- from May 10 1943 to August 20 1944: the diary of signalman John
Emrys Williams from Glan Conwy, north Wales.
August 2012 I held my Granfather's
diary in my hand for the very first time. When I first published
this diary online in 2001 the source was the transcription by my
aunt Glenys Williams of her father's diary. Glenys did make some
wise minor changes to remove personal references to family and emotions.
I've now re-transcribed the diary from its original source. All
remaining redactions are labelled using <snip>
First trip escorting the Russian Convoys in the
Second trip escorting the Russian Convoys in
the Arctic Ocean
D-Day - the Normandy Landing
The Bay of Biscay
Joined the Navy on May 10th 1943. Went to HMS Glendower where I
was fitted out and taught a little seamanship. Quite exciting until
the gilt wore off the gingerbread.
to HMS Royal Arthur Skegness on June 10th. Did not like it at first
but soon made friends and settled down to hard study. Passed my
exam and was sent to HMS Mercury Petersfield on Nov 2nd 1943. What
a place to live in, one big rush all day and night, food very good
but had to fight for it. My mates left me one by one, Swifty to
Bermuda, Sharman to HMS Emporer. I left Errington on December 15th
and went to RNB Portsmouth barracks, what a grim place, glad to
get away from it.
all night of the 16th to join HMS Diadem at Hebburn near Newcastle.
What a change it was to live on a ship, took me a long time to settle
down. Left for Rosyth where we did a few speed trials, visited Edinburgh.
there for Scapa Flow. This place was worse than anywhere, so dreary
and cold. Felt quite fed up with naval life. Treated like a dog.
down to Greenock where we stayed a few days doing trials. Visited
Glasgow. Returned to Scapa, more trials. Down to Loch Ewe for conference
with Convoy Commodore. Return to Scapa.
trip escorting the Russian Convoys in the Arctic Ocean
March 28 at 12.30 my first voyage begins. A Russian Convoy, the
last thing I wanted, but it had to be done so why worry?
left a nice summery day and met convoy at 12.00 the following day.
Surprised at the number of Destroyers and Corvettes escorting us
and Milwaukee and 50 merchant ships.
first upset happened on March 29. A rating fell overboard Tracker
TAC and was drowned, rather upset me.
30 1944: Starling TDR sank U-boat and one FW200 shot down Activitys
March 31 1944: One of Trackers aircraft crashed as landing.
Tracker on fire, my heart in my mouth, what if fire got to petrol?
What a relief, fire out but pilot killed, buried next day. Another
FW200 shot down by some aircraft carrier.
1 1944: U-boats all around us, one sunk by Keppel TDR. U-boats attacked
at night but failed to sink any merchantmen. Depth charges dropped
all night but I was too tired to hear them. Action stations at 2.30
in the morning, nearly asleep on my feet.
2 1944: Two snoopers shot down. U-boats still all around us. Still
3 1944: One U-boat sunk, one damaged. Destroyer fired on small Russian
fishing boat and sunk her after 4 hits. All crew comprising of 6
men, 1 woman, 1 small girl and 3 boys were saved. They had drifted
for 27 days.
snoopers shot down. One of our aircraft crashed as taking off, another
crashed into sea. Both pilots saved.
4 1944: Met by Russian destroyers who took half the convoy to Murmansk.
At 1.15 we left convoy and steamed into Vaenga Bay in company with
US cruiser Milwaukee, which was to be handed over to Russians. What
a trip it was. I was on the flag deck most of the time, all day
and half the night, could hardly keep my eyes open. Did not wash
or take my clothes off for a week. Actions station at 2.30 every
morning. Snowing and freezing all the way but I did not feel too
score is: Jerry lost 6 aircraft and 3 submarines. We lost 2 men
and 3 planes through accidents.
5 1944: At Vaenga Bay, tried to get ashore but too many going.
6 1944: Still here, rather busy.
7 1944: Good Friday. Service on Quarter deck in the morning. Left
on return journey at 4 oclock. Wonder what it will be like.
8 1944: Joined convoy and jogged along at 9 knots. Nothing to report.
9 1944: Nothing doing.
10 1944: Still quiet.
11 1944: U-boats about. Destroyer reports torpedo approaching port
side but misses.
12 1944: Left convoy and raced full speed into Scapa where we arrived
on April 13th.
trip escorting the Russian Convoys in the Arctic Ocean
second trip to Russia starts on April 19th. Left Scapa in company
with Fencer Activity (TAC (?)) and 20 odd TDDS (?) and one transport
which returned with engine trouble after a few hours sailing.
