Leslie J. Sprigg ex: Leading Telegraphist. RN.
Now ready for battle; I was
posted to HMS Wasp at Dover and my first boat ML108. This was an “A”
Class ML. The earliest type of which only about a dozen were built.
They formed two flotillas, the 50th and the 51st
ML. The armament was sparse, a 3 pounder for’ard, a twin .5 Lewis gun,
Holman projector and depth charges. They had an overall length 110 feet
and were powered by 3 Hall-Scott petrol engines giving a speed near 30
ML108 Crew Photo:
Click on individual crew member below to
Soon after I boarded we started
various tests including speed trials. Unhappily these did not go
according to plan. We were travelling at a fair speed when the bridge
rang down for half-speed – nothing happened. On investigation the two
stokers were found sprawled in the engine room, both overcome by fumes.
They were quickly brought aloft and laid on deck when someone said
“Where’s Sparks”? Another scramble below found me lying in my cabin,
oblivious. Soon there were three ‘bodies’ on deck, all with green froth
at the mouth, suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning! All made a slow
but groggy recovery. There followed an inquiry which resulted in the
funnels of all boats being removed and the exhaust diverted through the
sides of the vessel.
There was also a Norwegian mine
laying flotilla at Dover. They had ‘B’ Class MLs, quite different from
the ‘A’ boats and a tendency to roll a bit. We worked well together and
I made many friends. To this day, at Christmas, a Norwegian spruce is
delivered to Dover and a short memorial service held with my old
comrades from the mine laying flotillas present. Following the sinking
of 108 and on leaving, my oppos’ presented me with a Norwegian pennant
which I still have.
version of the Norwegian flag. In Norwegian it is called a "orlogsflag".)
All boats were adapted for
minelaying of which we carried any of three main types. There were
ground mines (magnetic), moored mines which we sank to a pre-determined
depth and were activated by a ship striking any one of the numerous
prongs, and magnetic mines which were activated by the rise and fall of
a ship’s engine. As the ship approached, a clapper would start to rise
and continue until maximum. As soon as the ship’s engine started to
fall, the clapper would fall and detonate the mine.
ML108 at speed (by Leslie J.Sprigg)
Our task was to lay mines in the coastal shipping supply
lanes close to the shores of France, Belgium and Holland. Leaving Dover at dusk,
we would zigzag through our own known minefields and other hazards and head for
the coast of France. The engine would be slowed and silenced (by baffles) as we
crept along the coast to our laying areas. The flotilla would consist of about 6
boats, each carrying between 5 and 9 mines, according to the type. When in
position, the mines would be laid in 20 second intervals.
My job was to call up to the
bridge “Out pins No. 1. Lay No. 1” and so on, until we moved out of line
and the next boat continued the lay. Regarding the mines, “Out Pins” was
the process of activating the mines and disengaging the straps. Once
activated and entering the water, it took about 20 minutes for the
soluble plug to dissolve.
On completion of our mission, we
would move away from the area and either return to port or look for
small enemy craft to attack. On some occasions, we carried out
diversionary attacks to draw some of the enemy away from a gun battle
that was causing them problems. Our task then was to head in the general
direction of the skirmish and make a lot of noise (gunfire) to try to
draw some of the enemy away.
It was not unusual for our own
aircraft, returning from an aborted raid, to drop their bombs towards
us, having been told to pick a suitable target when their own mission
was cancelled for any reason.
On one occasion when the weather
deteriorated and we were recalled we managed to get stuck on the Goodwin
Sands. After several efforts to get free had failed it was suggested
that if we ditched the mines we would get away, being that much
lighter!! This brainwave was not taken up and our renewed efforts and
Safely back in Dover, we would
tie-up alongside, wash the decks and clean ship before turning in. At
Dover we often saw the flash of the big gun firing from Calais, then the
bang, then counted the seconds until the shell landed, quite
Each month we were issued with
“comforts” which I had to collect from a store in the centre of town.
These consisted of a free cigarette and chocolate ration and various
knitted items donated by well-wishers. On one occasion, I borrowed a
bike from a lady dockyard worker, to save the walk into town, and duly
collected our allotment. On the return trip, I was cycling along quite
happily, when as I headed across the main square towards the dockyard, a
rather large policeman on traffic duty, held his hand high. I put the
brakes on but nothing happened. I dropped my feet to the ground and
skidded along, but too late. I hit him amidships. He sat down rather
abruptly! I decided not to hang about so pulled the bike away and
pedalled furiously for the dockyard. Unfortunately, in my hurry, I got
caught in the railway track alongside the jetty. Off I came and the bike
and “comforts” disappeared over the side, into the drink. The dockyard
worker proved to be not such a lady after all although we rescued her
bike and my shipmates were less than pleased at the loss of their
month’s comforts. I was in fear and trepidation of a large policeman
seeking me out.
Whilst we were on board we had
endless tasks, cleaning ship, washing clothes, writing home, studying,
When off duty and ashore in
Dover we would go to the cinema, a services club or shopping. Often the
cinema screen would flash up a notice for the crew of boat number (?) to
return aboard immediately, at the same time a lorry with loud hailer
would slowly drive down the main street relaying the same message. We
either jumped on to the lorry or hot footed it back to the boat.
Sometimes the weather abated and the patrols or minelaying was back on,
maybe an aircraft down and volunteer crews to search for them.
PT An instructor would arrive
and all boats had to release as many crew as possible to do standing
exercises and then a double run round the harbour, many would hide
behind the sheds on the way out and rejoin on the way back!
ML108 football team
ML 108 and indeed the rest of
the flotilla were versatile boats. On several occasions we took
passengers, (special agents) to row ashore at a designated spot and some
days later, returned to collect them. This did not always prove
successful, either they did not get to the pick-up area on time,
although we always waited as long as we dare, for the signal, or they
had been captured. We would also take Special Forces over to one of the
harbours; row them in, where they would select a suitable-sized ship.
Having decided on their target, they would plant limpet mines beneath
the hull, swim back to the dinghy, be rowed back to 108 and off home
again. Sounds straightforward, doesn't it.
I was in my cabin on one
minelaying sortie, and about to lay, when we had a violent crash just
behind my cabin. I came off my seat and turned in time to see the bows
of some vessel withdrawing from the starboard side. There was a heavy
mist at the time and we had no idea what had hit us. They disappeared
very quickly. We had to ditch the mines, and stuff the damaged side with
mattresses etc., to stem the water. We took in a large amount but
managed to return to Dover where we were patched up then sent to Tough
Bros. Yard in Teddington for repairs. On our way up the Thames the
skipper misjudged the tide, and we lost half the bridge structure
passing under one of the river bridges. We had leave of course whilst
repairs were carried out, and then it was back to Dover.
The minelaying etc., continued until 5th September 1943. We were laying
magnetic mines and had just completed our lay, when there was a huge
explosion aft, which lifted the back end out of the water. We started to
fill quite quickly but at a high level it seemed to stabilize. We were
taken in tow by one of our sister boats, and headed slowly back towards
Dover. Unhappily a large sea swell developed and the boat gave up the
struggle and sank by the stern
The last moments of ML108,
the crew being picked up by ML101
I well remember our First
Lieutenant, Hugh Fordham, swimming round, asking each in turn “Are you
all right’?” before shepherding us to the rescue boats. All the crew
were saved and most of us ended up aboard ML 101.
We lost all our personal
possessions of course as we lived aboard and at Dover we were issued
with a new uniform and sent to await a new posting. Not a long wait.
Sign the ML108 Ships Log