Lt Cdr A.R. Trew SANF and his officers on Arctic Convoys in 1944
Lt Cdr Anthony R Trew SANF(V) was appointed CO of HMS Walker on the 29 September 1944 after a few months as First Lt on HMS Versatile.
Tony Trew was born in Pretoria in 1906 and left school at 16 to
go to sea as an officer cadet with the Union Castle Line before bring
commissioned in the South African Naval Service from 1926 to 1929. He
was in the Reserve when he left and in 1933 joined the Automobile
Service of South Africa. He married Nora Houthakker in 1931 and they
had three sons.
up at the outbreak of war he commanded various mine-sweeping and patrol
vessels, then, from December 1940, served for a year as
Lieutenant-Commander in the 22nd A/S Group, the first South African
armed forces unit to enter the Mediterranean theatre. After two years
in a staff job back in South Africa, overseeing the repair of naval
vessels at Cape Town, and anxious to get back to sea, he asked to be
seconded to the Royal Navy. After another spell in the Mediterranean he
attended the Senior Officers' Staff Course at the Royal Naval College,
Greenwich, before his appointment to HMS Versatile and HMS Walker, his first command of a destroyer.
From left to right: Sub Lt Arthur Dodd RNVR, Lt Derek W. Napper RN and Sub Lt Dacre "Sandy" Powell RNVR
Are the three young officers posing as Napoleon Bonaparte or as Britain's naval hero Horatio Nelson?
Taken at the Tail of the Bank, Gourock, at the mouth of the Clyde in 1944
Courtesy of Philip Dodd
Napper was born in 1922 at Abu Road, a railway town in Western India
where his father was a civil engineer working for the Bombay, Baroda
& Central India Railway (1920-1938). He was 14 when he was sent to
Dartmouth and by the time he joined HMS Walker as First Lt on the 3 October 1944 he had been Mentioned in Despatches while serving in HMS Havock as a Midshipman at the Battle of Matapan and served in the battleship HMS Valiant and the destroyers HMS Ilex and HMS Calpe.
The two junior officers were both RNVR called up for service for the
duration of the war but Napper stayed on and in 1971 was Cdre D.W.
Napper RN, Chief of Staff of the Far East Fleet.
All three endured several Arctic Convoys to Northern Russia in HMS Walker and a charming little book written by Roxane Houston based on the diaries she kept during her time as an officer in the WRNS vividly depicts this period in their lives together. Roxanna was based at the HQ of the Senior Officer Assault Ships and Craft (SOASC) Greenock on the Clyde and was friendly with Jane Price who worked in the Convoy Routing Office dealing with the merchant ships at nearby Gourock. Derek Napper was the brother of a friend of Jane's which resulted in an invitation from Lt Cdr Tony Trew to bring some friends aboard Walker for a party. Derek Napper met his future wife, Isobel Cowie, at this party.
was a great evening, full of laughter. Tony Trew was a charming host,
Derek Napper, the brother of Jane's friend, showed us all over the
ship, and Dacre Powell (usually called Sandy Powell after a current
popular comedian) a shy but attentive companion. We all got on very
well, and Jane promptly arranged a reciprocal evening in the guest room
at Belleaire [the WRNS quarters in Greenock]."
Changing Course - The Wartime Experiences of a Member of The Women's Royal Naval Service 1939-1945; by Roxane Houston. Grubb Street, 2005.
Later that month HMS Walker
left as part of the escort for Convoy JW61 Liverpool (20th Oct) to the
Kola Inlet (Oct 28th) and return convoy RA61 to Loch Ewe (Nov 2nd to
There is no first hand account of these two convoys to Arctic Russia by any of the officers or men in HMS Walker
but there is a vivid description of the convoys by Laurence (Laurie)
Downey, a 16 year old Australian from Perth, who joined a
Norwegian tanker Marathon.
