INTERVIEW WITH DENNIS CRADOCK
(AUGUST 2003 )
Please tell a little bit about yourself.
I was born in
Apart from the Russian
convoys I was involved in work in
about your feelings towards
It was long ago… It depends
on one’s age and when you are very young you don’t realize what was going
on. I heard rumours, you read newspapers, but
I don’t think that at that time I had any particular attitude towards the
Yes, I do not have any doubts at all. Once it started my only ambition was to get it finished.
what you thought about
In regard to what I think
So, you were
given some kind of perception of
Yes. And when I was young
I got kind of a picture of
You mentioned Stalin-Hitler
pact… It raised some concern and certain fears as to what might happen. After
the Germans invaded
What kind of ship did you serve on and what was your duty?
I served on cruisers. I
was a boy seaman in the
During the Norwegian campaign we put some troops on the ground but they were so outnumbered that they couldn’t last long so we were sent in to help evacuate them. We went ashore to cover them when they retreated. A part of my job was to blow up a couple of bridges. In my memory it was winter time, snow, and to try to win the war floundering around in the snow was hopeless. We were badly equipped and I still remember those young kids whizzing around on skis when we were struggling to get through the snow.
The Quislings were very active at that time. We were based in a school for a while and one day we were trying to brew some coffee or tea and a young girl came down form the farm with a bucket of goat’s milk. We thought it would be very nice to make our tea with it. So we put it on the fire and started to boil but a medical officer came past and asked: What do you have there? – Milk. And he said: It’s full of arsenic, as he could smell it.
So, they wanted to poison you?
What was the general attitude of Norwegians towards you? We they hostile?
No-no. They were friendly but this was an element of Quislings and she (the girl – VK) was one of them and any opportunity they got they had a go on us…
Did you visit
The only time I stepped
on the Russian soil was in
Did you have a chance to talk to some Russians?
Not really. Funny enough most of the contact was made with a supply ship, you see. Most of the crews were women! In fact we were frightened as they were big women with muscles (Dennis shows how big muscles were and laughs – VK).
Did you or any of your mates have a chance to mix closely with Russian women?
Not really. No.
Were the women interested in?
No, we had only a very short period of time ashore. There was no chance anyway.
And those women were your only chance to socialize with the Russians?
We were allowed to go down to get a certain point of view but, I suppose, there was a certain attitude of suspicion and they were told not to fraternize. It’s quite understandable.
What about later on when you served in the HMS Dido?
No. We pulled in only once for a couple of days to refuel and that was it.
I also served on HMS Ajax but only for a month. We were sunk in a harbour in
Dennis shows photographs:
These photographs of the
V-Day were taken when we sailed into
Once we were there we were
the first Allied force to get into
Did you see that?
Yes. She shot quite a few. That’s she on this photo…
This is a photograph taken during one of the Arctic convoys – typical freezing conditions. This guy is chipping ice off.
Ben Titheridge showed me a photograph with them washing ice off by steam from the engine room. But there was ice chipping as well?
Oh, yes. These are photos with damage done to the boats by the waves…
This photo was taken during
the Spanish conflict. We were picking up refugees and taking them down to
Did you have a chance to socialize with those Germans?
No. But we treated them well, buried them well. We had no trouble with them.
This is a photo of
Which day of the war do you remember most? Please tell about it.
We were based in
So, they were shot well? I read that they just missed the target but they went underneath! Did you see that?
Was it scary?
Of course, you should have heard our captain what he told about it. All possible swearing in the world. Those were Swordfish. How they took off in that weather, God knows. It was an atrocious weather…
Was the whole action scary? The Bismark then was the mightiest ship in the world…
Oh, yes. We knew it was very well built. The thing which let them down – poor sea training. The crew was inexperienced. They did not have any experience of bad weather, manning weapons, firing in bad weather. They were raw, really. It did not stop them of doing damage – they had a lucky hit on the Hood… We were respectful of the way they built their ships but they were inexperienced. Their submarines were different. They put their surface ship to sea very seldom for training so we had an advantage there.
Another day I remember
was V-day in
After I was transferred
Was it scary? For many people it was the most horrifying experience in the whole war – the Stukas’ attack…
One day they came across and, believe it or not one bomb went down the funnel
and blew out in the boiler underneath. It rested us on the bottom of the harbor.
You wouldn’t see even a bit of damage. We were there for three weeks trying
to get the ship afloat again. Anyway, we got to the sea again and were towed
We went right through the
North African campaign with the army, landing commandos,
we landed a raid on the
Yes, there was a lot of anti-French and anti-Belgian sentiment. They caved in too early. There was a lot of it even after the war and I don’t think many Britons forgave them, really.
fact that many French fought alongside the British in
Oh yes, even today in
What about the Yanks?
We worked with them in many convoy operations and we got along with them very well. We were envious of their facilities on their ships, the way the crews were looked after. But we used to dread to do any close work with them because they were a bit trigger-happy (Dennis laughs – VK). They would open fire with a slightest excuse. We probably got more damage from them than we did from the enemy at a time. If they had a radar report on the aircraft even twenty miles away they would open fire even from their small arms. They used to close their eyes and pull the trigger swinging the guns around.
Were you hit by their fire?
Oh yes. They were terrible.
Did you have a chance to socialize with the Yanks onshore?
Yes, of course. There was normal rivalry, you know, a few punch-ups in the bar but nothing serious (Dennis laughs – VK). Funny enough we used to get into trouble with the Australians very often, but never serious.
I believe you
read the books “The
I found these books reasonably realistic.
Was there a bit of exaggeration, especially about the conditions in the Arctic convoys in the “HMS “Ulysses’”?
Yes, there was. I also
remember in the “
Another question. What do you think about the situation when a U-boat was depth charged and survivors in the water killed? Was it justified?
Yes, I think so at the time. Again, at war thing are happening you would never consider. It was not unusual as it was not unusual for the German aircrafts to machine gun the survivors from sunk merchant ships.
Did you witness it?
No, I didn’t but it was recorded.
Please tell about the war what you would like to tell.
There are no rules at war once it starts. Your object is to destroy the enemy, however. This is it – kill or be killed. From the Navy point of view we saw the enemy very seldom as oppose to within the army. What killing we did was at a long distance.
I volunteered to join the
service before the war at a very young age. We knew the war was coming. Then
you get more experience and make your own opinion. We were told what to do
and we did. And I can honestly say at time I had no feelings towards people
we were killing. We bombarded coastlines and stuff like that… We did a lot
of damage to the coast in the North African and Italian campaigns. We bombarded