Life On A Small Ship

Previously Posted in August 2006

In my time in the Navy, the people most respected as groups, were the Submariners and the Divers. Not totally because of the risk, but because the conditions of their training and work were the toughest. Subs were merely lethal weapons first and last, and the comfort of the men was well down the list of priorities. Large ships, Carriers, Battleships, Cruisers, were like floating barracks, with all that implies. Small Ships, Minesweepers, Corvettes, Frigates, and small Destroyers, of which the Hunt Class was then the latest, were unique in that the crews thought of themselves almost as a family and behaved like a family in a lot of respects.

It used to be said that the Americans put the men in the ships and fitted the hardware round them, while the Brits did the reverse. In about ’42 the Tuscaloosa and the Wichita, two American cruisers, tied up near us in Rosythe. The Yanks, invited aboard our Hunt, could not believe our cramped conditions. When we went on their ship we understood why. They had two places to sleep, they had canteen messing with sectioned trays for eating off, and could select from a menu. We, as a mess, bought and prepared our own food, took it to the galley, where the cook put it in the oven and told us when to collect it. We were green with envy. Our system was forced on us as we had small, mixed messes, some members were watch-keepers, some were permanently on call. Hence men were eating at different times, and what they could, when they could, in periods of ‘Action Stations’. The Officers and Petty Officers had stewards or messmen to provide for them.

It takes years to produce a warship, from the early decisions, the designs, the prototype, to the final Class, with the result that the ship in wartime is out of date even before they laid down the keel plate. Through the pressures of war with its rapidly evolving new techniques, like Asdic, Radar, men to listen to the talk between the Skippers of the German E-boats, gunnery and so on, extra space was needed, space for more men and equipment, resulting in a life of unimaginable propinquity – privacy, even for the officers was unknown. I believe that under peacetime circumstances there would have been constant friction under these conditions, but while there were minor disputes, the seriousness of our lot welded the crew as nothing else would have, come what may we were in it together, Life ashore in barracks was entirely different – every man for himself.

I think that the experience of bad weather on a Hunt Destroyer can best be summed up by a brief descriptive piece I wrote a long, long time ago, it is called:- The Change Of The Watch and will be posted later.

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