HMS Wivern oiling at sea (RAS) on convoy duty in the Mediterranean in 1943 Courtesy of Don Morris, son of Petty Officer Charles Morris
HMS Wivern ...
Badge: On a field Red, a Lion Rampant Silver Motto: Pro Patria, “For the Fatherland”
Lt.Cdr. Walter Evershed, RN (31 Jul 1939 - 17 Jan 1940)
Lt.Cdr. William Charles Bushell, RN (17 Jan - May 1940)
Lt. John Wychard Harbottle, RN (May 1940 - 26 Jun 1940)
Lt.Cdr. Michael Donston Capel Meyrick, RN (26 Jun 1940 - early 1943)
Lt. John Malcolm Hay, RN (early 1943 - mid 1943)
Lt. Charles Courtney Anderson, RN (26 Jun 1944 - mid 1945)
Former Full Members of the V & W Destroyer Assoociation Rear Admiral C.C. Anderson (Malmesbury, Wilts), L. Humphries (Weeley, Essex), Bill Poulton (Swanley, Kent)
The Training Ship of the Sea Cadet Unit at Sittingbourne and Milton is TS Wivern
When the V & W Destroyer Association was dissolved in April 2017
its funds were distributed to the eight Sea Cadet Units with Training
Ships named after a V & W Class destroyer
Please get in touch if you have a family member who served in HMS Wivern
Bill Poulton Engine Room Artificer
The Admiralty expected Germany to
carry out a magnetic mine campaign but had no effective sweeping gear.
It was hoped that countermining with depth charges would set the mines
off, but this did not work. So Wivern
tried steaming at full speed around the wreck of a merchant vessel that
had been sunk by a magnetic mine, to see if she could set another mine
off and use her high speed to get clear of the explosion. This also was
ineffective which was just as well, although her crew had been reduced
to the minimum for this experiment.
I joined the Wivern
on the 2nd October 1941 at Sierra Leone, as a replacement for an ERA
who had gone sick with the inevitable malaria. The Wivern was under the
command of Lt Cdr M.D.G. Meyrick, who later, as Commander Meyrick, was
captain of the destroyer HMS Savage, involved in the sinking of the Scharnhorst. After only a few weeks escorting
convoys and carrying out anti submarine patrols in the South Atlantic,
Wivern returned to her home base of Portsmouth, for a refit and the
fitting of the latest radar. We called at Bathurst (now Banjul), Gambia
and Gibraltar on the way home.
During the time in Portsmouth, I
recall a meeting of dockyard mateys being addressed by the then
Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin. One of the mateys called out, “We
want more air raid shelters.” With but a slight hesitation, Bevin
replied, “You cannot work in air raid shelters; we want more effort to
repair our warships.” The meeting then went very quiet and broke up
After the refit, Wivern sailed to Londonderry and was part of the escort for the battleship HMS Duke of York,
taking Winston Churchill to meet President Roosevelt for another
Atlantic Conference. The weather during the voyage was the worst I can
recall. With hurricane force winds and heavy seas, the destroyers of
the escort requested permission to reduce speed, but permission was
refused, obviously due to the importance of the Duke of York’s passengers. Most of the destroyers suffered
some damage. The Wivern had cracks in the upper deck and had to go to
Greenock to have them welded. Winston Churchill had such an
uncomfortable journey on the Duke of York he decided to fly back to Britain via Bermuda. What a wise decision – the Duke of York returned to the UK without her passengers.
The Wivern returned to Freetown, escorting a fast troop convoy including the Polish liner Batory and the French, Louis Pasteur.
From its base at Freetown, Wivern escorted convoys and carried out AS
patrols in the South Atlantic, refuelling at Bathurst, Takoradi Accra,
In June 1942, Wivern was despatched at high speed to an abandoned merchant vessel, the Empire Arun, formerly the Italian ship Savoia,
which had been captured earlier in the war. The vessel was located; a
boarding party was put aboard, a towline passed over, and the vessel
towed to Freetown. The crew of Wivern shared the salvage money.
