Ipswich war hero tells Boxing Day tale

SIXTY four years have passed since the sinking of a German battleship during the Second World War, but Ipswich veteran Ron Johns remembers as if it were yesterday.

SIXTY four years have passed since the sinking of a German battleship during the Second World War, but Ipswich veteran Ron Johns remembers as if it were yesterday.

This time of year is always poignant for the 87-year-old, who was on board one of the ships that attacked the German vessel on Boxing Day in 1943, and today Mr Johns told his story.

Mr Johns, of Mayo Court, Waterford Road, in the Whitehouse area of Ipswich, an anti-aircraft gunner in the Royal Navy, took part in convoys from Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands to the Kola Inlet in Russia between September 1941 and March 1944, aboard the HMS London and HMS Savage. The ships were escorting vital supplies such as tanks and aeroplanes to Russia.

The sinking of the Scharnhorst, which was one of the most powerful ships in the German fleet, was an enormous psychological blow for Germany at the height of the war.

Mr Johns, who has since been back to Russia to visit, said: “I was very scared. We should have been blown out of the water but in fact we never even got hit.

“It was hard for everyone. You never knew what was going to happen then and you had to live day by day. Now I look back, I think thank God I survived.

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“I still remember it all and I think about it a lot, particularly at this time of year. After the Scharnhorst, we thought we were going to get some leave, but we were taken straight back to Russia.”

His wife Rene, now 86, could only anxiously wait at home for news of her young husband.

She said: “I was worried about him as back then you didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't even know he had been involved in the sinking of the Scharnhorst until he returned.”

On Christmas Day 1943, the Scharnhorst set sail, unaware that she was being lured into a carefully constructed Royal Navy trap with two convoys providing the bait, just off the coast of Norway. One of the destroyers was HMS Savage.

Mr Johns, who was 19, remembered that on Boxing Day the Scharnhorst was surrounded and illuminated by star shells as heavy guns and torpedoes pounded into her, setting her on fire.

Many of the Scharnhorst's crew jumped overboard as the ship began to sank, but the freezing water meant only 36 survived.

Mr and Mrs Johns have six children, 18 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.

Are you a war veteran with an interesting story to tell? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk