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Old 24th December 2016, 02:51
Force8 Force8 is offline  
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Active: 1968 - 1988
 
Join Date: Dec 2016
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A few excerpts from my diary written at the time of Fittleton's sinking:
Thursday 10th.
Did my RNR training, a bad trip. Bad weather meant we could not leave Cardiff docks.

Friday 11th.
Weather still bad, but we had to sail to meet up with the rest of the flotilla at Portsmouth. Very bad at sea, especially going round the point of Cornwall. We did our minesweeping exercises mostly sweeping off the southern end of the Isle of Wight. At the end of the exercise we headed for the jolly at Hamburg in Germany. During this part of the trip we would normally have been tidying up the boat after the exercises, but ACR (Admiral Commanding Reserves) had other ideas.
Monday 20th.
Playing silly buggers at sea, thanks to ACR. Kept going all the time doing seemingly pointless exercises and drills. I suppose he wanted to play while he had all those boats to play with. We had a standing joke at the time in the RNR, that the only time you saw so many ships at sea together was when the RNR was at sea! We were transferring mail by light jack stay when the accident happened.
The admiral sent us the signal which stated that we were to prepare for light jack stay transfer of mail. He put a time group on it which was quite clear. Then he started bombarding the flotilla with “expedite my last” signals. We were puzzled, because that is what we were doing. I explained all this to my captain. ACR had meant us to start the action of the transfer, but the way he sent the signals only confused everyone.
After a few “Hurry up” signals we started the transfer. HMS Fittleton was the first to go alongside HMS Mermaid to do a transfer. Instead of letting them get on with it ACR kept on sending signals out. As Fittleton got close to Mermaid she seemed to veer towards Mermaid and then Mermaid collided with Fittleton, causing it to turn over.
It was like you see in the films. Everything seemed to go in slow motion. I will to my dying day never forget watching it all through binoculars. The Fittleton ever so slowly turned over, stayed on her side for a short while and some of the crew ran along the hull. The propellors were still turning slowly, and gradually more and more men appeared in the water around the ship.
Pandemonium then erupted on the radio net and I had to take over from my radio operator who had frozen up and could not function. There was a lot of shouting and obviously the flotilla stopped in the water. There were many heroic acts performed that day.
Twelve men were killed that afternoon. It was a flat calm sunny day and it seemed to me to be appropriate that there seemed to be no sound at all. Only later did the sound come. The shouting, the radio signals, the pushing and shoving to get into action. I was very tense and my jaw was aching because I had clamped my teeth together so tightly.
Hearing the increase in radio traffic we were hailed by some NATO units from the German navy, and they offered help in the way of helicopters and divers, of which we had none. This offer was refused by ACR and I suppose that the cover up began that day.
We moved in close because we had a doctor on board and there were men on the up turned hull. One of them started to signal us in semaphore, but I could not read it. It was not taught to us. It turned out that he was a former sea cadet who had learned it. It appears that that they could hear men banging the hull in the engine room trying to get out. We could have done with those divers that were offered.
She sank about 9pm, and I held a search light on the hulk for some hours to give anyone trying to get out something to guide them. We stayed with the hulk long after the others in the flotilla went into port. We were the guard ship. It was big news at home of course, and daddy tried to get some information. We stayed for an eternity guarding the wreck which had settled onto its stern, with the bows sticking up from the sea, just like a gravestone, which it was.
One incident remains clear in my mind, the visit of the trawler. While we were guarding the wreck a Polish trawler came right at us, ignoring our signals, and only at the very last moment did they turn away. She was a spy trawler judging from the array of aerials they carried. Later they were joined by a Russian spy trawler, though they remained a distance from us.
The atmosphere was very subdued aboard. They found me one day sitting on the sweep deck at the stern leaning up against a bulkhead. I was fast asleep with my eyes wide open. It had all been too much, my mind had just switched off. I was carried below (with a lot of help). I had been on duty for approximately three days non stop. To this day I cannot watch a film of a shipwreck without thinking of Dave and the others we had shared a drink with.
Tuesday 21st.
Spent the whole day guarding the wreck.

Wednesday 22nd.
Spent the whole day guarding the wreck.

Thursday 23rd.
Spent the whole day guarding the wreck.

Friday 24th.
Left the wreck and headed for Southampton.

Saturday 25th.
Arrived at Southampton. Finally. There was no discussion, neither was there any sort of counseling. Some of us needed it. Most of the crew were still in a state of shock, some later resigned from the RNR.
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