HMS Whitley (F20) and HMS Wolfhound (F18) in the Schiedam drydock at Invergordon on the Cromarty Firth in 1919-20 Both ships were launched in 1918 and the Schiedam dry dock left Invergordon in 1920 Courtesy of Alan Kinghorn and the Invergordon Archive
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 but
operated with the 9th Destroyer Flotilla (9th DF) and the 5th DF as
part of the Atlantic Fleet between 1923 and 1925 and with the 1st DF in
the Mediteranean from 1925-32 before being put in Reserve at the Nore
and, from 1933, at Rosyth.
was selected for a WAIR conversion to an anti-aircraft escort
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 with Pennant
Number L23 in 1939. On 9 August 1939 she took part in the Reiew of the Reserve Fleet in Weymouth Bay. In
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 51°09 04″N 002°39 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.
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)
Sub Lt W W Almond RNVR (23 Aug 1939 – early 1940)
Lt Brian Edward Aidan Bell RN (12 Oct 1938 – Aug 1939) 1st Lt
Sub Lt L E Blackmore RN (2 Jan 1939 – late 1939)
Lt (G) Edward Keats Urling Clark RN (11 Aug 1938 – early 1939) 1st Lt
Lt Basil Ford RNR (26 Nov 1939 – 19 May 1940) 1st Lt
Wt Eng R D Goodier RN (3 Aug 1938 – 19 May 1940)
Sub Lt R M Marshall RN (22 Aug 1939 – 19 May 1940)
Gnr G Martin RN (9 Aug 1938 – May 1939)
Sub Lt J Murray RN (9 Jan 1040 – 19 May 1940)
Surg Lt J Ritchie RNVR (5 Apr 1940 – 19 May 1940)
Gnr W F Tompkins RN (8 May 1939 – 19 May 1940) Lt Geoffrey F. Walker RNVR (23 Aug 1939 - 19 May 1940) 1st Lt
WAIR Escort Conversion at Chatham and a Court Martial in 1938
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. Seventy tons of ballast were put in
the bilges to make up the weight of the 4.7-inch guns removed. The
4-inch shells included cartridges and were raised on a cruet by a
hoist to the gun crews; there was no need to assemble shells and
cartridge 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 B.E.A. Bell, an "upper deck officer", who was 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 worried about "fifth columnists" and 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 in the Fleet on the forthcoming Spring Cruise, including Whitley, was
missing. Lt Bell was away on leave but was court
martialled for the loss of the book and Pearce was a witness. Bell's officer "friend", Lt Norman Lanyon RN, promoted to Lt Cdr was CO of HMS Volunteer during the Norway campaign, proved that the book
could not have been received as it would not have fitted in the size of
envelope used. Lt Bell
was severely reprimanded. The Spring Cruise was the roughest trip Pearce ever experienced!
John Pearce left Whitley to serve as Leading Seaman and Quartermaster in HMS Wolfhoundand describes the fast moving dramatic events at Dunkirk on the audio recording at the IWM.
Harold Wyllie's painting of HMS Whitley and MV Inverlane
The splendid painting byHarold Wyllie (1880-1973)is in the collection of the National Museum of
the Royal Navy at Portsmouth. Apart from the title nothing further was
known about the subject of the painting or who commissioned it but the fate of the oil tanker MV Inverlane was easily found by Googling the Internet. MV Inverlane,
a 9,141 ton tanker built in 1938, was on a voyage from Abadan on the Persian Gulf to
Invergordon near Inverness on the east coast of Scotland. She was near the entrance to the Tyne (her reported position was
55°05'00"N - 01°07'00"W) when a huge explosion, thought to be caused by
a German mine, ripped through her hull on 14 December 1939.
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 National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth
The reports of the Senior Officer of the Escort for northbound convoy FN53 and the officer in command of HMS Whitley provide the official accounts of the loss of MV Inverlane. Cdr John Herbert Huntley RN was the SO in HMS Flamingo, a new Black Swan Sloop commissioned the previous month.
Lt.Cdr. Eric Hart Dyke, RN had been appointed CO of HMS Whitley on
24 June 1939 during her WAIR conversion at Chatham and had been in
command at the Royal Review of the Reserve Fleet at Weymouth on 9
August but had fallen ill and Cdr Robert A. Cassidi RN, a retired 46 year old, had been
given temporary command of Whitley
on 24 November. He wrote the Letter of Proceedings to Captain (D) Rosyth Escort Force on 15 December 1939 describing the
southbound convoy FS52 and the northbound convoy of 21 merchant ships
including MV Inverlane and five other tankers. The third escort was HMS Stork but she left the convoy a few hours before the sinking of the Inverlane.
led FS52 into the Thames Estuary via Knock Deep and the Edinbugh
Channels and the merchant ships were ordered to proceed independently
up the river at daylight. Whitley anchored
near the Nore Light Vessel to await the arrival of FN53 at 0700/11
December but thick fog delayed the northbound convoy which finally
joined Whitley and Stork at 0930/12 December. HMS Flamingo took over command of the convoy at 1339 and thirty minutes later they were joined by six oil tankers including MV Inverlane and a Polish destroyer.
