The Loss of HMS Warwick 78 years ago on Sunday 20 February 1944
The official report into the loss of HMS Warwick on 20 February 1944 (ADM 358/4320) is in the National Archives at Kew. The 75th anniversary of the loss of HMS Warwick
was commemorated by the families of the 66 men who died at ceremonies
around Britain. Events were held at Padstow Harbour in Cornwall, in
the grounds of Warwick Castle and at the Chatham Naval Memorial in
Kent. There were also be services at the National Memorial
Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire, on Plymouth Hoe and at the
city's Devonport naval base, Penzance Cemetery and the Old Cemetery on
the Isles of Scilly. Click on the link for further details of the
events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the loss of HMS Warwick.
HMS Warwick was commanded by Commander Denys A Rayner RNVR (on left) when she was sunk by U 413 on the 20th February 1944. He was rescued by the trawler Lady Luck as described by her skipper Victor Crisp below.
HMS Warwick and HMS Scimitar
had been ordered from Plymouth to the Bristol Channel to search for a
u-boat sighted between Pendeen Head near Sennen Cove and Trevose Head west of Padstow on the north coast
of Cornwall. On Sunday 20 February the two ships were zigzagging abeam
of each on the fifty miles line of search when Warwick
obtained an Asdic contact at 0815 which was attacked with depth charges. This and several subsequent signals
were attributed to shoals of fish and Cdr John Heath RN, the Anti
Submarine Officer in Plymouth, who was aboard Warwick, recommended changing the Asdic
amplifiers. The Head of the Asdic Department, the Higher Submarine Detector (HSD), had to switch off the Asdic to tune it. At 1145 HMS Warwick
was hit in the stern by an acoustic torpedo, a Gnat, fired by U-431,
when she was 254 degrees and 14.7 miles from Trevose Head. Cdr Rayner
was looking aft at the time and described what he saw:
turned red and there was a terrific blast of hot air, a violent
explosion occurred in the after magazine which cut the ship in half
abaft the bulkhead of the captain's cabin. The stern was blown clean
away and floated separately. The ship remained on an even keel and was
remarkably steady. A few seconds later another and minor explosion
occurred which shook the hull more than the first much larger
explosion. Even so, the ship remained on an even keel and it was
considered there was every chance of saving the main hull."
Within six minutes HMS Warwick
sank in 60 m of water. The
stories of four of the ninety survivors rescued by fishing boats
(see below) give a vivid picture of what happened next. They were
the fishing harbour of Padstow on the estuary of the River Camel ten
miles north east of Newquay. Accounts, in the form of short ms and ts
memoirs and letters written circa 1984 - 1985, by eighteen of the
eighty five surviving members of the ship's company recording their
experiences together with copies of presscuttings concerning the
loss of the ship, the rescue of the survivors by some fishing trawlers
and a reunion of the survivors held in 1984 can be seen at the Imperial War Museum, London (Document 1956)
The Board of Enquiry was held at Plymouth in March and the witnesses
included Cdr Derek Rayner RNVR, Crdr John W. Heath, the A/S Officer and
Sub Lt R.T. McIndoe RNZNVR, the A/S Control Officer. Cdr Heath said
there was no evidence of a u-boat being in the area after the attack by
Warwick on an Asdic contact at
0815. He also told the enquiry what Skipper Crisp of Lady Luck had told
him about the two explosions. Victor Crisp was in Plymouth but was not
called to give evidence. Cdr Heath was told by Skipper Dewulf of the
Belgium trawler Blauwvort that a "strange light had been seen in the fishing fleet between 9 and 10 on the Saturday evening" which may have been U-413 "surfacing at night to charge my batteries and freshen up the air in my boat"
(Kapitšnleutnant Gustav Poel) and Cdr Heath reported this conversation
to the Enquiry. For a full description of the loss of the Warwick
see Cdr Rayner's report in the National Archives (Reference ADM
358/4320) and the Report of the Board of Enquiry (ADM 199/957 72868 and
MO 2716/44). Denys Rayner, sailor, author and yacht designer served for 24 years in the "wavy Navy", the RNVR, and his book Escort: The Battle of the Atlantic (1955) is still in print. There is a fine account of his life in Wikipedia. The
ensign flown from HMS Warwick by Rear Admiral Sir Roger Keyes during
the Raid on Zeebrugge on St George's Day in 1918 was presented to the town of Warwick to honour the memory of
the sixty six men who died when HMS Warwick was torpedoed and sunk by U-431 on 20 February
1944. The V & W Destroyer Association held its annual reunion at Warwick in 2013.
Courtesy of Ken Holmes, the sole survivor of HMS Warwick alive on the 75th Anniversary of her loss
Survivors stories Ordinary Telegraphist Ken Holmes
Ken Holmes was born on 1 November 1923 at Kingston upon Hull near the mouth of the Humber and is 99 years of age
. HMS Warwick
was his first ship. He joined her in June 1943 with Bill Hole. They had
trained together as Telegraphists. There were five telegraphist's plus
the Petty Officer, William Porter. Bill Hole was from Plymouth, Bill
Hudson from Leeds and there was one from Scotland. Ken told his daughter Annie Holmes what happened to them:
fifth Telegraphist was Bobby Mortimer, the grandson of
Harry Mortimer the cornet player and trombonist. He had a leg problem
and was taken off the ship before she sunk. Dad met up with him in
barracks when he was on survivors leave and Bobby was having a
laugh about getting off the Warwick
before she was sunk. Unfortunately, the next ship Bobby was on sunk on
the way to Russia and he didn’t survive. Petty Officer William Porter called the men to action stations and was in the wireless office with Bill Hudson when the Warwick turned over and sunk and they were both kiilled."
Find out more about "Sparkers" and "bunting tossers", Wireless Telegraphy Operators and Visual Signalmen, aboard V & W Class destroyers, sister ships of HMS Warwick. Ken Holmes story was first published in Hard Lying,
the magazine of the V & W Destroyer Association and republished in
2005 by the Chairman of the Association, Stormy Fairweather, in the book of the same name
which is out of print. Ken Holmes is 95 and is the only crew member of HMS Warwick alive today.
I was on board HMS Warwick on Sunday 20th February 1944 at the age of twenty. I was in my mess at about 1145 when an explosion shook the ship
violently and a cloud of dust fell from the overhead pipes that ran
through the mess. My first thoughts were to get my life belt and head
for the upper deck. My life belt was the type that had to be blown up
like a car inner tube, was rolled up and hung on a hammock hook near
the door. I grabbed the life belt and made for the door. The mess was
on the starboard side of the ship and the only access to it was by a
ladder that lead upwards to a hatch which opened out on the upper deck
aft of the forward superstructure. This ladder also served the ERA's
mess which was on the port side.
I was first to the doorway of my mess but was beaten to the ladder by
one of the ERA's. On looking up I could see some burning wreckage
across the hatch top. The ERA went ahead of me and either him or
someone on the upper deck cleared the wreckage away. I proceeded on to
the upper deck where I found oil, some of it burning on the deck, and
seemingly spurting up somewhere near the funnel.
The wireless office was at the rear of the forward superstructure and
as I came on to the upper deck. I saw the P.O. Tel' who was my boss,
shouting for people to go their action stations. Mine was in the H/F,
D/F office in the stern of the ship, and when I looked in that
direction, I could see that the stern was no longer there. I was
actually standing on the port side of the ship by the whaler, and
efforts were being made to lower it. Unfortunately, burning oil had
dropped into it and it was obvious that it would not float when it got
into the water. I had, by this time donned my life belt and was in the
process of blowing it up, and seeing that the whaler was useless, I
moved to the starboard side where efforts were being made to lower the
motor boat. This was also proving fruitless as it appeared that the
lowering gear had jammed. I was standing next to a P.O. Who said, if I
remember correctly, that this was the third time this had happened to
him. As he said this the ship heeled over to port and I grabbed the
wire hand rail that went round the ship. I was fortunate, as I got hold
of it, but some of the others waiting by the rail didn't and they slid
down the oily deck out of my sight. I climbed over the rail and on to
the side of the ship which was now almost level, I slid down it and
jumped off the bottom of the ship into the water. I was fully dressed
in overalls and wearing boots, but my life belt was inflated and I
remembered during my training being told that if such an emergency
happened to me, that I should hold my life belt down to prevent it
striking me under the chin when I hit the water. This I did, and I
arrived in the water amid a flurry of arms and legs belonging to the
others who had jumped with me.