Arctic Convoys JW.61 and return Convoy RA.62
The Norwegian ships which had not returned to their ports after the Nazi invasion in 1940 were always short of crews and even a teenager could find a job on one of them. Laurie served on this ship for two years. She traded between the Caribbean Islands and the American fuel ports Houston, Galverston, Corpus Christie before joining Arctic Convoys JW.61 and RA.62 (HMS Walker returned to Loch Ewe as an escort for RA 61). This is an extract from Laurence Downey's unpublished autobiography:
left anchorage on the Clyde for a small inlet to the North of Glasgow
called Loch Ewe. This was a convoy assembly area. There were about
thirty ships in all that made up convoy number JW 61 and just as were
making ready to sail, a small launch came alongside with the captain
who was returning from the Commodore’s meeting with all the ship
captains, a briefing on procedures to follow during the trip to Russia.
As the captain climbed aboard, the two Scotsmen jumped onto the launch
as it pulled away. Obviously the stories of the fate of many ships on
the Russian run had scared them to the point of desertion.
Convoy JW 61 comprised thirty ships plus escorts and departed from Loch Ewe on October 20th. The escort ships included three carriers and several destroyers. The Russian Navy also provided six corvette type escorts.
Rounding the North of Scotland by Scapi Flow, where the North Sea meets the Irish Sea the weather became extremely bad, to the point where nearby everyone on board got sea sick, including the captain who had been at sea for some twenty five years. Once the first attack of sea sickness had passed the subsequent ones were easily shrugged off with but one visit to the side of the ship, and then carry on without interruption to one’s duties. They lasted only an hour or so. We were heading at an angle of about forty five degrees into the enormous waves, and Marathon, being a fully laden tanker was very low in the water, she would ride out two waves and plough through the third with a resounding thud that shook all the windows around the bridge. The decks were constantly awash and an occasional wave would throw spray over the funnel. It was the roughest weather I had thus far encountered. In the wheelhouse the floor was wash from spray and the helmsman’s wooden mat slithered from side to side of the room if no one was standing on it. I came on the night to do my stint at the wheel only to find the binnacle and the wheel all cover by vomit … I sloshed them down with water from the floor cupped in my hands. Such rough weather made it more difficult for the U-boats to get an accurate line on a potential target. This at least was encouraging. The weather relented after we had passed the Northern tip of the British Isles, and the convoy once again resumed the normal speed of ten knots.
With the strongest escort ever for a Russian convoy, we suffered no casualties, we saw and heard many depth charge explosions and spotted a Dornier reconnaissance plane circling the convoy giving our position to the land based torpedo bombers, but they never arrived. Our triple escort carriers must have been an effective deterrent.
convoy was about four days out from Loch Ewe when our forwarded bunker
tank ruptured, flooding he manila rope locker. Some of the ropes were
saved but two had to be discarded and the Chief mate told the bosun to
throw them overboard, naturally he assumed the bosun would throw them
off the stern, but instead he threw them over the side thinking they
would sink immediately. One of them was caught up in the propeller, but
no one was aware of this. Suddenly the ship lost speed and slowed from
ten knots to about six knots. Then an argument took place between the
Chief Engineer and the captain who wanted more revs and was informed he
couldn’t have them. So there we were looking disaster in the face as we
dropped back from the convoy and became a “straggler” easy pickings for
the trailing submarines. A British Navy destroyer was despatched to
come alongside with a loud hailer telling the Captain to keep up with
the rest of the convoy. It was getting towards evening, but visibility
was still good enough to see the other ships in the distance. Suddenly,
the destroyer that had now become our special escort despatched a salvo
of depth charges as she raced across our bows no more then fifty meters
away. The following explosion gave everyone on board a sense of
security in that we were not being left at the mercy of the U-boats.
The destroyer returned three times to loud hail the Captain to keep up.
As luck would have it, the weather deteriorated and the sea became
quite rough causing the convoy to slow down to seven knots. Thus we
were able to keep up, also because the entangled rope was beginning to
wear away from the propeller allowing us to gain a few more knots.
The next day the story emanating from the radio room was that during our escapade as a “straggler” the destroyer’s asdic had picked up sixteen torpedo firings during the night. The rough weather no doubt made it extremely difficult for the U-boats to get accurate bearings on prospective targets. Thanks be to God.
So far so good, but the worst was yet to come. As we approached the Northern most part of Russia the sea narrowed into a bottle neck type entry into the White Sea, this was called the Kola inlet and the German submarines would lie in wait just outside this narrow section and attack the ships as they moved in single file towards Murmansk. JW 61 was extremely lucky not to lose any ships at this point, due to the strong escort and the adequate air-cover at that time.
