Korean souvenirs aboard HMS Charity, 1952...
excerpts of Edward BATESs Memories.
In March 1950 I had decided to volunteer for the Royal Fleet Reserve. It was to entail only a couple of weeks training a year, and I figure that the money, little as it was, would be very useful. As it turned out I drw very little reserve pay and did not do open two week spell of training. On the 25th June 1950 war erupted in the 'Land of Morning Calm' as Korea is known
ln due course Britain became involved as the United Nations entered the conflict and for some time they managed to wage war without my assistance. Indeed I hardly gave the war a thought. It was just something you saw on the newsreel at the local cinema. There were all sorts of conflicts going on in different parts of the world, and always had been.
And then, the navy needed me. I was recalled from the Royal Fleet Reserve for a period of eighteen months in November 1951 and reported to the Royal Navy Barraks in Portsmouth. I recall the trip down to "Pompey" as it is affectionately known, quite clearly. It was the evening of the 5th November, Guy Fawkes night, Bonfire night in Britain, and throughout the length of my trip from Yorkshire to Hampshire I saw scores of bonfires and fireworks displays from the train. Perhaps this was an omen as many 'fireworks displays' lay ahead of me, some of them involving trains.
Upon arriving at RNB Portsmouth I met a few other fellows who had been recalled and discovered that they were all wireless operators. It seemed that because the ships operating in the Korean theatre had gone onto full war time operating procedures, they had found themselves short of operators. During wartime of course, more waves were manned and they were manned around the dock. I also discovered that from the whole of the Royal Fleet Reserve less than thirty wireless operators had been recalled. You have to be lucky.
We must have been needed in a hurry because as soon as we had been kitted out we were given a four day refresher course and then allocated to ships, most of which were operating in the Far East. We were then sent home on 14 days embarkation leave. I was told I would be taking passage to Singapore aboard the aircraft carrier HMS "Vengeance"
Whilst home on leave in the local club, I met up with a member of the ship's company of the "Vengeance" and he told me that as soon as I was aboard to make contact with him and he would introduce me to the 'Iurks and perks' department which was a part of all 'big ship' life. He was an old stager, a three badge AB, and any old navy man would recognise him fram that description. A real character. His name, Freddy Gutheridge, known to all and sundry as 'Freddy Gut'
So back in Pompey I boarded "Vengeance", checked myself in, and was allocated a mess for the trip. Then I located Freddy who promptly took me to what was known as a 'caboose'. This was a work store or cabin about eight feet (2.4 m) square. He told me that no-one except he ever used the place and I could spend the working day in there. There were plenty of books and a camp bed. He even supplied a Lieutenant Commander's overcoat to be used as a blanket until we had cleared the Mediterranean and the weather warmed up.
Like I say, Freddy was a character, and he was going to look after this poor reservist from his home town who had had the misfortune to be called up to go to war. Because Freddy knew the ropes I was able to keep out of everyone's way for almost the whole of the trip, and was only discovered by the ship's Chief Wireless Operator when we were almost at Singapore. He was somewhat bemused and intrigued as to how I had been able to evade some sort of work in the wireless office. But as we were almost at our destination he thought it pointless to fit me in the watchkeeping rosters. I suspect he was secretly admiring my evasion skills. As a passenger aboard an aircraft carrier you could have a real good loaf, providing you kept out of sight during the day, and I had the perfect spot.
So I retraced my steps out to the Far East once more, and Freddy made sure I was well fed during working hours. (I could spend all other time any where in the ship, usually in the mess allocated to me.) Some of it's inhabitants were curious about where I spent my days but not sufficiently enough to unmask me.
After leaving Portsmouth we had headed for the Clyde in Scotland via Portland. This was in late January 1952. We picked up some aircraft and I had a run ashore in Glasgow. And here I learned the song "A Gordon for Me." Sung trudging in the snow. Then out along the Clyde whose banks were covered in snow, through the Irish Sea and on to places I had never thought to see again. Gibraltar, Malta and Port Said. But this time Egypt was different.
