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The sinking of the Hecla as described by
William Marshall Dodds SSX13442

Petty Officer Telegraphist on HMS Marne

and introduced by his son Colin Dodds

My father, Bill Dodds, was born in 1912 in Sunderland and joined the Navy in 1931 when he was 19. HMS Marne and HMS Martin were modern M Class Destroyers which came into service in December 1941 and April 1942. By the time HMS Hecla was torpedoed Bill Dodds was 29 years old veteran who had taken part in the pursuit of the Bismark and served on Atlantic, Malta and Arctic convoys. He joined HMS Marne before she was commissioned on the 18 November 1941 as a P.O. Telegraphist with a staff of eight to ten telegraphists. He was a talented artist and was made the "art editor" of the ships magazine The Buzz.  He began keeping a Diary when  Marne left Vickers Armstrong Shipyard at Wallsend on the Tyne on the 2 December 1941 (the date on the cover is out by one year). The Diary ends at Sunderland on the 14 April 1943. The following account was written on the day - or the day following - the events described.

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HMS Marne at Malta
HMS Marne - Pennant Number G35 - at Malta
Courtesy of Colin Dodds

Thursday 5th Nov 1942

Tooth gave a bit of trouble early morning and had it treated by Doctor later.  Was glorious all day and at 5 pm we got a U-boat scare and chased around dropping charges. Tooth almost sent me mad today.

Friday 6th Nov 1942

Walked round all night with tooth driving me crazy and in the forenoon spent an agonising five minutes having it out, but it was well worth it. Captain warned us about saying nothing at Gib. of this important convoy, many of the boys think its objective is Vichy France but by the look of things it is Oran or Algiers. There must be over 350,000 troops here an amazing sight.

Colin Dodds recalled his father saying he "made arrangements with the Doctor to have it out and turned up at the sick bay to find the Doctor and the sick bay attendant bent over a book. It transpired that neither of them had ever extracted a tooth before and were reading up on the instructions. The Doctor removed the tooth with the sick bay attendant reading out the instructions from the book. They had a laugh about it later." My father said he was in so much pain at the time he did not care who extracted it as long as it was out.

Saturday 7th Nov 1942

Arrived Gib. At 1 a.m. oiled and came to jetty. The tooth is much easier and pain ought to disappear in a day or two. At 9.30am we left Gib. To meet Hecla and Vindictive and we are to escort them to Gib. The Captain told us the convoy we took through are to make a landing at Oran and other places and we are expected to be very busy soon.

Sunday 8th Nov 1942

Been married one year today and occupied my mind most of the day, hope we see more of each other during the coming year. Forces which landed at Oran at 1am this morning kept me up all night dealing with heavy signal traffic, landings were made at many places and the Algiers and Casablanca crowd seem to be well on top. Going south all day in excellent weather and we passed Madeira in the late afternoon. Heard the rehearsals of the ship’s second concert and it was very good indeed. Gums much easier and the pineapples went bad and had to be eaten.

Monday 9th Nov 1942

At 12.40 met convoy which included Shropshire and three transports which later proceeded to England, our part of the crowd was Hecla, Vindictive and Venomous. Reports from our troops landing kept us busy for most of the night.

Tuesday 10th Nov 1942

Steaming towards Gib. in excellent weather, sorted out nuts a large portion of which were going bad. Expect to arrive Gib. on Thursday evening.

Wednesday 11th Nov 1942

News of Germans invading France and of us asking permission to pass through Tunisia. At 1pm sighted strange ships on the starboard bow and went to action stations, these turned out to be Yanks, a battleship, a cruiser and destroyer’s also thee oilers. Hope to arrive Gib. at 6pm tomorrow.

William M Dodds Petty Officer TelegraphistThursday 12th Nov 1942

A quarter of an hour after midnight we detected a U-boat which almost immediately put two torpedoes into Hecla, the thud as they struck was clearly felt in the office and the usual pipe of “prepare to take on survivors” was soon heard. It was lucky to be a very nice night with warm water and no sea running. As the rescue work went on the Hecla received a third hit and she began to sink. We closed in to pick up the fellows swimming in the water and the stench of fuel oil almost made one sick, fellows were groaning outside the office as oil in the stomach is not a healthy meal.

Colin Dodds recalled his father saying something along these lines: "the last thing you do when being attacked by a U-boat is stop in the water, the Marne was too fast to be hit by a torpedo; we were ordered to stop and pick up VIP's from the Hecla, otherwise we would not have been hit".

Then without warning there was a terrific crash and the Marne shivered like a leaf, I was knocked against the operator and all the lights in the office went out and the power failed, in a minute things were going again and we realised that the lucky Marne’s spell was broken and we had been torpedoed, exactly one year all but four days since commissioning. I was proud of my lads who did not panic and after a few minutes they were normal again talking about leave. I don’t think they realised that the U-boat may be waiting to put a second one into us at any time. Later the news came that the Venomous had spotted a U-boat and sunk it thus saving us getting a finisher. This incident happened at 2.07 a.m. Tanks were flooded to keep us level and also X magazine to prevent chances of fire and of blowing up. There was no sleep for anyone that night and the Doctor was kept busy attending to the casualties. The Hecla at last sank and the Vindictive having put on speed and disappeared when we were hit, we were left alone with the Venomous who patrolled continuously around us.

