They were sisters, clothed in white, beautiful, graceful, and strong. Conceived and bred as guardians they had served faithfully for more than a decade. Now, in the hands of strangers, they were forced to become hunters. Unable to help, they had listened to the screams of men wounded by the enemy and the soul-wrenching pleas of others heartlessly abandoned by the sisters’ crews. Silently they wept, but never faltered and promised each other never to forget what they once been guardians.
Oran Harbor Assault – North Africa
November 8, 1942
This story is about the assault on Oran Harbor and the leading role played by two of ten 250 foot U.S. Coast Guard cutters transferred to Britain in 1941. Walney was the former Sebago and Hartland wasthe former Pontchartrain. The two cutters had been almost constant companions for the most part of their eighteen months service with the Royal Navy, mainly to and from Bathurst on the west coast of Africa.
The mission was threefold: to capture Fort Lamoune and the battery near Cape Blanc; to capture and hold the wharves; and to board and hold the merchant ships in the harbor in order to prevent sabotage. To accomplish these missions, 400 American troops from the 6th Armored Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division as well as British Commando units and a number of specially trained British Navy men were on board the cutters.
The cutters went in flying the American flag, in addition to the Royal Navy White Ensign. This unconventional step was part of the plan to attempt to minimize resistance to the operation. Since the French were still smarting from the British attack on their Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir on July 3, 1940, the general consensus of opinion was that if the French could be persuaded that the operation was an American project, there would be less likelihood of all-out retaliation, and perhaps, a more temperate welcome would result. The French were not impressed by the flying of the Stars and Stripes, nor any of the political stratagems. Also, the cutters attacked at night when the flags couldn’t be seen.
For political reasons, it was therefore considered expedient for the British to be as inconspicuous as possible, particularly in the early stages of the operation, and their ships to display all the outward appearances of being U.S. warships. However well intended this political ploy was, it could not be assumed that even any pro-ally elements would be sympathetic towards the invasion, nor could the influence of the German Commission and Officers of the German army, who had infiltrated the area in appreciable numbers, be overlooked. Furthermore, it would have been naive to assume that the defenses of such a strategically important port would be other than in a high state of alertness. Intelligence had already ascertained just how formidable those defenses were.
Since it was vital to the success of the overall Torch operation that the port be taken intact, the assault was not preceded by any softening-up process from land, sea or air. However, a small but powerful naval force, led by the cruiser HMS Aurora, commanded by Captain W.G. Agnew RN, was on hand to give support should the cutters be attacked during the approach to Oran, and also deal with any enemy ships that might try to escape to seaward.
As early as October 5, intelligence had ascertained the extent of the harbor's defenses and concluded that the enemy naval personnel manning them were efficient and capable of executing stubborn resistance. The cutters' assignment, code name Reservist, was made all the more hazardous by the restrictions within the harbor and the subsequent limitations on maneuverability. It will help, in order to appreciate the gravity of their task, to know something of the geography of the arena in which the ensuing battle was fought. This was to be no battle on the high seas. In fact, it was possibly the only maritime action ever to be fought within four walls.
Oran harbor was separated from the sea by a stone breakwater of some 3000 yards in length. It varied in width from 800 yards at the eastern end, to 500 yards at the western end. The entrance, located at the eastern end, was 160 yards across, with 12 fathoms of water at the centre. Prior to the action taking place, all that was known of the boom was that it comprised an inner and outer obstruction. Just how formidable those obstructions were was a matter of having to wait and see.
Once through, the cutters were faced with one and a half miles of enclosed harbor, which comprised four main basins, each separated by a broad mole, extending from the inshore jetty and accessible by a narrow passage of water between the seaward end of the moles and the sea wa1!. At the western end of the harbor were two small basins, facing east and separated by the Mole Centrale.
The largest of the four main basins, Avant Pert, 670 yards long by 750 yards wide, with a depth of water ranging from 36 to 72 feet, more than adequate to accommodate the cutters' sixteen foot draught, was flanked inshore by a steep cliff. Avant Port was separated from the second basin by the Mole Ravin Blanc. The third basin, Bassin Du Maroc, roughly 450 yards square, was separated from the second basin by the Mole Millerand. The fourth of the large basins, Bassin Aucer, 500 yards long by 420 yards wide, was separated from Bassin Du Maroc by the Mole J. Giraud.
The larger of the two small basins, 330 yards long by 200 yards wide, was reserved mainly for the berthing of naval vessels, since it was adjacent to a small naval barracks. The smaller basin, 280 yards long by 190 yards wide, was partially enclosed by the Mole St. Marie, with an entrance some 76 yards wide and used mainly by small craft.
