by Jon Parkinson
1) H.M.S. Durban in the Mediterranean: 1934-1936
2)H.M.S. Durban: Panama Canal during an earlier commission
At Portsmouth on 6 March 1934 the light cruiser Durban was commissioned by Captain Edward Dicken for service with the British Mediterranean Fleet. 4,850 tons displacement. 472.5' long, Six 6" in single mounts. Three 4" A.A. Four 3 pounders. Several lighter guns. Four x three 21" Torpedo tubes. 40,000 H.P. twin screw. Designed for 29 knots which never was to be achieved in service. Bunker capacity of only 1,050 tons. At full power she managed a shade over 26 knots, then burning in her six boilers just over 20 tons per hour. At her economical speed of 12 knots she consumed 2.25 tons per hour. Crew was 418 men including 31 officers.
3) Admiral Sir William Wordsworth Fisher (1875-1937)
In the Mediterranean at the time the Commander-in-Chief was Sir William Wordsworth Fisher, a most Competent and able man, also gifted with a refreshing, inquiring outlook. Unfortunately, a little later on while serving as C. in C., Portsmouth, he was to die young, aged only 62 years.
4) Map of the Western Mediterranean Sea
The ship's first port of call in the Mediterranean was at Gibraltar, here. There she arrived on 24 March 1934, a unit of the Third Cruiser Squadron. Having been introduced to the high standards of smartness and efficiency for which the Mediterranean Fleet was well known, she steamed on to Malta, here, arriving on 13 May.
5) Picture of Durban Moored in French Creek, Valetta in 1934
In peacetime the normal Naval routine was one of exercising with either the Fleet or just with srnaller units of the Fleet, and of undertaking certain cruises to differing regions of the Station.
6) Map of the West coast of Greece
For example during the summer of 1934 ships of the Squadron cruised up here on the West coast of Greece to ports such as Corinth, Corfu (ruled by Britain from 1815 to 1864) and Navarino, here, scene of the Alled naval victory of 20 October 1827 during the war to free Greece from Turkish dominance.
7) Map of Sicily (Messina)
In due course there came a more somber duty for the ship to perform.
Remember that in the 1930s air transport was not taken for granted in the manner in which it is today. Also there existed various schools of thought regarding the precise form in which aviation should progress - airships, or possibly land aircraft, maybe even flying boats were thought to be the possible answer.
Be that as it may, at the end of January 1935 four RAF flying boats had set off from England on the 8,000 mile journey to Singapore. One machine either experienced engine trouble or simply in poor weather flew along an incorrect course between Naples, here, and Malta, here. Either way, on 15 February she crashed into the side of a mountain near Messina, here. Sadly all nine crew members were killed. By coincidence her pilot had been Flight Lieut. Henry Longfield Beatty, step brother of Admiral of the Fleet, Earl Beatty.
To Durban was given the duty of steaming from Malta to Messina to collect the coffins and of returning with the dead. This was accomplished between 16 and 18 February.
8) Map of Western Merl. (again) By 4 March she was back in Gibraltar to participate in joint exercises between the Atlantic and Mediterranean Fleets. These took place out in the Atlantic Ocean as far South as Funchal. An interesting feature, especially in that era, was the presence of three aircraft carriers with the Fleets during these training manoeuvres. (Eagle, Furious and Courageous)
Following these exercises she and her sister ship Delhi, the latter flying the flag of their Rear
Admiral, paid an official visit to the French Navy at Oran, here.
There they remained from 26 March to 4 April 1935.
Much hospitality was arranged by their thoughtful hosts, this including a visit paid by 300
officers and men to the HQ of the French Foreign Legion, here at Sidi Bel Abbes.
In Oran some members of the ships' companies were horrified to discover that ashore in the bars two scotch and sodas cost just under a pound - 18/6. Quickly they learned to enjoy pastis and the local wine!
To return French hospitality on 2 April Durban was warped alongside the Flagship and both ships were rigged for dancing, the respective quarterdecks being decorated appropriately. Guests the next evening included both French friends and members of the small British community.
Back at Gibraltar on 6 May 1935 great were the celebrations held to mark the Silver Jubilee of H.M. The King Emperor George V. By 17 May Durban had returned to Malta.
