Injured stoker shot at in sea

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A BADLY BURNED Helensburgh navyman trying to survive in the water after his ship attacked in World War Two was shot at by German forces.

The shots missed the 20 year-old Peter Mackie and his crewmates, but he died from his injuries five days later.

The son of Peter and Jessie Mackie, of Clarendon Lodge, he was a Stoker 1st Class serving aboard the Fairmile D class motor torpedo boat MTB 666, built in 1943 by the Dorset Yacht Co. Ltd. in Hamworthy, Poole.

That class of MTB was known as ‘the sixes’, fast boats which operated against German merchant and navy vessels off the coast of occupied Europe.

They were also used for dropping off Allied agents ont occupied shores, supporting commando raids and other secret missions.

MTB 666 and her crew came together in 1943 and after a period of rigging and training, they were stationed in the Shetland Islands for operations to Norway with a Norwegian Flotilla, operating out of RNS Lerwick.

Late in 1943 and early in 1944, MTB 666 was engaged in secret operations to Norway, including dropping off commandos and picking up and dropping off agents and refugees.

Early in April the flotilla moved to HMS Mantis at Lowestoft and the type of operations changed.

The flotilla now attacked convoys and escort ships off the coast of occupied Europe.

In the months that followed MTB 666 was engaged in several harrowing battles off the Dutch coast

The most notable was over the night of June 9 and 10 off Egmond, when the flotilla lost MTB 681 while attacking a convoy of trawlers escorted by the dreaded flak ship and gun coasters.

In three torpedo attacks four or five ships were sunk, while the British flotilla also suffered casualties.

A few nights later the flotilla was engaged in a attack on a E boat base on Texel, and a number of ships were sunk in a battle. Later a convoy was attacked off Walcheren.

The fateful night for MTB 666 began in the early evening of July 4 1944 the flotilla left Lowestoft.

The plan was to move to the shipping lanes off the Dutch coast to try to attack a convoy, which they had been doing for the last few months.

They spotted a large convoy moving south, near Ijmuiden, and MTB 666 attacked.

Able Seaman Stan Cross remembers the attack as one of the fiercest battles they had been involved in.

The convoy was escorted by armed trawlers and several of the dreaded gun ships, but the British Force managed to get between them and the shore.

Stan said: “The action was going well until a 78mm shell from a shore battery hit 666 in the engine room. At once we lost all power. There was a fire in the engine room and no power for the guns. In fact we were like sitting ducks.

“We had suffered a number of casualties and the boat was taking water. So it was not long before the Skipper, Lieutenant Commander D.Buller, gave the order to abandon ship.

“The crew were very reluctant to do so because, I believe, they were hoping that one of our boats might manage a rescue — but they had no chance.

“For about three hours we were in the sea. Every so often a German boat would draw into gun range and fire a few rounds — just to remind us that they had not forgotten us.

“Some of these shots came quite close and we could feel them passing through the water.

“It was not until daylight before we were picked up. Those of us that were wounded were taken to a hospital at Heiloo, just north of Ijmuiden.”

Most of the crew were wounded. Several of the engine room crew suffered burns, and Peter Mackie and Leading Stoker Brian Sleath were badly burned.

Those who could walk were sent directly to be processed as prisoners of war. Six men were taken to a hospital, where they were treated well by the hospital staff.

Peter Mackie died of his wounds on July 9, and Brian Sleath died two days later.

The others recovered, although some had horrific wounds. Two were repatriated to England when their wounds had sufficiently healed.

However the MTB 666 story was not quite over.

Stan Cross said: “It was while we were at the hospital that we heard, through the grapevine, that 666, nearly submerged, had been brought into Ijmuiden between two flak trawlers.

“They did a quick patch up job on the hull and took her into the E-boat pens along with their E-boats.

“Early the following morning there was a mighty explosion that rocked the whole town. The E-boat pens and the boats were to take no further part in the war.

“We are not sure what happened but with all that high octane leaking from MTB 666 tanks, it does not take much imagination.”

German naval experts had inspected the vessel with a view to exhibiting her in Germany as a prize, and several German personnel on board were killed in the explosion.

Both Stoker 1st Class Mackie and Leading Stoker Sleath were buried at the Military Cemetery at Bergen, a coastal town three miles north-west of Alkmaar and 26 miles from Amsterdam.

The cemetery contains a war graves plot of 247 Commonwealth burials from the Second World War, 34 of them unidentified, and most of them airmen.