[Written on the 21st]
At sea. The most exciting day in my career, but you shall judge for yourself, for it is as exciting as any respectable quiet living chap wants to experience.
9 a.m. Just after receiving a signal from the Argyll stating that she had been fired at by a submarine but altered course and dodged the torpedoes fired at her, we were fired at by two subs. from astern, no less than 3 torpedoes being sent at us. Thanks to the coolness of the officer on watch the ship’s course was altered and we dodged the most awful weapons of modern warfare. No further attacks were made throughout the morning, but I must place on record once again, the fact, that several fishing trawlers flying new Dutch Flags were near us at the time. This continual coincidence is leading to suspicion in all our minds and in view of my future notes for this day you will find grounds for these, as we do.
As is usual of a Sunday afternoon we were taking things easy and except for the people on watch most of the other members of the ship’s company were asleep. We were going along at a nice speed and the sea calm and weather conditions grand.
At 1-45 p.m. our peace was rudely disturbed and suddenly too without any warning whatever. At most times men learn of the presence of a sub. by the firing of the guns at her as soon as she is spotted. No guns, shouts or anything else warned us this time, and the impact of the torpedo on hitting us plus the resulting explosion, concussion and momentous shock was terrific. The sub. fired two torpedoes at us, one at the bow and one at the stern. They saw the torpedoes coming on the Bridge and tried to dodge them. They very nearly did altho’ the chances of success were very meagre. If the torpedo aimed at the fore part had hit wherxe it was intended to well I’m afraid I should not be writing these notes now and I don’t think H.M.S. Roxburgh would be at anchor at Queensferry.
The torpedo was aimed so as to strike the magazines which run along the inside of the ship protected by the armour belt. This is always the objective, for if the torpedo hits in the magazine or its direct vicinity, the shells therein will be exploded and the result would be almost utter destruction of the ship, so tremendous is the explosion. That part lays under the Sick Bay – well below ’tis true but depth makes no difference to such an explosion.
The bow of the ship was swung around immediately after the torpedoes were seen and had they been fired at a greater distance we should have dodged them. As it was the torpedo struck us just a little forward of the Sick Bay and the explosion blew a hole in the opposite side of that to which it struck. To us in the S. B. it felt as if the ship had been picked up suddenly, given a good shaking and dropped unceremoniously.
It was a most terrifying experience and left us in all sorts of positions. I can hardly describe what the explosion was like. It took place under water so was to some extent muffled. But it is not like any other noise I have heard and I can only give you a “Patched up” idea. If you were in a closed cab which was suddenly struck on the side by a fast motor car multiplied about four hundred times plus a pungent odour (slightly violet) you may gain some idea of what the experience is.
It did not take us long to guess what had happened and having picked ourselves up, donned lifebelts and got the two bed patients rigged up, we made for the upper deck. The first few minutes following the explosion naturally caused a certain amount of bewilderment to those who had been asleep when we were struck. These passed and the situation realised, the men became as cool as could be and in no time the various evolutions were carried out. The boats were swung out and made ready for dropping and the rafts placed in a like position. The Engineer Commander and his staff saw to the water-tight doors and the Carpenter and his staff worked hard shoring them up. By their combined efforts the water was localised into a few compartments in the fore part of the ship.
During this time the submarine was endeavouring to get within striking distance again so as to administer the coup de grace. Thanks to our gunners who kept up a persistent and dangerous fire and to the arrival of a torpedo boat we got away from the sub. much to the commander of that boat’s annoyance no doubt. We have reason to believe that he was one of the “birds” who fired at us in the morning without success. If so his determination met with some reward.
We still kept up a good speed and it was a question whether the bulkheads would stand the strain forward. If we had eased down we should have been easy prey for any other subs. so we had to keep going fast and chance the bulkheads giving out. Had they given out we should have had to swim for it or dip.