The water was icy cold and came as a bit of a shock, but my first
thought was to swim away from the ship before she sank and pulled me
down with her. There was a heavy swell on the sea and I found that I would go up on
one rise, and then down, but I didn't come up quick enough before the
next rise, consequently that one came over my head. So, half the time I
was in the water I seemed to be under water as well. The oil that
covered the top of the water was a problem as well, it meant that I had
to make sure it did not get into my eyes. At first I could hear men
shouting, but from the time I jumped into the water I never saw another
soul. For all I knew I could have been the only survivor.
Having swam away from the ship as far as I thought safe, I turned to look behind me. The bows of the Warwick
were still above water and I could see a man sitting on the capstan on
the forecastle. Who he was I didn't know (the lad was Jamie Norburn -
he could not swim, thought he might be rescued, but went down with the
ship). I was treading water or doing a bit of breast stroke whilst
looking round to see if any help was in view, when I saw a destroyer
heading our way. I began swimming towards it and I could see some of
the crew lowering scrambling nets down the side. Then just when I
thought I was going to be saved the destroyer sped away. To make
matters worse, a few minutes later she started dropping depth charges,
although I was a good distance away, as each one exploded it was like
being punched in the stomach.
I swam away to increase the distance from
the explosions, and, after some time (I don't know how long) still not
having seen any other person in the water, or the Carley floats, which
I found out later had been launched, I sighted on one of my upliftings
on the swell what appeared to be three boats heading in my direction. I
started to swim towards them. At first I thought that I had done too
well as it appeared that I was going to be run down by one of them,
but, I adjusted my direction and found myself alongside one of them. I
raised myself up in the water and shouted. There seemed to be no one on
deck, but as I shouted a man came out of the deck house. How he saw me
I don't know as the water was covered in oil and so was I. He did see
me though and threw me a rope. I grabbed it gratefully but was dismayed
to find that because of the oil it was sliding out of my hands. I
promptly took a turn round my wrists and hung on. My saviour must have
been a very strong man because he hauled me up the side of the ship
with no help from me and threw me on the deck. He said something to me
in a language I did not understand and for a few minutes thought that I
was going to end up in a prison camp! He realised that I did not
understand, and then in English he told me to go down below. I went to
a cabin with a roaring stove blazing in it, and I began stripping off
my clothes. I could not do anything with my boots, which were of course
wet through, then a man came down and cut them off for me. At that time
there was no one else in the cabin, and I stood over the blazing stove
and was unable to feel the heat. I was so exhausted that I got into a
bunk. I must have passed out, because I don't remember any more until I
was awakened by another survivor still in his wet and cold clothes!
This was quite a shock as I was in the nude and was just started to get
warm. I looked round and saw that there were a number of the Warwick's
crew aboard, but they were unrecognisable to me as they were all
covered in oil. I understood by this time that we were on our way to
Padstow, but I lost all track of time and have no idea how long it took
On arriving at Padstow a member of the fishing vessel's crew gave
pair of trousers and an old blanket to go ashore in. I climbed up the
ladder to dry land and the realised how lucky I had been to still be
alive. I owed grateful thanks to the man who had hauled me out of the
water. It seemed that most of the survivors had been landed by this
time and we were directed to get into a lorry which was standing by and
we were transported to the RNAS (Royal Naval Air Station) at St Merryn.
We were greeted by a P.O. With a basin full of rum and given a cup
full!! It was only after that I began to feel human again! We were fed,
kitted out in Battle dress, and given a bed for the night before being
transported to the Royal Navy Base at Plymouth. There we went through
routine, issued with new kit and eventually sent on survivors
Ken Holmes went to the Admiralty in London after the Warwick
was sunk and worked underground in the wireless station, 24 hours on
and 24 off, for about a year. On his days off if they were short
of cash they would go to Tower Brewery and work as a labourer for a
He returned to Barracks in
Devonport and was drafted to the Faro islands but the draft was
canceled and he was sent to Australia as a passenger on the SS Aquitania
and joined an aircraft carrier to Hong Kong where a high speed
telegraphist was needed at the wireless station. He returned to
England via Australia on the cruiser HMS Cumberland. He met his wife in Australia in 1945 and she
came over to join him and they married in 1947 and had five children,
four boys and a girl, his daughter Annie Holmes. Sadly, his wife passed
away in 2012.
After the war he returned to his
prewar job in the Post Office as a sorting clerk, assistant
inspector, inspector, chief inspector, assistant superintendent and
postmaster. He was 54 when he retired in 1977 and has been drawing his
pension for 43 years. He was in the Royal Navel Postal Reserve
for 25 years and retired as a lieutenant commander.
The Navy were concerned at the lack of security from the wartime use of
the GPO for forwarding postal mail to ships and he was given the job of
setting up a post office in an undisclosed building on the Atlantic
coast of Scotland. He can't remember the town. He also worked as a
courier flying on RAF planes from England
to Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus, never knowing what was in the briefcase
but he was always the last man on and the first man off.
In 1984 Ken Holmes planted one of the six trees in St Merryn Churchyard, Padstow, in memory of the sixty six boys lost when Warwick
sank, and went to the unveiling of a plaque on the harbour wall at
Padstow in 1996. There is also a plaque dedicated to HMS Warwick at the back of the Church in St Merryn. In Ken's own words, "I'm a fortunate man."
photograph of Ken on the left was taken by his daughter, Annie Holmes, on Tuesday 21 July 2020.
Ken was interviewed by BBC South West in February 2019.
Postscript by Shipmate J. Wood, HMS Whitshed
Nearly half of the Warwick's
crew were lost. Ken was rescued by a Belgian fishing trawler Christophel Columbus whose
skipper was Marcel Bacquaert. At six foot two inches tall and wearing a
size eleven boots, that fisherman must have been one hell of a strong
fellow. When I think of him St Peter always come into my mind. The ship that turned away was the Hunt Class destroyer HMS Wensleydale - six months later to the very day she sank U-413, the U-Boat which sunk Warwick.
There was only one survivor, the engineer. In the 80's we learned from
his son, that for the rest of his life he spoke nothing but praise for
the men of HMS Wensleydale who picked him up. They could not do enough for him! Funny Old War.
Ken Holmes daugher Annie Holmes emailed me on Wednesaay that
I have to inform you that my father passed away peacefully in his own
home on Wednesday. He was 99yrs old Bless him. I am attaching the photos i sent out to friends and family."
Edmond Holmes Graham
Ordinary Signalman (DJX 269701)
Steve Graham in Canada e-mailed me about his father, one of the survivors:
father Edmond Holmes Graham was on duty above deck
when the torpedo hit. He was thrown into the water and survived by
wrapping his arm around a cord that surrounded a life raft because the
water was extremely cold and he couldn't pull himself into the raft.
The sea was on fire due to fuel from Warwick.
I've read eyewitness accounts of that day and they mention seeing
sailors clinging to the outside of rafts. I assume one of them was my
father. He had five
brothers with four of them in the Royal Navy. My father never knew
which vessels picked him up or where they were from. His family lived
Steve provided this additional information about his father:
Holmes Graham was born 31 October 1921 in a suburb of Montreal Canada.
