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 Post subject: Sinking of HMS Dorsetshire off Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
 Post Posted: Fri Sep 08, 2006 1:48 am 
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Sinking of HMS Dorsetshire off Sri Lanka (Ceylon)

Contributed by soonorey
People in story: Spencer Davies
Location of story: Off the coast of Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
Background to story: Royal Navy
Article ID: A1983170
Contributed on: 06 November 2003

Action stations
The year was 1942 and my father was 19 years old. As an Able Seaman, he had set sail from Wallsend on the Tyne on board HMS Dorsetshire. They docked in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). On Saturday 4 April a warning came through that Japanese planes were heading their way and that they were to leave Colombo immediately. At 10pm that night they set sail.

The next morning a Japanese plane was shadowing the ship and the crew were on lock down, action stations. It was 5 April - Easter Sunday.

The crew were served their Sunday roast in shifts, and my father had just had his. He returned to his station, the gun turret, to have a nap on his 'corker', a piece of canvas laid on the deck.

It was ten to two in the afternoon, and dad was just getting down onto his corker when the bombs were dropped. The bombs landed between the two masts of the Dorsetshire, demolishing the engine room and killing all the men working there.

Six minutes to sink
The boat took six bombs and took just six minutes to sink. 800 men were on board the Dorsetshire that day. Around 500 of them went into the shark-infested ocean, 300 miles from the coast. It was the only time my father has ever jumped into water. He had little choice that day. As he swam away the bows towered up almost vertically behind him.

Those that made it into the water were naked - if their clothes hadn't been burnt off them from the explosion then they were pulled off by the suction caused when the boat sank.

Within a few hours the survivors were completely black as the increased pressure of the ship sinking caused the tanks, containing 3000 tons of oil, to burst and the oil to rise to the surface and cover the men.

This was in fact a blessing as the oil slick kept the sharks at bay.

And so my father and what was left of the ship's company were in the sea for the rest of that Easter Sunday, some on rafts from the ship and some clinging to bits of wreckage.

Staying afloat
Some heaved themselves up onto a boom and sat astride it to stay up in the water. About 25 men were on that one boom, and the weight of them altogether meant that only their head and shoulders showed in a dead straight line above the water. If one man fell asleep, passed out or passed away, then the shift of balance would cause all of them to tip off the boom. There would be a mad scramble then to get back on the boom.

The scorching hot afternoon turned into a freezing cold night - the men huddling together to keep warm.

Dying in the water
Many men died in the water from their injuries, and there was nothing the others could do for them but to push them away from the wreckage.

Finally, after 30 hours of being in the sea, exhausted, oily, naked, hungry and thirsty and kept going by that roast dinner they had eaten two days and one night before, they were spotted by a seaplane, and HMS Paladin, a fleet destroyer, was sent to their rescue. Sadly, for some the rescue came too late.

The survivors were taken to the Maldives, where they were redistributed amongst the fleet.

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