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]
November 1941 December 1941
Nov 8th 1941
Malta had daylight raid by 36 enemy aircraft this morning. 7 bombs dropped very near the ship, and I thought it would be a blitz, but to my disgust “all clear” went after 2o minutes. I’m duty so have not been ashore.
Since writing this we have left Malta at high speed to intercept an enemy force, consisting of 4 destroyers and 6 transports, going from Sicily to Benghazi. We are due to meet them at midnight.
Oh I pray we shall be able to seek out this horrid enemy, these men of earth, who have forced horror and bloodshed on mankind.
Come on Aurora, write your name in glory this night. I’d rather it were so---but I repulse myself to think I should ever have wanted to shed blood.
But we must, and I must!
I do hope we meet them this time.
November 9th 1941 Enemy Convoy and Naval Escort Wiped Out
I write this at 3am. At five minutes to 1, we sighted the enemy convoy, consisting of 14 ships. There were 10 merchant ships and 4 destroyers. We attacked right away, and we succeeded in sinking 2 of the destroyers in five minutes.
We continued firing all of our guns and we fired 2 torpedoes—each of which sunk an enemy ship. We fired 300 rounds of 6inch and numerous rounds of 4inch etc.
The battle was very fierce all of the time, and after it had lasted exactly an hour, we had sunk 12 ships in all.
I went up top on deck during the battle, and was in time to see a huge enemy munitions ship blow up in a sheet of flames and explosion—the blast of it knocked me against the Parson( Chaplain), who was near me. Never can I forget it, as it was only 1700 yards away.
There were 7 ships on fire with huge flames hundreds of feet high, and there couldn’t have been many survivors at all. The other 2 destroyers ran away at high speed.
Oh, what a night. It must have been the greatest attack on an enemy convoy in the history of the Royal Navy.
How lucky we were too---only 2 casualties and a few hits by shrapnel. 3 torpedoes fired at us, and all missed. Never can I forget it, and yet in the middle of its horror, I found time to think of my wife.
We passed a crowd of Italians swimming for it and crying for help!!
And so we, the Aurora have once again written our name in a blaze of glory tonight—and such glory.
It seems so amazing to sink 12 ships in one hour!
We are now searching for the 2 destroyers which ran away, the only 2 out of 14 to escape us.
But oh dear, what thoughts I have had tonight—I was never meant for this—but I do feel so proud that we have made the title Aurora known in the Med’!
I do hope my darling Ethel will hear what we have done.
We carried on searching for the destroyers which escaped us, but in the early hours of this morning we gave up and steamed towards Malta at full speed.
At 9am we were attacked by Italian aircraft that fired torpedoes at us, but none hit us. We brought down one torpedo bomber.
At 10am we were again attacked by enemy fighter aircraft and one of these were shot down.
After this we were let alone and we arrived at dinner time. The crowds cheered us into the harbour, and we felt so proud, and the Admiral sent us a signal of congratulations for sinking the biggest convoy of the war.
We also “spliced the main brace”, which has never been done before.
What a great thing we have done—and I feel so very proud of our ship—we certainly dealt the enemy one of the biggest blows he has had.
Now I am going ashore to get drunk and then go to Kaths (sister in law and family) But oh my thoughts are so jumbled dear wife, and I do need you so.
November 10th 1941
A hot day and we are now laying along side in Malta again. Went to Kaths last night and had a nice evening—but we had bombs fall very close to us!
We have now learned more about the convoy we sank. We were fighting not only 6 destroyers, but also two very heavy cruisers, far superior to us. They did not hit us and we damaged them, so our official bag was
4 Enemy destroyers sunk
10 merchant ships
A Naval World Record. 6,000 Enemy troops drowned.
We have had signals of hearty congratulations today from—Winston Churchill, Admiral Cunningham, His Excellency Governor of Malta, and from almost every ship of the Navy out here.
I listened to the broadcast, and this time the Aurora was on the BBC and the whole of England and America are thrilled with our battle—the newspapers call it the “greatest sea action” in this war.
Oh Ethel (wife), you will have heard the news over the wireless, and I know you will be proud of me—not that I did much. But we on board here are all proud of what we did, and I pray for a chance of another like it.
But never shall I forget the horror of it—only my wife’s arms about me can make me as I was before I saw those things.
Surely God knows we of the Aurora have earned some leave now! When can I be happy again.