Such were the confines of the battle area, flanked on the southern side by the guns of the Ravin Blanc Battery, and at the western end by forts Lamoune, St. Gregorio and Santa Cruz. In addition, there were several gun emplacements situated on the moles and jetties. These dimensions give a clear indication of just how exposed the cutters were and how little chance they had for evasive action.
Although the commanders in both cutters were doubtless well-briefed in the geography of the harbor and its principal armament, it is unlikely that they were fully aware of the futility of their venture, even though some American sources, particularly Rear Admiral A.C. Bennett, usn, had expressed the opinion that the mission was little short of suicidal. However, in the light of the restrictions within the harbor they could have had few doubts as to how vulnerable they would be.
The man chosen to head the assault on Oran harbor was Captain Frederick Thornton Peters, rn. Described by his colleagues as the type of man one would expect to see leading some hazardous operation, Captain Peters was installed in the cutter Walney.
In Walney he inherited the services of an already experienced captain and crew, who had seen action in the Atlantic with the 41st Escort Group. The cutter's captain, Lt. Cdr. Peter Meyrick RN., described as a big man with strong physique and inspiring features, had the total admiration and respect of his entire ship's company.
Preparation for Reservist, which was later described as one of the most daring exploits of the war, began in October, when both ships were dispatched to Belfast, Northern Ireland, having just returned from escorting convoy SL122 from Freetown. It soon became obvious to the crew that something unusual was afoot.
Leading Seaman J.H. Finch, in Walney said: “On arrival in Belfast, armour plate was fitted internal to the bridge, and various other alterations were carried out, clearly for an ominous purpose, since they were inconsistent with our normal line of work. We were then dispatched to a remote part of Scotland, where we spent a great deal of time practicing coming alongside and boarding vessels in the dark.”
Les Elder, a stoker in Hartland had joined the ship in June 1941, a month after having the mine-sweeper Queenworth sunk under him: “Together with three other stokers, I was detailed to boarding parties. During the dummy run in Scotland, we were sent aboard merchant ships to familiarize ourselves with the engine-room and boiler-room layout. We had no idea why at the time.”
The two cutters sailed from the Clyde in late October, in company with a large convoy, scheduled to reach Gibraltar on November 6.
“We appeared to be wandering about the Atlantic for what seemed an eternity,” said J.H. Finch. “However, our course was in the general direction of Gibraltar, but we were still unaware of what our assignment was. We eventually reached 'The Rock' after dark, and to the annoyance of our skipper, ran aground. We were quickly refloated after discharging depth charges. Later we took on American troops with loads of ammunition and gear."
The United States troops were under the Command of Lt. Col. George C. Marshall, usa. This force was distributed below decks in the two cutters. In addition to the troops, Hartland took on board Lt. Cdr. G.D. Dickey, usn, with a thirty-five man strong US Naval contingent which included six marines. Of the military passengers, J.H. Finch said: “We already had on board British commandoes who had joined us on the Clyde, under the command of a very tall, thin officer of the Coldstream Guards. I remember them making bombs with what looked like child’s plasticine [clay]. They packed it in tins and jam jars. One commando assured me that it was all quite harmless, and stuck a lighted fag in it just to prove his point. We left Gibraltar in darkness and steered eastwards into the Mediterranean. It was then the November 7. Around noon we rendezvoused with the cruiser Aurora and passed mail and messages of good luck. When she was out of sight, our captain cleared the lower deck and addressed the entire crew. He revealed to us that our destination was the fortified port of Oran and, jokingly, told us not to worry as the water was warm and there were no sharks!”
At about the same time, Lt. Cdr. Billet, Commanding Officer of Hartland, was informing his ship's company of the nature of their assignment.
The two cutters made their approach to the North African coast with the main body of ships, designated Group V and headed for the Eastern Sector landing beaches -- Cape Farrat. They broke off at 2130 on November 7 and headed towards Oran. Just after midnight, both ships went to Action Stations. In the darkness, the crews went quietly and efficiently about the preparations for 'fighting the ship. These were somewhat different, in many respects, to the routine pre-action preparedness to which they had hitherto been accustomed, with the accent on lightweight weaponry. Not only would the main armament be hindered by the confined conditions in the harbor, but an adequate ammunition supply to the guns would have proved difficult in a situation aggravated by the presence of over 200 troops on the mess decks.
