Ron Smith AKA Smoudge, survivor in HMAS Canberra at the Battle of Savo Island
Hi mate - not sure if you are interested but my dad was on the Canberra - he can be contacted at - firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the bigger surprises of my life this morning when my youngest son phoned and told me to expect a mail from a fellow survivor. I was delighted to hear from you. May surprise you to know I remember you quite clearly and actually had a photo of you stepping ashore from the Sydney Daily Telegraph of August 20 l942. Sadly time, moths and maybe a mouse or two have caused it to vanish but I still remember it. Nice to know there is one more survivor still around. From all that you no doubt gather I too was aboard that night almost 63 years ago. No idea where time has gone.
I was one of the 8 A.S.D.I.C. operators aboard Canny and with the late Able Seaman Ray Young was the Action Operator. You may not remember it but the AS Cabinet was in the Cable Locker Flat with a hatch that could only be opened from the outside. During Action Stations there was a man posted on top of this hatch to get us out in case of problems. On the night in question both Ray Young and I were in the cabinet, Ray sending out signals while I kept a listening watch for hydrophone effect or propellor noises. I picked up a lot of propellor noises and called the bridge to report and spoke to the best of my knowledge to Lieutenant Commander Hole who was the Gunnery Officer. He told me to ignore as they were all on our side and then the ship shuddered, our lights went out and the action lights came on and Canny developed a slight list and came to a halt. We guessed what had happened and listened with a bit of a shock to the rapidly fading footsteps of the man who was supposed to let us out. Spent a lot of time with a lot of mates looking for this bloke when we were on the Barnett but never ever found him. Fortunately for us one of our fellow operators, Leading Seaman Ted Johnson made his way to us to make sure we were OK and opened the hatch. Never moved so fast in my life. Made my way to my mess deck which was a shambles and for God only knows reason, took off my watch and placed it in my locker. Probably a bit rusty now together with my camera which was full of shots of the invasion plus my new Tiddly Suit with Gold Badges. Never ever got another one.
At this URL: http://ahoy.tk-jk.net/macslog/CanberraandtheBattleofSav.html
There are still a number of our survivors left, Bruce Loxton who was a Midshipman, was badly wounded on the bridge but survived to go on to be a Commodore, Bruce wrote "The Shame of Savo," the best definitive account of the Battle I know, in it, he proves I think, beyond any doubt that we picked up a torpedo on our starboard side that emanated from USS Bagley, the USN has never refuted his claims. All the Japanese fire came in from the port side, and all their torpedoes loosed off at us missed their mark.
Noel Sanderson, also was a wounded Mid on the bridge, survived to be an RAN surveyor.
Charlie Walton who was a Leading Seaman Torpedoman is part of my Canberra/Shropshire Association Committee in Victoria, I am the President, and Roy Stevens who a Stoker when we were sunk is the Secretary.
When you heard propeller noises were they on our port side? of course our port escort Destroyer USS Patterson was about 2,500 yards on our port bow, with USS Bagley on our starboard side, but she was both astern of station, and beyond her proper screening distance, just prior to all the trouble starting, as the Officer of the Watch when Savo started, I had observed noting she was not in station.
When it all hit the fan, and the shells were arriving on board, the Navigator, LT Cdr Mesley relieved me as OOW, and I was trying to reach the Fore Control where my action station as Rate Officer was located, of course where Henry Hall was also that night. It was rather nasty, the Gunnery Officer Lt Cdr Hole killed on the bridge, the Captain mortally wounded, Loxton, Sanderson, and Lt Cdr Plunkett-Cole, the Torpedo Officer all wounded. Melsley and myself the only two bridge officers to get way with it that dreadful night.
The plot was wiped out, another hit on the flagdeck, the Walrus aircraft, ablaze on the catapult, the 4 inch gun deck on fire, I must have walked around about three incoming Japanese shells. In the Fore Control, I can recall looking through my binoculars at the rampaging Japanese cruisers, only about 3,000 yards away, blasting off at us, particularly one with a large trunked funnel, which I put down as a Mogami class heavy cruiser, and saying My GOD THIS IS BLOODY AWFUL!!
We soon abandoned the Fore Control after all the lights had gone, and we took up a list to starboard, from the Bagley Torpedo ( of course then, we did not know where it came from ) I went below decks in the sick bay flat with only a torch to look for wounded, and suddenly we rolled to starboard, I thought it was all over, we steadied, and I made it back to the upper deck, very thankful. You have recalled the stupid Chicago incident, when Patterson alongside our port side, cut her lines and rushed off to sort out her cruiser, telling us Don't worry, I'll be back. She later took off survivors from the port side aft, and I leaped over to the Blue, to wind up as did you Ron, in the transport Barnett. On arrival in SDydney as the OOW when it all started I was summoned to appear before the Court of Inquiry, not a pleasant experience.
