"My experiences serving with Admiralty Floating Dock 22"

Recollections of  CMX748295, Chief Shipwright Harry French

 

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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 Hants, England.
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 celebrating.

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 docked.

 

The destroyer 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 since 1945.
 

Harry E. V. French

 

Related pages

AFD-22

AFD-22 photo gallery

 

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Copyright  Harry French 2014


Comments (1)

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Richard Harbord (Ilminster, UK) says...
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.
21st June 2016 7:45pm
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