the 11th September 1939, the Firedrake left Scapa Flow with the Air
Craft Carrier Ark Royal, for an anti-U-boat sweep west of the Orkneys.
On the 14th, I was on look out duty on the port wing of the bridge,
when I saw two large water spouts very close to the side of the air
craft carrier, at first I thought she had been hit by what was obviously
torpedoes, but she steamed clear and turned away at speed, leaving
us and two other destroyers to search for the U-boat, I have found
out since that the magnetic pistols used to detonate the torpedoes
went off prematurely a common fault with the German early torpedoes
and one which saved us many lives.
We gained ASDIC Contact with the Sub, and each ship in turn, went
in at full speed and fired a pattern of depth-charges. Firedrake attacked
last, as we came out of it and heard our depth charges explode, we
thought we had missed, until up she came vertical like a huge cigar
and then flopped down slowly.
three ships raced to towards the surfaced U-boat, the Foxhound being
the nearest, men began jumping from the conning tower as she began
to sink, it took about five minutes in all for her to disappear, eight
men swam to the Firedrake and were hauled aboard and put in my mess
for the dash back to Scotland Scapa Flow. During that time I got the
autograph of one of the prisoners, the rest of the crew of U39 were
picked up by the Foxhound and Faulknor. Later all the prisoners were
transferred to the Foxhound so they could be landed at Kirkwall on
the Orkneys. In December the photo of the sinking was published in
the Sunday pictorial.
Winston Churchill was made first sea lord of the Admiralty, he toured
units of the Home Fleet and came up to Scotland to Loch Ewe, I think
it was late September or early October 1939, when he went on board
the Ark Royal, parties from all ships, went on board the Ark for a
review on the flight deck.
But the Firedrake, Somali and Eskimo were late getting back into Loch
Ewe, because we had been detailed to stay with the disabled submarine
So when the signal came from the Ark Royal ordering us to send a party
immediately we thought it was a working party, so turned up in dirty
overalls and unshaven. The officer in charge went bananas, and put
us at the back of the parade, hoping Winston wouldn't see us, but
he walked passed every single unit, he came right up to us, took a
good look, took his cigar out of his mouth, laughed and said, "I see
there all in their best dress No1's" every one else laughed and
we got away with it.
it was in October when the King came up to Scapa Flow, I was in Firedrake’s
party which joined all the other ships parties for a parade on shore.
The King passed just in front of me and I took a good look at him,
he looked very worried and careworn and appeared to have rouge or
powder on his cheeks to give him some colour.
left: Joe today at 83, now lives in retirement in Knutsford, Cheshire.
right: Is the autograph that Joe got from one of the German prisoners
from U39 the first U-boat to be sunk in the second World War.
Firedrake, Foxhound and Faulknor were the three destroyers that
sunk the first U-boat of W.W.II. All the crew were taken prisoner,
all but one survived the war.
John Bridge and Brumie with the Grog.
me on the left with my mate Brumie, just about to dish out the rum,
my name is John Bridge I was with the Firedrake from before the
start of the war until April 1941.
action in the North Sea, Atlantic, Norway and the Mediterranean
with Firedrake and later in the Pacific and Indian Oceans with the
first action was when we the Firedrake, Faulknor and Foxhound attacked
a U-boat that had fired two torpedoes at the Ark Royal which her
spotters had seen just in time and made a quick move to port so
the torpedoes exploded in the wash, all three destroyers attacked
in turn laying a pattern of depth-charges each, Firedrake being
the last, as we heard and saw the explosion the U-boat surfaced
and soon men were seen jumping from the conning tower into the sea,
the order to stop was given, and then we concentrated on saving
the lives of the survivors we got eight on board the Firedrake and
the rest went to the other two destroyers all the crew were saved,
this was the first U-boat of the second World War to be sunk, U39.
April 1940 we were in the Clyde at Greenock at about lunch time when
there was almighty explosion the French ship Maillé Brézé a heavy
destroyer of 2,400 ton had, had a torpedo accidentally fired along
her deck and into her fo’c’sle coursing an explosion and setting fire
to fuel oil and the main forward magazine, killing and maiming many
of her crew, the whalers from the Firedrake were the first there,
I was with the doctor Lt Latto, we did what we could for the injured,
but there were men trapped below decks and the fire was getting worse,
in the end the men trapped put there arms out of the port holes so
we could inject them with morphine, the ship went down with them still
inside I still have dreams about that today.
next time I saw action was the second battle of Narvik, we were being
constantly bombed day and night for over two weeks, some of the lads
were beginning to feel it towards the end of the battle, we were to
escort the Air Craft Carrier HMS Glorious back to the UK, but just
as we were about to set off our orders were changed and we were sent
back in to the fjords with the VW destroyer Walker to test the strength
of the enemy forces, we had travelled some distance when we were being
flashed a signal from the shore, the skipper Steven Norris asked the
signaller to decode the message or to check if it was in German, the
signaller by the name of Jackson started to laugh, and reported what
the message read, he said sir the message is not German and its not
in code, it is from a group of Royal Marines who are on active duty
asking if we had any whiskey on board, and could we spare some, so
the skipper sent one of the junior officers with a landing party and
two bottles of the requested substance, we then carried on with our
were lucky we didn’t go with the Glorious because she and her two
destroyer escorts were set upon by a superior force and all three
are sent to the bottom with heavy loss of life.
We then went out to the Mediterranean with Force H and Admiral Somerville
we again brought a sub the Italian Submarine Durbo to the surface
and took the crew prisoner, it wasn’t possible to take the sub in
tow because the subs skipper had already opened the sea valves.
sub was sinking, but we did have time to send men inside and get a
lot of information i.e. where the other subs were, and with that information
another sub the Italian submarine Lafole was sunk two days later.
Later that month we were on patrol in thick fog of Gibraltar and ran
aground, we lost our ASDIC dome and bent a prop, so had to go back
to Chatham for repairs, when we were in Chatham the rest of force
H went after and sunk the Bismarck so I missed that. This is where
I left Firedrake and joined HMS Warspite.