More from George A. Freer…
I must go down to sea again
To the lonely sea and the sky
With a tall ship and a good ship
And a star to steer her by.
I can’t make out the signature.
Another unsung hero.
You can contact me if you have more information about that badge.
A donor of one of these Maritime AA badges, who may have had some connection with the Maritime AA Artillery, states in a covering letter that the badges were ‘worn on the arm, and the pagri of a Wolseley helmet, by the Maritime Regts RA from formation until summer of 1943. A similar transfer was applied to the steel helmet.’ This badge was superseded in summer 1943 by a similar design with the letters ‘RA’ replacing ‘AA’. Presumably this was as a result of the redesignation of the force from ‘Maritime Anti-Aircraft Regiments’ to ‘Maritime Regiments Royal Artillery’. Prior to the beginning of the Second World War it was decided that merchant ships would be equipped with defensive armaments. Initially, crews were found by the Admiralty from Naval and Royal Marine reservists and by the end of the war some 24,000 such men had been trained together with a further 150,000 Merchant Seamen. These troops wore naval insignia, typically the gun barrel, star and legend ‘DEMS’ (Defensively Equipped Merchant Shipping). However, additional anti-aircraft provision was required and in 1940 the War Office responded to requests for assistance by deploying men trained on machine guns. This was implemented initially through co-operation between the Admiralty Trade Division and Anti-Aircraft Command. These troops came under Admiralty control, and total manpower topped 14,000 by 1944. This organisation was originally formed under the titles of ‘AA Defence of Merchant Shipping’ and ‘AA Light Machine Gun Troops’. The ‘AA’ version of the badge appears to date from this time. What was intended to be a stop-gap measure over a few months proved so successful that in May 1941 the force was reorganized as four Maritime Anti-Aircraft Regiments, Royal Artillery, three of which were armed with anti-aircraft light machine guns and one with Bofors. There was a further reorganisation at the end of 1942/beginning of 1943, when the regiments were split up into independent batteries and troops and the whole force re-named Maritime Royal Artillery (MRA). The ‘RA’ version of the badge was adopted shortly after this time. The force stayed essentially in this form into the post-war period. Key bases where both MRA and naval gun crews were deployed included Liverpool, London, Glasgow, Leith, Newcastle, Cardiff, Cape Town, Alexandria, Halifax (Nova Scotia), Madras, Bombay, Colombo and other naval stations around the globe. Crews were allocated as required to DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Shipping).
badge A red ‘fouled anchor’ with white rope and white letters ‘AA’ either side of anchor, on a black square.
This is what I found on the Internet about W.K. Lawrence.
But the biggest success for the chariots came three weeks after the fall of Rome in June 1944.
A single chariot forced its way through dense anti-submarine nets into La Spezia harbour and sank the last Italian heavy cruiser Bolzano, which the Germans had seized at the time of the Italian surrender and withdrawn to the north. Operation ‘QWZ’, as it was known, was a joint operation with the Italian Navy. Two chariots – Sub.Lt. M.R. Causer (the veteran of the Trondheim attempt on Tirpitz and the walk to Sweden), with AB Harry Smith, and PO Cook Conrad ‘Len’ Berey with Stoker Ken Lawrence, were carried in Italian Motor Torpedo Boat MS74. Causer and Smith made a textbook attack securing the warhead underneath Bolzano. Berey had failed to find the entrance to the harbour and, as dawn was breaking, decided to scuttle his Chariot. Both Chariot teams failed to make the rendezvous with their MTB transports and, by coincidence, succeeded in joining the same group of Italian partisans ashore. Berey managed to cross the River Arno in August 1944 to rejoin British forces, but Lawrence, Causer and Smith were all captured while trying to make the same crossing. In addition, Charioteers were among the first ashore on the Normandy beaches, clearing mines and obstructions. They, with their Italian allies, had also been surveying beaches in Greece and the South of France for a possible invasion of Europe from the Mediterranean.
Now we know who’s the sailor behind that drawing.