All five-inch ammunition was subsequently struck down and the magazines closed off. All close-range ammunition for the .50 caliber machine guns, rifles, automatic weapons, pistols and other small arms, was brought to the upper deck and placed either at the guns, in the fo'csle lockers, or in the gun shelter and laundry.
Careful planning had gone into achieving the most efficient and effective deployment of the ship's company. It is in situations like this that the traditional flexibility of the sailor becomes most apparent. The magazine crews and supply parties were to be used as back-up for the close-range weapons, as well as boarding and landing parties. They were also used for turning out the canoes which were to be used for disembarking the troops. With all this activity, there was little time to contemplate what lay ahead.
Their preparations complete, the two cutters made their approach to the coast at about six knots, making their landfall somewhere near Pointe D'Aiguille, about twelve miles east of Oran. They then steered westward and headed towards the port, maintaining a distance of about half a mile from the shore. In company were two motor launches, ML483, with Lt. I.H. Hunter, rnvr, in command, and ML480 with Lt. J.H.F. Morgan, rnvr, on the bridge. Their task was to provide smoke cover for the cutters' assault on the boom.
Arriving about three miles from their objective, the small flotilla faced a two-hour wait in the darkness. For what must have seemed an eternity, the tension grew, with mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension evident on the faces of the crews and the troops below decks. Those on the upper deck stared questioningly shoreward, waiting for the order to go. It was at 0200 that the Allies’ intentions were broadcast to France and Radio Stations.
The long-awaited order for the assault on the boom came just before 0300, and the ships moved off with Walney in the lead. There was a temporary setback, when she missed the harbor entrance on the first approach. The group then turned to starboard and performed a full clockwise circle for the next run in, with Hartland approximately 500 yards astern of Walney. Even at that critical moment, a last-ditch attempt was made to placate the French, when an announcement was made over the loud hailer. It served as little purpose as did all the other political ploys and brought almost instant reaction from the guns ashore.
In unison with the gunfire, the probing beam of a searchlight from Fort Lamoune at the far end of the harbor stabbed the darkness, picking out the cutters whilst they were less than half a mile from the boom. With the ships now illuminated by searchlight and the gun flashes, the heavy armament of Ravin Blanc Battery, together with heavy machine-gun fire from the moles, joined in the devastating barrage at point blank range.
Hartland bore the brunt of the opening salvoes, whilst Walney, screened by the smoke of the two motor launches, increased her speed to fifteen knots and made her run in.
“Lofty Pearson and I located the centre bearing on the harbor entrance, using our Asdic, then housed the gear,” said Finch.
There was an anxious moment when M.L.483 came into collision with her as she came out of the smoke. In the darkness, nobody could be certain as to what effect the impact on the ship would be, as she hit first the outer boom, and then the inner boom which turned out to be a row of coal barges. Surprisingly, the cutter broke through with hardly a noticeable tremor, due no doubt to her reinforced bows. Engines were then stopped, and when way came off the ship the canoes were slipped with their crews and stores in them. This was achieved in less than a minute. Although all canoes reported themselves clear and under way, one had been damaged by enemy fire before lowering, and sunk shortly afterwards.
As the smoke drifted across the Avant Port, Walney was exposed to heavy close range fire on both quarters from guns mounted on the jetties and moles. It is remarkable that she suffered so little damage from that initial burst of fire.
The situation changed rapidly as she approached Mole Millerand, when two moored submarines joined in the action. The cutter suffered several direct hits, and all telephonic communications aft were cut. In spite of her decks being swept with fire, the crew managed to complete the launching of the canoes, while the ship moved up harbor at a painstaking four knots. With enemy fire now directed at her from all directions, a new hazard presented itself in the form of an enemy destroyer coming towards her in an attempt to flee the harbor. As it approached, Walney made a gallant attempt to ram, but steaming at such slow speed, she was unable to complete the maneuver and the enemy passed down her port side.
Although little more than ten minutes had elapsed since she broke through the boom, the cutter had already fought her way to within 600 yards of her objective at the furthermost end of the harbor. So far her casualties had been light. Illuminated by gun flashes, and raked by machine-gun fire, the order was given to go to boarding stations. The boarding parties, comprising a British Naval Officer and six ratings, together with seven members of the US Army, clambered into the two port boats, which were then turned out, preparatory to coming alongside the enemy ships. The task of clearing the enemy's decks prior to boarding was in the hands of sixteen grenade throwers from the American contingent, mustered on the fo'csle. The deck parties were standing by with bow and stern lines ready for use, with power on the winch and capstan.