All through the long dreary night people moved around talking in whispers, it is not a pleasant feeling to be helpless unable to avoid any torpedoes that came our way, the screws and rudder with all the after part of the ship had been blown off. The night dragged on and we called the roll, 13 failed to answer, amongst which was our midshipman the baby of the ship [Mid Reginald H. Brown RNR was 19] and one of the P.O.’s the rest of the missing were mainly the depth charge party who were all aft at the time. Among them old Charlie the oldest man in our ship [Charles Charlton was 34 when he was killed but AB Cyril Holder was 41]. Thornton and Lush were also included. Came the dawn and never  has a sunrise appealed so much to me.

Venomous shoved off to pick up swimmers who had been in the water all night including our boats crew who had been out to pick up the Hecla’s and had their whaler overturned, their only remark after all night in the water was “--- --- best swim we have ever had”, this sort of thing went on all day the lads in high spirits. Everybody blames the Gunner’s mate for the torpedoing as today it is his birthday and I sent him a card with a torpedo very prominent on it. At 10 a.m we sighted a coastal Command Hudson and later a Catalina, they circled around us and beat it about 2 p.m. Two Portuguese fishing boats were sighted and the aircraft went and told them all about it, but they could not understand and were too far away to see us, perhaps this was best as there would have been internment for anyone they took aboard among the wounded.

Cover of Bill Dodds Diary The damage aft is very great and we have lost 40 feet of the stern. Mills, the captains servant had a luckiest escape ever, he was aft and the explosion blotted him out and when he came to he found himself in the middle of the damage, getting into the water he swam round to a boat which was tied up alongside, there he collapsed and was unconscious until the morning. Venomous came alongside to oil as she was well down but the swell on the sea made this impossible and she had to push off.

Later two corvettes were sighted one of which was the Jonquil she came up and took off 66 Hecla people and 140 of our own crew, Brooke, Hay, Jennings, Brown and Turner went from my staff. Night came on and though we felt little like sleep we lay down at 11pm. Venomous left for Casablanca.

Friday 13 Nov. 1942

Got a call at 3 a.m to repair the L.H.E. but as a light is needed left the job until daylight and turned in again until 7.30.a.m. Wakened to the glorious news that the tug Salvonia had arrived and taken us in tow at 3 knots , however we are moving and for that we are lucky and thankful. Shortly after corvettes Landguard, Prescott, Lulworth and the tug Jaunty arrived. In the afternoon the sea was rough and we rolled a lot but this appears to be wearing off, the Navigator thinks we are making more than 3 knots so this is good news. Our third night in this position is drawing on and we cannot be called happy, “Oh lord you make the nights too long” seems to be everyone’s thoughts. Captain says if we are struck again we must drop everything and get on the upper deck. It’s is now 11.15 and a very moonlight night which is just our luck. Wonder what they a doing at home and what they will think of all this? Suspense is not too good and read the news to keep myself occupied.

Friday the 13th is over.

Saturday 14th Nov. 1942

Lay down at 4a.m. and up again at 8a.m. very little sleep but glad to know that we are now making 5 knots and hope to arrive Gib. at 3 a.m. tomorrow morning, for a ship capable of doing 38 knots we are all very happy. Captain gave orders that in the event of an attack we are to vacate the office. During the forenoon one of the corvettes dropped a few depth charges on a suspected U-boat but nothing happened, except our nerves were rather shaken up. Went to sleep at 1 p.m. and woke up to the shattering crash of depth charges. Everyone on edge and the suspense is none too good. In the forenoon I went down into the damage part of the ship and salvaged a few articles, it is an amazing site and I am wondering how we managed to keep afloat. Can now see land and it looks good to me, sea is calm and blue with a hot sun. Convoy passed us outward bound  and the lights of Spartel and Trafalgar were welcomed by everyone. Had supper on chicken which will not keep until we get home as the fridge is out of action. Coded up official report of the killed, which is 13. Now hear we will not get in until 7 a.m. tomorrow so turn in at 1 a.m.

 Sunday 15th Nov. 1942

Arrived of Gib. at 7.30 and were pleased to see it. Slept ashore in the forenoon and went ashore in the afternoon. Hear that the Martin our sister ship has been sunk. Got telegrams off to mother and Jenny.

HMS Marne sat Gibraltar with stern blown off
HMS Marne at Gibraltar with stern blown off
Courtesy of George Male


Before she was torpedoed HMS Marne had launched her whaler to pick up survivors from the Hecla. The crew of the whaler included Michael Flanders (1922-75) who went on to achieve fame for his comedy duo with Donald Swann in "Flanders and Swann". Michael Flanders and his friend John Anderson were CW Candidates completing six months service as ratings on Marne before being sent for officer training. They had written a light hearted skit poking fun at their officers for the concert which had to be abandoned when Hecla was torpedoed.

