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Episodes & Studies Volume 2

‘Qui Patitur Vincit’

page 25

‘Qui Patitur Vincit’

THE LEANDER took an immediate list of ten degrees to port. Main steam failed to the two after engines (inner shafts) and electric power was cut off everywhere forward of No. 3 boiler- room, plunging the ship into complete darkness and bringing all auxiliary machinery to a dead stop. Very soon, steam was lost on the port forward engine, due to the enforced evacuation of No. 2 boiler-room because of the intense heat when the air supply fans were disabled by blast. The ship had lost two-thirds of her 72,000 horse-power steaming capacity. The wrecking of the electrical installation caused a complete cut-out of all communications, except the very limited number of sound-powered telephones, and a total failure of all gunnery fire control and radio equipment. The telephone battery was put out of action by a short circuit on its leads. Not only had electric power failed, but the transmitting station, with its superhuman calculating machines which correlated a dozen different sets of data at once for the control and accurate firing of the guns, had been completely flooded and its operators compelled to leave the compartment. The Leander was in no condition to renew the action had the enemy returned, and when daylight came there was every likelihood of air attacks.

But the Royal Navy ‘can find precedent or parallel for any situation that the force of the weather or the malice of the King's enemies may bring about’. Almost exactly 145 years before —on 1 August 1798 — HMS Leander, a fourth rate of fifty guns, commanded by Captain T. B. Thompson, had fought gallantly in the Battle of the Nile, and a fortnight later was entrusted by Nelson to take to England the news of his great victory. The despatches were sent in the charge of Nelson's flag captain of the Vanguard, Sir Edward Berry. Four days after sailing, the Leander fell in with and at once engaged the Genereux, a French ship of the line of eighty guns, whose broadside fire was more than double and whose crew was treble that of the British ship. After a fierce action lasting six and a half hours, the Leander was forced to surrender. She had repelled several French attempts to board her. Her hull was badly shattered by gunfire and she could not strike her colours as no mast was left standing. Ninety-two of her crew were killed or wounded. The Genereux had suffered nearly 300 casualties. Captain Thompson, who lost a leg, was court- martialled for the loss of his ship and knighted for his gallantry. The Leander's crest and her motto ‘Qui Patitur Vincit’ (Who Suffers Conquers) are derived from this famous action.

The light cruiser of 1943 was a vessel far different from the sailing ship of 1798, but the Leander spirit was unchanged, and her motto held good. Many of her ship's company of 600 were ‘hostilities only’ men, not long away from farm, factory, shop or office in New Zealand: for not a few youngsters Leander was their first ship. But, in the words of her captain, ‘the conduct and bearing of all hands during the action and during the trying passage back to harbour were a source of extreme pride and gratification to me. All behaved like veterans. The curtailment of Leander's part in the action was a bitter disappointment to me and everyone on board.’

It has been well said that ‘however perfect the machines, war in the last analysis is fought by men whose nerves must remain steady to direct the machines, whose courage must remain high when they as well as their machines are in danger, whose discipline and training must be such that they work together’. Throughout that long day, officers and men of HMNZS Leander laboured page 26 resolutely and incessantly to save their sorely-stricken ship. How they succeeded has become one of the damage control classics of the Navy.

When some 600 square feet of her structure was blown open to the sea, five compartments were completely flooded—the forward boiler-room, main switchboard room, forward dynamo room, low-power room, and the transmitting station. Five fuel-oil tanks were wrecked and two others badly contaminated with sea water. There were big leaks through a damaged bulkhead into No. 2 boiler-room and the passage on the port side, as well as into the stokers’ mess-deck through the splits in the ship's side and the deck above. Major damage had been done to auxiliary machinery and steam, water, and fuel-oil pipe systems. It was found that the ship could steam at slow speed on the two outer engines, taking steam from No. 3 boiler-room. A south-easterly course was set to return to harbour and the Leander gradually worked up to 12 knots. Communication was established with the destroyers Radford and Jenkins, which had been detached by Rear- Admiral Ainsworth to stand by the Leander and which acted as anti-submarine and anti-aircraft screen during the passage to Tulagi.

