America & West Indies 1950-1951

 

HMS Superb was the Flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Symonds-Taylor, K.B.E., C.B., D.S.C., Commander-in-Chief, America and West Indies Station, and initially commanded by Captain Yendell, who was also Chief of Staff.

 

Although HMS Superb was prepared at all times for any emergency, this commission was essentially a series of goodwill visits - an opportunity to 'show the flag'.These courtesy visits coincided with the inauguration of the Presidents of Brazil and Uruguay, at which ceremonies the Flag Officer and Ship's Captain attended as the official representatives of the British Government. The Presidents of Uruguay, Chile, Peru and Panama were received on board. President Peron of the Argentine did not go aboard the ship, but the Vice-Admiral was received at the President's official residence.

 

During this time, the Royal Marine Band and Guard, along with the Seaman's Guard, paraded ashore 66 times, and 'Beat Retreat' on 24 occasions. In addition to the ceremonies mentioned above, they took part in many other official ceremonies and parades, including laying wreaths on the tombs of national heroes.

 

In Valparaiso, they took part in the inauguration ceremony of a new memorial for British sailors buried there.

 

In nearly all of these ports there were invitations to functions ashore from local inhabitants. Visits to places of interest, invitations to homes, dances, parties and similar events.

 

All enjoyable and very much appreciated.Just as importantly, the Ship's Company held parties for children on board at most ports of call. Sailors in costume, usually homemade, villainous 'pirates' everywhere - some walking the plank, rides in boson's chairs, swings from the barrels of 6 inch guns, the capstan pressed into use as a roundabout and - tea - all left an impression that the children will have remembered for many years.

 

During the commission, HMS Superb steamed some 16,000 miles, and entertained over 6,000 guests on board at official receptions.

Place                         Arrive                                Depart

Chatham                                                                                                   1 Nov 1950

Portsmouth                                  4 Nov                                                   6 Nov                                              

Portland                                      7 Nov                                                    9 Nov

Gibraltar                                     13 Nov                                                  21 Nov

Bermuda                                     30 Nov                                                  5 Jan 1951

 

Blue skies - Warm Sea - Pink Beaches - Very expensive runs ashore - Cheap Rum & Coke at HMS Malabar - Sing songs at Malabar with Nutty Carr (Seaman PO Diver) on the piano -  Swimming in the sea on Christmas day.

Guantanamo                                8 Jan                                                     13 Jan                                                    Guantanamo, Cuba. An American Naval Base at the time. Both HMS Sparrow and HMS Bigbury Bay were also present. Exercises with the American Fleet.These exercises included 4inch AA shoots on aircraft towed targets as well as 6inch full calibre shoots. There were 'big eats' and cheap drinks at the American PX - and cheers from the American matlots for singing our version of 'The United States Marines'!I was transferred to HMS Bigbury Bay to fix problems with her 293 Radar which was out of action. 293 was an Air and Surface Early Warning Set, but also the only navigation radar. Took passage on her to Trinidad. On the basis that clean sets might work, dirty sets won't, it was stripped down, cleaned, reassembled and set up. It worked.

 

Trinidad                                       16 Jan                                                  18 Jan

    The picture on the left is of the High Street, Port of Spain. In the centre- The Bigbury  Bay berthed at San Fernando (if my memory is right) whereas the Super-B was at Port of Spain. Taxi overland to Port of Spain - very hot - vast areas of sugar cane.

 

   The photo on the right shows us in transit to Rio Crossing the Line Ceremony

 

Rejoined Super-B.

 

 

Frequently 'hove to' for an hour at dinner time (midday) to relax and fish. We had to paint Ship's side before arriving at Rio. All hands on cradles over the ships side. Chief Gunners Mate on deck with a rifle - Sharks fins easily seen around the ship - my feet only a foot or so above water level at one stage - how good is he with a 303? - feet pulled well up under the cradles!

Rio de Janeiro              29 Jan                         6 Feb 

 

We arrived (still owning feet!) and went alongside in the Brazilian Naval Dockyard. Several other ships followed us in -  the Bigbury Bay, the U.S. heavy cruiser Albany, a Chilean Transport and two Peruvian frigates. The occasion was the inauguration of the newly elected President Vargas. The 3rd Feb was the first day of the carnival - the Mardi Gras. Much partying - decorated floats - decorated streets - fancy dress - dancing all night - it seemed everybody had a aerosol and was squirting everybody else - it seemed intoxicating - cans believed to contain ether.  Climbed up to the base of the Corcovado, that well known statue of Christ. Went to Copacabana beach but did not swim this time. Also saw Sugar Loaf Mountain but did not go up there. Approximately a week after we left, a cable of the Cable Car between the two peaks broke.

