Some personal recollections of Ordinary Seamen
Dudley John Mills
C/JX 425692

serving aboard HMS Cassandra, 6th D.F. Home Fleet,

Dudley J MillsDuncan J Mills
Dudley Mills (1925-2010) researched the torpedoing of HMS Cassandra and the months he and his shipmates spent in Murmansk whille their ship was under repair for the rest of his life and Cliff Longfoot sent me the results of his research in two bulging ring binders. Their contents formed the basis for A Long Night for the Canteen Boat: The torpedoing and salvage of HMS Cassandra December 11 1944, edited by Peter Erwood for the 6th  Destroyer Flotilla Association and published by Arcturus Press in 1996 but no longer in print.

 "Dudley was rated Ordinary Seaman. Cassandra was his only ship. He had trained to be an officer but the attrition rate on D Day was not as expected and he was not commissioned. He spent his working life with the Thames Water Board. Later in life he married the widow of Bob Fisher one of his shipmates" (Cliff Longfoot, Honorary Secretary of the HMS Cassandra Association). Dudley Mills' portrait on the left was drawn by Morris Birkett at the RN Hospital in Vaenga.

"It is extremely difficult to be certain and precise about events which happened almost fifty years ago. These incidents are recalled from the depths of a not too reliable memory and aided by reference to details recorded in letters written home at the time, which are still in my possession.

There remains for me an area of uncertainty right at the beginning of my tale. The homeward bound convoy of 28 merchant ships, RA.62, sailed from Murmansk on Sunday, 10 December 1944. My records indicate that Cassandra, in company with some other escorts, put to sea from Polyarno, late at night on Saturday 9 December, to carry out an anti-submarine sweep of the Kola Inlet in advance of the main convoy's sailing.

All went well until the early morning of Monday 11 December. Luckily, I had the morning watch and had been closed up in the Charthouse since 0400 hours as assistant to AB Parry, the Navigator's Yeoman. The Navigating Officer,
Lt. F. Hope RN, had come into the compartment a few minutes before 0600 hours, when suddenly at 0602 hours there was the sound of an almighty clang, but deadened and not resonant, as if a huge muffled hammer had struck a metal plate. At the same time the ship gave a mighty lurch and I was flung against the frame supporting the Loran PPI radar set, getting only a very slight cut on the nose, together with a large lump.

Lt G.C. Mill RNThe Captain, Lt. G.C. Leslie RN, grabbed his cap and dashed for the bridge. There was a slight trickle of water dripping down on to the plotting table cover from the binocular bridge-viewer above, probably the seals had distorted. I was alone in the Charthouse and suddenly a voice, probably from Caprice came over the TBS radio link saying: Cassandra has been torpedoed. This was my first indication of what had happened. I certainly heard no explosion, only the clang. Miraculously the ship remained on an even keel and the lights kept on. It was pitch dark outside at that time of day in the Arctic in midwinter. There seemed no reason for me to remain in the Charthouse for the moment so I made my way out on to the bridge wings to see what was happening. The bridge itself was a hive of activity, centred on the Captain, Lt. Leslie, R.N.

The fighting lights on the yardarms had been switched on and there was some spectacular arking at the rear of the director tower where a transmitting aerial, parted by the whipping of the ship, was dangling against the steelwork, and suddenly the whole scene was brilliantly illuminated by a 'snowflake' flare fired by another ship, perhaps Caprice, making us a "sitting duck" as we lay there in the confused sea with engines stopped. Looking forward, I could see that the blast shield on 'B' gun deck had been bent back and forced up into a vertical position, but the most astounding thing was that there was nothing beyond. No fo'c'stle, no bows, no 'A' gun. Everything had completely disappeared; there was just the sea foaming in the harsh magnesium light. The 'snowflake' burned out and the scene was plunged into darkness again except for the fighting lights. I went back into the Charthouse, shaken to the core,

George ParryA little later AB Parry (right) came in having been ordered to collect the chart from the automatic plot. The ships position at the moment of impact was clearly marked by a splodge of ink where the stylus had jumped with the shock.  Cassandra had been torpedoed in position 71.52N, 33.12E.  Gradually the realisation dawned that we must have sustained some casualties, and probably some fatalities, in view of the amount of damage, but there was little time to think of such things as all spare hands were turned to help out. At one stage I found myself staggering to the guardrails and dropping 4-5 inch fixed ammunition into the sea as we jettisoned shells from the after ready-use lockers; it was all I could do to carry them. Some time during the day we fired 8-21 inch torpedoes to further reduce the top weight.

