Two Pinelands Mariners in WW2

Two Pinelands Sailors   

Captain Richard Lawrence Vere Shannon OBE

Richard Shannon saw active Service in both World Wars.    He joined the Royal l Navy in 1915 and in 1919 he was promoted to Acting Lieutenant.  After the war he left the Navy to become a farmer.  By 1927 he was back at sea as master of the RRS William Scoresby which researched whales in Antarctica from 1927 to 1930 which was not long after the voyages of Shackleton and Scott.  He was an avid photographer and took hundreds and hundreds of photos on his voyage.   He was awarded the coveted Polar Medal for his services. 

In 1930 he moved to Pinelands. He was appointed as the master of the newly constructed South African research ship, Africana.  

When World War 2 broke he joined Seaward Defence Force (later renamed the South African Navy) as the captain of the minesweeper HMSAS Southern Barrier and as the senior officer of the five minesweepers in the flotilla. These minesweepers were converted whalers purchased from the Southern Whaling Company. 

In November 1941 he became involved in Operation Bellringer, intercepting a convoy of five Vichy ships heading around South Africa. The French Vichy Government supported Germany after the fall of France. The Vichy ships were being   escorted by a sloop sailing from Madagascar to Dakar when they were sighted by Shannon.  The HMSAS Southern Barrier was joined by HMS Devonshire and three British Naval ships that escorted the convoy to various South African harbours. As a reprisal, the Vichy ordered the sinking of the Norwegian freighter Thode Fagelund by the Vichy submarines Heros and Glorieoux. 

In 1943 Shannon was part of Operation Wicketkeeper. This was an operation to intercept two German submarines which were due to rendezvous south of Cape Town.   The German submarine UIT-22 was sunk after refuelling near Mauritius.  The other submarine, U-78, was severely damaged by a Ventura bomber near Ascension Island (a Ventura crash landed in Pinelands (see the story “” The Plane Crash”).   Three days later the U-78 was spotted south Cape Point and was sunk by three Catalina aircraft from the Langebaan Airbase

In 1944, Shannon was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his role in capturing the Vichy ships and his minesweeping operations. 

Chief Petty Officer James Watkyns

James Watkyns was serving on the HMS Hecla (see the footnote) on the way to protect Singapore from the imminent attack by the Japanese early in 1941.   Near Cape Agulhas the ship detonated a mine killing those in the mess room. It limped into Simon’s Town where it took nine months to repair. During this time, he met his future wife in Pinelands.  

On 20 October 1941, the now repaired HMS Hecla headed for Liverpool, stopping off at Freetown.  Towards midnight on the 12th of November the German U-515 submarine commanded by Werner Uys, sighted the Hecla off the coat of Casablanca.  At fifteen minutes past midnight, the Hecla was hit by three torpedoes while a fourth malfunctioned. A further three torpedoes hit the Hecla at 1:28am, 1:49 am and 2:06am, sinking the Hecla west of Gibraltar.

The ship was abandoned, and James found himself clinging to a piece of wood with another unknown sailor.   The HMS Marne came to rescue the survivors but was also torpedoed by the U-515.  The HMS Venomous broke off its rescue effort and chased the U boat.  Once the submarine had been chased away it returned to the rescue.

In the meantime, James and his colleague had swallowed a substantial amount of diesel and were weak. After a few hours his colleague said he had had enough and quietly slipped from the piece of wood. Clinging on, James was eventually rescued.  It is unknown exactly how long he was in the water; it was at a least 18 hours but could have been anything up to 24 hours.   

After being picked up by a rescue ship, he was taken to Casablanca and then to the UK where he convalesced in hospital for many months. Once he recovered, he returned to active service with the Navy.  He took part in the Battle of River Plate which sank the Graf Spee and the hunting of the Bismarck while serving on the HMS Devonshire. (HMS Devonshire is part of the Shannon story) James took part in the D-Day landing. 

James was demobbed in 1952 and joined his family in Cape Town. He worked at Heynes Matthews until he retired.   He died in Pinelands in 1994.

After sinking the Hecla, U-515 continued to operate in the Atlantic. During the war the U-515 sank 23 ships before being sunk by a U.S. Navy aircraft in April 1944.  The Commanding Officer Werner Henke was killed along with most of his crew.  

FOOTNOTE:  In WW1 the HMS Hecla served as a depot ship to the HMS Ardent. The Grandfather of James’ daughter in law was drowned in the 1916 Battle of Jutland while serving on the HMS Ardent when it was torpedoed. The HMS Hecla that James served on was the replacement for HMS Hecla sunk in WW1.

 In WW1 the HMS Hecla served as a depot ship to the HMS Ardent. The Grandfather of James’ daughter in law was drowned in the 1916 Battle of Jutland while serving on the HMS Ardent when it was torpedoed. The HMS Hecla that James served on when it was torpedoed.