HMS Vortigern - between the wars
Postcard from Stormy Fairweather's Collection in Hard Lying
HMS Vortigern was built
on the Isle of Wight by J. Samuel White of Cowes. She was launched on 5
October 1917 and named after the fifth century British ruler who
invited the Saxons to Britain to repel the Picts and Scots as recorded
in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. HMS Vortigern
was commissioned on 21 January 1918 and served in the final months of
the Great War and took part in the Baltic Campaign to protect the newly
established Baltic states from the Bolshevists. She was part of the 1st
and 5th Destroyer Flotilla serving with the Atlantic and Home Fleets in
the 1920s but was put in Reserve in 1934.
She was recommissioned in 1939 and took part in the Review of the
Reserve Fleet by King George VI in August. At the outbreak of war she
joined the 17th Destroyer Flotilla at Plymouth escorting convoys in the
Western Approaches and English Channel until the end of the year when
she and HMS Velox escorted
Convoy OG.14F to Gibraltar and joined the 13th Destroyer
Flotilla. On 3 July she was present at the attack on the French fleet
at Mers-el-Kébir (Operation Catapult) and in July was part of the escort for the battleships and aircraft carrier which attacked the French Battleship Dunkerque.
She returned to Britain later that month. On the 31 August she was a
member of the 5th DF escorting destroyers of the 20th DF laying mines
off the Dutch Coast when they were diverted to intercept a suspected
German invasion force but crossed a German minefield and two of the
destroyers in the 20th DF were sunk. Between September and
November 1940 she was converted into a Short Range Escort and then
joined the 12th Destroyer Flotilla at Rosyth escorting East Coast
On 15 March 1942 HMS Vortigern
(Lt.Cdr. Ronald Stanley Howlett, RN) was escorting southbound Convoy
FS.749 when she was torpedoed and sunk off Cromer on the Norfolk coast
by German E-boat S-104. The Convoy continued and although the sinking
of Vortigern was observed by
the other escort she was unable to stop and it was not until the
following morning that the 12 survivors out of the crew of 159 were
rescued by the corvette HMS Guillemot as described by her CO, Lt Samuel Lombard Hobson RN, in his book, A Sailor's War (St Martins Press, 1983), and by Bill Bradshaw, one of the survivors, below.
This is the highest number of casualties suffered by any escort for an east coast convoy.A list of all the men aboard and their fate
can be seen on this website. The wreck was a hazard to navigation and
was broken up with explosives and is now widely scattered but in
shallow water. HMS Vortigernis a war grave and although visited by amateur divers the wreckage should not be removed.
Lt Cdr Julian Harrison (Jan. 1918 – 12 Dec. 1920)
Lt Cdr Edmund F. FitzGerald (Nov. 1920 -
Lt Cdr Patrick W. R. Weir (April 1923 – Dec. 1924)
Lt Cdr Hamilton E. Snepp (Dec. 1924 - Dec. 1925)
Lit Cdr Frederick A. Richardson (Dec. 1925 – Dec. 1926)
Lt Cdr Charles W. T. V. S. Lepper (Dec. 1926 – 1928)
Former Full Members of the V & W Destroyer Assoociation Bill Bradshaw (Barking, Essex)) Please get in touch if you knew Bill Bradshaw - see his story below - or have a family member who served in HMS Vortigern
E-Boat Alley 15 March, 1942
The loss of HMS Vortigern
The official report into the loss of HMS Vortigern in the North Sea off Cromer is in the National Archives at Kew, ADM 358/4052. The best description of events leading to the the loss of HMS Vortigern is by Lt Richard le Hunte (“Sam”) Lombard-Hobson RN, the CO of HMS Guillemot, in his book, A Sailor's War (St Martins Press, 1983). Click on the image to view the full size original in the NPG. On the 15 March Gullemot was leading a large southbound convoy of 52 ships. Guillemot
had been fitted with an early non-directional Type 271 RDF
(radar), a novel new system, and was four miles ahead of the convoy
with HMS Holderness and Wallace on the flanks and Vortigern
at the rear. The night was dark with no moon, the sea calm, ideal
conditions for an attack by e-boats and earlier that day the convoy had
been shadowed by aircraft. The e-boats were waiting inshore of the
convoy near Cromer on the Norfolk coast and attacked shortly before 10
pm. Vortigen was hit by two torpedoes and sunk within minutes. Holderness and Wallace counter attacked with gunfire and sank one e-boat and damaged another.
Lombard-Hobson let Guillemot drop slowly back along the seaward side of the convoy, found the end position where HMS Vortigern
had been empty and heard men in the water shouting for help. Two men
were pulled aboard out but he was at a loss to decide whether to launch
boats and life rafts laying his ship open to attack by an e-boat when
the decision was made for him by a cry from the RDF operator of a
confirmed echo from a stationary target. Lombard-Hobson ordered hands
to "Creeping Stations", a special drill he had devised to attack a
stationary target. The gunner's mate lay flat on a matress in the eyes
of the ship with a machine gun at the ready, other small arms close at
hand and the forecastle 4-inch gun at maximum depression while Guillemot
approached at dead slow speed producing no bow wave or wash. When the
echo merged with the radar ground wave they knew they were close but
could not detect the target until, finally, the searchlight was
switched on and an e-boat could be seen, asleep in the water with the
only sign of life a gunner in the stern "shedding a tear for Nelson".
