Orders, Decorations and Medals (7 April 1994)

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Date of Auction: 7th April 1994

Sold for £3,200

Estimate: £3,000 - £4,000

A fine C.G.M. group of five awarded to Stoker Petty Officer Jack 'Spud' Yates, Royal Navy, for gallantry during the last destroyer action of the Second World War, against the Japanese Navy in the Malacca Straits

CONSPICUOUS GALLANTRY MEDAL, G.VI.R. (Sto. P. 0. J. Yates, PIKX. 95334); 1939-45 STAR; ATLANTIC STAR, clasp, France and Germany; BURMA STAR; WAR MEDAL, MID., sold with original MID. certificate, Admiralty letter advising of the award of the G.C.M., and a handwritten account of the action by Yates, nearly very fine and rare (5)

Footnote

M.I.D., London Gazette, 1 January, 1943: H.M.S. Halcyon.

C.G.M., London Gazette, 18 September, 1945 '... for great gallantry and outstanding devotion to duty while serving in H.M.S. Saumarez on the East Indies Station in operations on 15/16 May, 1945, in which a Japanese heavy cruiser and probably a destroyer were sunk' (ref Admiralty letter). ‘No. 1 Boiler of H.M.S. Saumarez was hit by an enemy shell. Stoker Petty Officer Yates, the sole survivor from the boiler room although badly burnt and in great pain, at once shut the steam off from the oil fuel pump and heaters, and would not allow himself to be treated for his hurts until he had reported the damage. This most gallant action did much to limit the damage to his ship.’

The Last Destroyer action of World War Two

Early on 10 May, 1945, two days after the end of the war in Europe, Allied intelligence sources revealed that the Japanese were mounting a naval operation to relieve their garrisons on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. Under Operation Sho, the Japanese intended to send the formidable 13,380 ton heavy cruiser Haguro and the destroyer Kamikaze to the Andamans, and the auxiliary supply vessel Kuroshiyo Maru No 2 and submarine chaser No 57 to the Nicobars. In response, Vice-Admiral H. T. C. Walker, R.N., at Trincomalee, Ceylon, rapidly assembled Force 61, which included the 26th Destroyer Flotilla, recently returned from the Rangoon landings and under the command of Captain Manley Power, C.B.E., D.S.O., R.N., in the Saurnarez.

Force 61 sailed at 0600hrs. on the 10th shaping a course almost due east towards the Ten Degree Channel between the two island groups. That evening Force 61 received a sighting report of the Haguro from the British submarine Subtle patrolling in the Malacca Straits. Haguro's northwesterly course and speed of 17 knots indicated that interception would be made on 12 May. Accordingly Walker took the precaution of forming and detaching Group 3, comprising the French capital ship Richelieu, the heavy cruiser Cumberland and the 26th Destroyer Flotilla, to take up a position in the Six Degree Channel between the Nicobars and Sumatra Island, in case the Haguro abandoned her mission and ran for Singapore. However on 11 May Japanese aircraft reported the presence of Force 61 to the Haguro, and she promptly altered course and made for the Six Degree Channel, but Group 3 missed her. She was next encountered by Subtle in the Malacca Straits whose sighting confirmed that she had eluded Walker's trap. Walker now decided to stand off to the south in order to tempt the Haguro into making another dash to the Andamans. Meanwhile the ships of the 26th Destroyer Flotilla refuelled on the 13th from Force 61's escort carriers.

On the 14th a Liberator from 222 Group, R.A.F. Ceylon, sighted the Kuroshiyo Maru and her sub-chaser escort leaving Nancowry Island in the Nicobars. Acting on this information, Walker implemented Operation Mitre - the air and sea sweep through the Andaman Sea to seek and destroy Japanese shipping - and detached Cumberland, Royalist, four escort carriers from the 21st Aircraft Carrier Squadron and the 26th Destroyer Flotilla. Unknown to all the net was closing not on Kuroshiyo Maru but on the Haguro. Steaming ahead of 3 Group's heavy ships, the destroyers Venus, Virago, Verulam, Vigilant and Saumarez, under Capt Power, (Captain [D)), soon came within range of the Japanese airfields in Sumatra, causing the C-in-C in East Indies to issue the order 'IMMEDIATE CANCEL MITRE. REPEAT CANCEL MITRE'. The signal reached Saumarez at 1041 hrs. on the 15th, however twelve minutes earlier an Avenger pilot of 851 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, had reported the Kuroshiyo Maru at a position just 145 miles distant. Turning a Nelsonian blind eye, Captain (D) reduced speed to 15-knots and maintained his course, justifying his decision by invoking Section 1, Clause 1 of the Fighting Instructions, which stated, 'Very good reason must exist before breaking off contact with the enemy. In the event of an order from a senior officer, the possibility must be considered that he must not be in possession of the facts.'

