Jack CARLESS (english version)
RANK: A/P.O. NUMBER: PJX169088
DATE BORN: 10/5/19
SERVICE/REGIMENT/SHIP: H.M.S. Penelope
Penelope was making her way from Naples to Anzio to support the troops endeavouring to make a beachhead ashore, a journey that we had made several times before.
The crew were at Defence Stations; I myself was standing outside the 283 Radar Transmitter, aft, discussing with P/O John Manser what work, time permitting, we were going to be doing this day. We were standing just inboard of the starboard 4-inch Gun Baffle. Without any warning the ship was struck by torpedoes, port side, approximately by the port waste. Penelope started to list badly to port, and, I believe I am right, the pipe came over the loudspeaker, “Action Stations, ditch top weight port side”. This was to try and correct the list. Before the order was complied with, Penelope was struck by more torpedoes. Within a few minutes the after part began to go down and the suction was pulling John and I down with it. We both clung desperately to the top of the 4-Inch Gun Baffle. Some 20 to 30 feet down in the sea the pulling pressure eased and we let go and swam to the surface and took hold of some flotsam. John Manser popped up at the side of me. The rest of the ship was still floating. In a very short while, 2 or 3 minutes, the fore part of Penelope turned up on end, the bows right high in the sky. A wonderful sight under different circumstances! She then began to sink rapidly. As she was going down something happened which I have yet to confirm. As she was going down, the mainmast now at right angles to the sea, the MustHead lookout in the crows nest jumped clear. I know not whether my eyes deceived me, or whether my fellow shipmate survived. I certainly hope so!
All was gone now, except flotsam, and we looked around, John and I, and considered our position. Floating nearby were a clump of three, possibly four, floats belong to the anti-torpedo nets which are used when anchored in harbour. Three of us, John, myself and a Royal Marine, made our way to them and hung on.
I don’t remember seeing any other matelots nearby. After a long time in the water a dot appeared on the horizon; a ship, however, small, Hooray! We all decided to make our way towards it.
After some 20 yards swimming I changed my mind and returned to the clump of floats. Fortunately for me, also attached to the floats was the anti-torpedo wire nets which allowed me to support myself with my feet and lay my upper body over the floats.
My next memory of anything was many hours later. I had been dead to the world and to my position. My eyes opened, some two feet above my head was a bulkhead. Wherever I was, it was floating, the roll told me; I was still at sea. I turned my head and there on the deck were four soldiers playing cards around a box. “He’s coming round, sir”, shouted one of the soldiers. His officer looked me over and said “Lay still, keep warm, you are going to be O.K.” I had piles of blankets on top of me and on inspection was completely naked and covered head to toe with thick black engine oil. Hours later, the tank landing craft arrived back in Naples. I walked ashore, with help, wearing only a great coat and a pair of plimsols loaned to me by one of the soldiers. We boarded an out of commission Italian liner. In the lounge stood the Rum Tub (“God Save the King”) and, amongst others, my two near mess mates, Tony Rowlands and Barney.
Wonderful! After a large tot, I was given a “Red Cross Linen Bag” containing one pair of pyjamas, some writing paper and a pencil, a piece of soap, small towel and a few other useful odds and ends. Days later, still in my blue pyjamas, I returned to Malta aboard an Italian Cruiser.
One thing I do remember is that when Penelope went down I was wearing a “blow-up lifebelt” around my waist. The whole of the time I was in the sea I never did blow it up!
What a memory