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

HMS Whitley
HMS Whitley coming to the rescue of MV Inverlane, badly damaged and on fire after the convoy entered a mine field in the North Sea, 14 December 1939
Harold Wyllie (1880–1973)
National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth

HMS Whitley was built by Doxford (Doxford & Sunderland Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd) at Sunderland and laid down in June 1917. This ship was intended to be named HMS Whitby but, as the name was incorrectly written when selected, she was given the name Whitley when launched on 13th April 1918. She was the first RN ship to carry the name and build was completed on 11th October that year. 

After acceptance trials and work-ups, Whitley deployed in 1919 to the Baltic Sea, where she served in the British campaign against Bolshevik forces during the Russian Civil War. She returned from the Baltic in 1920 and was decommissioned in 1921 and placed in reserve at Rosyth, Scotland, as part of the 9th Destroyer Flotilla.

Whitley was selected for a WAIR conversion to an anti-aircraft escort with twin 4-inch dual purpose HE guns in 1938. She was the first of fifteen V & Ws to be given this conversion under the 1938 WAIR programme. Her conversion at  Chatham dockyard was completed in October 1938 and she was recommissioned in 1939. In September  Whitley was assigned to duty escorting convoys in the North Sea along the east coast of Great Britain, which she continued through April 1940. On 14 December 1939 she went to the rescue of MV Inverlane, badly damaged and on fire after Convoy FN.53 entered a mine field in the North Sea. While escorting Convoy FN.12 from the Thames Estuary to the Forth Estuary on 12 January 1940, she assisted in driving off a German air attack.

In May 1940, Whitley was transferred to Dover Command and placed at the disposal of the French Navy for operations in support of Allied ground operations in France and Belgium. On 19 May 1940 a German dive bomber attack badly damaged Whitley two nautical miles (3.8 km) off Nieuwpoort, Belgium, forcing her to beach on the Belgian coast between Nieuwpoort and La Panne to avoid sinking. To prevent her capture by advancing German ground forces, the British destroyer HMS Keith destroyed her with gunfire at position 5109 04″N 00239 34″E, leaving her wreck on the bottom in only five meters (16.5 feet) of water. See the Damage Report in the National Archives, ADM 358/3656.

At the end of the Great War
after less than three years service HMS Whitley was decommissioned and put in  Reserve in 1921 and within nine months of  the start of World War II she was bombed and lost. Her WAIR conversion in 1938 after 18 years in Reserve did not save her from the dive bomber which sank her on the 19 May 1940.

Commanding Officers

Cdr Jack E. A. Mocatta, RN (6 Sept. 1918 – 13 Oct 1919)
Lt Cdr Ernald G. H. Master, RN (13 Oct. 1919 – 15 Dec. 1921)
Lit Cdr Edward S. F. Fegen, RN (15 Dec. 1921 – Sept. 1922)
Cdr John Wilfrid Boultwood RN (Oct 1938 - April 1939)
Lt.Cdr. Eric Hart Dyke, RN (24 June - 11 Dec 1939)
Lt Cdr Robert A. Cassidi, RN (26 Nov 1939 – 11 Dec. 1939, while Hart Dyke was sick)
Lt.Cdr. Guy Neville Rolfe, RN (11 Dec 1939 - 19 May 1940)


First Lt Lanyon RN (1938)
Lt Geoffrey F. Walker RNVR (23 Aug 1939 - 19 May 1940)

Wartime service in 1939-40

WAIR Escort Conversion at Chatham and a Court Martial

AB John Pearce described the problems he faced on joining HMS
Whitley in an online recorded interview in the Sound Collection (Reel 3, at 28 mts) at the Imperial War Museum in London.

In 1938 John Pearce was posted to HMS Whitley, the first V & W to be given 4-inch anti-aircraft guns and was told that if war broke out she would be based in the Thames to defend London. They added 70 tons of ballast in the bilges to make up the weight of the 4.7-inch guns removed. The 4-inch shells included their catridges and were raised on a cruet by a hoist to the gun crews, there was no need to assemble shells and catridge before loading as in the case of the old 4.7-inch Guns.

