I Served On-Board HMS Fearless when she hit the Gehardt
10:50 on Thursday 29th September 1983.
By Tony Lang
When asked “ And what do you do” I generally say “I’m in IT, Engineering” boring I know. The questioner then usually makes an attempt to chat about computers but I respond with technical drivel and then they wonder off in search of more interesting conversation… Civvies.
I remember the days when asked “And what do you do” I would answer arrogantly “I am a Royal Marine” whilst pushing past them for the bar or to ogle the talent on the dance floor. Pre 15 Aug 1998. my 40th B'day which marked the end of 24 years service as a Royal Marines Commando.
Funny how I assume most civvies would not even understand what I’ve seen or done, and suppose I took the time to enlighten them they often think me arrogant or a damn fabricator because such things could not and do not happen in the real world, TV and films yeah maybe but not in the UK…
So my memories and photographs (salvaged from two divorces) remain for the eyes and ears of those who are close enough to care. Shame because I had a great time, at least these are the memories I share. The bad ones remain, for the time being at least, locked within, still raw, choking, and surprisingly personal.
The Fearless though was a good time of adrenaline at work and boyish humour and pranks when stood down, afloat and ashore with the Assault Squadron mixed with feelings of loneliness and longing for my wife and young children who I would only see during leave periods between 3 month deployments and longer…
December 82 saw quick Pre-Embarkation Training (PET) and a re-acquaintance with the run ashore at Poole Last tasted in 78 on NP8901’s PET (Another story). I recall completing Navy Communications training at HMS MERCURY at Petersfield. The Cpl’s were Me, Dave Trevelion, & Bill Reid, the Mne’s were Dave Knowles, Paul Needham, Dick Thurley, Burt Lindsay and a couple of others. I recall a night in the NAAFI club enjoying the many traditions of Naval Hospitality and of course this was a training camp for WREN RO’s.
After many beers the club was closed by the duty Regulating Leading Hand and we proceeded to leave in a group of us Cpl’s and a couple of females who had enjoyed our company, On the way out of the Building we were confronted by a PO & CPO Wren who ensured the trainee Wrens did not follow us to our accommodation. We struck up a slurred conversation with them until the subject of Wren’s and Webbing came up, where by Dave ripped the CPO’s Skirt from her knees to her ears (to the surprise of us all) to reveal all Pusser had to offer. Her Screams of blue murder and rape! Set us in flight round a corner where we bumped into the Duty entourage of Lt, CPO & PO RN, we did not stop until we were at our bunks, which we instantly dove into, boots and all. We were followed by all and sundry, wheezing from the chase with torches blearing looking for moustached males.
The following day we were escorted from the camp only being allowed back once a WO2 RM (Ginge Luckman) from RM Poole had read us the riot act and volunteered us for the APWT on Saturday as punishment. For the remainder of our time at HMS MERCURY we were escorted and sent back to Poole for the weekends. This started a trend for our tour.
Once on-board and as part of the 4th Assault Squadron RM we had many memorable run’s ashore in many countries, notably Hamburg, Copenhagen, Den Helder, Sweden through the locks in LCU’s, Norway and all around the Med, Gib etc. Interspersed with ships routine, chipping & painting, up-channel nights, and exercising with the midshipmen, embarked forces from the Corps and some Pongo tanks, and arms sales marketing seminars and shows. All of which hold their own memories of comradeship, daring feats, and drunkenness.
One particularly memorable event occurred of Portland during the ships company beat up and whilst taking part in one of the famous war days exercise for those who know these things it was the Thursday War...
I was the mess deck Cpl of 2C2 it was a normal day for the RM Detachment not really involved in the morning activities which was putting the Midshipmen through their paces before we all went into the “Action Station” sometime in the afternoon. So the mess deck dodgers left tidying up and collecting the beer ration, the tannoy system was in full swing blurting out instructions for the Middies exercise, I was on my own in 3C heads doing my Dhobi, all five sinks on the forward bulkhead for washing and all the sinks on the aft bulkhead for rinsing. So picture me in shorts and flip-flops chucking wet clothes from sink tosink to sink to bucket (we’ve all been there) when a ships alarm (Claxton) goes off followed by the pipe “All Hands To Emergency Stations.” And then silence, just another drill? The ship started bucking and vibrating as the engines were thrown into reverse (I later found out) the next instant I was lifted up given a Glasweigen Kiss by the forward bulkhead thrown to the deck and all my dhobi and contents of the sinks were thrown over me. The tannoy system then went wild spewing out instructions and calling for all hands to emergency stations once more all other ranks to report on the Flight Deck. The time was 10:50 on Thursday 29th September 1983.
When I arrived on the flight deck wet but with my combat jacket, life jacked KFS and mug. I was greeted by a milling ships crew pointing wildly in the heavy fog at a German Bulk Freighter Gerhardt bobbing in the water to our Port side with her guts hanging out. All the commotion was because we had rammed into her and almost cut her in two. No one was seriously hurt other than pride. I do recall the RM Band striking up a tune on the flight deck similar to epic disaster movies depicting stricken ships, but these were of the OOM PA PA, version. The lower decks thought this incredibly funny of course the wardroom saw it in a different light as the Court Martial showed.
The story goes like this… It was foggy and we had drifted away from the training area and into the commercial shipping lanes, Capt Trussle had popped off the bridge for a moment. The first pass of our circle went to the front of the Gerhardt and aroused the forward lookout who warned the bridge, course was adjusted by us and them and our next pass we were at the rear of the Gerhardt, I can only assume some more adjusting of course was calculated and complied with until the forward lookout banged on the bridge window screaming and pointing, shortly before we collided.
Needles to say in true military fashion, Fearless was repaired professionally – the hole was filled with concrete and several plates of steel welded over the thing. Luckily the ability to flood the dock to capacity and beyond enabled us to lift the bow sufficiently to make it back to Portland. Within 2 weeks we were re-supplied and steaming at full 18Knotts for bound for Beirut where we stayed on station through Christmas and New Year. Visiting the shore on public business on behalf of the peace keeping force and later on a “Mission” for 2 LCU’s the delivery of some SNEG Missiles to a lonely disused jetty to a bunch of “Yassah Arrafat’s Rag Heads” by Royal armed to the teeth. I also recall that OCASRM confidently stepped on to the jetty only to find after a few steps that the planks were rotten right through… Another story.
I left the Ship in Sept 1984 to successfully complete a SCC and on promotion to 3 Cdo Bde HQ & Sig Sqn RM.