When they saw the stern blown off Marne they agreed to tell each other's mother if one of them were to die. Lt Herbert H. McWilliams SAN was one of those they pulled aboard the overcrowded whaler.  As they came alongside Venomous
the whaler capsized and many of those rescued were trapped beneath it and died despite the bravery of "Jimmie" Button, the Anti-submarine Bosun on Venomous, who dived in to try and rescue them. It is evident from Bill Dodd's Diary that the men on the whaler were picked up and returned to Marne and to judge from their light hearted remarks about enjoying their swim were non the worse for their experience.

The Marne was patched up in Gib. and taken in tow by the “H.M tug Eminent” on the 7 Jan. 1943 and arrived at Jarrow on the Tyne on 28 Feb. 1943 for repairs.
HMS Martin, the sister ship of Marne, was torpedoed and sunk by U-431 north east of Algiers on the 10 November, the day before Hecla was torpedoed. There were only 63 survivors. To find out more about HMS Marne and her sister ship, HMS Martin, click on the links.

Two stories my father told me that do not appear in his diary:-

It was not normal practice to pick up survivors when a ship was still afloat but
to hunt for the U-Boat to prevent further attacks. On this occasion they were ordered in to pick up V.I.P’s from the Hecla. In addition to the CO, Cdr B.V. B. Faulkner RN they included Captain S.H.T. Arliss RN, Commodore (D), Eastern Fleet Destroyer Flotilla, who was on passage to take up this appointment when Hecla was torpedoed. Most of the senior officers who survived were rescued by Marne. Lt Cdr H.N.A. Richardson RN reported that "nine officers, including the Captain of Hecla and 67 ratings were picked up".

Colin Dodds recalled his father saying something along these lines "the last thing you do when being attacked by a U-boat is stop in the water, the Marne was too fast to be hit by a torpedo; we were ordered to stop and pick up VIP's from the Hecla, otherwise we would not have been hit". As PO Telegraphist he would know exactly what orders were received, including visual signals. Colin Dodds asked his father if it was against the rules to keep a diary. He said it was, but he kept the diary, code books and signals in a lead weighted case. It was his job to throw the case overboard if ever it looked as if the ship would be captured.

The day after the attack Bill Dodds was called to see the Captain, Lt Cdr H.N.A. Richardson RN, on the bridge who pointed out that there was a human arm hanging from the radio aerials and said he wanted it removed. My father did not want to ask any of his “Lads” to remove it so he climbed up the mast himself; to make is worse he knew who’s arm it was by the insignia on the sleeve. He freed the arm it fell to the deck and someone kicked it overboard.

Norman John e-mailed Bill Forster on 10 May 2012 as follows:

"Yes, a few of the Marne survivors used to come to our reunions. I was speaking to one of them one night, and asked him. "What part of the ship were you when the torpedo hit you?" Surprisingly, he answered 'I was midships getting your C.O. and other officers aboard'.
So much for the captain being the last to leave the ship!

At that time I was on the well deck of Hecla with my mate George Fortey. We had a good view  of the Marne and saw all the ammo going up. There were many like ourselves still aboard. George and I were debating which side to go over. The ship was listing to port and
the sea was level with the gunnel on the port side of the well deck where we were standing. We decided on the starboard side, as did most of the others, as we did not want the ship to capsize over us. The ship's side was horizontal as we went over the side and slid down the bottom into the water."

The men who died when HMS Marne was torpedoed

BALES, John L J, Able Seaman, P/JX 263137, MPK
BARRETT, William B, Able Seaman, P/JX 262739, MPK
BATH, Dudley M, Able Seaman, P/JX 263086, MPK
BROWN, Reginald H, Ty/Midshipman, RNR, killed
CHARLTON, Charles, Able Seaman, P/JX 264348, killed
HOLDER, Cyril G, Able Seaman, P/J 88107, MPK
LAWTON, Stanley J, Ordinary Seaman, P/JX 322220, MPK
LEACH, Timothy D, Able Seaman, P/JX 282544, MPK
LUSH, Arthur F, Act/Leading Seaman, P/J 113306, MPK
THORNTON, Wilson, Able Seaman, RNVR, P/UD/X 697, MPK
THORPE, Patrick, Stoker 1c, P/KX 118410, MPK
TUME, Robert A, Petty Officer Steward, P/L 10795, MPK
WRIGHT, John H, Petty Officer, P/J 114776, MPK

This list is taken from the Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2, researched & compiled by Don Kindel (all rights reserved)

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"After his time on the Marne he was posted to the USA for a period of R&R where he was the entertainment officer and met many US stars such as Al Jolson and Gerry Dorsey who came to visit the British base. He was then posted to be an instructor training the US Navy to use British radio equipment. He returned to the UK and was posted to the Far East , but this was canceled when the Atom Bomb was dropped bringing the war in the Pacific to an end.

He left the Navy returned to Sunderland and worked for the radio and television company Rediffusion  until he retired. He died in 1991 and left a wife (Jenny), a son (me) two grandsons and five great grandchildren."
Colin Dodds

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