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Surface Gun Action

By Bill Dalton

This happened at sea on board HMS Ambush while we were doing work up trials not long after the boat had been handed over from the Dockyard, the Skipper was a bit of a Gunnery addict (I think he liked the smell of cordite) and he had an obsession to be able to go to "Surface Gun Action" faster than it had ever been done before.


At this time the Admiralty were spending millions to try to make Submarines quieter and the fact that when fired the 4" gun made a fair bit of a bang and the shells used to bounce off anything thicker than 1/4 plate so did nothing to maintain the element of surprise, and made the 4" as much use as a ashtray on a motor bike.

No one liked this exercise, the wardroom did'nt because the access to the Gun platform was through the hatch in the wardroom, when the guns crew assembled in the wardroom they were not particular where they put their feet, and when the hatch was opened there would always be a fair bit of 'oggin' above it and it had to go somewhere.

The Skipper didn't mind this as on the 'A's the Skipper had his own little cuddy nice and dry up in the tower, so the practice was the boat would come to periscope depth, the target sighted, the guns crew would be told the target bearing so (that they would all be hopefully looking in the same direction). The boat would now surface and the gun crew close up, the gun loaded from a ready use locker on the gun platform, and then go BANG. Simple, but the Skipper did'nt want to use too many of the rounds from the ready use locker, if too many were used the exercise would start again, so it all depended on the ammunition party to get the rounds from the magazine to the gun.

Now the ammunition party was made up of those ratings whose diving stations were near to the magazine. Our hero, a Stoker whose diving station was in the Auxiliary Machine Space was at Gun Action required to be in the ammunition party, in the line in front of him was the Chef, the position for the Chef was half way up the ladder with Stokes at the bottom of the ladder all ready to "praise the Lord and pass the ammunition".

This day we were at 'patrol routine' at periscope depth the pipe is called for 'captain in the control room' the skipper has a good look all round through the scope and then informs everyone we will be going to 'surface gun action' so 'muster guns crew'.

The wardroom table is taken apart, bedding is thrown out of the way, anything sculling on the deck, caps, shoes, jackets is well trodden on (I said the officers did'nt care for this exercise) and the order given to surface. The guns crew start up the ladder, hatch clips are off, water sluices down showering every one and the wardroom, ammunition party closes up.

Stokes finds a pair of legs half way up the ladder dressed in fore and aft rig, but the legs appear to be doing some sort of a dance, first they go up two rungs then down one then up three and a lot of shouting going on up top', then BANG first round away.

Stokes finds a 4" shell being thrust at him and the Chef does'nt appear to be interested to take it from him, he is still going up and down the top steps of the ladder, BANG second shot away.

by this time Stokes is getting a lot of hassle from those behind him, so to get the full attention from the Chef which Stokes thinks he is entitled to, sticks his extended index finger into the crease of the Chefs rear end with the words " What the bloody hell are you arsing about at? Grab this".

This causes the legs to go into a really wild dance missing Stokes head by inches, Stokes looks up to give the Chef a real good mouthful and finds himself looking into the red face of the Navigating Officer. Meanwhile the 4" has been merrily banging away till all the ready use ammo was used up and someone had the sense to call 'secure'. Not one round had reached the gun via the ammo party.

It later appeared that the Navi had to get up on the gun platform and was 'adrift' when the gun crew started up the ladder so he got caught up in the ammo party. The Chef thinking it was Stokes pushing him up kept pushing him back and not too gentle either.

The order is given to 'Secure from Gun Action' so in the ensuing confusion Stokes makes his escape back to his diving station down the AMS, (if they wanted him they can bloody well look for him). In time Stokes relief turns up and by the look on his reliefs face Stokes knows that everyone on the boat knows all about the finger episode.

Back in the Stokers mess Stokes is greeted by cheers and all round applause, then they all started to discuss what he would be charged with at his court martial and how would the warrant read, everyone had their own versions and some weird ones were suggested, they were all having great fun and poor Stokes had to sit there and take it all, he was a bit relieved when the Cox'n showed up in the mess and informed him he was wanted in the wardroom.

On arriving at the wardroom all the officers were sitting around the table the Skipper was sitting at the head with the Jimmy on his right, the Jimmy started to ask the questions "Why had he done that to the Navigator, "I thought it was the Chef Sir" and so on.

Suddenly Stokes realised that he was'nt going in the rattle, the Stokers mess had their bit of fun now it was the wardrooms turn. At last the Jimmy said he could leave and to close the wardroom curtain. This curtain was the only thing to separate the wardroom from the passage way thro the boat, as Stokes closed the curtain he heard the Skipper say "Well Pilot it seems as though you are the only one who has got anything out of this exercise, you did say he has cured your haemorrhoids."



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