Declarations of War.
There had been small movements of troops for a couple of weeks, ostensibly for a training exercise involving Dutch Guiana; in fact most of the men had been transported to Trinidad to await a troopship. On the 2nd of November HMMS Panther had sailed with a large escort of cruisers and destroyers to meet an incoming 'convoy' of three freighters and two tankers. The following week one of the cruisers and some of the destroyers returned, shepherding the merchant ships into port, there was no sign of Panther or two of the cruisers..
A week later the German and Italian ambassadors were separately summoned to the Foreign Ministry. Herr Erich von Klinkerhoffen noted the crisp 'present arms' by the palace guards in their bright green and yellow ceremonial uniforms at the gates and smiled an acknowledgement to the same greeting as he alighted from his car. He stepped through the Ministry's entrance of the 'Winter Palace' and was escorted to an ante-room where he waited for a few minutes, unaware that the Italian ambassador was being ushered in to a similar room via a different entrance. He was soon taken in to the Emerald Room to be greeted by the Foreign Minister. After the normal exchange of pleasantries and the serving of the Ambassador's favourite coffee the Minister came to the point.
"As you well know the European and Asian conflicts are, if anything, worsening. After a great deal of heart-searching debate the Malacian government has made the decision to join the Allies in their defence of the free world; it is with distinct sorrow that I have to inform you that at twelve noon today Malacia will be at war with Germany and Italy". He lifted a foolscap sized envelope from his desk blotter and handed it to Erich. "This envelope contains the formal declaration of war, I'm sure you will transmit its contents to Berlin".
The Ambassador took the envelope from the Minister's hand, although his Embassy had run through plans for this eventuality Erich had never thought it would actually happen.
At the same time most of the other Ambassadors and Consuls had been brought to the Amber room to be told that Malacia was declaring war on Germany and Italy. The Foreign Office official then asked if any of the representatives present would be prepared to provide consular facilities for the German and Italian nationals in Malacia. After a short silent pause the Spanish Consul-General, Manuel el Camarero, rose to his feet.
"Ignoring for the moment the rights or wrongs of your government's decision to declare war, I am happy to take on the duties you request."
"Senor el Camarero, thank-you for your offer; it goes without saying that His Majesty's government will grant you full recognition of representation." The official replied, nodding to one of his junior staff as he did so.
Erich was still trying to convince the Minister that it was a foolish move for Malacia to join the Allies when an assistant, preceded by a discrete tap on the door, entered the room. Without speaking he handed the Minister a small card and left. Leonard Deyton looked at the few words written on the card and lifted his eyes back to the Ambassador.
"Ah, has your government perhaps realised the foolishness of declaring war on the Third Reich and changed its mind?"
"Not at all. The note is to let me know that the Spanish Consul-General has kindly offered to look after the interests of the German nationals in Malacia." Leonard paused for a moment. "Now, as for you and your staff; although you will be classed as enemy nationals from noon we will give you until three o'clock to vacate your embassy and you have the choice of remaining in Malacia in an internment camp, or to leave. In the latter case we can provide safe passage only as far as our borders."
"This is outrageous!" Erich spluttered. "What about our families and belongings?"
"Vehicles will be provided to take you to your homes to collect your families."
"But we should be allowed to return to Germany!"
"Well I suggest you contact your government and ask them to arrange transport." Leonard suggested, as he reached across his desk to press a button on his intercom. "The German Ambassador is ready to leave."
They both rose as the door was opened and an aide escorted Erich out to the official car which was waiting for him. As the car departed taking him back to his embassy he noticed that the palace guards were now wearing drab green battledress instead of their ceremonial uniforms. On arriving he found that there was an armed guard outside and although he was driven straight in, they were preventing visitors entering the embassy.
On arrival at Trinidad, Panther had taken on board the crated parts for two more eight-barrelled pom-pom guns as well as four twin-barrelled six-pounders, and over the next few days the ship's crew fitted them to the pre-prepared mounts as they sailed eastwards towards North Africa, in company with the anti-aircraft cruisers Karabira and Kamarang, the troopships, and several destroyers. The following week saw a continual series of anti-aircraft and anti-submarine drills but being away from the normal convoy routes they crossed the Atlantic without incident.
