- Darling, Stanley, OBE, DSC and 2 bars, Captain, RANR (Rtd)
- Biographies and personal histories, WWII operations
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1980 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In command of HMS Loch Killin, one of the first of a new class of frigate, Lieutenant Commander Darling joined the Second Escort Group under the legendary Captain Walker in June 1944 on A/S patrol in the South Western approaches and the English Channel in support of the Normandy landings. In this phase Loch Killin sank two U-boats and assisted in the sinking of two others in a single patrol. Loch Killin also destroyed a U-boat in the Channel in April 1945.
Being a Lieutenant Commander of nearly three years’ seniority at the outbreak of the war, my first duty on mobilisation was as assistant staff officer operations, NOIC Sydney. However, my interest being in acoustics and sound and therefore Asdics, I applied to do the course at the Anti-Submarine School at Rushcutter. Somewhat reluctantly, due to my age, I was accepted, and on passing out was sent to the United Kingdom for service on loan in the Royal Navy.
On arrival in London in October 1940, and despite a very limited background of sea service, I was given command of a group of four North Sea trawlers, converted to A/S vessels engaged on escorting coastal convoys between Harwich and Flamborough Head on the East Coast, locally known as ‘E-boat alley’ and incidentally on the flight path of bombers attacking London. The sand banks, strong tides, fogs, E-boats and our own and enemy mines made a rather sharp contrast to the kind of conditions I had previously been accustomed to.
The convoys were disposed in two columns to keep within the swept channels and they were often up to 15 miles long, and seldom were there more than a few hours without gunfire, flares, explosions somewhere along the line. The E-boats would either lurk round the channel marking buoys or scream in from the flanks, and bombers failing to locate their targets would sometimes drop their load as they returned over the convoys, but the hardest hit at that time were the minesweepers, who were having great difficulty coping with the new magnetic mines -their losses at that stage were staggering.
After a few weeks on this run, my own ship Loch Oskaig was withdrawn and transferred to Gibraltar, where with three others, we established a contraband control blockade of Spanish and Portuguese ports. Genuine Allied and neutral ships would get themselves ‘Navy-certed’ before departure and would not be intercepted, but others not on the list would be boarded, and if necessary escorted into Gibraltar for further examination. It was a relatively quiet theatre, although on two or three occasions the regularly patrolling Focke Wulfs came over and strafed the patrol vessels. Also Scottish and Loch Oskaig on one occasion picked up an Italian U-boat, but in those days we each had only five patterns of depth charges, and between us we could only manage to damage him and send him home. On another occasion Loch Oskaig intercepted Cap Contin, a 5,000 ton Vichy French freighter in ballast, which was able to radio an alarm before we could stop her. To avoid FW patrols we took her to sea due west about 100 miles before turning for Gibraltar, as our relations with Vichy in the Mediterranean at that time were for all practical purposes at the shooting stage.
The Vice-Admiral Commanding North Atlantic, thinking the French ships might attempt a recapture, despatched Force H – Ark Royal a heavy cruiser and a batch of destroyers. I doubt if anywhere did the war produce a more ludicrous scene than all that floating hardware taking over the escort of a relatively insignificant piece of flotsam from our little trawler. Admiral Somerville, Flag Officer Force H, sent us a signal saying ‘Sorry to be doing this to you’.
Later in 1941 I was appointed to an Admiralty class trawler Inchmarnock, actually smaller than Loch Oskaig, but built for minesweeping and anti-submarine work. Being a new ship we had to ‘work up’ at HMS Western Isles at Tobermory on the west coast of Scotland, where a very small, very old, quite ferocious Admiral Stephenson (aided by a very efficient staff) gave all newcomers three weeks of non-stop hell. But it was good going if you could keep on top of it, and I am sure every one who has been there will agree that ‘Monkey’ Stephenson’s outfit made a very significant contribution to our anti-submarine effort. This was followed by mine-sweeping and anti-submarine patrols round the north coasts, Scapa Flow and the Faroe Islands, until the autumn of 1942, when I was sent over to North America to take command of HMS Clarkia, one of the earlier RN corvettes, which had been loaned to the United States early in 1942.
