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

HMS Wakeful
                   photograph courtesy of John Waters

Click on the links within this brief outline for first hand accounts by the men who served on HMS Wakeful and for a more detailed chronolgy see

HMS Wakeful was the first Royal Navy warship to carry that name. She was completed in December 1917 and saw service with the Grand Fleet in the final months of ther Great War and was present in November 1918 when the German High Sea Fleet entered Scapa Flow to surrender. Wakeful was part of the British Baltic Intervention Force and on the 24 December 1918 left Tallinn in Estonia with Vendetta and Vortigern and captured a Bolshevik destroyer bombarding a lighthouse. On Christmas Day Wakeful with the cruisers HMS Calypso and Caradoc forced another Bolshevic destroyer to surrender. These two destroyers, renamed  Wambola and Lennuk, formed the nucleus of the Estonian Navy.

HMS Wakeful was in reserve for most of the interwar years but was recommissioned in 1939 and was present at the Royal Review of the Reserve Fleet in Weymouth Bay in August. On the outbreak of war she joined the 17th Destroyer Flotilla at Plymouth as a convoy escort in the Western Approaches and the English Channel until May 1940 when she was transferred to Dover Command and supported the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk. On the 27 May she embarked 630 troops from Dunkirk for Dover and was damaged above the waterline in an air attack. She returned to Dunkirk on the 28 May, embarked 640 troops on the 29 May and was was attacked off the Belgium coast by E-boats based at Antwerp which emerged from the mist while Wakeful was returning to Dover. She was torpedoed twice, once in the boiler room and split in two with the bow sinking immediately. Only one soldier and 25 crew members survived and HMS Grafton was also sunk whiler attempting to rescue survivors.

One of sixteen W Class destroyers built under the War Emergency Programme in 1943-4 was named HMS Wakeful and served in the Home Fleet, transferring to the Eastern Fleet in 1944, and then the Pacific Fleet. She was converted to a Type 15 Frigate sfter the war and was scrapped in 1971. For further details of the reuse of V & W Class names by ships built under this programmne see the linked article by Frank Donald.

Commanding Officers

Cdr Somerville Peregrine Brownlow Russell RN (26 Nov 1917 - 19 July 1918)
Lt John R. Crothers RN (June – July 1935)
Cdr. Robert St. Vincent Sherbrooke, RN (31 July 1939 - 8 Dec 1939)
Lt. Cdr. Ralph Lindsay Fisher, RN (18 Dec 1939 - 29 May 1940)


This short list of officers who served on HMS Wakeful have entries on the web site. Further names from the Navy List will be added later.

Lt Walter Scott RN (16 Oct 1939 – April 1940)
Lt M.A.G. Child RN
Lt Claude Beevor King RN (Oct 1923 – Jan 1925)

Former Full Members of the V & W Destroyer Assoociation
John Waters (Market Drayton, Shropshire)

Please get in touch if you have a family member who served in HMS Wakeful

John Waters

97 year old John Waters may be the only person still alive who served in HMS Wakeful before she was torpedoed by E-boats and sank with heavy loss of life during the Dunkirk evacuation on the 29 May 1940. I interviewed him at the reunion of the V & W Destroyer Association at Harrogate in 2015 and these notes are based on that interview and many other converations at annual reunions. John was only in Wakeful for a few months as he broke both his wrists descending the focsle ladder in a heavy sea three months before she was torpedoed. This accident almost certainly saved his life.

He went on to serve in HMS Warspite at Narvik in Norway and at the Battle of Matapan in the Mediterranean and was left severely deaf after Warspite was bombed off Crete. He volunteered for Combined Operations and served in LST 9 at the landings in Sicily and Salerno. After the success of the Normandy Landings he was part of  Naval Party 1730 which followed the troops to Hamburg towards the end of the war and stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel, the Vier Jahreszeiten, still the best hotel in Hamburg. He describes his experience below and in the intereview which can be listened to online via a link below.

John WateraJohn WaterJohn Waters was born on the 5 March 1921 at Easington Lane, ten miles South of Sunderland in Co Durham. His father was a miner but when John left school at 14 he was determined not to follow him down the pitts. Since there was no work in Co Durham he moved to Leicester and started an apprenticeship as a bricklayer. He was bored and at eighteen joined the Navy and was sent to  Chatham for shore training, passed out as an OD and was posted to HMS Wakeful at Devonport, Plymouth, in September.