There had been problems with the Egyptians and we traversed the Suez Canal at night time with our searchlights and machine guns trained on each bank. I believe a minesweeper preceded us through. The Egyptians were not as docile as in the past, and in the not too distant future, the British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden would order an invasion of Egypt in one of the last acts of 'Gunboat Diplomacy'.
Next port of call after passing through the Red Sea was Aden. We stayed here only one day and pressed on to Colombo. Two days here and then on to Singapore. Here I bid farewell to my benefactor, Fred and was then disembarked at the Naval Base and ferried across the island by truck to the harbour where I boarded the troopship "Empire Windrush". She was to take me as far as Hong Kong. ("The Empire Windrush" was later lost by fire in the Mediterranean)
Upon arrival in Hong Kong I was placed in the China Fleet Club to await a passage up to Japan and after only two days a berth was found for me aboard HMS "Morecambe Bay", a frigate, and she sailed for Sasebo in Kyushu. Sasebo had been one of the Imperial Japanese Navy's main bases and had been heavily bombed in the latter stages of the war.
It seemed strange seeing armed Japanese sailors patrolling on the wharf and guarding the "Morecambe Bay" as we tied up alongside. Not long after tying up I was taken by truck to the railway station to catch a train known as the "Dixieland Special" This was a United States military train operated by the US 8th Army. I was aboard for an all night journey to the seaport of Kure. This was another large former Japanese Naval Base. Something akin to the Royal Navy's Portsmouth.
Kure is on the island of Honshu and the train passed through an under sea tunnel to get there. It is situated in Hiroshima Prefecture on Hiroshima Bay. The city of Hiroshima is only a few miles away. Great progress had been made in cleaning up the bomb damage and I was most impressed by the beauty of the countryside and also the magnificent views of the Inland Sea. The general cleanliness also impressed me as I had become accustomed to the squalor usually found in the Far East in those days.
The ship to which I had been drafted was HMS "Charity" a member of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla, and fortunately for me she happened to be in Kure. She could just as easily have recently departed for one of her three to four week patrols of the Korean Coast leaving me hanging about for her return. I joined her on the 3rd of March and she sailed for Sasebo on the 5th. I could have saved myself an all night rail journey and waited for her in Sasebo. But that's not how the navy works.
We sailed for the West Coast of Korea on the 7th and on the following day we raced to the aid of a South Korean warship which had run aground on the island of Quelpart. We stood by her all day until further help arrived and then left in the evening for Chodo Island, North Korea. Here we met the Canadian destroyer HMCS "Athabaskan" and passed over the mail for the fleet which we had brought up from Japan.
Later we joined the British cruiser HMS "Belfast" and the frigate HMS "Cardigan Bay" on an anti invasion patrol. This commenced on the 9th. Although the mainland at this point was occupied by the Communist North Korean and Chinese forces, many of the small islands just off the coast were still occupied by American and South Korean forces.
The Reds had been unable to capture these islands as they did not control the sea. However some of them were so close to the mainland that the Reds had made a number of attempts to capture them using small craft and junks at night. Hence the anti invasion patrols.
This patrol went on for a couple of days and I recall that on one occasion "Charity's" captain wished to go aboard another ship for a conference and I was detailed to accompany him with a 'walkie talkie' radio in order that he could stay in touch with his ship. As we climbed into the boat to take us over I felt quite important, but when we were about half a mile (.8 Km) from the ship and some Chinese Migs flew over I was hoping that they would regard us as most unimportant. They did, or they didn't see us.
On the evening of the 11 th we shelled some gun emplacements on the mainland in company with the USS "Gurke", a destroyer. This was the pattern of the patrol. On the 13th we went alongside the "Belfast" for a conference at which the captains of the "Cardigan Bay" and an American LSMR (Rocket Ship) were also present. It had been decided that "Charity" was to sail up the Yalu River that evening in an attempt to capture an enemy junk. These craft were known to have been sowing mines willy nilly, just letting them float on the tide.
The plan was later abandoned after our radar began playing up. Instead we carried out some more shelling. USS "Gurke" was straddled by 75mm shells and then "Belfast" moved in and blasted the offending gun positions. Generally the next few days passed in much the same manner. My diary records that on the 17th shore batteries of approx. 175mm (7") opened up on us.