The oil terminal at Molotovsk
majority of the ships steamed into the harbour at Murmansk whilst the
tankers sailed further south to the port of Archangel where the oil
dock was located. By this time the harbour entrance had frozen over so
we were obliged to follow the ice breaker Stalin into port.
The icebreaker Stalin tied up alongside and we had a good look over her and were amazed to discover that one single family ran the whole ship. The Captain was the head of the family, his wife in charge of the domestic side of running the ship, supplies, galley etc., while all the sons and daughters, with their respective wives and husbands filled all the other positions. It was also a great opportunity for them to look over Marathon and I wondered afterwards, if the decision to tie up alongside was not influenced by shortage of food and provisions ashore.
The shore crew or longshoremen were mostly female, as their menfolk were away at the front fighting the Germans; they clambered all over the ship coupling the valves and the pipes for the unloading process. A female worker was found dead one morning down between the two ships where she fallen in a drunken frenzy after having sampled the power alcohol from one of he tanks. She had managed to extract the lethal liquid by lowering a bucket down into the tank and then drinking from it.
The fuel dock where we were unloading was at the entrance to Archangel and was called by the name of Molotovsk. About one kilometre’s walk through the snow took us to the centre of the village where the authorities had established an entertainment facility for the visiting foreign seamen. The locals were nor permitted to fraternize with us except within confines of the centre, which they called the Interclub. There was music and dancing, a small sparsely equipped kiosk where we could buy a biscuit and a cup of coffee or a glass of vodka. Thee was also a small cinema adjacent to the man hall. I became friendly with the projectionist and she invited me up into her tiny little projection room above the maddening crowd below.
began to feel sorry for the Russian people for the way they had to live
in order to survive and the rigors of winter made things even more
difficult. Another example of fund raising I experienced a day or two
later when a few of us were taken to a house by one of the hostesses
from the Interclub, she was obviously a “pimp” working n commission. I
was curious to go along an was surmised to find on entering a large
room four girls, one in each corner of the room in bed. My mates made
their selection and as the lights were extinguished. I excused myself
with the “pimp” who quickly disappeared down the road n far that I
might have selected her. These girls were not prostitutes in the strict
sense of the word, they were, probably, married women trying to earn a
living for their hungry families.
It was while we were still in Molotovsk that had a little accident on deck, the Captain had asked the bosun to fill a drum of petrol from one of he tanks by using a small hand pump and he asked me to help him to lift the drum onto two parallel pipes that ran along the deck, a short lift of about twelve inches. We were both wearing heavy leather fleece lined gloves and as we lifted the dum it sipped on the ice and the rim came down hard on my had amputating the tip of my middle left hand finger. Seeing my blood on the snow made me feel a little squeamish in the stomach. Whereupon the third mate who witnessed the whole thing told me to follow him up to the first aid room on the bridge here he poured me a small glass of brandy. Mindful of my pledge not to touch alcohol until I was twenty five years of age, I pretended to drink t, but on turning to one side I put my hand over my mouth and spat the brandy down the front of m shirt and no one was any the wiser, because the smell alone revived me immediately. At least that I what I thought, but deep down I felt it was rather miraculous.
One of the female workforce took me to the village hospital to the out patients reception area where there were some thirty or forty people lined up in a queue. An old lady stepped forward and took me by the hand to the head of the line. I think she felt sorry for this baby face kid from the foreign ships. She referred to me as “malinki” small child. In response to this act of kindness I took out a few packs of American cigarettes m y pockets, we always carried them as bargaining currency and dished them all out down the line. It made me feel great to see the looks of appreciation on their faces.