He was on B Gun as part of Blue Watch and was in the Seamens Mess in the foc'sle with 40 - 50 others where his best mates were LS Robinson and his two class mates at Chatham, Dick Staines and Walsh. After a month on the Dover Patrol Wakeful escorted convoys from Liverpool to Canada, leaving halfway to escort an incoming convoy. They sometimes escorted the Queen Mary carrying military personnel to Canada for training but on leaving the British Isles  the liners continued unescorted relying on their speed. In January 1940 he fell descending the foce'sle ladder in rough seas, broke both his wrists and was put ashore at Milford Haven. This accident saved his life as three months later on the 29 May 1940 HMS Wakeful was sunk by e-boats from Antwerp during the Dunkirk evacuation with 640 soldiers aboard. John's three shipmates were killed and only 25 crew members and one soldier survived.

In March 1940 John was posted to the battleship, HMS Warspite and took part in the second Battle of Narvik. Warspite and nine destroyers attacked eight German destroyers in the landlocked fjord on the 13 May. Nobody expected them to enter Narvik but they entered in the morning and left at 5pm and "had a really good day". All the German destroyers (low on fuel and ammunition) and the German merchant ships in the harbour were sunk or scuttled. Warspite was too far out to take part in most of the action but fired a broadside at a destroyer trying to escape and it ran aground.

HMS Warspite
HMS Warspite

Courtesy of John Waters

HMS Warspite was sent to the Mediterranean. Italy had not entered the war and the Med was still at peace and John was surprised to find everything floodlit. Warspite  joined HMS Resolution and HMS Barham as part of the battle fleet at Alex. When Italy entered the war in June Warspite was busy escorting convoys to Malta and bombarding German positions in North Africa. John Waters was aboard Warspite at the Battle of Calabria in July 1940 and the Battle of Matapan in March 1941.

HMA Valiant, HMS Illustrious and HMS Warspite bombed off Malta
HMS Warspite, her sister ship, HMS Viscount, and the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious being bombed near Malta by Ju 87 in 1941 during Operation Excess
These photographs were taken by John Waters on his Box Brownie camera from his action station on the Oerlikon.
Double click the images to zoom in and view full size - Courtesy of John Waters

HMS Warspite, HMS Barham and HMS Valliant (with Prince Philip aboard) sank three Italian cruisers at Matapan on the 29 March. The Italians did not know they were there. The destroyers fired a star-shell which illuminated the cruisers and assuming they were under attack from the air the cruisers fired their guns at the flares and were sunk in twenty minutes by broadsides from the British battleships. "It was war but it was murder", John said. They tried to pick up the survivors at daylight but the Italians bombed, killing their own men in the water and rescue attempts had to be abandoned.

On the 22 May Warspite was an ant-aircraft battery off the coast of Crete during the German invasion and John was at his action station on the pom-poms when a German bomb exploded under the 4.7 inch gun turret on the upper deck blowing it overboard and killing 38 men. John and the pom-pom crew a hundred foot away were caught in the blast and lost their hearing. He was put ashore at Alex and Warspite went to the West Coast of the United States for repair. The blast John left John almost stone deaf but he learned to lip-read and had no problem understanding me when interviewed.

After leaving hospital John was sent to HMS Woolwich the destroyer depot ship at Alex where he became the “skimmer driver”, driving the fast motor boat taking signals to the destroyers. He had been in the Med for two years and returned to Britain on leave at the end of 1942. He volunteered for Combined Operations and was sent on a draft to New York with fifty others to bring back LST 9 (Landing Ship Tank) under construction at New Orleans. The journey from New York to New Orleans by train took four days and they stopped in sidings at mid-day and were taken to hotels for lunch. After sea trials they took LST 9 back to New York where the internal deck was lined with timber "like a dance floor" and loaded with two thousand 5.5 inch shells. There were seven LST in their Convoy UGS8A of 40 to 50 ships which left New York on the 14 May for the Mediterranean. Their base was to be Tripoli and they were to take part in the invasion of Sicily.