His mother Catherine Matheson was born in Stornoway and his father
Donald Graham was born in Glasgow. Donald was a Seaforth Highlander in
World War 1. His family moved from Montreal to Stornoway, the main town
in the Western Isles of Scotland, when my dad was a teenager. He and
his five brothers were in Air Cadets in Stornoway. He joined the Royal
Navy in 1941. He was aboard several ships as a signalman including the Warwick. I believe the Warwick was in a convoy when she was torpedoed because his brother Dan told him in later years that he was on another ship behind Warwick
in the convoy and saw his brother's ship explode. My father described
the carnage to me but did not like talking about it. He left the
military in 1946 and returned to Toronto, Canada ,where he met my
mother. He was 86 when he died in November 2007.
Signalman Edmond Holmes Graham typed this summary of hs Service Certificate sent to me by his son
Edmond Graham joined the Navy in June 1941 and was photographed with
his year group training at HMS Royal Arthur, a former holiday camp near
Skegness on the Yorkshire coast, requisitioned for training Hostility
Only (HO) ratings. In December he joined HMS Edinburgh Castle
as an Ordinary Signalman. She was a commercial liner converted for use
as an Armed Merchant Cruiser in 1919 but in World War II remained
docked in Freetown, West Africa and housed men displaced from sunken
merchant ships. With the Mediterranean closed to allied shipping the
only safe way to Egypt was round the Cape. Freetown in Sierra Leone was the main
port where Philocetes 11, the destroyer depot ship for the Freetown
Escort Force, was based.
Left: Skudd whale catcher in Antarctica Right: the Skyterren Factory ship Both photographs were taken by my father William Redvers Forster in 1930
Signalman Graham was serving in Skudd V1, a 300 ton Antarctic whale catcher owned by a Norwegian shipping company, one of several which worked with the Skyterren factory ship before the war. My father took some wonderful
photographs of Skudd whale catchers and their factory ship when he was a
marine engineer on Skyterren in 1930. Skudd VI
and her sister ships were stranded at Simonstown in South Africa when
Norway was invaded and were rquisitioned by the Ministry of War Transport and used by the Navy as mine sweepers
and "u-Boat catchers". Signalman Graham would have crossed
the line for the first time in Skudd and received the traditional
welcome to his Kingdom from Neptune.It was not unknown for convoy escorts to depth charge whales and in 1941 the Skipper of HMS Vimy was awarded the "Order of the Whale"
by her proud crew during a "Crossing the Line Ceremony".
Ordinary Signalman Graham joined HMS Warwick
on 8 June 1943 and remained aboard until she was torpedoed and lost on
20 February 1944.
The cover of Edmond Graham's Signal's Book, the last entry and his Discharge (on right - click to enlarge) 66 men were killed when HMS Warwick was torpedoed on 20 February 1944
From 21 April until 21 December 1944 Edmond Graham was a Signalman on
HMT High Tide (S H Christian RNR), a trawler mine sweeper based at HMS Bee,
a Coastal Forces training establishment at Holyhead on Anglesey. He
left her before she founded off the coast of North Wales on 30 March
1945 and joined HMS Royal Albert, the name given to Naval Party
1749, a small unit of the occupying forces in Germany, which was based
at Minden near Hanover until 15 September and then moved to Hamburg,
Germany's largest port. There were dozens of these small Naval Parties
set up to carry out specialist jobs ashore in Germany, tasks very
different from any they had done before. Ratings normally wore khaki
army uniforms but with naval caps. On 4 January 1946 Signalman Edmond
Graham (DJX 269701) returned to Britain and was demobilised from HMS Drake at Devonport, Plymouth, on 20 March. See his Order of Release from Naval Service and returned home to Canada.
James ("Jim") Gold
This story by Jim Gold was published by
the BBC on on the People's War website and copyright belongs to Jim
Gold and his estate. Please get in
touch if you can put me in touch with his family.
I am probably the only survivor who can give his complete experiences on Warwick
in this story. As an eleventh hour replacement for a rating who had
gone astray, I was sent up to join the ship in Ardrossan and had barely
stepped on board when we were under way back to Plymouth.
Being brand new, I was in contact
most with the Buffer and the Gunner’s Mate but managed a Radar watch on
the way to familiarise myself with the set, which was new to me. On
arrival at Plymouth, the “natives” as usual were ashore as quick as we
could tie up but before we had time to settle down we were on our way
again minus “natives” on a sub hunt with two “S” boats Saladin and Scimitar
in the Bristol Channel. We were not on station very long when we had
Asdic trouble and the ship had to slow down while repairs were carried
out, at this stage we were very much a sitting duck. An enquiry was
heard later as to why a listening watch, which should have heard the
torpedoes running, was not kept but I do not remember hearing the
We were down in the mess preparing for dinner, the rum ration was being
dished out aft when there was a terrific explosion which seemed more
felt than heard, all the lights went out and the mess table with all
the crockery dropped on my legs. By the time I sorted the debris out
and got to the hatch ladder everyone else seemed to have beat me to it
and realising I had no lifebelt with me went back to look for it. When
I got back to the ladder it was clear though at an awkward angle so I
climbed up and made my way aft to the upper deck passing the canteen
manager on the way who was going back to his office safe for some
papers or something. I arrived on the upper deck on the starboard side
beside the Gunner’s Mate and the first thing I saw was the stern of a
destroyer apparently down by the head, almost alongside us. I assumed
it was one of the other two and asked the GM who it was to be told in
no uncertain manner it was us and realised the complete stern from aft
of the 25 pounder was torn off by a torpedo in our after magazine.
Although my body was completely numbed, my brain and everything else
seemed to be functioning and I began to take in the fact that the boats
were on fire and quite a few hands were already in the water to the
annoyance of the Buffer.
Whether the order to “Abandon Ship” was given or not was all irrelevant
as just then she rolled to port and abandoned us shooting me through
the space left where the forward funnel had originally been. As I
landed in the sea by the mast I became entangled in a wire rope and at
much the same time someone with no lifebelt grabbed onto me but as I
was being pulled under with the ship I managed to push off my fellow
traveler hoping he would find a better insurance risk. I seemed to
spend hours under water trying to free myself when suddenly I was aware
of brilliant lights all around me and as my head broke the surface I
realised it had been shafts of sunlight in the bubbles I was creating.
When I looked around I was surrounded by debris, bodies, oil which was
ablaze in places, and deciding this was no place for me started
swimming my way through. The burning oil was the biggest hazard as when
to swam into a clear lane you had no guarantee there was a way out but
the bodies were the most upsetting and I remember on in particular
which I automatically Identified as the buffer but could not explain
why as he was face down.
By now our partners were on the hunt and dropping depth charges, which
were another hazard as the concussion was like someone kicking you in
the stomach but in any event turned out, to be harmless though at the
time I made a few uncomplimentary remarks. Eventually I arrived at a
Carley Float and although it was pretty crowded they managed to squeeze
me in. It was all pretty miserable and uncomfortable but when I took in
the fact that the person beside me, who turned out to be Bill Clay had
a mass of raw flesh for a head all things slipped into perspective and
survival was all that mattered. By now the R.A.F were flying over
dropping rafts and eventually one of the fishing fleet we had been
operating amongst pulled up alongside our float. We were smartly
brought aboard the appropriately named “Lady Luck” shoved down below
with towels and dry clothing to clean up and thaw out. Shortly after
this the skipper joined us and I felt quite flattered when he enquired
if the new bloke had made it as if he was responsible for my change of
When we climbed ashore at Padstow
the whole village seemed there waiting for us and we were whisked off
in a bus to the R.N.A.S. On the way we were issued with emergency
clothing, which we changed into after having a hot bath and at this
stage I discovered I had no jersey. Thinking there had been a mistake I
went to the supply store where I was informed it was just my bad luck
and found out having lost everything there is no insurance against
thieving. My faith in humanity was slightly restored by a Wren who
insisted that I borrow hers till we were leaving in the morning.