Major Hockin stood outside the German embassy; inside the staff were frantically packing the things they wanted to take with them, and burning documents that they didn't want to fall into Allied hands. His men stood guard to protect the embassy, already a few people had turned up to watch the evacuation. A small lorry pulled up at the entrance and a small well-dressed man climbed down from the cab, and handed the major an envelope. Major Hockin opened the envelope and quickly read the letter and then looked at the man. "You are free to go in."
"Can you confirm we still have diplomatic protection, Major?"
"Yes, as far as I am concerned your vehicle is a diplomatic bag. I can give you an escort on your return to your embasssy if you wish." He replied.
"Thank you major, you are being most helpful." The man gestured to the driver, who drove the lorry into the embassy grounds while he walked in behind.
About twenty minutes later a despatch rider arrived and handed the major a package, again he quickly read it before nodding an acknowledgement to the rider. He stood looking into the middle distance for a moment or two, tapping the sheet of paper against his lip. He came to a decision, and turned to one of his junior officers. "Henry, I need to speak to the German ambassador and give him this news," Major Hockin handed the paper to him as he spoke. "I'll enter the embassy grounds unarmed, your men can cover me."
"Very good sir. I've managed to get a couple of Lewis teams into one of the office buildings opposite and they have a clear view of the embassy door."
"Just make sure they cover me and don't shoot me by mistake!" Major Hockin removed his revolver and handed it to the Captain, and then slowly walked towards the building's entrance. As he reached the door it was opened from the inside.
"It is not yet three o'clock Herr Major." The man said.
"Indeed not, I have a message for the Ambassador. Would it be possible to speak to him?"
"I will see if he is available."
After five minutes or so the Ambassador appeared at the door. "Yes, Herr Major."
"I have just been advised that a Spanish ship will arrive here later today and will be able to take your staff and families, as well as those of the Italian Embassy, directly to Spain. We will, therefore, take you to the harbour once your families have been collected."
"Thank you Herr Major. There is one question I need to ask you." He continued. "We have a small number of army personnel for our security, their commanding officer is worried that they will be shot as our countries will officiallybe at war."
"If they are accredited to the the Embassy then they will have diplomatic status and can leave with the rest of you."
"What about their rifles and so on?"
"I cannot allow them to bear arms. You could put any weapons they have on the Spanish Embassy's lorry; I have been instructed to treat it as a diplomatic bag."
"Thank-you Herr Major."
Major Hockin saluted the Ambassador before turning and walking back to the gate.
"That didn't turn out too bad, Henry." He said when he got back and retrieved his revolver. "Any news about the families?"
"Yes." Henry replied. "They should be here in the next half hour."
About twenty minutes later vehicles started to arrive bringing the families of the embassy's staff. The wives and children were worried and upset with some of the latter crying, and Major Hockin did his best to calm them down.
While the families milled about, putting their suitcases and trunks at the side of the drive, one small boy could be seen running around apparently looking for something. Soon the buses turned up to take the German personnel to the docks, along with lorries for the luggage. A car had been provided for the Ambassador and his family and it was still waiting after everyone else had left. Eventually the Ambassador appeared along with his wife and young son, who was obviously distressed.
"I am sorry for the delay, Herr Major." The Ambassador said. "My son has been looking for the Embassy's cat but he is nowhere to be seen."
Major Hockin looked down at the young boy, and could see the tears in his eyes. "Don't worry. We'll keep a lookout for the cat, what does he look like?"
"He is black with white whiskers, Sir." The boy replied haltingly.
"Cats often disappear if they think they are about to be taken somewhere. I'll pass the description on to my men. If we find him before your ship sails we will bring him down to the docks. If we find him after your ship has left we will make sure he has a good home to live in."
With that the three got into the car, and were driven off to the docks. Major Hockin turned to his officers, "Well, if you see a black cat with white whiskers see if you can pick it up."