Damage control parties were fully employed forward, but all access to the spaces there was barred. Right after, Lt. Hope and his party were struggling to get the towing wire passed to the frigate Bahamas and get it safely secured. I seemed to remember corned beef sandwiches and fannies of Kye being handed round the ship.

All other memories about that day and of what we did during the slow voyage back under tow have faded completely; strangely, I have no recollection of where I slept and was messed for the rest of my time on board, and I made no mention of it in my letters home. Obviously all my kit had gone when 3 mess was blown open to the sea. All too soon we realised that quite a few familiar faces were missing and we were informed that the torpedo had claimed about one third of the ship's company, all from the forward mess decks.

The weather was foul, blowing a severe gale. I remember watching often the towing wire dipping into the sea over most of its length and at times almost losing sight of Bahamas as she slid down into a trough with only her masthead showing above the angry waves before climbing up out again. But there, way towards the horizon was the reassuring sight of her sister ship Somaliland ceaselessly circling us in a protective ring, together with Tortola.

The weather moderated later and the tow was transferred to a Russian tug sent out to meet us.  Bahamas joined her sister in screening us. Some bodies had been recovered from the wreckage forward, and Lt. Leslie held a brief burial service on the iron deck, and our shipmates were committed to the Barents Sea. A very sad moving moment, made all the more poignant by the fact that none of the ratings present was in proper uniform. We had only what we stood up in, but nobody worried.

Lt J.Ivey RNI think that we arrived back at the Kola Inlet on Thursday 14 December - we were certainly berthed alongside at Rosta Dockyard on Friday 15th. Arrangements were made to transfer our wounded out of the care of Surgeon, Lt, Ivey RNVR (left), the ship's doctor, to the RN Hospital at Vaenga and also for various officers and ratings to take passage home in the Bahamas and the Somaliland which were preparing to sail almost Immediately. This gave rise to a great flurry of writing of letters by those staying aboard to be handed to friends going back for posting as soon as they set foot in the UK. This kind act was greatly appreciated, especially as it was almost Christmas. We found out later that they arrived in good time. They sailed pm on 15 December. I reverted to my old harbour routine job of Bos'n's mate, on watch with AB Norman Kemp as my Quartermaster.

The only dry dock at Rosta was occupied by an old Russian destroyer undergoing a routine boiler-clean. Meanwhile there was concern as to how long we could remain afloat due to the weakened state of our forward bulkhead, so magnificently shored up by the Damage Control party under Chief Stoker Willis, Even though we had sustained the damage whilst engaged In the supply of war materials to our Russian allies, it required the intervention of the British Admiral, SBNO NR (Senior British Naval Officer Northern Region) to persuade them, reluctantly to clear the dock for our more urgent need.

My small brown attaché case had been found by one of the Damage Control party towards the end of the tow back and the contents were not too badly damaged. Some of the letters were still readable and my father's old 1914 war army mug was intact, but the enamel was chipped. My pay book was never found.

As the dry dock was pumped down, seemingly dozens of "Zombie" like Russian dockyard workers swarmed aboard. More bodies were found and transferred to HM auxiliary trawler, Chiltern, for burial at sea off the Kola Inlet. I have recently received a letter from John Black, who was in the Chiltern, recalling that sad service for Cassandra and mentioning that some of our ship's company were aboard Chiltern for the short trip.

I remember witnessing a. vicious knife-fight between two "Zombies" in the bottom of the dock; they were fighting for possession of a "green" loaf found somewhere in our wreckage.

Before long, some stained £1 and 10 shilling notes, which had been found by the Russians in the damaged mess decks were being surreptitiously offered to us in exchange, they hoped, for food, soap or tobacco. Not one survivor had any truck with this despicable behaviour. A mess deck auction of various personal items of kit, which had since been found, was held to raise a little money for the next of kin of our dead shipmates.

I shall never forget the odd feeling within me as I first re-entered the remains of what had been previously our "home". 3 mess was a mass of buckled plating, twisted pipes and ladders, open to the stonework of the dry dock at the forward end. The aluminium foil Arctic insulation was hanging in ribbons. I tore some down and used it to decorate the Silver Wedding anniversary card, which I was making for my parents from materials kindly supplied by Ted Wraith, the Captain's writer. The card reached house on January 27th, the exact day. I did not go down into the remains of the stokers’ mess deck.