Landing Ship Tank, LST 9
Courtesy of John Waters

LST 9 embarked the 51st Highland Division plus tanks, truck and water carriers and landed them at a small fishing village on the coast of Sicily and also took part in landings at Catania and Messina which became their base. John was on the bow Oerlikon but did not fire a shot at any of the landings in Sicily. On the 8 September 1943 LST 65 and LST 9 landed at Vibo Valentia on a long narrow twisting inlet 40 miles north of the main beacheads on the Calabrian coast. The Italians must have thought they were crazy. LST 65 went in first, was hit twice, beached and came under heavy small arms fire. The bow doors jammed but were freed by a bulldozer on the upper deck. LST 9 followed at 2 pm. The  Italian’s big 88 mm guns could not be depressed to hit the LST on the beach but they would have been sunk if they tried to make their escape and after unloading they were ordered to abandon the LST and join the Italian refugees taking cover in a railway tunnel. They were sure they would be captured. John was on duty with Lt Cdr Campbell RN at 3 am when he saw a light, shouted out and a Canadian, an army major entered the tunnel. The British troops had broken through.

They missed the landings at Salerno in September but took part in the Anzio landings in January 1944 but after that the Americans took over and LST 9 returned to Britain. John applied to be made a Leading Seaman and was sent to HMS Ganges for training and one of his duties was taking the boy sailors out sailing in the cutter, an enjoyable two months. From Ganges he returned to Chatham for further training to be rated as AA2 Gunner.

He was still in Combined Operations and was put into khaki (with a naval hat) and prepared for the D Day landings but went ashore at Antwerp two weeks after the landings at Normandy as part of Naval Party 1730, consisting of the Skipper, a Lieutenant, a Royal Marine guard and a naval gunner with a Bren. They were in jeeps and stayed 20 - 30 miles behind the troops as they advanced towards Hamburg to take over the U-Boat pens but were 14 miles from the city when the war ended and the Royal Engineers took over the U-Boats.

Hamburg was almost completely destroyed but they on the Binnen (Inner) Alster, a large lake not far from the two main stations. The Germans had camouflagued the Alster by covering it with barges planted with small fir trees so that allied planes could not find the stations and the hotel was completely undamaged. LS John Waters and his four ABs lived like royalty on the second floor at the rear of the hotel while the "Skipper" and his lieutenant were at the front overlooking the Alster. The skipper represented the Royal Navy at the signing of a peace treaty at the Reichshof Hotel near the central station. NP 1730 was sent to Alsterhof eight miles north of the city to take over the SS Hindenburg Barracks. The six large blocks had Red Cross markings on their roofs and escaped being bombed. John stayed in Hamburg until demobbed in May 1946.

John had married by special licence on four days leave in 1944. He returned home and worked in London as a brickie on war damage work employed by the government and still had a year to go before completing his apprenticeship when a Union man gave him his card and he was free to practice his trade and support his family. He retired when he was seventy

Bill Forster recorded an interview with John Waters at the V & W Association reunion at Harrogate in 2015
You can click on the link to listen to John describe his wartime service on HMS Wakeful, HMS Warspite and LST 9
be patient - it takes a couple of minutes before the file opens and John starts speaking


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 Wakeful 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. They are reproduced here by kind permission of Clifford Fairweather. Copyright remains with the authors and photographers who are credited where known.

The Baltic

The Bolshevik conflict of 1918-1919 brought them into action again, where the 13th Flotilla was deployed and, once more, casualties would occur but not without first showing their mettle. On Boxing Day 1918 one of the large Russian destroyers began bombarding Tallinn where the British ships were at anchor. Many of the British officers were ashore attending a banquet given in their honour by the Estonian officials. Wakeful however soon raised steam and set out to investigate. At the sight of the British destroyer bearing down on her  firing her guns  the Russian immediately turned and fled at high speed, sending a signal saying "All is lost. I am being chased by the British." In her haste the Russian vessel ran over a shoal damaging her propellers and rudder. The Russian crew must have been very inexperienced for they caused much damage to the ship and she slowly began to sink. The Vendetta who had come up in support, sent a party of seamen to board the stricken vessel and remove anything of value. One of the items removed was the ships bell, this was duly installed on the Vendetta where it remained until the end of her days. Aboard the Russian ship  the Vendetta's engine room artificer examined the situation in the engine room and concluded that she could be kept afloat simply by closing the sea-cocks and pumping out, this was done and she was towed back to Tallinn to great victory celebrations.

Manchester, 1929

One of the goodwill or courtesy visits was when in June 1929 the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, with Campbell as leader, accompanied by Wakeful, Wessex, Wolfhound and Westcott navigated the Manchester canal passing through the Asthma Locks to the excitement of the people of Manchester and the surrounding district, who lined the banks of the canal to welcome the ships before arriving at Tramroad Wharf, where they remained for seven days, enabling the crews to enjoy some shore leave and the civilian population enjoyed visiting the destroyers.

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