On 7 June 1935 the Conservative, Stanley Baldwin, became British Prime Minister. As his Chancellor of the Exchequer he appointed Neville Chamberlain, later to be the British Prime Minister at the outbreak of WW2.
Next followed a cruise up into the Adriatic, here.
Today we are all well aware of the chaotic domestic situation prevailing through these regions to the East, here. It was little different then. For example in 1929 the Serbian King Alexander I had abolished the constitution and endeavoured to rule as a dictator. On 9 October 1934, so not even a year before Durban arrived in those waters, Croatian terrorists had rewarded the King's efforts by assassinating him in Marseilles. His son, Peter II, was a minor, therefore the throne was entrusted to a cousin, Prince Paul, who ruled as Regent. No new policies were introduced and so internal disputes rather naturally continued.
Visits, sometimes of a week in length, were made to ports such as Kotor, here, Spilt (renowned for
the early 4th century palace built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian), here, and through these beautiful
islands here to the south of Rijeka to spend nine days at Crikvenica/Pula.
It was in these waters that one sailor then serving in the ship recollects that during his entire service in the Navy, all over the world, this was the only occasion on which ever he heard a most unusual order piped through the ship:- 'Clear lower deck, all hands to admire the scenery.'
In the entirely normal manner soccer and other games were played against local teams and good times
were enjoyed. All reports subsequently were to speak of the people ashore being extremely friendly and
of them all bearing great goodwill towards Britain and the men of her Fleet.
In England the ship had commissioned with her Commander being Victor Gabriel Brodeur, on secondment from the Royal Canadian Navy. Now on 16 July it was time for him to return to duty at home and so he was succeeded by Commander Desmond Tufnell of the RN.
Victor Brodeur was to go on to great things in the RCN and play a most active part in the gigantic build up of their Navy during WW2 at the end of which the RCN was to rank third in size in the Navies of the world, only smaller than the USN and RN. As a Rear Admiral he himself was to end the War as Commanding Officer, Pacific Coast with his flag ashore in Vancouver.
By early August Durban had returned to Malta and drydock.
On 29 August she proceeded to sea once more, this time bound in an Easterly direction. On passage, and as usual, exercises were carried out together with other men of war in company. These took place by both day and night.
9) Map of the Eastern Mediterranean
On 2 September 1935 Durban secured inside the breakwater here at Haifa. Almost straight away, on 19 and 20 September, exercises were carried out, combined operations if you will, with parties of soldiers being taken North from Haifa and then in the early hours being landed ashore from ships' boats over the open beaches. At this stage there are two particular points to be borne in mind.
Firstly, it was on 3 October 1935 that Italian forces commenced their invasion of Ethiopia. The League of Nations did not approve.
To a degree Britain was somewhat prepared. Certainly in the Mediterranean, and well in advance of this date, Admiral Fisher had made his dispositions and elsewhere around the world the Admiralty had ordered numbers of warships on different Stations to be prepared to steam to reinforce their Mediterranean Fleet. As is clear from his papers however, Admiral Fisher did not believe that any actual action would be taken by the League of Nations to thwart Italian ambitions.
In London there was inadequate political will with, in due course, the Foreign Secretary, Samuel Hoare, having to resign over the issue. In France, her only likely partner in enforcing any resolution enacted by the League, the situation was even worse. In fact in France then the prime minister was Pierre Laval ,who during WW2 was to be perceived to have collaborated with Germany thus in October 1945 was to be shot for treason.
So, Admiral Fisher was proved to be correct. The League of Nations, to borrow a Chinese phrase, 'a toothless tiger', postured and said, more or less, 'how dreadful', but did nothing meaningful against Italy.
Secondly, and of greater relevance to us this evening, was the question of Palestine.
By the year 1880 about 25,000 Jews lived in Palestine, then under Turkish rule within the Ottoman Empire. By 1914 and the outbreak of the Great War this number had increased to 85,000 or just over 12% of the total population of 700,000.
As we know during the Great War Turkey sided with Germany and Austria-Hungary, and lost. In 1 920 the League of Nations granted Great Britain the Mandate of Palestine, a decision particularly desired in London owing to the proximity of Palestine to the Suez Canal.
