Part of the Acorn Archive
Hearts of Oak
Dad’s Diary 1941
Transcribed by Sue Twyman
proud daughter of
Lt Philip Bray R.N. [1912 –1988]
HMS Aurora - 1941
September 1941 October 1941
September 2nd 1941
A very cold day-never knew it could be so cold and ice is everywhere. Clouds only about fifty feet above the sea which is still very calm.
At 6am we got up anchor and left Advent Fiord and arrived at Isfiord at 8-30 this morning. The Empress of Canada and Nigeria had already arrived back from Russia this morning. We tied up alongside Empress of Canada and she made us look small! We transferred all loot on board her- over 250 tons of it! Over a thousand or so Norwegian men and women were sent aboard her too- for passage to England.
We left the Empress of Canada at tea time and anchored close by. So we are now waiting for this time tomorrow to sail for Scapa.
September 3rd 1941
A very, very cold day. Temperature well below freezing point- unbearable. Have put on extra clothing. I like to feel alive and shivering helps one do that! A calm day but cloudy.
We have all prepared to leave Spitzbergen for good tonight.
At 10 o’clock we blew up 3 large barges, and we set fire to the last town here. Flames are hundreds of feet high, and there will be nothing left.
We steamed out of here an hour after this, and now we are out of harbour. We do not know where we are going, but I think we have another job to do before we get back to Scapa on Sunday. I hope its to blow Hammerfest to bits.
September 4th 1941
We were about 200 miles SW of Spitzbergen when I woke up this morning. Sea was rather rough but it is a little warmer now. We steered SW all day, and a few moments ago at midnight we left the Empress of Canada and turned back again, and now we are going NE at very high speed 25K.
The Commander has just told us we have another job to do before we go back to Scapa- but we do not know what it is yet. But I think it will be a red hot one, a bombardment or something like that. Know more about it tomorrow. It seems Aurora is the only damn ship in the Navy lately and we are all just about fed up with everything. My nerves feel on edge always now.
September 5th 1941
We went high speed all night until at 6 this morning we sighted our oil tanker and we oiled from her and so did Nigeria. We left her at lunch time and been steaming NE all day at moderate speed.
The Captain spoke to us today and told us that during the next two or three days, we are going to sink enemy merchant ships off the very North Coast of Norway. We shall be right under the Nazi noses again- and it seems we shall not get away without being bombed a lot this time.
So we have a red hot time to come! But we need it- we feel so fed up.
September 6th 1941 Battle of North Cape
Very good day and severe cold—went NE all day towards North Coast of Norway. At 10 O’clock tonight we sighted the Coast and went to action stations right away. Captain has offered five pounds to the first person to bring down the first enemy plane. At midnight just now we are only 5 miles from the coast, and we are standing by for action.
Since writing my last sentence we have been into action with the enemy for an hour or more. We first sighted 2 enemy destroyers and several other ships and we chased them into a fiord. At 2 o’clock we opened fire on the destroyers with every gun we have, and they fired back at us, but although close, they missed. This went on for some time and got very exciting, until we blew one of the destroyers to pieces, and we hit the other badly. (Hood avenged!)
We also probably sunk several merchant ships who were in the convoy, but I’ll know more tomorrow.
We have just been in action again, and Nigeria who is with us, with Vian on board, rammed one ship. Nigeria is now damaged too—so we are only doing slow speed. We badly damaged an Anti Aircraft Cruiser, and an escort vessel, and trawler, and sunk a big oil tanker,--this is as far as we can find out yet. It is now 4 o’clock, had no sleep yet, so here goes.
Have just found out that we had two shells hit us. One through the after funnel and one burst on a 4inch gun shield, but no one hurt.
Aurora has done her stuff at last—and it was something to be proud of ---right inside the enemy’s front door!! Tomorrow we shall have their air-force after us. We sank our destroyer at 200 hundred yards range!
September 7th 1941
Sea rough today as we steamed W, away from where our battle had been. The speed we are doing now is only 18knots and seems we are making for Iceland owing to the Nigeria being damaged. Wish it was us, then we would go into dock—but surely we have earned some leave now!
We had a signal from Admiral Vian today, congratulating us---the Aurora—on being so successful in the battle. The result was that we did all the sinking, and Nigeria only got the damage!
And so Aurora sunk one destroyer called the Bremse. We also sunk two armed trawlers, and one large escort vessel. We had several hits with our 6inch guns on a second enemy destroyer and badly damaged an oil tanker. So we all think we did well. Hope it is given out on the news, then Ethel (wife) will know Aurora has at last done something glorious.
