Same given name Robert.
Same name Wainwright.
Yeoman Petty Officer Bob Wainwright, from Newcastle, was a very lucky sailor!
The story he was telling deserves to be retold in bold characters.
Yeoman Petty Officer Bob Wainwright, from Newcastle, had already seen plenty of action whilst serving on Gloucester’s sister ship, Liverpool where he had narrowly escaped death when she was hit by two bombs which failed to explode. Later he was drafted to HMS Kent and was on board when she was torpedoed in September 1940. Three days later he joined Gloucester.
Bob was stationed on the bridge of Gloucester and had a grandstand view of the attacks that took place prior to the sinking;
‘When we ran out of ammunition we finished up firing the 6-inch guns and starshells, it was a waste of time really. Wave after wave of Stukas were concentrating on us. By the time the order came to abandon ship we had gone another half mile from where we were first hit. I saw men in the carley floats, and men who were swimming, being machine gunned by the enemy planes. I decided it might be safer to remain on the ship for as long as possible. A bomb hit the ship aft and the aft Director Control Tower went up in the air, then toppled over the side, it also took half of the main mast away. The aerials came crashing down and I took cover. One of the aerial insulators hit the captain’s steward and it took the top of his head clean off. I went back to the bridge and assisted a Sub Lieutenant to throw the Cypher books over the side. All the time pompom shells were exploding. Fiji was off the starboard side and Captain Rowley told me to make a signal to Fiji and ask her to come alongside but before I could do so, the captain took the flags from me and sent the signal himself. The reply came back, “Sorry but I will drop carley floats”. I made my way to the forecastle, where I saw a Royal Naval Reserve Lieutenant bravely directing men into the water, between air raids. The ship was listing so much that I just walked into the sea where I joined up with signalman Len ‘Al’ Bowley. We both knew that we could suffer severe internal injuries if the boilers exploded so we decided to swim as far from the ship as possible. The ship was wallowing in the water and I couldn’t believe she was about to sink. After Gloucester went down we were swimming from one piece of flotsam to another. Bowley kept asking me if we were going to make it. I told him, “of course we are” but in truth I didn’t think that we had a hope in hell’.
Here is a collection of pictures I found on the Internet of HMS Gloucester.
In May 1941 the Royal Navy prevented any German sea-borne landing in force on the island of Crete. Immense losses were imposed upon the German transports which sailed from the overrun mainland of Greece itself, but the modern menace of the dive-bomber exacted a heavy toll from our ships, which in those days had little of the all-important air support. Dive-bombers destroyed both the Gloucester and the new cruiser Fiji on the same day – 22 May 1941. The RAF having been withdrawn, doubtless for good reasons, leaving our ships with only their own guns to defend themselves. Both fought fiercely until the end.