This mandated region included the Emirate ofTransjordan, here, which only from 1922 was to be adlninistered as a separate territory. In 1946 the country was to join the UN as the independent sovereign state officially known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Especially during the 1930s the persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe and in Hitler's Germany became increasingly intolerable. There was much international sympathy for their plight. However, without elaborating at length, the greater numbers of Jews wishing to Inigrate to Palestine were unable to do so legally as the A.rab population feared any great increase in the number of Jews in the country. The Jews countered by adopting an illegal immigration policy. By 1936 their percentage of the population amounted to some 25 per cent, not only that but their rate of immigration continued apace. The scene was set for a great deal of unpleasantness.
At Haifa on Monday, 11 November 1935 the customary two minutes silence was observed in commemoration of Annistice Day, 1918, the end of a conflict with which citizens of most countries in the world very naturally still were extremely familiar.
That evening Durban sailed for Port Said where she arrived the following morning. Her services were required in order to tow a damaged sloop of 1,000 tons, Hastings, from Port Said to Malta for repair. The previous June, while steaming in the Red Sea bound for Port Sudan, at night in misty conditions, she had grounded on a shoal from which it had taken three months to re-float her. Happily this new task proved to be straightforward and on 17 November off Malta, Hastings was delivered safely into the care of harbour tugs from Valetta. By 4 December Durban was back at Haifa.
There she spent Christmas and New Year's Eve 1935 however with intervals at sea carrying out a variety of exercises in company with their new light cruiser flagship Arethusa.
On 20 January 1936 King George V died. The following morning at 0800 colours were half masted and at noon all ships of the squadron commenced the firing of seventy minute guns. At noon on 22 January colours were re-hoisted and at noon a twenty one gun Royal Salute was fired in honour of the proclamation of H.M. King Edward VIII. From 29 January 1936 the very active schedule of exercising was resumed together with ships of the squadron but also with shore batteries and with submarines.
10) Durban assisting with the re-floating of 'CREFELD': 28 February 1936
By 22 February Durban had returned to Alexandria where, between 25 and 28 February she was employed in rather an unusual task, that of assisting to refloat the German steamer of the Norddeutscher Lloyd, Crefeld, which had grounded on a mud bank off the Great Pass Beacon. Her first attempt, using 5.5" wires, was unsuccessful but fortunately, and following further attempts, during the evening of 28 February she refloated. The following November salvage money was to be awarded to members of the ship's company in Durban. As an example an Engine Room Artificer received GBP 2-8-6 or GBP 2.43 in modern money so, though welcome especially in those days when money still held some value, hardly a great sum.
In succession to Admiral Fisher, from March 1936 the new C. in C., Mediterranean Fleet was Admiral Sir Alfred Dudley P.R. Pound. From 1939 he was to become better known as the First Sea Lord at the Admiralty, a post he held until just a month before his death in October 1943.
11) Map of Israel
Note that at the time when Palestine and Transjordan were administered as distinct territories this region here, today known as West Bank, was entirely within the boundaries of Palestine. This part here to the North, including present day Lebanon, was all the French mandated territory of Syria. Ashore in Palestine on 17 April 1936 there occurred that incident which was to provide the necessary spark resulting in greatly increased unrest and disorder in that unhappy country. On that day a bus travelling down from Jerusalem to Jaffa on the coast, here, was held up by an Arab gang and a Jewish passenger was murdered.
To the north adjacent to Jaffa is the new town of Tel Aviv which was being developed by the Jews. The next day, during the funeral of this murdered Jew at the cemetery which lies between Jaffa and Tel Aviv, a clash took place between Jews and Arabs. Unfortunately before the police were able to restore order there was an appreciable loss of life.
This sad episode appeared to be the straw which finally broke the camel' s back. Gradually there ensued many strikes and much civil disobedience and lawlessness throughout the country.
It was not unexpected.
However before military reinforcements could be sent out from Britain once again it fell to the Navy to bridge the gap.
Other news was not good either. On 5 May 1936 Addis Ababa fell. V/ith their capture of the capital the Italian conquest of Ethiopia was complete.
12) Enterprise sailing from Port Said: May 1936
Between 6 May and 4 June Durban was at Port Said again. There during the afternoon of 7 May she witnessed the cruiser Enterprise pass and proceed out to sea. On board was the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie being taken into safe exile in England. He would remain there until the Allies, mostly British and South African, liberated his country in 1941.
