Vladimir Kroupnik


(MAY 2003)


Tell me something of your life.

I was born in Yorkshire England in May 1921. At a young age I wanted to join the Royal Navy however this was not possible at 14 years of age I was working as a butcherís apprentice. My wages went to supplement fathers as I had two sisters still at school making; a living was very difficult, as times were hard.

It was not until 1939 that my desire came true, my cousin Leslie who was almost a brother to me had be able to join as a boy entry at 16 years of age, and was now at sea on board HMS Suffolk. He was later killed on HMS Barham in the Mediterranean.

The Prime Minister came back from Munich waving a piece of white paper saying peace in our time, I remember my father saying he is a bloody fool if he believes that Hitler will take any notice of a piece of paper. So in 1939 I volunteered for the Navy the first week war was declared at 18 years of age. My father also served in the airforce training air crews to release pigeons when they were shot down, He was a pigeon fancier for many years. He had served in the 1914-18 war joining up at 18 tears of age. We considered it our duty to defend our beloved England from what was certain invasion if Hitler had his way.

How were you trained for war?

I was trained at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint Devon.Then transferred to Portsmouth to await my transfer to a ship, preferring a small destroyer, which was granted.

Portsmouth like many cities in England was very heavily bombed. During one very heavy raid we were sent out to help in rescuing people who were trapped in houses that had been bombed. Returning to Barracks we found that it had also received a direct hit on an air raid shelter and some 12 WRENS (Women Sailors) had been killed. I was then to take passage on HMS Maidstone a submarine depot ship to Gibraltar to join HMS Faulknor my home for the next three and a half years.

What was your position on the ship?

Seaman did two or three jobs, I was a quartermaster one of four who steer the ship at sea, and do watch keeping duties when in harbour. I was also bosun party taking care of the rigging and upper deck repair work. When in action I was on No 1 gun (the forward gun,) as communicator and sight setter.

Did you see a lot of action?

Yes, plenty. I was in action on the very first day I joined the Faulknor. We were the destroyer screen in the Western Mediterranean and Bay ofBiscay for Force H, the Battle cruiser RENOWN, Aircraft carrier ARK ROYAL, the Cruiser Sheffield with the 8th destroyer flotilla, the Faulknor being the leader.

The destroyers caught a German prison ship with many captured British merchant seamen on board, on sighting us the Germans put the prisoners into life boats then sailed away some distance and scuttled her. She was called the ALSATOR a sister ship to the ALTMARK which had been captured by the Royal Navy in Norway the prisoner were badly treated whereas these prisoners had been well treated and asked if we would treat the Germans with the same respect. We picked up numbers of the Germans to convey them back to Gibraltar some two days away and we became friends with many of them they were boys like us and doing what their leader had told them to do. Some are members of the Faulknor association and attended our meeting every year.

Did you meet any Germans? What did you feel about them?

Yes we assisted in sinking about 10 or 12 U- boats during the war, and with the crew of the Alsator on board for two days, who were very frightened when they got back to land they would be shot. We told them not to worry as England did not do that to prisoners, we did not hate them as they were mostly like us.

Our main duty was to supply Malta with food and aircraft which were flown off the Ark Royal some distance from Malta. The food convoys were quite hazardous and were heavily attacked by aircraft both Italian and German. Force H also took part in the sinking of the BISMARK the German heavy battle cruiser. In 1941 having suffered many near misses by bombs and continually at sea the Faulknor was dispatched back to the UK for an extensive refit and then to do some 21 convoys to Russia.

What was it like on these convoys?

Life was very hard for the small ships like destroyers, Frigates and especially hard for those on minesweepers. Waves were often 15 to 20 feet high and temperatures of minus 30 degrees were common in winter months. The Faulknor as with other ships were based in
Iceland. The pack ice in winter drove the convoys closer to Norway where the Germans had over 250 aircraft based to attack the convoys. Convoys were heavily bombed and also attacked by the wolf packs of the U. Boats that sank many ships.

Were you frightened about going on these convoys?

I donít remember being frightened as such, though one was often apprehensive, I had joined to fight so accepted what was required of me. Thinking more of what would happen to my family if we were to lose the war. It was I believe the most dreadful aspect of war having to fight the cold and atrocious living conditions as well as a very determined enemy. German heavy units were also based in Norway and within easy reach of the convoys. The Tirpitz without doubt the bestwarship afloat and supported by a number of other units were a constant threat. The Lutzow and the Hipper and several destroyers sailed to attack a convoy JW 51B and this was to be the start of what became known as the battle of the Barents sea. There was to be another battle by opposing naval forces in 1943 known as the battle of the North Cape. The Germans suffered heavy losses.

What was the largest action you took part in?

This was without doubt, PQ18, which up to then was the largest air and sea battle to take place. Sunday September 13 1942. We lost 8 of 9 ships in the starboard column in 15 minutes by torpedo planes. We were to lose 13 ships altogether . The Germans suffered heavy aircraft losses.

How many convoys did you do?

I did a total of 21.

Where did you dock in Russia?