A day out from Gibraltar the Malacian ships rendezvoused with a larger convoy that had sailed down from Britain, and they were subjected to their first air attack. Panther and her charges had joined the rear of the larger convoy; because of the Malacian ship's crew's lack of experience the convoy's Commodore positioned the ships in order to boost the convoy's anti-aircraft defence. In fact the Malacian crew's long hours of practice paid off when the Ju88s made their first attack, Panther and the cruiser Karabira produced an impressive volume of accurate fire with their 4.5" and 4" guns. While neither ship shot any of the bombers down they did break up the attack and helped drive them off. Minutes later a small group of Italian torpedo bombers made an attack with two of them racing directly towards Panther at wave-top height coming close enough for the port Pom-Poms to start firing, again the attack was driven off with one of the bombers trailing smoke. There were several more air attacks until the convoy arrived at Bougie where the increasing Allied air cover was able to provide protection for the ships as they unloaded.
Nothing prepared the Malacians for the chaos at the port, a German air-raid a few days previously had sunk several freighters carrying tanks and motor transport; ships' superstructures jutted out of the water's surface and debris littered the harbour.
The senior Malacian officers made their way to the Port Control Office as soon as they disembarked. Major-General Joe Walker had spent some time in Britain earlier in the war and was well aware of the British Army's procedures but still braced himself before entering. The Port Control Officer took in Walker and his staffs' uniform without a second glance and was frank with them to the point of bluntness.
"There are no carriers and precious few lorries. You can have your Crusader tanks but that is mostly because everyone else has been allocated Shermans. I can let you have a dozen light tanks for your reconnaissance unit and you can have four Bofors guns because I've been ordered to give them to you."
"I understand." Said Walker. "What about lorries for the infantry?"
"I can only give you half your allocation and that is because a shipload came in with your convoy."
"Half will do fine." Replied Brigadier Pike, remembering that they had been allocated trucks on the British scale of four per platoon, and he knew that his men would be fine at two per platoon.
"You haven't mentioned anti-tank guns." Walker said, after a short pause.
"That's because they are all sitting on the harbour bottom -there are none to give you, unless you'll take some of the Deacons."
"What on earth is a Deacon?"
"Someone's misguided attempt at a self-propelled six-pounder anti-tank gun; a huge gun shield perched on a Matador chassis which is only just bullet proof." He gestured at a window "You can see them out there."
The Malacian officers looked out of the side window and saw the monstrous lorries parked behind the office.
"Good grief," Pike exclaimed, "they're huge!"
"You'd never be able to hide one of those."
"That's why no-one else wants them -and I've got about thirty of them cluttering up the port."
"We'll take the whole lot off your hands, then. I'll get drivers organised." Brigadier Fraser declared, striding purposefully out of the office before anyone could contradict him.
A glance from the Port Liaison Officer galvanised the Quartermasters' staff into action, and the paperwork was created to put the Deacons onto the Malacian Army Group's charge. At the same time the PLO gave the Malacian officers instructions to reach their dispersal areas.
While the instructions were being passed on to the Malacian troops, Walker spoke to Fraser. "Why were you so keen to take those monstrosities on?"
"Apart from the fact they have decent truck chassis under those huge gunshields," Fraser replied, "we now have thirty anti-tank guns."
While the ships of the convoy continued their unloading through the evening, a warning of an E-boat attack was issued. Panther, Karabira and the other escorts outside the harbour
went to action stations and the lookouts scanned the waters around the headland to the east.
All too soon the E-boats came into view, hugging the coastline as they approached the port, weaving from side to side to put off the aim of the allied ships.
"E-boats Green 120, range 14,500 yards!" barked Panther's tannoy. The battleship's 4·5" guns swung out onto the bearing and started firing, their heavy thumping joined
by the surrounding destroyers as they moved out to try and intercept the fast approaching boats. The cruiser Karabira struggled to get into a firing position but eventually she was able to open fire with her 4" guns controlled by her after LA director, the time-fused shells detonating low in the air above the E-boats.
This story is still being written; please come back again to find out what happens!
This page copyright SR Jenkins May 2018; reproduction without prior approval is prohibited.
Page last updated: 24th
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