My feelings during the battle were at their pitch. We were hit by shells twice and also by plenty of machine gun bullets---no casualties.
Enemy aircraft were looking for us today, but did not find us at all, and so now we are looking out for submarines. We have steamed 40,000 miles since May.
I shall never forget last night!
September 9th 1941
Sea a lot calmer today and it is getting a lot warmer. We altered course for Scapa in the early hours of this morning, so we shall not touch Iceland. We are due to arrive at Scapa tomorrow night.
We have had to keep a good watch for U-boats as there are some in this vicinity. We are now 300 miles from Scapa.
During the past 3 weeks alone we have steamed over 7,00 miles—and we all feel proud of the things we have done.
The BBC told of our Spitzbergen exploits over the news today, but we who did all the stuff got no credit, Canadians got that. In the 9 o’clock news the world was informed of our daring exploits the other night. And the Germans also confirmed the ships we sank.
Aurora was not mentioned in the broadcast---it said Admiral Vian forces, and I wonder if Ethel (wife) knew it was us!
So now officially we know that this ship Aurora, alone sank the Bremse and three more in less than an hour! The Nigeria with Vian on board did not get a chance to do much. But Admiral Vian sent us a signal today saying, “The Aurora was certainly out for blood, and I heartily congratulate you all in executing the Nazis as you did”.
The enemy of that night will always be with me, the poor devils didn’t stand a chance against us! How that ship blew up in front of my eyes, only 200 yds away!
I did not feel any fear, not even as the shells came at us—but I could not think clearly about it until now.
So Aurora has earned her glory at last
I feel as though the war is altering me in lots of ways—it is hell sometimes!
I long for a real sleep at night.
September 10th 1941
A rather rough day. Two Catalina aircraft and two destroyers met us at 8 this morning to escort us back to Scapa. We arrived and anchored in the same old place at half past eight tonight. Expected some mail but have to wait till tomorrow for it. How I will love having it.
Have just heard that we may have to go out after the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer
September 12th 1941
A warm day and sea calm. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, except that Admiral Vian came on board and told us how proud he was of Aurora doing her stuff. Told us he was sorry we cannot have any leave yet, as we deserved. How my heart sank.
The C in C of Home Fleet signaled us, and told us we had done a good job.
The Nigeria who did the job with us, and got damaged, is going into dock today, and they are all going on leave, and so we get nothing for sinking 4 warships!
(Note. These guys had not been on leave since May)
A better day, sunshine came this afternoon for an hour or so, and I ‘dreamed’ in it on the upper bridge. Same old working day, we replaced ammunition which we fired in our last battle. Boilers still being cleaned, they have been over worked.
Captain gave a lecture to ships company today, explaining why he did this and that when we sank those four ships. It is now known that the damage to the Nigeria, Vian’s flagship, was caused by ramming and cutting a U boat in two on the surface—so that comes in our score too.
Wireless described the battle today, but did not mention that it was the Aurora that did it all.
No mail today!
Sea very rough and all of our ships had to turn back or we would have smashed everything.Felt rather ill and did not eat until suppertime. How I’d love Ethel’s cooking now
We arrived at Iceland and anchored in Hualfiord at teatime. There are some big USA ships here. Apparently we stay here some days, while our Admiral (Tovey) has a conference with the Yanks.
We went alongside King George V at suppertime and had a look around her- what a floating palace compared with this little tub. They have had a weeks leave!! Everyone has had some except us by the sound of it!
September 28th 1941
A better day, storm died down and not much wind. Our chaps fished all the afternoon and caught quite a lot.
This morning some big battleships and aircraft carriers of the USA came here and now the number of ships in the fiord is amazing, and such a powerful lot. I think it may have something to do with America abandoning the Neutrality Act and I feel sure she will do so at sometime in the coming week---hope so.
How I do long to have just one night ashore, to get drunk perhaps and forget everything.
There are now 90 ships here all told.
September 30th 1941
A nice day and a little sunshine—but cold.
Still no news of going back to Scapa—may be waiting here to catch the Bismark’s sister ship Tirpitz. Would be glad if we could, it would make a change to have a spot of fighting now. When will we get a night ashore.
October 4th 1941
Rather rough today. At last we are on the move, for we sailed away from Hualfiord? with the KG5 and Victorious and destroyers at lunchtime. And we are now on our way to Seydis Fiord.
This evening aircraft of Victorious carried out a dummy torpedo attack on us—but it was rather poor.
