Your Total Event
The Tragic Loss of HMS Galatea
14th December 1941

Thomas Grange

Below is an extract from his war memoirs "A Sailor's War"
where they pick up with relevance to HMS Galatea
(From Page 12)

Back to Guzz
Each watch was to get two weeks leave and I dropped lucky for the first lot. However, I’d only been home a couple of days when I received a wire ordering me back to Milford to pick up my baggage and a rail warrant, and to report back to Drake as I was on unentitled leave, having had my end-of-training leave only a few weeks before. This I duly did, but what with air-raid warnings holding up trains, etc. it took me all of 3 days to get back to Drake. When I reported to the Regulating office, tired and grubby after all that messing around, the duty P0 asked me what!thought I was up to, taking extra leave. I said I didn't think it was extra, I was ship’s company and thought I was entitled to it, and if he’d been offered it in the same position would he have refused it? “Go on, you cheeky young bugger, get off back to Grenville Block”. Apparently, if I’d been on permanent draft to the ship everything would have been ok, but being only a relief, the rules were different. So started another hair-raising period of air raids as, just at that time, Plymouth was a major target for the Luftwaffe. For the next 4 to 5 weeks, which was the length of my stay in Drake, almost every night saw a heavy raid in the area. Nights in depot were spent either in the basement, fire-fighting, rescue or ammunition carrying. If you were unlucky, you went into the basement shelter, but most nights I was aboard’ I managed to get an outside job. I didn't go much on being fastened up in a basement and I volunteered for anything going to keep me in the open air. It was during this 4-5 weeks that Boscawen Block, just across the roadway from Grenville Block, was flattened, and unfortunately that night I was in the basement of Grenville Block. About 2 am, after 4 hours of continuous bombing and gunfire, there was an almighty crash, our ceiling came down and the building shook. After about half an hour, a PG came down the steps from outside and said he wanted us all outside on rescue work. What a sight when we got to the front of the block. Boscawen, which had been a massively built, four-storey building, didn't have a wall left above 4 feet high; the only things above that height were the two door pillars and the lintel. There were about 450 Artificers in it at the time and none survived. There was some speculation as to what had been dropped to cause such a collapse of the building, as it had fallen in on itself and there was very little debris in the roadway round the block. The most popular theory was that it had been a parachute land-mine which had dropped through all the floors before exploding in the basement. The building had partly withstood the explosion before collapsing inwards with the suction. They were digging for bodies for some time after that, but I don't think they had got many out before I went on draft again, and this time to a real warship.

The Galatea

HMS Galatea when she was commissioned

HMS Galatea as drawn by Thomas Grange in 1941

I'd been through the dockyard before and even on to some ships, but I hadn't been impressed. They were drab and dirty, and a few had great gaping holes in them. Galatea was clean and bright, painted light grey and, funnily enough, it had a touch of pink about it. In fact, everyone nicknamed it the Pink Elephant. She was a light cruiser of the ‘Arethusa’ class and displaced 5220 tons when built. However, she had just had a re-fit in Chatharn and her four single 3 inch AA guns had been replaced with four twin 4.7 inch AA guns. The Walrus seaplane and catapult had been removed and quad 0.5 inch MGs fitted on each side between the funnels, and quad 2-pounder pom-poms put on each side too. Two 20mm Oerlikons were fitted on the top of ‘B’ turret, one on each side of the bridge, and two on ‘Y’ turret. All this backed up the main armament of six 6 inch guns and six 21 inch torpedo tubes, three on each side. New and larger boilers had also been fitted, which had increased the ship’s speed and endurance.

