THE MOST AGONIZING HOUR OF THE WAR AT SEA

James Goad was three decks down in the aircraft carrier Nabob when a torpedo blew him into a classic nightmare: trapped between rising water and a steel deckhead, in an apparently sinking ship. He lived, while 21 men died around him.

TERENCE ROBERTSON November 18 1961

THE MOST AGONIZING HOUR OF THE WAR AT SEA

James Goad was three decks down in the aircraft carrier Nabob when a torpedo blew him into a classic nightmare: trapped between rising water and a steel deckhead, in an apparently sinking ship. He lived, while 21 men died around him.

TERENCE ROBERTSON November 18 1961

THE MOST AGONIZING HOUR OF THE WAR AT SEA

James Goad was three decks down in the aircraft carrier Nabob when a torpedo blew him into a classic nightmare: trapped between rising water and a steel deckhead, in an apparently sinking ship. He lived, while 21 men died around him.

TERENCE ROBERTSON

SHORTLY AFTER FIVE O'CLOCK on the afternoon of August 22, 1944, Lieutenant James Goad of the RCNVR was hurrying toward the liquor locker three decks below the flight deck of the British aircraft carrier, Nabob. He was on his way to issue a special rum ration to six men for distribution to the crew. The men of the Nabob had earned their rum; they had been at action stations for almost six hours while their ship helped deliver an air strike against the German battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian fiord.

Goad today is an enterprising Toronto investment broker. On that day seventeen years ago, when by all odds he should have died, he was the Nabob’s hangar control officer. The ship was commanded by Captain Horatio Nelson Lay, also of the Royal Canadian Navy, and most of the air crew were Canadians train-

ing to become the nucleus of Canada’s own fieet air arm.

The men were all waiting at the spirit locker, deep in the stern above the propeller shaft, when Goad arrived. They were feeling well: they had heard the Tirpitz was ablaze and unlikely to threaten Allied shipping for months to come. The six waited patiently as Goad pushed past them and inserted the key in the padlock on the locker door. He never turned it.

A torpedo exploded into the starboard quarter of the ship almost beside the compartment where the men were standing. The blast slammed men against bulkheads and Goad sawa kaleidoscope of tumbling bodies and white, horrified faces just before he too was engulfed by an inrushing wall of water. Jim Goad’s agonizing hour had begun.

Numbed by shock he struggled instinctively to the fast-rising surface of water and heard a piercing din of frightened, shouting voices. He tried to bellow above the racket, ordering the men to keep quiet and think. The voices stopped, but not voluntarily. And then Goad realized that, incredibly, only he had survived the blast and rushing water: the six had died in a minute. Fifteen other men of the Nabob also died in the blast.

Goad was trapped in a steel prison. He cried out, then stopped as the fast-rising water be-

came a more urgent threat than the silence.

It rose until he was unable to stand on the deck, forcing him to tread water. Eventually, he was pressed against the deckhead while the water climbed above his neck and his mouth and finally immersed his face. He pushed downward, swam underwater blindly and held his breath until the pain in his chest became unbearable. Then he let himself be taken up to the deckhead—and the luck that had kept him alive so far intervened again. He had hit a oneand-a-half-inch layer of air between two beams.

Breath gushed from his mouth and he gulped greedily. His mind began to clear and his churning legs slowed to a steady rhythm as he found the right measure to keep himself upright and afloat and to keep his mouth and nose bouncing into the air pocket.

For the first time he was able to assess his plight and chances of survival. His position was grim. He was alive—but for how long? Which would fail first, his own strength or the meagre supply of air? It didn't really matter, he thought, because his only chance lay in the remote possibility of someone’s rescuing him.

He became attuned to the sounds that broke the dark silence, sounds of rushing water, of twisted steel girders creaking under pressure. Soft objects drifted against his legs and he kicked them away savagely, sickeningly aware that they were CONTINUED ON PAGE 48

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THE MOST AGONIZING HOUR continued from page 28

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The order was issued: “Prepare to abandon ship.” Jim Goad was below, already fighting sea water

submerged bodies. His mind was racing now, magnifying thoughts so that he fluctuated from high hope to depression. His sharpened senses led to moments of utter despair, inspired by a single conviction: “The ship is going down; they’ve abandoned me.”

ON NABOB’S bridge it was assumed that the ship had been hit by an acoustic torpedo fired from astern and homed on to her stern by the sound of the propeller. The hole was reported to be fifty feet long by twenty feet at its widest point.

Captain Lay’s official report says: “Action stations were secured and defense stations closed up . . . The flight deck had just been cleared of aircraft . . . when, at 17:16 the ship was torpedoed in the starboard side. The asdic (sonar detection apparatus) was in operation at the time carrying out both transmitting and listening watch, but no warning of a submarine or torpedo approaching was received, neither did any person aboard sec a track.

“The weather at the time was clear, the sea very slight and the swell moderate.

“Immediately Nabob was hit all electrical power failed which stopped all auxiliary machinery in the engine room. The main engines were therefore stopped and the boilers shut down. Stoppage of ventilation fans in the engine room raised the temperature to about 150 degrees.

“The ship rapidly trimmed down fourteen feet by the>dèrn to a draft of thirtyeight feet ?,^le Ook up a list of seven degrees to starboard. Most compartments were evacuated in the vicinity of the damage and the hatches were closed, but the large horizontal hatches throughout the ship are not watertight and the ship gradually flooded up to new waterlines.”

The fate of Goad and his men was not known for certain, but the First Lieutenant, in charge of damage control, had reported that they could be assumed dead—either from the explosion or by drowning. It was inconceivable to him. or to anyone else for that matter, that anyone almost at the point of blast could have survived.

Fight minutes after the explosion Lay issued the order, “Prepare to abandon ship.” All carley rafts were thrown over-

board, lifeboats were swung out on their davits and secret documents were placed in weighted bags ready to be destroyed.

Lay signaled the senior officers of the escort in the destroyer Bickerton. requesting that his men be picked up after abandoning ship. Minutes later, preparations for leaving Nabob were complete and Bickerton was approaching to rescue the crew.

At that moment the destroyer’s stern vanished in a spuming cloud of smoke and spray while the sound of the explosion drifted ominously across the sea. Another acoustic torpedo had homed on its target— with alarming effect on the man who was regarded as dead yet held precariously to sanity and life in a steel trap.

The impact of the torpedo striking Bickerton reached Goad as a dull, but distinct thud. His first thought was that Nabob had broken her back and he felt that the end of his ordeal would not be long delayed. His breath came in short, sharp gasps and he knew instinctively that the limited supply of air was nearly gone.

After a final deep gulp of thin air he allowed the weight of his waterlogged uniform to take him down to the deck. He groped blindly for the ladder leading to the deck above, but was suddenly knocked off balance by a stream of water. He hit a bulkhead with such force that the breath was knocked from his body.

He flailed about with arms and legs in a desperate attempt to reach the deckhead again. It didn't even occur to him that there would be no surface, that the compartment would be completely filled with water.

His head bumped hard against the deckhead—and the miracle that had saved him before was repeated. Water drained from his face and he opened his eyes to find himself in a second, slightly larger, air lock between two other beams. But the water was coated with oil which seeped into his nostrils and eyes.

Far above. Captain Lay could see only confusion in the sea around him. The incline of Nabob's flight deck was gradually becoming more alarming as she settled deeper into the water.

He was convinced that if he didn’t order

his men overboard quickly their lives would be in danger. But one destroyer was alongside the stricken Bickerton taking off survivors and the other three were circling the scene, ready to pounce if the U-boat attempted a third attack. None of the three could be spared to pick up Nabob’s crew.

A report from the chief engineer made Captain Lay’s decision more complex. It stated that a volunteer party which had stayed below with him in the engine room was trying to repair the auxiliary power supply system. If the party succeeded, the ventilation fans could be turned on and steam raised in the main engines.

For Lay this was a forlorn hope, but one he could not ignore. It would depend on how soon the deck damage control parties could prevent further flooding in the ship. While he was still assessing Nabob’s chances, the rescue destroyer pulled away from Bickerton and signaled: "Bickerton fatally wounded. Intend sinking her by torpedo and will then stand by to pick up your survivors if you consider it necessary to abandon ship.”

The destroyer’s torpedo crashed into Bickerton, breaking her back and sending her to the bottom where she could cause no ha_m. She might have taken hours, even days, to sink and constituted a hazard to shipping in seas dominated by the Allies.

Lay made up his mind that Nabob would soon follow Bickerton. His official report says: "At 18.15, commenced transferring personnel to Kempthorne (the waiting destroyer) — a total of 214. including 10 injured, being sent by boat.”

