A British naval officer lately returned to England after spending nearly four years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp has told for the first time the full story of how H.M. destroyer Stronghold was sunk in a desperate action against a Japanese cruiser and two other warships. The 23-years-old destroyer was sailing from Java to Australia with passengers who had escaped from Singapore, when she was engaged by all three enemy ships. Although almost crippled by gunfire from the cruiser Maya, the destroyer closed for a torpedo attack.
Under a hail of fire she got within 5,000 yards of the cruiser. The forward tubes were out of action; but, wallowing and out of control after her battering, the Stronghold fired her stern tubes. Both torpedoes missed their target. Then the Commanding Officer (Lieutenant-Commander Preyton Pinney, R.N.), a retired officer recalled for the War, collapsed from a thigh wound received earlier in the action and the First Lieutenant (Lieut. W. S. McFarlane, R.N.R.) took over.
Lieutenant McFarlane gave the order to abandon ship when the sinking destroyer had been stopped and was still being shelled heavily. A few minutes later she blew up and disappeared. As Lieutenant I. D. Forbes, R.N., senior surviving officer, stepped aboard the Japanese cruiser the enemy Commander praised the Stronghold for “a very gallant action, worthy of the Royal Navy!”
The action was for Lieutenant Forbes the culmination of a series of grim adventures. As First Lieutenant of a Chinese river gunboat, Grasshopper, evacuating a mixed battalion of Royal Marines and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from Singapore, he had fought back at waves of attacking Japanese bombers. He saw the Dragonfly, a sister ship, sunk and the Grasshopper, a blazing wreck, beached on an uninhabited island.
Eventually he reached Sumatra. Chief Petty Officer Verrion was his invaluable companion on the journey. Lieutenant Forbes last saw Verrion aboard the Stronghold taking charge of a gun and “by his calm and efficient manner during a particularly gory and hopeless battle” setting a fine example.