I visited Surgeon Lt. Ivey on the 22 December, having a very sore throat and high temperature and was immediately admitted to the sick bay with tonsillitis. Norman Kemp brought me all my meals for the next four days, but Dr. Ivey allowed me up for a few hours to join my shipmates for Christmas Day. "This was after Norman had brought me my Christmas breakfast of fried bacon, beans, fresh white roll and coffee. Later on there were some mince pies, made with currents and sultanas, and sausage rolls handed round - followed by an invitation to the Wardroom in the late forenoon "bring your own cups". On arrival we were served a most lethal Punch, concocted from almost every bottle left in the Wardroom store. My salvaged chipped mug must have wondered what had hit it - I know I did even more so at the end of the session when we emerged into the freezing Arctic air. Anyway, it was a happy gathering after our recent experiences, the more so for me as I did not draw a tot, being "U/A".

I see that our Christmas Dinner comprised roast beef, tinned chicken, peas and potatoes, followed by Christmas pud and more mince pies. After tea, it was time for me to return to the Sick Bay so I was not able to participate in the Christmas concert.

AB Len ShawDick Collyer I was already a member of the "KKK" the ship's concert party, run by ABs Dick Collyer (left) and Len Shaw (right). Its full title was "Kassandra's Kola Klowns", but by now our original cast was somewhat depleted. Leading Stoker, George Kish and AB Atkinson had returned to the UK. Those remaining included Lt. Holroyd and Bentley, Vic Heale, the Gunner (T), Dick Collyer, Len Shaw, Norman Kemp, Jeff Roberts, Ted Wraith, Bob Dawson and myself. Various shows were put on during our enforced stay in North Russia at such venues as the In tourist Club at Murmansk, the RN Hospital at Vaenga and one show in January, 1945 was held in the vast tiller-flat of the cruiser Diadem at anchor in Vaenga Bay. The destroyer Myngs had been sent to collect us and return us to Rosta after the show. We received various presentation books from Tania, the official hostess at the Intourist Club, all duly autographed later by ourselves and some of the Russian dancing girls who also appeared with us. After the New Year's Eve show we all had some vodka and caviar before returning to the ship by lorry.

We seemed to eat quite well on board. An American liberty ship had sent us over a few boxes of "goodies" at Christmas and also we had a special issue of vitamin tablets and halibut oil capsules from the Sick Bay. I was released from the Sick Bay on 27 December to resume my duties, but barred from 'piping' for a day or two until the throat had healed, so I just whistled through my teeth as I went about the ship making the routine announcements.

During my visits to the Wardroom I saw Lt. Holroyd painting a beautiful picture in watercolours of the ship; a port bow view of her, damaged and stopped in the water, at sea. It was about 24" x 12". I often wonder what became of it.

During our night watches, Norman and I carefully eked out our dwindling reserve of bottled "Camp coffee" which had cost four shillings and four pence from the NAAFI. Somehow it had withstood the explosion and was intact in a locker.

English money was no use ashore, there was no exchange-rate with the Rouble and so a small issue of Pusser's soap and "nutty" was made available to us, if we wanted that we could barter with the natives and get some decrepit skis and skates to provide us with some entertainment and recreation. I got some old ski's, which had to be lashed to my sea boots with codline, and a pair of sticks and set forth over the snow covered hillocks in and around the Dockyard - soon managing to spend more time under way than flat on my back, I didn't trust the skates "on offer", I had more respect for my ankles.

My letters record that we were given a ration of three Mars bars, four boxes of matches, an apple, three oranges, a packet of Rinso and a tablet of Lux toilet soap on Sunday 31 December 1944. We also received three pennyworth of biscuits each morning. On New Year's Day I had the luck to buy two bottles of Horlicks through the NAAFI. How they came by it I do not know.

We also had various quizzes aboard, such as England v Scotland and seamen versus torpedo men. I spent some time clambering all over the ship noting down details on a signal pad ready for making a model at some later date. One other thing that stands out in my mind was seeing the bright lights all along the dockside at Murmansk as the precious cargo was unloaded from the freighters; it was in stark contrast to the blacked-out Britain that we had left behind. 

