The exceptional Second World War “Operation Reservist” Victoria Cross action attack on Oran Harbour 8th November 1942 ‘immediate’ Distinguished Service Medal group awarded to Leading Seaman S. Bolton, Royal Navy, who was decorated for service aboard the cutter H.M.S Hartland, when in company with H.M.S Walney she performed as dash to seize enemy shipping and destroy shore emplacements in Oran Harbour, during which action Captain F.T Peters won the Victoria Cross, ‘in an enterprise of desperate hazard’ both ships blew up whilst engaged with enem
The exceptional Second World War “Operation Reservist” Victoria Cross action attack on Oran Harbour 8th November 1942 ‘immediate’ Distinguished Service Medal group awarded to Leading Seaman S. Bolton, Royal Navy, who was decorated for service aboard the cutter H.M.S Hartland, when in company with H.M.S Walney she performed as dash to seize enemy shipping and destroy shore emplacements in Oran Harbour, during which action Captain F.T Peters won the Victoria Cross, ‘in an enterprise of desperate hazard’ both ships blew up whilst engaged with enemy shore emplacements, going down with their ensigns flying, and the survivors, including Bolton, being taken prisoner by the Vichy French.
Group of 5: Distinguished Service Medal, GVI 1st type bust; (JX.18491 S. BOLTON., L.SEA.); 1939-1945 Star; Atlantic Star; Italy Star; War Medal.
Condition: Good Very Fine.
Samuel Bolton served during the Second World War as a Leading Seaman (Portsmouth No.JX.18491) with the Royal Navy, as saw service during the Atlantic and Mediterranean operations.
It was for his service aboard the convoy escort cutter H.M.S Hartland, a Lend-Lease vessel, and previously the US Coastguard cutter Pontchartrain, that resulted in Bolton being awarded the ‘immediate’ Distinguished Service Medal for his services during the Hartland’s involvement in the now legendary attack on Oram Harbour on 8th November 1942, when Captain F.T. Peters, in command of H.M.S Walney, won the Victoria Cross.
Hartland had joined Western Approaches Command back in May 1941, and from then to circa July 1942 performed a number of convoy escorts to West Africa. In August 1942 she began operating in company with H.M.S Walney, escorting two convoys to West African waters, but in October 1942 she was assigned to a secret mission for “Operation Torch” - namely command of a naval and military force charged with attacking the Vichy-held port of Oran codenamed “Operation Reservist”. John Winton takes up the story in The Victoria Cross at Sea:
‘On the night of 8 November 1942, the two 1,000-ton Lease-Lend ex-U.S. Coast Guard cutters Walney (Acting Captain F. T. Peters) and Harland (Lieutenant-Commander G. P. Billot) approached the harbour of Oran, in North Africa. They had on board parties of U.S. Rangers, to seize port installations and prevent the Vichy French from sabotaging them and scuttling ships in the harbour, and specially trained technicians to operate the harbour once it had been taken. Walney had no sooner crashed through the harbour boom than a searchlight picked her out and the harbour defences opened fire at point-blank range. Peters was blinded in one eye but was the only one of seventeen men on Walney’s bridge to survive. He ordered the cutter alongside a French warship, where grapnels were thrown out and the surviving Rangers with tommy guns and revolvers stormed on board. Walney was still raked from end to end by constant and heavy fire at close range. Her boilers blew up, and she turned over and sank, with her ensign still flying. Hartland also reached the jetty, but there were too few men left alive to handle her lines and she drifted out again into the harbour, where she too blew up and sank. Peters and a handful of men reached shore on a Carley float and were imprisoned by the Vichy garrison. They were released a few days later when the Allies took Oran. Peters was carried through the streets, where the people of Oran hailed him with flowers. On 13 November, when flying home, his aircraft crashed taking off from Gibraltar and he was killed. His posthumous V.C. was gazetted on 18 May 1943.’
The specific task assigned to Hartland which carried a small British landing party of 52, together with 33 officers and men of the U.S Navy and about 200 U.S. troops, was to run alongside the pier and land troops to silence a battery of 4.7 inch guns. At the same time the seamen were to board the French merchant ships and prevent their crews from scuttling them. Both vessels laid a smoke screen and then passed through it to the attack, but Hartland was disabled by the bursting of her main steam pipe and collided with the outer mole. She became a target for two shore batteries and the guns of the French destroyer Typhon and suffered severe casualties and damage. Finally she blew up and sank with the loss of four officers and 30 ratings. Many were wounded and were ferried ashore on floats and rafts. The losses among the American contingent were very heavy, nearly 200 being killed.
The landing at Oram had been regarded by the British and American naval commands as an operation fraught with great difficulty as the Vichy French forces were expected to put up a very resolute defence. Despite the loss of both Hartland and Walney, the Centre Naval Task Force of Operation Torce went ahead with the landing in Algeria the very same day, and the French surrendered the next day, 10th November 1942.
In all specifically for the attack on Oran Harbour by Hartland and Walney, one Victoria Cross, three Distinguished Service Order’s, six Distinguished Service Crosses, one Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, three Distinguished Service Medal’s, and five Mention in Despatches were awarded, one of the latter being posthumous, in the list of awards published by Vice Admiral and Chairman of the Honours and Awards Committee on 13th January 1943, Bolton being amongst those men.
Bolton’s ‘immediate’ award of the Distinguished Service Medal, which was published in the London Gazette on 18th March 1943, bore the following recommendation: ‘Set a high example of courage and cheerfulness under the most daunting conditions, both under fire and as a prisoner.’
Bolton, together with a number of others, was amongst the survivor’s who took to the rafts to get away from Hartland before she blew up and sank, and after a brief period of captivity, he was released, and having been sent home, was presented with his award in an investiture held on 12th October 1943.