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



HMS Vanquisher
HMS Vanquisher in a hight speed dash through heavy seas to Dunkirk
Courtesy of A Skelton


Click on the links within this brief outline for first hand accounts by the men who served on HMS Vanquisher and for a more detailed chronolgy see www.naval-history.net

HMS Vanquisher was built by John Brown, Clydebank, and launched on 18th August 1917 as the 1st RN warship to carry the name.  She was fitted to carry 60 naval mines and on 1 August 1918 was operating with the  20th Destroyer Flotilla laying mines off the Humber when they stumbled into a German minefield and HMS Veherment and HMS Ariel were sunk. On 8 August she took part in the world's first deployment of operational magnetic bottom mines off the Belgium coast.

In August 1921 HMS Vanquisher and her sister ships in the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla plus the 2nd Light Cruiser Squdron took part in a six weeks cruise in the Baltic visiting the three newly independent Baltic States which the Royal Navy had helped liberate in the "forgotten war" of 1919. PO George W. Smith, a Signalman in Vanquisher, recorded events in his Journal.

... to be continued?



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Commanding Officers

Lt Cdr Meredith S. Spalding RN (Jan 1924 - Jan 1925)
Lt Cdr Donal Scott McGrath RN (June -  October 1929)


Officers
  




Former Full Members of the V & W Destroyer Assoociation
T. Carr (Ashington, North), R. Cook (Canvey Island, Essex), B. Mrtin (Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex), E. Loughlin (Bedford), E. Robinson (Carshalton, Surrey),
R. Saunders (Harelow, Essex), Arthur Skelton (Harlow, Essex), R. Whalen (Newfoundland, Canada)

The Training Ship of the Sea Cadet Unit at Nuneaton and Bedworth is TS Vaquisher
When the V & W Destroyer Association was dissolved in April 2017 its funds were distributed to the eight Sea Cadet Units with Training Ships named after a V & W Class destroyer

Please get in touch if you knew one of the men or have a family member who served in HMS Vanquisher


HARD LYING

Conditions on V & W Class destroyers were so bad in rough weather that the men who served on them were paid hard-lying money. These stories by veterans who served on HMS Vanquisher were published in Hard Lying, the magazine of the V & W Destroyer Association and republished in 2005 by the Chairman of the Association, Clifford ("Stormy") Fairweather, in the book of the same name which is now out of print. Copyright remains with the authors and photographers who are credited where known.


Recollections of a Thirty Niner
Arthur Skelton

Arthur's language is colourful but gives a good sense of what it was like to live as a rating on the lower deck of HMS Vanquisher in bad weather:

"In October 1939, like so many others, I was sent to HMS Royal Arthur (Skegness). On completion of my training I was drafted to my depot Chatham on the fourth of December. By January 1940 I was out on the 'oggin as a "Dabtoe" aboard an old V&W destroyer on Atlantic convoys (ring job for the spew class). No sea clothing, just the issue overcoat and oilskin. Like a frozen turd on lookout (before radar).  Six inches of water on the mess deck, and water gushing out of the gun stanchions.  No heating whilst at sea, in harbour we were allowed to light the combustion stove. Fresh water pump was at the port waist on the upper deck - not very handy in roughers, contents of bread locker mildewed after a couple of days. Steam Capstan in the forward mess - chip fryer and steam bath!!  Coal fired galley. The cutlasses stowed in the after wardroom flat with the muck sticks (rifles). Weather, always trying to miss the next one (wave) over. Eating pot mess with tin opener whilst wrapped round a stanchion - just my introduction to the Vanquisher."

Arthur did not invent the story of the cutlesses. You can see a photograph taken aboard HMS Venomous by Cyril Hely of two of his shipmates indulging in a mock cutless fight. They were probably safer stowed in the officers flat at the stern of the ship. To the best of my knowledge cutlasses were never used to board and seize an enemy ship in World War Two but I would be interested to learn when they were last used  for this purpose by a warship of the Royal Navy.

The Dunkirk Evacuation
by Ted Loughlin


In May 1940 I was serving on a V&W destroyer, HMS Vanquisher, which had seen service in the 1914-1918 war. It was quite small and with a ships company of approximately 100, there was little space to spare. The armament comprised of four 4 inch guns a 3 pounder (A/A.gun) six torpedo tubes and two Lewis machine guns, when required she could produce a maximum speed of 30 knots.  

