody knew where the bloody beach was and down it came.... We had a lot of wounded and the CO [commanding officer] said “get them out to the hospital ship.” So, I got these guys on the landing craft, an LCM, American, and out to the hospital ship I went. Well there was a cruiser and a monitor circling around the hospital ship acting as artillery for the shore. But the range [bore] of those guns is fifteen-inch on a monitor and I think the cruiser was six-inch. They could have gotten away from the hospital ship and still accomplished what they wanted. But anyway the Stukas was over trying to hit them and here is the poor hospital ship right in the middle. Well, I went out and went alongside the hospital ship and it was real hairy getting out there. The stuff was coming down and water coming in from the bottom and we started slinging the wounded aboard. And being coxn I was higher up than most people and I was level with the lowest deck of the hospital ship and I heard a very cultured voice say, “Would you like a cup of tea?” And I turned and here was a nursing sister. An older woman. Impeccably dressed you know. And I said – I would have preferred something stronger – but I said, “Yes, sister.” So she brought me a cup of tea. And I said, “Just the cup, not the saucer.” I was shaking too much. I drank the tea and I gave it back to her and she said, “It’s not much fun in there is it.” And I said, “No sister, it’s not,” and she reached out and she touched my cheek and she said, “God bless you.” And then just then one of the guys yelled, “Let’s get the hell out of here!” So broke off their Red Crosses and we broke out the Lewis [light machine] guns and turned around and headed back and had a “rattlin’” good time going back. You know how effective you are. When you firing back, you feel better.

Anyway, we got back to the beach and blew off about three, four thousand rounds of ammunition and then we went away. Well a couple of days later the hospital ship was sunk and we had came back and the word was out that six staff and four patients were lost with it, went down. The bodies started coming up nine days after, and this day I was on the beach and a landing craft was towing in a nursing sister. And one of the officers said, “Bowen, bring your knife,” because you know the skin swells. It gets all distorted. The skin had swollen up over either a watch or an ID bracelet and they wanted to get an ID. So this officer said, “Bring your knife Norm and we will cut down and see if we can get an ID.” And I said, “Sure,” and I went over and I knelt down and I just looked and she had gray hair. I just had to go away myself and you know this is stupid. It is fifty-five years ago and I still worry and wonder. [N. Bowen, from audio at The Memory Project]

A reference to 'the chance for revenge' follows:

During Operation Husky, one British skipper found himself with the unusual opportunity of being able to personally fire back at his attackers. A few days after the loss of the hospital ship Talamba, Sam Lombard-Hobson, Rockwood's commanding officer, wrote, "The chance for revenge came a few days later. Rockwood was on anti-submarine patrol."

Perhaps because of a thick smoke screen, each of the patrolling destroyers "was singled out several times for attack in the bright moonlight." Rockwood was almost hit twice but sustained no damage. "This cat and mouse game went on incessantly until well after midnight." Lombard-Hobson was in his sea cabin around 0400 when he heard the drone of engines. "I went up, and suddenly, out of the darkness, and at a height of no more than 100 feet, I saw the outline of an aircraft coming straight at us." The aircraft dropped a torpedo, Lombard-Hobson said, "But I had guessed the game and was under full wheel when the torpedo passed astern....

As the bomber passed over the ship, it gave me an opportunity I had been waiting for since May 1940, when from the beaches of Dunkirk I had recovered two abandoned Bren guns. Like pair of faithful Purdeys, I had had these two guns with me on the bridge of each ship in which i had served since that day." Rockwood's skipper never hesitated. "Before anyone else could open fire, I seized my ex-Dunkirk Brens and let fly; I couldn't miss! The bullets ripped into the underbelly of the Ju88 as it roared overhead, on its way to attack the merchant ships." Fatally stricken, the plane "burst into flames, and crashed into the sea less than a mile from the ship." [From page 210 of With Utmost Spirit by Barbara Brooks Tomblin]

Please link to Stories re Combined Ops, "One Man's Trek, 1941-45"

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