HMS Westminster as part of the Rosyth Escort Force in 1944 Photographed by Lt Cdr John E. Manners RN from HMS Viceroy
Click on the links within this brief
outline for first hand accounts by the men who served on HMS Westminster and for a more detailed chronolgy see www.naval-history.net
Westminster was the first ship
to bear this name and was built by Scotts at Greenock on the Clyde and
completed on the 18 April 1918. She was present at the surrender of the
German High Seas Fleet in November 1918. She was sent to the Baltic
where she rescued the crew of the cruiser, HMS Cassandra, when she struck a mine in the Gulf of Finland on the 5 December 1918. The next day she collided with HMS Verulam
in thick fog and needed extensive repairs. In 1921 she joined the 6th
Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet, but was later put into Reserve.
1939 she was converted to an AA Escort (a WAIR conversion) at the
Devonport Dockyard and in January 1940 joined the east coast Escort
Force at Rosyth upriver of Edinburgh. In April she transferred to Dover
Command and assisted in the evacuation of Flushing in the Netherlands
and then reinforced French AA defences at Dunkirk. She struck a
submerged wreck at Dunkirk and was the last ship to be repaired before
the evacuation and as a result took no part in the evacuation of troops from
Dunkirk. Herbert Dyer, Asdic operator, joined Westminster at Portsmouth while she was being repaired after Dunkirk before she
rejoined the Rosyth Escort
Force and resumed escort duties along the east coast.
In May 1945 Westminster
was one of the destroyers of the Rosyth Escort Force sent to accept the
surrender of German naval forces in the entry ports on the west coast
of Norway. She remained there for three months as the "trot boat"
carrying mail and people through the inner leads between the ports and
to and from Rosyth. On return to Rosyth she was left on the mud at
Grangemouth lying alongside HMS Venomous, stripped out and broken up at Charlestown in August 1948.
The second HMS Westminster, a Type 23 Duke Class frigate of the Royal Navy,
was launched on 4 February 1992, and looks very different from her
wartime predecessor. In 2000 she was visited by Lt Cdr Derek Tolfree
and three of his fellow veterans who served on V & W Class
destroyers during the war. Derek Tolfree presented the ship with a copy
of his Diary recording events day by day while escorting East Coast
convoys in 1942-4.
A short list of officers who served on HMS Westminster during World War II - some
have links to entries on the unithistories.com web site.
Lt M.J. Amos RN (Sept 1944 -
Lt(E) W. Baker RNR (Feb 1944 - July 1945)
Lt W.J.A. Bryce RNVR (July 1942 - Dec 1943)
Lt M. Cashman, RN (1941)
Sub Lt D.F. Christy RNVR (Dec 1943 - June 1944) Surg. Lt D.R. Daly RNVR (Dec 1940 - Dec 1941)
Surg J.V.S.A. Davies RNVR (Oct 1943 - Aug 1943)
Surg Lt C. St. J. Davies RNVR (Nov 1942 - June 1944)
Sub Lt W. Dixon RNVR (Sept 1943 - June 1944)
War Eng W.S.A. Flood RN (May 1941 - Dec 1943)
Sub Lt R.K. Forgan RN (Feb - July 1945)
Sub Lt P.B. Garrod RNVR (April - June 1944)
Photographs of HMS Westminster at the Imperial War Museum
There is a fine collections of photographs at the IWM taken aboard HMS Westminster while escorting East Coast Convoys by Lt R.H. Darwall RN in October 1940 when
Lt.Cdr. Aymé Arthur Carrington Ouvry, RN was the CO. They are Crown Copyright which expires after fifty years and can be used under the terms of the IWM Non Commercial Licence. Some of them can be seen on this web site.
Derek Tolfree spent three years on HMS Westminster
joining as a 17 year old Midshipman in December 1942 and leaving as
Navigating Officer when she was discharged in July 1945. His Midshipman's Journal
covering the period from when he joined Westminsteron 23 December 1942 to 9 March 1944 has been transcribed by Mike Lewis, the son of a rating on Westminster, and published on this web site. You
can listen to him describing his time on Westminster in a ninety minute
interview on three reels recorded by the Imperial War Museum in
2008 which is held in
their Sound Archive but can heard online. Click on this link to read his DIary and listen to him describe his time on HMS Westminster.
