Memoirs of George Thomas Nye


From an interview with the Imperial War Museum 18 July 1989.

With the kind permission of his daughter Gloria.



I came back from leave in March 1942 and joined HMS Martin, my first Destroyer. One of the happiest ships I had been on, a first class fighting ship. A brand new ship which we commissioned in April 1942. I joined her in Jarrow and when I saw her for the first time she looked like a miniature Cruiser because she was the first Destroyer to have Gun Turrets, 3 of them, 2 forward and 1 aft. To me she was a real picture of a ship, beautiful looking craft with nice sleek lines. The crew appeared to be one of the finest crews I have ever sailed with; we seemed to knit together so well.
During Sea Trials we built up to perfection the Fleet would like you to build up to as a fighting ship. It seemed to be so easy aboard as things knitted together so easily with very few mistakes and you knew this was going to be a very efficient ship. We had quite a few brand new recruits who were probably serving on their first ship so as active service men we would be relied upon quite a bit.
Commander Thomson was the Captain of HMS Martin and he was one of the finest Captain’s I ever served with. He was a brilliant tactician in many ways because when we were on the Russian Convoys in particular you could see this man with his glasses looking up at the sky during bombing raids and literally follow the bombs down after they had been released from the aircraft and would take very precise avoiding action. Many, many times he saved us and when we went over hard of port or starboard you could see the bombs explode in our wake in the stern. We had a few near misses but he was a marvellous man when it came to avoiding them.

After Sea Trials we joined the 17th Destroyer Flotilla and were then assigned to cover the Fleet on a screen with some Tribal Class Destroyers off the coast of Norway. In this particular screening a disaster happened which remains in my mind today. It was when the Battleship King George V rammed the Punjabi, one of the Tribal Class Destroyers. It was very thick fog and at about 4:00 pm this accident happened.

Leading Seaman Witham was my coxswain and when they say away lifeboats crew anyone within the vicinity becomes part of that crew. When HMS Punjabi was struck the stern went down within minutes and it left the bows afloat and that’s where we saw most of them but there were a lot in the water. I can’t remember exactly the number we picked up but I recall a number about 43-45 people. These poor devils were covered in oil which is what happens when a ship gets sunk. It made it difficult to pull them into the lifeboat. It was freezing and when we got back to the ship and started taking the survivors off we found two who had died of exposure. That was my first initiation to that part of the world and how cold it can really get.
This was May 1942 and it was very foggy and the sea fairly choppy and some of the ships were streaming fog buoys which were like cones so you could see the wake of these buoys from ahead. Without it you were in danger of collision as there was radio silence as not to give your position away to the enemy. It was a navigational error on someone’s part as the Punjabi was beam on to the King George V which hit her amidships cutting her in half. Because the KGV was so badly damaged we were ordered to escort her back to Iceland, she then went down to Liverpool for repairs. She was very badly gashed in the bows; it was just like an alligator’s mouth open, ghastly sight.

Our next duty was covering force for P.Q.15. We were with the main fleet covering the convoy in case any of the German Naval forces came out from the Norwegian Fjords to attack the convoy that was completely uneventful.

Next was P.Q.16 which was a taste of what was to come in the next eight months.
Aerial attacks, submarine attacks but although we lost a few ships they were not as excessive as when we took P.Q.18 out.

P.Q.17 I know about because it is recognised as one of the biggest fiascos and disasters of the Russian Convoys.
We didn’t see much of the scattering of the convoy because the main Destroyer force had to leave to join up with the fleet which was Aircraft Carriers, Battleships Duke of York, King George V, USS Washington, Tuscaloosa, some American Cruisers and Destroyers and British Destroyers in the screen. They were of the opinion the Tirpitz was out with a couple of Pocket Battleships or Battle Cruisers, Gniesenau and Scharnhorst. We weren’t quite sure because as seamen we didn’t get a lot of information. We knew the convoy had been told to scatter which made us despondent and depressed to think we had left these poor ships on there own without any form of defence and they were literally picked off by U-Boats and aircraft willy nilly. This is where it hurt to think you had left them and nothing had happened as there was nothing out and no battle imminent after scattering. The Tirpitz never did come out and won a victory on it’s own without even moving out of Altenfjord.

P.Q.18 was much more memorable because when your being bombed, torpedoed for 5 days and 6 nights you get so disorientated that you don’t know what the time is, whether it’s morning noon or night, you don’t get time to have a meal and your closed up for hours at a time. This is because of the lack of darkness, day light all the time.

