Crest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationCrest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationHMS MONTROSE




Warship Weeks

Frome UDC in Somerset adopted

the submarine HMS Thunderbolt and

the "Scott Class" Flotilla Leader HMS Montrose

Warships Week 14 - 21 February 1942

Sponsored Advert for Warsip Week in Frome, Somerset


Between October 1941 and the end of March 1942, Warships Weeks were organised in cities, towns and villages throughout Great Britain.  The intention was to raise a sum by investment or deposit in all types of war savings representing the cost of building one of His Majesty’s ships ranging from the smallest to the largest vessels.  Once the target had been raised the community adopted the vessel along with its crew and the bond was strengthened by presentations in recognition of the money raised. Adoption plaques were presented by the Admiralty to the community and a plaque presented by the community to the adopted vessel. Links were maintained by the writing of letters and the provision of comforts and whenever possible visits were arranged to the adopting area.

Most of the V&W Class destroyers in commission with the Royal Navy were adopted during the Warship Week scheme and in a number of cases local sea cadet units later took the name of the ship. To find more about Warship Weeks see Peter Schofield’s article on ‘National Savings and Warship Weeks’  and the county guide to towns which adopted V & W Class destroyers throughout Britain.

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HMS Thetis was a T Class submarine which sunk in Liverpool Bay on 1 June 1939 with the loss of ninety nine lives which after salvage was recommissioned as HMS Thunderbolt and adopted by Frome UDC
These photographs are from the Wikipedia entry for HMS Thetis (N25).The story of the adoption of HMS Thunderbolt which retained N25 as her Pennant Number is told below


Raising Thetis from Liverpool Bay
The stern of HMS Thetis (N25) emerges from the water as she is raised by the salvage vessel Vigilant
HMS Thunderbolt returns from a successful patrol
The crew after a patrol in the Med
HMS Thunderbolt
HMS Thunderbolt (N25) returning from patrol

Frome is on the River Frome at the eastern end of the Mendip Hills in Somerset about 13 miles south of Bath. It was one of the largest towns in Somerset until the Industrial Revolution and its wealth was based on the wool and cloth industry. It is an attractive town with a large number of listed buildings within a conservation area. It is an economic centre for the surrounding area with a population of 26,000 with good road and rail transport links. It is also a centre for cultural and sporting activities, including the annual Frome Festival in July and Frome Heritage Museum.  The Museum  contains a large amount of material relating to the adoption of HMS Thunderbolt and HMS Montrose which can be located by a "site search" for those key words.

Frome Memorial Theatre and Wwr Memorial

Inscription on bench dedicated by the Royal Naval Association outside the Frome Memorial Theatrre
Photographed by  Bill Forster of the V & W Destroyer Association on Sunday 25 September 2022

The plaques presented to Frome Urban and Rural Councils on the adoption of HMS Thunderbolt are on display alongside the booking office in the Frome Memorial Theatre established in 1925 as a memorial hall to those who fell in the 1st World War opposite the former Victorian Town Hall in Christchurch Street. It was in danger of closing in the 1990s but is now a lively theatre and community centre with displays in the reception area about both world  wars and later conflicts. The annual Remembrance Service in November is held at the theatre. The war memorial outside is flanked by three benches sponsored  by the British Legion, the Royal Air Force and the Frome Branch of the  Royal Naval Association. Today Frome is part of Mendip District Council with its main office in Shepton Mallet, twelve miles away near Wells.

The Somerset Standard covered the adoption of HMS Thunderbolt and her loss (left column) and the adoption of HMS Montrose, a V & W Class leader, on the right below.

HMS Thunderbolt

Somerset Standard
Somerset Standard 18 December 1942


Frome RDC Plaque presented by the Admiralty and on display in Fromde Memorial Theatre
The plaque presented to Frome Rural District Council
Photograhed by Richard  Lines, Frome Memorial Theatre


Somerset Standard 19  March 1943:
Somerset Standard 19 March 1943
Click to enlarge



Dedication of Plaque to HMS Thunderbolt
Somerset Standard 24 November 1943


The plaque made in Frome for presentation to HMS THunderbolt was mounted  on wood after she sunk and hung in Frome's Parish Church
The plaque presented by Frome to HMS Thunderbolt
was mounted on wood hung in the Parish Church
click image to enlarge
Photographed by Richard Lines, Frome Memorial Theatre

Market Place at Frome in Somerset (Wikipedia)
Market Place, Frome
Wikipedia

The adoption of HMS Thunderbolt

HMS Thetis was a T Class submarine named after a minor goddess of the sea, the leader of the fifty Nereides. She was the second in her Class, built by Cammel Laird at Birkenhead. On 1 June 1939 she was undegoing final diving trials in Liverpool Bay with 103 men aboard (twice her crew of 55) when a torpedo tube in the bow flooded. Only five of the 105 men aboard escaped through the single man escape hatch.  She was grounded on Anglesey the day war was declared and repaired and commissioned as HMS Thunderbolt in 1940.