13) Map of Israel (again)
Back at Haifa early in June then over the course of the next few days a Royal Marine detachment from the ship, consisting of one officer and twenty men, took their turn to guard the oil tanks and naval supply depot there at Haifa. Next followed a quick voyage to Malta and return forDurbanto undergo a period of drydocking and self refit.
By the end of June it was apparent to the authorities in Palestine, the High Commissioner then being General Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope of the Black Watch, that gun running into the country had become a great problem. He, by the way, was a cousin of, and in South Africa had been a.d.c. to, Major General Andrew Gilbert Wauchope, killed at Magersfontein on 11 December 1899.
As an aside, as High Conlnlissioner in Palestine he had been preceded by Sir Mark Aitchison Young, the very man who on Christmas Day 1941 was to have no option but to surrender Hong Kong to Japan.
Amongst many others also serving in Palestine at the time were Major Gerald Templer, later the well known Field Marshal and High Commissioner in Malaya during the latter years of the Emergency, and, the D.O. at Nablus, Hugh Foot, in 1960, to be the last Governor of Cyprus! For those administering the Empire it was a very small world.
Be that as it may, in an effort to minimize that gun running activity, from 26 June 1936 a naval coastal patrol was established.
Durban returned to Haifa from Malta early in July 1936. Straight away the pace of activity commenced to speed up.
At 0900 on 9 July Lieut. Peter Gretton and four ratings from the ship were landed as they had been, ' ... lent to The Loyal Regt. for shore work.' This is the same Peter Gretton by the way, who during WW2 was to be the very successful commander of the B.7 Escort Group in the Atlantic. Eventually he was to retire as a knighted Vice Admiral.
In connection with this 'shore work' on 13 July hands in the ship were employed in hoisting out the starboard two pounder pom-pom gun. The army was short of very light artillery and this piece was to be mounted in a lorry for use ashore.
In the event three lorries were to be required. Named after a cartoon strip then running in the newspaper 'Daily Mirror', they were known as 'Pip' with the pom-pom gun, 'Squeak' with a three pounder gun, and 'Wilfred' with a searchlight. Some light steel sheeting was provided by the ship and so placed on the lorries as to give some arnlour protection to the drivers and gun crews.
Owing to the unrest ashore many of the roads became impassable without a well equipped escort. The armed lorry manned by the party fromDurbanwas used with very positive effect to guard convoys of vehicles.
Amusingly it is related that Lieutenant Gretton regarded this work with the lorry patrols as being a most welcome break from the usual shipboard routine. They went out nearly every night and fired hundreds of rounds without the gun jamming. His four ratings were very capable and the Army was excellent company.
In addition any Engine Room Artificers who could be spared from the ship were given the task of driving trains, usualiy between Jaffa and Jerusalem. In such instances the general rule was that the locomotive pushed an empty rail truck ahead so that any bombs laid on or under the track would not damage the locomotive when they exploded.
As a reminder: distances in Palestine/Israel are miniscule. For example Jaffa/Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, here, is about 60 km. Similarly from Haifa down to Jerusalem is only some 160 km. Lieutenant Gretton later was given the job of helping the police to control the Arab market in Haifa. For this task he conlmanded a mixed party of seamen and stokers. For two weeks he relates that he and his men were kept more busy fighting fires than they were in handling any unrest in the streets. His chief concern was to eliminate the risk of any accidents occurring with firearms amongst the members of his own squad! All went well however and the ever cheerful sailors soon became friends with many of the Arabs. Such was not always the case. One or two Army regiments earned the reputation of treating prisoners badly. The Arabs did not take long to work out this state of affairs. Subsequently several British captives were murdered then mutilated. Mutilation usually took the form of cutting off a man's private parts and then stuffing them into his mouth.
In the town of Haifa precautions were taken by shore parties. For example when out in the town, and then always in a group, whenever a cafe was entered then on every occasion those involved would select a table with an uncluttered exit passage to a door.
As another example in Haifa a wealthy resident kindly had turned over her house for use by the Navy as a secure mess and canteen for those wishing to enjoy a few hours of shore leave. On one occasion however, sniper fire from across the street and aimed at the house quickly brought to an end a game of table tennis being played by two members of the ship's company, but too close to an open window.
On 17 July 1936 the Spanish Civil War commenced.
