The Neptune Association

War diary of Ordinary Seaman John Smith - May 1940 to January 1941

War diary of Ordinary Seaman John Smith - May 1940 to January 1941

Ordinary Seaman John Smith

Message from C. 4th July 1940


C. in C. to French Fleet:-

The British Admiral does not wish to sink your ships. Why sacrifice your lives uselessly fighting against a superior force? We regret what has happened as much as you. We only ask that your ships shall be put into a non-seagoing state because if they leave harbour they may fall into the hands of the enemy. Transports to take you back to France are arriving shortly. Great Britain will continue to fight to destroy the Boches and the Italians and to re-establish France. It would be mad to fight amongst ourselves. 

(Drawing of routes through the Mediterranean)


Naval Battle Tuesday, 9th July 1940

 At 2 p.m. the Italian ships were sighted and we at once started to manoeuvre. They opened fire first and a few seconds later all our cruisers gave them several broadsides. Shots fell all round us and we were in front. No British ships were hit. They speeded home. The action lasted several hours. At about 4 p.m. their aircraft, wave after wave, came and went, some being shot down, others damaged. Most of the bombs were aimed for the Eagle and battleships. No hits were scored. We lost our plane over the side owing to shrapnel bursting petrol tanks.

Supper at eight. No tea. Saw the toe of Italy.

Their fleet consisted of 2 battleships, 12 cruisers and 20 destroyers and we chased them to an Italian base and waited three hours for them to return. That is when the bombing attacks were made. We continued on our sweep.

P.S. We had given up all hope of seeing them at 12 p.m. and altered course to S.W. and after 10 minutes steaming we sighted them. Cruisers attacked first. Their cruisers opened fire first. We molested one and it had to be towed. Then our battleships came up but as the enemy was bearing away they only fired 2 or 3 broadsides. We came in again and then the enemy smokescreen. Our destroyers attacked at full speed firing torpedoes. Then the bombing commenced and the ships made to their base 20 miles away.


Sinking of the Oiler

We left the Main Fleet off Crete and steamed South of Greece and East among the many islands. We had a position of an oiler with petrol for an Italian Air Base. We were steaming in the islands when an enemy plane was sighted. Later we were heavily bombed and no damage was done. The oiler was in sight while we were being bombed. As soon as we approached the crew took to their boats. We sank the ship and it burned for hours and flames could be seen about 50 miles away. Name of ship, Hermione. A Greek vessel bound for Dodeconese. Attacked in Thernia Channel (Hot). Sunk ship in Gulf of Athens. Saw lights of Athens. Crew of 15 cheered when we sank their ship. Skipper was co-British.


The Sydney’s Encounter

Sydney and 6 destroyers encountered two enemy cruisers off N.W. corner of Crete. They engaged them with guns and torpedoes and sank the Italian Bartolome Coleona. She carried 8 x 6´´. The other cruiser fled towards Tobruk in N. Africa pursued by Sydney and destroyers. Short of ammunition, Orion and Neptune are going West at high speed and also R.A.F. bombers are trying to cripple it as it is the only way of meeting it. H.M.S. Havock picked up 250 survivors. She was later bombed S. of Crete and hit her No. 2 Boiler Room, flooded, but still steaming at 24 knots. The ship sunk was the fastest in the world.


Day after Battle

Italians claim that several ships were sunk and several set on fire, but not a ship was damaged. We stayed around Italy all day while destroyers went to Malta to fuel.

We saw Italy and were within 25 miles. At Gib. The Western Fleet was being bombed. 3 planes brought down and several damaged. Our planes from Eagle bombed an Italian base but there was only a destroyer and a depot ship in and both were sunk.

Malta was bombed and 3 planes were brought down. We were 50 miles away and searchlights could be seen quite plain, also gunfire. The sky was most beautiful, all colours blended from black on the horizon and all shades to light black, blue, grey, green, red, yellow and light shades. 


The Neptune was at war with Italy from Monday 10th June to 20th Aug. Time we reached Aden, then we left the war behind us.

Notes during ten weeks:-

(a) Neptune steamed 15,000 miles, mostly at high speed.

(b) Neptune was in action,

(1) With Italian Navy,

28th June. Three destroyers

9th July, Battle Fleet. Neptune engaged. 6” Cruiser Cariboldo and hit 8”

Cruiser Baliona.

(2) With Italian Army. 20th June, Bombardment of Bardia. Neptune destroyed

military barracks, stores and petrol stocks 

(3) Air Force. Times without number we were bombed at sea and in Alex.


(4) Neptune sank the Hermione in the Aegean Sea carrying 4 million gallons of

petrol and oil for the Dodecanese.


Neptune fired at Italians:-

1269 rounds of 6´´ammunition

1413 rounds of 4´´ammunition

3 depth charges


Italians fired at Neptune

Over 1,000 rounds of ammunition from 12.2 to 4´´.

Over 1,000 bombs at or near ship and 30 torpedoes above or submerged. Neptune passed through Italian minefield cutting one adrift with P.V.’s.