HMS Thunderbolt (Lt. Cecil B. Crouch, RN) was adopted by Frome when the Urban and Rural District Councils raised 176,000 during their Warship Week from 14 - 21 February 1942. The Somerset Standard reported  the presentation of plaques by Vice Admiral Sir  Robert A Hornell, KBE, DSO to the Councils in the Grand Cinema on Friday 12 March 1943 and the presentation of a plaque from the Councils to the Admiralty. The opportunity to install the plaque in Thunderbolt never arose and non of her officers visited Frome.

In Autumn 1942 Thunderbolt was converted  to carry two "Chariots", a type of manned torpedo and their crews, for operations against Axis shipping in Mediterranean harbours. Their first mission, Operation Principal, in December 1942 was not a success but in January 1943 the manned torpedoes entered Palermo  harbour and mined the unfinished light cruiser Ulpio Traiano and the freighter SS Viminale. Six charioteers were captured and two others died. Only one chariot, along with its crew, was recovered.

Thunderbolt was depth charged off Sicily by the Italian corvette Cicogna on 14 March 1943 and sunk in 4,430 ft of water with the loss of all hands but there is some doubt as to her fate and the mot detailed account lof her history is on uboat.net. 

Her loss was reported in the Somerset Standard on 24 November 1943 and the Savings Association arranged for the plaques to be displayed in the Parish Church of St John the Baptist "in honoured memory of the officers and men". 

The three plaques were on loan to the Submarine Museum for many years but are now on permanent loan to the Frome Memorial Theatre where they hang on public view in the  foyer.

The adoption of HMS Montrose

The T Class submarine N25 was sunk for a second time within a year of her adoption by Frome. The Town Clerk of Frome UDC wrote to the Admiralty expressing the wish that Frome could be allocated a destroyer named after the  town for adoption. The Admiralty replied that the  destroyer HMS Montrose would be allocated to Frome. A letter was received from her CO Cdr W.J. Phipps OBE expressing his pleasure at the adoption.

HMS Montrose was one of eight Admiralty Class Flotilla Leaders with Scottish names built and Commissioned in 1918.  Four had been adopted by counties in Scotland during Warship  Weeks. HMS Montrose was named after the Graham family from Montrose midway beteen Aberdeen and Dundee on Scotlands east coast.  I was puzzled she was offered to Frome 500 miles south in Somerset but Montrose was in the County of Angus which adopted the destroyer HMS Duncan (D98) in its Warship Week from 25 April - 2 May 1942.

Montrose had no connection to Frome but Cdr Phipps her CO had "local associations with Great Elm near Frome" (Somerset Standard 19 Nov 1943) and when he left in October 1943 to take command of HMS Limbourne the Navy appointed a Somerset man as his successor.

Cdr Neville Rolfe's  previous ship was HMS Mendip "in which I formed a very warm entente with the Mendip Hunt as well as with the townspeople of Shepton Mallet, by whom we were adopted" (Somerset Standard 26 November 1943). On Saturday 8 November CPO Ceceil Brake, Cox'on of Montrose, called in on the Chairman of the Council while on holiday in Bath.

HMS Montrose played a prominent part in Operation Neptune, the D-Day Landings in Normandy. On D-Day she escorted Convoy ETL1 taking the “Desert Rats” to their landing beach,  "As we left England we passed another convoy commaded by Lt Angus Graham RNVR, the Marquis of Graham (son of the Duke of Montrose) in HMS Ludlow. He had some pipers on the bridge to play the Montrose Skirl which gave us  a heartening send-off."

"Montrose had a humiliating end by being nearly cut in half by a  Landing Ship Tank (LST) in fog off Normandy on our second or third trip, but we got both bits home;" (Cdr Guy Neville-Rolfe DSC). Her bell is owned by the son of her last Commanding Officer whose  story is told on the Home Page for HMS Montrose.

The bell of HMS Montrose
The bell of HMS Montrose
HMS Montrose

Adoption of HMS Montrose by Frome reported by Somerset Standard on 19 November 1943
Somerset Standard 19 November 1943

Somerset Standard 26 November 1943
Somerset Standard 26 November 1943

The  tragic loss of the Thetis shortly before the outbreak of war in 1939 received world wide publiciy
"The 1950 film Morning Departure, directed by Roy Ward Baker was based on a stage play of the same name by Kenneth Woollard that itself was based on the loss of HMS Thetis (N25)." See Wikipedia
The film starred John Mills and Richard Attenborough and was the feature film debut of Michael Caine.
The story of HMS  Montrose is less well known but is told in more detail on this website

The story of the chariots,  manned torpedoes, carried by HMS Thunderbolt and used in the attack on Tirpitz inspired several books
Above Us the Waves: The Story of Midget Submarines and Human Torpedoes; by C.E.T. Warren and James Benson (Harrap, 1953)
" the Admiralty Regrets... ": the Story of His Majesty's Submarine 'thetis' and Thunderbolt'; by C.E.T. Warren and James Benson (Harrap, 1958)
The Sea Our Shield, Captain W.R. Fell RN (London: Cassell, 1966)

And a film about the attacks on Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord: Above us the waves (1955)


70th Anniversary of the adoption of HMS Thunderbolt by Frome, 2012
Why was no mention made of HMS Montrose in the exhibition?

 


If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Montrose you should first obtain a copy of their service record
To find out how follow this link: http://vandwdestroyerassociation.org.uk/Service_Records.html


If you have stories or photographs of HMS Montrose you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Bill Forster





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