When No. 2 boiler-room had to be evacuated because of the stoppage of the air supply fans, it was not possible to close the stop valves of the main steam pipes because of the intense heat. Acting Chief Engine-room Artificer Morris Buckley5 went back a few minutes later and at great risk in the darkness and escaping steam succeeded in shutting down the valves. Led by Chief Shipwright J. W. Stewart,6 a damage control party set about the establishment of a flooding boundary. Working in almost total darkness and up to their waists in oil and water, they shored up damaged bulkheads and hatches and plugged holes and cracks. The most immediate danger was the imminent flooding of No. 2 boiler-room. Stoker Petty Officer A. Fickling7 and Leading Stoker J. R. Haliday8 volunteered to re-enter the compartment and shore up the damaged bulkhead. Measures were then taken to pump out the boiler-room by means of two portable electric pumps, with a capacity of sixty tons an hour, which kept the water level below the floor plates.

Commander S. W. Roskill9 had been injured on the leg and nearly swept overboard by the explosion, but for some hours he directed the work of his damage control parties until incapacitated by his wound. ‘The high standard of organisation and training shown by all hands was largely due to his initiative and leadership’, said the captain's report. Regular drills, lectures, and demonstrations had made all officers and men ‘damage control conscious’, and it was for this reason that in spite of severe casualties among the senior ratings of one party, correct action on their own initiative was taken by the survivors. The general reaction was: ‘Well, it was just what we had been told it would be like.’ A seaman boy, Mervyn Kelly,10 seventeen years of age, was employed as the commander's messenger. He, too, had been blown over and injured by the explosion, but he stuck gamely to his job, and during the period when all telephones were out of action he carried many important verbal messages speedily and accurately. He neither mentioned nor reported his injuries until long after daylight.

The port torpedo-tubes, which were about to be fired when the ship was hit, were dismounted by the explosion and most of their crew became casualties. A young petty officer, Charles A. Patchett,11 though badly shaken, immediately organised the survivors and the crew of the starboard page 27 tubes into repair parties. They rapidly restored power to a number of important circuits, thus greatly assisting Chief Electrical Artificer W. R. J. Jones,12 who had taken charge of all electrical repair parties when he learned that the commissioned electrician and his staff had been killed in the main switchboard compartment. When he heard that there were badly injured men on the stokers’ mess-deck, Norman Craven,13 the youngest member of the sick berth staff, at once volunteered to go there and assist the first aid parties. Under conditions requiring more than ordinary courage, he attended to wounded men, showing much initiative and a sound knowledge of his duties. Chief Petty Officer Telegraphist C. J. Rosbrook14 showed great organising and technical ability in rapidly making good all breakdowns in the ship's wireless telegraphy system.

The first casualty arrived at the main dressing station six minutes after the explosion occurred, and almost all the fifteen cases were treated there within the next ten minutes. The seriously injured suffered mainly from a combination of multiple fractures of leg and ankle bones and the effects of blast. All were standing up when they were injured, with the exception of a leading stoker who was seated at a desk. Two ratings standing one on either side of him were killed instantly. The behaviour and morale of the injured men was of a high order both during the action and afterwards, and they were unselfish in their insistence that ‘we should treat the other fellow first’, reported Surgeon Lieutenant-Commander E. S. McPhail.15 ‘They appeared to be far more concerned with the damage inflicted on the enemy than with their own condition and wounds.’ Electric current failed in the main dressing station and forward first aid post, and emergency lighting had to be used until the repair parties restored power for the lights and sterilisers. The sick berth staff and auxiliary medical parties worked for eighteen hours without a break. Being in battle dress, all were continuously wet through as a result of perspiration from heat and lack of ventilation, but liberal rations of saline tablets and well-sweetened lime juice helped to prevent exhaustion. The condition of the wounded on their discharge to hospital was evidence of the medical staff's sound work.

The customary preparations for feeding the ship's company had been made before the action and proved adequate under most trying and difficult conditions. Approximately three days’ normal supply of bread was already baked. Two sandwiches per man were prepared, coppers were filled with hot soup and cocoa, and a large tub of iced lime juice placed in the galley. The issue room was fully stocked with tinned foods, especially fruits, and emergency supplies were placed in the main store. No damage to galley or bakery was caused by the explosion, but no electric power, steam, or fuel-oil was available for cooking from the time of the action until the afternoon.

page 28
in devonport dockyard, auckland

in devonport dockyard, auckland