On Sunday 17 October 1948, a 36ft open motor launch (referred to as a pinnace) from the aircraft carrier HMS ILLUSTRIOUS sunk in Portland Harbour with the loss of 29 souls.
The ill-fated pinnace left Weymouth Pier to head across the bay shortly after 10.00pm with a crew of five and 45 liberty men who were returning from a day’s shore leave. Conditions were poor with a south westerly gale blowing and blinding rain squalls.
The weather worsened as the pinnace passed through the northern entrance of Portland Harbour breakwater, to head towards the aircraft carrier at anchor. Those on board the pinnace began to bail out the sea water with their caps, buckets and anything which came to hand; others attempted to keep the sea out by forming a barrier with their bodies. Regrettably, all their efforts were in vain as the pinnace foundered and sank some 50 metres astern of HMS ILLUSTRIOUS.
Rescue boats were immediately launched and there were stories of incredible bravery as shipmates plunged into the foaming sea from the carrier to help. There were 11 young naval airman who died that night.
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