So far Walney had been able to keep all her close-range weapons manned, and surprisingly, in spite of being under continuous fire, had suffered minimal damage. However, the worst had yet to come. As she approached the Quaie Centrale to board the Epervier, another enemy destroyer attempted to break out. With her attention focused mainly on the Epervier, which was putting up strong resistance, coupled with salvoes from one of the forts, the cutter was hit by at least two broadsides from the destroyer as it passed down her starboard side. Two shells pierced the ship's side; exploding in the engine-room, devastating the personnel and destroying the lubricating tanks. With the oil supply cut off, the automatic stop value closed and the main engine shuddered to a stop.
Within seconds of this disaster, another shell detonated in the boiler-room, killing most of the men and totally wiping out the two main boilers. Simultaneously, the wardroom and steering compartment were ravaged by two direct hits on the starboard quarter. With her steering gear out of action Walney was now at the mercy of the enemy guns. Yet another direct hit completely demolished the cutter's bridge, killing sixteen of the seventeen officers and ratings gathered there, among them the ship's Captain, Lt. Cdr. Meyrick. The only survivor, Captain Peters, had a miraculous escape, though partially blinded in the explosion. It would have been little consolation to Walney’s crew, that the French destroyer, having inflicted such terrible damage and loss of life before slipping out of the harbor, was later engaged by the British destroyer Brilliant and sunk.
Finch, takes up the story from the time Walney’s bridge was shot away: “Lofty Pearson and I were both concussed and choking on cordite fumes and smoke as we scrambled from the Asdic compartment over the dead bodies of our colleagues. We managed to make our way to the Gyro room on the starboard side, where kitbags and hammocks were stowed. Other casualties had made their way there. By now, the ship had drifted round so that her starboard side was exposed to the fire. We received a direct hit aft of our position in the storage compartment and the explosion threw me into the pile of hammocks, which collapsed on top of me. I managed to extricate myself and make my way along the row of bunks, between which were the troops. From what I could see, very few had survived.
“I crossed the mess-deck to the port passageway and moved aft towards the wardroom. I was suddenly joined by 'Nutty' Gardner, the wardroom steward, who informed me that some thirty casualties were gathered there. Together we made our way there, to be greeted by the most appalling sight. In the dim light, our surgeon and his sick berth attendant were desperately trying to cope with the wounded, many of which were beyond help. I was facing the pantry, with vertical channeling supporting lead-cased cables behind me. Suddenly there was a massive explosion as a shell struck the starboard quarter and exploded in the wardroom. The cables behind me must have given me protection, because I believe I was the only one to survive.
“Stunned and dazed and my head ringing, I managed to grope my way up the stairs to the port gangway, to collapse on the upper deck. By this time, the ship was well to the far end of the harbor and ablaze.”
Surgeon Lt. A.L. Phillips, rnvr, together with sick berth attendant S.H. Masterton, perished in the wardroom explosions. Now without power, Walney drifted closer to the Epervier and was caught in the French ship's searchlight. This was promptly put out by the cutter’s machine-gun fire. By this time, the cutter had suffered so many casualties that she was unable to keep her guns firing. All the grenade throwers on the fo’csle had been killed, and all but two officers and three ratings from the combined boarding parties. In spite of the heavy losses and the severe damage to the ship, the surviving officers and crew members made a gallant attempt to get the cutter alongside. A head rope was finally got to the jetty, ahead of the Epervier and Lt. Moseley succeeded in getting a stern line out to a depth-charge carrier, which lodged between the funnels. But with no power on the ship, it was impossible to heave-in and Walney drifted at right angles to the French ship.
The cutter's guns were finally silenced and she was ablaze forward and amidships. Her crew had been depleted considerably and the carnage among the troops was reported by Lt. Moseley as “indescribable.”
Amid the deafening din of the battle, and seeing the ship reduced to a floating heap of jagged, twisted metal, the surviving crew members must have despaired of any hope of survival. In the midst of the confusion it was impossible to know when, and from which direction the death-dealing blows were coming.
“I gave the order to un-prime the five-pattern depth-charges still primed," wrote Lt. Moseley; "followed by the order to abandon ship. No attempt was made to get away the Carley rafts or other life saving equipment, since the whole harbor was full of debris by this time and we were still being engaged by the enemy. Our small arms and mortar ammunition was exploding all over the ship, which decided me to get the survivors into the water and away from the ship as quickly as possible. I swam in the direction of the Epervier and was hauled aboard. Several of the ship’s company were killed in the water by riflemen.
