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.
A day out from Gibraltar they rendezvoused with a larger convoy 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 PLO 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.
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