HDML 1285

Thornycroft, Hampton 27/4/43

Known Crew

  • TSLt F Andrews RANVR TSLt 18/9/42 HMS St Christopher Commanding Officer HDML 1285 18/4/43 TLt 18/9/43 17th MTB Flotilla Commanding Officer MTB 294
  • TSLt Graham W H Woodman RNVR TASLt 16/7/43 First Lieutenant HDML 1285 1/11/43 TSLt 16/1/44 Commanding Officer HDML 1304 5/45 HMS Lanka (RN base, Colombo, Ceylon)
  • TSLt Alan John Bowden RNVR TSLt 21/8/41 HMS St Christopher Commanding Officer HDML 1285 12/43 HDML 1230 TLt 21/2/45 HMS Braganza
  • TSLt Raymond E E Bassett RNVR TSLt 28/7/44 13th ML Flotilla ML 594 First Lieutenant HDML 1285 6/5/45
  • L/Sea John Lonsdale RNPS Coxswain HDML 1285
  • A/LSea Harry Ainsworth HDML 1285AB Anderson HDML 1285
  • AB Ashfield HDML 1285
  • AB French HDML 1285
  • AB Mills HDML 1285
  • Sto1 John Flowers RNPS HDML 1285Sto2 Draper HDML 1285
  • Tel Rowland HDML 1285
  • Cook McVeigh HDML 1285

Wartime Activities

  • 9/9/45 Operation Zipper – Invasion of Malaya for survey duties.

Memoir of Alan John Bowden…

“December 1943 found me in Bombay looking for a ship. Having reached Mombasa by various means, it was found that the MLs we were intended for had still to arrive. Request for an A/S Course in Durban was denied but we were offered a comparable Course in Bombay, plus some local leave in Kenya. Leave enjoyed, Course passed, then what? Pestering found me a shore job, of sorts, which led me to Sub Lieut Frank Andrews RANVR who had just arrived from UK as CO of HDML 1285 and was keen to find some sort of job in Bombay which might assist his peacetime career as an artist. I was then given command of an MTB, one of a Flotilla which had been hanging around Bombay for ages, and an answer to both our problems seemed possible. We would swap our commands! This was very quickly approved and I was off to a one time RAF flying boat station to find my new command. Thana is North East of Bombay, on a river of the same name. The base, at that was an arm of beach pebble from which ran a number of wooden piers. Problem was that the piers were across the main stream of the river so that they moved with the tides. The pier length was little more than that of an HDML. Consequently, leaving a berth, or coming alongside, could be complicated by the state of the tide. I watched, and learned.

At this stage my principle activity was to get to know my new crew who had become used to the casual Australian ways of Andrews which, in some aspects, were very different to the Royal Navy practice that had been drummed into me. Also, there was no 1st Lieutenant , and as he would be responsible for the daily running of the Upper Deck, it seemed wise to wait until one was available before setting up a ship’s routine. A few days before Christmas came news that 1st Lieuts for HDMLs 1285 and 1286 were expected to arrive in Bombay Harbour and would need collecting. I lost the toss and went to collect them, getting my first experience of leaving a pier. All went well, the new officers were collected, I picked the one I wanted, and we set off back to Thana. Then came the matter of getting back alongside – and it went perfectly. It was much later that I discovered that, purely by luck, I had chosen to come alongside during the twenty minutes when the tide was turning and our pier was still. Both new 1st Lieut , crew and most of those aboard HDML 1286 were suitably impressed, and believed thereafter that I was a ship handler!

We had a quiet Christmas and New Year in Thana and, as January progressed, we began to wonder whether we had been forgotten. The quiet time was however welcome as an opportunity for the crew and their new officers to get organised, so it was not wasted. Then, at the end of January 1944, the ship went into Mazagon Dockyard at Bombay for a refit, and the opportunity was taken to have a few additions made. Coal stoves went from Mess Deck and Wardroom, the stove in the galley was replaced, a splinter mat went up across the back of the bridge, whilst the folding bridge seat was replaced by a solid permanent high seat with storage below. An excellent medical cupboard was added in the Port side of the Wardroom Heads, with a bookshelf in the W/T cabin. All of which gave us a little more space, more comfort for the bridge watch keeper, and proper stowage for books, binoculars and bits and pieces which otherwise would only have slid about with a HDML’s movement.

Naturally, shoreside decided, in the midst of all this refurbishment, that we were required to leave Bombay forthwith or sooner. So, on about the 13th February 1944 we sailed for Colombo, which we seem to have reached – after one night in Cochin – by about 20th February, in company with HDML 1286 and one other HDML, details now forgotten.

