Click on the links within this brief outline for first hand accounts by
the men who served on HMS Wanderer and for a more detailed chronolgy see www.naval-history.net
Wanderer (pennant number D74
and later I74) was an Admiralty Modified W class destroyer built at the
Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan in Glasgow from 7
August 1918, being launched on 1 May 1919 and sold for scrap on 31
During the interwar years she served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean
fleets before becoming a training ship at Chatham Naval Base.
Then, during WWII she spent most of her time operating out of the
Western Approaches Command where she escorted convoys in the North
Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Arctic.
In December 1941 she was officially adopted by the community of Sutton
Coldfield in Warwickshire and in 1943 was converted into a Long Range
She was jointly credited with the destruction of five German U-boats:
- U147 on 2 June 1941 with Corvette HMS Periwinkle
- U401 in August 1941 with HNoMS St Albans and HMS Hydrangea
- U523 on 25 August 1943 with HMS Wallflower
- U377 on 17 January 1944 with HMS Glenarm and HMS Geranium
- U390 on 5 July 1944 with HMS Tavy
After the last of those which occurred in the English Channel where Wanderer
was supporting the Normandy invasion, her Engineering Officer Lt. Short
reported that she had "one hundred leaks from the sea and two
hundred and fifty internal" and that due to steam the engineers
couldn't see their way around the engine room while at sea. Her
commander Lt. Cdr Bob Whiney refused to take her back out to sea and
she was put on the disposal list."
This photograph of the ship's company of HMS Wanderer was probably taken after her conversion to a Long Range Escort (LRE) in May 1943 Sub Lt Dennis Foster, second from right in the front row, tells his story below
The photograph is reproduced courtesy of Mark Lawrence whose
grandfather, CPO Collins (1905-75), a "Range Taker", is standing on the
far left Double click the image to zoom in on faces
From Midshipman in the Cruiser HMS Edinburgh to ... Sub Lieutenant in HMS Wanderer 2 May 1943 - 24 March 1944
Wyndham Foster was born in Minehead Hospital in 1924, the son of Major
John Vere Foster OBE, a large jovial man passionately fond of horses,
and Dorothy Wyndham Foster (nee Baker). His parents lived "in a remote
farmhouse on the top of Exmoor" but moved to Belgium when his father
took up a job as manager of the Polo Club in Antwerp. As Dennis Foster
explains in the introduction to his autobiography they returned to England when "a lady
invited him to run her son's pony polo stud farm at Osmaston in
Derbyshire and there we lived for the next 19 years".
He went from
pre-preparatory school to a boarding school in Warwickshire and from
there "I was fortunate to get into the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth
in 1937". In March 1941 he was posted as a Midshipman to his first ship, the cruiser HMS Edinburgh, at Scapa Flow. He spent "an exciting nine months in her, firstly chasing the battleship, Bismarck,
then taking part in two convoys to Malta, escorting another to
Simonstown in South Africa and then one to Murmansk in North Russia
where we spent Christmas 1941".
Dennis Wyndham Foster had an exciting nine months in HMS Edinburgh as a Midshipman after leaving the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth Courtesy of Capt Dennis W. Foster RN (Ret)
"Midshipmen had to spend time in a destroyer and mine was a small one based on Plymouth", the Hunt Class destroyer, HMS Cleveland: "it was a pleasant surprise to be welcomed and shown to a cabin, tiny but it was a luxury to have some privacy at last." For the next three months HMS Cleveland escorted convoys, mostly small coasters, along the South Coast between Portsmouth and Milford Haven. "Our most
interesting operation was in support of the famous commando raid on St
Nazaire where the battleship drydock was destroyed."
He joined HMS Nigeria at Scapa on 19 April 1942 and:
had three days 'to sling our hammocks' before we went to sea and two
days later were back in Havelfjord where a large convoy for Russia
assembled. Next day we were off to Seidesfjord for a final top-up of
fuel. That afternoon Crossley and I were able to go for a rare walk
shore up the beautiful valley behind the village. Finally, a 100 foot
waterfall blocked our way and we reluctantly returned from a scene of
peace for one of war. We sailed at 5 am next morning, 29 April, led by
the destroyers, always a moving occasion but especially so in the calm
of an early morning departure, hemmed in by the steep mountains ether
side, only the whine of the engine room fans to break the silence. At 2
am next morning we came up with our convoy of 25 ships, PQ.15. The most
interesting ship in the convoy was an ancient Russian icebreaker, the Krassin.
She had two tall funnels which constantly belched black smoke, but she
had steamed all the way across the Pacific from Vladivostok, through
the Panama Canal and then across the Atlantic to her homeland."
Today the Krassin is a museum ship in Saint Petersburg, the only icebreaker maritime museum commemorating the Arctic convoys. PQ.15
was tracked by reconnaissance aircraft; the first attack came at 9pm
on 2 May, but without loss. The next morning "we sighted the smoke of
the homebound convoy QP.11 to the south of us. It's cruiser escort had
been our old ship, the Edinburgh,
now sunk together with our hopes of rejoining her. Fortunately, only 50
out of the ship's company of 860 had been lost, but the survivors had a
bad time in camps near Murmansk before being repatriated."
"Cruisers were too valuable to risk them anymore in the Barents Sea and
we were ordered to withdraw to support the Westbound convoy QP11. We
returned to Scapa but on 11 May "were off to sea again" to meet the
cruiser HMS Trinidad, bombed while returning from Murmansk with QP.12, but she had to be sunk by HMS Matchlessafter her survivors transferred to the escorting destroyers.
The Royal Navy had lost two cruisers on successive westbound convoys.
Back in harbour the next day [16 May] "we were all introduced to our
new Admiral, Harold Burrough". The next convoy to Russia, PQ.16, was attacked by U-boats as well as from the air and six ships were lost after Nigeria was ordered to return.