 

Port Stanley                                    12 Feb                                            16 Feb     Falkland Islands. Anchored in the outer harbour - wind - rain - more wind - more rain - penguins - more penguins etc. No trees - most buildings just corrugated iron . Liberty boats treacherous - the ship's motor boat sunk alongside the jetty.- it took all next day to recover it. Best to stay on board unless you wanted to cuddle up to a Penguin!  In transit we passed through an Iceberg field. How big I am not sure, but it was said to have exceeded 150 'bergs and the field covered something like 70 miles in each direction on the Radar screen. The iceberg in the photo was some 300 to 400 yards away, and it will be remembered that 9/10ths of the 'berg is underwater. It was said that this was the first time for 20 years that icebergs had come so far north of the Falkland Islands. Navigator seemed keen that the Radar was 100%.

 

Buenos Aires                                  19 Feb                                                26 Feb

 

The Ship's Company were fallen in on the Upper Deck in No. 6's (best whites) for a visit by President and Eva Peron at 11am on 22 Feb.  On the Quarter Deck was the biggest bunch of flowers that I have ever seen. Approximately 20 minutes after theywere due to arrive a message was received saying that they would not be coming. It was said that this was a deliberate snub because Eva Peron had been refused an audience with the     Queen when she was in London awhile earlier.

 

Serious diplomatic activity ensued which resulted in an apology being received and arrangements for the Admiral to be received by President Peron that evening.  We had a 274 Surface Gunnery Radar on the Forward Gunnery Control Tower with three 275's, High Angle Gunnery Radar, one aft and one each side forward of amidships. The after 275 was a standby for the 274.

 

During tests it was shown that output (IF) from the 275 aft could not be received on the 274. It was eventually shown that the fault was an earth in a pyrotenax cable in a breaker space between a boiler room and the ship's side. It was something like 120F up top in the sun, but fortunately the boilers were not 'flashed up' - guess who had to melt the pitch out of the pyrotenax cable junction box with a blow lamp, in that breaker space, to fix the earth problem!!  Ashore in BA was interesting in many ways. People would slide up to one in bars and talk quietly, making sure that they were not overheard. It was like I imagine 1938 Germany.

 

Montevideo                                        27 Feb                                             7 Mar                                                          

Just across the Rio de la Plata from BA but totally different. Whilst in BA we felt enemies; in Montevideo we were among friends. Wearing a Naval  uniform ensured that one was see as a 'hero' from the River Plate action. Much partying.The picture on the left shows a monument to the memory of those who lost their lives on HMS Ajax, Achilles and Exeter. And on the right a picture of Ship's bell of HMS Ajax

 

 

Punta del Este                                    7 Mar                                             12 Mar

Right on the estuary of the River Plate - a holiday resort. The picture shows the Casino. By this time we were short of cash. Five or six of us pooled our funds and went ashore just for a swim and a beer after. I happened to be treasurer and held the funds. After the beer I found that we had no funds. My wallet had been stolen on the beach. How do you plausibly explain to a bar tender in Uruguay, in Spanish, that you have no money and maybe need to wash up?? The outcome was that two or three of us went back to the Superb to obtain some money whilst the others stayed in the bar holding the fort. We resolved the problem without bloodshed!

 

 

 

Punta Arenas                                           16 Mar                                           21 Mar

Down on the southernmost tip of South America. We did not actually go round the 'Horn' but through one of the Straits. Stunning scenery. The picture to the right shows the monument to Magellan.

 

At Punta Arenas there was a 'banyan' arranged to a Meat Packing Plant. Literally sheep were driven in at one end, had done to them what had to be done, and at the other end there were carcasses ready for the freezer. We were invited to a meal which consisted of great trays of lamb with very little vegetables or potatoes.

 

Very pleasant at the time. Around the bay, for hundreds of yards alongside the Packing Plant, the sea was stained red with blood, waste from the plant.There was also a 'banyan' given by an ex German Naval Officer at a restaurant out of town.

 

There was a spot of bother when he seemed to toast his former employer. He did not mean to be provocative but someone took umbrage. However all present ended up at the Chilean Navy Club with him and all parted the best of friends.

 

Valparaiso                         26 Mar                                      2 Apr                 I have heard it said that Valparaiso was the best run ashore ever. 'Ten bob' would buy all the wine you wanted, 'big eats' and anything else that took your fancy.The picture shows the El Arco Britannica.

 

At this time I read the book KONTIKI by Thor Heyerdahl. I knew that this expedition started from our next port of call. 

 

Callao / Lima                    5 Apr                                           10 Apr

Lima probably created for me more lasting memories than any other South American City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The picture above is of the Presidential Palace. That below is of Lima Cathedral. There were a number of events arranged for members of the Ship's Company, one of which was a trip on the Trans-Andean Railway.

