HMS PATHFINDER – 24th December 1942
- I have the honour to submit the following report of proceedings on the 21st December whilst attending on the damaged H.T. Strathallan.
- I was detached by Captain (D) 3rd Destroyer Flotilla at 0915 from a position just off Oran to relieve Panther on Strathallan’s screen, and proceeded, soaking Laforay (who had Strathallan in tow) at 1040 and joining screen in position latitude 36 36′ North, longitude 0 31’ lest, thereafter screening as ordered by Quiberon.
- At 1245, I went alongside Strathallan to embark troops. The situation was as follows:
1300 troops had been embarked by Verity from Strathallan’s boats, and as many more by Panther from alongside Strathallan, who was somewhat down by the stern, listing to port, and proceeding at about 5 knots in tow of Laforey: was smooth and wind light from Strathallan’s starboard bow.
I laid Pathfinder alongside Strathallan, with the port flare just abaft the anchor bearing on Strathallan’s starboard quarter. I passed a towing wire from my port towing bollard into Strathallan in case it should be required, but it was not necessary: the ship lay comfortably on Strathallan, steaming at 5 knots and steering about 5 degrees in.
Shortly after getting alongside there appeared to be a fire in Strathallan’s boiler room, but the flames from her funnel disappeared after a minute or two.
Troops were embarked down a number of ropes and one or two ladders. I had been told to embar about 800, but it was impossible to keep accurate count. Then confident that I must in fact have about a thousand, and with Lightning waiting to come alongside for more, I discussed the matter with an Army officer on Strathallan’s poop. I learned that less troops then remained in Strathallan then I had already embarked but, to make sure of the disembarkation, I embarked another two or three hundred before leaving Strathallan at 1330. Pathfinder was now very full.
- On leaving Strathallan, Lightning went alongside, and I rejoined the screen as ordered by Captain (D 19th Destroyer Flotilla, thereafter acting as ordered by Captain (D) 19. and Quiberon, and subsequently proceeding at 1455 at 25 knots in company with Quiberon and Lightning to Oran.
- At 1645 I entered Oran followed by Lightning and both ships secured alongside north and mole Millerand to disembark troops. When my disembarkation was complete and Lightning in progress, I was informed by the senior Army officer that I had carried, Colonel Studdy (?), that the American Army authorities wanted the troops re-embarked and taken round to Mers-el-Kebir in the destroyers, as there was not enough land transport available. As I had been instructed by the Flag Officer in Charge, Oran, to take Pathfinder to Mers-el-Kebir after disembarkation was complete, I discussed the matter with an American colonel, and from his office telephoned to Captain Andrews, U.S.N., on the staff of P.O.I.C., Oran, to confirm that it would be in order to re-embark troops in both destroyers and take them to Mers-el-Kebir. Confirmation was received and the troops re-embarked, Lightning taking some 300 of mine as she was not so full. Both ships then proceeded, Lightning berthing in No 5 berth and Pathfinder in No 6 berth, Mers-el-Kebir, where troops were finally disembarked.
- A roll was called when the troops were disembarked, and Colonel Studdy(?) informed me that I had embarked 1379 officers and men from Strathallan, of which about five were Strathallan’s ship’s company. With this additional top weight, the ship was somewhat uneasy under rudder, and at 25 knots was inclined to hang if more than ten degrees of rudder were used.
With the number of troops embarked it was still possible to man the gun armament, but the decks were packed. When a lot of troops are carried in a destroyer, an attack from the air might cause great losses, and it must always be a matter for some relief when the troops are disembarked on shore.
The troops embarked were in great heart, and most cheerful, despite the fact that they had nothing to eat or drink since the night before (Strathallan’s drinking water appears to have been affected by the damage) until a cup of tea all round was handed out on board Pathfinder.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient servant,
Commander in Command.
The Flat Officer Commanding,