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The Story Of John Hornby 1901-1974

Author - John Haydn Barker Hornby, 2001. Edited and Published 2003 Copyright © Hubmaker
No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without the prior consent of the publisher.

Chapter 9 - Salerno and back to Plymouth

From 10 March 1943 until the 2nd April John Hornby was back at "Drake", the Plymouth shore base. After this he served on board HMS "Valiant", another old Queen Elizabeth class battleship. This ship was hurriedly sent from Malta early in September 1943 to cover the Salerno landings - an allied invasion of Italy, two thirds down the "leg" on the Western side. "Valiant" was sent to assist with the bombardment of enemy strong points beyond the beaches, and arrived on the 16th September with the battleships Warspite and an escort of destroyers.

It turned out to be a huge battle, with constant air attacks on all ships. My father said that the pom pom (anti aircraft) gunners on board could not prevent themselves from shaking their arms as in firing the guns long after they had ceased firing. HMS "Warspite" was attacked by German Focke Wulf 109a aircraft using glider bombs (the first time they had been seen) and two out of the four released hit the ship. She lost all power, wallowing in the sea, but she survived.

Two more of my father's stories: The ships were told that no American twin boom aircraft i.e. "Lightnings" or "Black Widows" would be used in the action, and that any seen would be enemy aircraft and were to be shot down. Some were seen, "Valiant" shot them down, and they were American "Lightnings". His second story concerned the bombardment of the beaches. The co ordinates given for some of the covering fire were wrong, the landing troops were further inland that stated, and the men being killed by the ship's heavy gunners were British and American soldiers. Now called "friendly fire", these kind of mishaps are common in war. The whole episode was called "Operation Avalanche" and it very nearly failed.

His service on Valiant does not appear on his service Certificate, and I can only presume that from then on they were so busy fighting the war that they never got round to doing the paperwork! Immediately following the Salerno landings he was returned to his Plymouth base for rest and recuperation. However, bad Luftwaffe air raids had previously devastated the city and my father was put in charge of Naval working parties on clearing up the mess. He was appalled at the devastation and loss of life. In doing this work he said the worst job was removing bodies that had been there for some time, decomposed and covered with flies. No "r" and "r" for him! (Plymouth suffered one of the most intense air raids in the war and afterwards the whole of the centre of the City was described as "a brick pitted desert". 20,000 incendiary bombs were dropped in one night alone).

"Valiant" suffered serious harm when she slipped out of a floating dock in Trincomalee (Ceylon) on 8 August 1944. She was further damaged by Italian frogmen in Alexandria harbour, and was broken up at Troon, Scotland, in March 1950.

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