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



HMS Vimiera in storm on East Coast, 1941
Courtesy of Paul Adams

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 she was 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 from Boulogne. The Vimiera made two trips to Boulogne, bringing out a total of 1955 troops. 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?

Commanding Officers

Lt.Cdr. John Leslie Younghusband, RN (17 May 1929 – Feb 1931)
Lt.Cdr. Roger Bertram Nettleton Hicks, RN (15 Jan 1940 – 26 Feb 1941)
A/Lt.Cdr. Angus Alexander Mackenzie, RNR (26 Feb 1941 – 9 Jan 1942)

Officers

Further names from the Navy List will be added later.

Lt. Evelyn David John Abbot, RN (19 Sept 1929 – Jan 1932)
Cd.Engineer E G Blofield, RN DSO (8 Sep 1939 - 9 Jan 1942)
Lt.(E) Charles Roy William Bolt, RN (21 June 1932 – May 1933)
Sub Lt A F Bull RNVR (11 Aug 1941 - 9 Jan 1942)
Lt. Stuart Austen Buss, RN (31 Dec 1926 – June 1928)
Lt. Reginald L Caple, RN (5 Jan 1940 - 9 Jan 1942)
Lt Brian William Richard Curling RNVR (17 Nov 1940 - Dec 1941)
Lt. W S Dobson, RNVR (26 Jan - Oct 1940)
Surg Lt Thomas Benedict Fitzgerald RNVR  (April 1940 - Dec 1941)
Temp. Sub-Lt. Alan Frank Bull, RNVR (11 Aug 1941 - 9 Jan 1942)
Lt. Harold Pitcairn Henderson, RN (17 May 1929 – Aug 1929)
Midn. (proby.) R R Hunter, RNVR (12 Feb 1940 - May 1940)
Surg Lt John Dennys Kidd RNVR (28 Feb 1941 - 9 Jan 1942)
Midn. (proby.) R R Hunter RNVR (12 Feb 1940 - )
Midn. David Lacy, RNR (24 Jan 1940 - 9 Jan 1942)
Lt. Archibald N Macpherson, RN (23 Jan 1940 - Dec 1941)
Lt. William Ridley Morton Murdoch, RNVR DSC (26 Jan 1940 – June 1941)
Sub-Lt. Geoffrey Archibald Henry Pratt, RN (11 June 1929 – Aug 1929)
Gunner Sidney Gordon Rodwell, RN (1 Oct 1939 - 9 Jan 1942)
Sub Lt Derek Cecil Spring RNVR (June 1941 - 9 Jan 1942)
Lt.(E) E S Stribley RN (18 July 1938 - Feb 1941)
Sub Lt D D O'Sullivan MBE (22 Feb 1941 - 9 Jan 1942)

Former Full Members of the V & W Destroyer Assoociation
Lt Cdr E.G. Smith (Holyhead, Anglesey)

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


The Sinking of HMS Vimiera

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.

Chart of Convoy routes in the Thames estuary

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.

Sketch of VIMIERA sinking
A sketch made by "DBS" on 10 January 1942 of Vimiera breaking in two and sinking

Lt Cdr Angus A Mackenzie RNRMackenzie (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 Sheerness."

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:

“The 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.

Awards

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.

Lt Cdr A A Mackenzie RNR (joined 28 February 1941) Survived
Lt R L Caple DSC (joined 5 Jan 1940) Survived
Lt J D Kidd (joined 28 February 1941)  Survived
Sub Lt D D O'Sullivan MBE (joined 22 February 1941)  Survived
Sub Lt D C Spring RNVR (joined June 1941) Survived

Sub Lt A F Bull RNVR (joined 11 August 1941) Survvived
Cd Eng E G Blofield DSO (joined 8 Sept 1939) Survived
Gnr S G Rodwell (joined 1 October 1939) Survived
Mid David Lacy RNR (joined 24 January 1940)  MPK

*******

“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”


FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
The men who lived and those who died when HMS Vimiera sank in the Thames estuary




If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Vimiera 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 Vimiera you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Frank Donald



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