Left: HMS Trinidad abandoned in the Barents Sea Right: a Tribal up North Courtesy of Capt Dennis W. Foster RN (Ret)
"On the 31st May Crossley and I left the Nigeria for the Fleet Flagship, the battleship King George V".
The KGV spent most of her time, as Flagship, secured to the only buoy
in Scapa with a direct telephone line to the Admiralty. She only
went to sea for exercises and to cover convoys threatened by the Tirpitz
and other major ships in the Norwegian Fiords. She was refitting in
Liverpool's Gladstone dock and on joining her there we were sent off on
leave and, after a few days on a minesweeper with a fisherman crew,
returned to Scapa on KGV. After working up exercises at sea the CinC, Admiral Jack Tovey, transferred his Flag back to her. Admiral Tovey was short, stocky and
"four-square"; he was impressive but in no way pompous or flamboyant,
rather quiet but friendly, even towards us Midshipmen. He asked us in
turn to supper on Sunday nights and for the cinema in the Wardroom."
After Christmas at home in Derbyshire, Dennis started his
Sub-Lieutenants course and spent "glorious long weekends in London". After long courses in Gunnery, Navigation,
Torpedo and Mining and a final three weeks at Whale Island, Portsmouth,
Mid Dennis Foster, secured top results in the vital exams, which
determined seniority on appointment as a Confirmed Sub Lieutenant.
The following account of Dennis Foster's eleven months as a sub lieutenant on HMS Wanderer is
taken, word for word, from Chapter Eight of the first volume of his
unpublished four volume memoir. It draws on the jounal he began as a
young midshipman and kept up until the end of the war.
"Courses finished at the end of
April 1943 and we all said farewell to our term mates and went off on
fourteen days leave before joining our next ships. Mine was to be the
WW1, V&W destroyer Wanderer,
just completing her conversion into a long range escort for the North
Atlantic convoys. I joined her in Devonport on 11th May in a state of
some euphoria having just got engaged.
Wanderer was due for
re-commission the day after I joined her and to be ready for sea by the
end of the month. This appeared to be an impossible task as she was
still in a state of chaos, red lead paint everywhere, a tangle of
wires, leads and pipes, a gaping hole where the funnel was to be and
much equipment yet to be fitted, a depressing sight. She had two of her
4.7-inch guns removed and replaced by the latest A/S weapon forward,
the Hedgehog, and lots more depth charges aft. One boiler and its
funnel gone to make way for extra fuel tanks and another mess deck for
radar and asdic operators. She also had one of the new warning radars
fitted to detect submarines attacking on the surface at night and an
air warning radar.
My job was to be Gunnery and Radar Officer and Forecastle officer.
Although gunnery would have been my last choice, it turned out to be
quite fun. There was a 4.7-inch BL Mark 1 at each end of the ship and
four twin 20mm anti aircraft Oerlikon guns. The control system for the
4.7-inch guns was basic. It consisted of a sight on the bridge Pelorous
compass to indicate target bearing to the guns, operated by me, ranges
from the radar and a range/rate clock in a tiny TS to give predicted
ranges based on enemy course and speed. But for a submarine at close
quarters, all I had to do was to lean over the front of the bridge and
order the Captain of the gun to open fire, he did the rest! For firing
at shadows at 5 - 7 miles I devised a system using a sextant (to
measure angle of sight), radar range, a stop watch and a series of
trajectory graphs on a portable board to work out an angle and fuse
setting for the guns. Sadly, I never had the chance to use it in
action, but my successor did against E-boats in the English Channel
with good results. For firing practice we often used to drop a dan buoy
and use it as a target 'periscope', and bang away at it, Up ladder,
spread line shoots usually only sub calibre at 2-3,000 yards, but good
Our Captain was Lt Cdr R.E. (Bob) Whinney, RN an anti submarine
specialist, he was an enthusiastic and skilled submarine hunter. His
First Lieut had a tough time under him and we had three in the first
year. The Navigator was a tough and unflappable R.N.R Lieut'. The
Second Lieut' was Jack Frost R.N.V.R who kept watch with the Gunner
'T', the officer in charge of the depth charges. The Kindergarten watch
consisted of two nineteen year olds, myself and the Asdic Officer,
S/Lieut Derek Kidd R.N.V.R. A splendid fellow and good at his job, not
an easy one with a specialist boss who knew it all. If a sudden
emergency arose it always seemed to come in our watch. At sea Kidd and
I did standing forenoon's, 8-12, the first dog watches 4-6 and the
first 8-midnight, and the rest were done by the opposite watch led by
Jack Frost, with whom I shared a cabin, so we only saw each other when
we were turning over as Officer Of the Watch (OOW) on the bridge.
"The Rogues Gallery" Lt
Doug Friar RNR, Lt Jack E. Allen RNZNVR ("Kiwi"), Gunner S.C. Warren
("Guns"), Lt Peter R. Michell RN or Michael W. Antrobus ("No 1"),
Lt John K.T.
Frost RNVR ("Jacko") and Surg Lt S. Fuller RNVR ("Doc") Courtesy of Capt Dennis Foster RN (Ret)
The approach to our cabin was directly from the 'Iron deck' down a
vertical ladder, topped by a two-foot high casing with a hatch on top.
Getting in and out in rough weather was exciting and often wetting. I
had the top bunk and had to wear an oilskin coat in wet weather because
the deck leaked. In very rough weather the upper deck was out of bounds
and if we were marooned aft we slept in the wardroom; those on the
bridge had to stay there until the weather moderated! Kidd and I always
seemed to be the lucky ones aft.
