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.
The passenger liner Athenia,
bound from Liverpool to North America with 1,400 passenger aboard was
torpedoed at 2100 on 3 September, the first day of the War, and HMS
Vanquisher went to her assistance as reported in the Admiralty War Diary. On 11 September 1939 HMS Vanquisher was involved in a collision (ADM 358/3593) with HMS Walker in the North Atlantic killing 14 men, with both ships seriously damaged. The First Lieutenant
of HMS Walker was compelled to shoot some of the injured trapped in the wreckage. Her
repairs took until mid-November while Vanquisher was not fully repaired until early January 1940.
The towm of Nuneaton in Warwickshire adopted HMS Vanquisher after a successful Warships Week to raise funds for the war in 22 - 29 November 1941.
Cdr Kenneth A. Beattie, RN (15 Sept, 1917 – 5 Nov.1920)
Cdr Arthur J. Landon, RN (2 Nov. 1920 – 14 August, 1922)
Cdr Claude L. Bate, 22 August, RN (1922 – 28 Aug. 1924) Lt Cdr Meredith S. Spalding RN(Jan 1924 - Jan 1925)
Cdr Percy R. P. Percival, 28 August, RN (1924 – Oct. 1926)
Cdr Geoffrey S. Holden, RN (21 Sept. 1926 – 17 May, 1927)
Cdr Austen G. Lilley, RN (17 May, 1927 – June, 1929) Lt Cdr Donal Scott McGrath RN(June - Oct. 1929)
Cdr George H. Creswell, RN (31 Oct. 1929 – Oct. 1931)
Cdr David J. R. Simson, RN (31 Oct. 1931– 27 April, 1932)
Cdr Henry J. Haynes, RN (4 May, 1933 – 1935)
Lt Cdr Edward G. Le Geyt, RN (20 Aug. 1936)
Former Full Members of the V & W Destroyer Assoociation T. Carr (Ashington, North), R. Cook
(Canvey Island, Essex), B. Martin (Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex), "Ted" Edward 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
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'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. Arthur
Skelton's photographs illustrate Ted Loughlin's account of the part
played by HMS Vanquisher in the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk.
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
Arthur Skelton's photographs illustrate Ted Loughlin's memories of the part played by HMS Vanquisher in the evacuation of the BEF from 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 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.
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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."
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.