Lt Cdr Cassadi: "Convoy then proceeded North up searched channel
without further incident until dark on 13th December. At 1810 orders
were received to take Convoy into Tees Bay and anchor them there, an
enemy minefield having been laid off the Tyne."
Cdr John H. Huntley: "With considerable difficulty the Convoy was
turned ... all ships anchored in Tees Bay for the night. In
accordance with orders received the convoy was got under way and left
Tees Bay at 0910 14th December proceeding up the searched channel. HMS Whitley, acting on my orders, led the port wing column, which had been organised to consist of the Tyne contingent, into the Tyne. HMS Whitley had orders to rejoin me on completion."
HMS Flamingo (Cdr J.H.
Huntley) led the starboard column of seven ships for the Forth and one
for Blyth on a diversion to avoid the minefield. "The fifth ship was
struck on the port siide by what can be, little doubt, a torpedo. A
vast column of smoke rose higher than the masts, and the ship
immediately caught fire. A little later SS Athelstemplar was similarly struck but did not catch alight."
HMS Whitley arrived at the scene at approximately noon:
"Inverlane was a blazing inferno, SS Atholtemplar
abandoned and stopped, down by the bows, anchors awash. This ship
should never have been abandoned and appeared capable of steaming at
slow speed, her propeller being still submerged. The remainder of the
Convoy disappearing in the mist to the Northward. Flamingo and two trawlers rescuing survivors from Inverlane. A signal was received from Flamingo
on arrival, 'submarines about' so an all round Asdic sweep was
commenced but no contacts made. To me it seemed unlikely that the
attack had been made by a submarine, as we were at that moment close to
the edge of a known enemy minefield (reported the previous evening),
and it would appear improbable that an enemy submarine would operate in
waters so closely adjacent."
Cdr Huntley reported on the number rescued and those lost: "Trawler 175 rescued 38 from Athelstemplar, HMS Whitley two from Inverlane, Trawler Loch Oskaig 7 from Inverlane, HMS Flamingo 27 from Inverlane; total 74. It is believed that the losses were 4 from Inverlane and 2 from SS Athelstemplar". The laying of the Minefield
Confirmation that mines were responsible was soon received. Five German destroyers, the Hermann Künne, Friedrich Ihn, Erich Steinbrinck, Richard Beitzen and Bruno Heinemann had
laid 240 mines off the mouth of the River Tyne, where the navigation
lights were still lit, during the night of the 12-13 December. On the
return, Heinemann had a fire in her turbine room and had to stop, Steinbrinck standing by, but she was able to restart and carry on. Destroyers Ihn and Steinbrinck later suffered equipment defects and were detached to Wilhelmshaven, the north German naval base near Bremerhaven.
Even before Convoy FN53 arrived at the mouth of the Tyne on 14 December
several ships had been lost in the minefield. Eleven Allied merchant
ships grossing 18,979 tons were sunk and destroyer Kelly and a large tanker were badly damaged in the field. On the 13 December the Belgian steamer Rosa (1146grt) was sunk six and a half miles off the Tyne Breakwater with one crewman lost. The minesweeping trawler William Hallet
(202grt, Skipper C W Hannant RNR) went down three and a half miles
miles ESE of St Mary's Light; eight crew were missing with the one
survivor picked up by the trawler Ben Arthur.
One has to read
between the lines of the facts recorded by senior officers in reports
of proceedings. Cdr Huntley attributed the loss of the Inverlane
to to a u-boat attack but Lt Cdr Cassidi's belief that it detonated a
mine was more convincing. Who made the decision that the convoy should
proceed before the minefield was cleared?
Harold Wyllie and his painting
HMS Whitley was not present when Invelane detonated the mine and she played only a minor role in the rescue of survivors. That being so how does one explain Whitley
being the focus point of Harold Wyllie's painting? I can think of two
explanations, both of which might apply. The painting may have been commissioned
by Lt Cdr Cassidi or one of his officers. Or Harold Wyllie aboard
HMS Whitley when she "went to the rescue" of MV Inverlane.
HMS Whitley and her Commanding Officers
Lt.Cdr. Eric Hart Dyke RN, the first wartime CO of HMS Whitley did not return to take command of his ship. He was succeeded by
Lt.Cdr. Guy Neville-Rolfe who was CO of HMS Whitley
when she was bombed and sank off the coast of Belgium in May 1940. Guy
Neville-Rolfe waa appointed as the fiirst CO of the Hunt Class
Destroyer HMS Mendip and distinguished himself in actions on the east coast againsst e-boats before joining the Scott Class Flotilla Leader HMS Montrose as her last CO in October 1943.
Hart Dyke became a clergyman after the war and one of his twin sons, Captain David Hart Dyke RN, achieved fame as the CO of HMS Coventry in the Falklands War (and his sister as Ms Hart in "Call the Midfwife"). The son of Cdr Robert Alexander Cassidi RN, who was CO while Hart Dyke was ill and escorted Convoy FN53, became Admiral Arthur Desmond Cassidi RN.