Operation “Title” Against the Tirpitz October 1942
Operators: Brewster, Brown, Craig, Evans, Causer and Tebb
Operation “Principal” The attack on Palermo Harbour January 1943
Operators: Dove, Freel, Ferrier, Greenland, Stevens, Worthy, Cook, Milne, Simpson, Carter
The Submarine P311 went missing off the North Sardinian coast presumed torpedoed. January 1943
10 charioteers died. Anderson, Bonnell, Goss, Kerr, Mapplebeck, Pridham, Rickwood, Stretton-Smith, Sargeant, Trevethian
Operation “Welcome” The attack on Tripoli harbour January 1943
Operators: Larkin, Berey, Stevens, Buxton
May 1943 Sicily beach survey prior to allied landings
The object to measure beach gradients and mark enemy positions and beach defences
Operators: T.Evans, W.S.Smith, W.Jakeman, A.C.Kirby V.J.Mills, J.Brewster, J.Brown, Hargreaves.
Sept 1943. Lunna Voe operations using Norwegian agents to spy on occupying Germans. Motor Torpedo Boats used to drop “Chariots”
Operators: G.J.W.Larkin, N.Job, with13 others
In June 1944 a combined Italian and British force attacked La Spezia harbour
Operators Berey, Causer, Lawrence, H.Smith.
Far East October 1944 the attack on Phuket harbour Thailand
Operators: Elderidge, Brown, Smith, Woolcott
Charioteers were used to survey the Normandy beaches prior to the landings
In June 1944 came an opportunity to take action, in Operation QWZ, a joint mission against targets in La Spezia harbour. The attack was against the Italian cruisers Bolzano and Gorizia, which had been taken by the Germans after the Italian surrender. This was to thwart a German plan to sink them where they would block the harbour entrance. The mission also aimed to attack German U-boats in the harbour. British Charioteers would attack the cruisers whilst Mariassalto’s Gamma Frogmen would attack U-boats penned in the harbour. On 2 June 1944 the Italian destroyer Grecale sailed from Bastia in Corsica to La Spezia carrying three speedboats, and Italian frogmen including Luigi Durand De La Penne, and two British chariots. One chariot broke down and was abandoned, though the other successfully sank Bolzano. However the Gamma men were unsuccessful in their attack on the U-boat pens. All the participants escaped to link with partisan groups on land.
I had never heard about that ship.
I am not surprised since I did not know a thing about HMCS Athabaskan when I started writing this blog in 2009.
This drawing was in Jim L’Esperance’s Wartime Log.
W.K. Laurence did this drawing on January 1945, and he had to be a prisoner at Marlag und Milag Nord along with Jim L’Esperance.
W.K. Laurence had to have some knowledge of what had happened to R.M. Bolzano.
I will tell you more about the artist next time.
What about the R.M. Bolzano…?
The photo with Bolzano on fire in August 1942, when she was torpedoed by HMS Unbroken. (see comment below)
Bolzano was built a year later than the other two, with enough differences that she is sometimes considered a separate class. She served in most of the same missions as her sisters. She was hit three times by six-inch rounds from the British cruiser HMS Neptune in the battle of Calabria, where she sustained two deaths and minor damage below the waterline, which was patched up in just six minutes. Another round hit in the “B” turret and holed the guns, which continued to fire undeterred. A third round struck the torpedo room, where the two fatalities took place. At the beginning of the battle of Spartivento, her Ro.43 floatplane was the first to spot the British fleet 20 miles off Algeria. On 25 August 1941, while returning from an abortive attempt to intercept minelayer HMS Manxman, used by the British in re-supply missions, Bolzano was damaged by a torpedo from the British submarine HMS Triumph near the Straits of Messina. With her steering damaged, she had to be towed to Messina. Repairs lasted three months, during which she was hit during an air raid.
In August 1942, when her participation in the interception of the Pedestal convoy had been cancelled, she was again torpedoed while returning to base. Bolzano and the light cruiser Muzio Attendolo were both seriously damaged by torpedoes from the British submarine HMS Unbroken off the Aeolian Islands on 13 August. The damage to Bolzano required her magazines to be flooded and she was beached at the island of Panarea. After a month, she was salvaged and taken first to Naples, then to La Spezia for repairs. While she was at La Spezia in September the Italians surrendered and she was captured by the Germans. However the damage was so heavy that they didn’t have resources to repair her. She was sunk by former members of Decima Flottiglia MAS, transported by human torpedoes, in a combined Italian and British raid on 21 June 1944. After the war she was refloated, and sold for scrap in 1947.