Unfortunately, within the hour we were at sea again having clashed with a retired Lieut Commander RN who felt it essential that we patrol off the port notwithstanding that our ship’s company was more than a bit weary, we had no local charts and no dynamite charges. So, we spent the next four days on slow ahead one engine to absolutely no purpose . When we were finally allowed back into Colombo Harbour it was to discover that we were to be based there, instead of going on to some unknown base, which had been the intention when we left Bombay.

Fortunately, relief was at hand, and by the end of March 1944 we were assisting the civil power from Jaffna, in the North West of Ceylon, attempting to prevent illegal immigration from India as well as arms smuggling.. The voyage up the West coast of Ceylon, then through Adams Bridge with some restricted navigation, to Jaffna which had a pier with just enough water to berth a HDML, was our first independent cruise under the new management, and it went well. There was also a RNO – a very elderly, but delightful, retired Commander RN based in three tents in a private garden, who depended on the local express train from Colombo for any signals of any importance. We opened the ship for a Navy Day to the local schools and after some preliminary language problems we reckoned that we had a great success. . To our regret we were back in Colombo by the 5th April, only to be moved to Trincomalee, where we arrived on the 16th April.

Coastal Forces Trincomalee were entirely HDMLs and had a small base in Cod Bay which was, inevitably, the last dropping off point for the evening picket boat service which connected Comic Trincomalee with offices, cinema, canteen and Wrens , to the East Indies Fleet at anchor, and the various private seagoing units , tucked away in outlying bays. There were some Cajun huts ashore to provide offices and living quarters for shore staff, a pier which could take two trots of three HDMLs at its head, and a slipway which could lift an HDML out of the water but did little else. For recreation one swam over the side or sailed the MLs 10ft. Dinghy. Otherwise, in all our time there, we had one lorry trip to a real beach outside Trinco Harbour, and one very poor concert party which was largely taken over by the shore base staff. For the rest of the time, there was ship’s business to be done, letters home to be written, and of an evening, much talk of the world we had left and of the one we hoped to see when the War was over. In between, one slept! But there was to be some improvement!

The object of our existence was to defend the Fleet in Trinco Harbour from underwater attack. To do this we ran three patrols. Inner was along the boom defences at the entrance to the Naval Base; Middle was anywhere away from the Boom out into Trinco Bay: Local craft were boarded and searched, and there was room for variation. Outer was a straight line run between the headlands at the entrance to Trincomalee Bay and was inclined to be open to rolling seas coming in across the Indian Ocean. An HDML went out through the Boom every day at 1800 and secured to a buoy just clear of the Boom Gate where it acted as stand by for any of the three patrols needing back up. At 0800 next morning the Stand By ML took over Inner Patrol for 24 hours, Inner Patrol moved to Middle Patrol; Middle moved to Outer, and Outer returned to harbour to replenish fuel and stores before returning to Cod Bay. One night of rest alongside Cod Bay jetty, and then the round started again. On all patrols dynamite was dropped – four one and a quarter pound sticks and one five pound bundle went over the stern every hour to discourage any enemy in the water. None are known to have been so discouraged but we maintained a good supply of fresh fish! For Middle and Outer Patrols Asdic was operated but the only time that we nearly let go a pattern of depth charges, the echo turned out to be yet more fish.

During the Summer of 1944 someone in authority recognised that this sort of life in isolation from the rest of the Fleet was not a good thing and it was decreed that each HDML was to be allocated to a major warship in a sort of “buddy” system. It was officially supposed to help the HDMLs smarten up, but my own belief is that someone appreciated that something more than four days out and one in, week after week ,was not good for morale. HDML 1285’s crew responded to the idea and on the Saturday we were due to berth on HMS Nigeria at Noon I had never seen either the ship or the crew looking smarter. Fortunately, our arrival alongside did not let them down. From then on, whenever both 1285 and HMS Nigeria were in port, we lay alongside Nigeria’s starboard quarter with miles of deck to walk, canteens, cinemas, showers and dhoby facilities. In return, 1285 took young officers from Nigeria out on our patrols, and on one glorious occasion took a platoon of Royal Marines plus bugler, to a rifle range. The bugler was the quid pro quo for that operation. We bugled a “still” as we passed every capital ship, causing panic on the capital ship’s quarter deck as they looked for the sort of vessel that normally carried a bugler. By the time they found HDML 1285 with a platoon of Royal Marines fallen in in the bows, and a bugler standing on the bull ring, we had had our ensign at the dip for rather a long time.