Following the departure of King Alfonso XIII in 1931 then during the so-called Second Republic the country had suffered from much conflict between right and left. Eventually the Army in Spanish Morocco proclainled a revolution against the government in Madrid. In October 1936 they were to select General Francisco Franco as their leader.
Durbanwas not to be directly involved in this affair but for many ships and men of the Royal Navy the Mediterranean now was to becomne an even more active and stormy sea. Serving inDurbanduring this period was Midshipman Richard Ellis. On Thursday, 30 July he was ordered to report for temporary service in one of the coast patrol trawlers just mentioned, anti gun running duties. In the trawler he was to be Officer of the Watch and Boarding Officer. Excerpts from his Journal follow:-
'Accordingly I joined Topaze at 0830 today. We steamed up the coast as far as Ras Naqurah, here, the Northern limit of the patrol, on the lookout for any vessels coming South. The reef was clearly visible. No vessels were sighted during the forenoon. After lunch we closed a sailing schooner coming South and prepared to board her. The lifeboat was got ready for lowering and the crew and myself put on our equipment, the Arab policeman and myself carrying revolvers and also electric torches. We boarded the vessel and proceeded to search her for arms. There was some sand ballast in the hold which we dug under with no result. Having satisfied myself that there were no arms onboard we manned the lifeboat again and pulled back to the Topaze. During the afternoon I kept watch and steamed up and down the coast, not sighting any more vessels. We were off Acre, here, by 7.45 p.m. to rendezvous with the police launch which patrols inside the reef during the night - the trawler patrols outside. Tonight however the launch failed to arrive so we kept our watch off Naqurah by ourselves. We closed a small rowing boat at about 2 a.m. and ordered it alongside, the policemen searching it. The fishermen had caught some nice silver bream and Lieut. Mallinson, RNR - the officer in charge, gave the man five piastres - this did not please the fisherman at all however, and after some argument he threw the money back into the trawler. It was very pleasant steaming along in the bay watching the dawn break over the hills and the lights of Haifa slowly go out. We returned to Haifa at about 6.30 a.m. on Friday 31 st and I anchored the ship off the lee breakwater at 7 a.m. I returned toDurbanat 7.30 having had a most enjoyable day.'
By the beginning of August the ship was coming to the end of her 2.5 year commission. Imagine any commission of that length today?
Owing to various commitnents though, Admiral Pound, the C. in C., decided that this would be extended by a month into September 1936.
On Sunday, 2 August a sailing race was held here in the bay at Haifa, the competitors being the RN versus the Haifa Yacht Club. In the event the Navy won rather convincingly with their Rear Admiral, D'Oyly Lyon himself, being the individual winner. Incidentally as a Vice Admiral, that great cricketer and rugger player, George Hamilton D'Oyly Lyon, at the outbreak ofWW2 was to be serving in Freetown as C. in C., South Atlantic. As such he was to be closely involved with the protection of the shipping trade to and from South Africa. Fresh from his yachting victory then that evening the Admiral ordered that from 6 August a Midshipman and three ratings from Durbanwere to succeed the Royal Artillery in the operation of the three pounder gun on the lorry, 'Squeak'.
Three Midshipmen were available so cast lots, Dick Ellis being delighted to be successful. Of the other two one was Reggie Webb who, in March 1943 when serving as a Lieutenant in the submarine Thunderbolt, sadly was to lose his life when the Italian Navy sank her near Sicily.
In the interim the domestic situation in Greece (much as today) was giving cause for concern.
Basically, the 1936 election results had resulted in the Royalists and Republicans being almost evenly matched in Parlimnent. As they held 15 of the 300 seats the unfortunate position was that the Communists controlled the balance of power. As a result King George II permitted General Joannes Metaxas to establish a military dictatorship. The King dissolved Parliament on 4 August 1936, without indicating a date for the new elections to take place, and so, amongst other warships and just in case of disturbances,Durbanwas ordered to stand by, ready to proceed to Greece at short notice. In the event General Metaxas, with a firm hand, was to remain as dictator until his death on 29 January 1941.