Monument passed on 16th August 1940 about 11 a.m. In remembrance of the troops who fought during the Great War. They are separated because there were two races of people.

Memorial along Suez 16th August

(Drawing of the Memorial)


Defense Du Canal de Suez 1918


26th Aug. 1940

Steamer attacked by raider 7000 tons. Route Cape to Persian Gulf. At 01.25 shelled by raider. 02.30 cancelled her message. But note and bearing different. C.i.C.E.I. is sure that it was raider which is working a ruse and that steamer is already sunk. Steamer British Commander.

Description of raider:-

4,000 tons. Dark grey. One funnel, two masts. Top of funnel level with Xtrees, F&R Well decks, two Lampson posts, speed 15 knots, no guns or derricks visible. No colours flying.


27th Aug. 1940

H.M.Ships at sea, 550 daily.

Convoys at sea, 20 in Home Waters daily.

North Atlantic 8 daily. 50/60 ships in each N.A. convoy. Ships escorted in convoy 32,000. Only 80 lost.

Imports in Britain 9,930,555 in 10 weeks ending 3rd Aug. 1,700,000 tons of cereals, 1,000,000 other food, 3,000,000 oil fuel, 2,000,000 minerals.

Allied shipping losses 2,568,000.

Allied “Tonnage” losses 6/7,000,000 to date.

Shipbuilding in U.K., 179 ships, 1,008,000 tons.

Enemy ship losses, 1,212,000 to date.


5th Sept.

The Mediterranean Sweep

The fleets in the Med. swept it from end to end. The force from Gib. moved East accompanied by Valliant and Illustrious. The latter two passed through Malta Strait at night. Fleet turned East and aircraft from Illustrious and Eagle bombed Rhodes. Cruisers and destroyers bombarded Dodecanese. Orion and Sydney were attacked by dive bombers, the first in the Med. Aircraft from Ark Royal bombed air base at Cagliari in Sardinia. The Valliant latest battleship replaces Royal Sovereign. Illustrious carries over 70 planes. Strengthens the Med. a great deal.


Evacuation of British Somaliland

Our Skipper heard first-hand news of the campaign from the General in charge and from S.N.O. in charge of Navy. It was carried out by the following ships:-

H.M.S. Hobart, H.M.S. Caledon and Ceres with numerous transports. H.M.S. Royal Sovereign did not take part as stated by Italian News. She proceeded on her course from Suez to Aden.

Regrettable as it seems to lose our Colony to the Italians and little as we can afford to lose valuable military equipment and stores which had to be left behind it is satisfactory to know that our losses are very small.


Destroyers from America

The destroyers from America will strengthen our force a great deal. We started with 170, 70 of these being overage and 50 are continually in dock or repair work. From these we have lost 46 and we intend to get at least 50 from America. They are 1,200 ton class and have been little used since laid down in 1918, completed in 1920. Been on reserve. Details:-

Have to be fitted with ASDICS.

Tonnage 1,200. Speed 35 knots.

Guns 4 x 5´´, 1 x 3´´, Torpedoes 12 x 21´´tubes.

Complement 122.


Bardia troop’s prospects

Italian Officers, 2.041

Italian troops, 42,827

and we lost 420 wounded




Plane shot down 7 miles Plane shot down 

Sun rising















A modern city at the entrance to Suez. Natives trouble you a great deal with things to sell. All different people live there. A big shipping centre.



This city was our base during the time in the Mediterranean. A fairly large place too. Again the natives trouble you with their wares. A big fleet club was the attraction for sailors. Desert on three sides and sea on the other. Very interesting.



I saw little of this place as I was ill and only stayed there for two or three hours. A large rock and a big naval base. Very little to see in Town if you can call it so. Plays a big part in the Med.



The first thing that attracted my attention was the small boats called disoes. A naval base. Very interesting ashore. Two parts to visit. Very hilly. Only stayed there 5 hours. Did not have time to see much.



A place I do not want to visit again. It is one mass of high mountains. Not a blade of grass anywhere ands so hot. Very little ashore. Camels means of transport. Naval base. Eats very cheap.



The most beautiful place I have ever seen. It has a jungle surrounding it, breakers along the coast and nice weather. All kinds of fruit grow wild. Also very modern in one part and natives in another. Things very dear including beer.



Is the seaport of Buea, also the seat of the Government. At the foot of the Cameroons. Mountains surrounded by bush-covered hills. One of the healthiest places in West Africa. Nights are cooled by mountain breezes and during the day by sea breezes. There is a small European Hospital, also the District Officer’s house stands in centre of botanical garden. Beyond lies sandy beach. Tropical fruits are very plentiful. It is for these fruits as a present from the Nigerian Govt. that Neptune is here. Bananas, grapefruit. Gen. Hawkins, G.O.C. Nigeria and staff officer disembark.



About 400 miles South of Lagos and has turned over to General de Gaulle. Mountains reaching to the height of 14,000 feet, ex volcanic. Place visited was Duala, 14 miles up the Cameroon River. Plenty of tropical vegetation reaching down to beach. Rains or storms quite frequent. Very hot.