NOTE:- Battle of the Duisburg Convoy
On 9th Nov 1941 Force K, made up of Aurora, Penelope, and destroyers Lance and Lively, intercepts an Italian convoy some 130 south-west off Calabria in approximate position 37.08N 18.09E. Italian convoy was bound from Naples to Tripoli the Italian destroyer Fulmine was sunk as well as the German transports Duisburg and San Marco, the Italian transports Maria, Sagitta and Rina Corrado, and the Italian Conte di Misurata and Minatitlan. The Italian destroyers Grecale and Euro were damaged
Also Italian Destroyer Libeccio
November 11th 1941
A very hot day. Went to Kaths again and talked of home. One long air raid in which a very large bomb dropped near us, killed about 20 people.
People ashore are astounded by the fact that we sank the two convoys, and they made us very welcome.
We still have a lot of signals of congratulations coming in, and I am only just beginning to realize what a big thing we did. The Battle of Cape Matapan 2.
Our Captain (Agnew) was awarded the C.B. today for it---feel very pleased—we all do—he was wonderful. How proud Mrs Agnew will be in Gosport.
We had another air raid at dinner time today but no bombs. Mussolini has threatened our ships with revenge for what we did—but oh Musso—what if we get the chance to do the same again—how madly I hope so.
I am so pleased that Ethel (wife) will now hear about the Aurora, for she has reason now to be a little proud—her husband being in the greatest epic of British Anti Convoy history.
The news has just been on and it says we got another destroyer sunk in our action, so we sank 3 altogether, and so now we have got rid of 15 ships in one night, no wonder we are being cheered all over the world.
November 12th 1941
Saw in paper that a sub of ours managed to intercept and sink the only destroyer that had got away from us on Sunday. Congrats’ still coming to us today.
Was confirmed in rating of Petty Officer.
November 14th 1941
Captain gave a lecture on the recent action of ours, told us not to relax at all, but he seemed very proud of us—and he should be.
Very sad to hear the loss of the Ark Royal, but Aurora will be able to avenge her in our next battle, which I hope will not be far away!
November 16th 1941
Am duty today so cannot go ashore, and am rather glad as I have very little money. Am trying to get Ethel a present to take home.
I have heard one is leaving Malta soon. The ships company is having to do on half rations now as food is scarce, and it is bad really—good thing Kath gives me a meal when I go ashore!
November 18th 1941
So happy a day for me for I had 4 letters from Ethel—they did make me so happy, and they are the first I’ve had for 6 weeks, but how they make me ache to go home!
We left Malta at 6 this evening, and steamed at high speed towards the Italian Islands of Cantalaria, and we are going to decoy enemy ships if we can—hope we do have another action like last week—anything.
November 19th 1941
No Luck last night, but 2 enemy cruisers and 6 destroyers were at sea, but we did not contact them, and they got back to Italy. Hard luck! Came back to Malta at 8 this morning.
Pretty bad air raid at 7 tonight and incendiaries dropped but no damage. Piece of shrapnel just missed me! We are open to all danger here abouts in the Med.
November 20th 1941
We had an air raid this morning at 6 o’clock and 4 bombs. Another at 10 o’clock- no bombs. Another at 8 o’clock this evening--?
Feel very tired today and hungry too, as we are on sea rations all this time, no potatoes or fresh stuff until we get back to England. How I pray for that day, to see my loved ones again.
November 21st 1941
A very warm day. At 7 this morning 6 enemy dive bombers tried to attack us in the dawn light, but an intense barrage was put up, very intense, and it is said that 4 were shot down.
Another attack by enemy bombers was made at 10 this forenoon—but no serious developments.
At 2 this afternoon we left Malta with a convoy of 4 big merchant ships, and we sailed south at good speed towards Benghazi on the African coast. The idea was to let the Italians see us, and let them think we were going to invade Libya…this will help the army of ours at Tobruk if successful.
The destroyer Lively who is with us, has just attacked an enemy submarine, with depth charges. They shook us up but don’t know if sub was sunk.
We are due to return to Malta before dawn tomorrow, unless we sight something.
Always think deeply of my Ethel when we are on these stints, as it is extremely dangerous for Aurora now, after Mussolini has told us he will revenge the 2 convoys.
November 22nd 1941
Our job carried out, we returned with convoy to Malta arriving at 0530 this morning. It seems we were sighted by enemy, so we had an air raid at 7 this morning—no bombs.
We were raided by 36 enemy bombers at 5 this evening, but they did not get through to bomb.
Italy lost another 2 cruisers and 3 transports and 1 destroyer today---our submarines.
Italy is almost finished I think and will shortly revolt or ask for peace.
November 23rd 1941
Had 3 air raids in morning and 1 this afternoon, a dogfight over the island and a few enemy planes shot down.