Two weeks leave, back to sea in the old cruiser Adelaide, then as a Lieutenant to Shropshire for Lingayen landings, and the nasty Kaikaze attacks over many weeks, Corregidor, Manila, the Borneo landings. We were in Tokyo Bay for the surrender signed on board the US battleship Missouri, and Denise and I have been invited to be on board her in Honolulu next September for the 60th. Anniversary celebrations of that day in 1945, and we are of course going.
Post war, I qualified in the first course as a Torpedo Anti Submarine Specialist in UK over 1947 and some of 1948, spending some six months at HMS Osprey, that you mention with Rear Admiral Crace. Came home, and was Flotilla Tas Officer in Warramunga and Bataan, did some instructing at Rushcutter, and time at Navy Office in my specialist capacity.
Spent almost three years as Aide-de-Camp to the Governor General at Government House Canberra over 1950/1953, was promoted to Lt Cdr, and then went off to the Flagship The Carrier, HMAS Vengeance as Fleet TASO.
Married in December 1945, had 3 girls and a boy, and Gladys died in 1992 with bowel cancer, we had lost a boy at 10 days old with heart problems, and a girl at a month old with Meningitis, so I resigned in 1954 on conpassionate grounds, and was let go by the RAN.
Spent many years in marketing, then did a Bachelor of Health Administration degree with Uni of NSW, and spent 15 years in the Victorian Health field.
Had a triple by pass in 1992, and a spinal op resulting from a dive on the deck during a Kamikaze attack in Shropshire, type2 Diabetes about 1996, and finally got a 100% Disability Pension from VA about 5 years ago. All in all we manage.
I met Denise 11 years ago on a sunset cruise on the Zimbesi River in Zimbabwe, we got together in 1995, married in 1999, she had been a widow for 8 years with 4 grown up sons in Sydney, and we have an apartment in both Melbourne and at Lane Cove in Sydney, spending most time in Melbourne.
My Ahoy web site takes a lot of time which I really enjoy. I have really bashed your ears long enough and must desist Ron.
Wonderful to hear from you, do please keep in touch.
Best wishes to you all.
Can't thank you enough for that terrific mail on your experiences at Savo. And thank you too for the extract from the London Times re Canberra. As a matter of fact my screen saver is a pix of Canberra sailing under not yet completed Harbour Bridge. Be around 1929 or 30 so was just after she arrived. Looks very trim anyway and was being towed by a couple of tugs.
Your work has been printed because a few of my mates here wanted to read it ( ex- pussers of course) and I hope you don't mind but I forwarded it on to another friend in the US who is a Professor of English in New York and whose hobby is World War 2. He is an absolute addict as far as war stories are concerned, is a veteran of Vietnam but reckons he has in his own words the greatest admiration for anyone who was part of the "greater generation" who served in World War 2. I think your story will have him drooling. Still waiting a reply from him.
Brought back a few more memories as well, particularly when you mentioned Lieutenant Commander Plunkett-Cole. He was commander of one of the N Class of the 7th Flotilla, Can't remember exactly which one now, could have been Nepal or Norman. Wasn't Nizam or Napier anyway.
You have had a very full life and guess what. My wife is a Gladys too and hates it. You have had plenty of ups and downs as well but then are not Robinson Crusoe as far as that goes. Was interested in you being Aide-de-Camp to the Governor General back in l950. Tell me who was it at that time. Gladys and I had Afternoon Tea at Yarralumla with Sir William and Lady Deane back in 1999 when I was granted an award as Outstanding Senior Australian. Think it was probably that I was the oldest person still able to walk without a stick. They were very nice friendly people and showed us through Government House but not their quarters which they said had a lot of knocked-about furniture, nothing like what we saw.
I never ever joined the Canberra-Shropshire Association for reasons I can't think of but was asked a few times by both Stan Glossop and the NSW Secretary Bill Robbins who had an adjoining locker to me in Canberra. Saw a fair bit of Stan in the latter years as he was an executive in a company building motor bodies. They were after contracts to build fire-fighting vehicles and Stan often called in on me to "pick my brains". Sadly he died some years back. Most of my mates were from interstate though Ray Young who came from Adelaide married a Sydney girl and settled not far from where we lived. He also reached the heights as a Two and a Half and retired to manage the Compass Centre which was a large retail conglomorate in Bankstown. We used to get together a lot, actually we were each others Best Man but split up when he and Betty moved to the North Coast and we went South. Both he and Bet have passed away now sadly.
Be very glad to keep in contact Mac. You have brought back so many memories of those days so long ago. By the way, you mentioned you have a residence in Lane Cove. I was born in Gladesville and lived there all my life up to the war. Most of my youth was spent on Lane Cove River or Buffalo Creek in canoes and boats or prawning, digging for mud worms and fishing. Great days but what changes have been wrought in that part of the world. Prefer the South Coast now. Anyway terrific to get those mails of yours and certainly will keep in touch. Will mention your name to all and sundry and may find a few more old acquaintances.
All the best to you and yours,