Earlier we had engaged gun positions south of Chodo. We had the "Cardigan Bay" and two American Rocket Ships in company with us and this developed into quite a heavy bombardment from very close inshore. It was carried out in total darkness and later on it petered out to sporadic fire for the rest of the night. There was intermittent fire from ships around us with "Charity" occasionally joining in.
On one occasion after fuelling and ammunitioning at"a place ca lied Taechong Do we met "Belfast" and after collecting somemail from her I was leaning over the ship's rail chatting to a Chief Petty Officer. Vve were watching fish leap out of the water when suddenly there was an almighty splash just off the bow. I thought 'Wow' that was a big one, and the Chief yelled "We're being shelled". The shell had arrived before the bang from theshore, and the splash before it's explosion. Our guns immediately returned the fire and quite a duel ensued. Their shells (175mm) were dropping all around us, with some passing over the top. As we were . outgunned , approximately 175mm to 114mm (7" to 4.5") we eventually laid a smokescreen, doubledround behind it, then withdrew.
A South Korean minesweeper later informed us that we had put one big gun out of action and had straddled several others. But by thefollowing day, we had learned that in fact we had put three batteries out of action. The Reds had become very skilled at moving batteries into an area considered clear and then when you least expected it they opened fire on you. Not cricket old boy! We had many near misses to the bow and the stern, and they were much too close for comfort.
That same evening we were joined by the USS "Shelton,"a destroyer, and HMS "Crane" a frigate, and during the night we fired the occasional star shell to iIIuminate the sea to ensure that the Reds were not trying to get across the narrow strip of water to the island.
This type of activity went on until the 23rd with little real incident, although "Morecambe Bay" had her main aerials shot away by shore batteries on the 21 st. On the 23rd we had FO2 (Flag Officer 2nd in Command, British Naval Forces Far East) dropped aboard us by helicopter. He was Rear Admiral Scott Montcrief and we were to convey him to a rendezvous with one of the American aircraft carriers. They gave us some mail by helicopter and later in the day we picked up our Rear Admiral again and set course for Sasebo.
This turned out to be a very rough trip back to Japan and I recall that in the early hours of one morning I was sitting in the heads (toilets) when the Rear Admirai walked in. These were typical destroyer heads, no doors on the cubicles. As he walked in he smiled and said "Good morning" and commented on the weather. It seemed very strange talking to an admirai whilst sitting on the 'loo', Admirals are not usually found in destroyer's heads.
When we arrived back in Sasebo I had a run ashore with some of my newfound shipmates but it was a brief stay. We were out again the next day and heading for Hong Kong. This was on March 25th. Upon arrival in Hong Kong we moved alongside the "War Afridi" to fuel up, and thence tied up at the West Wall. Some shore leave mixed up with exercising filled in a few days and then we took off for Macau, which was a Portuguese colony not too far from Hong Kong.
I had been advised by mail from home that my sister Eunice's fiancee Chris Atkinson had been posted to the Royal Air Force station at Kai Takin Kowloon, so upon our return to Hong Kong I made my way out to Kai Tak and caught up with him. Over the next few weeks I was able to spend a fair bit of time with Chris. We went swimming a lot out at Repulse Bay. We also visited the cinemas quite frequently, and did the 'tourist things'.
Chris came aboard the "Charity" a few times and got to know the lads in my mess and I got the distinct impression that he would rather have been in the RN than the RAF. I was working on the idea of getting him a trip out to sea on one of our exercises when we were told that the ship was to undergo a refit. This meant that the whole crew were taken ashore into the Fleet Accommodation Barracks at HMS "Tamar" The. next eight weeks were a glorious loaf with plenty of time off and living within easy walking distance of the centre of Hong Kong.
But all good things must corne to an end and on the 2nd of July we all returned on board and commenced running in exercises, spending most of our time out at sea until the 4th of August when we set sail for Sasebo once more. We arrived there on the 7th and left the next day for the West coast of Korea. The aircraft carrier HMS "Ocean" and the Canadian destroyer HMCS "Crusader" sailed with us. Upon arrival off the Korean coast we teamed up with the USS "Kimberley".