The United States conducted the war on their Atlantic coast on the basis of total air cover and free movement of ships. The result was disastrous – the U-boats achieving nearly the record killings of the war – and the Americans had to establish the convoy system pronto. Britain lent a number of vessels to help out and Clarkia was still on the job.
The work consisted mainly of escorting convoys between Guantanamo, Cuba, Port of Spain Trinidad and Recife Brazil. At that stage the US convoy system was not yet fully developed and there was still some residual reluctance to adopt out of hand anything British. In the Caribbean the senior officer of each convoy had to make up his own rules about what to do in the event of a U-boat attack. I was not infrequently the senior officer and would trot out plans, which were straight from the British book, but would give them American code names – no problem. Within a year of course there was total cooperation and a single Allied procedure for all these operations.
As Britain was maintaining a squadron of Hudson bombers in the Caribbean area, the U-boat activity all but dried up, and so our part of the job was to escort the tow of a floating dock from Recife to Freetown. The escort included the Asturias, a passenger liner converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser and she spent upwards of an hour every day sending radio signals. The weather was calm and the course straight. The inevitable happened – she had to be torpedoed. She was full of buoyant ballast – empty oil barrels – and settled only ten feet or so and we then had to escort the tow of her towards Freetown until we were despatched to look for an aircraft dinghy carrying survivors from an NZAF Wellington bomber.
There was some mystery about it, because although a radio had been dropped to them from the searching aircraft, the survivors had not used it. When we picked them up, we found the reason why – they were Germans. On interrogation, it transpired that the bomber had located the U-boat on the surface, the U-boat had decided to stay up and fight it out. The bomber made three runs before letting go its bombs. In the meantime it had been so badly hit that it was well alight and could not climb out of the last attack – it crashed about half a mile from the sub. However its bombs found their mark and sank the submarine. The U-boat crew were in the water some time, being attacked by sharks, when one of them came across the bomber’s inflated dinghy empty. All seven of the U-boat crew got into the raft and there was no sign of anyone from the bomber. I learned later that some people considered that there might have been some bomber survivors, but the U-boat crew overpowered them. The Navy considered this next to impossible, but nevertheless did some more probing and confirmed the truth of the original statement. I learned later still that the U-boat captain was sufficiently impressed with the humane treatment his crew received that when he established a towing service on one of the North German rivers after the war, he named his vessel the Clarkia.
In the autumn of 1943 I was appointed to the command of one of the first of a new class of frigate, the Loch Killin. This had the latest, and at that stage, the most devastating attacking weapon – the Squid. This threw six streamlined bombs in a pattern about 250 yards ahead, fast sinking and directed and timed by the most up-to-date control equipment. Unfortunately delays in supply of material due to bombing had set back the building programme, so that it was many months before Loch Killin took to the water. In the meantime, somewhat against the rules, I was able to make several visits to the Anti-Submarine Experimental Establishment at Fairlie on the Firth of Clyde. This was a fine old country home, magnificent gardens, panelled dining room, etc, – the most genteel of living during meals and in the evening – but what a paradox – for the rest of the time in some prefabricated huts hidden among the trees, designing engines of destruction. These visits I think were very helpful because the scientists could get in conversation a first-hand impression of how the gear worked under actual sea conditions. In fact on several occasions a scientist from the A/S Establishment came to sea with us in Loch Killin.
For our part Loch Killin got not only the latest of the new approved gear, but some additional ancillary experimental gear, mainly to do with different ways of measuring Doppler. With all these delays and another work-up visit to Tobermory, Loch Killin got to sea operationally only just in time to join Captain Walker’s Second Escort Group for the invasion of Normandy, our sister ship Loch Fada also joined at this time. Our first assignment was to patrol the South Western Approaches as an independent group to intercept U-boats trying to get into the English Channel. Captain Walker had achieved just fame because the groups he commanded were outstandingly successful. His record was equalled only once by a collection of six U-boats in a single patrol by a US group led by the USS England.
Apart from his qualities of leadership and the consequent welding of his groups into such efficient fighting units, I think the qualities contributing most to his, and the Group’s, achievements were a total dedication to the job of finding and annihilating the U-boats and a firm and realistic grasp of the practicalities in the business of doing so.