The landscape was of snow covered low rocky hills with patches of dense woodland. The local housing seemed to consist of some drab rectangular tenement blocks. At each street comer, the poles carrying the overhead electricity cables supported one or two Tannoy speakers from which came interminable military music, except at certain times, obviously known to the local inhabitants, who would emerge from their houses, or wherever, and stood motionless beneath the pole and looking up to the speakers. All of a sudden the music stopped and a long discourse in Russian held their attention. Then it was over until the next time, and the group would disperse as quickly as it had formed. The men and women in thick winter quilted coats, fur helmets and felt boots, hands in pockets, would shuffle back to where they had come from. Whether these announcements were news bulletins or Party propaganda we never discovered.

Some of us went into Murmansk by train - I still have my ticket - hauled by an old steam locomotive fuelled mainly by logs from the local hillside. We sat through hour after endless hour, either at the Inter club or some cinema watching Ivan the Terrible - and it was - a lumbering slow and sombre story, all in Russian. We also saw a few much newer American films at the Red Navy Club at Vaenga. There we were in our element as they had the original sound track, with Russian sub-titles. Sadly, our own cinema projectionist, George Bauer had been killed, and I dare say that his equipment was lost as well.

A small Russian puppy also found his way aboard, probably seeking food and warmth. He was adopted and named "Sippers". He also needed to be house trained.

AB Morris Birkett One stage of our stay up north which I had completely forgotten about until a recent remark by Morris Birkett (left), made me dig out my old letters, was a short recreational visit by a party of us to Vaenga Hospital, We were there from 21 January until 21 February, living in a separate part or the hospital building for a complete rest from shipboard life in dry dock and after our recent experiences. We slept in proper beds. I had six blankets on mine because it was so cold, and our only duties were to polish some taps and assist the hospital staff to "hump" stores about. Other than that the time was our own. Me even had early morning tea brought to us in bed by the hospital staff - an undreamed of luxury. Time was spent in reading and writing, often by the light of a few candles, "stuck" to the table top by wax, and joining some of the convalescents tobogganing down a long 45° slope in the hospital grounds as well as the odd "sitting” for an excellent crayon portrait by Morris. On our arrival we were each given a bar of chocolate and a fresh fried egg for supper - not reconstituted powder. Our breakfast consisted of corn flakes, bread and jam, and syrup, and more tea. We were not roused until 0800 hours.

One evening after seeing Rita Hayworth in "You were never Lovelier" at the Red Navy Club, Tom Rankin and I were picking our way back in the dark when we both fell into a snow-filled trench up to our waists. At the end of this most enjoyable break from the ship we stopped at a supply depot on the way back to the Dockyard and took a whole load of stores with us. Before leaving Vaenga I must mention one of the convalescents, a Stoker, with a leg injury. He was getting quite upset as to how he was going to explain away his "war wound" when he got home as he had been clobbered by the mess piano when it broke adrift with the impact of the torpedo.

A few days after getting back from Vaenga I was told that I was being sent back with a few more of us when the February Convoy came up. I had made a new "suitcase" by sawing in half a corned beef crate and screwing on some hinges, adding a spliced rope handle, so felt quite happy about packing my few belongings, but very sad in a way, to be leaving the ship and our shipmates with whom we had shared so much since the fateful day back in December.

I am ashamed to relate that I do not remember the names of any who came back with me, taking passage in the destroyer HMS Orwell of the 17th Destroyer Flotilla, escorting Convoy RA.64, which sailed on 17th February, 1945.

It was quite an eventful trip. Firstly, we gave a rousing cheer to the sloop Lark under tow back to Kola, minus her stern, as we passed close to her. Her circumstances all too familiar to we ex Cassandra's.

Shortly after there was the ominous column of black smoke way over by the horizon marking the place where the corvette Bluebell had just blown up after being torpedoed. Sometime later the convoy was attacked by waves of low-flying German torpedo-bombers, based at Bardufoss in northern Norway. We then ran into some really foul weather and the convoy became scattered in the storm. Our fuel was running low after the subsequent rounding up of stragglers, so Orwell and another escort were detached to re-fuel alongside an old "War" Class Fleet Oiler tucked away in a steep-sided fjord in the Faeroe Islands. It was sheer bliss to be in sheltered water for a while and to be able to get a shave and a meal at a mess table that remained steady.

Here, it must be said, that the ship's company of Orwell gave us a total welcome aboard their already overcrowded ship. We had no hammocks, but chose to sleep on the padded locker seats as close as possible to the port passageway leading out to the iron deck. I was also afraid, at first, to visit the "heads", which, in Orwell were deep down forward; I felt happier once we were well out to sea, and hopefully, clear of U-boats.

