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Patrolling The Coast Of Sicily

Discussion in 'The War In Italy' started by Jim, Dec 8, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Captain Ian Quarrie, on Motor Torpedo Boat 670, was speeding up the east coast of Sicily towards the Strait of Messina when he encountered a U-boat. His objective was to close the Strait to traffic by night and prevent interference with Allied supplies.

    “We increased to full speed, the submarine still on the surface and guns blazing on both sides. We could only assume that our SO's signals had confused the U-boat into believing us to be an Italian unit, as never before had British forces been sighted so close to Sicily in broad daylight. The attack appeared to be unsuccessful, though.

    We turned directly towards the U-boat at full speed and opened fire with every gun that would bear, striving to get alongside her before she disappeared below the surface. Her gunners, brave fellows, were still firing at us and presumably took a last minute dive down her conning tower hatch or not, we would never know. Even so, they managed to score the odd hit and wounded one of my young gunners, not seriously, but quite painfully. The sea around the enemy bubbled as the air was forced out of her ballast tanks and she disappeared below us. We dropped our four charges, set at 50 and 100 feet, close around her ... and then waited.

    Captain Ian Quarrie, center front, on board HMMTB 106, pictured prior to sailing from Britain.

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    In a hurry to press on and reach our patrol area, we could not stay long looking for signs of damage or destruction, and we saw none. Later we learned that we had, in fact, sunk the [Italian] submarine Flutto.

    We had been told that there were two small Italian destroyers operating from Taormina, and as we took up our stations for the night, I caught sight of them in the darkness to the east. We moved into our positions for the attack, I signalled to the SO when I was beginning my stealthy run in at low speed to fire. No sooner had I begun my run in than all hell was let loose! I could just see the enemy in my torpedo sight, and my firing levers in front of me on the bridge were 'ready'. The enemy's first salvo straddled us and the second was just as accurate ... not at all what we had been led to expect from a small Italian destroyer! If we were to survive to get our 'fish' away, it must be now or never. Pulling hard at my firing levers, I held my course until the torpedoes had leapt out of their tubes and away, then throttled to 'full ahead'. Wheel hard aport and with lumps of shrapnel all over the place, we were off on a reciprocal of the enemy's course.

    Captain Ian Quarrie, pictured later in the war at Dover in 1944

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    At that moment, I caught sight of my First Lieutenant on his knees at the foot of the ladder leading from the bridge to the charterhouse. I asked him what the devil he was doing there and he gave me the perfect answer by showing me his tin hat, the front edge of which had been bent down vertically. 'And I think it got you on the shoulder on the way', he said. I was lucky, my shirt needed quite a bit of sewing, but the cause of the damage, a piece of metal the size of my fist, had hardly drawn blood, As the destroyers sped on their way, our SO gave us a course and speed to rejoin him and together we followed them down the coast towards Catania. It was not long before the unexpected reply came back, 'Forces being followed are friendly. Disengage immediately!'

    The ships we attacked were, to the best of my memory, HMS Aurora and HMS Penelope, two of the crack gunnery cruisers in the Mediterranean Fleet. We were supposed, of course, to be patrolling well to the north of them, so they took us to be enemy. With no accurate radar available, a cruiser at 1,200 yards (the range at which they opened fire on us) looked to us very like a small destroyer at 600, our poor torpedoes must have been at their last gasp when they passed astern of their target. The next time we met one of the cruisers at sea, in broad daylight, we took great care to identify ourselves early and received the daylight reply, 'Let's be friends this time!'”
     

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