In late May we were despatched from North Atlantic convoy duties and directed to Dover. On our arrival there it was a hive of activity. We refuelled, took aboard provisions and ammunition then topped up with fuel. We immediately made our way across the channel to Dunkirk. During our North Atlantic convoy duties we were aware of the problems in the Low Countries, but never envisaged the true picture. We were quickly brought up to date on the situation. 

Oil tanks on fire at Dunkirk
Burning oil tanks as one approached Dunkirk
Courtesy of A Skelton

I was bridge lookout and shortly after leaving Dover I could clearly see the smoke and fire ahead to which we were sailing. It was anything but friendly. The Captain addressed the ships company over the Tannoy system. By the time he had finished speaking we had no doubt of the magnitude of the task that lay ahead. We closed up for action stations in preparation for attacks by enemy aircraft, E-boats and the constant threat of mines, magnetic and otherwise which had been laid continually by German forces. We were to remain in this state of readiness every time we left Dover.  


The scene that greeted us as we arrived off Dunkirk was truly horrific. The beaches were full of soldiers, lines of abandoned vehicles, and in the background, huge pillars of fire and smoke from burning oil storage tanks. On one side of Dunkirk harbour was a very long wooden mole (jetty) which stretched out from the shore. It was at least three quarters of a mile long. Moving slowly along this were hundreds of soldiers, who at the end clambered on to the destroyers tied up alongside. In addition to the personnel using the mole, small boats of every description were picking up the soldiers from the beach and conveying them to other craft in deeper waters. During all this activity, large numbers of enemy aircraft were continually strafing the harbour and dropping bombs on the beaches and harbour areas.  

Whilst waiting just outside the harbour for our turn to go alongside, we were subjected to incessant bombardment from the enemy aircraft. It was commonplace for forty or more to be attacking us at one time. The screaming of the high-pitched engines of the Stuka dive-bombers, and the accompanying explosions of the bombs, and the gunfire, was something that those present, will I am sure, never forget. As well as the bombing of the beaches, ships both large and small were receiving direct hits. Many of which were embarking the troops at the time.  

HMS Vanquisher inside the Mole
HMS Vanquisher inside the Mole
Note the scrambling nets
Courtesy of A Skelton

It was during a temporary lull in the attacks that the Monas Queen, an Isle of Man ferry was hit by a magnetic mine, she broke her back, causing her to turn over and sink in a very short space of time. We were close by and our whaler managed to pick up survivors off the hull before she went under. Fortunately, like us, she had been waiting to go into harbour, thus no soldiers were on board.

Alongside the MoleMaking their way aft
Loading from the Mole at low tide hence the ladders
Courtesy of A Skelton

When our turn came, we went alongside the Mole and took on as many soldiers as we could carry. As I have earlier mentioned, we were a small destroyer and cramped for space. At the time these ships were being built, the armament was put in first, before the question of where to put the crew was addressed! Amazingly, on each of our visits to the beaches of Dunkirk we returned with just short of a thousand soldiers. When loading was completed we quickly pulled out and another V&W destroyer would take our place. Once clear of the harbour and wrecks, it was full steam ahead for Dover.  

On arrival it was a case of rapidly disembarking the repatriated soldiers and replenishing oil and ammunition before taking off again across the channel. After the initial taking on of provisions, repeat stocking up of this commodity was a rarity. We had no time to eat, and cigarettes were the prime requisite. Due to the large numbers on board, our mess decks, heads and washrooms became untenable. It meant a quick visit to the facilities on the jetty, before making our way back to Dunkirk. This meant catnaps around the guns as opposed to proper sleep. This was to be the formula for the next six trips. Each journey was full of incidents. On one occasion we passed the bow of HMS Wakeful (a chummy ship), sticking out of the water. It was a most sobering and solemn moment to see this tragic sight. We learnt later that she had been attacked by a large number of enemy aircraft that had scored direst hits Her sinking was a tragic and huge loss of life.  

On another occasion, having endured severe air attacks by the time we tied up alongside the Mole we had expended all our ammunition, but fortunately over the preceding days we had collected quite a few Bren guns, and were able to make a bit of noise if nothing else. We had a tea chest on board into which the soldiers put their ammunition. This was quickly used in repelling low level attacks from the enemy aircraft. Our ability to maintain some sort of fire power enhanced moral.  