20 1944: Nothing to report.
21 1944: A few alarm signals but nothing happened although one or
two destroyers carried out depth charge attacks.
22 1944: German aircraft detected by Radar and then sighted, fighters
take off but do not make contact.
23 1944: Still steaming quietly along. Arrived Vaenga Bay at 21.30.
24 1944: Met M. Jones. Enjoyed a talk in Welsh.
25, 26 and 27 1944: Quiet except for 2 air raid warnings. Went to
pictures to see Stage Door Canteen.
28 1944: Left Vaenga at 3.00 in the afternoon. Hope it will be a
29 1944: Steaming steadily along. Have been spotted by a German
30 1944: Heavy snowstorms last night. No Jerries yet. Had my exam
today, passed in oral.
8 oclock at night, I witnessed my first torpedo attack. One
merchant ship, two columns away from us was torpedoed. Hit by 3
torpedoes and broke in 3 pieces; both end pieces sank at once, the
centre kept afloat long enough for other ships to save 104 men.
What an exciting time we had, the merchant ships were firing tracers
all around to point out subs but it transpired that they were firing
at porpoises. One fellow saw a periscope on starboard which turned
out to be a fog buoy. Destroyers were dropping charges all around
us but with no results. I shall never forget that ship go up, it
happened so suddenly without warning.
1st 1944: Instead of mayflowers we got May snow and lots of it.
cold today. Shot a Blom Voss plane down, Activitys fighters
did it. One Swordfish and 2 fighters fought it out with sub ahead
with no result, sub submerged. Submarines following us and also
ahead waiting to attack tonight. Too tired to worry.
2nd 1944: Altered course during night to avoid subs. Nothing happened.
More snow. Swordfish dropped charges on sub and damaged it. Later
photographs show that it was sunk.
3rd 1944: Subs still following us but nothing happened. Left convoy
at 2200 and steamed with 3 destroyers at 26 knots.
4th 1944: Still steaming at 26 knots. ATLZ hoisted this morning
but all clear shortly after. Arrived at Scapa at 4.30. Left again
for Newcastle at 10.30. Result of this trip. We lost 1 merchant
ship, over 120 saved out of 140 odd. Jerry lost 1 plane and one
sub. We brought the Milwaukee crew down with us and also a few hundred
Russians who were coming to fetch a few destroyers and the (black).
5th 1944: Arrived Newcastle at 4.30. Half ship's company left on
leave at 20.00.
10th 1944: Went home to my little family for 6 days leave, oh how
I enjoyed it, so nice to be back at Llan once more.
16th 1944: I left on 09.30 mail. How I hated leaving my littlefamily.
17 1944: Arrived Newcastle.
18 1944: Left for Scapa for more exercises. Stayed there till May
30th then left for Greenock where we arrived on May 31st.
1 1944: At Greenock.
2 1944: Still here.
3 1944: Left for the south in preparation for bombarding the French
coast. <snip A p13>
4 1944: In the Bristol Channel all day long, waiting to be called.
Weather very rough, felt rather sea sick. Returned as far as Bardsey
Island - could see it quite plainly.
5 1944: The call has come at last. We are on our way to the greatest
invasion ever, feeling very cool and collected. I pray to be given
the strength to go through this like a man and not loose my nerve,
and hope that I may return to my littlefamily who are so dear to
morning at 3 oclock we fire the first shot. There are hundreds
of invasion barges with us. <snip B p13>
hard it is to be away from my family in such a place as this <snip
C p13>. I went on duty at midnight till 4 oclock.
June 6 1944: We were going towards the coast of France, 7 Cruisers
and 4 Destroyers, led by Belfast, Diadem, Orion, Emerald, Ajax,
Argonaut and Flores. Passed hundreds of craft of all shapes and
sizes. There were 4,000 craft of all kinds.
Arrived 6 miles off shore between Le Havre and Cherbourge without
being seen, stopped engines and waited for daylight. At about 4
oclock our bombers came over and in 30 seconds Sur Mer was
one mass of flames, it was a terrible sight, seemed so unreal. One
bomber came down in flames. As dawn broke Belfast opened fire followed
by us and the other cruisers followed suit. Our third salvo put
a German battery out of commission.
Then the landing craft went in but we were unable to see the shore
as it was one cloud of smoke. The Wrestler TDR struck a mine and
went up in a cloud of smoke and flames. We have been firing off
and on all day and the small craft have been running backwards and
forwards all day long, unloading the big transports which are behind
us. We have had 2 Red warnings so far but no planes were seen, our
fighters have been over all day long.
