HMS Firedrake Remembers
Name is Peter Kelly. I was SBA and LSBA on the Firedrake 1940-42.
While in Argentia, Newfoundland in 1942 the coxswain (Peter Armstrong)
came to me and said we have received a signal saying that your promotion
to Petty Officer has been confirmed. As the ship is not allowed
a S.B.P.O. you are now above our complement and are officially no
longer a member of the crew. You will have to see the captain and
request permission to stay aboard until your relief arrives. As
soon as he does we are obliged to drop you off at the first British
port we arrive at.
I duly saw the Captain Lt. Com. Steven Norris and made my request
which was granted. My relief took quite a while to arrive as we
were in and out of port so fast he couldn't catch up with us. Eventually
I was put ashore in Londonderry, returning to Chatham barracks where
I was drafted to Royal Marine Siege Regiment.
first M.O. I served with in the Firedrake was Surgeon Lt. Ormond
Gordon R.N. He was eventually replaced by Surgeon Lt. John Aldren
R.N.V.R. John visited my wife and me at my parents home in Derbyshire
soon after the war. I next traced him and telephoned him while on
holiday in U.K. in 1972. I have lost touch since then.
I was aboard the Firedrake at the Battle of Spartevento, which was
very spectacular. It was the first time that I had traveled at high
speed with the Firedrake. The sight of the Battleships, Battle Cruisers,
together with the whole fleet racing along with Battle Flags flying,
and darting in and out of smoke screens was something to remember.
The Italians were too quick for us and retreated behind their minefields,
so the pursuit was called off.
bombardment of Genoa was very heavy, some of the crew, myself
included, were a bit unhappy about it, we felt we had no quarrel
with the Italian people who had been plunged into war by Mussolini.
When we took the Italians off the submarine Durbo, they seemed
to be happy to be out of the war.
The running aground off Spain was due to fog and unpredictable
currents. One Officer told me that the captain immediately sent
for a copy of the Kings Rules and Regulations.
Sometime during my time aboard we intercepted and captured a Danish
ship, the "Sally Mersk" which had been captured by the
Germans and used as a supply ship for the enemy in North Africa.
I was with the boarding party which was swift and resulted in
the immediate surrender of three very frightened German soldiers.
While aboard the "Sally Mersk" a sudden storm brew up
and our ship waddled along quite happily while I could see the
Firedrake's Bow lifting skywards and plunging down. We had a comfortable
trip back to Gibraltar where the Germans were taken to a POW camp.
I don't know what happened to the crew who appeared to be Vichy
French. We slept on bunks between sheets and enjoyed good food
and drink, the supply of wines and spirits were quite diminished
by the time we docked
the Malta convoy "Operation Substance" the Firedrake was
leading the ships through the straits. She had sweeps out for mines
which meant her speed and ability to maneuver was limited. The blast
from the near miss lifted me off my feet. There was a lot of steam
rushing out and sailors emerging from the engine room oily and shocked.
The ship was stopped dead in the water and listing heavily. I can't
vouch for the following information, but I believe the Captain sent
a message to the engineer asking him if he could make steam. Somehow
the message was mixed up. The Engineer had told the messenger, he
would let the Captain know in 20 minutes. But the Captain received
the message, "could make steam in 20 minutes", this message
was conveyed to the Admiral, so the Admiral didn't order the abandonment
of the ship. Firedrake was reprieved.
The "Hunt Class" destroyer Edridge towed us out of the
immediate danger area and stood by to supply fresh water when emergency
repairs had been carried out.
then returned to Gibraltar under our own steam and went into dry
dock for further repairs. On the way the whole of force H passed
us in line ahead, each ship had cleared lower deck's, and the whole
ship's company's gave us three rousing cheers as they passed.
Firedrake's arrival in Gibraltar was greeted by a brass band and
we found a big party taking place aboard the flotilla leader H.M.S.
By returning to Gibraltar under her own steam the Firedrake had
completed the millionth mile for the flotilla.
group photo is of 5 mess on board the Firedrake. Second from
the right standing is: Jim Underwood (Lofty). Middle row left to
right: Kelly (Me), Dawkins and Leslie Best. Front row middle: Medcalf
and on the end is Lenny Robinson.
crew generally believed that we would return to Britain for further
repairs and I bought oranges, and onions to take home. It was a
shock to hear we were bound for Boston where we were to dry dock
in the Navy yard. A lot of good fruit and onions had to be ditched
in the ocean before entering harbour.
arriving in Boston we were transported by buses and private cars
to an unused U.S. Marine camp in Connecticut.
The surroundings were idyllic, with a fir lined lake and hills in
the distance. We were allocated huts and had loads of lovely food
served on stainless steel trays, steak, sausages, potatoes and of
course ice cream.
next morning we explored the camp and surroundings, there was no
canteen and no sign of a nearby town or village, we need not have
worried because later in the day there was a queue of cars, all
the occupants looking for a sailor or two to take home. The people
of Boston opened their hearts and homes to us, the hospitality was
went with different shipmates to homes in and around Boston, some
in Rhode Island, and Connecticut, and saw quite a lot of the country.
At Christmas we all contributed part of our pay to entertain the
hosts who had been so good to us. One family used to let me drive
their car, it was a very big DeSoto and they told me to send my
wife and son to the states as soon as possible and they would care
much as I would have liked to do so it was impossible for British
people to travel overseas at the time. When it was time to leave
we were showered with presents and clothing for our relatives. My
wife had her first pair of nylon stockings as soon as I got home.
Photo right is of Lenny Robinson and myself at the Murray's home
in Boston Massachusetts, Christmas time 1941.
I remember Captain Norris well. He sometimes came to the Sick Bay
in the cold evenings for a cup of hot cocoa. He was a keen gardener
and used to talk about the best time to plant tomatoes etc.
all my other shipmates I have no knowledge. I had a censored card
from Dawkins sent through the red cross from a POW camp in Germany.
I wrote in reply but never heard any more.
I knew the Firedrake had been lost, but didn't know the details,
and for the past 60 years believed all my shipmates had been lost.
service in the Royal Navy
Marine Siege Reg,.
Ship Tank 364