Left: looking forard from the cabin flat - note the lifelines strung both sides of the ship
Right: oiling astern from a Royal Fleet Auxilliary (RFA) oiler Courtesy of Capt Dennis Foster RN (Ret)
On left: "The Kindergarten":
Sub Lt Dennis Foster RN (left) and the Asdic Officer, Sub Lt Derek Kidd
RNVR (Derek Kidd died on the 1 April 2016)
On right: Capt "Bob" Whinney, "Jacko": and "Guns" Courtesy of Capt Dennis Foster RN (Ret)
Amazingly we managed to leave Devonport after a day's sea trials, on
the 1st June for a rough passage to Greenock, escorting a submarine. It
certainly shook us down - and a lot of other things up! We then did our
work up, one day in the Clyde and four day's off Londonderry; this was
followed by two days at Larne leading our Escort Group in group
exercises with the destroyer Inconstant, the frigate Glenarm
and two others. We were now considered full operational and on the 1st
July we sailed from the Clyde with our group as escort for a large fast
convoy KMF19 with troop reinforcements for Sicily.
On the way the destroyers nipped into Gibraltar and Algiers for fuel
and finally handed the convoy over off Bizerta on the day of the
landings on Sicily, Operation Husky. We then had to search for a reported submarine off the Galite
Islands and were passed by the Battle Fleet steaming at High Speed to
carry out their bombardments for the landings on Sicily. A fine sight.
On our return we escorted a liner from Bone and took her to Algiers, off which our consort, the Inconstant,
made an Asdic contact which she reported as a confirmed submarine; as
all her contacts had been so reported and had proved otherwise, we left
her to it. This time she was proved right and was able later to claim
the sinking of an Italian submarine, almost single-handed after many
hours and at great depth.
After calling at Algiers and Oran to collect a convoy for the UK we had
to detach off Gibraltar and go into the dockyard for engine room
repairs, as well as some welcome rest and relaxation in the sun.
On the 28th July we had to go to the assistance of a merchant ship off
Cape St Vincent. She had been bombed and abandoned by her crew. We put
a party on board her, led by the Midshipman and they were able to
secure a tow to a tug which had arrived. We were escorting them back to
Gib' when during my forenoon watch the merchant ship suddenly sank. One
minute she was there and the next she had gone. Apparently her bulkhead
had collapsed. Our Midshipman had just time to tell the tug to slip the
tow before she went down like a stone. Fortunately, the boarding party
were soon picked up and back on board after their ducking.
We finally left Gib' with a homeward bound convoy on the 4th August and
were back in Londonderry six day's later after a trouble free trip. But
a week later we were off again for Gib' escorting a slow convoy KMS24.
Our new group leader was the destroyer Hurricane.
On the 21st August we sank our first U-boat, U-523, in the Bay of
Biscay. At about 3.00 am the alarm bells rang and I was quickly up on
the bridge, an unidentified radar contact had been made at about eight
miles by our wizard operator, A.B. Herbert, and we were racing towards
it. I went into the radar cabinet to check it, and at just two miles it
disappeared; it had to be a submarine and must have sighted our bow
wave. We reduced speed and at once got asdic contact, two ten depth
charge attacks quickly followed. Apparently these put all her lights
out and drove her down to 600 feet. We then lost contact and there
followed an anxious three hours as we carried out a square search, our
patience was rewarded and contact was regained.
Wanderer attacks U-523 in the Bay of Biscay and some of the survivors, "a bunch of scruffy youngsters" Courtesy of Capt Dennis Foster RN (Ret)
For the first time we carried out an attack with our new weapon, the
Hedgehog; this fired twenty four small bombs ahead of the ship and
landed in a circle above the predicted future position of the
submarine, they sank to arrive at the right depth and time as their
target. The scientist had told us that, if one bomb hit a kill was
guaranteed, so when a small rumble came up from the depths after
seventeen seconds we felt sure of success. However to make absolutely
sure, the Captain carried out another attack with twenty depth charges
and was wheeling round for one more when the submarine rose
dramatically to the surface in a flurry of foam only a thousand yards
on our port beam. At last the guns were able to take a hand in the
action and shells were quickly on target. Her crew came tumbling up
from below and threw themselves overboard. Initially the Captain had
turned to ram, but this was not going to be necessary, the guns ceased
fire and we stopped to pick up survivors. About twenty were hauled up
the scrambling nets, and after being given survivors clothing, were
bedded down in the tiller flat. After just a few minutes the submarine
slid stern first back beneath the waves to the cheers from our ships
company. Our prisoners were seen to be just a bunch of youngsters,
scruffy, and unhealthy looking, and glad to be out of the war.
We then rejoined the convoy and received congratulations all round. Our
passenger, an RAF Officer and four men, had something extra to talk
about when we took them into Lisbon harbour two nights later. They were
on some clandestine operation and were taken off into the night by a
We then left as silently as we had arrived thinking wistfully of the
joys that lay behind all those bright lights we could see so near. On
arrive in Gib' the Army came aboard to escort our prisoners into
captivity, blindfolded. We then got down to the serious business of
celebrating our first success. In due course both the Captain and Derek
Kidd were awarded the D.S.C.
After five days in harbour we steamed back into the Atlantic to join a
homeward bound slow convoy. This time we had no excitement and arrived
back in Londonderry on the 15th September, now it was my turn for some
Ten days later we were of for some group exercises, with our new leader Commander Westmacott in the Hurricane,
before a slow convoy across the Atlantic. We had one successful
submarine attack on the convoy and arrived at Argentina in Newfoundland
on the 9th October. Four days later we left St Johns to await our next
convoy. On the way we tested our Hedgehog just off the coast with
predictable success, the sea surface was quickly covered in stunned
cod, our whaler was immediately lowered and filled with lovely fresh
fish. The Newfoundlanders were quick to react too and several boats
were on their way out from the shore, they were grateful for the
On the 16th October we left with another slow convoy, SC144, homeward
bound and we had a trouble free crossing. Back in 'Derry I was sent off
on a gunnery course in Belfast, this was enlivened by Charles Crossley
and Chris Eason who had recently arrived from the U.S.A. in their brand
new American built Captain Class Frigate, a total contrast to my
splendid old 'Hooker'.
