Excerpt from the journal
'A Buntings Sojourn'.
As naval bases in India and Ceylon could become untenable due to Japanese air attacks and shortage of defence fighters, it was realized that if the Japanese got a foothold in Madagascar (French) the supply lines to the Middle East could be cut.
Operation Ironclad was mounted to forestall this under the overall command of a South African, Rear Admiral E.N. Syfret, who had relieved Vice Admiral Somerville as S.O. Force H at Gibraltar. He flew his flag in Ramillies with Major General R. Sturges, R.M., in command of land forces.
A slow convoy of Ministry of Transport ships forming the Cape Town section joined up with the Durban section on April 25th and proceeded north escorted by 8 inch cruiser Devonshire, three destroyers, three corvettes and four minesweepers. A fast convoy sailed from Durban on April 28th escorted by Ramillies, Illustrious, Hermione and six destroyers, to rendezvous late evening on May 4th west of Diego Suarez and now joined by Indomitable, the whole becoming Force F.
In foul weather on morning of May 5th landing craft began to put commandos and other troops ashore, who made steady progress across the island, and the airfield was bombed by carrier aircraft. French S/M Heros escaped to sea and was sunk on 6th by aircraft from H.M.S. Illustrious. Corvette H.M.S. Auricula was damaged by a mine in Courrier Bay on 5th and sank on 6th.
At about 2000 on 6th fifty Royal Marines from Ramillies commanded by Captain Martin Price, R.M., sailed from anchorage in destroyer Anthony at high speed and, after running the gauntlet of shore batteries in the dark, landed on the quay at Antsirane. After storming the French army barracks and taking the troops there by surprise, the marines captured the arsenal and took 500 prisoners.
Anthony again ran the gauntlet to leave harbour and return to the anchorage. I was on the bridge during the first watch and I remember that as Anthony crashed through the boom at the harbour entrance she was picked out by a searchlight at the shore battery, which was extinguished almost immediately by an 8 inch salvo from Devonshire.
The 12 inch gun batteries in the forts on the Orangia Peninsular did not surrender until the afternoon of 7th after some gentle persuasion from twenty-four rounds of 15 inch from Ramillies. A few days later some fairly large drawings were displayed on the noticeboard in the port 6 inch gun battery in Ramillies showing a French soldier sitting "on the throne" with trousers down and with a caption that a 15 inch shell is an ideal laxative! By that time the army commander and F.A.A. had secured the rest of the area.
May 8th - Diego Suarez Anchored in harbour.
On going ashore we could see that a sloop d'Entrecastreaux, A.M.C. Bougainville and S/M Beveziers had been sunk in shallow water. The town was typically French colonial with some attractive houses, but also many with corrugated sheet roofs.
Many of our troops were re-embarked and within a few days the majority of the ships forming the convoys and Force F had dispersed after congratulatory signals had been exchanged. There was relatively little activity during the next three weeks as our forces consolidated their positions and took over control of the area.
During the evening of 29th a floatplane was briefly observed flying at a high altitude between clouds, but could not be identified and, after a few rounds of H.A. had been fired, it disappeared. Later information showed it to be from Japanese submarine I10.
All three partners in "the firm" had hardly settled in the Tannoy caboose after tea on the following evening when the peace was shattered by two loud explosions in quick succession, which caused the ship to list to starboard briefly. We rushed out to the nearby messdeck hatch and shouted to those below to close all hatches and watertight doors and to clear the messdeck.
Watertight doors were opened and closed each time anyone passed through and main covers were kept clipped on the hatches, with just the escape hatches (manholes) left open. As it was a "jam for tea" day our messes had been unlucky enough to be issued with marmalade, which was in the original large tin and not very popular.
The messdeck shelves containing crockery, etc. were fixed to the bulkhead at the end of the mess tables and the explosions had emptied most of them. The first rating to evacuate the messdeck was an H.O. telegraphist, not a very happy soul at the best of times, who appeared through the manhole with his head covered in marmalade, due to the tin landing on his head as he was sitting at the mess table writing a letter. He obviously did not share our amusement!
Action stations had been sounded when I made my way up to the flag deck and found that the tanker British Loyalty, which was anchored nearby, had been struck and was slowly sinking. The Japanese submarines I16 and I20, part of a flotilla which had been active in the area, each carried a midget submarine which had managed to get past the corvette on patrol at the harbour entrance to carry out the attack, which did not cause any serious casualties.
Two torpedoes had struck on the port side below B turret and the amount of water shipped was causing the bow to become low in the water. The Union Castle cargo liner Greystoke Castle was brought alongside next day and for the following 48 hours everything that could be moved, such as cable, ammunition, surplus stores, etc. in the for'ard part of the ship, was transferred.
The findings of the subsequent Court of Inquiry were reported to have included the statement that "there was insufficient oxygen in the magazine and handling room to ignite a spark".
After temporary repairs and pumping out, the ship was deemed to be sufficiently seaworthy to attempt the passage to Durban, during which luck was on our side and calm weather prevailed.
June 3rd The only real problem encountered during this passage was the failure of the evaporators to maintain a sufficient supply of fresh water for cooking and drinking, which resulted in many cases of dysentery. Luckily the fine, clear weather tempted many men to sleep on the upper deck, which facilitated the regular sprint to the heads!
British Loyalty was later refloated, towed to Addu Atoll and used as an oil hulk. Subsequently sunk by U183 on 9th April, 1944.
June 9th - Durban Ship secured alongside "R" shed and was eventually moved to Maydon Dock for more temporary repairs before undertaking passage to Devonport for permanent repairs. Aug 6th