Small ships did not go to Murmansk orArkangel, we went to Polyano in the Kola Inlet. This was to us a miserable place , but we did not stay long 4or 5 days at the most.

How did you find the Russian people?

There were but a few civilians and a couple of destroyers astern of us, we had little chance to mix as soldiers patrolled the Jetty and kept people away. One little girl she seemed very well dressed in a fur coat and was about 5or 6 years of age. Some of the crew had some chocolate that they were saving for their own children and offered her some, she looked over her shoulder at the soldier who just stared at her so she declined the offer. I went to the soldier and offered him some cigarettes and nodded for him to move away, which he did then the little girl took the chocolate. Some of us were invited to what must have been the Village hall, a large timber and iron shed to watch a concert by male Russian dancers, which was very good. I played chess with a boy about 12 years of age and he defeated me in 5 minutes we mixed with the people who were friendly but it was difficult with the language barrier. †††

In 1942 we arrived in Polyano on Christmas day having been out of food for three days , however someone back in England had been blessed by the festive season and had sent supplies to us on the Cruisers which covered the convoy, having left England later. We had lots of good food so on the boxing day we celebrated, later some of us went on board the Russian destroyer with some of the food and beer and rum celebrating with the sailors who were very friendly.

One had to carry me back on board as I was drunk on the copious amount of Vodka they had plied us with as they drank our beer and rum.

When at sea we had to, when closed up on the gun to chip ice off and keep tuning the guns to keep the free. Also about every four or five hours everyone had to turn out night and day to chip Ice from the ships so we did not capsize as one Russian destroyer did and went down with all hands. Large ships did not need to do this as they could carry the weight.

Ted did you have any hatred of the NAZIs before warand during the war?

Yes I hated the real Nazi as they were fanatics obsessed with ruling all of Europe. Though the many German sailors I met were just like us and our age we got on very well with each other.

How much did you know about Russia before the war? What were you taught about Russia by the media or at school?

I have little knowledge of what I knew I think all I remember that we knew where it was on the map but little about the politics until the Stalin era. Having left school at 14 and not interested in politics. I never had any desire to visit it though was very interested in other parts of the world thatís why I wanted to join the Navy. During the war we all admired the way the Russians fought against heavy odds and at Stalingrad .


Which day of the war do you remember most?

Having seen a lot of action in various theatres of the conflict. I remember most was the day some six destroyers was sent to Norway to waylay the Tirpitz as she left a port in Norway to make her way to an other. We were to attack and torpedo her. Six small destroyers against such a large and formidable warship with other large warships, and a big escort of destroyers. I doubt if we would have survived especially as we knew the German gunnery was as good as ours was. However due to circumstances we were unable to engage and we were heavily attacked by Stuka bombers and later by JU88 aircraft. We managed to avoid being sunk and returned to harbour.The satisfaction of being able to save Malta from invasion and starvation was most gratifying. As well as with other warships meeting the large Italian fleet and escorting it to Malta after they had surrendered.

Of course you have read The Cruel sea, and HMS Ulysses.†Did you like the books and do you think they was any exaggeration in them?

I have not read "Ulysses", but "The Cruel Sea" was very real and portrayed life on destroyers well. Some of the American films relating to the war are utter rubbish.VK you mean U 371? They also did one of the Agean war which I took part in and our losses was 6 destroyers sunk, 4 damaged, 4 cruisers damaged, 3 submarines sunk, 4 damaged. Landing craft 2 sunk, Motor launches 4 sunk I damaged. all this with the loss of life Navy 745, Army 442, Airforce 333. Prisoners of war over 3000. All this between October and November 1943 and not one Yank in sight.

Were you under Stuka attack?

Yes many times and we shot down quite a few. You did not have time to be frightened as you were so busy firing the guns you were washed out afterwards.

Navy losses were due to Stukas and mines.

What about the situation in "The Cruel Sea" when they depth charged a U-boat with British seamen in the water?

I†believe there was a report of this happening but I would be inclined to think it may not have happened. Having taken part in many attacks similar I believe we would have waited, keeping asdic contact until the danger to the men in the water were safely clear. Although circumstances in war make decisions very difficult for ships Captains.

Can you tell me of the living conditions on destroyers?

Life was very hard and cramped. My mess was some 18 to 20 feet long and about 8ft wide, there was twenty men in the mess including their lockers about a foot square along the ships side these doubled as a seat.We had canteen messing which means you have an allowance of 0ne shilling and eleven pence a day for food. If you did not eat that amount you got the balance in your pay however if you over spent you had to pay the difference. At sea the living conditions was atrocious with water up to a foot deep in the mess deck and the toilets often got blocked up so the smell was terrible at times. Sleeping conditions had to be seen to be believed. In such conditions the camaraderie was tremendous with everyone pulling together. Food ran out after four or five days andthen it was biscuits.

In the Sicily invasion we were so short of food and fresh water we sent a deputation to the Captain who said he was very annoyed that the planners had forgot we had to eat. He also was without food and sent a signal to Admiralty for urgent supplies.

Thank you Ted. I feel sorry that my father who fought aginst the Nazis †too never had a chance to talk to a man †like you.

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