Returned to Ramsgate.
August 22, 1944
Action on German Convoy.
Action on German Convoy.
29th Flotilla moved to Felixstone under Commander in Chief Nore. Based at H.M.S. Beehive. Patrolling to protect Thames – Antwerp convoy route and northern convoy route from Thames as far as Greater Yarmouth, the MTB’s fighting off the mighty forays of E-boats and Midget submarines, and making frequent forays of their own against the Dutch harbours which the enemy forces were based. As always with coastal craft, the dark hours were for work, and the day for sleep.
November 1, 1944
Intelligence has reported much enemy shipping off the Hook of Holland and approximately 30 E-boats and R-boats at ljmuiden. The allies were to land and capture the shore batteries, and drive the enemy from the north side of the Scheldt as far as Antwerp Estuary.
This accomplished, the allies would be able to use Antwerp Harbour. That gallant, battle-scarred old body, the battleship H.M.S. Warspite, was to support the landing forces with her heavy 15″ guns. The 29th was instructed, at all costs, to stop any Eboats or R-boats proceeding southward.
The first division was comprised of M.T.B.’s 485 and 486; second Division, of M.T.B.’s 464,461 and 491. M.T.B. 461 was forced to drop out due to engine troubles. When the enemy was sighted, the 29th closed in for a torpedo attack. Suddenly, to the south of them, several E or R-boats were bearing down rapidly on a collision course.
M.T.B. 485 and 486 altered course to engage seven enemy boats in fierce action. lnspite of all guns blazing at them broadside, they ran down the long line of enemy boats. Then the convoy made up of several flak trawlers, one merchant ship of about 3,000 tons, a gun coaster, and a barge being towed by a tug, opened fire as well.
Meanwhile, M.T.B. 464 and 491 closed the merchant ship at 700 yards. As M.T.B. 491 fired two torpedoes, there was a terrific blinding flash, and a pall of ink-black smoke belched into the sky. Hit by gun fire, with the mess deck flooded, boat 464 was too low in the water to fire torpedoes. A second shell had instantly killed Able Seaman Harry Broadley and slightly wounded Able Seaman Allan Bevar. Petty Officer Motor Mechanic F.A. Walden took the initiative, and made a tingle’ against the hole with a large board, a large white turtleneck sweater, and a sawed-off boat hook. With these in place, 464 was seaworthy again, and the water could be pumped out of the mess deck.
M.T.B. 485 and 486 had given the seven E- and R-boats several good hits, and it looked like one of the enemy craft were on fire. In pursuit M.T.B.’s altered course towards the convoy, and went in for a torpedo attack, but unfortunately they were spotted and illuminated. Their attempt thwarted, they charged amid violent gun action, and 88 mm shells were soon bursting over the two boats, while green and yellow tracers rained down in torrents. They closed, trying to knock out one of the enemy escorts, but the flak was so violent and furious, that they had to disengage, having succeeded only in wounding their victim. However, the enemy convoy made a 180 degree turn and went back to their starting point, the Hook of Holland. The remainder of the night was spent with the M.T.B.’s exchanging gun fire with a German patrol of four flak trawlers known as the notorious Four Horsemen. It appears that both sides had been assigned to the same patrol position.
29th Flotilla transferred to Coastal Forces Immobile Unit No. One (CFMIU) at Ostend.
February 1945, The Disaster at Ostend
On the afternoon of February 14, 1945 several of the flotillas, including the 29th, were berthed inside Ostend harbour in a narrow passage known as The Crique. A patrol was scheduled for that night, and men not on watch had been given a “Make and Mend”, or afternoon off.
Many of them were sleeping below decks. Others had taken advantage of the opportunity to go ashore. Suddenly a sheet of fire was seen running along the water toward the jefties. Defuelling had been carried on earlier in the day, and in some way the highly volatile gasoline that had been discharged onto the surface had become ignited. Before an alarm could be given the flames had licked in about the close ranked boats, and many of them were infernos above and below decks, shrouded in oily smoke and surrounded by blazing gasoline. Some men on the decks dove overboard into the fiery waters and swam beneath the surface to safety. Others never got up from below. Still others were killed by flying debris as they emerged from the hatches. Explosions began to rip craft after craft wide open, showering the flaming wreckage farther along the line. A pall of smoke towered along the waterfront; and out of it, for two terrible hours, came the roar of bursting fuel tanks, the missiles of exploding ammunition, and the cries of men.
Three boats of the 29th were saved by men who first fought down the flames in one, and then brought their craft alongside two more to tow them out of the harbour. At the end of the day the 29th Flotilla had ceased to exist. Five of its original eight boats had been destroyed; M.T.B.’s 464,485,486 and 491 which were the only ones to be saved had augmented the Flotilla. Seven British boats had been lost and many more damaged. Twenty-eight Canadians and thirty-five British sailors had been killed.
The remaining boats of the Flotilla were turned over to strengthen Royal Navy flotillas.
The Senior Officer of the 29th – C.Anthony Law – wrote a book called White Plumes Astern. This is a quote from his book:
To end the story of the 29th Canadian Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla, whose happy and thrilling moments and sad hours I have tried to recount, I should like to quote this simple poem, written from the heart by signalman Andrew Cleeland of Lieutenant C.A. Burk’s Boat…
“The raging of the treacherous seas
Long the arch enemy of the M.T.B.’s,
Now ceases to hold us in its spell,
As we hear the tale of Ostend Hell,
The truth of cause will be remote,
and intrigue will lend its tragic note,
Here today and gone tomorrow,
As mothers and sweethearts shrink in sorrow,
but above it all is heard the cry,
Oh God, the everlasting question, WHY?”