The action was over in a minute, the seaman riddled with bullets and
the e-boat sunk, followed by total darkness as the searchlight was
suddenly switched off as the operator stumbled and fell on the deck
below, concussed, and chaos followed as an e-boat attacked from the
port side. Disaster was averted by a sharp turn towards the attacker
which raced alongside Guillemot too close for either vessel to damage the other.
HMS Vortigern was unofficialy adopted by four schools in Wells, Somerset, as reported in the Wells Journal
on Friday 6 June 1941. They sent regular parcels to "HMS Wells"
with postage paid by Miss Chegwidden. It must have come as a dreadful
shock when the children leaned that their ship had been sunk. Wartime
censorship would have prevented her loss being reported in the press
and there is no further mention of her in the Wells Journal.
I joined the Vortigern
at Rosyth in early '41 after passing out as S/T at Vernon and Roedean
college Brighton. We did a lot of convoy duties and at one time we were
escorting a cruiser from Dundee, going South. We picked up a young
drafter there, the weather was terrible, no one was allowed fore or aft
unless absolutely necessary, but this young lad, on his very first trip
was washed overboard and was lost. I never even got to know him.
Whilst proceeding South we received
a signal to proceed to the Channel. Three German battleships were
trying to break out - the Channel Dash. Our sister ship Worcester was hit and one of my shipmates, Jim Adams was injured.
At the time of our sinking, we had
left Portsmouth on Sunday 13th March to meet up with the convoy. The
weather was again bad, corned beef sandwiches was all we could have. On
the night we were torpedoed, we were at action stations, I was on duty
middle watch, luckily. I had just switched on the degaussing motor
forward for we knew there was trouble in store because merchant ships
were being blown up. My duty was right aft with the depth charge party,
keeping in touch with the bridge by manning the telephone. The night
was pitch black, all we could see was the silhouettes of the merchant
ships. At about 0200 we were hit forward. I always thought that it was
two torpedoes, because the ship went down so very quickly.
I managed to free a carley raft
which was lashed around upright by a thick sling. I had to punch the
wood toggle out with my fist. I damaged my hand but did not notice it.
These rafts had a lamp aboard which was activated on contact with the
sea, so we had a light. I remember the officers steward who
had his quarters aft came up to me on the deck and I told him to jump
overboard, we had no order to abandon ship because all those forward
had been killed. He said to me "I've got to go back to retrieve
something". I never saw him again. I took my duffle coat off, all I had
on was a boiler suit and my rubber safety ring. I jumped in and managed
to swim to the raft. I helped some of the others to get on. The oil
fuel and the sea were so very cold. Quite a few died and slipped away.
Our First Lieutenant was hanging on, but he too died and drifted away.
Two others died on the raft, one named 'Sharky' Ward our L/S LTO also a
three badge A.B. Sharky had only got married on his last leave. He came
We must have been adrift for about
eight hours, after a lot of singing and talking about different things
just to keep ourselves awake. We were of course overjoyed to see
a corvette, HMS Guillemot
on the horizon, searching for survivors. I tried climbing
the scrambling nets, but I was too cold, however I was hauled aboard,
put in the shower room and scrubbed down with hard brushes to bring
back the circulation. The M.O. refused us rum because we had swallowed
oil fuel. We were then taken to Lowestoft hospital. I was there for
three days, my feet and legs were very bad. Luckily I got over it and
was allowed home on leave. I received a telegram to go to Lowestoft to
help identify the shipmates that are now buried there. I was met at the
station by two Nuns, and taken to a 'mock up mortuary' a tin hut. It
really upset me to see the lads laid out there. Then I was
called to the Admiralty, and before Admirals and other high-ranking
officers had to answer questions about the sinking.
I finished my Naval career as a L/S LTO on two carriers, the Argus on the North African landings and the HMS Indefatigable out in the Pacific.
Lombard-Holbson and HMS Gulillemot were feted by headlines in the press
to divert the public's attention from the loss of HMS Vortigern with
most of her crew. When the next morning on 16 March a ship was sent to
look for survivors two men were found clinging to the bow sticking from
the water and a further half dozen were pulled from the water. Most of the dead were not recovered. The RNLI lifeboat H.F. Bailey, skippered by
the renowned Joe Bloggs, was also in attendance recovering bodies.
of the Vortigern and the loss of life, was the biggest loss on the East
The names of those buried in the cemetery
at Lowestoft are: Lt
Cdr. R.S. Howlett DSC, Lt. P.A.B. Powell, Sub Lt. J.
Gilmour, AB J. Muir, AB D. McLeod Wierman, R.C.
Nutt, AB L.W. Grace, AB J Flynn, AB J.H. Jones,
AB H. Smith, AB J.R. Leigh, AB J.L. Stewart, AB D. Mcleod, H. Farrow. Petty Officer George Blundell's body was washed up at Cromer one month later and is also buried in Cromer cemetery.
Due to the wrecks position it was seen to be a hazard to shipping. Despite the site being a war grave the Vortigern
was dispersed with the use of explosives and wire swept to a clear
depth of 19mtrs. The site is now protected under the protection of
military remains act 1986. Diving on the site is permitted, however the
removal of items and disturbance of the site is prohibited. The wreck
is very broken in 20mtrs, widely dispersed with items of wreckage upto
400 mtrs from the main site. Norfolk Divers have dived the site.
The V & W Destroyer Association held a memorial service at Lowestoft in May 1995 for the men who died when HMS Vortigern was torpedoed and presented her bell to the local naval museum
Click on the link to see a complete list of the Ship's Company with their fates on this website
Probaby taken soon after completion at Cowes on the Isle of Wight Believed to be from a postcard