Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Untold Secrets of the Silent Service; North East Heroes of the Sea Play Vital Role in Victory

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Untold Secrets of the Silent Service; North East Heroes of the Sea Play Vital Role in Victory

Article excerpt

IT was always known as the silent service, but as the war neared its end, tales of derring do began to emerge of its heroes.

Reports began appearing in papers, such as the Chronicle, of the valour and seaborne adventures of Geordies serving in the Royal Navy.

It was said to be only three minutes after war was declared in 1939 Gateshead submarine gunner, Bill Barton, fired at a German U-boat.

Also Northerner and Engineer Lieut-commander R C Reed, of the cruiser Norfolk, was content to lie low while the laurels of the sinking of the German pocket battleship Scharnhorst went to others.

The Norfolk was the first ship to sight the Scharnhorst, the first to open fire on her, the first to hit her and the first to be hit in return by her.

Yet, with fires raging amidships, the Norfolk continued in the battle for six hours, steaming at a greater speed than ever before in all her career. Splinters of shells and ragged metal tore into the engine room. Lieut-Commander Reed told of one Geordie who, covered in engine oil that poured through the hatches, carried on as if nothing had happened.

Another "hostilities only" rating, who had before the war been working on a quiet County Durham farm, paid no heed to the green flames lapping around him or the swish of water in the bilge, the suffocating fumes, but steadily watched and recorded the movements of the indicator dials.

Newcastle gunner George Reith was with No. One gun crew of the ship when the Norfolk's first salvo scored the first of its hits.

Later on, when the destroyer Jamaica torpedoes finished the pocket battleship off, Norther Sidney Bell was one of their torpedo men.

So it goes, with Northerners playing their part in every patrol fight and foray. The Admiralty records of the Second World War give a clear picture of the North East's contribution in manpower and heroes and sheer hazards faced.

Take the amazing record of minesweeping forces, for instance, and the single fact: If the mines they had cleared had not been swept up, the British Merchant Fleet could have been destroyed two or three times over. …

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