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Friendly Fire Attack on HMS Salamander
 
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HMS Salamander - Halcyon Class Minesweeper

SALAMANDER, the last sweeper to be hit, had tried desperately to stave off the attack. Her commander was Lieutenant‑Commander Harold King, RNVR: 

'I had noticed a group of planes orbiting in the sun, a manoeuvre always considered menacing, and although recognizing some of them as Typhoons I pressed the action stations alarm button as a precaution. But before all the crew could get to their stations planes were diving and attacking from all directions. I rang down for full speed and started zig zagging, using full helm and dodging the first two salvoes of rockets which exploded in the water alongside. By this time the yeoman of signals, another signalman, the gunnery and Asdic officers had all reached the bridge. The correct recognition signals were quickly made by red and green Very lights and the ten inch lamp, new white ensigns were hoisted at the yardarms and a large one spread out on the boat deck.' 

Roger Twigg in May 2008 wrote:

My father, John Twigg, was badly wounded during the Typhoon attack, and was Mentioned in Dispatches for attempting to rescue other wounded sailors although badly wounded himself. He was trying to lay out a Union Jack on the stern at the time of the strike.

But this did not deter the planes. Lieutenant‑Commander King 

'Our Oerlikon gunners had opened fire as soon as the planes attacked, but the four‑inch gun's crew were pinned down by cannon and machine‑gun fire which smashed the chart table and bridge screens. The PO wireman had telephoned the bridge asking permission to slip the Double L tail when a third salvo of rockets hit the stern, bursting open thirty feet of deck, jamming the rudder and setting the minesweeping store below on fire.' 

PO Dennis Burnett was one of the sweeping party of five on SALAMANDER's sweep deck as the rockets struck. 

'We were attacked astern by a Typhoon covered by a Spitfire on either side. I saw the salvo of rockets leave the aircraft and was certain we were about to be hit. I shouted to a wireman to duck and dived behind the winch. The next thing I knew I was being dragged bleeding along the deck by the cook and the supply rating into the wardroom lobby.' 

Burnett was severely wounded in the head, one of a number of injured. The rockets blew off SALAMANDER's entire stern, leaving the sweep deck a devastated mass of mangled and twisted iron and the ship ablaze. Lieutenant Commander King: 

 'As there were twenty depth‑charges stowed in the blazing minesweeping store I gave the preparatory order to abandon ship ‑ for the boats to be turned out and lashes cut on the Carley floats. Meanwhile the damage control party, led by the engineer officer, was tackling the fire. I went down to the boat deck to get a closer look and met the gunner's mate, who told me that the after magazine was getting hot and asked to flood it. Needless to say permission was readily granted.' 

The four inch gun crew had recovered to load up and fire off eleven rounds after the planes, more in a bid to discourage another attack as there was little chance of hitting one. Gradually the firefighters in the minesweeping store began to get the upper hand, the feared explosion was averted and SALAMANDER's company did not, after all, have to abandon ship. Eleven men had been injured, five seriously.

HMS Salamander after attack - Halcyon Class Minesweeper
HMS SALAMANDER after the attack 

Mention in Despatches.

For good services in saving life and in damage control:

Temporary Lieutenant Roy Hawthornethwaite, R.N.V.R. (Lytham St. Annes).

Wireman John Twigg, C/MX.92339 (Burton-on-Trent).

Sick Berth Attendant Leslie John Myerscough, P/MX. 122650 (Arundel)

Source: London Gazette Issue 36825 published on the 1 December 1944. Page 5 of 6

 

Ensignís tragic

tale

WANDERING along the beach of the French port of Villiers-Sur-Mer, a small boy picked up a large tattered White Ensign that had been washed ashore and kept it as a souvenir.

Over forty years later he handed it in to the British Ministry of Defence, and steps were taken to discover its origins, through the letters column of Navy News.

Now it appears that the full tragic story has been finally pieced together and the ensign is from HMS Salamander, a minesweeper operating off the French coast in 1944 and mistakenly attacked and sunk by British aircraft.

Operating with two sister ships, Britomart and Hussar, Salamander had hoisted two extra ensigns in a vain bid to identify the groupís nationality, but the attack claimed 86 lives and a further 124 were wounded, leaving Salamander with her stern blown off, and the other two ships sunk.

The six foot by three foot ensign has now found a final resting place in the Hampshire village of Wickham, a village twinned with Villiers-Sur-Mer. Presented to the local branch of the Royal British Legion it now occupies a special place in the Community Centreís special twinning display.

[Navy News 1984]

 

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This site was last updated 17 Januar 2012