Four of the crew of MV Inverlane were killed and many more injured. She was abandoned and left
to sink but drifted south through stormy seas for 36 hours until she ran aground at Seaburn, Sunderland. The Inverlaneburned
for five days and was used as a marker by German bombers
searching for the entrance to the Tyne. The stern settled on a sandy
bottom and when a salvage team got aboard they 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 towed up to Scapa Flow and sunk in Burra Sound where
she lies to this day and is a popular shallow water dive site. The stern section lies off Seaburn, near Sunderland, in 10 metres of water with parts of her awash at low spring tides.
Her Majesties Ships Valentine and Whitley met their end on the Belgium Coast in May 1940
This brief factual account based on extracts from the Admiralty War Diaries was researched and
extracted by Don Kindell (1947-2021) and published on naval-history.net
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.
Leading Telegraphist Anthony Walter Story, P/JX.I40026, was Mentioned in Despatches on the 27 August 1940, and gives his account of the loss of HMS Whitley in Destroyer Down: an Account of Hm Destroyer Losses 1939-1945; by Arthur S. Evans (Pen and Sword, 2010).
about 0620 on 19 May 1940 we were off the Belgian coast between
Nieuport and Ostende when we found the Walcheren Lightship adrift,
badly damaged, and with the two occupants dead. As it constituted a
serious hazard to shipping we laid off and sunk it by gunfire. It was
another lovely day. I was on duty in the W / T office with an ordinary
telegraphist. Barely had the sound of our guns died away when I heard
the familiar whine of a Stuka diving on us. This one was different. The
bombs sizzled down and all hell let loose. The ship heaved. The lights
went out. All power was lost. Equipment flew about. As I tried to
obtain power for the transmitter, I realised we had been struck by a
mortal blow as our ship lay dead in the water. I sent the ordinary
telegraphist onto the upper deck fast, and informed the bridge we were
out of action. The familiar voice of my 'oppo' of Penelope
days, Tom Webster, the signalman, called down: 'It's OK, Tony. We are
in contact. Help is on the way. Get up here out of it.' I reported it
to the bridge, taking the codes with me.
The captain was perfectly calm and matter of fact. I looked to port and
saw the Belgian coast about four miles distant. Our ship was in a sorry
state. The bombs had apparently destroyed the forward boiler room, the
men on watch there being killed instantly. We were indeed fortunate
casualty wise. Some crewmen were off watch sleeping down below.
The captain informed us that help was near . He advised us to stand by
to abandon ship and to keep together in the water, and clear of the
leaking oil. I then saw Vimiera and Keith
approaching from seaward at high speed. I became engrossed with my task
of lighting a bonfire of the codes and ciphers on the bridge.
Fotunately we were only carrying 'dangerous waters' extracts,
relatively easy to ignite. Vimiera
was preparing to come alongside the starboard side and was lowering
life-lines and scrambling nets. The captain ordered abandon ship. The
ship was now deserted and looked in a very sorry state. Vimiera had stood off, and Keith
was standing by. The captain ordered us into the motor-boat, which was
coming alongside. It was obvious he intended to stay with the ship. I
remember plucking up courage and insisting he joined us. Eventually he
On bord Vimiera I suddenly
felt bereft of all respoonsibility. Having had no sleep for days, I
fell fast asleep on the upper deck. I remember putting into Dunkirk and
the ship topping up with assorted passengers, soldiers and the like,
and heading for Portsmouth."
This account by Pauline Riley, the daughter ofNorman C. Huttley,
was published on WW2 People's War, an online archive of wartime
memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC.
The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar
"My father Norman Colgrave Huttley was posted to HMS Whitley
after his initial training and joined the ships company a few weeks
before the sinking of the ship. He was the youngest on board and was
nicknamed the baby from Blackpool.
At approx.0620 hrs on the 19th may 1940 the ship was attacked by Stuka
dive bombers and suffered direct hits, at least one on the boiler room
which killed the men on duty watch there. My father was off watch and
asleep below when the bombs hit. Amid the confusion of the evacuation
he somehow made his way on deck in a dazed and disoriented
condition; he was also naked! Seeing his predicament a burly
seaman picked him up and threw him into the sea close to HMS Vimeira
which had come to pick up survivors. As he flew through the air he was
heard to shout "I can't swim" to which the burly seaman replied "well
now's your bloody chance to learn". He was quickly hauled out by the
crew of the Vimeira.
The Vimeira took my father and other survivors to Portsmouth where they were loaded into cattle trucks and taken to Victory barracks
where he was fed and kitted out.The next day he was sent home to
Blackpool on 14 days survivors leave. He continued his naval service at
RNAS Tangmere and was part of
the ground crew who serviced the aircraft which sank 6 German R boats
in 1943.He survived the war and was a stalwart of the Dunkirk Veterans
Association Blackpool branch. He died in 1999."
HMS Whitley was
decommissioned and put in Reserve in 1932 and within nine
months of the start of World War II she was bombed and lost. Her WAIR conversion in 1938 could not save her from the dive bomber which sank her on the 19 May 1940.