HMS Vimiera was a V-Class
destroyer ordered from Swan Hunter at Wallsend, and was laid down in
October 1916. She was launched on 22 June 1918 as the second Royal Navy
warship of the name, the first being a prize captured in 1808. She was
completed in September 1918 and assigned to the 13th Destroyer Flotilla
of the Grand Fleet.
She remained in commission after November 1918, and conveyed Leonid
Krasin and Viktor Nogin to Reval (now Tallinn), following the first
stage of negotiations of the Anglo Soviet Trade Agreement, which was
concluded in March 1921. She recommissioned in January 1922 in the 5th
Destroyer Flotilla with the Atlantic Fleet. In April 1925 the Flotilla
was renumbered as the 1st Destroyer Flotilla and transferred to the
Mediterranean Fleet. The photographs of PO Arthur R. Atkinson (1896 - 1941) a torpedoman on Vimiera from 24 May 1924 to 27 January 1927 evoke the atmosphere of this period. By November 1933 shewas in reserve at the Nore.
Vimiera was chosen for
conversion to an escort destroyer with an enhanced anti-aircraft
and anti-submarine capability (WAIR) as part of the naval rearmament programme
preceding the outbreak of war. In January 1939 she joined the
Nore Command for coastal convoy duty in the North Sea and English
Channel. The ship's company contained many men from the Clyde Division,
of the Royal Naval Reserve, HMS Graham.
In April 1940 she was transferred to Dover Command to support military
operations in France, providing additional air defence at Dunkirk,
assisting in the evacuation of allied personnel from Flushing,
providing naval gunfire support at Escault, and rescuing the survivors
of HMS Whitley. On 22nd May
she escorted ships taking 20th Guards Division to reinforce Boulogne,
and on the 23rd and 24th, with six other ships of the 19th Destroyer
Flotilla, evacuated the Guards and supporting troops. The Vimiera made two trips to Boulogne, bringing out a total of 1955 troops an action descxribed in A Hard Fought Ship (2017). On 24th May, while operating off Calais with Wolfhound, Wessex and ORP Burza, she was damaged by a heavy air attack, and the Wessex was sunk.
After repairs Vimiera returned to convoy defence and patrol in the North Sea. In 1941 she shot down at least three planes attacking the convoys and Lt W.R.M. Murdoch RNVR was awarded the DSC and AB Benningfield the DSM. On 6 August 1941 while escorting Convoy F.S 559 on eight ships ran aground on the Haisborough Sands off the Norfolk Coast and Vimiera
distinguished herself by rescuing many of the seamen. In December 1941
she was adopted by the civil community of Sandbach, Cheshire, following
a successful Warship Week National Savings Campaign.
In January 1942 she was sunk by a mine in the Thames Estuary with the
loss of 93 hands with 34 survivors. Her bell was salvaged after the war and presented to HMS Graham in 1956
by her first wartime CO, Captain RBN Hicks DSO, as a memorial to the
men who died but appears to have been removed prior to the closing of
HMS Graham in 1993. The Clyde Division RNR Old Hands Association is trying to trace it before the 75th anniversary of the loss of HMS Vimiera on 9 January 2017. Can you help?
Lt Cdr Angus A. Mackenzie RNR earned his nickname of “Bloody” Mackenzie while First Lieutenant in HMS Venomous. During his time on Venomous
she evacuated the Welsh and Irish Guards from Boulogne and helped bring
back the BEF from Dunkirk. He was twice Mentioned in Dispatches (MID)
and promoted to Lt Cdr before taking command of HMS Vimiera in February 1941.
Disaster struck on Mackenzie's 37th birthday, the 9 January 1942, when HMS Vimiera
was sunk by a mine in the Thames estuary on the southern edge of the
swept channel (185 QZS) between East Spile Buoy and J Buoy while
escorting east coast convoy FS.93 from Rosyth to Sheerness.
Mackenzie wrote in his statement to
the Board of Enquiry: "a violent explosion took place apparently under
the after-part of the bridge" (under the forward boiler room). Lt R. L.
Caple, DSC, RN, The First Lieutenant, was in his cabin in the stern and
came on deck to see "the foc'sle about 50 yards away, on the starboard
side, standing on end, bows up, facing eastward, the opposite direction
to the rest of the ship ... the first person I saw was the Captain,
sitting on the director, with his leg dangling over the front." The
drawing done the following day by "DBS" shows the column of water and Vimiera breaking up.
