Transcript of Incident WW11 1940
Written by Donald Clifford Osman b. 6/10/19 d. 28/5/2001
He wrote this some 18 months before he crossed the bar in 2001.
During the evacuation of France in 1940 on board HMS Ambuscade, we were detailed to go to a small coastal port of
Fe Camp where there were maybe a few thousand British soldiers to evacuate.
We nosed our bow into the cove and lowered a whaler with landing party and being part of Y Gun Crew we transferred to A Gun. I was a loader. But instead of British soldiers, German guns opened fire on us and my gun retaliated on local control. Whilst I turned from the gun to get another cartridge I saw 2 men in the chains dancing and I started laughing until I saw why; they were skipping over a line of tracer bullets from German tanks. They appeared to be doing a jig from the platform and bridge casing at the same time coiling up the lead line very comical.
Another enemy gun opened up from what appeared to be a church top, so the gun layer trained the 4.7 gun on to this while myself and No 3 loaded and slammed breech shut. Turning to get more ammunition I noticed the tracer shells were coming across the ship and a Petty Officer Chief Bosun’s mate had his leg shattered.
During this action on the port side, the whaler had been lowered on starboard side and a landing party had pulled away when slipped from falls with a Petty Officer Gun Layer lying in the bows with a stripped Lewis gun and pan of ammunition. The Captain, Lt Com Johnson had decided to send the landing party in because a person dressed in French sailors uniform was signalling from a small boat inshore. This must have been a decoy because other guns around the town were now shooting at the whaler, so the captain recalled the landing party and when they were alongside and hooked on, the ship turned to starboard and unfortunately the spare men manning the boat falls to hoist it onboard came under the concentrated fire of tracer’s that we on ‘A’ gun had experienced. A lot of men were mowed down before X gun got off a few salvoes of DI Shells. By this time we were withdrawing out of the harbour, and treating the wounded.
Outside in the channel we came across another destroyer of the flotilla “Boadicea”. She had been hit by bombs and her engine room flooded. Our Captain had spoken to us over the address system and had intended to go back into the harbour after sun set and bombard the German position, but this now was a different plan, he persuaded the Captain of Boadicea not to abandon ship, but to except a tow from us. We passed over a Coston Gun Line followed by 2 ½ grass and a shackle of cable. Once secured, we went ahead but was finding it very difficult, as the towed ship’s rudder was jammed hard to port. Steady but surely we proceeded toward Spithead. Although keeping at action stations the Captain assembled the men, and said prayers while slipping our dead over the side, they had been dressed in canvass and dummy shells as is usual for burial at sea.
It took us 2 days to tow the Bodicea to Spithead where we were met by a tug who took over the tow and we carried on up into Portsmouth for repairs to shell holes to be welded up and prepare to join the Harwich force.