Strangely I cannot recall us being fed but we went to a memorial
service then headed for the canteen where we were told the drinks were
on the house but after one pint I was violently sick and went back to
our hut where most of the lads seemed to be anyway. In the morning we
were bussed back to barracks where we were messed about in general
prior to going on leave.
From the newspaper cuttings there are facts that puzzle me — where did I find the third destroyer Saladin —
why no mention of Asdic failure — if the ship went down in three
minutes how did I do so much in such a short time — how was Bill Clay
picked up alone when we were all with him packed like sardines. The
memory of Bill has been with me all those years and I think the most
important part of all this is knowing he has come out of it reasonably
When I saw the TV programme on the
Welsh lad from the Falklands, in comparison he was relatively unharmed
and I thought of the suffering Bill must have tolerated. My problem now
is what happened to the lad I pushed off in the water, if he survived
did he realise I was trying to help him or if not, in hindsight, could
I have saved him.
As a longstanding emotional part of
my life this has been more difficult than I could have imagined and I
believe I could have filled a book with minute details I left out. Most
of this has been locked up for over forty years, maybe it is time for
it to come out but I could never get through a lump in my throat when I
thought of all the really young lads we lost that day, the ball is in
your court now, you have got to the bottom of the barrel, the “Jonas”
Lieut. Cdr. David Harries RN
An extract from the account by David Harries, the Navigating Officer on HMS Warwick, published in the Cornish Guardian on Thursday 8 March 1984, forty years after her loss. David Harries died on the 2 September 2018 at the age of 95.
It was a wintry morning off the
north Cornish coast in February 1944 and out beyond Trevose Head a cold
wind was blowing from the south west. Two Destroyers HMS Scimitar and HMS Warwick are on patrol. HMS Warwick
fought with the famous Dover Patrol and was Admiral Lord Keyes flagship
at the raid on Zeebrugge in the First World War. Now she has spent over
3 years in the battle of the Atlantic. On shore at St. Merryn
Fleet Air Arm Station duty air crew are on standby and in a matter of
minutes as a result of a distress signal, they will be air borne
heading out to sea - the radio call that set them running for their
aircraft is the last wireless signal that one particular naval
telegraphist will ever make.
In Newquay people are going about their familiar wartime routine. The
congregation at St. Merryn Parish Church is filing up to the communion
rail – but before the blessing at the end of the service is pronounced
one of the destroyers will have been sunk with heavy casualties.
The time is 11.40 am and the date is Sunday, February 20, 1944. For the
previous two days the “enemy below “ has been lying in wait on the
seabed off Newquay and now the German submarine U413 is moving
stealthily into an attacking position.
Ten minutes earlier, her captain, Kapitan Lieutenant Gustav Poel had
sighted the two British Warships and had brought the larger of them,
HMS Warwick into the centre
crosswires of his periscope sight, at the same time ordering the
forward torpedo tubes to be brought to the ready. These house the very
latest German acoustic torpedo which, once fired, will automatically
steer itself on to the noise of a ships propeller.
The time is now 11.41 and in HMS Warwick
the ships doctor, Surgeon Lieut. Lindsay Sandes, a South African from
Cape town, and the Royal navy coder King are busily decoding a secret
message - but they both have less than three minutes to live.
At 11.42 Kapitan Lieutenant Poel fires his torpedo and it starts its
sinister voyage of destruction towards the warship. In her messdecks
the ship’s company are getting ready for their midday meal - they will
never start it and many of them will shortly be trapped inside her
On the bridge are three people. one is her commanding officer Cmdr.
Denis Rayner, DSC, RNVR - he has another 25 years to live. With him is
Sub Lt. Peter Whinny, recently married - he has less than an hour to
live. The third is the navigating officer - I am still here today to
remember it all and to write of the last minutes of those who are about
It is now 11.43 and the Petty Officer Telegraphist William Porter is
pulling open the sliding door of his W/T Office, prior to going down to
his mess - he never gets there because at exactly at 11.44 am the
torpedo explodes against the hull just by the starboard propeller.
There follows a searing flame and a second but much more violent
explosion as the after four-inch ammunition magazine and all the fuel
tanks blow up.
William Porter, a very brave man and in the finest traditions of the
Royal Navy, steps back into his wireless office and calmly starts to
send out the distress call which is to alert the aircrew at St. Merryn
Fleet Air Arm station. He sits at the morse key tapping out the
message. As he does so the stricken ship starts to roll quickly over to
port and the door of his office slides shut, its slowly distorting
frame jamming it tightly closed. Perhaps it is still closed today with
its solitary occupant.
It is 11.46 am and in accordance with Naval Emergency Instructions the
Navigating Officer destroys the secret charts he had been using that
morning and, with his captain slides down the ship’s side into the
chilling water and begins swimming away from the foc’sle that is
towering vertically above, before it sucks them both down with it.
Seconds later and only three minutes after she was hit, at 11.47 am, HMS Warwick
is gone. An ominous silence settles over where she has gone down but
slowly another deadly enemy starts to take its toll of those who are
swimming for their lives - thick black oil fuel from her shattered
tanks rises to the surface and finds its way into eyes, ears and mouths
making it hard to distinguish the living from the dead.
HMS Scimitar came into the
rescue and the Fleet Air Arm aircraft are soon on the scene, dropping
self-inflating liferafts. A fishing vessel called the Christopher Columbus was
close by and the Belgian fishermen that manned her risked their own
lives by jumping over her side to rescue survivors who, having by now
been swimming for nearly three -quarters of an hour, were reaching the
end of their endurance of surviving in such cold seas.
By 1 pm when no more could be found the journey to Padstow was began
and where, in the early afternoon, local people came down to the
harbour to help us up the stone steps in the wall there. I am told that
we were first taken to a local school hall, but of this I can remember
That night we were looked after by the Fleet Air Arm at St. Merryn but
not all lived to see the next day - six more died during Sunday night.
They were Petty Officer H. Ford, J.L.v Bell, J.C.R.Tower, C.G. Chappel,
W.K. Morgan and F.S. Young, and they are still at Padstow buried in the
little War Graves Cemetery St. Merryn Church. Nearly half of those
onboard were killed and their names are inscribed on the Naval War
Memorial on Plymouth Hoe.
The rescue of survivors by the trawler
off Trevose Head, Cornwall An excerpt from the report by Victor E. Crisp, Skipper, of Lady Luck
There were three trawlers fishing nearby when HMS Warwick was torpedoed. The Christophel Columbus (Skipper Bacquart) and Blauwvort (Skipper Dewulf) were
from Belgium but escaped to Britain when their country was occupied.
One of the Belgium trawlers rescued three survivors and the other rescued one
with a further survivor rescued by an Admiralty trawler. Most of the
survivors estimated at 51 were rescued by a British trawler, Lady Luck,
based at Milford Haven in South Wales but with a skipper from
Lowestoft, Victor Crisp. They included the CO of HMS Warwick
Cdr Denys Rayner RNVR and Cdr John Heath RN, the AS Officer at
Plymouth. In 1958 Denys Rayner sent "Skipper Crisp" a signed copy of
his autobiography Escort: the Battle of the Atlantic
inscribed to "Skipper Crisp, who pulled me out of the drink, in
gratitude". It was also signed by John Winfield Heath, the A/S Officer
at Plymouth who wrote "I owe my life to Skipper Victor Crisp" and was
signed later by Gustav Poel, the commander of U-431.
Victor Crisp included a detailed description of the part he
played in the rescue of survivors from HMS Warwick in his autobiography
Trawler Boy to Trawler Man published by the Heritage Memorial Centre in Lowestoft.