 

This railway is the highest standard gauge railway in the world rising to approximately 15,000 feet. The trip was not organised to go that high but to a mining village, Rio Blanca, at 12,500 feet and expected to take 12 hours or so. I was one of those lucky enough to have the opportunity to go on this 'banyan'.

 

My memory never was very good, and has got worse lately, but as I recall it:There were maybe 15 or 20 of us, who went into Lima around 7 am to catch the train. I do not remember much about the train but I do recall the journey, a couple of hours or so through the coastal plain to the foothills of the Andes. The track wended its way up through the foothills and there were many occasions when one could look back and see the track doing several loops as it increased in height.

 

The terrain became more rugged and I remember well coming out of a tunnel across a ravine and into another tunnel the other side. The vivid memory is of that bridge. It seemed to be narrower than the train - at least I could see nothing out of the window other than the ravine below. And at the bottom lay a rusty old engine!

 

At the train station at Rio Blanca, which was the end of our outward journey, we left the train and a small group of us, perhaps six or eight, were met by two couples who lived in a mining facility who took us to their Ranch. Of the two couples, one was a Canadian, one Austrian, one I do not recall and the other a girl from Croydon - just 13 miles from where I lived at the time!

 

We were provided with snacks and drinks and I remember thinking that whisky at 12,500 feet seemed a pretty powerful drink. We sat about and chatted, time passed and we began to realise that we were getting late for our return trip. At that time there were two trains each way each day and our train was the last back that day.

 

We were hurriedly put into the back of a Land Rover and taken to the station, only to find that the train had gone - we had missed it.Our hosts put us back into the Land Rover and took us the nearest small town. That was a hair raising ride. The road was a narrow track with a sheer cliff face up several hundred feet on one side and several hundred feet down on the other.

 

We arrived at the village and were relieved to get out of the truck. Our hosts put us onto a local bus, kindly paid our fare and explained to the driver that we had to get back to Lima.We set off and quickly wished that we were back in that Land Rover. Again sheer cliff faces on either side in a ramshackle old bus with a local driver with the locals - and I suspect their chickens although I don't actually remember that!

 

After some while we came to a sudden halt to find a stationary train right across and blocking the road. It had hit a lorry which was now close to the brink. It was our train. As you might guess, after our experiences on the bus we all quickly got out and back onto the train, as the lesser of the evils. From there we had an uneventful journey back to Lima and the Superb.

Balboa 1                              4 Apr                                             16 Apr

I remember little of Balboa other than as the entrance to the Panama Canal. Balboa is of course on the Pacific and Eastern end of the Canal. Yes, the Canal from Pacific to Atlantic runs from East to West. Any doubters should check their maps. There are three locks at each end, (spaced out at one end and close together at the other), and in the centre a large lake. Sailing through the lake is sailing through tropical jungle with tropical birds flying around etc. Quite an amazing sight.And back to .........

Bermuda                  20 Apr                                           15 Jun

Captain Yendell, in command of HMS Superb up until now, was relieved by Captain E W J Bankes shortly after the Ship's return to Bermuda.

 

Whilst in Bermuda an employee of the Admiralty fuelling installation sank our oil barge. The barge was 60 feet long and held 300 tons of fuel. Whilst filling it, he allowed too much fuel to be pumped into one side of the barge so that the deck became awash, water entered a hatch on the deck, the barge sank, and fuel oil escaped.

 

A boom was put across Clarence Cove to protect one of the beaches.The three divers carried on the Superb, aided by other seamen, put in many long and sometimes dangerous hours refloating the barge. It was a difficult job, made more difficult by the limited equipment available, and the need to improvise.

 

All vents and hatches had to be sealed and an air line attached using a Cox's gun. With air being pumped in, the fuel/water mixture was pumped out through a special adapter made on board. After blowing and pumping for many hours the barge suddenly, and without warning, lifted to the surface hitting and nearly sinking the diving boat. One of the divers, Bernie Robinson was on the bottom at that moment, checking for signs of movement, and was fortunate not to lose his life.

 

The oil ruined everything it touched - all of the diver's working gear. All helmets had to be stripped down, springs replaced and suits and boots renewed. But, perhaps worst of all, the Diving Store Parakeet died of oil fuel poisoning after getting soaked in oil. The divers cleaned it up, but it seems the oil affected it's brain. It seemed to go mad, attacked all on sight and then collapsed and died (but maybe it was helped towards the end when it was in severe distress).

 

Two pictures below show the barge being recovered. The picture beneath shows the three divers, PO 'Nutty' Carr with the Parakeet on his wrist in the centre, Jack Sayers on the left and Bernie Robinson on the right All three divers fully deserved the C in C's Commendation which they were awarded.

 
 

Guantanamo                           18 Jun                                            29 Jun

Again, exercises with the American Fleet.