Our next task was to escort yet another slow convoy to Gibraltar. This
too was trouble free except for the attention of one Junkers 290,
unfortunately this was only recognised as such too late for my A/A
system to be brought into action. Very annoying!
On the 24th November we left Gib' to join a convoy coming up from
Freetown, homeward bound. As we approached it from astern we detected a
shadowing U-boat on radar but we were unable to make Asdic contact when
it dived. The Admiralty had assessed that there were twelve U-boats
homing in on the convoy and had sent the crack 2nd Escort group to
reinforce it. This was under the command of the legendary Captain
Johnny Walker in the Starling.
On the night of the 27/28th November the submarine pack made a mass
attack from the port side of the convoy. Walker had anticipated this
and his group were well placed to detect them from the out field, they
were nearly all driven off or sunk, aided by Coastal Command aircraft
fitted with the Leigh lights. We were part of the escort on the
starboard side of the convoy so we had to watch it all going on and
listening to the radio traffic between the ships actually involved in
the hunting, very frustrating! The sky was frequently lit up by star
shells, flares and by the lights of the aircraft as they went into
attack. The one submarine that did get through the convoy was sunk by
the Corvette Dahlia before it
could do any damage, two or three others were sunk without any losses
on our side. This was one of the last convoy engagements of the war, at
last we were beginning to win the Battle of the Atlantic. The weapons
and tactics and more escorts together with the good intelligence from
Bletchly were turning the tables on the U-boats just in time.
Next day brought a gale so there were no more attacks. One of the
merchant ships reported a man overboard and we were detailed to search
for him, a hopeless task in that weather. Added to which our Doctor,
Sidney Fuller, had to perform an operation, using the Captain’s cabin.
It was virtually impossible to keep the ship steady for even a few
minutes, but all was well and we arrived back at our base on the 5th
We were soon back at sea again in foul weather to support Transatlantic convoys, our sister ship Watchman
soon lost her Asdic dome in the heavy seas and had to return to base.
We then had 'condenseritis' and had to return to 'Derry too. Our leader
the Hurricane was then
torpedoed by a 'Gnat' on Christmas Eve and, because of the
impossibility of towing her to safety, she had to be abandoned and sunk
by her consort, the Glenarm.
We heard this sad news when we arrived when we arrived back in 'Derry
on Christmas Day. Yet again Christmas had to be celebrated on a
different day, this time on Boxing Day. After a short service on deck
we repaired to the Wardroom with the Chiefs and Petty Officers as our
guests for a 'dram' or two. We managed to sink fifteen bottles of
spirits between twenty-five of us before sitting down to Christmas
dinner at 2.30 pm after which we slept well.
Repairs took a few days but at last we sailed down the twisty river
Foyle only to hit an underwater obstruction and end up on the mud. We
had to return for damage inspection, but fortunately there was none and
we left the next day, 5th January 1944 in company with Watchman and Woodpecker to rejoin the poor Glenarm
who had been at sea throughout Christmas and New Year and was not to
get back until the 20th January, a total of thirty-four days
continuously at sea in mostly foul weather.
After refuelling at Horta in the Azores we carried out a sweep towards
Ireland. On the afternoon of the 17th we got an Asdic contact with a
deep submarine in poor sea conditions and carried out a whole series of
attacks, including a successful one with the Hedgehog and some slow
creeping attacks with our consorts. Unfortunately the latter had
difficulty in keeping in contact. After ten hours, contact was finally
lost and we assumed that the submarine had been sunk. This was
confirmed sometime later by intelligence as the U-305. We then returned
to 'Derry for another celebration.
As we never took our clothes off at sea and we did not have a bath on
board, or indeed much fresh water to spare for washing, our first
action on return to harbour was to go ashore for a bath. The Northern
Counties Country Club in the centre of Londonderry generously offered
this facility to all visiting officers for a charge of one shilling!
One of the best shillings worth I have ever had, particularly as it
required two lots of bath water to get really clean and what bliss that
Two other features of the time spent in 'Derry were visits to the
tactical trainer where we fought paper submarine battles assisted by a
bunch of pretty Wrens and, at the opposite extreme, battles at the town
hall called ship's company dances. These were just an excuse for
letting off steam after a spell at sea. We were off to sea again on
the 2nd February for a patrol in a U-boat area with the Watchman, the new American built frigate the Byron and the river class frigate, the Strule. We detected one submarine and carried out an inconclusive hunt with the Byron.
We then had to refuel at sea, this was from a tanker using the astern
method, it occasioned much shouting between the bridge and forecastle
as we manoeuvred to pick up the tow. After which we had to rejoin our
group on our own. It was a dark and dirty night, the A/S speaker on the
bridge suddenly began to emit a roar. Derek leapt to the Asdic
direction indicator to check the bearing as we both knew it to be a
torpedo fired at us from short range and urgent action was required. I
ordered the wheel hard over to starboard and the engine to slow in case
it was a 'Gnat'. The roaring increased the bearing of the torpedo drew
all to slowly aft and we were convinced that we would be hit in the
stern. Happily it just missed us. If we had been sunk on our own in bad
weather, in mid winter and without getting a distress signal out, we
would have a poor chance of rescue. Meanwhile we had sounded the alarm
rattlers and called the Captain, so the bridge quickly filled with
people and reports of crews closing up at their action stations. We
carried out an Asdic search, but in bad weather conditions we never
made contact and went on our way rejoicing not to be swimming.