He was born in Lowestoft in 1900 and died in 1976 without him or his crew of five (four over the age of 60) ever
receiving any public recognition for rescuing 51 survivors from the Warwick. Victor Crisp's family still live in Lowestoft and have a page on Facebook about HMS Warwick and Lady Luck.
The painting of Lady Luck by local artist, David Cobb, was commissioned by Cdr John Heath RN and presented by him to Victor Crisp.
Arriving back at Padstow, a letter was waiting for me from Milford, asking me if I would care to take the trawler Lady Luck. The ship belonged to the same company as Resplendent. I replied that I would accept the berth. Leaving Padstow, for Milford Haven, I joined Lady Luck early in the New Year, 1944.
The weather since Christmas had
been pretty bad. Heavy southwest gales with rain continuously
blowing curtailed the movements of the fishing fleets. Even the
convoys were held up. Perhaps we would steal a few hauls during
lulls in the weather. The Trevose fishing grounds, at this time
of the year, are most prolific for all kinds of fish, the main being
sole. But it was hopeless to think about it. The special
swept routes had to be strictly adhered to. One could not wander
far off these routes without asking for trouble, our own minefields
being only a short distance from the track. The enemy was
constantly dropping magnetic and acoustic mines in the Haven and ships
had been blown up with these.
HMS Warwick - 20th February 1944
Time went by. The weather had shown
some improvement, the winds having veered to the North. We sailed
from Milford for the Trevose fishing area, taking the route as given by
the authorities. We were a lone ship. Instead of making a
direct course we had to make a detour to the eastward of Lundy Island
and thence to Trevose, keeping inside the minefield, and close to the
Arriving at the fishing
grounds in the early hours of the 16th February, I saw there were more
ships fishing in the area than I had seen since the beginning of the
war. There had not been so many convoys attacked by the German
aircraft. I suppose they were needed elsewhere, now that the
Allies were on the offensive.
When daylight came, I saw the old Boy Clifford
with the other four ships from Padstow, also two Belgian trawlers and
some from Milford, like ourselves – some twelve ships in all. The
weather was clear with a fresh breeze. The long roll of the
Atlantic swells running from the westward, were causing the vessel to
roll considerably. We were able to get our hauls in regularly.
The fishing ground where we were
working was some twenty-four miles from Trevose Head. This we
called “The Hole in the Wall” owing to a V-shaped dip in the high hills
of Pendeen highland. This was a landmark for us, which we use by
daylight – having a moored channel buoy for night fishing. All
went well. On Saturday evening the wind had freshened and was
inclined to veer easterly. On the morning of the 20th, which was
Sunday, the wind was blowing strong. The day was bright, with a
wintery sun, bitterly cold, and almost at freezing point. I
noticed some of the vessels had left – most likely, they had gone to
harbour, owing to the wind strengthening. After breakfast, we had
hauled and shot the trawl, the crew washing and gutting the fish.
I saw to the north of us two of the larger type of Kilford trawlers
heading in the same direction as ourselves.
One Ostend ship was proceeding to
the eastward, probably making for Padstow and shelter. To the
south, almost hull down was a small convoy of escort ships. Owing
to their being so far inside their normal route, I wondered why – our
hauling time was 11 am. I had not noticed the two destroyers
approaching from the westward at that moment. They were not
travelling at speed and passed us on our starboard side, heading
towards Trevose Head. We were now heaving our trawl net up, and,
after taking the fish out of the cod end, we shot again, heading to the
eastward. The wind was now blowing from that direction.
Our position was some twelve to
fourteen miles from Trevose Head. The crew were on deck, gutting
and washing the catch ready for stowing down the fish-hold in
ice. Glancing ahead I could see the destroyers had turned and
were coming towards us. They would pass some two or three miles
on our starboard side. My crew had finished what they were doing
and were walking aft towards the galley. The two trawlers were
2-3 miles on our north side, their names, Trumpeter and St. Vincent. At
this time the destroyers were on our starboard beam. The nearest
swung to starboard and was stemming us. I immediately went to the
flag locker, where our flag signals denoting our ship’s name were
always bent on the halyards, to hoist on the approach of one of our
warships. This was a standing order given us by Naval Patrol.
Noticing the destroyer turning on
to her original course, I picked up the ship’s binoculars and focused
them on to the ship, curious to know what she was up to. The
destroyer was now in bold relief – then it happened! The time was
There was a cloud of smoke tinted
with flame and a tremendous explosion from her stern. She was
before the wind, causing the smoke to envelope her for a moment.
This soon cleared. The ship was nosing her way through the
water. At this time she seemed all right, then the second
explosion came just aft side of her funnel. With the same, the
after part of the ship rolled over to starboard and sank beneath the
waves. Hardly anyone could have have got clear from this part of
the ship. The suddenness of the two torpedoes could not have
given them a chance. I was dumbstruck.
The gear was hove up in record
time. It was bundled on board in a heap. The destroyer was
very close at this time. The fore end of the destroyer, from her
bridge to the stem, was floating high on a level keel. It lay
broadside to the wind and swell, with her head pointing north. It
was then I saw the U-boat’s periscope only yards from us. We were
heading towards the destroyer at full speed. She was
approximately one mile distant when the bulkhead gave way. She
rolled over to port. We could see her men running and sliding
down her starboard side into the icy water.
The destroyer had now almost
disappeared, except for part of her bows, which pointed to the
sky. This floated for some considerable time after the men were
picked up. As we approached where the sailors were in the water;
our small boat was made ready for launching. At the time my ship
was short-handed. Three of the crew were over sixty years of age.
I decided against the small boat launching, owing to the choppy sea and
the ages of the men who would have to man it. They were not
really fit for the job to be done. Another factor was the time it
would take to get the boat into the water. Our own vessel was low
in the water, freeboard amidships knee high. We could reach over
the side and pull the survivor on board – no trawlers of our class had
We were now approaching the scene
of the catastrophe. The oil fuel from the destroyers was covering
the area. Men were calling for help; their plaintive cries could
be heard. I had to be cautious as we came amongst them. The
Lady Luck’s engines were now
stopped and we were in the middle of the thick oil and men. I
decided to pick up the men who were in the water. There was one
carley float filled with men and a smaller one with two sailors
clinging to it. Each man was wearing a life jacket. There
was no other raft or boat – only the two mentioned.
As we began to pull the men on
board I saw a terrible mess with which they were covered – thick sticky
oil. One could not tell their rating owing to their clothes and
faces being thickly coated with it. After we had the men out of
the water we turned towards the two men on the raft. We could see
one man who seemed lifeless. My crew, to a man, were helping the
men into the galley or down into the cabin to get warmth to their
bodies. I, myself, could not tell if they were injured owing to
my having to cox the ship and jumping on to the deck to help pull the
men on board – then when we had to manoeuvre to where the rafts were, I
was back into the wheelhouse again to steer the ship.
The small raft was now
alongside. The man who seemed lifeless was at one end. As
our boat rolled, I grabbed him under his armpits, the mate holding on
to my legs. The strain on my arms was too much and I had to let
go as the ship rolled away from the raft. As she came back again
we had a rope with a bight in it ready to slip over him. This was
done with three of us pulling the man aboard but the weight was too
much for us. It was then that we saw that his legs were through
the hand lifeline around the raft. This line was cut and he was
safely on board. I saw that he was alive but the cold had got him
and he was in a stupor. The other man with him was pulled on
board. They were both taken aft to the cabin. It was at
this moment when one of the other trawlers arrived on the scene.
She was so close that her stern crashed into ours – slight damage was
done. The large raft was drifting towards us. On this were
eleven men. One I particularly noticed was lying in the oil and
water, which covered the raft floor. His head was on the raised
side. He looked to me to be in a very bad way. My mate
threw a heaving line, which fell across the raft. It fell across
the body of the injured man and he grasped this line by his own hands
as we pulled on it to draw the raft alongside. Each man had to be
helped off and carried or helped aft owing to their condition.