 

Kingston                               30 Jun                                             4 Jul

 

Culebra                                6 Jul                                               6 Jul

I remember little of Kingston, Jamaica or Culebra, between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, other than Steel Bands which always appealed to me, and 'rabbits' which I still have. And fishing on the way back to ...........

 

Bermuda                                          9 Jul                                                23 Jul

 

And then to ..........Norfolk 25 Jul 27 Jul

Norfolk, Virginia.

 

On arrival in Norfolk that we were specifically instructed by the American Port Authorities that, under no circumstances were we permitted to fire our 6 inch guns whilst laying alongside the wall!!

 

As you may guess, we never did! Good food, good bars and American hospitality, as usual, unbeatable.

 

St Johns                    31 Jul                                         6 Aug .

St John's, Newfoundland - another unique experience. Many of the local 'Newfies' appeared to have Irish accents. Perhaps that tells us something about their origins. It was said that the local population at the time was 39,000 women and 19,000 men. Apparently there had been a high loss of life during the WW2 - this being a mainly seafaring community. Given that population discrepancy there was another problem. When we were there, most of the men were away fishing.

Halifax                       8 Aug                                   15 Aug

Halifax, Nova Scotia. I am told that there was a large parade and March Past held in Halifax which was well received.Sadly I can offer no specific comments on this visit. There must be other members of the Ship's Company at that time who have pictures or memories of this and other ports which we could record.

St John                                        16 Aug                                      20 Aug

 

 

 

 

 

St John, New Brunswick. Again a nice town, with welcoming people. However, it is said that the local bars did not appeal and that the town went to bed early.

 

Bar Harbour                             20 Aug                                   27 Aug

 

 

 

 

 

Bar Harbour, Maine. We were anchored half a mile offshore initially, and pleased later to go alongside. Rather a quiet visit but enjoyable nevertheless.

 

Newport                         28 Aug                                    4 Sept

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newport, Rhode Island. Once again the local population laid on some excellent hospitality and entertainment. Inevitably, sailors ashore in a foreign, or even home port, will find the local bars, at least as a starting point. Those in Newport were full of interest.

 

Boston                       5 Sept                                         12 Sept

 

Boston, Massachusetts. The Bostonians are very proud of their history, including, perhaps particularly, the 'Boston Tea Party'.The picture shows the plaque commemorating that event.The Admiral opened the British Trade Fortnight and the local community lent eight TV sets to the ship. In 1951 TV was not so common and these sets were most welcome.At that time in the USA, it was common practice to sell blood for transfusions as opposed to give it as we do in the UK. The going rate then was $5 for the regulation pint - US or UK pint I am not sure. Whilst in Boston several of the Ship's Company 'donated' a pint of blood to enhance their 'Run Ashore Funds'. There was a widespread 'buzz' at the time, which was also reported in the Press, that one enterprising Stoker, having given his pint of blood felt no after effects, thought that he was on to a good thing and gave another pint. Again there were no adverse effects - so he gave a third pint, left the centre and collapsed. He was taken to hospital, diagnosed as having acute anaemia, given a blood transfusion and charged $25!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Philadelphia                    13 Sept                                   20 Sept

Philadelphia is a large industrial city, which welcomed us as well as any port. Again, many visits etc. were laid on. There was one negative point. The air was full of sulphur fumes, rather like a London 'smog' of that time. Those in the appropriate rig were warned to cover gilt buttons, braid and cap badges with nail varnish. Nail varnish was conspicuous by its absence in Naval Stores.

 

 

We arrived off Brooklyn and the Statue of Liberty and anchored for a few hours waiting for the Queen Mary to clear her berth.

 

We were then welcomed into New York harbour by the well known Fire Float escort - impressive in itself. We berthed at Pier 90, the Cunard Pier. The Mauretania arrived on 24 September and berthed on the opposite side to us. Several other important liners were in port at that time, Queen of Bermuda, Liberté and Ocean Monarch are particularly remembered.

 

We had to move from Pier 90 to Pier 26 to allow the Queen Elizabeth into Pier 90.New York was all, and perhaps more, than we expected it to be. Wonderful hospitality - many sights to be seen.

 

There were many trips organised for the Ships Company -Visits to Radio City - The Empire State Building etc. etc.

 

I particularly recall going ashore one evening, walking along a narrow poorly lit road which suddenly came out into Times Square. Very impressive.

 

And back to.............Bermuda 1 Oct 19 Oct and then.........Chatham 29 Oct 1951

 

However good the commission, it was always good to come home...............I am indebted to the following members of the Ship's Company for reviewing my draft and providing additional information. Christopher Sherwood - Admiral's Secretary, Jack Sayers - DiverThe HMS Superb (Cruiser) Association will much appreciate additional memories of this and any other commission.

 

SGHO 4/02 

 

 

 

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