- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney III
- June 1982 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
At about 0400 on 10th October, about 40 bombers could be heard flying over us. At dawn action stations we could see the gun flashes from HM Ships Belfast, Comus and Cossack as they bombarded the coastal Kojo area of North Korea. Sydney had a screen of British, Canadian and US destroyers. Our first aircraft were in the air at 0630 and during the day attacked any targets they could find. By 1500 the sea became quite rough so, after 58 sorties, flying had to be cancelled.
Thursday 11th October, was our best day. At 0300 the battleship USS New Jersey left Sydney to commence a 16 inch bombardment, pounding targets such as bunkers, stores, ammunition dumps and troop concentrations. All day we could hear the thunder from her 16 inch guns as she pounded again and again at the enemy forces. Sydney provided New Jersey with spotter aircraft. The ‘Big Jay’, as the Americans called the New Jersey during her first tour of duty which ended on 22nd November, fired more than 3,000 rounds of 16 inch, and about 4,000 rounds of 5 inch. New Jersey’s broadside was nine 16 inch shells, each weighing 2,700 lbs, or 1¼ tons, and would reach 30 miles, or 48 kilometres.
Sydney’s crew could see our destroyers firing at the enemy, and during the morning we were so close to the Korean coast that we could see landmarks and buildings. Our Sea Furies on their last patrol caught more than 1,000 enemy troops engaged in digging in. The enemy suffered 200 casualties from the Sea Fury attacks. At dusk we had completed a record 89 sorties, when we sailed for Sasebo at 20 knots, escorted by Belfast and four destroyers.
The admiral sent us the following signal after we completed our first patrol: ‘Your air effort in the last two days has been unprecedented in quantity and high in quality. It has been a magnificent achievement on which I warmly congratulate you. Eighty-nine sorties in one day is grand batting by any standard, especially in the opening match.’ Glory held the record with 84 sorties until Sydney did 89. However, Ocean later beat Sydney’s record and was awarded the Admiral Sir Denis Boyd Trophy for outstanding naval aviation. I think a Sea Fury from Ocean shot down an enemy MIG-15 jet fighter, capable of 650 mph.
Sasebo was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy as a typhoon anchorage and southern naval base. The harbour is surrounded by steep volcanic type mountains with the lower parts stepped with rice fields. Being a naval port in Japan, and the closest one to Korea, Sasebo was well used during the Korean War. Its narrow entrance had boom defence vessels, and inside the harbour were USN patrol boats ready to go into action should the enemy make a raid on the base.
At Sasebo we secured to a buoy near HMS Unicorn. Our badly damaged aircraft were sent over to Unicorn, and in return we received replacement aircraft. Water, fuel, ammunition and stores were embarked. Soon after our arrival on 12th October it began to rain, and on the following evening we received a warning that typhoon Ruth was heading for Sasebo. The ship flashed up, and Commander ‘Vat’ Smith had the duty watch securing the ship for sea. Next morning, Sunday, in company with many other warships, we put to sea. As soon as we were clear of the harbour Sydney began to roll.
Visibility was very poor and huge waves, some over 40 feet high, crashed down on the flight deck, filling gun sponsons, and causing the ship to roll over 20°. At about 1700 the skimmer, stowed at flight deck level just aft of the after end of the island near the crane, was washed over the side. (The skimmer was a 16 foot fast motor boat, also known as the ‘jolly boat’, and was used mainly by the senior officers.) Ten minutes later a fork lift truck went over the side from the flight deck.
Captain Harries and the navigator, Commander Shand, DSC, RN, an outstanding navigator, were up on the bridge doing their best to save the parked aircraft on the flight deck, and reduced the ship’s speed to 2 knots from 1800 to midnight. During this period the typhoon reached an estimated force of 12/13 at 2100.