I had no sleep last night and only a couple of hours today, feeling
rather drowsy but dont expect any sleep tonight. Jerry will
certainly do something, this has been too quiet to be true. <snip
D p12 or 14>
went on watch at 8 oclock, things were very quiet until about
9 then hundreds of out planes and gliders came over in clouds. They
cast off the gliders and dropped their parachutists. What a sight
it was, hundreds of different coloured parachutes came down in one
mass. 4 or 5 of our planes were shot down in flames. I shall never
forget the sight. The town was in flames. At about 10.30 Jerry came
over and bombed the beaches. What a row there was, then he started
dive bombing us. Never will I forget that. There I was high on the
bridge with no shelter and planes gliding down in the dark from
all angles. We could not see them until they were on top of us.
One dropped 3 bombs a few yards from us, he got such a warm welcome
that he didnt come back. At 12 I went below to sleep, too
tired to think of bombs, and slept like a log till 7.45
7th 1944: <snip E p15> 3 of our Spitfires shot down by our
own ships, they dont wait to find out whose planes they are.
Rather quiet all day except for occasional bombardments. Shifted
berth at night but had to return to bombard Jerry who was pushing
our troops back in one section. I slept in the CCO through it all.
8 1944: On watch at 4 this morning, rather quiet night. A shell
whizzed passed us. Scrubbed flag deck in my bare feet. Our ships
shot one Spitfire down again this morning. Made me feel mad. <snip
June 9 1944: This morning the Commander gave us the daftest talk
I have ever heard on the loudspeaker. He complained about us wearing
overalls and overcoats during the day and gave an order that all
men must be in the rig of the day and look as smart as possible
as an example to the soldiers who pass by us in the landing craft.
Fancy worrying about dress when there are hundreds of young fellows
losing their lives only a few miles from us. What is this? an invasion
or a beauty competition? Had the first watch, Jerry came over as
usual and plastered the shore, all the ships opened fire, it was
a marvellous sight, the sky was a mass of tracers. Turned in at
12.15 slept like a log. Action stations during afternoon, in middle
of shaving had to rush out.
June 10 1944: We fired at our own planes as usual this morning.
Convoys come in every day and are loaded by small craft. Some big
ships have been run on to the beach and are unloaded there by small
craft. It will take a long time to get enough material ashore to
push Jerry back, it is not going to be an easy job. The soldiers
ashore are getting a rough time of it compared to the navy. A large
convoy came in this morning, one ship was torpedoed on the way over.
We got dozens of red warning during the daytime and have got used
to them now. Have not had my clothes off since last Tuesday, sleep
on forms in the mess, shall be glad to turn into the old hammock
again. No mail yet, shall be glad when it comes. Are going to bombard
at 11.15 today, an airfield I think. <snip G p16> The rest
of the day was uneventful.
11 1944: Sunday. Nothing to report today, very quiet, except for
a bombardment during afternoon. It mentioned us on the wireless
bombarding an airfield but did not give our name. A nice clear day
today, got a good view of the seaside resort. A lovely little place
with a fine stretch of sandy beach, 4 or 5 beautiful church spires
and red roofed houses, what a shame that it was all bombed and burnt
12 1944: Went to Portsmouth for Ammo, stayed there until 4 oclock
on the morning of June 14th then returned here to carry on with
June 15 1944: Churchill visited the beach. Things are very quiet.
Few raid during the night.
16 1944: King visited beach. Still nothing out of the ordinary to
17 1944: Still quiet.
18 1944: Still bombarding.
19 1944: Quite an exciting day with a few shocks. It blew up a gale,
ships in distress all over the place. Unable to unload any material,
too rough. A Rhino loaded with lorries and guns collided with us
and made 5 holes in port side. I was at dinner when it happened
and had a shock to see 3 holes in our mess deck. Water rushed in
and flooded the place. They soon blocked the holes with Duffle and
the afternoon I was on deck when a Jerry radio controlled glider
bomb passed over us at over 300 miles an hour, we fired at it but
missed. I rushed for my steel helmet and by the time I had put it
on the thing had vanished. During the night another one circled
us for a long time <unclear> I went off again.
June 20 1944: Still a gale, damn nuisance. We want to get rid of
our ammo so that we can return to Portsmouth. <snip H p18>
action stations at 4.30 this morning, too tired to leave the mess.
<snip I p18>
21 1944: Still stormy. Nothing to report during day but during night
things get lively and Jerry does his dirty work, sowing mines amongst
the ships etc.
