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KILL OR BE KILLED; FROM FIRING TORPEDOES AT U-BOATS TO TAKING VERBAL POT-SHOTS AT SFA BIG-WIG He is the greatest living Hibby .. Eddie Turnbull was part of the Famous Five and created Turnbull's Tornadoes. Now, aged 82, he tells how the horrors of war at sea hardened his character and reveals all about his run-ins with football authorities.

I ONLY saw the enemy up close and personal once during the war. It was something I am unlikely to forget.

Our ship, HMS Alnwick Castle, ploughed through the freezing Barents Sea. February 17, 1945, and we were on Russian convoy duty.

HMS Lark, a sloop of the modified Black Swan class, picked up the unmistakable Asdic trace (Asdic being powerful sonar) of a U-boat while we were patrolling near Murmansk.

The word "contact" reverberated through the ship, and the Asdic operators began to track the U-boat, following its course through their earphones. The German sub was nearing the Kola Inlet. They must have been very brave or very foolish to attack such a heavily defended shipping area.

We zeroed in on the target, fired our depth-charges from the stern and unleashed a newish weapon called a "hedgehog" from the bow.

It discharged mortars which exploded on contact and thus had a greater chance than the more precise depth-charge of hitting its target.

With the adrenalin coursing through you as you realise it is kill or be killed, you soon forget all about the cold.

When something like that is happening, all you think about is destroying the enemy submarine.

We were soon gratified to see the conning-tower breaking the surface near our ship. The sub was clearly not far from sinking, and the crew scrambled out on to the deck, screaming what sounded like cries for help as they clung to the guard rail.

The sailors manning our Oerlikon cannons were already in action and promptly let them have it with volleys of accurate fire which cut the Germans to ribbons and completely riddled the U-boat, the number of which we could clearly see was U-425.

I heard our captain shouting "Cease fire" but the noise of their weapons was so loud that our gunners did not hear his command and kept on firing. I saw the German crewmen scythed down before our guns fell silent as the U-boat sank beneath the waves. Of the 53 men aboard U-425, only one survived.

I would later learn that her captain was called Heinz Bentzien and that in almost two years of service his submarine had not actually sunk any Allied ships.

It was the one and only time I saw the enemy in person, alive and then dead, and the only time I helped bring a U-boat to the surface.

I suppose, if it hadn't been accidental, the shooting of the German crew might have been considered contrary to the rules of war, as they were probably trying to surrender. We hated the enemy, though, and no one complained about what happened.

After all, the U-boats in general had no compunction about sinking unarmed merchant ships in the middle of a freezing ocean.

THIS may seem strange to a modern generation, but back then we were brought up to believe that we had a duty to defend our country and our allies.

There were posters everywhere exhorting us to do our bit, and the newspapers reported daily on the numbers that had volunteered or had been called up.

Knowing full well that this war was going to go on for a while, I stayed in the Carronshore ironworks until just before my 18th birthday and then went along to the recruitment office and indicated that I wanted to join the Royal Navy.

It took a short while for my papers to come through, but I had taken the crucial step. It was only then that I informed my parents. They both knew that my joining up had been inevitable, but they were obviously saddened at the prospect of a son going off to war.

Having completed initial training, from Weston-super-Mare I went up to the great naval base at Portsmouth.

There I learned about looking after torpedoes and depth-charges, as well as the basics of seamanship. I was proud to be an able seaman and could hardly wait for the Navy to find me a ship, which they duly did. I was assigned to the crew of HMS Bulldog, a destroyer.

My very first trip was on a convoy to Russia. Plenty of records and statistics show how dangerous the convoys were, and we sailors were only too aware of the casualty rate. I would soon get accustomed to the feeling in the pit of my stomach that every sailor got.

When you left Greenock, you wondered if you would make it to Murmansk and when you left Murmansk, you wondered it you would make it to Greenock.

I would describe that first trip as a baptism of fire, except it was too cold for words. My first experience of the sheer cold we would experience on the convoys is something I will never forget, and it would be repeated all too often.

It hit home to me just how cold life aboard ship would be when I found I was unable to get warm even deep within the ship. We would be wearing sheepskins, duffel coats, sou'westers, gloves and sea-boots on deck and be chilled. But even in a supposedly warm hammock below decks, we would still be freezing, our teeth chattering with the chill as we tried to sleep.

Norway was filled with the occupying German forces, and their airforce seemed determined to attack us on a regular basis. They had dive-bombers and torpedo bombers and, even when the Luftwaffe let up, there was the constant threat of the U-boats lurking silently below us.

The convoys were often battered by mountainous seas and, since the escort vessels had to match the speed of the slowest merchant ship, progress was often slow. Things would get even slower in rough weather, which was a regular occurrence even in the short summer up there when it is daylight practically 24 hours a day. And we really were under the cosh round the clock.

Every single person on the ship had to be alert to the dangers that were all around us. Each individual member of the crew had his part to play when the ship went into action or came under fire, and you knew that not only might your life depend on the man next to you, his might equally depend on you.

It was a tough lesson in the real meaning of community and comradeship, in how mutual dependence is so important in many walks of life. There were several times on Bulldog and later on other ships when I thought that we were done for.

The worst were the occasions when we were attacked by torpedo bombers coming out from Norway. You could see them approaching and dropping their weapons, and sometimes you would see the track of the torpedo heading for the ship.

All you could do was watch and wait and hope the captain was taking the correct evasive action. Thankfully, he always did. One direct hit and we would have been killed or thrown into the sea, and none of us would have survived.

As a torpedo loader, I got the chance to fire a few "tin fish" on trials over the years, and I can still recall the "whoosh" that they made as they left the tube and headed into the distance. I don't think any of my torpedoes hit anything, but at least we fired them.

My task on Bulldog, and on later ships, was to prepare, load and operate our torpedo tubes or depth-charge launchers. I knew the weapons I was firing could kill men, but I never gave it a second thought, as they were the enemy and were trying to kill us.

Up in the Barents Sea, I saw ships being torpedoed and going down, the telltale plume of smoke the only clue to the disaster which had confronted the vessel. We diverted to try to give the survivors the slim chance of boarding ourship, but the men who grabbed the scrambling nets were doomed in any case, as their fingers froze to the nets and they became trapped on the side of the ship of as hip going down and men dying in the pitiless sea made us very bitter towards the Germans.

After Bulldog, I served as an able seaman responsible for depth-charges aboard Alnwick Castle, then a brand-new, Clyde-built corvette. She was a fine ship, and I enjoyed my time aboard her-and I will never forget our encounter with U-425.

Having A Ball by Eddie Turnbull with Martin Hannan is published by Mainstream Publishing at pounds 15.99.

'I saw the German crewmen scythed down before our guns fell silent'


VICTORY DAYS: Eddie with a crewmate from HMS Bulldog in World War Two and as Hibs manager holding the Drybrough Cup high after beating Celtic in the 1972 final
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 27, 2006
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