So, with the possibility of suddenly being ordered away to Greece doubtless causing him no concern whatsoever, early on 6 August Midshipman Ellis and his gun crew left the ship and proceeded ashore to the depot in Haifa to collect 'Squeak'. This was accomplished without delay and on they drove to Nazareth, here, then South to Jenin, here, where they arrived at 1030. At this point reinforcements joined and they continued south to Nablus, where, as just mentioned, the D.O. was Hugh Foot (later Lord Caradon), and where there was a fort manned by the 1 st Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. Besides the soldiers there they found the pom-pom lorry 'Pip' under the command of Lieut. Gray from Durban and two howitzers manned by men from the heavy cruiser Sussex.
The group saw action the next day, 7 August, as during the afternoon snipers had fired at road convoys to the north of Nablus on the Jenin Road, here. Dick Ellis continues:-
'The Striking Force was called out at 1215. 'Pip' and 'Squeak' arrived at the scene of the action together and drew up on the road which was being fired at from both sides. From the crest of a hill to the North a band of about 20 was firing intermittently from a range of about 600 yards. 'Pip' opened fire on the crest whilst a party of Seaforths proceeded up the hill in skirmish order. Snipers were suspected of being in an olive grove about 800 yards on the South side so 'Squeak' opened fire placing two shots in the grove. From a far hill Arabs could be seen so we also fired a few shots at the skyline at a range of approximately 1,500 yards. The aircraft by this time were very active, a squadron having come to the scene of the battle. One aircraft picked up a sniper who was so well concealed from the road that we could not tell from where the shots were coming. The aircraft however dived on him, firing with the front gun, and wounded him. The aircraft then dropped a message stating that the man was wounded, and a small party of Seaforths was sent away to complete the work. He was killed eventually, and brought in on a stretcher, along with his rifle and ammunition, both of which were of English make, the rifle being a shortened Lee Enfield with no sights, and the Great War ammunition being very dirty. He possessed about 20 rounds.
The band on the hill to the North had by this time dispersed and were being hotly pursued by the aircraft which used Lewis guns and bombs to good advantage. One prisoner was brought in. Four armoured cars, plus 'Pip' and 'Squeak' were ordered at approximately 1530 to a position about a mile to the South where a band was firing at long range at the main road. All guns opened fire on the crest of the hill and drove then away temporarily. We then returned to the first scene of operations to cover the embussing of the troops who were returning from the hills. During this operation sniping again started from the hill to the South and continued whilst we proceeded home along the road. Luckily nobody was hit. We returned to the camp at 1730 the result of the engagement being four Arabs killed, two prisoners with rifles and about 250 rounds, and 18 believed seriously wounded from the air. The only casualty from our side was one supply officer slightly wounded. At 1945 'Pip', 'Squeak' and the searchlight lorry, 'Wilfred', took up their positions by the howitzers for camp defence duties. However no sniping took place.'
All was quiet on the Saturday.
On Sunday, 9 August the Striking Force again was called out in the afternoon. About eight miles from Nablus there was an important road junction and bandits had been reported in the vicinity. None were seen there however on their return to their fort at N ablus the force was fired on by snipers. Twice the troops had to disembark and lie in the ditch alongside the road while the pompom fired a few rounds to deter the Arabs. No casualties were inflicted. During the following afternoon while returning from that same road junction then once again the force was fired on by bandits in the hills to the South of the road. Consequently at about 1600 a party of Seaforths went out to disperse the band. Air support was received and it was reported that a number of Arabs were killed and wounded. During the action various sections of Seaforths became scattered and dark was setting in before they started back to the lorries. Returning to Nablus a bomb exploded at the side of the road by the leading vehicle. An army Lieut. and Lance Corporal were mortally wounded and several others injured. In addition rather naturally the driver lost control and the lorry left the road. Simultaneously bandit fire broke out, which the army returned. From Nablus 'Pip' and two armoured cars were sent out by which time it was quite dark. Another bomb was thrown at the leading armoured car doing some damage but causing no further injury. A short while later an ambulance brought in the wounded and once the bomb damaged lorry was put back on the road the company returned to camp without further incident. The bomb proved to be an old Turkish 4" shell which had been placed in such a position that the passage of the lorry had actuated an detonating device.
From these few words a rather typical situation is seen. Local people knew the country and their fellows therefore, generally speaking, made their way around rather easily and if planning any mischievous activity were able to position themselves at night. During the day however, with air support and ease of rapid mobility on the ground, then the alien visiting power could exercise a degree of control.
