"My experiences serving with Admiralty Floating Dock 22"
Recollections of CMX748295, Chief
Shipwright Harry French
My name is Harry French, ex-Chief Shipwright, Royal Navy No.
CMX748295 I now live in Erskine, a suburb of Mandurah, Western
Australia, having emigrated with my family in 1959 from Totton
I was accepted into the Royal Navy as a volunteer on 18th April
1945. I had been engaged as an apprentice boat builder, working on
Motor Torpedo Boats and Air Sea Rescue Launches since 1937 at Hythe,
Hampshire. I completed my basic training at Chatham and H MS GANGES
and then drafted to H M S floating dock 22 at Corpach, near Fort
William, Scotland July 20th 1945.
The first week on board was preparing for sea as the 'buzz' was that
our destination was to be Sydney Australia via the Mediterranean,
Suez, Mombasa, Durban, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Fremantle and
Sydney. There, we would join up with the other eleven docks (only
four were expected to survive the trip, or so we heard) which were
also on their way and to follow the fleet up through the Pacific to
repair the ships aiming to defeat the Japanese.
Our tug for the trip was HMS ENIGMA, a sea-going rescue tug, she
towed us out on the 27th July 1945 and we had to wait for the top of
the tide to go through the Narrows at Corran - the entrance of Loch
Linney, it was evening before we got through. The weather was kind
to us as we made our way through the Irish Sea and across the
Channel at a steady four to five knots with our escourting whaler
not far away.
All went well until we had passed the Bay of Biscay and then the sea
started to rise and we were in the middle of a gale. I was crossing
the 'flying bridge' for'd when the dock seemed to plunge a bit
deeper than previously, the sea coming to approximately three feet
below the bridge, she then spun round and rose up and I realised our
tow cable had parted. The tug and escort were away somewhere in the
spray but soon turned up but could not get close. We were thirty
miles off the coast of Portugal in the main shipping lanes drifting
for the next week until the weather abated enough for us to recover
the towing cable which by now was hanging under the dock; it had
been the Sisal rope spring that had chaffed through on the tug's
transom which had parted. We had a small domestic radio on board and
from this, we heard that the Atom bombs had been dropped on Japan.
This gave us the thought we might be returning to U. K., but no such
luck. We arrived at Gibraltar on the 12th of August 1945, the guns
firing on the Rock the morning after our arrival announced the
Japanese had stopped fighting and the rest of the day was spent
We departed Gibraltar on the 18th of August, passing the Bay of
Tunis the tidal current sucked the dock into a mine field and thanks
to a fine display of brilliant seamanship the crew of the Enigma got
us out without a scratch. We were so close to the coast, people were
clearly seen on the shore and this was when flies, which had not
been a problem before, invaded us.
We arrived at Port Said on the 3rd of September, the day after Japan
officially surrendered. On the 6th of September we were on our way
again with an additional tug astern of us we negotiated the Suez
canal. On the first stage to Ismalia in the bitter lake where we
anchored overnight, it was here that we first met with the crew of
our tug ENIGMA. Needless to say, we had a party. We completed our
passage through the canal the next day continuing down the Red Sea
and after an exhausting eleven days arrived at Aden on the 17th
September. We were moored to a buoy for the next two weeks for a
well deserved rest ashore and then we were off again on the 3rd
October, the destination having been changed with us heading now for
Trincomalee Ceylon. We arrived there on the 26th of October after
making land-fall at Colombo.
The next few weeks were engaged by setting up the keel blocks,
overhauling pumps, and operating gear etc., preparing for the
initial docking. Lt. Commander Tilsley RN assumed command on the
13th January 1946 and Lt. Cullen who had been our C. O. since
Corpach stood down the next day 14 th January.
January 13h 1946
some of the crew of AFD22; picture taken on board our
small workboat in Trincomalee. Harry French (far left
back row) third from left is Lt. Cdr Tilsley the
incoming C.O., beside him (shirtless) is Lt. Cullen
outgoing C.O. of the dock.
I was promoted to
Chief Shipwright on 5th January and carried out this duty until the
4th of June 1946 during which time we docked "HMS VAN GALEN", on the
19th of February until the 6th of March. I was on leave from the
March 12th to 21st and returned to find boom vessel 'BARLANE' and
'EMPIRE RUTH' in dock. They were undocked on the 27th of March and
'HMS VAN GALEN' re-docked on the 28th of March until the 12th of
April. On the 16th of April the trawlers "MAGNOLIA" and "FARA" were
docked until the 23rd of April. The Frigate 'LOCH CRAGGIE' was
docked on April 26th and gave us a problem as she had taken on fuel
prior to docking, proving to be over-weight causing the dock to sag
dangerously. When all her underwater fittings had been removed, she
was undocked on the 29th of April. 'EMPIRE BARBARA' and 'SOPHY' were
docked on the 20th of May until the 30th, when 'EMPIRE JENNY' was
HMS VAN GALEN high sand dry.
My tour of duty
having expired I was stood down on June 4th and returned to Chatham
on 'HMS FENCER' as passenger for demob to 'civvy street'.
I hope this
information will towards the telling of the history of one of the
lesser-known but essential vessels in the Royal Navy. AFD22 wasn't
very pretty, but I was sad to leave her. The information I have
provided is from my small 'Letts Diary' which I kept at the time,
and which has miraculously survived intact throughout my travels
I have only just read you story, Harry, but I really enjoyed it. My Grandad was on AFD 4 in WWI. and although he made it through the war, he was not well, and he died when I was very young, so I was not able to hear his story. I have many photographs of "his" war though. If anyone had a Grandad on AFD 4 in WWI and knows more about it, I'd like to hear from them.
Hi Richard, Thank you for your very kind comments about my Father's story. Unfortunately, my father passed away in February 2016 at the age of 92, but I am grateful that his story will live on, on this site. Kind Regards, Chris. French