Build Your Own Boat

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The garrison might hold out, but the Navy could not use it as a base if it were besieged from such close quarters and we all had our special orders in case we had to leave — mine to evacuate the asdic station at Europa Point. Nothing of the sort happened. However, as the nights lengthened into autumn we were put on notice through our Intelligence that the Germans were about to try to pass U-boats through the straits into the Mediterranean. The patrols were beefed up. As a preliminary, 126 was told off to check a story that U-boats were refuelling at night in isolated bays along the Spanish coast towards Cape Trafalgar.

We had no such inclination and responded to their glares with laughter, which was quite beyond their comprehension. The bar girls were all beautiful and reputed to be spies. The whole place wore a mantle of intrigue. Beyond the native quarter in the modern European city, shining white beside the blue water of the curving sandy bay, were many small hotels, and we stayed in one of them run by a gracious French family. I managed this jaunt a second time with an RCE chum and was allowed to do so without a guide.

At this, great masses of flares went up from the Rock to illuminate the scene. Ships fired star shells. Trawlers dropped depth charges every now and then, not necessarily on anything in particular. When we lost sight, we went back to our patrol line to be ready for the next one, assuming that our destroyer would make the kill. At the time we told ourselves that we were getting most of the intruders, but we now know that several groups of U-boats ran the gauntlet, although some were sunk or damaged by our aircraft en route across the Bay of Biscay.

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