Went to Kaths this evening---ships company were recalled, and ship went to sea on a job—but I knew nothing about it at Kaths, and so I missed the ship, which made me very downhearted!
November 24th 1941
Reported to HMS St Angelo this morning and stayed there all day as Aurora was at sea. Heard she is having some action again. At 2 this afternoon all forces in Malta were recalled as news of an Italian invasion came through. At 6 this evening everything went back to normal.
November 25th 1941 2nd Enemy Convoy Wiped Out
Returned on board this morning as ship came back to Malta during the morning. She sank 2 very large Italian petrol ships and the two escorting enemy destroyers turned and ran!
Did not get into trouble for missing ship, as it was quite accidental---10 of us in all.
We steamed out of Malta again at 5 o’clock this evening and we steamed at high speed towards the Italian coast. We were searching for two enemy destroyers and a large tanker which are trying to reach Libya.
It is sudden death for the Italians to come out of harbour now, especially as the Aurora is here. Since we came to the Med, we alone have sunk 16 enemy ships
Carried on search all night but did not find them.
November 26th 1941
Returned to Malta this evening having failed to find the enemy, and I was very disappointed.
Air raid during the night, and large bomb dropped very close.
November 28th 1941
Air raid at ten this morning, no bombs. We had a letter of congrat’s from Prime Minister again and one from C in C of Med, regarding the 16 ships we have sunk this last two weeks. It is having the great effect of helping our army in Libya to win the battles.
At 2 this afternoon we left Malta, and are steaming towards Italy, to intercept 5 enemy destroyers. I think we shall catch them this time, and there will very likely be a battle of blood. We are due to meet them at 3am, it is now 9 in the evening.
November 29th 1941
Did not find the enemy, felt very disappointed, but after searching all forenoon we started back to Malta at noon today.
At 5 this evening we were attacked by Italian torpedo bombers, but their torpedoes missed us again. I wonder if we shall always be missed like that. We fired at them, but no result.
Neptune and Ajax arrived.
We arrived at Malta at 9 this evening, and we are only oiling, and we go to sea at 4 in the morning again, do not know what for. But it is a job of some description, and I hope we do something glorious again.
Feel very tired, but not much sleep tonight either.
December 1st 1941 3rd Enemy Convoy Wiped Out
Did not find the enemy, but at 3 o’clock we sighted an enemy merchant ship, carrying ammunition, so we fired and she burst into flames, and then we finished her off with a torpedo. The survivors refused to be picked up.
Since writing last we sighted an Italian destroyer and a 10,000 ton tanker. We engaged both of them at once, and set the tanker on fire---she sank—a very amazing sight in sunshine. The destroyer ran away at high speed, but we hit her 4 times, and she blew up in a terrible explosion---no survivors!
They both fired at us but missed, and we had no casualties.
Picked up 21 survivors from tanker.
This means we have sunk 25 ships up to now---a Naval record. Good old Aurora!
I was very thrilled by it all—and disgusted too. Do hope Ethel hears about it in the papers.
Shall go into harbour with the Victory flag flying again tomorrow!
NOTE:- Destroyer thought to be “Alvise Da Mosto”
December 2nd 1941
Arrived back at Malta at 8 this morning and entered harbour flying our Victory flag. Have found out that the Italian destroyer that we sank, was the biggest and best in the Italian Navy. Today the BBC gave out in the news bulletin, how Aurora had again sunk 3 ships, and I do hope Ethel heard it. It also said how Aurora had effectively assured the British Army in Libya, a quick victory.
We received lots of telegrams of congratulations again—including one from Admiralty and Vice Admiral Malta—and C in C Med Fleet. Our record now is—25 ships sunk altogether—19 of these during the past 3 weeks!!
HMS Sydney sunk off of Australia.
I’m so happy today, for I had 3 lovely letters from my darling—I pray so much that I shall live this war out, to see her again. Things are getting dangerous out here for Aurora—pray God will always be with us.
December 3rd 1941
Am duty today so no visit to Kaths.
Malta news papers are full of our latest exploits against the enemy. Prisoners that we picked up after the fight, state that things in Italy are critical and only the Germans are keeping them in the war!
December 4th 1941
It seems remarkable that we are still in harbour for two days, but perhaps the Italians are keeping their few remaining ships in harbour, or have they broken down altogether?
The Ajax is here with us now, with an Admiral on board, hope very much he doesn’t take over from Agnew.