A town in the Colony of Nigeria, just north of the Equator. Customs Buildings. Coconut palms along shore. Native villages outside town in the bush. I visited one. Bathing between two breakwaters. Weather very hot. Natives in canoes selling things all day long.



Situated at foot of mountains. Very few white people. Best beach I have been to for swimming. Big harbour for ships. Long boom at entrance. Albatross in Harbour and Edinburgh Castle as Depot ship. Beer very poor indeed, 1s 3d to 1s 6d bottle. Climate very hot indeed. (White Man’s Grave, as called). Native girls sell fruit all over the town. Nothing else of importance. Nothing in Town which stretches along mountain.



A small harbour town with a nice bay. Nothing of any importance. Airfield there. First went there for mails. Only there 1 hour.



A French port with a new harbour. Low countryland covered with bush. Little to see from harbour.



Free French Town. One or two factories. Bay – very large sharks. Buffalo and elephants in surrounding districts. Monkeys are worshipped. Little to see, only jungle.



A very fine town indeed. I was surprised at the shipping in and out of the harbour while I was there. A big new dock being built. Magnificent scenery. Table Mountain especially. Salt River was my town as I met a girl there. All people very kind. Kaffirs are plentiful here. Language of their own. Weather warm in morning, gets hot later in day. 



Larger than St. Pauls and 60 miles North. Its height is 2987 ft. Discovered by Magellon’s companion in the “Victoria” on March 12th 1522, during their great voyage round the world. Magellon was killed in Phillipine Isle in 1521. Named by Antonio Van Dieman who sighted it in 16?? (named after his ship). H.M.S. Pearl visited it for survey in 1893. French flag hoisted in 1892 by French ship Bourdonnion. West coast very rugged. East coast had gentle slope. Landing effected in 1880 by H.M.S. Raleigh and again in 1903 by H.M.S. Terpsichore. Depot built by French ship “?ure” in 1893; in fairly good condition in 1913. Plenty of fish, birds and cattle.




In Southern Ocean and of volcanic origin. Its height is 890 ft. and large volcanic basin, depth 53 fathoms and half broken away to form a basin entrance to basin 100 yards and 6 ft. depth. Established 1840. Visited by H.M.S. Herald in 1853 for survey work. French warship Bourdonais hoisted French flag in 1893. Strong gales between April and October. Several boiling streams. Huts and stores for emergency.




11th October 1940

Discovered by French explorer M. Marion du Fresne in 1772. He thought at first they were part of the Antarctic Continent. Capt. Cook passed between the two islands on 13th Dec. 1770 and named them P.E.I. H.M.S. Challenger made a survey of them in 1873 and they were visited by Lt. H. Seymour in 1910 in S.S. Wakefield when searching for lost lives. There is a landing on a sandy cove. Cabbage, albatross, penguins there.




13th October 1940

The islands were discovered in 1772 by M. Marion du Fresne after leaving P.E.I. The islands are of volcanic origin. Originally named “Les Iles Froides” (the cold islands). Named after Capt. Crozet, the historian of the expedition who took charge after du Fresne. Passed in 1772 by Capt. Cook. Sea elephants and seals, the former from 10 to 12 ft. long with 6 in. tusks. Also there are duck, penguins, albatros, teal and rabbits. There are two landing grounds.



17th October 1940

This island is about 70 miles long and the same in width. It is a seal and whaling base, in its zenith in 1843, declined 1893. Sheep were tried to be reared in 1908 (failed). Discovered by Chevalier Yves de Joseph (Kerguelen) of the French Frigate Fortune on Feb. 12th 1772. Cook visited there in Xmas 1776. 1776-1873, seal and sea elephant hunting ground. 1840 Ross made survey of Island. 1873 visited by H.M.S. Challenger. Commodore Ring, Norwegian R.N.R., visited them between 1909-1911. Frenchman du Batz visited 1906-1908, 1913-1914 for survey. Interior, plateaux and lakes but no fish or life. The mountains are snow covered and some are very high.


Mount Ross 6,120 ft.

Mount Richards 4,000 ft.

Mount Crozier 3,200 ft.

and many at 2,500 ft

There are several inlets and harbours. Royal Sound.


Waterfalls frozen. Birds are plentiful.

Landing party to investigate for tracks. Brought back birds etc. Weather very cold and cloudy.



Is one of the Maserienene group of islands consisting of Mauritius, Reunion and Rodriguese. These were known to the Arabs before the 16th century and shown on their charts. Portuguese discovered these in Feb. 1507 and Mauritius was used for water and provisions between Cape of Good Hope and the East. This merits its proud motto “Stella clarisque maris Sadia” which means Star and Key of the Indian Ocean. Sept. 19th 1598 Dutch annexed the island and named it Mauritius after Maurice of Miasar. Noted for ebony, large tortoise and dodo (a large wingless bird). 1658 Dutch abandoned the islands. French annexed in 1715. British captured these islands in 1810. Port Louis after King Louis XIV of France.



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