22 1944: One destroyer struck mine today, damaged but not sunk,
ran aground later. Jerry still sends his radio controlled bombs
over us but have not seen one drop yet. We picked a soldiers
body from the sea today. I did not want to see him, it would only
upset me. Did not feel too well today, had a headache and temperature,
went to sleep early but could not sleep, too painful sleeping on
a hard form. Have not had my clothes off for 3 weeks except for
a bath. Will be glad to get into my hammock again.
23 1944: Early this morning a tanker struck by a bomb went up in
flames. One poor fellow brought to our ship for medical attention.
Very serious. One leg amputated above knee. Hope he recovers. Jerry
sent a big plane over last night, passed right over us sowing mines,
we failed to shoot it down. Bombs dropped near us but I did not
hear, too tired to worry. Am working in C.C.O. now, better than
24 1944: Last night Scylla struck a mine and had to be towed to
Portsmouth. During the morning a mine sweeper blew up in little
pieces, struck a mine. Jerry sows mines all over the place during
the night and does a lot of damage with bombs. Very quiet day, no
shot fired. No mail again today, fed up to the eyes . Commandos
came on board and told us some of their experiences on the loudspeaker.
Ammunition dump on beach blew up today, big fire. The fellow who
had his leg cut off is getting along nicely, has to have another
operation to get shrapnel out of his back.
the way, the Commandos said that they landed at 1.30 on the first
morning but their landing was not a success, as they did not land
together as planned, they were 10 miles apart in different districts
so they were not as strong as they would have been if they had been
25 1944: Nothing to report during day but rather lively during darkness.
A lot happens then but I am too sleepy to go up on deck to see for
myself. Quite a number of ships get bombed or mined and I often
wonder who will be next but I dont let it worry me. Received
my first post for 3 weeks but <snip J p20> only a fraction
of what was due.
26 1944: Saw some bombs explode in the water but did not see the
plane. Listening to the news and reading the paper makes me sick.
They tell us how the Warspite is blasting Jerry, the Warspite struck
a mine over a week ago and is in dock in Britain, she must have
a tremendous range if she can fire from Scotland to here. They also
mention the good firing done here by Black Prince and Hawkins, Black
Prince has been in the Med. since our first Russian trip and is
still there. Hawking has not fired a shot, she has no guns, is a
depot ship. I do wish they would give us our full share of praise,
we deserve it for the work we have done.
papers also say that the French people gave us a fine welcome when
we landed, it was the reverse. Two girls of 17 and 18 were shot
by our troops for sniping them.
June 27 1944: Nothing of note to report today. Very quiet except
for a few warnings. Busy making slippers.
28 and 29 1944: Rather quiet.
30 1944: Returned to Portsmouth to re-store ammunition and repair
1 1944: Very quiet.
2 1944: Went on leave, how happy I felt, couldnt get home
3 1944: Arrived home 5.30 in morning, so nice to be with my wife
and family and to see my Dad, Mam and family.
4 and 5 1944: Did all the usual rounds and tried to see everybody
at once. Left on the night of the 5th feeling very downy.
6 1944: Arrived back at 12.00. Spent a few exciting hours at London,
Doodlebugs came over at regular intervals.
7, 8, 9, 10,11 1944: Still at Portsmouth, rather quiet.
12 1944: Went ashore, saw a show, had supper and then walked about
for a few hours looking for a billet without any luck. Spent the
night in an air-raid shelter, sirens went at 12.30 and the Doodlebugs
came low over our shelter all night long. Never spent such a rotten
night in my life. <snip M p21>
13 1944: Felt rotten after a nightmarish night, returned to ship.
14 1944: Left Portsmouth for Scapa. <snip N p21>
15 1944: Arrived at Scapa. Back to old routine once more.
16 - 25 1944: Very quiet. Went ashore one day. <snip O p21>
26 1944: C.S.IO (C.S. 10 ?) came aboard today, he has joined us
for a few months and is 2nd in command of H.F. We are in for a hard
time of it. Left Scapa at 18.30 and are now on our way to Plymouth.
What of the future?
27 1944: Passed Wales.
28 1944: Arrived Plymouth.
29 1944: Still at Plymouth. Nice weather, very hot. No shore leave.
30 - August 4 1944: Patrolling Bay of Biscay for Jerry convoys,
an eerie job, rushing up and down within sight of French coast.
Met no convoys (thank goodness).
5 1944: At Plymouth, still no shore leave.
6 1944: Left for Scapa to get rid of C.S.10. Passed Wales but did
not see much of it.