We heard that some additional escorts were being sent out from Scapa to meet us and when they joined we saw among than two of our newly completed Flotilla mates, Carron and Cavalier. Carron, if I remember correctly, was still awaiting her main armament fit.

We arrived back in Scapa Flow on 27 February and before long were on the train south from Scrabster. At Chatham Barracks we were re-kitted, but the renewal of my lost pay book caused consternation to the old Chief Petty Officer pensioner who was dealing with me. No rating is ever parted from his pay book. No pay book - no rating - therefore “I did not exist”. This impasse was cleared by the more imaginative and understanding Chief at the adjacent table and he issued me with my new book; next came some money and that all important rail warrant, together with chit authorising me to proceed home on 14 days "In from sea" and "Survivors" leave.

On my return to Barracks at the end of the leave the only ex-Cassandra I saw was Jim Petrie, the Captain's Steward.

I spent the next few months on various courses, coming across Lt. Ivey at one of them and we had a very long chat together.

I changed my Port Division to Portsmouth and finished up in the 'Hunt' class destroyer Eggesford in the Reserve Fleet moored in the trots up Porchester Creek in Portsmouth Harbour.

I was demobbed from Stamshaw at Portsmouth on the 19 November 1946, less than a week before my 21st birthday.

In the autumn of 1950 I was visited at home by the parents of Don Berry, and then by John Barren's father and was able to answer their questions as to how and where their sons had died.

I later visited the repaired, refitted and modernised Cassandra in No. 12 Dock at Portsmouth on 14 February, 1965, almost twenty years to the day since I had left her at Rosta, also in dry dock. I was warmly welcomed aboard, given tea, and then a conducted tour round the ship by the Officer of the Day. There were a lot of changes, but I was most interested in seeing the "new" bows and forward Mess Decks installed while under repair at Gibraltar.

My small model of the damaged ship proved to be of great interest to all of those aboard who saw it.

I was able to get along to the Round Tower at Portsmouth on 2nd March 1965 in time to wave her out of harbour at 0945 hours - my last view of our old ship.

**** **** ** **** **** ****

HMS Cassandra was finally placed on the disposal list in December 1965, sold to Thomas W. Ward and Company in March 1967, leaving Portsmouth under tow on 25th April and arriving at Inverkeithing on 28 April 1967 to be broken up.

Attached is a copy of the ship's routine, while in North Russia, taken from the notice board and given to me by Tad Wraith as a souvenir before I left to come home. Also attached is a copy of a drawing I did on the 17th January 1945, showing the battered state of my old home, Mess 3.

The portrait shown is a reduced black and white copy of the coloured drawing, done by Morris Birkett as described previously."

Remembering HMS Cassandra and those who died

The HMS Cassandra Association was formed in 1994 and a Memorial Plaque in the D-Day Museum at Southsea, inscribed with the names of the 62 men who died, was unveiled in 1999 by Admiral Sir Jock Slater, the Navigating Officer on Cassandra in 1962/3 when Cliff Longfoot was his Yeoman. Admiral Sir Jock Slater went on to become First Sea Lord. A wreath is laid at the Memorial Plaque by The HMS Cassandra Association on the 11 December each year, the day on which she was torpedoed in 1944.

Memorial Plaque to HMS Cassandra
Admiral Sir Jock Slater  reflected in the newly unveiled Memorial Plaque at the D-Day Museum, Southsea, 14 May 1999
The ship's bell hangs above the Plaque and Sir Jock Slater is gripping a corner of Cassandra's ensign.

The HMS Cassandra veterans
Fourteen survivors at unveiling of HMS Cassandra memorial, D-Day Museum, Southsea, 14 May 1999
Back row: John Barnard, Bill Robinson, Michael Facer, Dudley Mills, Roy Butler, Morris Birkett, Doug Foskett, Vic Gilbert, Les Stockwell.
Front row: Cliff Wickstead, "Bunny" Scott, Captain Frank Hope RN (Ret), Rev John Brooks, "Nick" Carter.

Cliff Longfoot and Sir Jock SinclairDudley Mills
Left: Cliff Longfoot, Secretary to the HMS Cassandra Association, and Admiral Sir "Jock" Slater at the unveiling of the HMS Cassandra Memorial
Right: Dudley Mills remembering former shipmates in front of the Memorial and the ships bell

Return to the web page of
Sub Lt Miroslav Stanley Lansky RNVR
a very English gentleman who served on HMS Cassandra and HMS Venomous
and lives in France

Go to the web site of
The HMS Cassandra Association

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