Details of Service, 31 March 1943 – 7 September 1944
1 9 4 3
March Gunboat attached to Persian Gulf Division – Eastern
31st Transferred from Persian Gulf Division - Eastern
Fleet to Mediterranean
with HMS COCKCHAFER.
2nd Arrived Basra
25th Departed Aden
Port Said, Egypt, departed on 5th
6th Arrived Alexandria
9th Departed Alexandria
10th Port Said
27th Suez and Port Said
1st Departed Alexandria
4th Departed Benghazi
6th Arrived Tripoli, departed same day
10th Arrived Malta
Augusta, east coast of Sicily
August Nominated for support of allied landings in Calabria
7th Arrived Malta, departed on 9th
13th Bombarded roads near
Taormina, Cape Schiso (Sicily) at 500 yards range with
Dutch Sloop (Gunboat) SOEMBA to impede German
22nd Arrived Malta, departed on 30th
31st Deployed with HM Insect-Class River Gunboat HMS
HM Monitors EREBUS, ROBERTS and ABERCROMBIE to
shore positions (coastal batteries) on Italian
mainland coast between Reggio,
Calabria, Pessaro and Villa San Giovanni prior
to landings by British XIII Corps
across the Straits of Messina (Operation BAYTOWN
– See above references ).
2nd Took part in
preparatory bombardments before landings.
3rd Provided cover and naval
gunfire support for operation BAYTOWN
(first assault on mainland of Italy by 8th Army
ferried from West Sicilian
ports to landing beaches north of Reggio )
Note: HM Battleships VALIANT and WARSPITE, HM
and MAURITIUS together with HM River Gunboat
APHIS, HM Destroyers
QUEENBOROUGH, QUILLIAM and OFFA.
Departed Augusta, east coast of Sicily.
4th To remain
under command of Flag Officer Sicily to assist 8th Army.
Returned to Malta on release.
15th Arrived Augusta, departed same day
28th Arrived Augusta, departed 29th
30th Arrived Malta
2nd To remain at
disposal of Commander in Chief, Mediterranean.
To be refitted and modernised
Tripoli, departed on 5th
11th Arrived Alexandria
24th Taken in hand
for boiler cleaning and repairs.
At disposal of Commander in Chief, Mediterranean.
1 9 4 4
Arrived Port Said, Egypt
24th Departed Alexandria
29th Departed Port
25th Departed Alexandria. At sea with
Convoy GUS 38 of 51 merchant vessels, escorted
by HM Ships APHIS, DART, SHIEL, SHARPSHOOTER, WOLBOROUGH and
30th Arrived Malta
26th Departed Malta
June Nominated for support of landings in South of France
15th Arrived Porto Vecchio, departed on 16th
Deployed with Flotilla to carry out landing on Island of
17th Provided naval
support fire in Operation BRASSARD (Assault on Elba) with HM
River Gunboats APHIS and COCKCHAFER, also HM Minesweeper ROSARIO,
SPANKER, BRAVE and RINALDO which cleared 40 mines in advance.
from interview with Douglas Fairbanks Jnr interview:
WWII: were you involved that June in the
D-Day landings at Normandy?
Fairbanks: No, but I did take part in a
smaller invasion in the Mediterranean that month – the tiny island of Elba, where Napoleon had
spent his first exile. At 6 a.m. on June 17, 1944, a Free French Bataillon de
Choc was to land on the island’s south coast. Four hours earlier however, I was
to lead a group of PT-boats to the north, in hopes of diverting German forces
toward us. After our commandos landed and signalled us, we began firing,
smoke-laying, rocket-launching and blaring pre-recorded sound effects. The
Germans responded with tracers and 140mm guns, but fortunately their fire was
inaccurate. One German we found in a little sort of cement hut was chained to
his machine gun-his superiors were afraid he’d run away. He stopped shooting,
but he couldn’t get away from his gun, and he was afraid we’d shoot him. He was
a little butcher from Hamburg, and he was terrified, poor fellow. But he managed
to hang a dirty white handkerchief to the muzzle of his gun, and he survived.
