Navy Nuggets

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Many of you might find this difficult to believe but as young officers in the Navy information was  difficult to come by. We had to find our own sources of knowledge and entertainment as we had no television and obviously no computers or the Internet. 

Each of us found something interesting to do. In my case I decided that I was going to master the great sea battles of the world. It worked out well when I reached staff college. 

Along the way, obviously they were little snippets of information that I managed  to learn. Among them some nuggets on the great traditions of burying  the fallen at sea.

During  the days of sail, sea battle casualties would be lined up amidships to be buried at sea. There were quite a few on every ship. The standard practice was for the seamen sail makers to use canvas with cannon balls attached to the feet of the fallen. 

A canvas shroud was stitched up around each of the bodies, using a sailing needle until the sailmaker reached the head of the dead person. At which point a volunteer (usually the best friend of the fallen sailor)  would put the last stitch through the nose of the body and finish it on the sail. 

This was  the task usually reserved for the best friend to say goodbye, but also to ensure that his friend was actually dead. (ship surgeons in those days had been known to get it wrong.!!). 

The other unusual story was that of the USN Torpedo Squadron 8 under Lt Cdr Waldron  at the Battle  of Midway. A total of 15 outdated Torpedo Bombers took off from the USS Hornet to attack the four Japanese carriers at Midway. Their fighter escort ran out of fuel and had to turn back, but they pressed on unescorted. 

Torpedo Squadron 8 continued the mission flying low over the water. Japanese fighters Zeros swarmed around all 15 aircraft and shot them down one by one. Not one of them was able to successfully launch a single torpedo or hit.  All of them died to the man (44 out of 45 fliers) in their airplanes. There was only one survivor who was rescued. 

But while the Japanese zeros were busy engaging the Torpedo bombers low over the water, US Hell Cat dive bombers  who came behind them flying high in the clear sky above,  found no fighter resistance and a clear run. They were able  sink all  all four Japanese carriers winning the battle and eventually winning the war. 

The seas around Wake Island, where the battle of Midway took place also serves as a sacred burial site, of the Torpedo 8 perhaps the most distinguished flying squadron of the US Navy, who's sacrifice at the battle of Midway paved the way for victory.

As an aside there two other incidents of great consequence that have impacted on the outcome of a battle. The first comes from antiquity of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae and the  other is that of the 14 SIKH regiment (FEROZEPUR SIKHS ) at Gallipoli in 1915. 

By the end of the campaign, the regiment came back with one officer and 23 men. The rest  including reinforcements were killed in action or grievously wounded. They were renamed the KING GEORGES OWN 14 FEROZEPUR SIKHS for their sacrifice. 

As an aside Anzac Day is due on 25th April.  I have been accorded the privilege of placing a wreath for the first time in NZ at the Cenotaph in Cambridge to honor the sacrifice of these two regiments 14 SIKH and 5th GURKHA RIFLES FRONTIER FORCE both Indian army regiments who also suffered heavy casualties at Gallipoli. 

The account of their sacrifice is at the imperial war museum 

Allan Rodrigues IN RETD 

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