...The Untold Story, from Pen and Sword
Title: H.M.S. Gloucester
Author: Ken Otter
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books
First published back in 1999, this is a new paperback edition from Pen and Sword. On 22 May 1941 she was sunk during the Battle for Crete with large loss of life. From a crew of 810, just 83 survived the war. How many went down with the ship and how many were lost in the sea before they could be picked up is unknown, as they were in the water for some 24 hours before being picked up by German ships and being placed into captivity. The ship had been launched in 1937, so a modern cruiser, and she was lost just 4 years later along with most of her crew, another significant loss for the Royal Navy in this early stage of the war.
Part of what makes the story this book tells is also the driver for the author, Ken Otter, who was just 7 months old when his father Fred Otter, who was Chief Yeoman on the Gloucester was one of those killed when the ship went down. He long maintained that desire to find out more about his father, who he had never had the chance to get to know at first hand. After his own service in the Royal Navy and then in the Metropolitan Police, he took on the challenge of researching the story of the Gloucester and finding out more about his father. He was able to get involved with the Reunion meetings of the survivors of the ship and so was able to meet and speak to those survivors of 'The Fighting G' who in turn helped him with their memories of his father and the service life of the ship from when it was launched to when it was sunk, along with what happened to the survivors when they were finally landed on the Greek island of Kythira as prisoners of war. Now we are in 2017 it is a simple matter of time that those veterans who experienced such events in WW2 are getting ever fewer, so we are all fortunate to have a book like this which makes use of so much first hand accounts of what the survivors remember experiencing.
The story is spread over 24 chapters, starting with 'Launch to Commissioning'. It goes on to detail their first trip to the Far East and storm damage while in the Mediterranean that led to a delay for repairs in Malta before sailing on for the Suez Canal and on to the Indian Ocean, which also includes the 'Crossing the Line' tradition for new sailors as they crossed the Equator for the first time. She was set to be Flagship of the East Indies Squadron, based at Colombo in Ceylon. While stationed in the region, visiting East Africa as well meant many new experiences for young sailors who had never travelled so far from the UK before. Then when war with Germany came in 1939, she set sail for South Africa as she was called in to join the hunt for the Graf Spee, though once she was caught in Montevideo she turned to Durban where there are accounts of how well the sailors were received there. In 1040 Gloucester was moved to join the fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean, based in Alexandria. She was soon involved in the Battle of Matapan with Italian units. While escorting a convoy from Alexandria to Malta she came under attack from Italian aircraft and a direct hit on the Bridge killed the Captain and a number of other crew members. Again, personal accounts and surviving letters help tell the story of Gloucester in the Mediterranean.
It goes on to detail events surrounding the loss of Gloucester and the context of British destroyers intercepting a group of caiques that were carrying German troops to Crete and sinking many of them. Gloucester herself got to the point where after constant action she ran out of high angle AA ammunition and Luftwaffe attacks continued, partly driven by a desire to hit back for their own troop losses. When the ship went down no British ships reached the survivors, but the following day, German vessels searching for their own survivors found them. The final elements on the book tell the story of their reception back on land and their time as POWs before going on to tell of their final return home at the end of the war and the return of 3 aged survivors to the Greek island of Kythira back in 1998.
Packed with personal accounts and letters there are archive photos and portraits liberally sprinkled throughout the book, a testament to the author's dedication to unravelling the story surrounding the death of his own father in the loss of HMS Gloucester.