Gilbert Thums - Escape from Hong Kong - The Final Hours

 

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Coxswain C.P.O. Gilbert Thums MTB 10 of the 2nd MTB Flotilla, Coastal Forces Hong Kong

1904 -1963

Coxswain/Boatswain Warrant Officer Gilbert (Albert) Thums MiD (D/J.96352) [HMS Cicala & acting 1st officer of MTB 10 (Camel's Head Plymouth)

Photo from Buddy Hide's collection ©

Gilbert, born in Nottingham 19th June 1904 was known as Tom Thums by all.

Gilbert had served on HMS Cicala in the the West River Flotilla under Lt-Cmd Gandy RN before Gandy took over as Senior Officer of the 2nd MTB Flotlla from the wounded Lt-Cmd Boldero, who in turn went on to command the Cicalla in Hong Kong. The insect class river boat served with honour in the defence of Hong Kong with her six inch gun enduring sixty five dive bomb attacks in the process. [102]

On the 22nd December nine planes of the Japanese airforce flew lazily over HMS Cicala.

Lieutenant Commander Gandy R. N. (Rtrd) "The Senior Naval Officer Aberdeen, Commander Montague RN, signaled to evacuate the Cicala ships company and sink her by depth charge; the latter job i delegated to MTB 09 while I took off the crew in MTB 10. This was when my First Lieutenant (Sub-Lt Ralph Goodwin NZRNVR) got wounded by a stray piece of shell." [15]

Lt Kennedy: "Near Aberdeen the “Cicala” was doing yeoman service with her two six-inch guns bombarding enemy positions, and in consequence came under repeated attack from the air. The value of her work was confirmed the next morning by the determination of the Japanese to silence her. The “Cicala” was steaming slowly near the coast (East Lamma Channel) continuing the bombardment when the air attack began. Nine planes circled high above her and one by one peeled off leisurely into a dive. Eight times the water rose up like a curtain round the ship, and eight times it fell to reveal the “Cicala” still sitting there firing at the land. It was agonising to watch, but after the bombs had gone from the last aircraft and the fountains of spray subsided, her guns were silent and smoke was coming from the ship.
MTB 10 rushed out to take off survivors, and although the last stick of bombs had fallen squarely along the centre of the ship almost the whole crew was saved. But the old lady was settling very slowly, and MTB 09 was detailed to sink her with depth-charges in case she should drift ashore into enemy hands. I dropped three charges alongside her, then three more, but each time she reared amidships and settled back on an even keel. The “Cicala” was a fighter, but she was gradually going and after half-an-hour had disappeared.
It was a sad end for a gallant ship which had seen service in North Russia after the last war, and had survived over fifty bombing attacks in this.‘And now there were five!’ Five naval vessels left, all of them MTBs."
[9]

Gilbert was Mentioned in Despatches for distinguished services during the defence of Hong Kong.

[ 3390 SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 2 JULY, 1946]

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MTB 07 under fire 
	Photo from Hong Kong 1941-45 published by Osprey Publishing 
	Illustration by Giuseppe Rava
	Click here for more information

The flotilla took a beating during the battle for Hong Kong.
When the Japanese invaded Hong Kong Island, the 2nd MTB Flotilla was ordered to attack and shoot up everything in sight, and to expend all ammunition in the process. Unbeknown to the flotilla, the Japanese had already established a beach head on the Island west of the Sugar Refinery at North Point.
Guns to the left, guns to the right, guns to the front and cannon from above, on they sped into the fiery jaws of the oriental dragon itself. This was the maritime equivalent of the charge of the light brigade in the Crimea.
Lt Ronnie Ashby whose family motto was "Be Just and Fear Naught" led the flotilla with Jix Prest & Buddy Hide at the controls of MTB 07. Pressing home the attack under withering fire from land, sea, and air, they suffered heavy losses in the process. Only three MTB's survived to limp back and come alongside HMS Robin in Aberdeen. Lt Kennedy on MTB "09" towed the stricken "07", peppered with 97 holes and two dead bodies in the engine room, back to base. The flotilla had lost 40% of its attacking force. The attack was arguably the most daring daylight MTB attack of all time, and was referred to as The Balaclava of the Sea.by Coastal Forces world wide. They were hailed "The bravest of the brave."

Lt Kennedy RNVR: "MTB 11 returned alone from the harbour with her coxswain wounded. There was a long silent pause as we strained our ears to catch the sound of distant engines, but none came. It was a dark day for the flotilla, and for the whole island." [9]

After 3000 miles traveling overland through China and Burma he arrived in a deserted Rangoon. After departing Rangoon for Calcutta and a thirty six hour train journey to Bombay he proceeded to the UK.

