Story of the escort carrier HMS Tracker 1943-1945

CHAPTER 12                  THE STORMY WEST

        The Stormy West

        April, and the air was full of the Great Things Pending in the European war. During that
        week Harland & Wolf's did a high speed repair job. When the men returned off leave, they
        were swept off the train into the trams under the eagle eye of L/Seaman "Tommy" Wayper, [of
        County Durham], and the patrol. We found the ship looking like new, thanks to the coat of
        paint [British style] given her by the dockyard.  I do not remember when she looked smarter
        than on that in Belfast.
        With our old friends E.G.2, we left Meville on 29th April to sweep the Western approaches.
        Again we started with tragedy. L/Cook Cecil Foote, of the Squadron, whilst at his work in the
        galley, was killed when a bullet was accidentally fired from the gun of an aircraft in the hangar
        above, during cleaning operations. Right up to 9th May, when we returned to the Clyde, we
        did one full day's flying. We encountered heavy gales. and were hove to.

        Once we saw the convoy whose approaches we were sweeping. With was a U.S. Escort
        Carrier, also doing everything except turning over. Our radar aerials collapsed in the gale, and
        we steamed stern to sea one whole forenoon whilst the three doughty P.O.R.m.'s- Ron Haines,
        Geo. Preston, and William Prior- climbed aloft and cleared the tangle.
        When the weather did improve, we oiled so many sloops that the Captain asked the Chief
        yeomen of signals Alfred Cooper of Chatham whether he had an R.A.F. ensign in his locker.
        Strenuous work was done by the seamen on this operation. I am sorry, gentlemen. Even more
        strenuous work than usual. For the work of oiling [which demanded large numbers to light the
        hose aft when veering and keep it off the deck when heaving] had to be done by the watches


       " Drips" in large measure, however, were reserved for the next three weeks, which were
       spent in Greenock partly in the famous  floating dry dock. There was no leave during that
       period, with the invasion now well and truly in the air. Sister ships were not so
       conscientious, and the last twenty days of May provided quite a test for the spirit of
       the ship's company, a test passed with honours. Not content to see the motor boat ship
       officers to Hellensburgh, the ever progressive Lt J.f. Glanville, D.S.C.,R.N.V.R., arrange
       hikes in the Kielcregan hills, and the man o' war which in newfoundland was staggered
       by the pipe "shopping party fall in" - destination Placentia, now in Scotland blushed to
       hear the ringing call "Hiking party to muster".  We had a thrill and a narrow squeak when
       the U.S. battle wagon "Nevada" came in and grounded on the Greenock shallows. When
       she was shoved off she missed us by inches. The Cinema Officer and staff did a
       valiant work in keeping up morale. Greenock's and Glasgow's kindly service clubs saw
       much of us, and the songs of liberty men floated nightly across the Albert Harbour, as
       the arc of drifters fanned rapidly out into the stream, and one ship's company exhorted
       another, in sticking terms, to get some in..


       Greenock was full up just then, but the end of May was a sudden tinning of the ranks,
       The big show was on. We were given a small part on the wing. We left the Tail O' the
       Bank on the 3rd June and flew 12 Avenger [646 Squadron] and 9 fighters ["L Flight of
       Squadron 1632. Again we were dodged by tragedy at the onset. One fighter pilot made
       his first and last landing. He bounced on the flight deck and dived straight into the sea,
       leaving no trace. Two days out there was a rush to paint all the aircraft with the black
       and white "Bumble Bee" reorganization stripes. On 6th June we gathered round the loud
       speakers to hear the vivid B.B.C. hour by hour account of the invasion. Our part, as
       Captain expressed it, Quoting from recent concert recitation, was that of "Bunger up of
       Rat Holes". There were searches and scram, but no U.Boats tried to get through the
       serried ranks of the escort groups, who were led by the inevitable E.G.2. The naval
       organization of the invasion, what little we saw of it on the southern front, was very good
       indeed. We all thought we were going to deal with three enemy destroyers that appeared
       to be running the gauntlet. But coastal command got there first, and the destroyers got
       nowhere at all. Our only incident was the shooting down of an inquisitive J 60 by wildcats
       from H.M.S. "Pursuer".

       Then the totally unexpected occurred. Our escort of Canadian frigates were attacking a
       contact on the night of June 10th. Intent on the case, H.M.C.S "Teme" swept clean
       across our bows. We swung to port, and, seeing us too late, so did he. We rammed her
       amidships at 0203, and roused the hole ship's company by the impact,  or at any rate by
       the subsequent action stations. Although torn by a gaping hole, she was taken in tow by
       H.M.C.S. "Outremont" and madden the trip to U.K. successfully. Four of her crew had
       been killed. We picked up eight survivors unhurt. Even in this grisly scene there was a
       touch of comedy, when a strong Canadian voice came rasping up from the ocean, "I'm
       not going aboard that big .......", and a Carley Float [ours] was seen being rapidly
       paddled back to the battered frigate. On 11th June we flew off the aircraft, catapulting 21
       of them in 40 minutes, and on the 12th June we went into Belfast to see the extent of the
       damage. Inspection indicated the need of a refit, for which we crossed to Liverpool.

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