In October 1944 HDML 1285 was one of four HDMLs selected to go to the Arakan to take part in the Ramree Island landing that was planned. Taut Wire Measuring Gear was fitted aft and we sailed for Madras and then on to Vizagapatam. From Vizag we headed for Chittagong but about half way there my Stoker I ,Acting Chief Engineer ,told me that we were using oil so fast that we would not make Chittagong. So, a conference was called in the middle of the Indian Ocean and it was decided that we would make our way to Calcutta whilst the other three went on to Chittagong. We were given a good point of departure and, in due course we were off the lightship at the mouth of the Ganges, from where a pilot took us up to Takta Gut where we secured to buoys, head and stern. There we stayed for months as stores around the globe were searched for the fuel pump part we needed. It just happened to be made by Bosch!

Just before Christmas 1944 I discovered a 3pdr saluting gun in a Naval Store and persuaded the authorities that we really could use a slightly bigger gun than our 2pdr when we eventually got to Arakan. A swap was made and HDML 1285 had a gun which looked like a gun on its f’csle. Many years later, when I was long out of the Navy and a civilian again, someone in Admiralty started to enquire after the 2pdr. All I could do was to explain the swap but offer no help as to the subsequent fate of our 2pdr cannon.

Finally, from whence I know not, a suitable fuel pump spare was found and available in Calcutta. Soon we were free of the buoys, landing our pilot at the lightship and off to Vizagapatam. After a short stay we were running down the East coast of India, passed Madras and back to Cod Bay in Trincomalee – and Boom Patrols once more.

It was on one such routine patrol that we lost our Port propeller shaft which simply slid away from the Port engine shaft. The shore staff at Cod Bay soon appreciated that they could find no sign that the two shafts had ever been secured one to the other by a locking pin. A quick slipping, push the two shafts together and secure properly this time with a locking pin in place. My request to have the Starboard shaft checked whilst the ship was on the slip was turned down – “This sort of thing could not happen twice”!. – so we duly set out for our next patrol. Within sight of Cod Bay base the Starboard prop fell off.

Sometime after this I was returning to Cod Bay in the evening picket boat after an evening’s escape with a member of Commodore’s staff, when we were passed by HDML 1285 proceeding at full speed in the opposite direction. Arriving at the Coastal Force Base I found that a signal had been received requiring all small craft to stand by the Floating Dock which had started to sink with HMS Valiant in it. As the picket boat had to go back that way I was given a lift back to the Floating Dock which by then had “Valiant’s “ Quarter Deck under water, and was able to rejoin my ML. We watched “Valiant” burst out of the dock, with the Dock touching the sea bed, at which stage it was decided that there was no more danger, so would everyone please go home.

Soon after this my First Lieutenant was given a pier head jump to his own command. In a chaotic eight hours he took over his new command, HDML 1304, and had sailed for the Arakan. His last signal to me “ Now I know why you have been getting two bob a day Command Money”.. He subsequently got a Mention in Dispatches for an action on the Bassein River as what was left of the Japanese Army attempted a crossing.

In due course a replacement arrived and the routine patrols continued. On 9th May 1945, whilst Europe and most of the Fleet in Trincomalee celebrated, HDML 1285 was on Outer Patrol , with the additional job of running surface attacks on one of our submarines just off on patrol. They had had a nasty scare on their previous operation being caught on the surface by small Japanese patrol craft. We were required to give the subs ship’s company some idea of what such an attack could be like. After four runs they had had enough, being apprehensive that we were getting too close and not appreciating how much of the sub’s hull was under water. Come the morning we returned to find Cod Bay in inebriated slumber.

Sometime after this we found ourselves some hundreds of miles away from Ceylon, out in the Indian Ocean, doing a solitary square search pattern around an agreed point. We were one of a number of ships sent out to provide a known safe point for aircraft bombing Japanese positions in Indonesia and Malaya and then needing to return to Ceylon. Fortunately, none of our aircraft needed to take advantage of our service, so we returned to Cod Bay. I must admit to having felt very small alone in a vast ocean

By July 1945 we needed slipping so went to a small facility at Mandapam in Southern India, which offered nothing but a slip, so we were content to get that over as quickly as possible and then go to Jaffna again for more patrolling off the Northern coast of Ceylon. Then back to Colombo where, on the 17th August 1945, I handed over command of HDML 1285 to a Lieutenant RN who took the ship over for Hydrographic Survey duties. Thanks to the Atom Bomb my association with HDML 1285 had lasted until the war was over, and won.

As a Survey Vessel the ship went first to Djakarta and then to Hong Kong where she was eventually sold to the Government of Singapore. I have been unable to trace what has happened to her since.”

Post War History

  • 16/7/46 Singapore Government
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