Herbert Reginald Dyer (IWM interview) Herbert Dyer was an Asdic operator on HMS Westminster (1940-1) and on ML 457 at the St Nazaire raid Herbert Dyer (1917-2004) was born in Filey, Yorkshire, the son of a farmer at Peterborough, left
school at 14 and was playing football professionally at Scarborough
when war was declared. He wanted to join the Navy up but they only offered
him the Army so he waited until he was called up and they agreed to let him
join the Navy. HMS Westminster was his first ship. He joined her at Portsmouth while she was being repaired after Dunkirk in the Summer
They were "pushed for space" and he slept on the steam capstan
was an Asdic operator on the bridge with the CO and officers; the
Skipper would say "sweep from ten degrees ahead, or "sweep from 10
degrees starboard / port", etc. They never picked up submarines but
often detected wrecks, their ping sounded different. The E-boats tended
to be waiting for
them just off Aldeburgh before they turned into the Thames estuary. The E-boats
sank one or two merchant ships on each convoy. He remembered a near
miss when he saw
a torpedo go past their stern. They attacked at night, came in fast
and were off again immediately. By the time the starshell came down they
were gone. They just fired at them and hoped for the best. They
brought one plane down. They often
had a Blenheim as an escort (not fighters) which kept the enemy away. The
Forth estuary up to Rosyth was also mined abnd was being swept all the time.
He liked the Westminster and
liked the officers. The bearded first lieutenant used to bet a bottle of whiskey on the results
of football matches against other ships at Rosyth. A lot of the crew were trained
at HMS Flying Fox in Bristol.
After a year with Westminster
he volunteered to serve on Motor Launches. He trained at
Campbeltown and joined ML 457 at Brightlingsea. The MLs were armed with Oerlikons
and twin Lewis guns and also had depth charges. ML 457 had nine or ten crew and he was the
sole Asdic operator, ASD (Anti-Submarine detector). They had bunks
instead of hammocks on the ML. They went to Falmouth and he joined the CO on a
Commando boat and learned they would take part in a raid on
St Nazaire. They went on a trial trip to the Scilly Isles in dreadful
weather (the Commandos were all sick) but had beautiful weather on the crossing to St Nazaire.
Sixteen motor launches, two destroyers and the Campbeltown
took part in the raid. ML 457 was one of the eight motor launches in
the 28th Motor Launch Flotilla. They had a nice easy
passage until they neared the Loire. The defence was supposed to have
been softened up by an
air raid, but it came too soon and alerted the defence making things
worse. They were fired at from both sides of the river as they
ascended the Loire to the Old Mole. They were the only ML to make it to the Mole,
the petrol tanks stored on deck to increase their range caught fire on
the others and they had to turn back.
The Skipper was a Lt Thomas Alexander Mackay Collier RNVR, the Yachting
Correspondent for The Times.
They tied up at the Old Mole landed their Commandos, a demolition team
of about ten or twelve who set off without first tackling the Germans
in the Pill Box. The twin Lewis guns, their only defence, jammed and the Germans dropped hand grenades on the bridge which took the skippers leg off and killed or severely wounded all the others on
the bridge. The Skipper gave orders to push off from the
Mole, they were hit on starboard side and caught fire. They were worried the fuel tanks on the deck would
explode and he ordered them to
Dyer was untouched, swam to the Carley Raft, but the tide was washing
them out to sea; they tied up to the mast of a wreck, boarded the
wreck. The Skipper died and and another man simply said "goodbye" and
slipped into the sea and was gone. The Germans came and picked
them up at dawn. Dyer was unwounded but very cold; they were put into an air
shelter and "all of a sudden they heard the big bang, the Campbeltown had blown". They were put in a hotel before being sent to a POW Camp for Naval men.
Courtesy of Mick Baron
Mick Baron was a telegraphist in HMS Westminster from November 1942 - 4
Michael Baron was born at Reading on the 28 October 1925, the son of a
self employed builder. He left school in 1940 a few months short of his
sixteenth birthday and worked in a solicitor's office for a few months.
He tried to join the Army as a Despatch Rider but was told to come back
"when he changed his nappies"! He crossed the road to the Navy
Recruiting Office and when they learned he could take down Morse at 18 - 20 words a
minute they took him without asking about
his age. He and his brother had learned Morse by sending messages
between their bedrooms. He was 16 when he went to HMS KIng Alfred
at Skegness for basic training and from there to Gordon College in Aberdeen
run for the Admiralty by the GPO to learn Morse. When he was seen doodling in class because he
already knew Morse and was bored he was sent to Leydene House, Peterfield, on a two
week coding course and posted to HMS Westminster at Rosyth in November 1942. Bill Forster recorded an interview with
Mick Baron at the Reunion of the V & W Association at Eastbourne
in 2014. He spent fourteen months on East Coast Convoys, from Methil on the Firth of Forth to
Sheerness on the Thames estuary, and estimated that Westminster did 66,000 miles during that time. Her4.7-inch
guns had been replaced with 4-inch AA guns (a WAIR Conversion) to fight
off German aircraft. She was often accompanied by a sister ship,
HMS Wolfhound, or a US "four funneller" transferred to the Royal Navy under Lend Lease. The convoys of up to twenty ships
assembled at Methil and met the escort force of two
destroyers and two trawlers at the Isle of May. The Senior Officer of the Escort, Lt. Cdr.