These were about the last to be saved. We, ourselves, were wet
through and smothered in oil from contact with the sailors and the sea.
I now had the chance to look
around. The other destroyer was searching to locate the submarine
well to the south. There was also a government T-class trawler
now on the scene. We had been too busy to see what was happening
around us. At this time I did not know the names of the
I saw a naval trawler taking a man
out of the water. She was going ahead on her engines. I
believe this was the rule when enemy submarines were in the vicinity,
where a naval vessel had been hit. They must not stop to pick up
survivors. The man was hanging onto the end of a rope looped
under his armpits and was swinging backwards and forward from her
forecastle head which was high out of the water.
Flying overhead were aeroplanes,
which had been set out from the base some ten miles distant. They
dropped rubber dinghies but they were too late. All the survivors
were picked up. When we found we could do no more I went to the
wheelhouse, ringing the engineers’ telegraph for full speed. As
we turned to come onto course I noticed a lone man was still in the
water, not far from where the nose of the destroyer was still pointing
to the sky, although lower in the water now. Heading towards this
man we stopped as we drew alongside. Going on deck to help pull
him on board I noticed he was in a bad shape and, at first, thought he
was dead. His uniform was saturated with seawater and the messy
oil and, with the inertness of his body; it took all four of us to pull
him up over the rail and on board. He was taken to the engine
room. The galley and cabin were full of these men.
We got under way again telling the
chief to step on it to save the tide into Padstow, eighteen to twenty
miles distance. Telling the mate to take the wheel I went aft to
the cabin. I asked where the man was who had been in the
raft. They told me he was in the cabin. Going down I saw he
was lying prostrate; his uniform scorched at the front, his eyebrows
and hair at his forelock was burnt off. He was blinded and could
not see. He was moaning with pain. There was nothing I
could do. My knowledge of first-aid was not enough to be able to
attend to him. All I could do was to make him as comfortable as
possible and get into harbour for professional attention. All my
crew’s spare clothing and rugs were given to these men. I did
have some whiskey I always carry for colds of flu’. This was
passed around but did not go far. I forgot exactly how many men
we had saved but it was forty or more.
Going on deck I looked down into
the engine room. Some men stood close to be near the boiler for
warmth to thaw out after their dreadful ordeal. It would not have
been long before they succumbed to the iciness of the sea. From
the time the warship was struck to the time we were steaming to harbour
was not much over the hour. Going back to the wheelhouse, after
satisfying myself all was done that could be done, I saw one young
fellow, with a rug draped over his shoulder, standing in the
alleyway. He had a nasty gash in his leg. I asked him if it
hurt, he replied, “ Not much, I’m not worrying about that, I’m thankful
to be alive.” A bandage was put round his leg for the time
being. A lot of these men had swallowed a lot of oil and
seawater. The sooner we got them in, the better. I noticed
my Chief in the engine-room was trying to get some of the oil off those
who were down there.
Arriving at the wheelhouse, I saw
the two Milford men coming astern of us (we were having the tide in our
favour) were drawing near Trevose Head. The medical W-flag had
been hoisted - denoting that we needed medical assistance. One of
the survivors came up to the bridge, he was in very good shape, the top
of his uniform was hardly soiled, and I saw a three-badge coxswain,
PO. He told me his ship’s name and that of the other ship – they
were HMS Warwick and HMS Scimitar
– the first being the ship sunk. He began talking after this and,
owing to what he said, I told him to ‘button his lip’ and shut
up. He told me we had saved his skipper. Somebody shouted to me
telling me I was wanted down in the cabin. Going aft again I
asked what was wrong, thinking one of the survivors had had a turn or
something, I was told the destroyer’s commander wanted me. I
asked where he was and was told in the after port bunk. Going
towards it I saw man lying on his back with a rug covered over him up
to his shoulders. He had a small beard and, on his face, were
streaks of oil. He did not look very old.
What I saw of his face was very
pale; he asked if I was the skipper. I replied, “Yes.” He
then said, “I have been blasting you trawlers while
on this patrol but thank God you were near. I don’t know for sure
if we were mined or torpedoed. If we were torpedoed, the
submarine we were looking for got us first. I advise you to keep
in the swept channel.” As I turned to go back on deck again he leaned
out from the bunk, asking one of his men as to the fate of some members
of his crew and was he a survivor. He then said something about
the ‘Asdic’, which I did not catch.
When I got back to the bridge we
were almost abreast of Trevose. Coming from the direction of the
River Camel entrance was one of the Air-Sea rescue launches, stationed
there, and which had been detailed to help in the rescue work, as had
happened years ago on the occasion when thirteen unnamed sailing
trawlers had met their doom, and I was a survivor, only a very few
miles from this position. “Too late again,” I thought.
History had repeated itself. They had been refuelling at the time
they were wanted and then got stuck in the mud for six hours between
half flood and ebb.
As the two boats closed with each
other, the launch slowed down. A voice over the loud hailer
shouted, “Lady Luck
stop your ship. I have orders from the C in
C St Eval to transfer your survivors to my boat.” This did
not make sense to me. We were flying the W flag, I needed a
doctor, with the scanty requirements from my first-aid box and a
knowledge there was nothing more that could be done, I was concerned
about the badly burned sailor and whether he would live. I went
the cabin and spoke to the destroyer’s commander stating what had
transpired on deck between the launch's skipper and myself. The
man asked me how his men were and how long before we would be at the
quayside. I answered, “As well as can be. In another half
hour we will be moored to the quay and I am worried regarding the
severely burned man and we should just make it as the ebb was now
running out of the river.” He replied, “ Ignore him and carry on.”
The Lady Luck
had a full head of steam, the white feather coming from her steam
exhaust. If I stopped her the boiler, would blow off.
It was always advisable to give the chief engineer ten minutes to close
all dampers to ease the steam back to avoid the strain on her steam
valves, and stopping the noisy rushing of steam from her exhaust.
As we entered the river the ebb
tide had made and was fast running. We were just able to get
alongside the quay. The two boats astern of us were not able get a
berth alongside, they were both stuck in the middle of the dock.
One had two, the other nine survivors on board.
There were several conveyances
waiting, some for those who were able to help themselves, others, Royal
Navy ambulances for those that were not so fortunate. Mr Harry
Wescott came to the quay. The Mission Room was only a few yards
from where we were laying. He and his wife had prepared for
the survivors, some of who were by this time aboard the
conveyances. Hot water for baths and tea urns had been got ready
but the red tape stopped this. The sailors had to wait before being taken out to an airfield, some five miles outside to
I went on the quayside almost in my
birthday suit, wearing only a vest and a pair of Long John
underpants. It was icy cold standing there. The hold-up was
caused by the burnt man being attended to before being strapped onto a
stretcher, owing to the height of the quay from the ship some ten feet
below. I was standing there shivering like an aspen leaf I was so cold
that a man took off his overcoat and put it over my shoulders.
The few clothes I had were saturated with oil and seawater.
I had given my suit to the commanding officer who came ashore wearing
it. He was taller than me and the trouser bottoms were some four
inches above his ankles, the sleeves short on the wrist. One
could see was suffering from shock by his drawn features and the way he
walked. The different clothes and rugs were sent back to the Lady Luck
and lay near the berthing master’s hut. They lay in a sodden mess,
wringing wet with oil from the sea, which had escaped from the stricken
destroyer. They were not fit for any man to use again. I
had to send my son home to get a spare outfit of clothes to put on
before I could go into the town.