After refuelling we left Iceland and almost immediately we were spotted by Focke Wolf Condors that were on scouting patrol. Off Jan Mayen Island we saw the Focke Wolf Condor circling the convoy and Captain Thomson said to the Yeoman “ Flash that bloke will you and ask him to come in a bit closer so we can have a go at him”. He never did but we fired a few shells at him just for practice, he was hopelessly out of range but it gave him a taste of what was to come. Then with 4 days of leaving Iceland all hell broke loose.
The first thing was a U-Boat attack. We saw this thing on the surface so we started firing at her and as the shells were getting pretty close she crashed dived. Our depth charge attack proved inconclusive. The following day we saw two more on the surface. This time we attacked with HMS Achantes but a similar result where we couldn’t claim a kill. After that the air raids came there was high level bombing, dive bombing, torpedo attacks by low flying aircraft, torpedo bombers. This just continued hour after hour after hour.
Where you probably started off being afraid when the action first started, in particular among some of the younger men on board we active service men were able to help because we had been through it before. After you had been through it second and third day you get used to it because you’re so tired you don’t care anymore. Fortunately the ‘Martin’ never did get hit.
We got through to Murmansk with the loss of 8 to 10 ships altogether but the air raids persisted even in the Kola Inlet. The worrying thing was the lack air cover from the Russians which allowed the German Air Force to attack from Norway and bomb us in Russian territory.
We went on to Archangel to pick up survivors, American, British, all allied sailors that had been sunk on previous convoys.
One of the incidents I recall on P.Q.18 was to do with a Russian Merchantman called the Starii Bolshevik which was burning very badly. We took the Doctor to the ship and the ‘Martin’ came as close as she could alongside the Starii Bolshevik and we were playing hoses on to her to try and keep the fires down while the Doctor was assisting with the wounded. The surprising thing was the amount of females aboard these Russian ships, at least 50% of the crew were females which surprised us as they were going through the same hazards and experiences that we were going through on those convoys. We took off between 7 and 11 badly wounded Russian people back to HMS Martin. The fire on board the Starii Bolshevik was kept under control and she made it back to Murmansk, unfortunately 2 of the Russians we took on board died.
Weather conditions on the convoys were bad enough in summer but in winter it was perpetually dark with temperatures well below freezing, so much so that the guns used to freeze up and as the spray came over the bows it used to freeze. So we were employed during whatever short spell we had to chip away at the ice on the gun mountings, get the working parts working again, very difficult and very harsh. The climatic conditions were something I had never experienced in my life. The winds were always terribly strong, there was always a gale which used to blow up within minutes which had you rocking and rolling all over the place and on a Destroyer it was sheer hell. The seas were very, very rough and if anyone was lost over the side they were gone in a few minutes because of the temperature of the sea.

Convoys in winter were mainly U-Boat attacks.
Convoys in summer you had it all. High level bombers, torpedo bombers coming at you all day long and you also had to contend with U-Boats


We left Scapa Flow and proceeded to Liverpool to fuel up and sailed for Gibraltar. It wasn’t till we reached Gibraltar that we realised what was going to take place very shortly and that was Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. When you saw the convoy coming through you knew it was going to be something really big. We weren’t given any shore leave in Gib we just lay alongside a tanker, fuelled up and then sailed. We were on the screening force to the ‘Battle Fleet’.
Then on the morning of the 10th November1942 at 3 minutes to 3 there were three explosions on the starboard side of the ship. This was the first time I had ever been torpedoed and I never want to experience anything like it again. A Destroyer would only take one fish; she wouldn’t take three of them. Fortunately for me I was in ‘B’ Gun Turret and the flap screen at the gun layers position were down and when I heard the first explosion which was aft the ship shook and it was then I realised we had been torpedoed. But within seconds there was a second and a third explosion and all I saw looking through my gun layers screen was this terrific blinding red flash go across and the whole of the bows disappeared. So everyone that was below at that time off watch didn’t know what happened, they died instantaneously. All I remember was the ship lurching over to about 45 degrees and people trying to get out of the gun turret that I was in, but I don’t remember a great deal really because I got hit on the head by 4.7 shell and must have been knocked unconscious. Ordinary Seaman Jackie Amphlett pulled me out of the turret. She was badly keeled over to the starboard side that when the turret door was opened and he pulled me out my face was touching water. I came to and I remember looking up at the sky, the ship was still burning and I could see the guard rails above me and I remember putting my hands up and grabbing the guard rails and literally pulling myself up. I got onto the side of the ship and slid down into the water. Survival came into my mind and I had to get off this ship as soon as I can so I wouldn’t be sucked under when she went down. I swam off and I had overalls and boots on which I got off as soon as I was far enough away from the ship so I was a little bit lighter. When I looked back to see if the ship was still there I could see the flames then she went down.
When you are in a situation like that and you hear such awful sounds of men screaming and crying out for help you realise the absolute futility of war.
I saw a carley raft and swam for it and sitting on it was Jackie Amphlett who pulled me into the raft with great difficulty because I was covered in fuel oil, but he managed it. We paddled around and picked up a few more survivors.
HMS Quentin finally picked us up and we were taken to Gibraltar. During that trip to Gib I took all my meals up to the upper deck as the torpedoing was still so fresh in my mind I didn’t fancy being below decks for any length of time.
Most of us survivors were then taken to Liverpool then on to Chatham. Survivors leave then followed.

George did mention that he was eternally grateful to Jackie Amphlett for saving his
life and that he hoped to meet him again one day – I hope he did.