The patrol which lasted only eleven days was much the same as the others we had done, shelling of targets ashore etc. but this time we did manage to get in a spot of carrier escort work with the "Ocean" This was an interesting change, watching her fly off aircraft for strikes. It was during this period that Seafires trom the "Ocean" shot down one and damaged six Migs. This was the very first instance (and possibly the only one,) of petrol engined , propeller driven aircraft, shooting down jet aircraft.
One thing that really impressed me on this patrol was an occasion when I saw aircraft rockets being used for the first time. I was simply amazed at the devastation they caused. I had never credited them with much performance, but when I saw them being used from close range, I was truly astounded. And mightily pleased that they were not coming our way. Towards the end of this patrol we were joined by the cruiser HMS "Newcastle" and she added her guns to the nightly rumble.
We were making our way back to Japan on the 17th July when Typhoon Karen struck. I understand that these phenomena are described by different terms in various parts of the world. ln America they are called Hurricanes and in Australia, Cyclones. However they are in fact the same vicious storms. To paraphrase Shakespeare, 'A storm by any other name would blow as strong'.
This particular voyage to Japan turned into a wild old trip and we were a day late in arriving in Sasebo. I think it was during this trip that a couple of American destroyers requested permission from our captain to change course because of the pounding they were taking. He was the senior officer present and he refused this permission and insisted that our American cousins head into the seas which were breaking over our foc'sles. This was the recognised procedure of course. That is to steer into the oncoming waves. These were indeed mountainous and caused some slight damage.
Shortly after this we were engaged in exercises with our sister ship "Concord" and the Canadian "Crusader" off Mitto, Japan. Whilst at sea we learned that the Chinese Communist radio had claimed to have hit and severely damaged the 'US Cruiser 'D29' . They had the number right as we had it plainly painted on our sides, however we were not US, we were not a cruiser, and most importantly they had not hit us in our last encounter, although they had come pretty close.
On our next patrol to Korea we sailed in company with another of our sister ships, the "Comus" and the Dutch destroyer "Peit hein" The three of us escorting the aircraft carrier HMS "Ocean." Upon our arrival in Korean waters we commenced the 'Worthington' patrol. I cannot for the life of me remember what this code name signified. The Americans were very fond of code names, and consequently the Korean coast abounded with them.
Different areas of the coast where regular targets were situated were given code names. For instance there was an area north of Inchon on the West coast known as 'Cigarette.' This was an area known to be mined quite frequently, and was therefor regularly swept. As explained earlier, some of these mines were just rolled out for the tide to carry them to us. But some were properly laid or moored in fields. The Americans and South Koreans operated tthe sweepers, and I don't think the British or Commonwealthl navies had any operating there.
The railway line running down the East coast had a number of spots coded 'Package 1', '2', '3' etc. and there was also 'Derail Fox', 'Easy', 'George' etc. These were shoreline targets suitable for ships or aircraft to attack, situated between Songjin and Hungnam. The targets included bridges and tunnels etc. At night ships could get as close as 1,500 to 2000 yards (1,370 to 1,800 metres) ln fact I can remember occasions when we went in much closer. We could see activity on shore quite clearly, and the signs of panic when we appeared on the scene.
On this particular 'Worthington' patrol my diary records that we fired 24 rounds of 4.5" at troops ashore during the first night. Over the next few days we had various ships join and leave us, including the aircraft carrier HMS "Unicorn." Then on the night of the 1st of September, again at 'Worthington' we fired our 4.5" guns at troops in a village, some machine gun positions, flamethrower positions and gun sites.
The following night a violent storm blew up which lasted for the next few days. We headed out to sea in order to ride out the storm, there being no friendly harbour close and handy. The storm stretched right up to the North China coast, and as far as I can recall it covered the whole of the Yellow Sea. It was extremely rough and the ship once again sustained some slight damage. After some days of this buffeting we headed for Japan again, but this time for Kure.
Kure was regarded as the base for British and Commonwealth ships whereas Sasebo was almost completely American, although the British Depot ship HMS "Maine" was at Sasebo, and during the period of our operations in Korea the British ships invariably used Sasebo.