In the meantime 851 Squadron's C.O. Lt-Cdr M. T. Fuller R.N.V.R., had spotted the Haguro and Kamikaze only 130 miles away, returning from their second abortive attempt on the Andamans. Captain (D) immediately ordered an increase in speed to 27-knots, the heavy guns of Richelien and Cumberland were now 100 miles astern and the destroyers were on their own. At 1900hrs. Captain (D) ordered the destroyers into line abreast. By Yates's own account those aboard Saumarez knew 'at roughly about 2200hrs. that something was about to happen', and continued, 'I won't say the ship was agog with excitement because by this time most of the crew were hardened war veterans. The majority having been aboard during the Scharnhorst incident'.

Shortly afterwards Ordinary Seaman N. T. Poole, the radar operator aboard Venus, reported 'Contact bearing zero-four-five' at the incredible range of sixty-eight thousand yards. At first dismissed as a freak of the squally weather and rain storms, the plot was not communicated to the Saumarez until 2322hrs. In the meantime 'Spud' Yates, heeding Chief Stoker Cadwallader's advice to don anti-flash gear or suffer 'castration', prepared to go below for the middle watch in No 1 Boiler with Daniel Hendren, 'Pincher' Marten and 'Ginger' Elliot. At 0003hrs. on the 16th, Captain (D) reduced the Flotilla's speed to 12-knots and altered course luring the Haguro on. Twelve minutes later the Flotilla turned engulfing the Haguro in an enormous crescent and stood by to deliver a Star Attack. Then as Yates put it 'the fireworks began'.

The Haguro realising her predicament turned through 180 degrees, and then altered course violently, thinking that Venus had fired her torpedoes, to comb the tracks. As Saumarez and Verulam closed at 30 knots, the Kamikaze emerged from her position astern of the Haguro and gunfire shattered the night. The Haguro, her 8 and 5” guns depressed to the lowest angle, delivered a thunderous broadside, showering the Saumarez's decks in tons of water, as the latter prepared to fire her torpedoes. At 0100hrs. Yates, in accordance with standard procedure, sent in the boiler room readings to the engine room and continued to study the steam pressure gauge. Then at 0111 hrs. the Saumarez’s funnel was carried over the side by a salvo from the Haguro and a 5"" shell tore into No 1 Boiler Room. Yates later wrote, ‘immediately steam began to fill the boiler room and was leaving the boiler at roughly 500 degrees Fahrenheit... Leading Stoker Marten was my water tender and as such he would be nearest the point of impact. He was stationed on the gratings above me in front of the boiler. Leading Stoker Elliot was on the diesel dynamo which was situated on the port side of the boiler room, and the poor devil received full impact of the escaping steam. I should imagine he died instantly.’

Yates instantly opened the throttle to the fans supplying forced draught air to the boiler room thereby keeping the steam away, and shouted a warning. Marten made for the emergency hatch, but Hendren was already on his knees and choking. In spite of the danger, Yates averted the risk of fire by shutting down the steam supply to the oil fuel pump and heaters before escaping himself. It was to remain Yates's regret that it was impossible for him to carry either 'Elliot or Hendren out of the boiler room as they were both pretty hefty lads and the ladders leading upwards to the deck were far too steep'.

As Yates reported the damage to Commander Robins, and the ship's doctor, Captain (D) fired his torpedoes by eye, registering hits, in unison with the Verulam, on the Haguro. The Japanese heavy cruiser's fate was already sealed. At 0125 hrs. Lt-Cdr de Chair despatched his torpedoes from Venus, which were followed two minutes later by Lt-Cdr White's contribution from Virago. At 0202hrs. Captain (D) ordered Vigilant to deliver the coup de grace and at 0206 hrs. the 631 foot Haguro slid beneath surface about 55 miles W.S.W. of Penang, bringing an end to the last major gun and torpedo action of World War II. The action was later to be heralded by Lord Louis Mountbatten as 'an outstanding example of a night attack by destroyers'.

Meanwhile Yates and Marten were duly treated for their injuries and several days later put into the hospital at Trincomalee where Marten eventually succumbed to his wounds and died. Yates rejoined the Saumarez at Durban and subsequently learnt of his award of the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.