Story of the escort carrier HMS Tracker 1943-1945

CHAPTER 10                    FIRE. FIRE

       The Fire,

       A serious fire now burned on the after end of then flight deck. The ship's company was
       piped to action stations, and even to "Inflate Lifeboats". it was largely a question of depth
       charges. The Torpedo Officer, Lt Edward Malone { of Birmingham} hacked the ship's
       depth charges clear, and they slide out of harms way. But what about the one left in  the
       blazing aircraft ? It was not a pleasant thought for those on the spot, and even in remote
       parts of the ship, some whitish faces puffed violently at lifebelt teats. The crew of the
       blazing Avenger had stumbled out, and somehow got on to the Quarter Deck. But the
       Pilot S/Lt Ballentyne, was a mass of flames. He stumbled blindly into the hanger, where
       P.O. George Hayes {of Cheshire} and A.B. Jim Day { of Grand Falls Newfoundland}
       wrapped duffel coats around him and extinguished the flames. The terrific burning
       however, had done its work, and the Pilot was dead when they carried him to sick bay.

       The fire on the quarter deck was now also a serious affair, with ammunition in the air
       craft and in the Bofors  ready to use locker  popping and exploding in a deafening
       barrage. Then the aircraft broke up, and the engine toppled on to the Quarter Deck. This
       reduced the fire on the flight deck, but increased it down below, but the hoses were
       playing from every vantage point.  Lt Urwin on the flight deck, and P.O.Hayes on the
       quarter deck, led the attack with resource and courage. Great credit is due to all who
       played  their part, for the nerve racking explosions were continuing, and the next one
       might be the one depth charge to eternity. But S/Lt Ballentyne must have ditched all
       four, not three as he thought.

       The dangerous fire was out in fifteen minutes, and the sigh of relief was breathed not only
       by the "Tracker" Company, but also by the escort and convoy crews, who had gathered
       on their decks to watch the drama played out on the Artic Stage. Many thought "any
       minute now"  Rear Admiral Dalrymple Hamilton, commanding 10th .C.S. himself an
       anxious spectator in H.M.S. "Diadem", sent a message to the C-in-C warmly
       commending the commander and his damage control party, remarks which, Admiral
       Max Horton, C-in -C.W.A., in a letter to Captain Huntley. are noted with satisfaction.

       This was but the forenoon, In the afternoon, one Avenger attacked the U.Boat and later
       another T.B.R. straddled a third. There was a considerable oil trail, and the victim was
       finished off by the destroyer H.M.S. "Keppel". The evening began solemnly with the
       funeral, conducted by the Commander, Of S/Lt Ballentyne, witnessed by the ship's
       company in driving snow. The guard fired a salute, and all ships lowered their ensigns. At
       19.32 a fighter from each of the Carriers joined in shooting down a Bloem Voss 138 in
       very poor light. 28 flyinghours had been crammed into this day. When we rolled on to our
       bunks, wearing Artic rig, life belts, lifeline, and life light, there were reports of about a
       dozen U-Boats looking for us. Depth charges thudded all night.

       More achievements next time.

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