Our search area took us further North, finally we were ordered to
return to Scapa Flow where we arrived on the 16th February. We went
alongside the depot ship Tyne outboard of the brand new 'M' class destroyer Mahratta.
We felt like an ugly duckling beside the immaculate swan. However we
were made to feel very welcome and everything was done to prepare us
for our next operation, to escort a convoy to Russia. Horror of horrors
we were ill equipped, not arcticised, poor A/S armament and held
together with rust.
Four days after a tremendous rush to fit an extra Oerlikon gun, get in
specially warm clothing and make good all our defects, we sailed for
the Faroes to top up with fuel. It also gave some of us the opportunity
to go ashore for a rare leg stretch. Next morning at 3.30am on the 22nd
February we left the shelter of the fjord for what was the most
unpleasant days of my life. We caught up with the convoy JW57 during my
forenoon watch, it was a cool calm and grey day when suddenly came the
dreaded cry 'Man Overboard' from the starboard side, We quickly turned
round, called away the lifeboat's crew and closed the man, now lying
face down in the sea. The Doctor had managed to get away with the boat
and started resuscitation as soon as he was pulled into the boat, alas
it was to no avail. Although he was one of the strongest swimmers in
the ship the shock of hitting the water at 30° F had killed him after
just two strokes. It boded ill for any other unfortunates who might
have to swim for it. The young man, an ordinary seaman, had been
cleaning his gun, lost his balance when the ship rolled and toppled
over the guard-rail. Two hours later we buried him in his hammock with
full honours, the gloom on board deepened.
The threat became increasingly obvious as we steamed northwards, first
of all Junkers 88's began to circle and report us and we could hear
U-boats radioing their sighting reports. Destroyers dashed about to
investigate the bearings of these but the Asdic conditions were
notoriously bad in this area, a layer of cold water on top of a warm
one deflected the sound beam upwards, the submarines just went below
the water to escape detection.
The weather then deteriorated, snow storms, a biting wind and an
increasingly rough sea combined to make the upper deck work almost
impossible, at times spray froze on bare metal which entailed a
continuous struggle to keep the guns from freezing up, while too much
ice on the upper deck was a threat to the ship's stability, so the duty
watch was kept busy chipping. Watch keeping on the bridge for four
hours at a time was a wretched business and we considered reducing to
two-hour watches, but then of course we would virtually have no sleep,
so we kept to four hours and many layers of clothing.
Iced up escorting Arctic Convoy JW.57, 20 - 30 February 1944 Courtesy of Capt Dennis Foster RN (Ret)
At about 10.00pm on the night of the 23rd, we heard a dull thud from
the other side of the convoy, a red glow lit up the low cloud and
almost at once Mahratta
reported that she had been torpedoed. A couple of minutes later she was
hit by a second torpedo and we knew that nothing could save her or most
of her crew on a night like that. Her radio operator continued to
report the hitting of the second torpedo over and over again, because
his receiver had been put out of action, his voice rising to a pitch
until finally there was silence and we knew that the end had come. It
was terrible to listen to him and imagine the scenes of distress. For
just three days she had been our 'chummy' ship and they could not have
been a more friendly crowd in a fine new ship. We felt so sad and hoped
that at least a few would be saved, in fact less than a score were
picked up, no officers despite the efforts of two consorts.
Shortly after this our Asdic set broke down, without it we felt
defenceless against a submarine, we could neither detect it or hear an
approaching torpedo. We were then ordered to sweep down a bearing of a
submarine's radio transmission. Our Asdic mechanic was hopeful that he
could mend the set quickly and the Captain was reluctant to report the
breakdown, so down the bearing we went, blind, and on our own. It was a
wrong and dangerous decision. Midnight came and still no Asdic. Derek
went down to the bottom of the ship to try and help the mechanic and I
turned in. My bunk was on the ship's side and on the water line, the
noise of the waves was clear and I was more conscious than usual that
only a rusty thin sheet of steel was between me and a freezing cold
sea. That was the night that I prayed my hardest, and then, in faith,
read myself to sleep with my favourite childhood book 'The Wind In The
Throughout the following day there were submarine alarms and many
attacks were made on the submarines but none were reported as
successful due to the difficult conditions. The convoy steamed steadily
on, so far unscathed. That night the submarines attempted to attack on
the surface and the order was given to illuminate with star shells. The
ancient Wanderer was the only
one able to comply, all the rest reported that their guns were frozen
up. We felt proud that all our efforts had proved successful.
The next morning 27th February we reached the limit of our endurance
73.30 North 26 East, and were ordered to return to the Faroes. We were
glad to be off in company with our old friend Watchman,
who almost immediately reported a contact with a 'confirmed submarine',
probably a shadower astern of the convoy, we had a short hunt, but
again we were defeated by the layer.
We then ran into a force 11 North Westerly gale which quickly built up
tremendous seas, we should have hove to, but were too short of fuel, so
we corkscrewed along with the waves rushing at us on the starboard
quarter, threatening to poop us or make us broach to and roll over. The
Captain decided the only way to save the ship, now almost empty of fuel
and lacking in stability, was to fill some of the fuel tanks with sea
water, a desperate measure, but it worked.
At last we arrived off the fjord entrance at midnight on the 1st March,
but our troubles were not yet over. There was a blinding snowstorm and
the gale funnelled by the fjord seemed to have redoubled its strength.
