The Admiral’s Powder Parlours — not so amusing at the time!!
A group of Dog Boats arrived at Gibraltar Feb 43 with upperdeck fuel tanks, one of the boats was MTB 638 in which I was No. 1. The Flotilla leader was MTB 639, Lieut. Stewart Gould DSC+ RN. We set about removing upperdeck fuel tanks in the dockyard. Since we were required urgently off the North African coast, this action was completed quickly and we were all on our way across the Med. to Algiers. The passage across was foul and all the boats took a bad battering.
We arrived at Algiers very early one morning and secured alongside the quay in the main harbour; most of the boats had defects and particularly to the gun hydraulics and a few engines needed attention. The crews cleaned the guns, mopped up the messdecks and generally put as much as possible shipshape after the bad passage.
Everyone turned in to get some rest before the days routine at 0730 hrs, however there was to be a surprise and it commenced as I reached the bridge to get some fresh air at 0700 hrs. A metallic blue saloon car wearing an Admiral’s flag drew up opposite the boats on the quay and out hopped an Admiral followed by his Flag Lieutenant; the Admiral then set off at a sprightly pace along the jetty and jumped down onto a catamoran and climbed aboard the inboard D boat ahead of us. the Flag Lieutenant was trying to keep up with his “lord and master” who carried a gold knob light varnished stick.
It was clear to me now that I was observing the Commander in Chief, Mediterranean, Admiral Andrew Browne Cunningham (affectionately known as ABC). He disappeared down the forward hatchway onto the messdeck of the MTB and I noticed that there had been no one to pipe him on board or at the very least salute him over the side! It boded ill! I moved below, with the greatest of alacrity, and informed the CO Teddy Rose what had taken place; at the same time I urged the Coxswain to get the hands moving as we may receive a VIP. In the event however ABC, after a relatively short time, left the boat ahead via the wheelhouse and bridge, returned to his car and disappeared.
We leaned later that the Admiral finding himself in the crews messdeck forward then passed into the galley flat, looked in the wardroom and then opened the door to the officers shower and heads. The CO, who I believe was Canadian, was stripped to the waist shaving. The Admiral appearing in the doorway must have come as a considerable shock and the dialogue was very one-sided. The CO was told that these powder parlours should be at sea and that there were E boats out there laughing at them.
It was not to be long, approx. two hours before the SO received a signal ordering us to proceed to the advanced operational base Bone, down the coast easterly. We duly sailed and reached Bone in the same state, more or less, that we had been in when we reached Algiers. The NOIC at Bone, Cdr. R.A. Allen RNVR, was obliged to arrange immediately for the boats with defects to return to Algiers one by one to be serviced.
LHB Summer 1988
Private Papers of Lieutenant L H Blaxell OBE DSC RNVR
Privately printed memoir with illustrations (202pp), written in 1988, describing in detail his enlistment in the Royal Navy, his basic training in the shore establishment HMS COLLINGWOOD (April - June 1940) and service as an ordinary seaman in the destroyer HMS WITHERINGTON (July 1940 - January 1941) in Home waters and on short range North Atlantic convoy escort; his time as a cadet rating in the RNVR officers' training establishment HMS KING ALFRED (January - May 1941), his appointment as a Sub Lieutenant RNVR into Coastal Forces and service as 1st Lieutenant in MGB 55 (4th MGB Flotilla) based on Weymouth for operations in the English Channel (July 1941 - June 1942) and MGB 322 based on Dover until he was wounded in an action on 19 - 20 July 1942; his convalescence in a hospital near London (July - November 1942) and appointment as 1st Lieutenant in MTB 638 (32nd MTB Flotilla), based on North African ports for service in the Mediterranean (November 1942 - August 1943) and then in MTB 667 based on Malta and La Maddelena (September - November 1943); his command of MTB 307 (10th MTB Flotilla), based on Alexandria and Castelorizzo, for offensive patrols in the Aegean including a successful daylight attack on an enemy convoy (November 1943 - February 1945); his brief service in the destroyer HMS EASTON (March - May 1945) and then in the Home Fleet destroyer HMS OFFA, including spells as a guardship in North German ports and an official visit to Sweden (August 1945 - April 1946). The memoir contains useful details about conditions during his training and on the lower deck and about his professional and social life as a junior officer
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