7 1944: Arrived Scapa in the morning and left again at night. Passed
Wales and had a fine view of home district. Hiraeth mawr
am gartre a Mary <this is Welsh for huge longing for home and
8 1944: Arrived at Plymouth once more.
9 and 10 1944: Still at Plymouth but not allowed to go ashore.
Bay of Biscay
10 1944: Left Plymouth for Bay of Biscay.
11 1944: Patrolling French coast, lovely weather, stripped to the
waist, very quiet day.
12 1944: Quiet during morning but in the afternoon we sighted some
French fishing smacks. Sent Onslow to investigate them, she caught
up with 2 of them close inshore and got a lot of useful information
from them. We cruised about for approx. 2 hours waiting for Onslow's
return. As she was about to return a signal station ashore started
flashing at us. I was told to answer with 20 inch but could not
make head nor tail of her, I was told to ask her if she had anything
for us which I tried to do but could not get her to understand.
At last we realised that she was manned by Jerries so we got ready
to leave. Suddenly we heard shore batteries open up and shells began
to drop all around us. Onslow had a very narrow squeak. Away we
steamed under a smoke screen out to sea. We were back again at night
and were met by a Jerry plane which flew high overhead and guided
a radio controlled glider bomb straight at us, we all thought it
was the end when suddenly when she was about 50 feet from us she
swerved and hit the water about 50 yards on our starboard beam,
thanks to Type 68. The ship rattled from stern to stern and gave
us a shaking.
13 1944: (This day was my wedding anniversary) During dark hours
of morning a Liberator flew over us and was shot down by Onslow
and burst into flames. What a sight, poor fellows, they never had
a chance. During afternoon we received a report of convoy comprising
1 large merchant Cruiser and 6 small craft. We steamed at full speed
towards it and found that the 6 small craft had disappeared. Although
the merchantman had 6 inch guns she never had a chance, our first
salvo hit her fair and square on the bridge and dozens of rounds
were pumped into her. We left her aground a blazing inferno with
about 100 men in the water around her.
on we were shelled again by shore batteries.
August 14 1944: Shelled once more. Returned to Plymouth.
15, 16, 17 and 18 1944: At Plymouth where I spent 2 nice days ashore.
<snip P p23>
19 1944: Left Plymouth at 12 last night for Bay of Biscay. Very
20 1944: Still steaming up and down. Terrible thunderstorm last
the last entry weve got from this diary. But there's a summary
in an old address book listing John Emrys' next steps after the
(by one of John Emrys Williams and his wife Mary's nine grand-children,
Gareth Morlais Williams - April 2001. John and Mary's children were
Hugh, John, Glenys and Brynmor.)
first Arctic convoy mentioned is JW58. From research at u-boat.net,
we believe the U-boats sunk were U961 (east of Iceland; all 51 crew
died), U360 (SW of Bear Island; all 51 dead) and U288 (SW of Bear
Island; all 49 dead)
second Arctic convoy mentioned is RA59. From research at www.usmm.org
we believe the merchant ship seen sunk by torpedo was the SS William
S. Thayer. Later, U277 was sunk SW of Bear Island with the loss
of 50 lives.
Other useful links include:
- about Russian Convoys
- more about Arctic operations
- Martin J. McGregor's account of April 30 1944's events
- the sinking of William S. Thayer.
about HMS Diadem in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and the
Wikipedia page about Juno Beach.
An account of the Canadian forces' landing by the Historical
Officer of Canadian HQ.
In the Normandy Landing, later known as D-Day, HMS Diadem was part
of Operation Nepture's attack.
images on this site have been copied from other websites. It's sometimes
difficult to ascertain copyright of WWII images. If you're the copyright
holder of any image on this site, please let us know and we'll either
credit you or remove the image.
believe the Diadem went to the Indian subcontinent ater the war.
account says she went "to Far East 1945 paid off 1950 sold
to Pakistan 29 Feb. 1956 and renamed Babur later renamed Jahangir".
links added Feb 2007:
http://www.hmsargonaut.co.uk/dido.php - about HMS Argonaut
Please let us know.(firstname.lastname@example.org)
you know the Diadem's final fate
- if you served on the ship and remember John Emrys Williams
- if you know of anything else that may make an interesting addition
to this site - or
- if you can explain TDR, TAC, ATLZ, CCO, CSIO or billet
of these puzzles have now been solved...
Here's a gallery of images...
Emrys Williams received the Russian Convoys medal from the Russian
Embassy on August 14 1992.
passed away April 7 1994. He was 86 years old.