Back on board with my finger stitched and bandaged there was not a lot I could do in regards to work around the deck. So I decided to pass the time by reading and trying to learn Norwegian language. The Third mate, who was in charge of the first aid room, was responsible for changing my bandages. He offered to help me learn the language. At least it was his excuse for having me visit his cabin on daily basis. I was still very na´ve and rather slow to wake up to the fact that his intentions were to develop a much more intimate relationships with me. Finally I got the message when he offered me money. That was the end of my Norwegian studies in his cabin and my hand didn’t really need to be attended to every other day
The tanks emptied we set sail behind he ice breaker Stalin
for the days trip back to the docks at Murmansk and there to wait for
the next convoy back to the United Kingdom. Being a tanker, Marathon
unloaded quickly, the cargo ships took much longer. Shore leave in
Murmansk was not much different than Molotovsk, all the buildings
seemed to be of wood and many still bore scars of German bombing
raids. Earlier in the war the place was virtually levelled. Here they
also had an Interclub for the visiting foreign seamen. It was somewhat
larger on account of the majority of ships unloaded here, only the
tankers went down to Molotovsk.
During the stopover in Murmansk there was a rumour going around the Interclub that two Merchant seamen had been arrested for fighting with a Communist official and one of his deputies. Apparently this official had passed a rude remark about the British being reluctant to open a second front in Europe and this led to fistcuffs which resulted in these two Russians coming off second best. It was forty years later that I read an account of this incident in Winston Churchill’s History of the Second World War. When Churchill heard these two seamen had been gaoled for seven years for striking a Communist official, he made immediate contact with Stalin and told him in no uncertain terms that unless these two sailors were released immediately and put on board a British cruiser and sent back to the United Kingdom, he would suspend the Russian convoys. Rather strong language for the Russians who depended desperately on these convoys. The story ended happily and the two sailors were released and returned to England, thanks to Mr Churchill.
Return Convoy RA 62
return voyage was in convoy number RA62 which left Murmansk on December
10th 1944 with 29 merchant ships, two escort carriers, a cruiser and
several destroyers. The escort left ahead of the convoy to clear the
assembled U-boats waiting at the mouth of the Kola Inlet for the ships
to file out before forming into the convoy sailing pattern. The second
day out U-365 torpedoed HMS Cassandra
and blew her bows off with great loss of life, but she was able to make
it back to Murmansk for repairs by sailing stern first. Then on
December 12th the Norwegian ship Tunsberg Castle
was sunk by a mine. That same evening the Luftwaffe entered the fray
with a attack by nine torpedo bombers, to no avail with the loss of two
planes, one of which came down only hundred meters from Marathon’s
Port bow. This particular raid was my first experience of surface
action, up until now everything had happened was below surface. During
the attack the sky was lit up from horizon to horizon with bursting
shells and tracer bullets from every ship in the convoy. It was very
frightening to say the least because some of the tracers were to close
to comfort. My action station was on the bow as ammunition passer to
the Bofors gun crew, who claimed to have shared the honour of having
shot down one of the two torpedo bombers. I remember standing on the
deck that night trembling something terrible, my knees shaking and
there was nothing I could do to stop them. I have never been so scared
in all my life. When I arrived at my post I was temporarily distracted
from my fear when I witnessed the final plunge of the German plane so
close to our port bow. It as also the fist time I had witnessed someone
getting killed. This incident was to have a lasting effect on me and
would on day be instrumental in teaching me a great lesson. During this
battle one of the carrier escort planes sank U-365. The U-boat sunk
during the passage of convoy RA 62 was U-387 by depth charge
attack from HMS Bramborough Castle. With the loss of only one ship the convoy had accounted for to submarines and two planes.
The remainder of the voyage was uneventful and we arrived back at Loch Ewe on December 19th 1944."
Laurie Downey's decision to join a monastery after the war was influenced by what he experienced on these two convoys: "I decided to become a monk and to take vow of silence in a European monastery as there were no such monasteries in Australia back then. I was expelled from the monastery five years later due to my quarrel with one of my superiors.
After life as a Trappist monk at a monastery in Rome in the 1950s
he became a tour guide at the Portuguese shrine to Fatima where his
obsession with the story of the third secret disclosed to the three
children by an apparition of the Virgin Mary led to his life taking a most extraordinary turn
which attracted world wide media attention in 1981. Until his death in
2006 Downey "still maintained his beliefs which he explained in his
book Russia 2000: the white communist manifesto (Fremantle: Ploughshares International, 1999).
|Lt Cdr Anthony R Trew DSC SANF(V) Ret
Anthony Trew signed this copy of Klebers Convoy for Athur Dodd, his former Anti-Submarine Control Officer in HMS Walker,
at Weybridge on 10 July 1974