This time we stayed in Kure for a week, and I was able to get about a bit and have a closer look at Japan. I visited Hiroshima and stood on the very spot where the world's first operational atomic bomb was dropped. Even then the desolation was mind boggling. The city was being rebuilt with typical Japanese industry and work was proceeding at a great pace. I think I came close to meeting my maker here. As I was crossing a wide square near the Central Railway Station, I saw a bus bearing down on me. The driver made no effort to avoid me, and in fact I gained the distinct impression that he was deliberately aiming for me. I leapt out of his path and heard the bus go rushing past Ah well, maybe he had lost his family in the atomic bombing.
I went ashore most days with some of the lads from the ship, and we visited theatres, beer halls and bars etc. Also I saw cultured pearl farms and other types of native industry. On one occasion I visited a Japanese family in their home and I recall that as I was sitting in front of their charcoal brazier two of the girls started giggling. I caught the word 'cowboy' and it seemed that because I was rolling a cigarette they thought I was a cowboy. Obviously they had seen this in American films and assumed that only cowboys rolled their own fags. All in all this was a most enjoyable week.
Another patrol of the Korean coast commenced on the 15th of September and although it lasted for twenty-two days I have nothing recorded in my diary and can only assume that it was just the usual routine of making ourselves as obnoxious as possible.
Strangely in 1993 I obtained a book from the Naval Historical Society of Australia which details the activitiesof the Australian frigate HMAS "Condamine." in the Korean war. The author, Shipt. Lieut. Vince Fazio, RANEM states that the "Condamine" was relieved on station by HMS "Charity" on the 11th of September. This was somewhere in the vicinity of Wonsan-Tanchon.
Either his or my diary is wrong. We disagree by four days. However as I have no other details on this patrol I wouId suspect that the Lieutenant is correct. He places us on the West coast for this operation and that was usually American territory, the British and Commonwealth ships more often frequented the East coast. That would mean that we were operating with US ships and we would have been joining them in their inshore bombardments. The battleship USS "Iowa" was in the vicinity.
For those friends of mine who are members of the Queensland Maritime Museum it may be interesting to note that "Condamine" was a modified River Class Frigate and a sister ship to HMAS "Diamantina," their prize exhibit, situated in the dry dock near South Bank, Brisbane.
My fifth and final patrol commenced on the 9th of October and went through until the 25th. This patrol was full of incidents, a couple of which I will relate. Shortly after midnight on the 12th we shelled and stopped a train at the spot known as 'Package One.' One of our lads had spotted sparks coming from the engine's funnel and when we fired a star-shell to illuminate the scene, there it was. We let it have everything we had including our anti-aircraft armament. It was most spectacular watching some of the tracer shells ricocheting off the ground around the train and careering up the hillside beyond. All the while we were firing star-shells in order to keep the area lit up.
After some time we were almost out of starshells and we contacted the USS "Walker" by radio. She was patrolling at 'Package Two,' some miles South. She steamed up at high speed and joined us. As the train was on a single track line which ran all the way from the Manchurian border to Hungnam it was obvious that if the line could be kept blocked, nothing could move in either direction. We therefore set about smashing up the train in order to prevent it's removal, and also endeavoured to plough up the track in front of and behind the train.
Over the next couple of days we kept up harassing fire to prevent repair gangs from working, but notwithstanding this, the Reds made valiant efforts to clear the line. 'Package One' was a small bridge and embankment about 25 feet (7.62 m) high and 3000 feet (almost 1 km.) long. It carried a single track railroad across a level valley between two tunnels. It was situated a few miles South of Songjin.
In order to keep the Iine blocked for as long as possible the USS "Iowa" was called in to plough up the roadbed with her 16" (406 mm) guns. I was amazed to find that the "Iowa" was firing over the top of us and that her shells, weighing over a ton each, and being fired nine at a time, sounded like express trains passing overhead. I have tried to explain what this equated with to non nautical friends, and have said it was like hurling nine Volkswagens at once towards the shore. Each one packed with high explosives. And these could be hurled over twenty miles (32km.) Also aircraft from Task Force 77 were directed to the scene.