Newspapers are still talking about us, and the work we are doing—BBC last night, called us” Famous Force under Agnew”
Went to Kaths at 6 this evening, had a large chicken supper, and a long talk about home
Air raid started at 9 and carried on for 8 hours, firing was continous—lots of small bombs were dropped—no casualties.
Doesn’t look as if I’ll be home for Christmas, it is so unfair to keep us out here, for we are Home Fleet, and God knows we have earned leave!
December 6th 1941
Ajax and Neptune and the three destroyers left here today—believe they have gone for good.
Air raid started at 9 this evening and is developing more as I write this. They are trying for the air fields.
December 9th 1941
Left Malta at 6 this evening and we steered West towards the Italian island of Pantalaria, and we searched all night for 2 enemy 6inch gun cruisers, who are taking petrol to Libya.
We are still searching for them, and are now at “action stations”, all ready to blast them. If we do meet them, it will be a terrific scrap, a fight to the finish. At times like this I find time for a little prayer, and a deep thought of my darlings.
We have traveled 99,881 miles and have expended 35,000 tons of oil fuel since war began
Have sunk 25 ships since September—2months.
America at war with Germany and Italy today!
December 10th 1941
We carried on the search for the enemy and at 3 am this morning, our aircraft—Blenheim, sighted the two enemy cruisers, who had turned tail, and were running back to Sicily, at very high speed. They must have got wind that we were looking for them, they do not seem to like us!
Now we are heading back to Malta, as they have eluded us, and are 100 miles to the North.
Arrived back in Malta at half past 8 this morning and tied up at the buoy.
Have just heard the loss of HMS Prince of Wales and the Repulse! What a sad blow, and God grant the Navy will avenge this with interest! How horrible the world has become. I pray it will become more beautiful again, in spite of the gloom surrounding us all.
We are standing by to go to sea tonight, after our enemy cruisers—the Prince of Wales must be avenged!
December 13th 1941
Last night 4 of our destroyers sank 2 enemy cruisers! What a Victory
The 4 destroyers came into Malta again at 10 this morning, and the whole of Malta turned out to cheer them in –just as they did us.
This leaves the Italian Navy almost finished—and only hope we go out and catch the remainder.
The Italians call the Aurora the “Phantom Ship”
What a celebrity we have become out here, and I don’t blame the Italians for trying to nip away when they see us coming!
December 15th 1941
Have just heard our sister ship HMS Galatia has been sunk, pray it isn’t so!
We met our troop ship at 9 this morning. We were then attacked by enemy torpedo bombers in waves of three, no hits on us at all. At noon we were dive bombed by enemy bombers—about 30 bombs, no hits. At 3-15 we were attacked by dive bombers, and torpedoes, but although close, the bombs didn’t hurt us, shook us up badly—how I hate it so!
After 4 this morning, we were bombed without mercy, and without a stop, until 6—Two hours of it—I feel full of nerves watching it!
We shot down 3 bombers.
At 6 this evening, while being bombed, we sighted 2 enemy battleships, 4 cruisers, and 12 destroyers, their battle fleet!
The battleships engaged us, but their shells—15 inch—fell 100 yards short. Oh God, what a mercy!
Our Admiral signaled that we must get troopship through to Malta. So we steered South, when it got dark, and the Italians lost us—thank God!
About 100 bombs and 12 torpedoes fired at us today, but didn’t hit us! But we brought 3 down
So Victory to us, although I am not sure that we shall get back safely, we have all day tomorrow yet
What a hell of a day! But I’m thankful.
December 18th 1941
Daylight begun with bombs and torpedoes fired at us without a stop until noon again! Enemy bombers swooped and dived at us all morning—they are German, and can they be devils!
Submarines attacked us after noon, but did not score any hits—but we attacked them with depth charges. My God, will we get out of it? More planes coming!
We arrived at Malta at 4 this evening—oh how we are glad. Anyhow we got the troopship through!! She must be very valuable.
We have just got orders to go to sea again—we have only been in harbour for 2 hours, it is now 6 o’clock—oh I pray we’ll find an enemy to destroy! I feel so mad, and nervous. Have heard the enemy is getting out of Libya by ships—we’re after them!!
We joined up with HMS Neptune and HMS Kandahar and we are now going at high speed towards Tripolli in Libya.
It is pitch black night, but sea is choppy, and we expect to meet the enemy at 10 in the morning. It is now 10pm. Hope we come out of the action luckily!!
December 19th 1941
My Worst Experience
My God, what a night---what hell and destruction! Two hours ago we hit an enemy mine, and we all thought we were finished!!
