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John 'Jakey' Crockett RNR, Commanding Officer, HMS Hammond
From James M. Crockett son of Skipper John Crockett
This is an account of how my late father escaped from Nazi occupied Norway during World War II.
Being a qualified Trawler Skipper, he was commissioned into the Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve at the start of the war as a Sub-lieutenant.

Around the middle of April 1940, the wartime requisitioned Aberdeen Trawler "Hammond" sailed for Norway under the command of my father Skipper John Crockett (Jakey), along with three other trawlers, and they were bound for Narvick, a major naval port in Norway. I suppose that we can smile a bit about that, because there was a war on and four trawlers were putting to sea, and everybody knew where they were going! So 'gerry,' the spy sitting on the wharf, must have got a laugh at that as well. But there's many an Aberdonian that's been called a 'twister', and that day four boat-loads of them sailed out of Aberdeen into the North Sea, and they weren't going to Narvick at all.

While sailing across the North Sea, the four trawl skippers brought their ships close in and opened their sealed orders. Narvick wasn't mentioned but each of them had been given a section of the coast of southeastern Norway to search out the U-boats and give them something to worry about and hopefully chase them out of the region. The requisitioned trawlers were called sub-chasers, and the U-boat commanders hated them! Armed with two depth-charges (mostly one) they would pick up the U-boat signals on their asdic sonar and harass them and also send for a fighter bomber to come out from 'Blighty' to give them support.

On the 25th of April 1940 the "Hammond" picked up a faint asdic signal off the Island of Molde on the west coast of Norway and started to move in on the target to confirm the echo. Running the trawler at full speed, the echo didn't seem to be getting stronger, so it could have been that the U-boat had sighted the "Hammond" and strangely the echo seemed to be moving landwards towards the southern channel of Molde Island. Intent on getting a definite asdic signal before asking for air support, Jakey steered nearer to the Island.

As they were getting close to land, all hell seemed to brake loose and a roar filled the sky. They looked up and they were staring at a full squadron of German dive-bombers flying low over them heading for the city of Molde.

Then the asdic went "ping!", they had a clear echo from the U-boat! The depth charges were immediately armed.

The German Luftwaffe had their mission, and the crew of this Aberdeen trawler had theirs, so as the bombers headed for Molde, to give it the 'blitz', the "Hammond" went after the sub with similar intentions, all this in clear sight of each other.

They had two depth-charges and they were in restricted waters so the odds looked very bad for the U-boat!

HMT Hammond - Sinking off the Island of Molde, Norway 1940. She was eventually salvaged by the Kriegsmarine in 1942 and commisssioned as 'Salier' in 1945. 'Gote' - was originally salvaged British Trawler HMS Cape Siretoko.which was also sunk by Axis planes before being commisioned into the Kriegsmarine in 1944. Ironically she was to be sunk again, this time by Allied planes! Picture taken at Molde, in occupied Norway 1940 by German Army Officer.

Still running at full speed ahead steering 090 degrees, the "Hammond" was passing the Island of Molde, which was going up in flames, being battered by the dive bombers and and the asdic was receiving rapid "ping", "ping", "ping" echoes and the U-boat was running out of space and would have to turn round or surface and get rammed by the speeding trawler.

Then a deck hand raised the alarm and pointed on the port beam! One dive-bomber had peeled off and was flying towards the "Hammond" to see what was going on, and it made its pass, and like Aberdonians, some of them waved to the pilot and at the same time the gunners on the poop deck opened up with the machine guns.

Jakey had to think fast! "Drop the depth charges!" he roared out! and the two cylinders rolled off the after deck into the sea. He didn't want a triple explosion if the dive-bomber got a direct hit on them, plus the Hammond was almost on top of the U boat at the same time anyway.

The bomber circled and was obviously well into its mission and getting low on fuel and Jakey guessed that he could only make one pass, so he altered course and got ready for the evasive manoeuvre, too bad for the bomber he couldn't get any altitude at such close range, so he headed straight for the "Hammond" flying about fifty feet above the water level, and the "Hammond" headed straight for the bomber and both were going at full speed.

At that propitious moment that comes along at some time in everybody's life, Jakey watched the gap between them diminish, while the whole crew stared in awe, waiting for their impending doom, and the gunners on the poop-deck were giving the german pilot a harrowing run, then suddenly Jakey roared out the order, "Hard a' Starboard!" and the helmsman spun the wheel and the "Hammond" suddenly swerved to the right! The gerry pilot was going too fast and he was too low and his target was moving out of the line of fire, and hastily he released his last bomb!

All hands standing on deck stood stock still as they watched the bomb detach itself from the undercarriage. The bomber roared overhead and left the scene and the silent menacing shape was all that the crew could see arching down on them! The Hammond was now beam on, and the bomb, as is a miracle was happening before their eyes, passed between the wheelhouse and the funnel and dipped over the starboard quarter and to everyone's astonishment it landed in the sea, just missing the swerving after-deck!

And at the same time the released depth charges went 'Thud! Thud! somewhere in the deep

But there was to be no happy ending to this harrowing event. Once the bomb disappeared under the water, it exploded in the sea below the engine room and the "Hammond" immediately started to fill with water

Everything had happened so fast, the ship was sinking, their mission was over and they had to abandon the ship, the Skipper gave the command and all hands dove into the water and swam for the land and they all got ashore safely...into Nazi-occupied Norway!.

Part Two of the story ....

© James Crockett & Nick Clark 2006