However Captain Walker’s just pride did not block his objectivity nor his vision. As an example, if ever a man had reason to say, ‘I’ve got a good proven recipe – I’ll not knock it for any newfangled theories,’ Walker did not. When the two Lochs joined him, totally untried, but full of promise, he said, ‘You look the goods, I’ll put you in the box seat (one towards each wing) and generally on contact the nearest of you will go in and see what you can do.’ Unfortunately, years of this total dedication had taken its toll of Captain Walker; he was already a very tired and spent man. He was too sick to come to sea on the second patrol and died in hospital within a couple of days, while the ships were at sea. The Group was now commanded by Commander Duck RNR, but the patrol proved abortive right up to the last day.
Then Loch Killin got a contact. It had all the characteristics of a U-boat, so the ship slowed down to attacking speed, the recorder took charge of both the ship’s course and the aiming of the two triple barrelled mortars on B deck, it set the fuses to the proper firing depth and finally fired the mortars in two volleys all in a matter of about five minutes. The bombs exploded shortly afterwards, giving the U-boat no chance to evade, and it went to the bottom, gushing oil.
The boat was lying to the tide, and may not have been mortally wounded, so a second attack was made on the up tide end of the boat. This apparently counter mined a torpedo and split the boat open, bringing up much evidence of a kill.
When on U-boat hunting missions in the Atlantic, where the turbulent waters led to good Asdic conditions, the Group finding the then standard methods of attack to be lacking quickly developed the much more successful barrage attacks.
One of these consisted of sitting on a hunted U-boat which had succeeded in evading the normal attacks until it settled down in a slow run at near maximum depth. Several of the Group would then form up in line abreast about 200 yards apart astern of the U-boat, and move over it at a good speed dropping deep depth charges at intervals of 50 yards or less. In an alternative form, one vessel, guided by another stationed at a convenient distance astern, would creep up on the U-boat from astern and drop a line of charges at 50 feet intervals. In either form of attack, the detonations gave the hunting vessels a severe shaking up, but inevitably they would be too much for the U-boat whose end would be signalled by the breaking up noises as she went to the bottom.
For the next patrol, now under the command of Commander Wemyss, the U-boats began to show up and Loch Killin was again involved in a rather spectacular joust with the enemy. The other escorts were all dark camouflaged whereas Loch Killin was light – almost white. This may have had something to do with it, because seen through a periscope, the light coloured vessel may not have been noticed. In any event the U-boat tried to penetrate the screen close to Loch Killin. Her periscope was seen 600 yards on the starboard bow. In the matter of a relatively few seconds, the ship was able to turn about 180 degrees to starboard, slow down to an effective attacking speed, establish asdic contact long enough to get the proper settings and fire the Squid. However, in those same few seconds the U-boat was not wasting time either. He got away two torpedoes. They were claimed to be dry runners, but nevertheless at this critical moment one of them was seen to be approaching our port quarter. Fortunately for us, the detonation of our Squids counter mined the torpedo and it blew up only yards away from the ship’s side. The whole of the 200 feet of the ship was lost from view from the other escorts in the mushroom of water and the quarterdeck crew were drenched, but that was all.
A few seconds later, the U-boat, mortally damaged, broke surface, stopped, beam on to us right in our path. We had not taken off enough way after firing the Squid, and now it was too late to avoid a collision. Fortunately we ran over the bow section which was still submerged and thereby did not lose our asdic gear, but the U-boat made a grinding contact with our bottom just under the bridge. We had to stop the propellers to save them, and the two vessels came to a grinding halt with the U-boat’s bows stuck under our A bracket. The conning tower was just clear of our port quarter and its stern stuck in the air. The surviving members of the crew were able to clamber on board Loch Killin without wetting their feet. The look of disbelief we got from the Captain when he saw what was sitting on his boat was a sight to remember.
Despite our rumpled bottom and one or two knocks on our propellers, we were deemed still to be seaworthy,
so the prisoners were transferred to another escort for passage back to the UK and we remained with the Group.
Two more U-boats were dealt with on that patrol. The first was bombed and damaged by the RAF, given a further dose while on the bottom by HMS Wren, and in the middle of the night she surfaced, abandoned and scuttled, all within a few minutes. The full crew were picked up.
The remaining U-boat was observed, but not attacked by aircraft, and although Asdic conditions prevented our making contact, the Group patrolled over the boat for about a day, when early the next morning she surfaced and scuttled about five miles ahead of the approaching Group – again I think the entire crew were picked up.