Lt Kennedy: "The 'Laconia' was followed into harbour by another troopship, the 'Narkunda', and to our surprise Gandy and the other half of the M.T.B. party were on board. We were ordered to transfer and so all joined forces again after an interval of two months. The 'Laconia' party received a warm welcome, perhaps not so much as old ship-mates but as extra hands to share duties of guarding the six hundred Italian prisoners-of war being taken to England in the ship. On board the 'Narkunda' the MTB party was almost complete." [9]

The Narkunda set sail again on the 19th April, but had to return due to engine trouble. This time we anchored in Table Bay with no ships boats for a run ashore. We finally got under way on the 28th with a ten-day passage to Freetown.
After two days in Freetown re-victualing the Narkunda shaped course for the UK. A concert called "The Killjoys" had been arranged and organized by Lt-Cmd Gandy, Lt Ashby, PO Stonell, & L/S (Pony) Moore and performed by the combined ships companies onboard of HMTB's, HMT "Narkunda", HMS "Ranchi", "Cilicia," "Cockchafer" & "Birmingham" on Thursday 15th May 1942. The performers from the MTB's were (Pony) Moore, Al Rutter, & Eddie Charleson. As they headed north frequent life boat drill exercises were carried out and the order to sleep fully dressed was given as they negotiated the U-boat packs in the north Atlantic continuously zigzagging en route for the UK. Gandy, Ashby, & Kennedy along with 22 ratings finally arrived in the King George V dock, Sheildhall, Glasgow late afternoon on Friday 22nd May 1942 onboard the "Narkunda."[15]

Lt Collingwood stayed onboard the Danish ship "Heinrich Jessen" and proceeded to Akyab, eventually flying out from Chittagong to Calcutta on the 18th April. From there he went on to Ceylon before returning to the UK.

The remaining nine ratings in Akyab eventually left Bombay on 14th April and arrived back in the UK 1st June1942.

Lieutenant Commander Gandy R. N. (Rtrd) had prevailed against all the odds, and triumphed over adversity to deliver all his people back to safety without loss of life or serious injury after evading capture and escaping from Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941.

PO Prest: "We travelled by cycles, lorries, junks, and donkeys, but mostly we walked. It was a case of march or die"

Buddy Hide: "On the whole, the moral, spirits, and courage of the party was magnificent. I think it was the shear thoughts of beating the Jap's, and the prospects of getting home after three years, some of us four years from home, that made us carry on."

It is unprecedented in the annuls of the Royal Navy, that a Flotilla evaded capture to escape across an entire continent to fight another day.

Gilbert joined the Royal Navy in 1920 as a boy seaman based on the training hulk HMS Impregnable.

Gilbert was the Coxswain/Boatswain on the former West River Flotilla gunboat HMS Cicala untill she was sunk on the 21st December 1941. Lt-Cmd Gandy in MTB 10 came alongside and took off the crew, retaining Thums for his crew.

Left: CPO Gilbert Thum at Kukong 6th January 1942

Gilbert was promoted to Warrant Officer (Bosun) on his return to the UK.

He was in HMS Buccaneer, a salvage tug, which was sunk whilst engaged in target towing for HMS St James, a Battle Class destroyer in 1946. He was Officer of the Watch when she was hit.

Coxswain C.P.O. (Tom) Thums in Kukong 6th Jan 1942 ©

 

 

 

 

Warrant Officer Gilbert Thums with his brother Erik in 1942

 

 

Left: Warrant Officer (Bosun) Gilbert Thums with his brother Erik c1942.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HMS Impregnable, training hulk in Plymouth where Gilbert Thums was stationed as a boy seaman upon joining the Royal Navy in 1920.

After twenty eight years of distinguished service he retired as a Commissioned Bosun in 1948.








 

 

 

C.P.O. Thums, S.P.O. Charlie Moore, A/B Downey, & P.O. Prest in Kukong 6th January 1942 ©

 













 

The medals are, from left to right

The 1939-1945 Star.
The Atlantic Star
The Pacific Star
The 1939-1945 Medal, sometimes known as the Victory Medal, with oak leaf clasp for mention in dispatches in Hong Kong, 1941.
Long service and good conduct medal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MTB 10

 

 

 

Left: MTB 10 proceeding out of the Kowloon camber.
Royal Navy etiquette of the day required the flotilla leader to wear a darker colour without a Pennant number on the hull.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

MTB 10 laying off Stonecutters Island

Photo from Lt Ashby's collection©

 

HMS Cicala









































Research and web publication by Buddy Hide Jnr ©

The contents of this web site led to a considerable number of escapee families contacting me and now each other, and remains the principle source of contact and private information for the spin off projects that have followed. The personal accounts enabled me to record the complete and true account of this remarkable episode of Sino-British war time co-operation. The information compiled here has directly resulted in a museum exhibition in Hong Kong, a re-enactment of the escape in Hong Kong and China, with a movie drama and documentary in the making.

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