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Memories of an attack

Larry Clarke was on the 'Norman Prince' when she was attacked by U-156 on 28 May 1942 west of Martinique.

Read his story on this page or listen to it here.

"At a few minutes to seven on the evening of the 28th of May, I left my room, which was a temporary wooden structure amidships on the starboard side of the boat deck to collect the stores from the chief steward. His room was situated on the port side of the main deck below the boat deck and was reached from my room by the descent of a narrow staircase at the for'ard end of the boat deck.

I'd been with him only a few minutes when without warning the first torpedo struck amidships on the starboard side. All the lights went out. It was completely black, dark. There was plenty of smoke and a very strong smell of explosive but the ship remained on an even keel. We groped our way down the pitch-black alley way and through the dining saloon heading for the stairway which would lead us onto the boat deck. We were joined by Captain Harris and several others. We reached the stairway but had difficulty negotiating it as the door of the laundry cupboard had been blown off and was wedged across it. Someone produced an electric torch, and its light was enough for us to surmount this hurdle. However, the delay was enough for us to arrive on the boat deck in time top see the one and only serviceable ship's lifeboat disappearing into the darkness. The starboard lifeboat, and my room, which was adjacent to it, had been blown to smithereens. There was a motorised lifeboat on the main deck, by number four hatch, but there were no davits to launch it. We tried to move it, but it wouldn't budge an inch. I believe the stupid idea was to sit inside it and float off if the ship sank, but that didn't work. We made our way to the stern where the man with the torch started flashing it in the hope if attracting the attention of those who had departed in the lifeboat, because it had headed in that direction.

It was now about 20 minutes since the torpedo had struck, and the ship was still on an even keel, and I happened to look over the side, and see the wake of a second torpedo speeding towards us. I shouted a warning. The torpedo struck amidships on the port side and the 'Norman Prince' sunk in seconds. She went down very quickly by the head, and the stern reared to an almost perpendicular position as she plunged. I was standing with the captain, and as the ship sped skywards we both jumped over the sides into the sea. He was never seen again. I remember thinking 'Am I never going to hit the water?' but I did, and I looked up to see the ship's final plunge as she disappeared beneath the waves."