Maddalena, departed on 23rd
23rd With HM River
Gunboat APHIS and Coastal Force carried out patrols in
two groups between Porto Fino and Arno River.
24th Arrived Bastia
July Joined Western Task Force and attached to Special
Operations Group at
2nd Departed Bastia
3rd Arrived Maddalena, departed 11th
12th Arrived Porto Vecchio, departed 14th
16th Arrived Maddalena, departed 24th
26th Arrived Malta
August Joined HM River Gunboat APHIS, and HM Ships ANTWERP,
four Motor Launches and 12 US Navy PT
Boats to form
eastern section of SOG. ( Note: HMS ANTWERP was
deployed for Air
Sea Rescue and HMS ULSTER PRINCE for Fighter
The SOG was deployed to create a diversion to
suggest landings were to
be made between Genoa and the Spanish border.
(See Operation Dragoon.)
excerpts from interview with Douglas Fairbanks Jnr
WWII: What was your role in the Allied invasion of southern France?
Fairbanks: The Americans were to land at three places simultaneously -
Saint-Tropez, Saint-Maxime and Saint-Raphael - on the morning of August 15.
Prior to that, my BJ unit was to stage its largest diversion since its inception
– two big mock invasions, one to the right and one to the left of the actual
beachhead. I was to command the operation from HMS Aphis, an old British Yangtze
River gunboat. She and her sister ship, HMS Scarab, each mounted a 6-inch gun as
its principal weapon. We also had 12 American PT-boats, some air-sea rescue
craft (ASRCs) and some amphibious raiding craft called MLs (motor launches). We
were also afforded backup firepower from the destroyer USS Endicott, commanded
by Lt. Cmdr. John D. Bulkeley, who had already won the Medal of Honour for
commanding the PT-boat squadron that evacuated General MacArthur, his family and
staff from the Philippines in 1942. For the first stage of our operation, we
landed a group of French commandos, called the Groupe Navale d'Assaut, at La
Pointe des Deux Freres, between Cannes and Nice - the first Free French troops
to return to mainland France.
WWII: What diversionary tactics were you able to then bring into play?
Fairbanks: Our small craft broadcast lots of meaningless radio chatter while
a single sirplane was dropping tinfoil that somehow gave the German radar the
impression of an imminent major air attack. At the same time, aircraft dropped
300 dummy paratroopers in the hills near Toulon. They were inflatable dummies
that I’d invented myself. They could be packed into a small-size carton, and
when released, they would blow up into a full-size man. Some were on a smaller
scale, so that they would look like they were farther away, in the far distance.
They were also booby-trapped, so that when Germans came up to take a closer look
at and inspect them, they’d blow up at a touch. Dirty trick, wasn’t it?
5th Departed Malta
Ajaccio with SOG except PT Boats which joined later.
Air cover was provided to prevent enemy air
Carried out bombardments with SOG between Antibes and Var River.
(Note: Simulation operations carried out to
provide indication of large
assault force was a complete success. Radio
countermeasures were used
to divert attention from the bombardment ships.)
in Operation DRAGOON (Allied landings on South Coast,
France). Took part in second diversionary
operation off La Ciotat,
bombarded Baie de Ciotat (15 miles E of
Marseilles) with HM River
Gunboat APHIS and US Destroyer ENDICOTT.
OPERATION DRAGOON (formerly ANVIL)
assault on Southern France
Note: Royal Navy Ships
were under overall command of Vice Admiral H K Hewett.