At the moment when the fate of the ship—and of Goad—seemed to be sealed, news arrived on Nabob's bridge that the engine room bulkheads were holding against the pressure of water and that the main engines, propeller shaft and propeller were apparently undamaged. Another report from the damage control parties on deck said it had been possible to make watertight all compartments forward of the engine room and check further Hooding.

It w'as immediately evident to Lay that Nabob was being abandoned too soon. He canceled the order and. with only a skeleton crew aboard, prepared to save his ship.

GOAD, BY NOW resigned to death, thought in a detached way that he should do something to prolong what little time he was sure remained. He had no way of knowing how close he had come to being abandoned by his shipmates. Above all else he needed to conserve his strength, reduce movement to a minimum and protect his hoard of air.

He had no way of knowing how long he had been trapped, but each minute was beginning to last into eternity. In fact, fifty-nine minutes had passed since the torpedo had hit Nabob.

He stretched his arms sideways until he could grip the deckhead beams. Then he stopped treading water and allowed his legs to dangle freely, his body held up by his grip on the beams.

He wanted to shed his uniform to reduce the weight on his arms, but he was afraid the effort would consume too much air — and the thick material was protecting him from the w'orst of the water’s chill.

The drag of water streaming past his body indicated that Nabob was still filling up and he wondered if she had been abandoned, if he would die alone. He thought of his family, particularly his mother, and felt badly about the shock his death would bring her. He started to pray, and while he prayed, incidents from his past Bickered before him in a series of mental cameos and he remembered hearing that men about to die recall their forgotten pasts. He was incapable of resisting this omen of death; no matter how hard he

tried the memories flickered on, each image coming into his mind with startling clarity.

A sudden crack hit his ears and the ship lurched alarmingly to starboard, almost causing him to lose his grip on the beams. He prayed with renewed intensity, convinced now that his last minute had come.

AT 18.50 THE chief engineer reported that auxiliary power had been restored for lighting and the ventilation fans. Lay ordered him to raise steam. With flooding under control, although water was still flowing into the after compartments, there was a chance Nabob would survive.

Almost simultaneously, Jim Goad exhausted his supply of air, but not before the flow of water about his body gave him an idea that seemed better than just giving up. He would try to swim out of his prison through the torpedo hole in the ship's side.

He took a deep gulp, and let go of the beams. He sank quickly and began swimming against the stream of water toward what he hoped would be the sea. The flow became increasingly powerful and caught him in full flood, throwing him backward out of control.

He lost all sense of direction, felt himself smashed into steel and dimly realized he had been picked up by the main stream flooding upward into the decks above. His body crashed against hard edges and the force of surging water increased until it hurled him headfirst against something sharp. Excruciating pain knifed through his body. He could hear nothing but a dull roar in his ears but he knew he was moaning feebly just before he slipped into unconsciousness.

Goad had been thrown, in fact, into the steel ladder leading to the deck above, and had been bounced up it. through the hatchway and against the ladder leading up to yet another deck.

The water had shot him up this ladder and forced him through a second hatchway where he had hit his head and lost his last breath. He had then drifted in about four feet of water through a bulkhead door into the ship's galley which was being sealed off and made watertight by a repair party.

Auxiliary power had been switched on. When Goad came to briefly in the lighted galley he looked straight up into a pair of v/idely staring eyes. They belonged to the dead cook who had been pinned against the deckhead by a plate from the deck which had been folded upward by the force of the torpedo explosion.

From the galley Goad was carried unconscious to the flight deck. He woke up alone and, his mind a blank, stumbled off to join his hangar control party. An hour later pain and shock caught up with him and he collapsed.

A faraway voice reached through his exhaustion and pain. “He’s coming round.” A surgeon held a glass of brandy to his lips and Goad relaxed, letting its warmth drive the pain and cold from his exhausted body. He was aboard one of the destroyers.

“What happened?" he asked weakly.

"You’re a lucky cuss,” replied the surgeon cheerfully. "They thought you were dead, but somehow you managed to get up into the galley just as it was being evacuated and the watertight door closed.”

Goad’s eyes widened. “The galley! But that’s two decks up from where 1 was.”

The effort to remember was too much.

FROM CAPTAIN Lay’s report: “By 19.00 the flooding was under complete control and at 20.00 the engine room commenced raising steam. At 21.39 the engines were put slow ahead.”

Nabob, without James Goad, limped across the Norwegian Sea for five more days, her stern awash, her bows riding high. She reached Scapa Flow on August 27. ^