After that the Second Escort Group broke up and Loch Killin joined the Seventeenth Escort Group under Commander Moore, RNR. For most of the time Moore took half the Group in the Irish Sea, and I had the other half in the English Channel patrolling the seaward side of the cross Channel convoys. This was very nearly a case of watch on stop on for the specialist, because the night was spent looking for U-boats, supporting the convoys and the days were spent looking for U-boats. It came to a head when on a clear night with a half moon, when our Sub Group was patrolling north towards a south bound convoy, Loch Killin passed close by the starboard wing escort of the convoy, a Dance Class Admiralty trawler Quadrille. The trawler apparently did not see us until we were close, did not recognise we were passing courses and went hard a starboard right across our bows. Loch Killin, 2,300 tons hit Quadrille, 700 tons hard in the engine room and cut her almost in half. Luckily some frights, but not a single injury.
After that we were given a little sleeping time in our schedules. The work at this time was frustrating; the Channel was pockmarked with wrecks and obstructions on the bottom, which could have been U-boats and which therefore had to be classified. Fortunately we had by this time a predecessor of Decca and were able to develop charts showing most of the permanent wrecks.
In mid April 1945 the war in Europe drew towards its inevitable close, but we had one more brush with the enemy.
Patrolling up the English Channel abreast Plymouth about midnight, we overtook a U-boat also going east, unaware of our presence, so we had no qualms about giving the watch operator – the contact setter – the first attack. Actually it is difficult to judge the distance in such an astern attack as the wake gives off strong returns and to our chagrin our first attack fell short and did not even stop the boat. However we wasted no time in putting him on the bottom with the second salvo and brought him to the surface mortally damaged with the third. The U-boat surged ahead under a full (jammed) starboard rudder, with the crew abandoning as fast as they could, and then started a manoeuvre which must be unique in U-boat warfare – the attacking vessel caught within the turning circle of the U-boat.
The boat was sinking fast by the time it had gone down our starboard side, round our stem and up the port side. At this stage it had closed to just about the range of the depth charge thrower and one of these put the finishing touches to it. The crew were spread out along the track the U-boat had taken, and when we went to pick them up, a significant fraction of them were found to be drowned – this despite the fact that when it was clear they were not trying to man their gun, we had lifted our own fire over their heads, and the further fact that there were calm conditions prevailing, their life jackets very effectively kept their heads out of the water – fright and shock presumably.
After VE day I was transferred to a sister ship Loch Lomond to take out to the Far East, but we only got as far as Rangoon on our way to take part in the invasion of Malaya, when that part of the war came to its grisly end. The occupation of Malaya was conveniently effected by going through the motions of the planned invasion. I remember at the time being a little more than glad that the Japanese were assisting and not opposing us.
Our last warlike act happened at Sabang, an island north of Sumatra to which the Dutch had retreated. Loch Lomond was sent there on a goodwill visit and we learned that the Indonesians were massing their canoes on the mainland, presumably to invade Sabang. As part of our goodwill gesture, we took the local Dutch dignitaries for a short cruise in the Straits between Sabang and the mainland and selecting a suitable bank dropped a pattern of depth charges to get some fish – we picked up half a ton or more. The next morning all the canoes and other invading vessels had dispersed to their homes and that particular invasion was abandoned – a little touch of unintentional gun boat diplomacy.
About the middle of November 1945, I was relieved of my command of Loch Lomond and found myself stranded in Singapore with about a dozen Australian ratings with little hope of getting home to Sydney for Christmas, as the only vessel going that way was the aircraft carrier Illustrious, and she was due to leave Batavia 600 miles distant in less than two days’ time. An RN destroyer was leaving Singapore for Batavia but was not due there for several days. In what I consider was a princely gesture on the part of the Royal Navy, we were piled on board the destroyer, and she steamed at 29 knots the whole 600 miles to Batavia, made the connection, and the 12 very grateful Australians got home for Christmas.
Extract from The War at Sea.
Vol III Part II Appendix Y.
German U-boats sunk by HMS Loch Killin
U-333 31 July 1944 Channel
U-736 6 August 1944 Bay of Biscay
U-1063 15 April 1945 Channel