Orders came from the Naval
authorities that no vessel was to sail until further orders. They
were still hunting the U-boat and the rumour was that the accompanying
destroyer HMS Scimitar had
depth charged the U-boat and destroyed it but this was only a
Lady Luck in Padstow Harbour Courtesy of Padstow Museum
it was Monday 21st, approaching the
end of the month, the day was warm with
brilliant sun. Although we had four days fishing ahead, we had the
catch on board. Being concerned about this, I telephoned Milford
Haven to see what I should do, and also enlighten them as to what had
happened. I needed advice. Telling them I had fish on
board, which was perishable goods, and also that we were not allowed to
sail, not knowing how long we should be detained.
The man to whom I was speaking, an undermanager, was very rude to me, saying that I should have
taken my ship with survivors to Milford. I replied, “It’s alright
for you people, you just sit on your arses and don’t realise there’s a
war on.” With that I hung up the phone.
It was Thursday, 24 February when a
messenger came to the dock and informed us that, “ All ships can sail.”
We sailed with the evening tide and arrived at the ‘Haven’ next
day. On going to the office I was greeted by a curt “Good morning
Skipper” the manager began to carry on about me not obeying orders etc.
finishing with the phone conversation. “We cannot stand
subordination from skippers in the firm. You had better sign off
the log book.”
Telling him of those men with
injuries and shock, also the state of my ship, which took two days to
clean up, owing to the oil that had stunk everywhere, both on deck and
down below and which had saturated the bodies of the men and their
clothing. I then said, “ Give me the pen.” I signed off Lady Luck’s logbook and caught the next train back to Padstow.
On arriving home I found a letter
was waiting for me from the Fishery Officer who was in charge of the
South West Area Fisheries, ruled by the Minister of Agriculture and
Fisheries. He asked if I would go and visit him at his office,
which was at the Citadel, Plymouth Hoe.
Arriving there he congratulated me
on my rescue work and said he would write to Head Office for an award,
which I never received. Neither did I get a mention in dispatches
from the CO Plymouth, although others concerned in the rescue did,
following an enquiry to do with the warship’s loss.
I was in Plymouth when the enquiry took place there in March 1944. Commander Collard of the Ministry
of Agriculture and Fisheries had asked me to take an armed steam
trawler named Rattray
registered at Milford Haven. She had seen better days and was not
under Naval jurisdiction, being too old for Admiralty work. She
was armed with the quick-firing gun on a platform aft. Two Lewis
guns, with anti-aircraft parachute flares on the wheelhouse. When
at sea, a kite balloon was attached to her mizzenmast. Two Marine
Regimental personnel were in charge of the defence of the boat.
Why I was not asked to attend that enquiry I shall never know. Being an eyewitness, and very close to Warwick, I knew her movements from her first appearance on that Sunday morning to the very end. It was due to Lady Luck
being in such close proximity that so many lives were saved. Had they spent any
longer in that icy water there would have been more dead
bodies than live ones floating in the area.
U 413 was attacked and
sunk during the preparation for D-Day the following year. I learned of this when I
carried out a programme of research concerning the events of Warwick’s
loss. I discovered a Kapitanleutnant zur See Gustav
Poel was in command of the German U-boat and he escaped from the
Trevose area after lying ‘doggo’ for some hours and then made his way
to Brest where he was relieved. The U-boat was in command of another
commander in the English Channel when she was sunk.
The last man to be picked up, the
one I thought was dead, has written to me every year since his
vessel was sunk. I hear from him every Christmas, and again on
the 20 February 1944, the anniversary of the sinking and his life being saved.
U-413: the U-Boat which sank HMS Warwick
An English translation of the letter received by Victor Crisp from Kapitšnleutnant Gustav Poel in 1961 regarding his part in Warwick’s loss:
time ago I received your friendly letter of January 3rd which I am very
pleased to answer. It is interesting to hear after such a long time of
events we experienced as enemies which we can now regard with
remember that day on the coast of Cornwall in the neighbourhood of
Trevose Head. I had been there with the boat U-413 for several
days but owing to the changing of your convoy routes I had not had the
opportunity of making an attack.
I was surrounded by a screen of steam fishing vessels and fishing
fleets which gave me the opportunity of surfacing at night to
charge my batteries and freshen up the air in my boat. Early on
the morning of 20th February I went into the area of Trevose Head in
the hope of meeting up with a southbound convoy. Unfortunately
for me this convoy also took a course outside my range, however, I
ascertained the presence of two escort Destroyers, HMS Warwick and HMS Scimitar, without knowing the actual names at the time, merely recognising the type of vessel. The Warwick
was apparently searching for a U-boat by means of her asdic, without
any success. This was because in the area in question different
layers of water and currents changed the density causing a layer of
water, which affected the asdic by giving false echoes. As I kept
the narrow part of my silhouette towards the Warwick, I was able to escape despite the close proximity of my vessel.
After Warwick had turned away and steamed off at moderate speed I came into an attacking position. I waited, however, until Warwick
had settled down to a constant course when I found myself in a position
to attack from astern and fired two torpedoes, which turned on opposing
courses after running off. Only one of the torpedoes found its
target and hit abreast of the funnel. It is possible that the
blowing up of the boiler caused the second explosion on Warwick because the second torpedo missed altogether.
I immediately withdrew well
back and laid still while Scimitar
searched further south for my boat,
her search was fruitless and I was able to observe his efforts. A
little time after the explosion the first of the trawlers came on the
scene apparently to pick up the crew, while aircraft also
appeared. Thus I was unable to remain at periscope depth any
and after the sinking Warwick I retired submerged.
had a difficult time during the next four days as constant air
reconnaissance made it impossible to surface and I was obliged to
stay submerged. After two more days I was able to take advantage of a
severe thunderstorm to charge my batteries and freshen the air in the
boat. Two days later I was able to escape from the
My boat U-413 was stationed
at Brest and I set course for there after sinking two escort vessels on
the way. U-413 was sunk during the channel invasion whilst in
charge of another commander.
should be happy to have a copy of the book and would like to know the
title and the publishers so I can obtain a copy. If you wish I
can let you have a photograph of myself taken at the time of these events.
The U-boat (a type VII C) was built
by Danziger Werft in 1941 and was commissioned on the 3rd June 1942
under the command of KL Gustav Poel.
Leaving Brest on the 26th January
1944 for the North Atlantic U-413 operated initially SW of
Ireland. In the early morning of 11th February she encountered
convoy KMS 41/OS 67 (UK to Mediterranean slow November 1942
onward and Outward Southbound, Liverpool etc to Freetown 1941 onwards)
and made unsuccessful attacks against destroyers of the escort, hearing
only end-of-run detonations. She escaped the hunt that followed,
using ‘Aphrodite’ balloons and anti-radar foil.
The submarine was patrolling off
the North Cornwall coast when she was sighted and reported by a fishing
vessel on the 20th. Destroyers arrived and began to hunt for the
boat. U-413 was able to torpedo and sink HMS Warwick WSW of
Trevose Head before slipping away.
U-413 served with
8 U-Flottille, Danzig June to October 1942. 1 U-Flottille Brest November 1942 to 20th August 1944.
She completed 8 patrols whilst in service and sank four ships (31,399 tons) MV Warwick Castle (British 20,107 grt) SS Mount Mycale (Greek 3,556 grt) SS West Portal (American 5,376 grt), SS Saint Enogat (British 2,360 grt) and one destroyer (1100 tons) and was, herself sunk on the 20th August 1944.
On the 2nd August 1944 she left Brest for the English Channel.
Now schnorkel equipped,
U-413 moved towards the Allied invasion area at the eastern end of the
Channel. In the evening of the 19th she came up with convoy ETC
72 (Thames to France coaster convoys June to October 1944) and sank SS Saint Enogat. The boat was located immediately afterwards but escaped. She was followed by the destroyer HMS Forester (Cdr G W Gregorie), joined next morning by the destroyer HMS Vidette (Cdr G S Woolley) and the destroyer HMS Wensleydale (Lt Cdr W P Goodfellow). Between them they located and destroyed U-413 on the 20th SSE of Brighton.