As the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches of Dunkirk continued, we were discovering greater numbers of mines on our short route across the Channel. As a result we had to make a lengthy detour past the North Foreland, across the Belgian coast and thence to Dunkirk. On one of these detours we ran aground on the infamous Goodwin Sands. That too was a never to be forgotten experience. The ships engines were put to full astern, but despite the terrible vibrations, we remained stuck. All hands were then summoned aft and instructed to jump up and down simultaneously. After what seemed an eternity of jumping up and down, and with the engines at full astern, we eventually slid off the sands into deep water. We later discovered that in affecting our rescue from the Goodwin Sands we had left our Asdic Dome as a momento of our visit. On several occasions we had passed the Goodwins at low water and saw the masts of the ships that had floundered there in the past.  

Going into Dunkirk at night, is best described as a 'hairy experience' The fires and smoke from the oil storage tanks, intermingled with the flash of gunfire on the outskirts of the town, provided an awesome backdrop, liken I imagine to Dante's inferno. In the foreground were the masts and hulks of sunken ships with the general flotsam floating by. During all this time we were ever conscious of the long lines of soldiers still waiting to be taken off.  

Alongside the Mole t night
Troops queuing along the Mole waiting to board at night
Courtesy of A Skelton

On our last visit to Dunkirk, to make more space for personnel to be taken on board, the soldiers were ordered to throw their rifles into the sea. The Mole as a result of continuous bombing was now in a dangerous state. It was potted with holes and there were large parts missing, making passage along it very precarious, and the embarkation of the troops thereby slowed down.  

The continued efforts over this stressful and dangerous period, gradually took its toll. Various members of the crew became hospitalised through injuries and exhaustion, and were quickly replaced by ratings sent from the barracks. Quite a number of senior officers were also replaced, but there was to be no let up in what was called 'Operation Dynamo'.  

There were of course lighter moments. On one occasion, barges full of soldiers towed by a tug came passed us. One of the barges bore the sign 'Pickfords - we can carry anything anywhere'. If only I had a camera with me at the time, I think I could have earned myself a very good pay-day!   On one of our last visits to Dunkirk we embarked French soldiers and when we arrived back at Dover, one of the Frenchmen as he was leaving the ship embraced me and placed in my hand a Rosary with a St Christopher on it. I gave the Rosary to my Mother, and the St Christopher has travelled everywhere with me since,;I still have it to this day.  

Another sight that will forever remain in my memory was seeing an extremely tired and dispirited company of Guardsmen hobbling down our ships gangway at Dover. A Sergeant Major, immaculately turned out, complete with pace stick, marshalled them together, and in parade ground voice shouted 'Guards!'. As if by magic, they straightened to attention as one and marched off in ceremonial parade ground style. They were desperately tired, hungry, and unwashed, but most importantly they had retained their pride, and the spirit to march when the Sergeant Major gave the command; as the disciplined body that they were, they rose to the occasion.  

At 0240 on the 4th June 1940, HMS Vanquisher, pulled away from the mole (a wooden jetty) at Dunkirk, laden with members of the British Expeditionary Force, the town and harbour were silhouetted by the many fires that were burning out of control, plus the continuous explosions taking place ashore. The plight of the soldiers ashore was now desperate, the German Army were on the outskirts of the town and closing in.

Disembarking at Dover
Disembarking at Dover across the deck of a sister ship
Courtesy of A Skelton

This was our seventh and final voyage to Dunkirk, a few hours later we were informed that Dunkirk had fallen and that the German Army were in control. Having disembarked the soldiers at Dover, we were ordered to Chatham, and were informed that the whole ships company would be granted three day's leave on arrival, whilst the ship was cleaned and fumigated. Having carried thousands of soldiers in the past week, conditions, particularly below decks, were in a dreadful state; the Heads, wash area and mess decks were unusable. The ship being small, it was always cramped for space, even with our normal crew of about one hundred. We looked as dirty as the ship, for there had been little time for personal hygiene over the past seven days. On arriving at Chatham and having secured the ship, we braved the filth and stench of the mess decks and retrieved our best uniforms and small cases etc. and went to the dockyard toilets and showers; after making ourselves presentable we put all our dirty clothing in our cases, were given rail warrants and off we went on three day's leave which, was mainly spent in sleeping and eating. We had been at action stations continuously for the past week and apart from the occasional 'cat naps' a good sleep had been non-existent, therefore sleep was a wonderful pick me up.