As soon as I saw Galatea I said to Charlie, who was still in Drake after 8 weeks, “That’s for me, I’m volunteering straight away; it’s what I joined up for and it gets me out of this madhouse.” He agreed and we both put in requests for a draft to Galatea if any were available. We were tannoyed for ‘Commander’s request men’ next morning, so they hadn't wasted much time, and told that subject to there being vacancies in our particular branches, our requests were granted. Fortunately, they were short staffed; in fact it was a Devonport ship and that was why they had come into port. A couple of days later, on June 161h, we had to report to the Drafting office with our baggage for transport to Gatatea. This we duly did and I had the misfortune of losing my kitbag, which had either been dropped off at another ship or stolen. Sailor’s baggage at that time was quite a bulky affair, consisting of a large kitbag, an attaché case and a lashed up hammock (many ratings had a suitcase too, but they stopped issuing these when the war started) which couldn't be carried about together. Charlie and I had taken our kitbags to the Drafting office and told the duty P0 we were off back for our hammocks, etc. but when we arrived back at the DO the truck with ratings for other ships and all the baggage had left, so we had to leg it down to the ship. It was a long way and a very warm day; a hammock and attaché case are a fair load. By the time we arrived at Galatea, we were pretty whacked, so to find that my kitbag was then missing came as quite a shock. I reported it immediately and the Regulating Officer contacted the DO in Drake to find out which other ships the truck had visited. I was then sent off round the dockyard with the list and had to walk around, find them and make the necessary enquiry at each. It didn't turn up - all I met were blank looks, some were helpful and some weren't at all interested. I was allowed some hours off over the next few days to visit the lost- baggage store and the dead-mens' kit store in Drake, but to no avail. My kit was the subject of numerous signals over the next few months, but it never turned up. The Navigating Officer (our Divisional Officer) told me I might have to start paying  weekly amounts for a new kit, as according to the rules it was my sole responsibility, but he would let me know if and when.

To Sea Again
We sailed for Greenock the following Monday morning, June 23rd, so I’d had about a week to settle in before sailing. The lads of the ‘sparker’ branch turned out to be great mates and between having items of kit given and loaned (long-term) and a few things bought in ‘slops’ (naval term for clothing stores) I soon had an almost complete kit again. I missed my No. 1 best suit and my best white suit, both of which I had bought to measure at Greenberg’s, the naval tailors in Skegness, and I had to go ashore in a borrowed No. 2 suit loaned by Harry (Bungy) Williams, who became a great mate.

On Thursday of that week the Captain, of all people, introduced himself to me. I was on an intercom and aerial maintenance party, and had to test the telephone handsets on the bridge. So, up to the bridge I went, not feeling too confident at going to such a hallowed place. I tested the phone behind the Captain’s chair and noticed the box was in a bit of a state, so I gave it a really good clean out and polish. I was aware of someone watching me, but was taken aback somewhat when I saw it was Captain Sim. He came over to me and said, “So, you’re the new telegraphist I believe.” I replied, “Yes sir.” He asked me my name, and when I told him he said, “Well, young Grange, if you do all your work like you've cleaned that telephone, you'll be alright - carry on.” I replied, “Thank you sir” and cleared off. My first experience of aerial maintenance wasn't quite as successful and I was glad the Captain didn't see my performance on that. To get to the main aerial meant going up the mast ladder from the signal deck. I’d never climbed a mast before and didn't have the technique to go up a loose wire ladder. When I was about halfway up, a slight swell caused the ship to roll and the ladder pulled away from the mast, going back with a crack on the rebound. It was frightening enough being out in space, but I got a real bang when I hit the mast coming back. The signal deck was full of signalmen laughing their heads off and I felt a right idiot. I had to come down then, and it was some consolation to me when the next sparker to try (he was a tubby Welshman called Morgan) got stuck with fright halfway up and had to be brought down with a block and tackle. Someone then showed me the required technique, which was to go up the ladder from the side and not facing it, and at my second attempt I got up to the yardarm with no trouble, went out to the end of it on the footstay, came back to the mast and then went up another 30 feet to the radar array. I got myself put on permanent aerial maintenance after that. It was a great feeling at the masthead; I went up once whilst we were at sea. Fortunately, it wasn't too rough, but going through a big arc in open space was quite an experience.