Between mid-June 1944 and the end of July more than a division a week and huge
stocks of vehicles, equipment and supplies, were withdrawn from U.S. Fifth Army
in Italy to train and stage for Operation Dragoon. Final approval for Dragoon
came on 11 August 1944, and the landings took place 15 August, between Toulon
and Cannes on the French Riviera, preceded by a parachute drop inland, behind
the German lines, and commando raids. Over 900 ships and 1300 landing craft were
utilized, covered by a huge air fleet of 1300 British, American, and French
bombers. Over ninety-four thousand troops went ashore on the 15th, composed of
three U.S. divisions (3rd, 36th, 45th) supported by French and British units.
Eleven thousand vehicles were also landed on the first day. They were followed
several days later by U.S. VI Corps HQ, U.S. 7th Army HQ, French First Army, and
French I and II Corps, all operating under the command of Lt. General Alexander
M Patch’s Seventh U.S. Army.
The operation was a phenomenal success. Within
two weeks the Allies had captured 57,000 prisoners and opened the major ports of
Toulon and Marseilles at a cost of less than 7,000 casualties. Dragoon forces
then advanced nearly 400 miles north up the Rhone River Valley toward Lyon and
Dijon, capturing Lyon on 3 September. In less than
1 month, on 11 September, they linked up with Patton’s Third Army west of Dijon,
creating a solid wall of Allied forces stretching from Antwerp,
Holland to the Swiss border.
Four days later, Dragoon forces were reorganized into the 6th Army Group, under
the command of Lt. Gen. Jacob L Devers, reinforcing Eisenhower’s force in Europe
to three full army groups.
Aftermath and Analysis of Dragoon
Operation Dragoon was an outstanding success. The
Allies annihilated Hitler’s 19th Army, captured over 100.000 German prisoners,
liberated the southern two thirds of France and linked up with the Normandy
invasion forces, all within thirty days. Until the port of Antwerp was opened in
November 1944, the ports of southern France were the source of more than
one-third of Allied supplies in Europe.
retirement from La Ciotat together with HM River Gunboat APHIS
(and later USS ENDICOTT) engaged and disabled
(Ex Italian Navy) and UJ6083 (Turkish yacht
Both corvettes were sunk and 210 survivors taken
(See eye-witness account below – Special
Some information shows evidence of controversy
and substantial differences. For example the site
http://www.military.com/Content/MoreContent?file PRdoug and
http://www.military.com/Content/MoreContent?file PRdoug2 - an interview with
Douglas Fairbanks in his real-life role as a naval officer in World War II -
Lieutenant Commander Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, USNR Commander of the Special
Operations Group's Eastern Diversionary Unit (Specialist in Diversion) aboard
SCARAB's sister ship HMS APHIS when both she and HMS SCARAB were involved in a
battle with two German Corvettes. USS ENDICOTT was called to assist and arrived
(as Fairbanks relates) when the action had already more or less been concluded.
(The US version tells a different story.) Please refer to the above references
and USS ENDICOTT site on Google. There is also a reference to Operation Brassard
(Elba) which is very interesting (see
excerpts from interview with Douglas Fairbanks Jnr
WWII: While you engaged in this diversion, I think you got a surprise of
your own, didn’t you?
Fairbanks: That’s right. At 5:40 a.m., we were just retiring when one of our
air-sea rescue craft, ASRC-21 reported an enemy hull on the horizon, and that
she herself was under fire. I sent a
PT–boat ahead and rushed to her aid as fast as those gunboats could go – only
about 10 knots – while reporting the situation to Admiral Hewitt’s headquarters
ship, Catoctin, and radioing Endicott
come to our assistance. At 6:10, we opened fire on the enemy ships which turned
out to be two corvettes: Unterseebootjager-6083, which had formerly been the
Italian Capriolo, and Kemid Allah, a former Egyptian khedivial yacht that had
been purchased by the Germans and converted into a warship with two
radar-controlled 88mm guns. Commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Hermann Pollenz, they had
just left Toulon and were en route to Marseilles when they ran into us.
WWII: What did you do?
