Then we became aware of the thud of approaching propellers and pent-up feelings gave way to rousing cheers. It seemed as if half the ships company had survived and were now intent on making themselves heard.
But our shouts and cheers died miserably away as it slowly began to register that the approaching vessel was, with regret, carrying out the newest Fleet Order - that the enemy must be sought and destroyed regardless of survivors.
We were now consumed with the slow build up of hatred for the corvette, who in seconds now would be hurling depth-charges among us. Yet, as bitter as we felt, we knew that the captain was only carrying out instructions, for it had been found from experience that enemy U-boats having torpedoed a ship , would not make haste away from the sinking vessel, but would close the wreck and sink with it, thereby hoping to avoid detection from our Asdics.
'Gloxinia' came hounding on at a great pace as more men in the water realised what was about to happen, great oaths were hurled at the ship, which only half an hour before we had chatted with by the Aldis lamp.
'Swim away! Get out! My brain told me, and naked except for a pair of khaki shorts, I struck out as fast as I was able. Here fate took a hand, as from close by a panic-stricken cry for help came from a young seaman, all tangled up with what he thought to be an undersea monster.
I stopped swimming to help him, but it turned out that his trouser belt had broken , allowing his trousers to slip down around his legs and thus hamper his movements. By good luck we came across a Dan buoy (a small flagged buoy) spewed out of the wreckage and I hoisted him up onto this, quickly following him, and got the buoy under our stomachs with our legs still dangling in the water.
We had just made it when 'Gloxinia' fired, dropping a pattern of depth-charges. The seconds that followed these charges as they sank to the required depth to explode seemed like weeks, for we knew what was to follow would be eruptions the like of which we had seen many times before, but this we would be on the receiving end.
Mule-like kicks hit me in the tail-bone, traveled up my spine and clamoured to get out of my skull. It was sheer hell-but being half way out of the water we were relieved of the full force of the explosion and so survived, while others around us died horribly.
Afterwards it went strangely quiet, no chattering voices or calling to shipmates; it seemed that each of us still alive was now afraid to call out in case he should find himself to be the lone survivor from this assault.
Gradually Cocker's survivors did come together. There were fewer than a dozen of us, including the commanding officer (Lieut. John Scott RNVR). His escape had been the narrowest. He was in his cabin, dazed and going down with his ship, when he heard quick voices above saying, 'The Old Man is dead, he must be' which roused him. He managed to slither out through a porthole, which had only been enlarged three months before for just such a emergency. But the blast from the explosion had rammed hard into his stomach and he was unable to use his legs.
We survivors now struggled in the water, some fifty miles from Tobruk and twelve miles from the enemy held shore.
We had only half a Carley float between us. Into this we packed the injured until it settled so low that they were sitting up to their armpits in water. The remainder of us kept off the float, as in these conditions the injured in the float had positive buoyancy.
It was some hours to dawn, and the uncertainty of what might or might not come with it proved too much for one man. From out of his all-night utter silence he suddenly went berserk, thus endangering the lives of the precariously situated inhabitants of the damaged raft. It needed great courage for one of the other survivors to save his fellows by hitting the crazed man with a piece of debris. The man slipped away and sank, to join those already had died.
We soon reached the stage when some of the survivors began to lose hope of being rescued. But then out of the haze, with a great bow-wave creaming away aft, came a British torpedo boat.
What a sight she made coming at us. A wild cheer broke out, with mad waving of arms as she circled us, then cut her engines. Willing hands stretched down to pull us out of the water.
A search of the area was made for a while, but as we had injured men it was decided to get us back to Tobruk as fast as possible, and on the way they made us tea - there never was such tea! - and the memory of the rating in the tiny gallery who stood catching the kettle as it leapt off the primus stove as we forged along is still very clear
Many times at our work of escorting and convoying we had witnessed the havoc and destruction wrought by a single torpedo upon a variety of ships, all considerably larger than we were. We had sought the comfort by telling ourselves that we were so small that the enemy would not bother to waste a tin fish on us. In retrospect, it seems obvious that we were torpedoed by mistake for a larger corvette, whose normal position was on the seaward quarter, which at the last moment we had been ordered to take up.
After a spell ashore our commanding officer returned to sea in command of one of the biggest frigates. Awarded a DSC he later added a bar to this when he destroyed another U-boat.
The citation with my Mention in Dispatches read:
For the courage and devotion to duty and disregard of his personal safety in assisting survivors to the Carley Raft. This Petty Officer's example did much to encourage and sustain the survivors during the long period they were awaiting rescue.
And Cocker? Her death added another hard statistic to the appalling losses of trawlers, drifters and whalers - nearly three hundred to date, by far the largest losses of any section of the fighting fleet.
The final fate of Schnellboot S-57
|it was first believed that U-331 had been responsible for sinking HMS Cocker but was later confirmed that Schnellboot S-57 commanded by Oblt. Gunter Erdmann had actually sunk the ship.
On the 18 August 1944 RN MTB's attacked a flotilla of Schnellboots, including S-57. During the attack S-57 was badly damaged. two of her crewmen were killed and nine others wounded.
Above: The wreck of the German torpedo boat S-57 located in the Croatian Adriatic near the peninsula Pelješac. Now a popular dive site in the region.