15 June 1942 – HMAS Nestor attacked

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On This Day in 1942 the RAN’s destroyer HMAS Nestor sank SW of Crete after towing the flooded vessel by HMS Javelin proved impossible.

Operation Vigorous was a convoy of 11 Merchant ships from Haifa to Malta. Two RN cruisers and 12 destroyers escorted the merchant ships. N Class Destroyers Norman and Nestor were there. The convoy was attacked from the air by the Luftwaffe, by U boats and by E boats.

Nestor had three bombs near miss her and one of them tore a hole in her side which killed 4 stokers and flooded both her engine rooms.

Nestor’s doctor Surgeon Lieutenant Shane Watson RANR was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, DSC for repeatedly diving in the boiler room to recover the bodies of the four stokers killed and search for survivors. His citation observed that he displayed: …… outstanding bravery in entering the flooded boiler room in complete darkness in order to rescue crew he knew must be either killed or seriously injured. He dived repeatedly till all bodies were recovered.

Petty Officer Stoker Thomas Ellston from Sydney received a Distinguished Service Medal for his work in ensuring that the ship’s hand pumps continued to work all through the long night. Mentions in Dispatches (MID) were awarded to those who worked to shore up bulkheads and patch holes in the ships sides through the night in flooded compartments.

Nestor’s Executive officer Lieutenant George Crowley, RN, was awarded a DSC for his leadership in keeping the ship’s company working together to try to save their ship and then supervising their evacuation.

2 COMMENTS

  1. My Father was on Nestor up until early 1942. He was rotated back to Aus for leave and was home when Nestor was attacked and disabled. He served on the armed merchantman Ranchi and Shropshire later on.

  2. I am saddened that in many accounts of HMAS Nestor online, my father Thomas William Ellston does not get mentioned. His family gathered information from his collegues after his death in 1995 at the age of 91.
    Our dad was a quiet man who did not discuss events of the war with his family, so it was with much pride that we listened to to these events from the few men left that were actually there on the day that the Nestor was attacked. These facts formed part of Dad’s eulogy.
    Thomas William Ellston Stoker Chief Petty Officer Royal Australian Navy, on the 15th June 1943, performed not one, not two, but three acts of bravery aboard the HMAS Nestor ( a destroyer battle ship of the “N” Class Fleet) ( The “N” Class included the HMAS NIZAM, HMAS NORMAN, HMAS NAPIER & HMAS NEPAL) all of which T.W. Ellston served on during the 2nd world war, except for the Nepal.

    15th of June The Nestor was in the Mediterranean Sea under orders to head for Malta. Under heavy and sustained air attacks during which she sustained serious damage after three near misses causing flooding of Boiler Rooms which completely disabled the ship. Fire broke out below deck after one attack damaged the ship, and it was in an area that couldn’t be reached without allowing the fire to spread. A volunteer was needed to slide down a crevice (funnel) and satisfactorily shut off the fire’s air supply, by shoring up all doors, to contain the fire to one small area. This would allow the remaining crew in the boiler room to escape the now badly flooding boiler room. Tom Ellston CPO was a slight man that could easily fit down the funnel, and readily volunteered.

    Once Tom Ellston made his way through to the boiler room, the crew who were able to return to deck did so, and those injured were assisted and unfortunately 4 were dead.
    CPO Ellston remained in the boiler room, as he could hear the water gushing in. He dived into the flooding water over and over again, inspecting the hull, trying to find the hole in the ship that was allowing most water in. Upon reporting his findings to C of C, crew were sent to keep the boilers going (which kept the pumps pumping the water out, and crew were sent back down with CPO Ellston to do all they could to shore up the damaged hull.

    The ship was now in tow by HMAS Javelin. Rescue seemed accomplished.

    However the next day the tow rope broke. C of C ordered the ship be abandoned. Crew were to join the Javelin and other ships still in the immediate area.

    The order was given to lower the life boats, however as panic had set in with the young crew, orders were not followed and the first boat was lowered quickly on one side and not the other. CPO Ellston’s quick thinking saved the life boat with crew from being lost, by issuing a command for all hands to hoist the dropped side full strength. Had someone not yelled this order the boat would have crashed against the side of the ship and been smashed. A few crew were injured in this incident but no fatalities. While the ship was evacuated, it was the decision of the CPO Ellston and the ship’s Doctor – Surgeon Lieutenant Shane Andrew Clarke Watson, R.A.N.R. to go to the boiler room and keep the pumps going, until the last of the crew was safely off the ship.
    It is to be said that apart from the Acting Commander of the Nestor Hugh Rowley Mount Nicholl, D.S.O., Royal Navy, Surgeon Lieutenant Shane Andrew Clarke Watson and CPO Thomas William Ellston were among the oldest members of the crew. Thomas Ellston was 38 years old, as he had enlisted in the Navy in peace time at the age of 20, in 1924, and reached the rank of Chief Petty officer, during his 4 year stint. He then re-enlisted during wartime and began his tour of duty as a private again. The average age of the rest of the non commissioned crew ( non- officers) was about 20 years old.
    Thomas Ellston was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal DSM for his brave act of maintaining the boiler with the doctor that day, and being the last to leave the ship before it was sunk.
    A letter from the ship’s Captain Rosenthall, who learned some time later, of him being awarded the DSM for his bravery on the Nestor, and congratulating him, is something Tom kept for the rest of his life.

    Tom never Marched in ANZAC Day marches, but in later years enjoyed a get together in a Naval club in Kings Cross with members of the “N” Class Destroyers group on Anzac Day. On one such occasion when Tom was in his 80’s he noticed a younger man had seemed to be avoiding him all afternoon. Tom walked up to the man and said hello, I’m Tom Ellston, and your name is ? The man sheepishly gave his name, whilst not looking Tom in the eye. Then said, I have been so afraid all these years to face you sir. You no doubt think of me as a coward. Tom asked which ships he had served on and it came to light that he was a 17 year old (lied about his age to enlist) on the Nestor. All these years he had carried the guilt of leaving the ship knowing that CPO Ellston and Ship’s Surgeon Lieutenant Watson were maintaining power for the pumps until all got off safely.
    Tom’s eyes filled with warm tears, as he told the man that he had nothing but admiration for every non commissioned crew member aboard the Nestor that fateful June day, and every man should hold their head high with pride. This brought a smile to the other man’s face, and each of them looked forward to seeing each other every ANZAC day from then on. Tom passed away on the 7th January 1996 at the age of 91, after having suffered a stroke in the early hours of New Years Day. His beloved wife Nell (Ellen Dulcie Ellston-nee Swanson) had passed away 9 months earlier on the 28th March 1995. Nellie was 85. Now they are together again.
    I have pictures, newspaper clippings and of course the letter to Tom from Captain Rosenthall , that can be forwarded to the Royal Australian Institute if required. My Email address is below.

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