Captain Sim was from Northallerton I think, and was very well thought of on board. Two other officers who were also ‘Gents’ were Surgeon Commander Curzon, who was a member of the famous Curzon family (and who, I was told more recently, was promoted to Surgeon Admiral; there have only ever been two or three of that rank) and the Navigating Officer, Lt Cdr- Nicholson. He was our Divisional Officer and he saved me a lot of grief over my kit.

On Saturday of that week (June 21st) one of the sparkers, Ronnie Jackson, got married. He’d done his training at Skegness about a year before me and was one of the few lads I knew who married a Skegness girl. So, Friday night all the Tel. branch who could went to the stag night, and we nearly all went to the wedding too, as we were allowed a couple of hours leave. As a mark of the kind of chap the Captain was, he provided a lot of the material and food for the reception, and told Ronnie to be back on board at 7.30 am Monday, which was a pretty good gesture on his part. Ronnie was back on board by 7 am and we sailed for Greenock at about 9pm. We were about a week in Greenock waiting for a convoy to assemble. (Ronnie managed another meeting with his wife, as he telegrammed her from Greenock). Then on June 29th we sailed for the Med with a convoy of troopers, a couple of other cruisers and some destroyers. I can't remember any of the names of the ships in the company, except one destroyer, the ‘Brilliant’. I can only remember that because it was damaged by rough weather rounding the Cape and we all had to stand-to at that time, in case assistance was required.

A Holiday Cruise
The voyage out to the Med was marvelous, there were no submarine scares, no air raids, and it was just like a holiday cruise. Off watch, we lay on the decks and sunbathed or stood at the rails watching the flying fish. The sky and the sea were pure blue and the sun blazed down, even across Biscay. We stopped at Freetown for 4 days to make up provisions; we had run out of potatoes or very nearly, but unfortunately they didn't have any in Freetown either, and loaded us up with yams instead. They were horrible, so in our mess (No. 43) they went the same way as tinned pilchards, out of the galley, down to the mess and straight out through the scuttle. It was good to get ashore at Freetown, although as far as I remember it was more or less a wooden shanty town. There wasn't much to see; I got ashore on three occasions, sampled the local beer and had a long walk out into the country. The guides brought us back a different way, so they could piggy-back us across a river and demand ‘substantial remuneration’. We got the usual exhortations from the MO and his staff regarding drinking the water, eating the local food and not associating with the local females, but the number of cases of stomach pains on the second stage of the journey to Durban seemed to indicate that many people hadn't taken much heed of the advice. Also, a P0 Tel. and a Tel. (not me) reported sick with VD before we arrived at Durban. We had a ‘crossing the line’ ceremony on this leg, which was quite an occasion.

The weather held until we started to go around the Cape and one night it blew up really rough, and like the mirror sea at Falmouth, I never saw the like again. I never saw it as rough as going round the Cape; the mess deck was inches deep in water and at one mealtime someone had slipped down the ladder with a tray of sausages, bacon and eggs, and they were sloshing around as well. It was during this storm that ‘Brilliant’ sprained her keel and cracks appeared in the bottom plates.

We were told that two merchant ships had gone alongside on both sides to break the seas, but whether this would have been possible in seas like that, I don't know, but ‘Brilliant’ detached to Simonstown for repairs.

We eventually arrived at Durban and stayed there for 5 days. It was 5 days leave almost, the weather was just what one would expect of South Africa. A line of cars was waiting on the jetty and as liberty men went ashore, they were offered ‘up homers’ by the local people, and offered ‘adoption’ for the duration of our stay. Bungy, Johnnie Cardwell and I were whisked off to a ranch-type house way out of town, wined and dined like royalty and delivered back to the ship at the appointed time. We made arrangements for a further visit and they picked us up again; we visited them quite a few times altogether and also had a few runs ashore in the city itself. They wrote to my parents to let them know I was ok and of my whereabouts. I suppose it was a breach of security in some respects, but the authorities must have known it was going on; they also sent them a roll of silk dress material as a gift. I still have the letter, but I don't know what happened to the silk, although I knew it landed safely.

