Tonnage: 26 grt (74 m3) Length: 58 ft (18 m) Beam: 12 ft 6 in (3.81 m) Draught: 5 ft (1.5 m) Propulsion: Gleniffer diesel engine, 72 hp (54 kW), single screw Speed: 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) Operations: Operation Dynamo
"Dunkirk - A Personal Perspective" by CH Lightoller Full audio and transcript of the 1950 BBC broadcast
Second officer of the Titanic, Charles Herbert Lightoller, was involved in another dramatic sea rescue, this time during World War Two and the evacuation of allied soldiers from France. Code-named Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, in the north of France, took place between 26 May and 4 June 1940. Ten years later, and only two years before he died, Lightoller described his experiences in a BBC interview, broadcast on the 24th of May 1950. The following is the interview and audio transcript.
Note: I recommend watching the film in "Full Screen Mode," with speakers/headphones turned on for the full experience. To activate "Full Screen Mode," you need to click on the video title which will take you to YouTube and then click on the lower right hand box.
BBC Interviewer: Now Commander, can you tell me when you first got the "stand to" for the Dunkirk evacuation?
C.H.Lightoller: That was on the evening of May the 31st about five o'clock. They rang me up from the Admiralty. A chap I knew at the admiralty saying, asking could I meet him on board at seven o'clock.
BBC Interviewer: They knew about your boat?
C.H.Lightoller: Oh, yes. Yes, I knew them. And so it's seven o'clock. I met him down there. He said the admiralty were going to requisition her for going over to Dunkirk. He wanted me to take her round to Ramsgate where they said that a naval crew would take her over. I told them that they had another guest coming. If anybody was going to take her over, well my eldest son and I were. So we came out on the morning of the first of June and got down as far as Westminster, later on we anchored at Gravesend, from there to Southend and eventually to Ramsgate.
BBC Interviewer: Just the two of you?
C.H.Lightoller: Just the three of us.
BBC Interviewer: Three of us? Who were the other?
C.H.Lightoller: A sea scout, about an 18 year old sea scout. And at Ramsgate we got charts. And the other boats seemed to have trickled off behind while we were fairly fast and had rather left them. So we pushed over to Dunkirk on our own.
BBC Interviewer:Were you attacked on the way?
C.H.Lightoller: Yes. We had lots of fun on the way. The first one was a couple of enemy bombers had a shot at it. And fortunately Worcester - HMS Worcester - was just passing us at the time and she drove them off.
But then we had lots of other escapes from bombing and machine-gunning until we got over the other side where I picked up the crew of a small motor cruiser called "Westerly." She was well on fire. We picked them off and she had a couple of hundred gallons of petrol on board, so they said. In any case when we got about half a mile away from her she blew up. Next thing was we went through the wreckage and other evidences from a big French transport that had been sunk. That was off Gravelines. Later on into Dunkirk because I was told that all the men were then off the beaches so I went into the harbor and alongside Worcester I went on board and saw the captain and told him I could take a few men. He said 'How many?' Well I once had 21 on board - I didn't tell him that I told him 'Oh, about a hundred' and so he said 'Right take them'.
And they started to pour on board of us. And down below Roger has a range for stowing them down below -
BBC Interviewer: That was you son?
C.H.Lightoller: That was my son. Yes, and one of the naval ratings was tallying them on board. When it got to about 50 down below, I asked him how he was getting on and he said 'Oh plenty of room yet 'and at 75 I asked him how he was then or is it getting a bit crowded?
So then we took the rest on Deck. We tallied up a total of a hundred and thirty. Then I found that she was getting pretty tender. So I called a halt then and cast off and started on my way back.
BBC Interviewer: Were you attacked on the way back?
C.H.Lightoller: Yes several times. But she's very quick on her helm. And on one occasion a fighter came down up astern of us and I learnt from my youngest son, who was in the Air Force, certain things that I knew the attacking aircraft had to do before she could bring her guns to bear. So just as she was bringing her guns to bear put the helm hard over and as I say, she's very quick on the helm and dodged him.
BBC Interviewer: She was quick on her helm even with all these people onboard?
C.H.Lightoller: Very quick, yes, and then the aircraft banked and had another go and we put the helm over the other way and dodged him again.
BBC Interviewer: There were no casualties?
C.H.Lightoller: No. He gave it up then as a bad job.
BBC Interviewer: And you've got back safely, obviously?
C.H.Lightoller: We got back to Ramsgate, went along side and they started to pile off. Then there was a chief petty officer who was tallying them ashore. And as the last ones went over the side his remark stays in my mind 'My God, mate' he said, 'where did you put them?'