H M S C O V E N T R
FOR THE MEN OF HMS COVENTRY
The saddest sight of all, I think,
A sadder sight I've never seen,
Here is an account of that COVENTRY rescue seen through the eyes of a young Able Seaman (AB COPPELL) who was assisted in his Gemini rubber outboard dinghy by MNE WILSON.
COVENTRY left it too late. She fired Seadart-, but more to frighten the pilots than anything else, but it didn't work. They had two direct hits amidships which crippled the ship. We pumped thousands of rounds at the Skyhawks but it didn't seem to work. The COVENTRY seemed to lean over to port quite a lot and then they abandoned ship. We were told to go and look for survivors floating in the water by Gemini. When we were heading towards the COVENTRY we noticed two 30 Man Liferafts stuck alongside. By this time the ship was almost on its side and threatening to crush the life rafts, so we went to the rescue.
The first one was amidships, which was in the most danger. The men inside were badly burnt, some of them panicked and jumped out but we pulled them into the Gemini. We thought the ship was going to explode at any moment: there were flames and heavy black smoke coming out of the funnel but we carried on with the job and somehow managed to get them to safety. We used a small nylon line to tow one 1 if era ft clear of the ship and we left them our paddles to stop them from floating back into the sinking ship as we returned to BROADSWORD to drop off survivors.
We then went back for the liferaft at the forward end of COVENTRY which contained her Captain. About 16 of them came aboard the Gemini (which was only made for 7 people) and 10 more were hanging onto the side. We couldn' t pull ourselves away from the ship as there was not enough power in the engine. The helicopters used their downdraft to blow us off until we could make some headway, and we tried to tow the liferaft but the line snapped, and there was no going back to rig another one, without endangering ourselves and the other people in the boat. It took about 45 minutes to get 1000 yards; the boat had six inches of water in it; the engine was straining, and some of the people clinging to the side were freezing to death so we had to drag them aboard. We were then badly overloaded and threatening to capsize, but we managed to reach our seaboat which was straining its engine pulling another liferaft. Our first job was to get the men out of the water. These were winched up by helicopter and flown to safety, and another gemini came alongside and took half our survivors.
We though our day was over until we go the
propeller fouled with some rope which had to be cut off. We finally cleared the prop and
returned to BROADSWORD and the warmth within the ship. The Gemini had eight inches of
water in it, the motor was almost worn out and the boat had broken its back. Our thanks to
the helicopter pilots who probably saved our lives and the lives of many others.
And now to that other exposed position. The Flight Deck, which infact took the brunt of all attacks on BROADSWORD and sadly was the area where we sustained most casualties. This account is by one of the Flight Deck team.