The next leg was to Aden and it was another repeat performance as regards weather, but Aden brought the war back. We anchored not far away from an Australian destroyer, the Nizam’, which had had its stern blown off at Crete and was on passage back to Australia for repairs. We didn't get ashore at Aden and only stopped there 2 days before going on up the Red Sea to Port Suez, where we went straight in through the Canal to Alexandria and joined the l5th Cruiser Squadron (this would be about early August). At that time, the l5th CS consisted of Naiad (flagship), Phoebe, Dido, Neptune, Ajax, Euryalus, Coventry and us. They were all modern cruisers except Coventry, which was a fairly old ship and had been converted to what was termed an ‘anti-aircraft cruiser’, but compared to all the high-angle armaments on the rest of us, it was a joke. In Alex there were also a couple of destroyer flotillas and the 2° Battle Squadron, comprising Valiant, Queen Elizabeth and Barham. The Valiant and QE were sunk by Italian frogmen in Alex harbour a couple of months later, which left only one battleship in BS 2. They captured the frogmen and took them into the bottom of the ship, but I don't think they were fast enough and the mines went off

The next few weeks we did ‘sweeps’ up the Med, coastal bombardment, and other duties. A sweep would last 5-10 days and then we’d go back to Alex for a few days. Shore leaves in Alex were spent at one of the many service clubs, e.g. Fleet Club, Jewish Club, or one of the more numerous cabaret-type clubs. As with all naval bases, a vast amount of beer was consumed and I must say that I consumed my share. The beer hall at the Fleet club was the favourite venue for this. They also had a good Tombola game there and hundreds of matelots played, so the ‘house’ sometimes reached a tidy sum. The first time I played I called house, but it was a false call and I felt like crawling under the table. The cat-calls were deafening, but the following week I won £46, which was a fortune then; they couldn't pay out a large amount like that in cash so it was paid into my ship’s pay A/C and I was able to draw it as needed, and I needed it pretty badly. Besides losing my kit-bag, the pay details of the three of us had been misplaced and we were only getting ‘casual’ payments. In my case this was about 15 shillings (75p) per week, so things were a bit thin and I could only manage a couple of runs ashore each week. I had joined a weightlifting and wrestling club in Alex (I still have the membership card) and got quite friendly with an Egyptian, All el Tantawy, so I was shown around some of the local hotspots, which I wouldn't have known about normally.

One of the highlights of shore leave in Alex, especially weekends believe it or not, was coming back on board at night. Shore leave was all night if desired for all above AB, but below that rank it ended at 23.00 hours on the jetty. Through the week each ship ran its own liberty boats to and from the jetty, but on Saturday and Sunday nights we went ashore in our own boats but came back in the ‘harbour bus’, which was usually a pretty big pinnace that could take about 200 men. It would go around all the anchorages, dropping men off at each ship. It was always a very noisy trip back at 11pm, as most Jacks were pretty high after a good day’s run ashore and a good evening on the beer. One lot would be rendering ‘Nellie Dean’, another 'Roll out the Barrel' and others would be bawling any choice naval ditty which took their fancy. Now we had an officer called Lt. Swan (we called him another name), who was a gunnery officer, and what he didn't know about naval armaments wasn't worth knowing, but he was the most ‘loveable’ officer on board. If he was Officer of the watch when the liberty boat came alongside, everyone had to be silent; this was asking a lot of matelots in that state and in fact it was impossible, especially as most of them were off other ships anyway, and didn't know Lt. Swan from Adam. As the liberty boat came alongside the ladder, Swan would shout out “Silence in the boat!”. The answer from somewhere back in the boat would be “Get f.....!“ or “Go get your head down”, so Swan would say,  “Coxswain, take them round the buoy - no one comes ashore until there’s silence in the boat.” This meant taking the boat around the buoy to which we were tied, and then round the ship. This was alright for Swan if Galatea was the last ship in the run, as we were used to him and usually only went round the buoy a couple of times. However, one night he slipped up; he must have had a few gins too many before he came on watch, because when the boat got to Galatea there were about 80 still on board and only about 20 For Galatea. After the usual exchanges, he sent us off round the buoy and we were doing repeat performances until 03.00 hours, by which time the only noises from the boat were resounding snores. He was hauled up in front of the Admiral because many men in the boat were from Naiad and they were very late back. He didn't do it much after that. In fact, it must have been the following week when he got knocked off the platform into the harbour by the RM  Band sergeant, who was a recalled pensioner, and had quite a load on at the time. Swan got very wet and I think the poor old sergeant got reduced in rank.