We found our way through the boom entrance but then had to turn the
ship to go alongside the oiler. She began to drift sideways, high out
of the water and beam on to the gale, engines alone could not turn her
in the narrow confines of the fjord, the lee shore was getting
perilously close. The Captain ordered me to let go the anchor, but this
would not hold her up into the wind. He then ordered me to slip the
cable, but this was impossible, so I cleared the forecastle and waited
for the cable to part as the Captain went full ahead on the engines in
the last attempt to get clear. This we did. The cable parted round the
stem but we managed to get round and alongside the tanker. We were
thankful people. Watchman was
not so fortunate, she managed to crash through the boom and anchor with
insufficient fuel to go any further. The tanker had to go to her the
next day when the weather had moderated.
Next morning we sailed for home at best speed. It was an exhilarating
ride in bright sunshine and a huge quarter swell, but with full tanks,
our worries behind us, we rolled merrily southwards with thankful
On return from leave there was a draft chit for me ordering me to the new 'W' Class destroyer Wessex, still building in Glasgow. The Wanderer
was to go to Newport in Wales for a minor refit to prepare her for the
'D' day landings. Naturally I would have preferred to have stayed on my
old ship for the greatest invasion in history, but it was not to be. I
went with her to Newport and left her there on the 24th March for two
weeks leave. My time in Wanderer
had been a time of growing up fast, neither Derek or I had watch
keeping certificates on arrival, we were the youngest officers on board
and faced with many crisis whilst on watch together, we never had a
cross word or disagreement. My only regret is that we never kept in
touch with each other, but in war time one tended to make new friends
and after the war, Derek became a Doctor and went to Canada, where he
could not be traced. Bob Whinney got a second D.S.O. for sinking
another submarine in the Channel during the invasion. Many years later
he got in touch with me about the book he was writing. I lent him some
sketches made at the time of the sinking of the first submarine, but
they were not used. I would like to have seen his draft, but only saw
it after it had been printed.
The old Wanderer finished her
25 year life on a high note, the sinking of a submarine in shallow
waters in the Channel proved too much for her weakened hull. The
explosion of the depth charges caused numerous leaks and she had to go
into dock. She was found to be too badly damaged to be worth repairing.
Three submarine sunk in a year was a fine record to go out on."
Capt. Dennis W. Foster RN
For more about the HMS Wanderer after her conversion into a Long Range Escort (LRE) see The U-boat peril: an anti-submarine commander's war by her CO, Lt.Cdr. Reginald Fife Whinney, RN(Poole : Blandford 1986).
On leaving Wanderer and
gaining his second ring a new phase in the long naval career of Dennis
Foster now began as described in the introduction to his memoir:
"At the beginning of 1944 I was sent as Navigator to another destroyer, the Wessex,
building in Glasgow. On completion we went to Scapa Fow to work up
before sailing for the Far Eastern Fleet via the Mediterranean, the
Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean to Trincomalee in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
From there we took part in raids on the Japanese in Sumatra before
moving on to Australia and the Pacific for the last few months of the
war. There we supported the four aircraft carriers whose aircraft were
attacking the airfields on the islands held by the Japanesee who were
attacking our ships with Kamikaze aircraft. For Vistory Day we were in
Aukland, New Zealand, having our boilers cleaned before rejoining the
fleet in Tokyo Bay. From there we visited the port of Nagazaki,
recently atom bombed, and Tokyo City, badly fire bombed."
Dennis Foster was flown home from Sydney in time to spend Christmas
with his parents at Exford on Exmoor before beginning his training as
an Aircraft Director and Nasvigator "for a whole series of jobs in
those speciaslisations". He went on to have a long and varied career
which included commanding his own ships as well as working at the
Ministry of Defence. He retired from the Royal Navy in 1975 as Captain
Dennis Wyndam Foster RN and lives near his son and daughter in Poole,
Alf Floyd was the senior rate in the Engine Room
when he joined Wanderer in May 1941
Conditions on V & W Class
destroyers were so bad in rough weather that the men who served on them
were paid hard-lying money. This story by Alf Floyd was 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. Alf Floyd was born in 1915. He joined Wanderer
on May Day 1941 and left in December 1942 when she was converted to a
Long Range Escort (LRE). After the war he emmigrated to Australia as a
"£10 pom" and made his home in Tecoma, Victoria. We would like to hear
from his family and add some photographs to this account of his wartime
service in Wanderer.
"In the Navy one rarely leaves a
ship for another without going through barracks. During the war I never
spent more than three weeks in barracks, after getting leave
entitlements. This time was to be no exception, but it did not worry me
for I was never enamoured with the place (Chatham Barracks).
It was usually overcrowded and run by those men that we called 'barrack
stanchions', this because for the duration of the war, they had nice
office jobs and were able each night to go to their homes in the area.
At this time it was probably the most unpleasant. There were air -
raids and all personnel had to go underground into the 'tunnel'.
Sleeping in the tunnel was most uncomfortable to say the least, it was
smelly due to bad ventilation. At first I decided to take my chance and
sleep in the barrack room where there was plenty of room, given that
most had billets in the tunnel. On one occasion the raids came too
close for comfort, and I did spend some time in the tunnel. It seems in
retrospect that I had become more conditioned to air raids and the
events of war. Nevertheless, I still get funny feelings in my stomach
when I hear a siren. This is because, out here in the hills overlooking
Melbourne the siren is used to call the volunteer fire fighters when
there is a bush fire.
This time I managed to get a weekend leave pass and decided to go to
Edinburgh. Rail travel in those days was tiresome due to the air-raid
warnings and the like. I was returning to Chatham, the train was held
up several times. This meant that I arrived in London too late to get
my connection to Chatham. I had to spend time in the centre of London
to await the first train out, which was the paper train. What to do? I
went to the canteen that I had often used at London Bridge. It was
non-existent having been the subject of many air-raids. However I
decided to cross London Bridge to find somewhere to stop. There was a
raid on and the searchlights were sweeping the sky. I got half way
across London Bridge when the bombs came down rather close. I retreated
to the London Bridge Station to the drone of the bombers. The station
was full and the steps leading down to the platform were covered with
human beings of all sizes. I reached the platform to find that people
of both sexes and all ages were sleeping up to within twelve inches of
the platforms edge. The canvas toilet facilities were inadequate by far
for so many people and the smell was obnoxious. I only had to spend one
night there. I pitied all those who were spending night after night
during the Blitz. I eventually reached Chatham in the early hours. I
was to again experience air-raids when I reached Liverpool, for that is
where I was about to go.