Captain broadcast to us the full story of how the Bismark was sunk, from the Nazi prisoners reports when interrogated—so now we know what happened in Bismark. Our own ship was mentioned a lot in this story.
We left the K.G.5 and Victorious at 5pm and we are going alone. Passed heaps of wreckage from a sunken ship at 7pm, and we are keeping a good look out for U boats, as this is their hunting ground, and we have no protection against them.
Hope so much we shall go back to Scapa and then I’ll have her letters again.
October 12th 1941
I feel too unhappy and despondent to write much for we sailed at 8 O’clock this morning for Gibraltar. Oh my dear Ethel I shall not see you for ages now. Had no time to let you know.
A nice day, sea flat calm, but makes us liable for U boat attack. Steamed South all day except for few maneuvers with the Penelope our sister ship, who is with us on this job.
It has got very hot and uncomfortable, and we shall be glad to get into Gibraltar.
The decks were painted black today, so that Italian aircraft will not spot us so easily.
October 17th 1941
Another nice day and sun is very hot. Continued south all day with a few maneuvers here and there. We are in a very hot spot because of U boats but have sighted nothing – hope our luck holds good!
We go into white hats tomorrow.
Heard a rumour today, that from Gib’ we go onto Malta---if so shall see Fred and Kath (sister-in-law and husband serving in British Army Malta)
This is the worst secret trip we have done so far, and the Captain doesn’t even know what we are to do until we get to Gib’ tomorrow.
October 18th 1941
A very hot day but sea calm. We steered South all day at high speed. This evening at 5 O’clock we sighted an enemy U boat on the surface, but although quite close, neither she or us attacked.
The Captain told us today, that so secret is our present mission, that we would have no communication with the shore at all in Gib’.
We arrive at Gib’ at 10 O’clock this evening, and we are now taking oil and stores on board. Stores consist of ammunition, guns and torpedoes!! What are we going to do!!
It’s a dark night, but the Rock is lit up as if it were peace time. Lads are working all night tonight.
Well, one phase of our journey is finished, and we have just completed 3,000 miles in 7days. From the North Pole—Spitzbergen—to Gib’---what a contrast in a month.
October 19th 1941
A very hot day. We worked all night last night getting guns and torpedoes on board. Had no sleep at all. Then we left Gibraltar at 5am, before dawn, for Malta. And now we are steaming in company with Penelope and two destroyers, towards Malta.
The Captain has told us we shall almost definitely be attacked heavily tomorrow—by German planes—I do not mind much as it will make a change for us. What does tomorrow hold for us.
October 20th 1941
A very hot day and a calm sea—blue—we steamed towards Malta all day at very high speed—but we were shadowed by an Italian bomber, but it did not attack us. Curiously enough the expected air attack did not develop.
Early in evening it got dark and we went to “action stations”, and had to remain awake all night.
At midnight we passed Tunis with only a mile off it! At 2am we passed the heavily fortified island of Pantilarria—within 5miles of it—but we were not seen by the Italians.
A rather hard day and feel tired.
October 21st 1941 2.30am Aurora arrives in the Med
The hottest day I’ve known—but feel it as we have come from Spitzbergen to here!
Arrived at Grand Harbour in Malta at 9am. Malta had 4 hour raid last night—as can be seen! We had 3 red warnings today so far, but nothing happened—it will.
Hate the sight of the place—never dreamed I would see it again.
Dress now in whites and today issued with tropical clothes—does this mean we are going further east? First sleep in my hammock for 11 nights. We have come 4,000 miles from Scapa now!
October 22nd 1941
A very hot day. Went ashore at 10am and after a good hunt round found Fred and Kath in Sleima. They were overjoyed to see me and Jonesy and made us feel very, very welcome, and we all had good long chat.
I went from Kath’s at 7 o’clock and got as tight as I could on whisky—by myself—but still I feel most unhappy, and it looks as if we are going to stay out here now. What a dirty trick to send us out here with no leave.
Italian plane came down in flames this afternoon—big raid here, and town has caught it bad!
How I wish to be with her (wife) again.
October 25th 1941
Still laying alongside jetty in Grand Harbour.
At dinner time 4 Italian planes came over to attack the ship, as we are the only ones here. They dropped a stick of bombs very close to us, and hit a dockyard factory. Couple were shot down.
At 6o’clock this evening we sailed towards Benghazi to intercept and sink 3 Italian destroyers, but after doing high speed and at “action station” all night, we did not find them. I feel so disappointed as I was looking forward to the action. Now we are on our way back to Malta at high speed.
Thanks to Sue Twyman