After the first few weeks we were sent back to Port Said, through the canal then down the Gulf of Suez and back up the Gulf of Aqaba where, it was rumoured, we were to pick up an intelligence officer who had been working in enemy-occupied countries and had worked his way back around Palestine with the Arabs. We had been anchored out in the Gulf of Aqaba for 2 or 3 days when an Arab dhow came alongside and an Arab (or someone dressed like one) came aboard and was taken straight below. We upped anchor immediately and high-tailed it back to Alex. Nobody saw the ‘Arab’ again; he must have gone ashore at night, so maybe the rumours were correct. We were then back to patrolling the Med with the l5th CS and it was during this second spell in Alex that I went to Naiad to take the exam for promotion to TO. Chiefy Hudson had recommended me for it earlier than was normal. I was already a Fleetwave operator and spent most of the day doing the exam; it covered many things besides transmitting and receiving morse, and included visual signalling, radio theory and coding. I passed everything with very good marks except coding; the minimum mark required was 75% and I got 73%, so the Warrant Tel. failed me. Hudson blew his top and wrote a letter of protest. I had been up to the 90 mark in most of the subjects and to fail me on an obscure subject like coding was a bit unfair for him. However, the Warrant Tel wouldn't relent so I didn't get made up.

Losing the Galatea
We went back to the Red Sea again with the Coventry and Naiad, to act as a Red Sea escort force, and we met the three big liners, the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary and the Mauretania, which were bringing Australian troops to the Middle East area. They were an impressive sight together and when alongside them at Port Suez, the sheer size of them was incredible. Back in Alex for a third spell, we sailed at the end of November with some ships of the 15th CS and the Barham. We were only out a couple of days and on the way back Barham was torpedoed and sunk. She went down in about 5 minutes and the newsreel sequence of her rolling over and exploding is one of the classics of WWII cinema photography. We were about a mile away at the time and both heard and felt the explosion. There were about 500 survivors out of 1200-1300 men.

We sailed again in early December with Naiad, Euryalus and two destroyers, Hotspur and Griffin. We were searching for enemy merchant ships en route from Italy to North Africa and we were back in port after 3 or 4 days. We left again on 17th December to raid convoys which had been sighted by recce aircraft; however, the convoys turned back, so we turned around and went back to Alex after only a few days at sea. It was on the first day of this run that the Nav officer told me that I would have to start buying new kit and would have to start paying for it at one shilling per week, which I didn't think was too bad. On the night of 14/15 December I had the middle watch (midnight to 04.00).

We had permission to sling hammocks that night, which was normally forbidden as they were a hazard in emergencies, blocking pump intakes and causing obstructions, etc. However, that night we were considered to be in safe water. I turned in about 21.30 and got well off to sleep. Ernie Furzer, one of the boy Tels. was messenger that night and he shook me at 10 minutes to midnight. I woke up, had a stretch and spent 2 minutes gathering thoughts, knowing that I could comfortably be in the bay 3 minutes before time, which was the limit Chiefy Hudson allowed for change-over. I swung out of the hammock and was putting my deck shoes on, which I had left ready on the messdeck stool, when there was a dull clang, a slight pause then two more dull clangs. The ship seemed to stop with a shudder and took an immediate list to port. I needed no second thoughts, I took a swift glance around my side of the messdeck but couldn't see anyone else, although there was some movement on the seaman's side; I hit the ladder like a rocket and went up it and back along the ‘Canteen Flat’, out of the bulkhead door at the foc'sle break and over the side against the starboard whaler. She was over a good 30 degrees as I went along the canteen flat and I'll always remember one of the RM bandsmen, a lanky ginger-haired lad, emptying his locker into an attaché case, and there were a few other people milling around too. I said “You've no time for that Lofty, get yourself off! “.