We have a list to Port of about 30 degrees, and it is touch and go if we can get to Malta. Lots of the compartments are flooded, and we are only able to do slow speed. We have about 11 casualties, and it is 3 o’clock in the morning.
The “Neptune” and” Kandahar” who were with us, have both hit mines as well, and have blown up---no survivors!! Poor devils.
Oh I was frightened—only I know how.
We are limping back towards Malta now—so the devils got us at last!! Hope we reach home without swimming for it! How I have prayed tonight. We have at least 100 miles to go. Oh I do hope we are not attacked going back.
December 20th 1941
We have been dive bombed for half an hour this morning, the devils want to finish us off! Have just heard there may be survivors from Neptune—I pray so, oh how proud I am to have such ship mates, and to be in the Navy at this time. God grant that the Aurora will do her stuff again soon! I’d so love it—but I also want to kill all the enemy I can. How I have altered in myself.
We are in a bad condition and leaking everywhere—never in my life will I forget that moment—the slightest bang makes me jump.
Went ashore at 3 pm to Kaths and she made me a large beefsteak pudding, as I had not eaten for 4 days, it was hell really.
Had air raid and bombs at 6. They seem to be concentrating on dive bombing Malta now—but it is Aurora which they are after. My thoughts have been so much at home.
December 21st 1941
Day started with a dive bombing attack on the ship at 9 this morning—bombs fell close and we shot two enemy planes down.
A dive bombing raid again at 11-30, all hell was let loose.
The enemy dived out of the clouds, and dropped 6 bombs straight at the ship. I was on the upper deck—one bomb almost hit us, and a ten pound splinter from it went through the bulkhead 3ft away from me—Almost!!
My nerves are not too good—what a hell of a time we are getting now. But I pray to be spared for my angels sakes. But they will hit us one day. They know we are helpless.
We have a hole 10ft by 4ft in our side and all of our decks are buckled—port holes blown off, and we are leaking badly.
I hope that we will dock in England and not here---we are in the berth where Illustrious was bombed and had 400 killed. Oh darling would that I was with you. Anyhow our guns can still give these German devils hell!!!
Went to Kaths at 6 tonight and had a lovely meal, they are most kind to me.
December 22nd 1941
We de-ammunitioned ship today ready to go into dock soon. We are in pretty bad shape and the mine did heaps of damage. Our ships side blown in, heaps of compartments flooded, decks buckled, ports torn off, guns or a few out of action.
We have had 2 dive bombing raids by German planes today, and they dropped bombs right along side us, they seem to be determined to get the Aurora.
My nerves seem to have gone in lots of ways—I have never been afraid of anything before now—but we have and are having it pretty bad now—I do hate the sound of an explosion now. Everyone on board seems to be in like state, and we badly need a rest.
December 23rd 1941
Our food is very bad now, and there is to be a court of enquiry about it this morning.
Exactly 162 survivors of Kandahar have been brought in. I’m so bucked about it—but not a soul of Neptune was saved!! My heart bleeds for them. How can the people of England realize what is happening!
We were dive bombed again at 10 this morning and two bombs almost hit us. 2 enemy planes shot down.
We went straight into dock for a month at 1 o’clock this afternoon—they are going to repair damage. Went to Kaths at 6 and helped Fred with Christmas decorations. We had 8 alerts during the night but no bombs at all. How I wish that I was home with my family at this Christmas time.
December 25th 1941 Christmas Day
Not a bad day. Had 4 alerts, no bombs. I went to church on the quarter deck, and sung Carols---I did enjoy it.
I put my new uniform on today, for the first time, and I look alright.
December 26th 1941
A day of low cloud, and we had 4 blitzes. Each time, the enemy dive bombers, came out of the clouds, and loosed bombs and machine gun fire at us! They want to get our ships very badly. We put up a good show without being hit at all, and their nearest bomb was at least a hundred yards away!
But if they go on like this they will get us one day, and God knows what will happen then, for we are in dock with no water around us!! We should probably roll over. We are all feeling the strain of this dive bombing.
They have not started to repair us yet, it looks like a long job
December 30th 1941
Am getting used to my new uniform and I look quite smart in it, and all the chaps laugh at my starched shirt and cuff links!
We had 4 dive bombing blitzes today, and at last they have planted a bomb almost on us—only 20 feet away. The shrapnel and blast messed us up a bit, and tore through our steel plates as if it were butter.
The bomb hit a shelter on the side of the dock, and killed 7 Maltese men. We had one chap who’s hand was blown off, and another with injuries from shrapnel! All of us are getting just bags of nerves—when will it cease?
Thanks to Sue Twyman