Slim's Navy
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Slim's Navy

I am indebted to John Hinchliffe for providing this article on Dennis Juleff and his time with "Slim's Navy' in Burma in 1945. 

Dennis J. Juleff.

Dennis Juleff hails from the rugged north coast of Cornwall and has lived most of his life around the Perranporth area and is now long retired, after a full life, as a farmer. Part of that ‘full life’ was served in the Royal Navy, both at home and in foreign service during WW11.

Dennis joined up in early 1943 and went to Wales for his initial training and opted to become an ERA. This took him directly into the Patrol Service out of Lowestoft and into the small minesweepers covering the English Channel and in the early preparations for the ‘D’Day invasion. After 9 months he was drafted to Bombay and took passage aboard the P&O liner ‘ Mooltan’ and thence onward to Colombo, where he joined the escort carrier ‘Ameer’ for the shuttle between Cape Town and Trincomalee.

It was at the end of one such voyage back to Ceylon, when in camp, that he spotted a notice asking for volunteers to build gunboats in Burma and, being typical of his generation, he promptly ‘signed up’. Thence followed a journey to Calcutta in Feb.1945 and being processed speedily at Fort William, followed by air-transport via Dum Dum, Imphal, enroute for Kalemyo. The final part of the air-journey was in an RAF DC 3 ‘beef plane’ and what with the turbulence, he was heartily sick!

There was no transport on arrival at Kalemayo and he just started walking with all his kit towards Kalewa, until an African driver gave him the first of his lifts towards the Chindwin. He then latched on to a Royal Engineers’ convoy and started to feel he was getting somewhere. Within the RE’s camp at Kalewa, on the banks of the Chindwin, he reported to Lt.Comm.Penman DSC, RBNVR, then C/O of the initial group of new builds. Penman was a veteran of the 1942 ‘Operation Viper’ involving Royal Marines and river patrols and he knew the Irrawaddy and Chindwin very well. After 4/5 days of ‘getting his bearings’ Juleff joined the team of engineers and shipwrights, led by Naval Constructor, Capt. Holt RNC, building "Slim’s Navy" with the first 2 [of the 16 gunboats originally planned] to be named ‘Una’ and ‘Pamela’, after the daughters of Slim and Mountbatten, respectively. The Navy got a little ‘sniffy’ about the ‘Una’ as they already had a submarine of that name and it took some high-level contact to clear the matter up.

Well, this wasn’t about building a ‘J’ class at Cowes, and the mostly Indian shipwrights had to use green timber to make the double diagonal contruction and the boats were leaking from the first day they went afloat on 9th. April,1945. Gen.Slim was on hand to do the honours but the ‘Pamela’ got stuck part way down the slip!

Both vessels had a single Bofors forward, an Oelikon aft and 2 Lewis MGs on the Bridge…except that they could not get any ammunition pans for the latter and settled for 2 Brens. Conditions aboard were rudimentary. They had no dedicated fuel tanks and relied on 45 gallon drums stowed forward in the E.Rm. Clean drinking water was always a problem with river water being left to purify in tanks aboard. The main engines were 4 x V8 petrol engines with the props both turning the same way, which made for difficult ship handling.[The engines were delivered by RAF Sunderlands alighting to the south of Kalewa, which was in itself a magnificent feat of airmanship for which the RAF pilot i/c was awarded the DFC.]

In addition to LCDR. Penman, the boat commanders were Lt. Pertwee RN, ’Pamela’, who had had a charmed life in the submarine service prior to and Lt.Brown RN, ‘Una’, and a ‘pugilist’ by nature. The manning was roughly:-

1 x C.O,
1 x CERA,
2 x Stoker/Mechs.
6 x ABs.
2 x Army Gunners
1 x Cook .

…and the food was nothing to write home about, but they managed to barter calico for food from units of the 18th. and 20th. Divisions as time went on.

Gen. SLIM in the process of launching one of the vessels.

Both boats were got underway as soon as possible to support army operations on the Chindwin, initially, and then the Irrawaddy. Sailing by day and staying secure by night, they ferried men, materials and animals. They spotted for and fired in support of the Gurkhas, as they secured the east bank of the Chindwin. On the Irrawaddy they were present at Kama, north of Prome (Pye), Prome proper, Henzada and were busy every day. They took some prisoners, who were mostly in a shocking, diseased state. The interception of Burmese country boats in the Delta area of the Irrawaddy was also necessary as they conveyed enemy supplies and informants.

VE Day found them in Rangoon [Yangon] and suffering from the usual tropical illnesses….but the large tots of medicinal brandy handed out by LCDR. Penman and the fresh bread and ham readily donated by larger RN units in port, went some way to lift their spirits…and they had been lucky too; a Jap 75mm had missed them and only the ‘Pamela’ had taken some MG rounds.

Juleff’s Burma time ended in Sept.1945 and he was shipped out to Colombo, thence Singapore where he joined ML 1285 to continue survey work locally and around Surabaya, until he was drafted away from Singapore and embarked in the ‘Ranee’ for demobilisation at Chatham, UK, in 1946.

The ‘punt’ like design of the vessels can be clearly seen. The makeshift wooden Ladders into the Engine Room 
can just be made out in the photographs…and the boot-topping looks to be very ‘sharp’!

ML 1285 alongside in Singapore and underway at sea.


Dennis Juleff is the proud, deserving holder of the Burma Star and became a very active member of the Truro Branch. His prize momento of those difficult, dangerous times is the side board of the ‘Una’… and being one of the few who were members of "Slim’s Navy".




Please e-mail Steve Rothwell with comments, additional information and requests for help

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