The Commander (OL Dietrich Sachse)
and 45 members of his crew were lost. The sole survivor was the
Chief Engineer, who had gone to the forward section of the boat to
investigate damage. He got out through the forward escape hatch
and floated 90 feet to the surface.
The account of the rescue of survivors by Victor Crisp the skipper of Lady Luck is from his autobiography Trawler Boy to Trawler Man; by Victor Crisp (Lowestoft: Heritage Workshop Centre, 2004?) ISBN 1-904413-37-4.
Keeping alive the memory of HMS Warwick
HMS Warwick is remembered in the town of Warwick which adopted her in 1942 and
in Padstow where six of the men who died are buried in the church yard
of St Merryn's parish church three and a half miles south of Padstow.
The names of the three officers and sixty three men who died can be
seen on the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Survivors and the families of the men who died attended memorial
services in the church on the fortieth anniversary of her loss in 1984
and and again in 2004 and 2014. Contact John Puddicombe of the HMS Warwick
Family Association for details of future events. John is the grandson
of Chief PO H.A.E. Ford D/J 24801 who died after rescue and is buried
in the church yard of St Merryn.
The garaves of six men who died after they were rescued are in the churchyard of St Merryn, three miles south of Padstow: AB F.S. Young D/JX 199780,
AB C.G. Chappell D/JX 167582, Chief PO H.A.E. Ford D/J 24801, Supply
Asst. J.C.R. Tower D/MX 617463, Stoker 11 W.K. Morgan D/KX 527790, OD
J.L. Bell D/JX 580280
AB Alan J Henson was the son of
Frederick Henry Henson of High Wickham, Kent. At the time of his death
he was engaged to be married to Leading Aircraftwoman Jean Abbott Baker
and I have been contacted by her daughter, Jane Rowland, who would like
to trace his family and hopes to obtain a photograph of her Mother's
fiancee. She e-mailed me from her home in Canada:
"My mother was
Mentioned in Despatches in June of 1944 for which I am exceedingly
proud. She met a Canadian in the RAF and they married after the war and
lived in England for a while. My brother was born in England and I was
born in Montreal. Before my Mum died she told me that she wanted the
hymn "Eternal Father Strong To Save" in memory of Alan at her funeral
which of course I did. She talked about Alan quite a lot before she
died, and you could see the great sadness in her as she recalled their
happy times together before the war began. What I would love to find is
a picture of Alan. I wonder if there was a group photo taken of the
ship's company somewhere? I have no idea if there is any family - he
had a brother and a sister. Whether his brother survived the war I
Please get in touch if you can help.
HILL, John R, Able Seaman, D/JX 230315, MPK
HUDSON, William H, Ordinary Telegraphist, D/JX 359338, MPK
JENNINGS, James, Stoker 1c, D/KX 137551, MPK
JOHNSON, Thomas H, Stoker Petty Officer, D/K 61807, MPK
TOWER, John C R, Supply Assistant, D/MX 617463, killed
VALENTINE, Jack, Able Seaman, D/JX 407098, MPK
WALTER, William F, Stoker 2c, D/KX 580880, MPK
WHINNEY, Edward P G, Sub Lieutenant, MPK
WILLIAMS, Arthur N, Ordinary Seaman, D/JX 421139, MPK
YOUNG, Francis S, Act/Able Seaman, D/JX 199780, killed
those who died or were Missing Presumed Killed are commemorated on the
Plymouth Naval War Memorial but the name of the Canteen Manager, Sidney
Reid is recorded on the Chatham Naval War memorial. There are also
memorials to those who died in Padstow and the National Arboretum and
the flag flown by HMS Warwick at Zeebrugge in 1918 hangs in St Mary's Church, Warwick.
Memorials at Padstow
On the outside wall of the "red brick building" used by the RNLI down by the harbour in Padstow is a slate
plaques dedicated to HMS Warwick. The inscription reads:
HMS WARWICK 20-2-44
This plaque honours the memory of
those killed due to enemy action when “Warwick” was sunk off this coast
and also recognises the appreciation of the survivors for the efforts
of the Belgian fishing vessels Christophel Columbus (Skipper Bacquart) Blauwvort (Skipper Dewulf) and the British trawler Lady Luck (Skipper Crisp) which brought them to Padstow and is now recorded for posterity.
“Eternal Father Strong To Save.”
museum in Padstow holds many momentos of the loss of Warwick including
a brass porthole salvaged from the wreck and presented to her
Navigating Officer, Lt David Harries RN, who told his story of the loss of HMS Warwick in the Cornish Guardian in 1984, the fortieth anniversary of her loss. In that anniversary year eighteen of the eighty five survivors
wrote down their memories of that day. Some can be seen on this page and the others are in the Imperial War Museum
This porthole from HMS Warwick was presented by the salvor to Lt Cdr David Harries and is now in the Padstow Museum
dedication of a tree in the National Arboretum presented by
Council and Warwick RNA in May 2008
Memorials at Warwick
HMS Warwick was informaly adopted by the Warwick after the raid on Zeebrugge in 1918 but this was conformed by its adoption during Warship Week, 1942.
The banner flown by Rear Admiral Sir Roger Keyes during the Raid hangs
in St Mary's Church in Warwick as a memorial to the 66 men who died
when she was torpedoed on 20 February 1944. The following report was
published in the Warwick Courier on 14 May 2008.
"Warwick Town Council and the Warwick Royal Naval Association have dedicated memorials to SS Warwick Castle at Warwick Castle and to HMS Warwick at the national arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire.
The ships were HMS Warwick, built in 1917 and adopted by the town in 1918 and SS Warwick Castle a 20,000 tonnes troop ship. Both were sunk by the same German submarine U413; the SS Warwick Castle off the Portuguese coast in November 1942 and HMS Warwick off Trevose Head, Cornwall in February 1944.
The planting at Warwick Castle was attended by
Warwick mayor Coun Martyn Ashford, John Coles of Warwick RNA and
members of the town council and naval association.
The dedication and service at the National Arboretum, Alrewas on May 9 was attended by HMS Warwick
survivor Lt Commander David Harries, David Raynor, the son of Commander
Denys Raynor DSC who captained the ship and Coun Ashford. The service
was conducted by WRNA padre Canon Rev Mervyn Roberts.
was the first Royal Navy ship to adopt a badge, which was based on the
town's emblem of the Bear and Ragged Staff and since 1918 this trend
has been followed by all Royal Navy ships from that date.
The Warwick Badge is incorporated into a plaque beside the tree."
The 75th Anniversary of the loss of HMS Warwick
This year is
the 75th anniversary of the loss of HMS Warwick and a memorial service
was held as part of the morning service of worship
at St Merryn church near Padstow at 11.00 on Sunday 17th February 2019,
the closest Sunday to the 20 February. On Wednesday 20th February 2019, the anniversary of her loss, a short memorial service organised by the Royal British Legion was held at 11.00 in the Red Brick Building Padstow Harbour.
Ken Holmes is now the only survivor at 95 years of age.
Reunion of the V & W Destroyer Association at Warwick in 2013
Front row, from left: John Waters (HMS Wakeful) from Market Drayton, Ron Rendle (HMS Wishart) from Braintree, "Stormy" Fairweather (HMS Westcott) from Colchester, Mick Baron (HMS Westminster) from Scarborough
Back row, from left: Dick Fernside (merchant seaman) from Langham, near Colchester, Peter Scott (HMS Wolfhound) from Oxted, Frank Witton (HMS Woolston) from St Albans - the only one still alive. Courtesy of John Ellson
to John Puddicombe,
Padstow Museum, the Colin Crisp, John Buckingham, Derek Lindsey, Brian French, David Helyar - and Peter Brown
you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your
family who served on HMS Warwick you should first obtain a copy of their service record