This is the final story from the series in War Illustrated by crew aboard HMS Courageous on the day she was sunk. Previous stories are linked at the bottom of this page.
One of the most dramatic accounts was given by Naval Writer Tom Hughes, aged 18 of St Anne’s.
When the first explosion occurred he said he was in the canteen. He made a rush for the deck, and as he was going up the companion-way there was another explosion and a sheet of flame. He found men were throwing overboard pieces of wood, oars and anything that would float. As an officer gave the order, “Swim for it”, he clambered down a rope and dropped into the sea, which was “so thick with oil we might as well have been swimming in treacle.” He reached a raft, and was eventually taken aboard a destroyer.
“When we realised we had been torpedoed”, said Hughes, “Our men were so infuriated that they threw overboard depth charges in an effort to sink the U-boat”
“I was swimming when I heard a dull roar. Suddenly the submarine lifted clean out of the water and fell back like a stone. There was no doubt she was sunk. Hundreds of us were struggling in the water for our lives raised a cheer. While we were swimming someone shouted, “Are we downhearted?” and there was a resounding ‘No!’ in reply.”
Hughes said one of the most vivid recollections was that as he was in the water he caught a glimpse of the Commander of the Courageous Captain Makeig-Jones, standing at the salute on the bridge as the vessel took her final plunge.
“As for myself, I just swam and swam. Those three hours in the water seemed much longer. I must pay tribute to the handling of the destroyer that saved us. She was so navigated that the swell created by her progress helped us swim towards her.
“As I got fairly near her a fellow swam alongside me and said ‘Help me’. I gripped him by the hair and when a man off a destroyer caught me to pull me aboard I was still hanging on. That chap’s long absence from the barbers saved his life.”
“Another impression which will live in my memory is that of a Royal Marine sergeant who seems to cover an erroneous distance swimming from man to man and making such remarks as ‘Keep going, my lad, and you will be alright. Keep your heart and your head up.’ There were heroes in plenty, but that sergeant was the greatest I saw.
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