On returning to the ship, it was much cleaner and wholesome, with a distinct smell of disinfectant. It was then a case of back to work, bringing on board ammunition and provisions etc. At this time a number of sappers, explosive experts and civilians came on board, we were then engaged in man handling a large amount of explosives on board that we secured on the upper deck.  We then cast off and once more returned to the war, and action stations. As darkness fell we arrived at our destination, our mission this time was to destroy the dockyard installations on the French coast. Having landed the soldiers and the civilian passengers together with their previsions and explosives at various points, our last port of call was La Rochelle, we then returned to Dover, once again counting our lucky stars that we had not encountered any serious problems during these clandestine operations.  

It was daylight when we arrived at Dover, we refuelled and managed to get some sleep. We had been at action stations since leaving England. We were then informed that we would be leaving harbour later that evening. We headed back to the French coast and were then joined by two other V&W destroyers. We were told by the Captain over the Tannoy, that there were several allied ships in Bordeaux Harbour, and we were going to try and enter the harbour and get them out, but in order to achieve this we would have to travel up the river Gironde, which was nine miles long, and before we reached the river we would have to negotiate the estuary, which was fortified on both sides by Forts with six and four inch guns. The Captain carried on to say that if we came under attack from the smaller guns we would reply, but if the larger guns attacked us we would have to get out the best way that we could. He continued to give encouraging words, then clinched his message with a mention of making 'Supreme Sacrifices' and concluded by wishing us luck. The tannoy was then switched off. On hearing this we all became very quiet and extremely vigilant, the adrenaline was now flowing. He was of course preparing us for an impending bloody action, so having heard the bad news, I being the eternal optimist thought surely nothing could get worse, but to cheer myself up, hoped that things could only turn for the better.

When we approached the mouth of the estuary, the two other destroyers remained outside, ready to cover our retreat.   It was now dark, we commenced making smoke, our cover being supplemented by smoke canisters on the forecastle, for although it was a pitch black night, a wandering searchlight might pick out the ship, the smoke made that eventuality more difficult. We proceeded through the estuary, unchallenged into the River Gironde; now that we were in the river our speed had to be reduced. Then began the longest nine miles I have ever known, being in the middle of the river with limited space to manoeuvre was not the best place to be if action was to be fought. I was bridge lookout, and believe me it was strange going past built up areas on the river bank, I could see some lights, but the thought upper most in my mind that by the same token they could also see us. Which was not a comforting thought.

We eventually arrived in the harbour, and I could see that there were several ships at anchor, it was soon apparent that they were expecting us  for they all had steam up, we went alongside them in turn, the Captain through his megaphone identified us, and told them that they were to slip their anchor cables at an appointed time and follow us out. During this time there was a considerable amount of activity on the dockside and in the ships moored alongside. It seemed impossible that we had not been seen. Eventually, at the appointed time, the ships all slipped their cables, the anchor cables splashing in to the water, seemed to make a terrible din. Being so tensed, it sounded loud enough to 'awaken the dead' let alone the enemy. We then led the ships out of the harbour into the river and began the slow journey down to the sea, it seemed impossible that we would not be challenged and attacked, the throb of the engines to us seemed magnified, but of course we who were all in a state of readiness awaiting the first burst of gun fire, which would anounce our discovery and the start of the battle.  Amazingly we completed our journey to the estuary and into the sea without incident and met our two friends, the destroyers, who took over the ships for the final part of the journey to England. We were then despatched enroute to Dover; at long last we could all now light up the cigarettes which we had craved for, as we used to say 'to steady the nerves'.

On reaching Dover at dawn we refuelled and caught up with sleep, and we had experienced what might be called a heavy night. Later that day we were despatched to Devonport. We were cheered by this news, the prospect of a couple of nights in harbour, and probably some shore leave certainly lifted our spirits. These thoughts however proved to be a flight of fancy, for on our arrival in the Hoe, we saw units of the French Fleet anchored inside. We were instructed to anchor near a French destroyer and then we went to action stations, training our guns on the French destroyer. We were informed that some of the French crews, wanted to return to their homeland but the powers that be decided to take this action to ensure that the French ships did not leave their anchorage, we then went watch and watch readiness and remained so until the politics of this situation had been settled. It was truly an amazing sight to see all the British units, aiming their guns at the French Fleet.