A sketch made by "DBS" on 10 January 1942 of Vimiera breaking in two and sinking
Mackenzie (right) was on the bridge at the time of the explosion with Midshipman Lacy as "the navigating officer was sick onboard at the time" but "regained
my senses to find that I was lying by the guardrails upon the port side
of the foc'sle, which was listed about seventy degrees to starboard.
The entire forward portion of the ship had broken off by the bridge,
was being carried rapidly away by the tide and wind from the after
part, and was rapidly filling with water."
He described how "the forward
portion now sank rapidly and air blew through the scuttles. I had
removed my inflatable life-jacket shortly before the explosion
occurred. I stripped to shirt and trousers and got into the water to
swim to the after part of the ship, which was afloat but some distance
away. I found AB Henderson, Starboard Oerlikon gunner, in the water; he
was wearing one of the new kapok overall suits, but had both legs
broken - I took him in tow. Eventually I got hold of a line on the
starboard side of the floating portion of the ship and hung there for
some considerable time, until hauled into a Carley float by the ship's
Surgeon Lt Kidd (AB Henderson was still clinging to me and was rescued
with me). We were taken aboard Motor Minesweeper 19 and conveyed to
Leading Seaman S. Adams, was in the
forward mess deck when the mine detonated but was immensely strong and
succeeded in unscrewing an escape hatch above his head and scrambled on
deck followed by two others. In his statement to the Board of
Enquiry Mackenzie said that he believed that Adams, Averley,
Benningfield and Robinson came through the escape scuttle, but only
Adams is known to have survived. AB Birch tried to get out but was
prevented by a heavy lurch to starboard.
The Board of Enquiry into the loss of HMS Vimiera was held on the 29 January in the Billiard Room of HMS Wildfire,
the shore base at Sheerness, and most of the survivors were required to
give evidence along with the COs of nearby ships who observed the
explosion. The enquiry focused on the time of the explosion and the
position of HMS Vimiera when the explosion occurred and the height of the column of water.
Although there were differing accounts of the time (shortly after 1400) and no conclusive evidence as to the exact position of Vimiera
the Board concluded from the violence of the explosion (the column of
water reached a height of about one hundred feet) and the position
where the two parts of the ship sank that it must have occurred in
shallow water just to the south of the swept channel. Mackenzie was not
criticised by the Board of Enquiry and was given command of a modern
Hunt Class destroyer, HMS Liddesdale.
After the loss of Vimiera Mackenzie felt unable to relax and the strain began to tell:
Captain was on the bridge practically the whole time. When we were
returning to Sheerness on one occasion we heard the wail of the pipes
on the forecastle. We knew the Captain played the pipes but didn’t
think he should be on the forecastle doing so when we entered harbour.
The First Lieutenant said to me, ‘Look over the bridge.’ I did. There
was the Captain playing away without any clothes on; he was naked. So
our West-Country capable First Lieutenant took the Captain gently in
hand and led him back to his cabin. He went quietly. After a rest he
was perfectly okay and went back to full duty.”
The Findings of the Board of Inquiry into Loss of HMS Vimiera (ADM 1/12017) held at HMS Wildfire in Sheerness on 6 Febrary 1942 can be seen at the National Archives.
PO George W. Chapman DSM Surg Lt John Dennys Kidd, Bronze Medal of the Royal Humane Society
Mentioned in despatches (MID): Lt Cdr Angus A. Mackenzie RNR, Surg Lt John Dennys Kidd, LS Roland E. Averley.
The officers on HMS Vimiera on the 9 June 1942
Only one officer died,
Midshipman David Lacy, the youngest and most junior, and it seemed he
was only in Vimiera
due to an administrative error by the Admiralty. The names of most of
the officers and men have now been identified from a drawing of
the photograph made by Lt. William Ridley Morton Murdoch, RNVR DSC who left Vimiera in June 1941 but some of the officers joined after the photograph of the ship's company
was taken at Rosyth in March 1941 and are not in it.
“He suffered agonies over Vimiera,
he felt he lived while younger men died. He was bending over on the
bridge patting Andy his Scottish Terrier and he reckoned that was why
he was blown clear. My mother made him take Andy to sea because the dog
had a bad temper and was forever biting us – irony there! A boat was
launched before Vimiera sank
and it picked up those crew members not trapped below deck or killed in
the blast including my father. The water was covered with oil. They
recognised him by the tattoos on his arms." Sheena Mackenzie, daughter
of Angus Mackenzie.
Every year on the anniversary “he would put an announcement in the Daily Telegraph and I was surprised how many wrote saying how much they appreciated that”