Midshipman Ellis did make one rather amusing entry in his Journal:-
'Not much activity is expected from the Arabs during the middle of the week, the week end being the dangerous time after exhortations in the mosques on Friday.' Is that state of affairs much different today?
Further, after a few more days of these experiences ashore during operations with the army, he was to observe that the snipers learned quickly. 'Soon they split up into one's and two's so that it became next to impossible to return their fire with any accuracy.'
In addition on occasion the Arabs resorted to the old trick of dressing up in captured uniforms, in one instance as a group of four members of the York and Lancaster Regt. On that occasion the band made off before they were able to cause any damage or casualties to a convoy. They were pursued by men of the Loyal Regt., and also from the air, but, knowing that the British reaction to this attempt at subterfuge would be violent, they appear to have planned their escape route through the hills with especial care.
In this manner did Dick Ellis' adventures with the army continue until Friday, 21 August when the parties manning 'Pip' and 'Squeak' were replaced by officers and men from the cruiser Sussex. During that same afternoon the party fromDurbanreturned in convoy as far as Jenin, and then alone back to Haifa along this road which took them past the archaeological position at Megiddo, here in orange, which is considered by many to be the Biblical site of Armageddon.
(Revelations 16, 14-16).
The experience ashore had been much appreciated by the Naval group: 'All the Durban's party were sorry to leave, and had spent a most enjoyable time in camp with the 1st Seaforths'.
Dick Ellis personally added - almost heresy:-
I greatly enjoyed this and regretted having chosen the Navy instead of the Army'.
Back onboard rather naturally the prevailing mood most distinctly was one of - hooray: on the way homeward bound. The ship was due to sail for home immediately after the weekend, on Monday, 24 August.
However Fate still had a trick up her sleeve.
14) Map of Eastern Mediterranean (again)
As it turned out it was just as well that theDurbanparty had returned onboard late on 21 August. The very next afternoon, on Saturday at 1500 hours, the ship received orders to sail immediately and to steam at full power to Crete, to a position here on the N.E. coast. They did well and by 1730 she was leaving Haifa, their paying off pennant flying and with her being cheered by the ships' companies in Sussex, Delhi, and the submarine depot ship Cyclops. Such was the need for haste that unavoidably some ratings were left behind - one libertyman and a few train guards who could not be re-called in time. (Note position of Piraeus).
15) Spinalonga Harbour, Mirabella Bay (old Venetian fort, latterly a leper colony)
This is an illustration of their destination on the North coast of Crete, Spinalonga Harbour in Mirabella Bay, in those days used by Imperial Airways as a re- fuelling base. Hence the reason for their emergency departure.
16) Picture of 'SCIPIO': G-ABF A
On her flight home, bound from Alexandria in Egypt to Brindisi in south Italy, and when attempting to land in rough sea conditions that morning of Saturday, 22 August, the Short 'Kent' class flying boat' Scipio' had crashed here. Two passengers were killed immediately and of the remaining nine persons in the aircraft three were seriously injured. Durban arrived at the scene the following evening, 1810 on Sunday, 23 August. As there was only fourteen feet of water at the entrance to Spinalonga Harbour she anchored outside and immediately sent away her motor boat and cutter to the Imperial Airways tender nearby.
17) Wreck of 'SCIPIO': G-ABFA.
The wreck of the four engine biplane could be made out clearly. Rocky landscape ashore. Once the three cot cases were aboard, and other patients had been shown to the sick bay, Durban weighed at 2145 and proceeded to Piraeus, the port of Athens, where she arrived at 1000 the next morning. There all the patients were discharged ashore.
At Piraeus during that same afternoon Durban oiled and then, at 1845 that afternoon, continued on passage to Malta, once more at her economic speed of twelve knots.
From Valetta via Gibraltar she continued her interrupted passage home, eventually securing alongside at Portsmouth during Friday afternoon, 4 September 1936.
On 12 September those seven ratings who had been left behind at Haifa rejoined the ship. On 22 September 1936 the light cruiser Durban paid off into Reserve.
Barely three years later and in very different circumstances, war clouds now being well and truly gathered, on 31 July 1939 she was to re-commission for very much more serious service.
. Address to SAMHS Jhb branch on 12 September 2013
Return to Society's Home pageSouth African Military History Society / email@example.com