Disturbing listening in the evening on the BBC as news of Dunkirk filters through. The major suggest we should worry about own evacuation.
The next day the evacuation order comes through, probably the fact there was no beer, it has to be done so as not arouse the suspicion of the locals.
Full details arrive. The troops will leave in four separate parties on successive nights. The Major remaining to last to blow the guns. Only kit that can be carried will be taken, each man will additionally take one day’s haversack ration, 2 tins of bully beef, 2 packets of biscuits, all Lewis guns and anti-tank rifles taken and maintained ready for action.
Secrecy was to be observed and none but those who were to actually go would be told until half an hour before they would leave.
On the 4th at 23.30 hrs the first party of 2nd Lt Carew and 47 men left together with their adopted black cat. They were told to board a lorry, which had been secreted in the woods. The seemly empty lorry heading on a routine trip to Sorreissa. This repeated on the second night with Cpt Adams.
So secret was this action that one man as he woke up next morning, finding himself alone stated “b—me one of these days I will wake up and find I’m not here”.
The remaining troops made every effort to make the gun sites look busy.
The third movement under 2nd Lt Hay was postponed for 24 hrs.
June the 7th 4.00 am - four Hienkels cruised around perhaps to attempt to land at what they thought was an empty aerodrome. Light AA opened up with all they could but the remains of 193 took no part as hurricanes took off to intercept the Heinkels.
Miserable cold drizzling day the guns are spiked, the saddest thing a gunner can do. The normal way of doing this was decided against as the explosion may result in the locals becoming suspicious and smelling a rat. Great care had been taken to give the appearance that no one had left, so the recupaeartors were removed from the guns and the recoil mechanism disconnected. The gun was then fired from a very long rope causing the mechanism to recoil backwards right out of the trunions and bury themselves in the ground. Gun sights were dropped in the river, all additional instruments were smashed and thrown in the river. The sound of the gun being destroyed would be that of a normal round being fired and therefore should not arouse suspicion.
The remaining troops now hid in trucks and headed for Soresisa. It was unknown how close the Germans were or if the Norwegians would turn nasty, so the comfort of a pistol was most welcome. The woods bordering the harbour were crammed with Polish, French, and English soldiers mainly sitting around sleeping smoking. The port was reached at 8.20 on the 8th John Adams was acting ESO and he dealt with the papers. After hours of waiting the battery troops were mixed with RAF personal and split into groups of 50, boarded a small boat for to Harstad.
Norway and home
Transferring to the destroyer Fame there were two destroyers waiting to embark the troops. The destroyers then raced for 2 hours out to sea and transshipped the men to the Royal Ulsterman or the Arandora Star.
Operation Alphabet, the forgotten evacuation
H.M.S Fame entering Narvik harbour
Before all could be embarked the message, naval action was pending. The troop ships went one way the destroyers another dropping depth charges to the rear. The lucky ones ended up on the Arandora Star, the most luxurious ship of its time and the cruise back to Brittan would be better than the one out. Most however ended up on the Royal Ulsterman.
June 8th conditions are bad, short of water, food and rations but they felt they were lucky with Dunkirk happening it was lucky there was a spare ship.
The Royal Ulsterman had been built for the Irish sea but here in the North Atlantic she rolled, pitched, jarred, everything a boat could do, many men are sick. Hoping to be close to home it’s found the boat has returned to Norway to pick up more troops.
193 have been billeted in the front hold were cattle were previously kept. As water shipped over the front of the boat it came through the ventilators soaking the men and kit and to make matter worst no one had secured the anchor and it banged like a bell on the side of the boat.
The crew were a confused mix of survivors of H.M.S Effingham who had lost everything and borrowed clothes from the men they were rescuing, strange sight sailors in battle dress, the convoy sailed for Scotland and home.
The journey should have, by the estimation of the experts, the same ones that predicted the location on the voyage out, that it should only take 4 days but because of coarse changes to avoid the enemy it took 6.
June the 9th the ship rendezvous with the rest of the evacuation convoy and started south for home. The convoy consisted of five large vessels, two smaller vessels, one aircraft carrier, battle cruisers, cruisers and destroyers.
At 21.45 the aircraft carrier came under heavy attack from aircraft but with such a heavy escort no mishaps occurred.
Two days later air raid alarm. Planes sighted just as the convoy-entered fog some of the ships remained out side the fog bank to engage the enemy. Unknown to later the Germans had sent two pocket battle ships to destroy the convoy the Scharhoust and Genuise. In hunting for the convoy they engaged and sunk the British aircraft carrier Glorious but against orders a leading seaman launched a torpedo, attack from the destroyer Acasta. That damaged Scharnhorst. Fearful of British heavy ships, the battleships returned to port. This is a story in its self and should be told elsewhere.
As the convoy approached Scaba Flow it split, the troop ships headed for the Clyde.
On the 13th of June the services overseas of 193 battery was terminated.
193 battery were among the very last troops to leave Norway had fought longer than any other AA unit the first unit to operate heavy guns in the artic circle.
It took also most 48hrs for many to recover from their voyage.
Home from Norway sort of
The troops landed in Scotland not only the physical strain showed but underneath the mental strain must have been enormous. These men joined up to only play sport and have a beer, others to do their small part in the defense of Southend and their love ones. They had abandoned their new friends in not a very nice way in a far away country. A country with strange weather to a normal Englishman unknown if they would have got a boat home. They also knew from the radio that Britain was in dire trouble. France had fallen Britain must be next and they were stuck in Norway. Even if they did return were there any weapons to fight with?
They took stock of the situation shell shock had taken its toll, Captain Robert’s, one of the original members of 193, had it bad. All equipment lost. Across the channel stood the very professional Luftwaffe it had already caused the defeat of France and had had a lot of practice in Spain. Against it the RAF and the anti aircraft defenses, the roof over Britain.
London was defended by the 26AA brigade a mixture of 3inch and 4.7 inch guns and the odd 3.7-inch. These were often mixed in batteries with the obvious problems. The back up equipment was not much better some of the predictors where even German manufacture - bit difficult getting spare parts. The men who manned these guns that defend the prime target of Britain, some had only joined the week before and only knew one job on the guns. They didn’t even have a full uniform parading in boiler suits. With the return of 193 and other AA units, battle hardened troops and when to comes to guns jack of all trades, a feeling of relief must have been felt by those who manned the guns of London. Men were given leave in the order that they were evacuated in. Three groups the last group were about to go on leave when the order to move came through and their leave cancelled bad luck there. 82 that included 193 were loaded onto a train south.
To move at such short notice especially after being evacuated from Norway as they were must be an emergency was it to aid the defense of London or the Thames corridor. Breakfast at Birmingham was very good supplied by the church army the destination was south but not Southend it was Southampton. The 82nd were good but that good they were needed somewhere more important than London. In Southampton the fastest ship that could be found was the City of Cairo. This was until recently ferrying cattle across the Irish Sea and was still being converted to a troop ship as the 82nd embarked.
This historical commentary was researched and written using the notes and diaries of members of 193 battery, mainly those of Major Hay by Cllr Stephen Aylen.