A VETERAN of the Arctic convoy who faced certain death in the freezing sea after his ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat relived his miraculous rescue as he celebrated his 90 birthday today (Tuesday, January 19).

Jack Humble had just turned 18 when the destroyer HMS Mahratta was sunk beneath him just south of Bear Island, inside the Arctic Circle, on the night of February 25, 1944.

Surrounded by dead crew mates, he recalled thinking: “I don’t know why I have to to die so young?”

The grandfather from Durham City joined the Royal Navy aged 17 and was on his second voyage to Russia when the first torpedo struck.

“All I was wearing was my long johns, so I started to get dressed as everyone rushed out," he said. "As I went down the passageway to get to the deck a second torpedo struck.

“All the lights were off. Someone shouted “We can’t get out. We are blocked”. The door to the stairs had been jammed by debris from the blast.

“When we managed to get the doors open people were diving overboard. One after the other, they were shouting for their mothers and for help.

“I could hear them dying. The shouting got less and less. It was terrible.”

Mr Humble said he and a friend were saying their last goodbyes to each other when a wave washed both overboard.

“I never saw him again because he died," he said.

"Everybody around me was dead. I tried speaking to people. Nobody answered.

“How I survived is I was covered in oil from the ship, which insulated me against the cold.

“Then I heard a voice say “there’s a ship ahead, a let’s swim toward it”. He had been in the water for longer and could go no further.

“I swam toward it but thought it could be U-Boat - it happened to be HMS Impulsive.”

The crew threw him a line and they started to pull him up, but he slipped off because of the oil on his hands.

“I was washed away and thought “that’s it, I’ve had it”. It’s a miracle that another wave took me up the side of the ship to the level of the deck and they grabbed hold of me and pulled me in”

The next day, Mr Humble was told 17 survivors out of a crew of 246 had been pulled from the sea. One died and was buried at sea, while two more later died of hypothermia.

On his return to Britain, he decided the Navy was no longer for him and joined the Army – eventually joining the Parachute Regiment with the rank of corporal.

In 1945, he was dropped into Denmark, where he linked up with the Danish Resistance mopping up the retreating Germans.

After that Mr Humble served in Palestine during its troubles,before being demobbed two years later.

Mr Humble ran a successful furniture with his late wife Kathleen, before retirement.

He has not forgotten his crewmates and every year makes the pilgrimage to the Cove, at Loch Ewe, in Scotland, to lay a wreath at a memorial to those lost in the Arctic convoys.