`operational training for a two man Torpedo, known as a “Chariot or “Jeep,” the intrepid crew were “Charioteers” and dressed in Frogman outfits.
Their name indicating that they rode the Torpedo sitting astride, one behind the other. A later version of the “Chariot” had recessed seats in tandem but the crew were still exposed to the open sea.
The torpedo rudder was controlled by means of a short joy stick which moved left or right for turning, and fore and aft to control diving or rising through the hydroplanes. A combined starter and throttle had four positions, three to move ahead and one for astern. Top speed was but a slow 3.5 knots.
Two pump levers pumped water in or out of ballast tanks, or moved water from the forward tank to the aft tank or vice versa. A final lever could open or shut the main ballast tank, and compressed air would expel this water via a valve.
The two crew, the front one known as Number 1, controlled the “Chariot.” His Number 2 sitting behind him became operational on arrival at the target. Powerful hand magnets were used to position the “Chariot” after coming alongside the target submerged, and then used by the Number 2 to secure the detachable warhead to the ship’s bottom.
It was planned to use “Chariots” to attack the “Tirpitz” in October 1942, whilst she was located at Trondhjemfjord in Norway. It was then reported that she had moved further South.
A fishing boat “Arthur” with a Norwegian Skipper was prepared. She would stow two “Chariots” on deck until they reached the proximity of the Norwegian coast. The “Chariots” would then be placed on tow, and “Arthur” would sail through German controls with the “Charioteers” concealed in a hollowed out “Hidey hole” in the peat cargo.
With the “Chariots” under tow and submerged, “Arthur” came alongside the German examination boat, a Control Ofticer came aboard, but the vessel passed his scrutiny. When the party was within striking distance of their objective, both “Chariots” broke away from their tow, and were lost. The “Arthur” was holed and sunk, and the crew and the “Charioteers” all landed and managed to pass into Sweden, but one of the “Chariot” team, Able Seaman Evans was badly wounded in a shoot out near the frontier. On Hitler’s orders, he was later shot.
Further “Chariot” operations were undertaken in the Mediterranean, including reconnaissance of the coast of Sicily prior to the invasion, and the sinking of an Italian Cruiser at Palermo. The final operation was an attack in the harbour of La Spezia, ironically, the actual birth place of the Italian two man Torpedo.
Lieutenant Causer and Seaman Harry Smith managed to sink the 10,000 ton Italian Cruiser “Bolzano,” but had to abandon their craft, and they then scrambled ashore having been at sea for over 7 hours. The two British sailors joined up with Italian guerillas, with whom they fought for 6 weeks, finally being captured by a German patrol.
It was suspected that they both were responsible for the sinking of the “Bolzano,” however they both denied any involvement in that affair, maintaining they were survivors from a large British Submarine. Smith was sent to prison camps in Germany, at first to Bremen, and then to Lubeck, where he was kept in solitary confinement, whilst the Germans tried to break him down to admit that he was involved in the sinking of the “Bolzano”, but he managed to stick to his claim that he survived the sinking of a large British Submarine. Smith survived the war, to be finally rescued by the invading British troops.
About Lieutenant Causer…?
Ord Seaman Sub Lt RNVR
Chariot Diver – Participated in first Chariot attempt to sink the Tirpitz 50 miles up Trondheim Fjord in Oct 1942. During rough weather, both chariots were lost from beneath their fishing boat ‘Arthur’ which subsequently sank. All personnel attempted to make their escape across Sweden.
DSO awarded for great gallantry. Teamed with Smith as the crew of a ‘Human Torpedo’ which penetrated the heavily defended harbour of La Spezia on the night of 21 Jun 44 and sank the Italian Cruiser Bolzano. Captured while trying to escape across the River Arno.