Harold Godfrey Bowerman, DSC, RN was on Westminster. "Stumpy" Bowman was only 5 ft 3 inches and had to stand on a box on the bridge to be seen but was greatly respected. Earlier in the war Westminster earned the title "E-Boat Killer No 1".
Depending on the speed of the convoy (set by the slowest
ship) it took from 8 - 10 days to reach Sheerness. The main danger
was from E-boats which had a top speed of 40 knots and mainly attacked at
evening or night. When they came within range of the E-boats, south of Grimsby, they followed one of four channels behind the East Coast
minefield, labelled A to D.
Channels were often closed while they were swept for mines laid by the
E-boats. They occasionally called in at Grimsby and sometimes continued
round the south coast to Portsmouth.
Petty Officer Telegraphist was in charge of four telegraphists, two per
watch. The photograph on the left is of P.O. "Tubby" Watts. Stan Hanniford was another member of his team. Two Hungarian
interpreters who spoke German shared the office and listened in on voice frequencies to the E-boats. On one occasion Mick saw the
Hungarian coder turn white when an e-Boat asked permission to fire at the
escorts. On arrival at Sheerness they left immediately to take a waiting
convoy north but generally spent a couple of days at Rosyth for
maintenance and repairs which allowed time for a trip to the Church Hostel in
Dunfermelin for a bath and relaxation. On his first trip south,
being very young, he did not hear the alarm go off and slept right
through an attack. He remembered one man being half washed overboard
and then washed back. Westminster was not attacked but occasionally lost a merchant ship. Derek Tolfree described in his journal how Westminster and sloop Widgeon attacked and "routed" a strong e-boat force off the east coast on the morning of the 15 April 1943. On leaving Westminter he was sent on short courses at
Leydene House, Peterfield, and posted to the Combined Operations
station at Sheerness. He joined LCT 740 in Scotland as Telegraphist.
She was powered by two 500 HP Paxman Ricardo diesel engines and
commanded by a lieutenant who had a junior officer, a Coxon, a motor
mechanic with assistant and Mick Baron as telegraphist. They took her
through the Irish Sea to Falmouth and loaded Canadian tanks for the Normandy beaches on D-Day but this was cancelled without
explanation. Two months later LCT 740 and LCT 741 were ordered to
the Far East. They broke down in the Bay of Biscay and had to call in
at neutral Portugal where they went ashore for two hours in civvies.
The LCT could only do 4.5 knotts and without the tanks aboard it was a
bumpy uncomfortable trip. They were at Gib for a month and spent a few
weeks in Malta where they celebrated VE Day before continuing to Alex
and through the Suez Canal to Kabrit where they heard the news of the
Atom bomb being dropped on Japan. They left the LCT and returned to
Britain on troop carriers. On arrival further courses at Petersfield
were followed by a posting to Arbroath on Air Sea Rescue boats where he
was stationed until he was demobbed.
Home and back to his parents
at Reading but he needed a job and the Admiralty
offered him one at the Y-Station (intercept station) at Scarborough
where they did a lot of "naughty things". They picked up signals from
Russia, mostly naval and diplomatic. At first they took them down by hand but
switched to typewriters later and sent the signals to Blethchley for
deciphering. That was Mick Baron's job
for forty years. Computers came in in 1980s. In 1982 he was sent to the
Islands to intercept Argentinian traffic during the Falklands War.
Unknown to Mick, his son joined Sigint (Signals Intelligence Agency) in 1985 and later moved to GCHQ.
Michael Baron's wartime job as a telegraphist became his lifelong
occupation and he has lived in Scarborough since moving there to work
for Sigint at the Y-Station when the war ended.
Mick Baron always attended the reunions of the V & W Destroyer
Association and Bill Forster recorded the following interview with him
at Eastbourne in 2014. He was 92 when he died at his home in
Scarborought shortly before Christmas 2017.
Conditions on V & W Class
destroyers were so bad in rough weather that the men who served on them
were paid hard-lying money. These stories by veterans who served on
HMS Westminster were published in Hard Lying,
the magazine of the V & W Destroyer Association and republished in
2005 by the Chairman of the Association,
Clifford ("Stormy") Fairweather, in the book of the same name which is
now out of print. They are reproduced here by kind permission of
Clifford Fairweather and his publisher, Avalon Associates. Copyright
remains with the authors and photographers who are credited where known.
The war in the Baltic 1919
Celebrations for nine of the V&Ws (Valkyrie, Veralum, Veralum, Vendetta, Venomous, Wakeful, Wessex, Windsor, Wolfhound, and Woolston)
was very short lived, for they were despatched to the Baltic to show
the flag against the Bolshevik regime. At that time the Baltic was
strewn with mines laid by the Russians and Germans and it was not to be
long before casualties would occur. One of our cruisers, the Cassandra struck a mine and started to sink, two of the V&Ws (Vendetta and Westminster) immediately went to her assistance and in total darkness and freezing temperatures took her crew off.