I had all on keeping my footing on the sloping deck and it was getting worse every second, so Lord knows what Ginger was thinking about. I sat on the gunwale, put a couple of blows into my deflated life-belt and slid down the side, stood on the bilge keel and jumped into the water. I reckon I jumped about 5 feet so she must have been nearly on her side by then. I swam away and had done about 20 strokes when I looked back and was horrified to see the bows towering over me in a huge black mass. I thought if that lot comes over sideways on to me I’m dead. I panicked a bit and struck out to get clear, there was a rushing sound and I turned around again, but she’d gone and everything was silent.

There were quite a few swimmers and we were soon shouting to each other; some had life-belts like mine, with a small red light, and they were bobbing about. Eventually we all got together; I reckon there were about 20 of us, including Commander Curzon and Lt Cdr Nicholson. They started us off singing to keep our spirits up, but it was soon obvious that some of us were injured. We couldn't keep together in the currents and pretty soon I was on my own. I lost track of the time, I couldn't see my watch (which would have stopped an~ay), I was covered in fuel oil which was clogging up my eyes and I must have swallowed gallons of it. I drifted along for some time and was beginning to feel pretty low when I saw a destroyer, bows on to me but quite a long way off. The sea was fairly choppy and although I tried to swim for it, I didn't seem to make any headway and it went out of sight. I really felt low then and got a bit resigned to swimming around until I couldn't swim any longer. Shortly after the destroyer had disappeared I came across a mess-deck table and pulled myself on to it; my weight pushed it under but after I got balanced, it was a lot better than swimming. A few minutes later I met another swimmer, one of the AA gunners from the other side of the messdeck. I didn't know his name, but he was injured and thought he had broken his leg.

We drifted along for what seemed ages when another destroyer came into view and this time it was a lot nearer. I slid off the table and tried to tow it, but again I couldn't make any headway, so I told the seaman to stay on the table and I swam for it. When I got a bit nearer (the tide must have been in my favour) I saw they had a whaler out and they were able to pull me aboard. There were a few other oil-covered survivors in there too; I told them about the lad on the table but by that time we could see him, so we picked him up then went alongside the destroyer, which turned out to be the Hotspur. It was quite a job getting up the rope ladder in the choppy sea, but I was hauled over the side, asked if I was all in one piece, and shown along to the foc'sle where they had hot tea and cocoa. They apologised for not having any spare blankets, as they’d given them all to the Barham survivors a couple of weeks earlier and hadn't had time to get re-kitted. It was a damn sight colder in the foc'sle than it had been in the sea.

We sailed around all next day trying to find the submarine and must have had a contact or two, because they dropped depth-charges later the second day. Eventually we got back to Alex and Cdr Curzon and Lt Cdr Nicholson were on the jetty as we stepped ashore. They shook everyone’s hand, congratulating us all on our survival. Lt Cdr N said to me, “Glad to see you made it Grange, at least now you won't have to buy new kit, you’ll get issued with one.” I think I replied, “Pleased that you got away as well sir, and after all that I’d sooner have bought my kit.” A day or two later when I found out how many of my mates were lost, I felt that more than ever. I didn't meet him again, although I did meet up with Cdr Curzon again. We went to a dispersal camp at Dekheila just outside Alex and were cleaned up, as many of us were still clogged up with fuel oil, rested and then kitted- up again. Things were back to normal, then after a few days rest, all ratings of leading rate and above were sent back to the UK and the rest of us went to HMS Canopus, the RN barracks in Alex. We had been torpedoed by the U557 in position 31°17’ N; 29°13’ E about 25 miles from Alex. I learned later that U557 had been rammed by an Italian destroyer somewhere off Tripoli and was lost with all hands.

Some survivors of the Galatea, all signalmen except myself.