Harrogate writer Jenny Holmes’ father never talked about his experiences in the Second World War until the final years of his life but, when he did, his amazing story surprised this bestselling author.
She knew her mum Barbara had been a Land Girl in the fields round Beckwithshaw during the war, tales which had partly inspired Jenny’s latest novel, Land Girls at Christmas.
Jenny also knew her father Jim had been in the Royal Navy but, until shortly before he died at his Pannal Ash home two-and-a-half years ago, that was about it. What he went on to tell her was remarkable. He had been a sailor in one of the most dangerous theatres of the war - British convoys in the Mediterranean.
And he’d been torpedoed during Operation Harpoon.
An eye witness account in his own words by Royal Navy Petty Officer Jim Lyne of the sinking of the Tanimbar off Malta in June 1942...
“My flotilla of flat-bottomed landing craft (LCMs) had operated for almost two years, making landings on beaches up and down the west coast of Scotland and had taken part in raids on Vagso in Norway and on the Lofoten Islands, an archipelago in Norway.
We knew this was all part of preparations for the “big one”, the invasion of Europe, but, of course, no one could forsee when that would be.
Our vessels were unwieldy, uncomfortable and, virtually, unmanageable in heavy weather.
However, they did the job for which they had been designed which was to get men and machines ashore where no docking facilities existed.
The barges were normally carried aboard parent ships and unloaded as close as possible to the proposed landing sites.
Many types of parent ships were used, from ocean-going liners to cross-channel ferries and the methods of launching were almost as varied - and sometimes fairly unusual.
The dangerous mission begins
In early 1942 we were told to make our way from Iverary to the James Watt dock in Greenock where my six LCMs were hoisted aboard a Dutch freighter with the unlikely name Tanimbar.
My barges, together with two RAF air-sea rescue launches were secured by heavy steel cables on the forward and midship hatches.
By the evening of June 8 we had assembled off Gourock with a convoy of four other freighters, a tanker and various destroyers and cruisers etc.
Our main cargo, I discovered, was aviation spirit in jerry cans and a large amount of ammunition, in addition to landing craft etc.
No one knew our destination when we sailed on the morning of June 9 but, two-and-a-half days later, as we sailed into and through the Straits of Gibraltar, no one was in any doubt - it had to be Malta.
Enemy planes attack
The first enemy aircraft sighted were probably spotter planes and the first bombers to attack were Italian high-level jobs which made a lot of splashes but did no harm.
The next high-level attacks were accompanied by low-level torpedo bombers which came in very low over the sea at mast height.
My ship was hit almost immediately - from my position in the bow of the ship I saw the plane very clearly as he went over the mast head just before his torpedo hit.
The Tanimbar, with its cargo of aviation fuel, blew up.
Protected by a steel wall formed by the captain’s bridge, I was one of the very few survivors of the blast.
My ship is sunk
My vessel sank fast and had completely vanished underwater before I had time to take it all in.
Along with two other lads, one of whom couldn’t swim, I floated around for a while among the flotsam and, eventually, finished up sitting astride an upturned lifeboat.
Very few people survived that one. The convoy steamed on and disappeared into the haze.
We were five in number sitting astride our upturned rowing boat but the day was fine and the water warm when, out of the blue, appeared a small minesweeper with scrambling nets hanging over the sides looking for survivors.
I suppose about an hour-and-a-half had elapsed since we were hit - all watches had stopped at noon when we hit the water.
We quickly caught up with the convoy and over the next few days saw two more merchantmen and the tanker go down.
The tanker refused to sink, even when shelled by our own people, but according to the story was eventually finished off by our own gunfire.
The bombing continued more or less non stop almost into Sliema Creek.
Arriving in Malta safely - but what's safe?
On the first evening after landing in Malta I was in the petty officers’ mess in the submarine base at Sliema when I heard on the BBC News a report given by the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr AV Alexander in the House of Commons to the effect that – his words - “A convoy has today successfully reached the beleaguered garrison of Malta.”
Two of our six merchantmen had got through. Many men and escorting ships were lost. It made one think a bit.
Because we were combined operations personnel and presumably needed for the invasion of Europe, we were given some priority for a passage home - Malta was still under siege and very little got in or out.
Officers were flown out within weeks. I was on the island until September when together with 51 other survivors from a variety of vessels, I embarked for Gibraltar aboard a large river class submarine The Clyde.
She had a crew of 52 so things were very cramped. We took nine days to cover the 900 miles to Gibraltar mainly because we stayed on the bottom during daylight hours and only moved on the surface at night.
We went ashore at Gib and eventually embarked for Scapa Flow aboard a quite severely damaged cruiser, ‘Kenya’.
It was an uneventful trip home to Scapa, but a long train journey from there to Devonport then home for seven days survivor’s leave.
Later, the submarine ‘Clyde’ was lost with all hands in the Atlantic.”