George Swift [Wireless Operator, Royal Navy] ✓
23 November 2023 at 10:53 am #9952Dave PatternKeymaster
- lived at 81 Weatherhill Road, Lindley
- worked at the BBC North Regional Transmitting Station, Moorside Edge
- gave a first hand account of the attack on the HMS Rutlandshire (sunk by German aircraft on 20 April 1940 off Namsos, Norway)
Links:23 November 2023 at 11:09 am #9953Dave PatternKeymaster
Huddersfield Examiner 11 May 1940, page 7:
LINDLEY MAN’S VIVID STORY OF AIR ATTACK ON NAMSOS
WIRELESS OPERATOR OF SHIP THAT FOUGHT NAZI BOMBERS FOR TWO HOURS
Lindley man, Wireless Operator George Swift, of 81, Weatherhill Road, was a member of the crew of H.M.S. Rutlandshire who for nearly two hours fought a fierce battle with several German bombers off Namsos, and who, after they had abandoned their sinking ship, were machine-gunned as they scrambled ashore.
The Rutlandshire was bombed and sunk on the day that Namsos was attacked from the air, and Wireless Operator Swift saw the port reduced to a collection of smouldering ruins. The town was bombed throughout the greater part of the day by high explosive and incendiary bombs, and fires blazed up ail over the place.
While the bombing was going on the Lindley man and other members of the ship’s crew sought what shelter they could among the rocks as the Nazi planes, circling round after dropping their bombs on the town itself, swooped down to attack the fugitives with machine-guns.
“It was a terrible experience — one I shall remember as long as I live,” Wireless Operator Swift told an “Examiner” reporter in an interview at his home, where he is recovering from the effects of his ordeal. His feet are still painful from frost-bite, the result of tramping through deep snowdrifts, and one leg is pitted with machine-gun bullets which ricochet ted off the rocks as he clambered ashore.
FIRST BRITISH SHIP IN NAMSOS
The account he gave of the bombing of the Rutlandshire and of the Nazi frightfulness in machine-gunning the helpless survivors is a vivid one. His ship, a former Grimsby trawler, of about 800 tons and with a crew of twenty-five, belonged to the anti-submarine group and was actually the first British vessel in Namsos.
“We went forward to prepare for the landing of troops,” he said, “and to see that the fiords were clear of submarines. When we arrived at Namsos the Germans were reported at Stenkier, twenty miles to the south, and we were told that they were being held by Norwegian troops.”
He told how for three nights the Rutlandshire escorted convoys up the fiord, and spoke highly of the way in which the troops were landed and, so it seemed, spirited away in the silent watches. By daylight all the troops had disappeared and the troopships and escorting destroyers had shoved off again. During the day German reconnaissance planes, apparently suspicious that something was “going off,” flew over the town, but there was nothing to be seen!
“On the third night,” said Mr. Swift, “a French troopship came in, and after the landing a small party of Alpine troops were left behind as a guard. They set up a machine-gun under the pier.”
THE BOMBING BEGINS
“The next morning I was on the bridge when the German planes came round again, the French soldiers let go with, their machine-gun, and that started it. There were three German planes at first, and they at once began dropping bombs. I saw six or eight bombs fall and one hit a building — a wood pulp works, I think it was.
“The planes went off, and, shortly afterwards the Nazi bombers began coming over. I counted about fifteen of them as they flew round and round. It was like a circus. We had a twelve-pounder and two Lewis guns, and there was the machine-gun on the pier.
“The planes started dropping bombs, and we decided to shove off and try to get under the lie of the land. The Nazi bombers followed us down the fiord, and as we zig-zagged from side to side salvoes of bombs fell all around us. Our gun crew fought back, but it was only a matter of time before they got us.
“The explosions in the water knocked our ship about, and while I was in the wireless room everything fell around me. The set went out of action after I had sent out a couple of signals.”
“HAVE A CRACK AT THIS FELLOW”
“I helped with a machine-gun outside my office until the gun jammed. Bombs had been falling on each side of us, and then one fell right under the stern. It blew the stern in and flooded the engine-room. The ship began to sink at the stern, but the engines were still turning, and we tried to make for shore. Our big gun was still firing, but both the Lewis guns wire then out of action.
“The Nazi raiders stopped bombing now and came down machine-gunning us. We managed to get within about sixty yards of the shore. I reported to the lieutenant that the wireless was out of action, and he me told me the best thing I could do was to get over the side. Some had already got off.
“I saw a plane swooping down and heard the machine-guns barking, so I let myself over the side and swam for it The last words I heard from the ship were, ‘Let’s have a crack at this fellow coming down.'”
Mr. Swift said that the gun crew and the lieutenant came off a few minutes later, and everybody got clear. The ship went under just after this, and only the mast was left sticking out. It blew up half an hour later. He told how the crew were machine-gunned as they scrambled ashore, and how they sheltered under trees for a time.
SHELTER UNDER ROCK
They later climbed over snow-covered rocks and found a small hut. In the meantime the Germans had begun bombing the town, which was busy with shopping crowds. Although Namsos had been evacuated, women and children used to come down from the hills on shopping expeditions during the day.
“I am afraid the raid must have caught a number of people,” said Mr. Swift. He went on to tell how he and other members of the crew tried to get down the fiord in a small boat which they found, but they had to pull in to the shore when it began shipping water.
“The planes came back from the town looking for us,” he went on, “and we flattened ourselves on to the rocks while they flew over. For two solid hours I lay crouched under a rock with a small tree pulled over me while the bombers swooped down machine-gunning the hillside indiscriminately. It was terrible. Every time the planes flew over I had the feeling that they could see me. It was worse than the bombing of the ship.
Eventually he and his companions went back to the hut, and later some Norwegians came along and guided them to a village, where they were provided with food and dry underclothing. At this time Namsos was, to quote Mr. Swift, “like a volcano. Flames were shooting up in the air, and the glow in the sky could be seen for miles. It was a terrible sight.”
At midnight the following night the crew of the Rutlandshire were taken by motor-boat to a British destroyer. “We were bombed again later in the morning,” said Mr. Swift, “but the destroyer’s guns had no difficulty in beating off the attack.”
Up to the outbreak of war, when as a Naval reservist be was called up, Wireless Operator Swift had been for ten years an engineer at the B.B.C. Station at Moorside Edge.
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