After the first half-an-hour things calmed down a bit and men began to settle down to “easy going”. There was yet plenty to be done and in case we should be struck again or get into dire straits any other how, all floatable articles such as mess stools and tables, chairs, barrels and anything likely to keep one afloat was got up on the Quarter Deck. The E. R. A’s and stokers not required below, had to take all heavy stores, machinery, etc, etc, from the fore part of the ship right aft so as to lighten the bows as much as possible. A collision mat was also placed as near as possible over the larger hole so as to prevent, as much as possible, too great an inrush of water.
This done the men snatched tea of a kind and then sat about smoking, playing cards, etc. just like as if nothing had happened. Even the boys were as cool and contented as possible. The officers were very pleased with the splendid way they all behaved and their orders executed. It was a revelation I can assure you and one could not feel ill at ease with such a cool crowd.
Four destroyers closed up around us about 4 o’clock which gave added relief. Later we were surrounded by these boats, coming from various places in response to our S. O. S. call. At 8 p.m. there were about 30 boats around us and we were not far from the entrance to the Forth. With the arrival of these boats we slackened speed, but increased it again on getting into the Forth about 9-30 p.m. Right glad were we all to be in the Firth of Forth again as we were open to an attack from subs. at any time after our being torpedoed and we were quite expecting to be so, as just outside the entrance to the Firth it is very dangerous “ground” indeed.
We passed under the Forth Bridge at 10-30 p.m. with glad hearts you can be sure. It was suggested to the Captain that on passing our Squadron (at anchor) the band should play “Here we are again”. This idea catching him in a good mood – he must have felt a proud man – was concurred with. The night was a very light one and as we passed by the large lightless battle-cruisers, battleships and light-cruisers we could see the forms of groups of men watching our incoming. The ships had all heard of our plight and so were waiting to see whether we would pull through or not. It was a proud moment in our lives when on coming in sight of our Squadron we were cheered to the echo by the men of the Antrim, Devonshire and Argyll, while our band was playing – grand it seemed to us, the chosen and appropriate tune – our men answered the cheers of our “chumy” ships.
The anchor was let go at 11-50 p.m. and we all went to bed with the lightest of hearts at 12-30 a.m.
I will not pass on to this day’s notes without adding a few incidents of yesterday which have occurred to me since. During the first and most anxious hour I was struck by the various unselfish remarks I heard passed by some of the men. Remarks about the leave we should probably get in view of the damage which would have to be repaired in a dry-dock, were frequent. More serious were the remarks of the married men who hoped the news of the incident would not get to the ears of their wives. I may say that I thought of Ma and you and wondered what you would think if you knew of my position. I particularly thought of you at churchtime and wondered if your prayers would be answered. I was not afraid or melancholy, but these thoughts flashed through my mind. From 5 p.m. onwards everything was carried out as would have been the case at any other time and from all appearances nothing could have been wrong with the ship.
It was a great feat to have successfully brought a torpedoed ship into harbour under her own steam and I think it is the first instance in this war when it has been successfully accomplished. Great praise is due to the Engineers, Carpenters and Stokers. The Captain and officers were very cool.
After the torpedo had struck us we were left to our own resources until the torpedo boat was sent to our assistance some time after. So that a recurrence of the Cressy, Hogue and Aboukir disaster shall not take place again, when two of the ships were torpedoed whilst going to the assistance of the other stricken ship, on all occasions when a ship is torpedoed by a sub. or strikes a mine, ships larger than a torpedo boat are not to go to the assistance of the ship struck. Four t. b’s were out with us on this occasion but only one could be sent to our assistance, the other three being required to protect the other three cruisers of our Squadron.
Several trawlers flying the Dutch Flag were in the vicinity when we were torpedoed. I think we have good grounds for suspecting these vessels.
The Canteen did a good trade, most of the cigarette-smokers buying a stock of cigarettes in case we had to take to the boats. A funny case of being forearmed through being forewarned – you will agree.
In concluding I may say I am glad that the old ship has again made a record. I should have been sorry to see the good old ship go down. One learns to love a ship after so long a time spent in her. I have no wish to experience the sickening explosion following being struck by a torpedo again. It is quite bad enough now, but it could have been worse.