“Their treatment of me caused me much surprise, as when I came on board they were tending their wounded. They had been hit by a three-inch shell or splinters and the forward boiler-room and bridgework, director and searchlights were riddled with bullets. As the blazing remains of Walney drifted down at 0700, the ship's company of Epervier were too busy to notice me and I was free to have a brief look around.”
Lt. Moseley was later imprisoned in the Naval barracks, then moved to a civil prison, and finally lodged in the barracks of the Second Zouave Regiment.
“The supply of food for extra mouths was non-existent and the sanitary arrangements -- French,” he wrote.
Walney’s desperate fight, in which she was constantly outgunned, ended only a few yards from the western end of the harbor. Like a tired old warhorse, she rolled over and sank.
The devastation of Hartland began even before she entered the harbor. Although her captain could see little of the harbor entrance because of smoke, the sound of the battle from within was clearly audible and the gun flashes and explosions were evidence enough of the reception he could expect.
Les Elder recalls those early moments: “As part of the plan to hoodwink the French, the members of the boarding parties were given American battle fatigues. But all that was in vain. We were sitting ducks and they hit us with everything they had.”
There was a brief delay before Hartland made her run up to the harbor entrance. In the darkness and smoke, it was virtually impossible to see just how much the boom was breached. Lt. Cdr. Billot, subsequently put into effect the instructions previously received from Captain Peters, to wait five minutes before proceeding.
As Hartland shaped her course at about 0315, she was picked up by the Fort Lamoune searchlight and immediately subjected to fire from the Ravin Blanc Battery and the French destroyer Typhon. The opening salvoes were devastating and within minutes, most of her guns' crews had become casualties. So quickly did the French react to the cutter being illuminated, she was able to get only three rounds off before there were too few unwounded seamen to man her guns. Hartland was a sitting target in the searchlight beam and the fires which were raging fore and aft. The efforts of her supply parties were hampered by continuous fire raking her decks. Their numbers were quickly depleted whilst they were desperately trying to get the fires under control. In addition to the heavy punishment being taken on the upper deck, severe damage was inflicted below. One boiler or main steam pipe was hit, causing a loud escape of steam, which effectively rendered all communications impossible.
Lt. Cdr. Billot was blinded in one eye by shrapnel, resulting in the ship striking the Jettée Du Large, about six feet from its northern side, before he could recover. Fortunately, the engine-room was responding to telegraphs and after some maneuvering, Hartland entered the Avant Port, and proceeded, still under heavy fire, towards her appointed billet, halfway down the Quai de Dunkerque, on the western side of the Mole Ravin Blanc. The order to launch the canoes was given, but this was not carried out because both craft had been riddled with bullets and rendered useless.
As the ship rounded the Mole, she sailed straight into the heavy armament of the destroyer Typhon whose fire was joined by the two submarines which had earlier punished Walney. At this stage Hartland was fully committed and headed for the quay, whilst the destroyer's guns continued to pound her at a range of less than a hundred feet. One direct hit put her main motor out of action and all power failed in the ship.
In spite of this setback, she had sufficient way on to reach the jetty, where her First Lieutenant V.A. Hickson, rn, made a gallant, but unsuccessful attempt to pass a line ashore. Nothing could be done at the after end of the ship, since the decks were being swept with machine gun fire at point blank range. Anyone who attempted to brave the withering fire was immediately cut down.
With much of her bridge shot away, and out of control, Hartland started to drift away from the quay. Her captain had not sought another billet for the ship, since a study of reconnaissance photographs had not revealed a better place, bearing in mind the requirements of the military, and at the time, he was unaware of the heavy losses among the combat troops on the mess-decks. In fact, he had called upon them to help capture a pair of tugs lying under the cutter's bows, and was dismayed at the poor numbers that arrived. The determined resistance of French seamen on the quay, added to his problems.
As the cutter started to drift, Lt. Cdr. Billot gave the order to drop anchor. He then attempted to make a hurried inspection of the ship to ascertain whether further action could be organized. His activities were considerably restricted when he was hit in both legs and a shoulder. With all her guns out of action and flames funnel high, it was obvious that Hartland’s end was imminent. With the large amount of explosives on board likely to explode at any time, her captain was faced with no alternative but to abandon the ship. In his report of the action, Lt. Cdr. Billet wrote: "Soon after this, the French humanely gave up firing, though we did not heave down our colours."