As a result of ail this activity the rail line was kept blocked for 12 days. ln the end the Reds dynamited the wrecked train clear of the track, or what was left of it, and finally were able to repair the crossing. I imagine that there was heavy loss of life among those trying to clear the track, as sometimes we wouId fire a parachute flare in the dead of night and see them scattering in all directions before the arrival of the first high explosive shells.
For this and similar subsequent incidents HMS "Charity" was admitted as a member of the US Navy's 'Train Buster's Club.' Also during this patrol we joined a large number of American destroyers in a large scale bombardment of the city of Wonsan. From memory I think about fifty destroyers or similar craft took part. We being the only non American unit. All the ships involved formed into line astern and then steamed at high speed down the coast and swept into the harbour. As soon as each ship entered the land locked harbour it opened up on the city.
There were plenty of targets, factories, docks, railways, and a huge oil refinery. It was quite an impressive sight as the great line of ships sailed right around the shoreline blasting away. I was not on watch in the wireless office as my action station was down aft with a spare radio transmitter and receiver. This was an emergency transmitting site only to be used if the main office took a hit and was out of action. It was situated right behind the 4.5" gun, and therefore I was able to get a grandstand view of all that was going on.
Unless and until the main wireless office took a hit I had nothing to do, and so I filled in my time by helping pass the shells to the loading crew and watching the results. I could clearly see factories on the Southern side of the city with smoke coming from their chimneys. As we left there was smoke issuing from all over the place. We could see the other ships in the line with fire spouting from their sides as we all sped around the harbour. It was a very large bay, something like Botany Bay in New South Wales.
Some two weeks later I was in a bar in Sasebo when an American sailor noticed the name HMS "Charity" on my cap. He walked over and insisted on shaking my hand. He said that he had been on an American destroyer during the bombardment of the port of Wonsan and that the crew of his ship had been most impressed with the British ship's gunnery. He said that we were getting away shells at the rate of three to their two. His words were "You were the most shootingest ship we ever saw" That made me very proud, and I suppose we did the Royal Navy proud seeing that we were their only representative that day.
Another incidentwhich made us all smile occured one night when we were just 'stooging' along the coast watching for any activity ashore. Suddenly we spotted on the skyline, a few miles away, the flash followed by the dull rumble of gunfire. Our captain called down the voice pipe to the wireless office "Find out what's going on" We sent out the usual general call: "Unknown ship in vicinity ( ) at what are you firing?" Back came the answer in broken English: "I am South Koreanwarship and I am shooting my guns at the land of North Korea". Our Gunnery Officer was heard to comment over the Tannoy, "How come I never get targets that size."
An incident that was not humorous took place when an American landing came alongside us asking "did we perhaps have a doctor on board?" Yes we did. "Could he have a look at a South Korean army man they had brought out to us?" Our doctor, a young Surgeon Lieutenant climbed down into the landing craft and lifted up the sheet covering the Korean from chin to ankles. He had stepped on a land mine, and whilst his upper body and head etc. were unscathed, his lower stomach area was shredded. His feet which protruded below the sheet were also unmarked. He was very dead. Upon being informed of this the American commando type who was in charge of the craft tust shrugged and cast off. I remember him well as to mehe was archetypical of the Hollywood Johrn Wayne types one saw in American movies. He had twin holsters with pearl handled revolvers, and he had hand grenades hanging from his belt.
These guys used to raid the mainland from the numerous UN held islands and our young doctor, who had joined us straight from an internship in the UK, on one occasion was called upon to do three or four amputations for them with no proper facilities. We dropped him off at an island for the job and picked him up later in the day. We all thought he looked a bit grey when he came back aboard.
At the end of this patrol we made our way back to Japan and an incident at a railway station set me thinking. A Japanese wearing a very ragged NCO's army uniform was begging from British and American service men moving in and out of the station. He was on crutches and was presumably a war casualty. Would any of our fellows have begged from the Japs had they won? Who knows? It never ceased to amaze me how docile the Japs were. When you considered the ferocious reputation they had acquired during the war years. They obeyed the Emperor to the letter.
A short time later we sailed for Hong Kong where I was able to have a few outings with Chris again and then we sailed for Singapore
- Edward "Ted" Bates
- Brisbane (Australia)
Léon ROCHOTTE FRANCE - CORÉE
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