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THE SINKING OF THE HMS BARHAM
BY RONALD DANDO (DECEASED)
“It was 1615 hours, Tuesday afternoon, November 25, 1941. I was an engine room rating on board HMS Barham, off duty at the moment but due on watch at 1800 hours.
Together with a few pals we stood amidships, leaning over the port rail having a chat and a smoke. Barham in company with HMS Q.E. and Valiant, three battleships together, surrounded by destroyers had left Alexandria to attempt contact with the Italian Fleet. We'd seen no sign of this and things had been quiet, really too quiet for the Med; but it wasnt to last much longer.
We were now off Sollum, Q.E. ahead flying Admiral Cunningham's flag, then Barham, with Valiant astern. It was about 1625 hours when a loud explosion came from somewhere aft, on the port side; then came two more, all in the space of seconds.
Men came scrambling on to the upper decks, getting from below decks as quickly as they could. It was only then that I realised Barham was going over quite quickly on her port side and that we'd been torpedoed, at least three times. We must have been at a 45 degrees angle now with water lapping over the port side. It was of course useless jumping off the port side there being the danger of being sucked back into the ship by water that must be rushing it. The only thing to do was to get up on the starboard side, the only way of doing it now being to drag oneself up on ones stomach. I managed it after a struggle and sat high up in the air together with quite a few more chaps, wondering "what now!"
Then I heard someone say "what the hell are you waiting for, get into the b***** water", or words to that effect it was Vice-Admiral Pridham Wippell; at once we started to slide down the side of Barham into the sea.
I must have been a few hundred yards astern of Barham when there was a terrific roar and she blew sky high, men, guns, all sorts flying through the air; a great wave, it seemed like a mile high, came rushing towards us, struggling and floundering in the swell. I remember thinking to myself, this is the end; then the wave crashed down on us. I felt myself rammed down then whirled round and round like a cork.
I held my breath for what seemed an eternity then started to strike out wildly, trying to surface.
My heard seemed to be bursting and I thought, "I must breathe, I must breathe". I opened my mouth fully expecting to swallow water, but it was air. I'd been thinking I was still under the water, it was so dark, but the reason was the thick smoke and fumes low over the water.
They eventually cleared and I found myself in a circle of men; a lot had their lifebelts on but I noticed their heads hung forward and their faces were in the sea; they were evidently dead, killed perhaps by falling wreckage. I hadn't got my lifebelt on, so maybe when that great wave had come over I'd gone down deeper than they and that had saved me from the falling wreckage.
There was a swell on; one moment we were able to see destroyers picking up survivors, the next we were deep down in a trough, couldn't see a thing.
I was getting very tired; I went down twice; the thoughts of my family flashed through my mind I fought my way back to the surface; the destroyers seemed miles away. I tried to float, swallowed more water and oil; I floundered helplessly just about giving up the struggle when someone put an arm around me and a voice said, "Take it easy mate, have a breather". Whoever it was undoubtedly saved my life. I was all in.
After a few minutes he said, "There's a log over there with two blokes clinging to it, see if you can make it".
The log was 50 or 60 yards away; I struggled to it, one of the two chaps clinging to it had some smashed ribs.
As I said, there was a swell on; one moment high up in the air, next, deep down. I saw a destroyer, much nearer now, and a boat leaving her side, coming towards us; she was an Australian destroyer. Every time the swell lifted us up now we were shouting "Aussie, Aussie".
Eventually they spotted us and come alongside. Someone grabbed me on board, I collapsed face down in the bottom of the boat, once again swallowing oil fuel but thankful just to be able to lie and rest.
Shortly afterwards lots of depth charges could be heard exploding; I heard later they got the sub; also, that when Barham had blown up she had blown the sub to the surface right alongside Valiant, but so close that Valiant couldn't bring her guns to bear, then the sub had crash dived and temporarily escaped.
I lost a lot of good pals that day, God Bless them, and God Bless those Aussies."
| last updated:
13 July 2013