In a few days, I was posted on the drafting board to go to a Flower
Class Corvette. They had been introduced to act as convoy escorts and
equipped with depth charges. They were rather small an saucer shaped,
so they rolled quite a bit. I understood that there was no Engineer
Officer on the one I was to go to and I would be the senior engine room
I went off to the drafting office to explain that I was to get a
posting nearer to home. There was a huddle in the back room, and
eventually the draft to the Corvette was cancelled and in it's place I
was to go to Liverpool to join HMS Wanderer.
On arrival at Liverpool, Wanderer
was at sea and I had to spend some time ashore in the building that
used to house Vernon's football pools. There were many of us staying
there and the night was spent sleeping on the floor. Lying there I was
not too happy as the roof was made of glass. It recalled the story that
I had heard of Chatham Barracks in WW1 when survivors were sleeping
under the drill shed glass roof.
Wanderer returned to Liverpool on the first of May and I joined her at
Gladstone dock. She was due for a boiler clean and each watch had a few
day's leave. I didn't get any as it was thought that I had had enough
before joining ship. During those eight days Liverpool was heavily
bombed, and whilst ashore I witnessed many homeless children and young
adults, unwashed, following water tankers to catch a few drops of water
from the tankers dripping taps. So many homes had been demolished and
many had lost their parents. They lived in air-raid shelters. The worst
hit area was Bootle and the dock area where most of the working class
At the time, the aircraft carrier Furious
was lying in Gladstone dock, lying at right angles with her were nine
destroyers in rows of three. We were the outside of the last three. The
worst night of the bombing was when an ammunition train and Bryant
& Mays match factory were hit and set ablaze. I stayed in my
hammock trying to remain calm until the shrapnel was rattling on the
ships side. I went up top and saw the outside ship of the first three
sinking, she had been hit below the water line. The next stick of bombs
missed us, but the ship next to us had a fire in the ready use
ammunition magazine. I doubt there was any ammunition there as the fire
was soon put out. The bombs that missed us went on and hit the dock
gate, so we were imprisoned in the dock until a tug came and pulled the
gate open. HMS Furious, the main target, remained untouched. She was
one of the pre-war carriers and I believe she survived the war.
Eventually we were able to get free and put out to sea, leaving the
raging fires of Liverpool in our wake. I was glad to get away, Feeling
much safer at sea. My first trip in Wanderer
was not to be a happy one, the old V&Ws were never intended for the
job in the North Atlantic. Toilets were few and very basic, water for
washing had to be pumped from a tank on the upper deck by a semi-rotary
pump. Sometimes the sea was coming over the deck and getting a bucket
of water was hazardous.
Convoys were usually in three groups, slow, medium, and fast. Fast was
best for us as the speed was about fifteen knots. We had quite a few of
those, which were mostly troop convoys going South. Most though would
be slow, where we would go to 20 degrees West and then return with
another home bound convoy.
With all the additions of war aboard this ship. Radar Degaussing and
the Acoustic hammer, meant that the space for living (which had never
been a priority in the V&Ws) had been reduced even further. It was
not unusual to have a foot descend on to the mess table whilst having a
morning cup of tea. Once a foot landed alongside my cup of tea followed
by the rest of the body, he immediately grabbed some bread and started
to eat it, not the done thing in the peace time navy, then we were very
fussy about cleanliness and no one would handle food without visiting
the bathroom. I remonstrated with this stoker, but he just ignored me.
So I said "Get your cap and be outside the office" this was normally
sufficient to make the point and then the incident is then usually
forgotten, but not this stoker, he grabbed his hat and went to the
office. I got a dressing down from the Warrant Officer for being too
particular. I learned that I was looked upon as an interloper, as most
of those on the mess deck had been together for a long time. Even
though I was senior rating on the mess I kept to myself and vowed to
never again discipline a rating. That was my first and my last.
At this time the U-boats were hunting in 'Wolf Packs'. They would
follow the convoy until there was a break in the escorts pattern, then
at night they would surface and sink a ship before diving and
scampering away. We were powerless in that situation, as depth charging
endangered those survivors in the water. The convoy screen was really
insufficient. We being Senior Officer zig-zagged ahead of the convoy
whilst another did the same astern. On each flank were corvettes or the
American four stackers. These U.S. destroyers were too heavy and rolled
badly in heavy seas. We received fifty of them in exchange for bases in
the Indies and other places. The best use for one of them was at St
Nazaire where Cambeltown breached the lock and was blown up.
On one of these trips we received a 'hurry up' signal to go to the
assistance of one of theses American destroyers, which had a Dutch
crew. It had been hit and was sinking. She actually sank as we came up
from astern. It was dark and we could hear the cries of those in the
water. We did rescue some of them but many were lost. It was after that
event that we were issued with battery operated red lights which
clipped to our life belts.
One of my earlier trips in Wanderer
was to the North where we expected to go to Iceland. We left Liverpool
and steamed between the islands of the coast of Scotland to Loch Ewe
where we anchored for the night and refuelled. We left Loch Ewe and
steamed out into the Atlantic though the Faroe's and on to Iceland
escorting an outward bound convoy. Somewhere around the Denmark
Straights we took over a homeward bound convoy designated SC31 The
position of this convoy was just South of where the Hood was sunk,
which put us in the path of the Bismarck which was making South after
sinking the Hood.