After some time we were stood down, and the ship ordered back to our base at Liverpool, this was great news. On arrival we were informed that there would be night leave (4pm-8am) for forty per cent of the ship's company if their watch was due for leave, this meant eggs and chips at a service run establishment, a visit to the pictures and then back on board ship. 'They' being in their teens were not allowed ashore later than 10 pm. On reflection this did us a power of good, we all needed a good night's sleep. In conclusion I would add that in a few short months, the RNVR and HO ratings, had changed from being willing, but untrained seamen, and together, with the regulars and reservists, had been moulded into an efficient and battle hardened crew, ready to face the trials and tribulations of the war years ahead. I am sure that their experiences helped many of us to survive the remainder of the war.  

Ted Loughlin,
  HMS Vanquisher

Dunkirk in the TIMES on 5 June 1940
The Times report on the evacuation of the troops of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from the beaches and North Quay of Dunkirk
Double click on image to view full size and to read text


Fred Garbutt was an Asdic Operator on HMS Vanquisher

Fred joined the Navy before the war and described his memories of the evacuation of the troops from Dunkirk on the BBC Peoples War web site. His account has been lightly edited and is republished here. If anybody can put me in touch with Fred's family so that I can add his photograph and further details of his wartime service on HMS Vanquisher I would be very grateful.

*******************

"I joined the navy in 1934 as a boy entrant (HMS Ganges to 1935 and HMS Orion from 1935-36) and served in home waters and Far East before the war (China - HMS Diana 1936-39 – and saw the Japanese invasion of China).


At the time of Dunkirk I was a leading seaman /asdic operator on HS Vanquisher (V&W Class Destroyer) on Atlantic convoy operations when we were recalled for Dunkirk duties.  We sailed from mid Atlantic directly to Dunkirk and made seven round trips to the Inner Harbour, the Mole or the beach over a period of five or six days.

On one trip we passed an H class destroyer (Harvester?) sinking. We anchored in Dunkirk harbour on Hydrophone watch and heard a large explosion, went on the upper deck and saw the Isle of Man ferry (Monas Queen) turning over and sinking  - her degaussing gear had been damaged by shellfire and failed to protect against a magnetic mine.

Vanquisher ran aground on Goodwin Sands with 400 troops on board and her asdic dome broke off. Entry into Dunkirk was through dense smoke from burning oil-tanks, heard cries for help in the smoke but could not stop because of E-Boat activity. Advice was that the cries were a German ruse to stop us.

While loading at wooden jetty with troops we acquired several abandoned Bren guns and tied them to the rigging and used them as AA guns. We were frequently bombed.

After Dunkirk and three days under repair at Chatham Dockyard we proceed to Plymouth to load up with explosives and sailed for St Nazaire where we landed explosives and sappers to destroy French ships under construction. We also evacuated civilians from St Nazaire.

Sailed up the River Gironde to Bordeaux on a night time mission to try to persuade neutral shipping to sail with us to joined allied cause. We sailed back to sea alone and left Gironde at 30 Knots. As it was not clear whether German advance had reached Gironde.

We observed that on arrival at Dover the rescued troops were swiftly given tea and then loaded into trucks whose drivers were not given specific orders just told to take them away anywhere and the troops would have to find their own way back to their units. All equipment was abandoned on the jetty.

Richard Baker (BBC) was a messmate of mine on the Vanquisher. Another messmate (LS Roy Doy) was posted to the Dover Cliff Tunnels to look after the living and the dead."

*************

Richard Baker was born in 1925 so it seems unlikely that he could have been a messmate of Fred Garbutt until after Dunkirk but he is still alive aged 90 and is believed to be writing an account of his wartime service. I am hoping that he will read this and get in touch so that I can add his memories of HMS
Vanquisher to this page. Further details of Richard Baker's wartime service as an officer in the RNVR are given on the unithistories web site.


And an anecdote by T. Robinson

I was at action stations aboard the Vanquisher in the crows nest as a look out. The crows nest was a splendid place to be, because one had such a wonderful view of all that was going on. We were alongside the Mole which had been breached by a bomb. A narrow walk way had been put across the gap and the troops were filing across in single file to reach the ladders that led down to our decks.

Two French Poilu appeared pushing a bicycle which was supporting a safe carefully balanced on the cross bar. They had obviously been doing a bit of looting and hoped that the safe contained a fortune. Their problem was how to get the bicycle across and more importantly the safe across the abyss? They were holding up the whole proceedings at a time when time was the essence and everyone was being urged to get a move on. The problem was soon solved for them when someone had the sense to push the bicycle and its load into the sea! The evacuation then continued and the poor Poilu's were left in tears. I thought the whole incident rather amusing.



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


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