Fairbanks: Not much. Besides learning very quickly that we were outclassed
by the enemy, I learned from my gunnery officer that our guns were overheated
and would need a few minutes before they’d be fit to fire again. I ordered our
MLs to screen us a best they could, and we circled around in the smoke while the
enemy’s accurate gunfire straddled us ever closer. The radar of both gunboats
was shot away, but we fired back with our small anti-aircraft guns.
WWII: In the heat of action, I suppose your fear had been overcome by the
need to fight and to survive?
Fairbanks: No. Indeed, I was still terrified. I had a way of disguising it-
somewhat- with a forced show of good spirits. Usually, only I knew that my
light-hearted banter was my own private form of hysteria. I’d also deliberately
drop my helmet, my binoculars and whatever other objects I could on the deck in
order to have an excuse for ducking the next salvo of flying metal. Fortunately,
Aphis’ skipper was as calm as if he were on a peaceful exercise. Although
damaged, the two gunboats had not taken any casualties thus far. At last the
gunnery officer announced that our 6-inch guns were cool enough to use again.
Then, when we emerged through a thin spot in the smoke screen, we found
ourselves at right angles across the bows of the oncoming Germans – “crossing
the enemy’s T.” It was a classic manoeuvre accomplished through sheer luck. I
don’t recall whether or not I gave the order, but in any case, Aphis fired a
point-blank salvo without the benefit of any targeting device, and by golly, we
scored a direct hit on the Uj-6083, while Scarab scored a damaging near miss.
Uj-6083 began to list, while Kemid Allah seemed to hesitate.
WWII: Didn’t the destroyer Endicott arrive to help you out?
Fairbanks: Yes, but it was really all over by that time. Admiral Bulkeley
and I didn’t always agree on what happened. But as I recall, Endicott arrived in
time to strike Kemid Allah a mortal blow. Kemid Allah’s ammunition began to
explode, and she went down at 7:09. After launching two torpedoes at Endicott,
which missed, Uj-6083 finally sank at 8:30. Endicott rescued 169 German
survivors, while Aphis and Scarab picked up another 41.
WWII: Did the Germans have anything to say about the action?
Fairbanks: They were too scared to talk.
They were mostly kids, who had been taught by their propaganda that we were
going to torture them and pull their fingernails out…all sorts of things. They
were just scared to death. I witnessed one exceptional incident during the
rescue. As you may know, when an officer is coming aboard a naval ship he is
supposed to salute the quarterdeck first thing. Well, as a German lieutenant
commander was being pulled aboard, he gave a “Heil Hitler” to the quarterdeck.
So our chief petty officer (CPO) stuck his foot in the German’s middle and pushed him overboard. The
CPO then called down in his richest cockney: “Naow, none of that there
‘ere! You come back up and do it proper-like-or back in you bloody well go
WWII: The German obeyed?
Fairbanks: Yes , he did. He was furious, but he gave the proper naval
August (cont) Returned to assault area.
On release from DRAGOON resumed duty with
Mediterranean Fleet and deployed
in Adriatic for patrol and support of British Army advance up the east coast of
with HM Destroyers UNDINE, HMS URCHIN, HMS
KIMBERLEY, LOYAL and
HM Gunboat APHIS.
Naples, departed on 26th
September Deployed in Adriatic in support of shore operations, based at
7th With HM
Destroyer LOYAL began a series of bombardments of gun positions in
1 9 4 5
HM River Gunboats SCARAB,
APHIS and COCKCHAFER all saw significant
service during WWII and survived.
4th The three
gunboats proceeded together through Suez, the Red Sea via Aden returning to the
China Station after war service in the
Mr J D (Dave) Downey of Ballarat, Victoria, Australia was my Father’s best
mate. I first enquired of him if Dad would mind me going into his war
service. He gave me an order - “Do it”. Dave Downey was a WWII
Sergeant , a decorated veteran of the Pacific Campaign and a family friend
for over 50 years.