Hood and the Prince of Wales were patrolling South when HMS Suffolk and Norfolk sighted the Bismarck. The Hood, Prince of Wales
accompanied by six destroyers steamed to intercept. On that fateful day
I had the first watch in the engine room. As I came off watch at 0400,
the torpedo men were lowering the guard rails and getting the torpedo
tubes ready I asked what was up and was told that we were in the path
of the Bismarck. I did not worry as we knew that the Hood
was on her way to intercept, we all felt that nothing could stop the
Hood. I turned in, and during the middle watch, at 0600 I awakened and
everyone was saying that the Hood had gone. It was unbelievable that
our great unsinkable ship had in fact been sunk. So it was that Hood
had intercepted and opened fire at 0540 and by 0600 she was no more.
Actually when I came off watch and we were getting ready to have a go,
the Hood was still in the game and Bismarck
was trying to shake off the two cruisers that had been shadowing her
though out the night. By 0800 we were only about 100 miles from the
On our way back to the UK we passed the force on its way back to Scapa Flow after Bismarck had also been sunk. We received a signal from the carrier Victorious
in reply to our congratulatory signal saying how lucky we had been. It
was pinned on the notice board for all to see. I was devastated when I
learned that there had been only three survivors, and my brother was
not one of them; 94 Officers and 1321 ratings had perished.
It had taken the entire Home Fleet, plus Force H from Gibraltar, the
Fleet Air Arm together with Catalina's from Coastal Command to finally
find, and sink the Bismarck. Her accompanying ship the Prinz Eugen managed to get clear and returned to Brest unscathed. Personally I think that was a great feet of seamanship. Bismark had sunk in flames, the crew fought to the last singing Sieg Heils. Survivors were few. So, Hood was lost, Prince of Wales damaged, HMS Mahona was sunk on the return journey. The position of the graves of those who went down with the Hood is 63.20 degrees North 31.50 degrees West.
On a convoy returning from Freetown, Sierra Leone, I was asleep in my
hammock when there was an enormous crash and the ship shook. I was out
of my hammock and half way up the ladder before I had time to think,
this was it, I thought, we have been hit. To get out of our lower mess
deck we had to go through a manhole just wide enough for one man at a
time. Despite the swiftness with which I had got to the ladder I was
not the first. In fact we had not been hit, when I got up on deck I
found that we were on the top of a U-boat, sending it to the bottom. We
had torn our Asdic dome in doing so and were lucky not to have taken in
water. We were credited with the sinking and the Skipper received the
Nearly every convoy during 1941-42 was fraught with danger. In most
cases the sea was the next big worry for the Atlantic is more often
rough than it is calm. From the time we left Liverpool Bay and caught
up with the convoy, we were on the alert. I rarely changed clothing
until we left the outward bound and raced to rendezvous with the
returning convoy. It always seemed safer then to change clothing. Life
belts were our constant companions.
All the glamour of the M.T.B's was gone and in its stead was the misery
of a small ship in stormy waters. The food was kept in wire cages on
the upper deck and was usually covered in salt spray. Cooking was
difficult to say the least, tinned meat and vegetables were the norm
with corned beef as an alternative. Little wonder that I made a
bee-line to an eating place that I got to know in Lime Street, to taste
real food without the sea spray.
On our return I was able to get home to see my distraught parents. My
Father could not believe that my Brother Charlie had gone, and when an
impostor arrived claiming to be a survivor, Dad went off to meet him. Of course
we knew that there was no chance of anyone surviving in those bitterly
cold and rough waters.
The sinking of our merchant ships were far too frequent, the U-boats
were having a 'Happy Time' sinking so many of our ships that Britain
was on the verge of running out of food. It was vital to find a way of
protecting our convoys against the U-boats or Britain would starve,
long range German bombers and Focke Wolf Condors were able to give the
precise position of the convoy's to the Wolf Packs. It was necessary to
have air protection. One day I witnessed the first flight of Sea
Hurricanes being catapulted from the foc'sle of a merchant ship. I
thought it was Audacity, but later found out that it was in fact 'Maplin'
I remember the pilot's name Lt. Everett. He had to ditch his plane and
did so alongside us. He was quickly picked up. That was the beginning
of the escort carrier, of which the Audacity was one. Sadly she was sunk in December of that year.
The rescue of survivors and ship's boats and the pitiful state that
some of them were in when we reached them, some had been adrift in open
boats for as many as ten days made me feel then, and still do, that the
Merchant Service never received the recognition that they deserved.
Some of their ships had been retrieved from the scrap heaps and should
never had been at sea. A six inch gun mounted on their deck made them
prey for the U-boats.
My last trip on Wanderer was
tricky, the constant dropping of depth charges had shook the condensers
badly, so much so that the tubes were leaking, so that the salt water
was contaminating the fresh water in the boilers. To correct this we
had to get away from the convoy routes and shut down. We had a Flower
class corvette circling round us while we in the engine room took the
inspection plates off the condenser and the E.R.A. plugged the leaks.
It was only a temporary repair. When we got nearer home we did a few
ahead and astern movements, only to find that we still had problems. It
was then decided that we would have to go to Chatham for a major refit.
It was to be a long job, so, I, and most of the ships company returned
the war Alfred Floyd emmigrated to Australia with his wife Dorothy as a
"ten pound Pom" taking advantage of the assisted passage scheme
which brought so many new immigrants to Australia, the land of
opportunity, in the post war years. Please get in touch if you can
provide further details of his wartime service in the Royal Navy and his subsequent life
in Australia. In 1999 Alfred and Dorothy were interviewed as part of a
programme to record the experience of the postwar immigrants who
settled in Australia under the assisted passage scheme and these recordings are held in the National Library of Australia.