There followed the task of getting the wounded ashore. This operation was hampered by ammunition going off in all directions, the ship was finally cleared forward by the First Lieutenant, while a small band of officers were getting the wounded away aft in some haste, as the decks and the ship's side were red hot. These officers were eventually ordered ashore by the captain, who followed at about 0500. By this time, the fires had reached the crows nest and more than half the crew were either killed or wounded. About twenty-five minutes later, Hartland was rent apart by a massive explosion, yet stubbornly stayed afloat. It took a further explosion, a few hours later, to finally seal her fate.
Survivors among the troops installed in the two cutters were alarmingly few. Lt. Cdr. Dickey usn, reported later: "Upon abandoning ship, officers and men showed the highest kind of leadership and spirit in helping to save the lives of United States soldiers who were unfamiliar with the ship and the use of life jackets. The effort to rescue men from the water continued long after the ship had been abandoned.”
Lt. Moseley, in his report to Flag Officer Commanding Force H, wrote of Walney’s part: “I should like to stress that the recommendations I am forwarding are merely representative of the gallantry and heroism shown by officers and men of the ship and the U.S. Army borne. The lack of success in this operation does not detract from the ship's company's feat in fighting their ship for over an hour against overwhelming odds.”
Lt. John Evans, rnvr, Lt. E.G. Lawrence rnvr; CPO Laurence Hazard; and Gunner Obelkevitch of the US Navy, had, eventually, to be ordered to leave the ship. CPO Hazard had remained at Hartland’s wheel throughout the action.
Telegraphist Arthur Ticehurst, who had joined Hartland on 7th January 1942, from the British aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, was among the survivors:
“Our leading telegraphist was killed, but the rest of us managed to escape. I was dragged along the upper deck by a mate of mine and down into a boat with more of the wounded. We made out way to a merchant ship and were taken aboard. Later, we were landed on the jetty, where we lay until daybreak before being taken prisoner. The wounded were taken to hospital, where the room was infested with bed bugs. I was examined by three doctors and then moved to another hospital for an emergency operation. By the time the Americans arrived, most of the doctors had left and we remained in the care of a handful of Red Cross. I spent the next three months in Oran before returning to the U.K.”
Les Elder, another survivor, said: “Those of us who survived were lucky indeed. When we got ashore, we were quickly rounded up and marched through the streets of Oran. Some of us were even spat upon by some of the people. We were dumped in a filthy prison, but later removed to a French barracks. On my return to the U.K., I got survivors’ leave for the second time in eighteen months before being drafted into Combined Operations.”
When dawn broke over Oran harbor, the full extent of the battle was revealed, with debris littering the placid water and the smell of cordite and smoke still hanging in the air. The culmination of this savage conflict by desperate and brave men, was a terrible toll of dead and wounded. Eighty-one of Walney’s crew paid the supreme sacrifice, as did thirty-four from her sister ship Hartland. Also killed on the Hartland were two US Marines and three US Navy sailors. Only forty-seven of the 400 1st Armor Division troops survived.
During the course of the action, three French ships had fled the harbor, only to run into the guns of the British Naval Force stationed offshore. In a brief engagement, the French Tromontane was sunk. The remainder headed back into the port, where the Tornade was beached. The following day, the Epervier and Typhon were ordered to sail, but they too ran into trouble with the British cruisers Aurora and Jamaica. The French ships were quickly dispensed with, the Epervier sustaining hits which set her ablaze, causing her to beach herself. The Typhon returned to the safety of the harbor only to be scuttled across the entrance. Other casualties included the minesweeper La Suprise and submarines Acteaon, Ariane, Arffonaute, Ceres, Diane and Pallas.
By November 10, the eastern half of the port was cluttered with French ships, many of them scuttled, whilst more damaged vessels littered the western end, where Walney had finally settled. By that time, Allied troops were closing in from both sides of Oran, against strong resistance. Armored units had penetrated the town at 1100 the next day and by noon the French gave up the fight.
Lt. Moseley concluded his report on the action with the following comment:
“It is my opinion that the naval side of the operation might have been successful if carried out by two modern Fleet destroyers and that even the cutters could have accomplished it if they had entered the harbor two hours earlier.”
A suicide mission had been predicted and that is what it turned out to be.
As they had served together, they died together, like so many others in war. But even in death, they upheld the Coast Guard heritage by trying to protect and save others even at the cost of their own lives. Guardians, not Hunters.
Escort Group. Lt. Cdr. Godfrey Billot, RNR, and his crew had survived numerous encounters with U-boats.