He was made Ship's Writer as he could type and was "clerk" to Lt Bell, the Correspondence Officer. He had a hut as an office on the dockside at Chatham as it was too noisy aboard ship during the conversion. Everybody was very security conscious. Everything received and sent out were registered in a book. The CO, Cdr J.W. Boutwood RN, inspected the book in which he recorded packages signed for by Lt Bell and found a book recording future ship movements of all the ships on the Spring Cruise was missing. Lt Bell was court martialled for the loss of the book and Pearce was a witness. Lt Bell was severely reprimanded
and lost two years seniority but the 1st Lt, his officer "friend" (killed at Narvik), proved that the book could not have been received as it would not have fitted in the size of envelope.

John Pearce left Whitley to serve as Leading Seaman and Quartermaster in HMS Wolfhound and describes the fast moving dramatic events at Dunkirk on the audio recording at the IWM.

Harold Wylie's painting of HMS Whitley and MV Inverlane

This splendid painting is in the collection of the National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth but at present nothing further is known about the rescue by HMS Whitley or whether the painting was commissioned and, if so, by who but the following details of the fate of the oil tanker MV Inverlane were easily found by Googling the Internet.

MV Inverlane a tanker (9,141t) built in 1938, on a voyage from Abadan to Invergordon, was under way in the North Sea, her reported position was 5505'00"N - 0107'00"W, when a huge explosion, thought to be caused by a German mine, ripped through her hull on 14 December 1940. Four of her crew were killed and many more injured, the ship was abandoned and left to sink, but she drifted through stormy seas for 36 hours, to eventually appear on the shore at Seaburn.

The Inverlane burned for five days and was used as a marker by German bombers searching for the entrance to the Tyne. When a salvage team got aboard, as the stern had settled on a sandy bottom, it was decided that the fore section (over 300ft) could be refloated. This was done and it was first taken to South Shields and then to Blyth to be converted into a blockship. Over 3,000 tons of rubble and stone were put into the hull, which was then towed up to Scapa Flow to be sunk in Burra Sound, where she lies to this day.

The stern section lies off Seaburn, near Sunderland, in 10 metres of water, with parts of her awash at low spring tides.

How HMS Valentine and HMS Whitley met their end on the Belgium Coast

This brief factual account is based on extracts from the Admiralty War Diaries researched and extracted by Don Kindell and published on -

HMS Whitley, Valentine and Winchester were operating off Flushing during the night of 14-15 May 1940. At 1300, Whitley and Valentine were ordered to cover the Terneusen - Brosele (Beveland) Ferry. HMS Valentine (Cdr H.J. Buchanan RAN) was bombed and badly damaged by a German Ju. 88 bomber at the mouth of the River Scheldt leading to Antwerp within a mile of Terneusen. She was struck by two bombs, her boiler blew up and she was run aground and abandoned as a total loss. Thirty-one ratings were killed and twenty-one crew, including Surgeon Lt N. F. E. Burrows RNVR, Lt R. M. MacFie RNVR and Acting Gunner S. F. Burrow were wounded. HMS Whitley was bombed but was not damaged. She blew up Valentine and remained at Flushing during the afternoon and evening.

On Sunday 19 May HMS Whitley (Lt Cdr G.N. Rolfe) was under French orders in port blocking and refugee evacuation operations, was bombed at 0526 and badly damaged by German bombing two miles 006 east of Nieuport on the Belgium coast. After three near misses, with both engine rooms flooded and her back broken she was run aground to prevent her sinking. Four engine room ratings were killed. HMS Vimiera rescued the crew and tug Lady Brassey was dispatched to bring Whitley back to England.
HMS Keith (Captain D.19) arrived on scene and found Whitley beyond salvage and shelled her to prevent her use by the German forces. HMS Vimiera with the crew of HMS Whitley, the rest of the crew from HMS Westminster and the Flushing demolition party (Operation XD “C”) departed Dunkirk at 1700 for Dover. HMS Vimiera arrived at Dover after taking the crew of Whitley to Portsmouth.

If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Whitley you should first obtain a copy of their service record
To find out how follow this link:

If you have stories or photographs of HMS Whitley you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Bill Forster

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