Another exciting episode was a 31-knot dash to Liberia and back to Freetown with survivors from torpedoed merchant vessels.
In August 1942, Wivern was involved
in the escorting of the troop convoy carrying the reinforcements for
the Battle of Alamein. The Batory and Pasteur were once again part of the convoy. Since Wivern
had not been converted to a long-range escort it still had its third
boiler instead of extra fuel tanks, refuelling stops had to be made at
Bathurst, Freetown, Lagos, Pointe Noire, Walvis Bay and Simonstown.
At Durban, Wivern left the convoy
at Durban and we were greeted with the usual South African hospitality,
including being invited by South African families to stay in their
homes for three or four days. There was no rationing or blackout, so it
was “bright lights and big eats” all round. Then it was on to Simon's
Town for a boiler clean, with more hospitality in Capetown and suburbs
with families taking us on tours of the local sights and the best
restaurants. All this, of course, had to end, when Wivern returned to Freetown, calling at St Helena on the way. Soon after the return to Freetown, Wivern
visited the Portuguese Azores for the permitted 24 hours. The local
population besieged us, offering a British pound note and a half crown
for every West African pound note. Wivern then steamed to Gibraltar.
Wivern patrolled the Straits, escorted convoys and captured of a Vichy French blockade-runner, the Courdebec. A prize crew was put on board and the vessel escorted to Gibraltar.
Then followed the escorting of the “Armada" for the landings in Algeria, Operation Torch. Wivern was at the Oran/Mers el Kebir section of the invasion. After the landings, Wivern carried out AS patrols and escort duties, visiting Algiers, Bougie and Bone, and also assisted in the sinking of a U-boat. Wivern’s
whaler picked up some of the survivors from the water, including the
captain, who strutted along the upper deck like a little Hitler – a
real dyed in the wool Nazi!
Then came the escorting of a convoy
of captured Vichy French liners and merchant ships en route to the UK.
Just after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, at 10.56 a.m. on
the 2nd February 1943, the Canadian corvette HMCS Weyburn, struck a mine four miles off Cape Spartel (35-46N 06-02W) and started to sink. HMS Wivern, now under the command of Lieutenant Hay, formerly the ship’s 1st Lieutenant, went alongside Weyburn to take off survivors. Lieutenant Hay called across to the Captain of Weyburn,
“Are your depth charges set to safe?” I did not hear the reply, but
presume the answer was in the affirmative, as rescue work continued,
including lowering of the Wivern’s whaler to recover survivors from the water.
As the Weyburn
sank, her depth charges exploded, and I swear the Wivern’s focsle
lifted a foot out of the water, causing many casualties to Wivern’s
crew and Weyburns survivors that were gathered forward. I lost a
friend, Stoker PO Nobby Clark, who was killed trying to save the
Captain of the Weyburn. Both were killed when the depth charges exploded, while they were in the water as the Weyburn
sank. Nobby had been with me when we stayed with the South African
families in Durban and Capetown, and was a sad loss. He was buried at
sea in Gibraltar Bay.
I was one of the lucky ones, as just before the Weyburn
sank, I went down into the engine room to see if the watch keeper
needed a hand on the throttles whilst manoeuvring. As I reached the
footplates, the CERA called out to me to contact the Chief Stoker and
ask him to ensure we were using a full fuel tank while manoeuvring.
Just as I climbed the ladder and reached the upper deck, the depth
charges detonated. If this had occurred a few seconds earlier, I would
have finished up in the bilges when the engine room footplates came up.
lost all power. Only emergency lighting was available, as both dynamos
were lying on their sides. A list to starboard was noticeable and the
ship started to drift towards the coast of Morocco, near Tangier. A
frigate came to our rescue, which I believe was the Black Swan, and was able to prevent Wivern drifting any nearer to the coast. A paddle tug came out from Gibraltar, lashed herself to Wivern’s starboard side and took us the 50 miles into Gibraltar Harbour.
After the injured were taken to hospital, those of us that were left were billeted overnight in what we stood up in and the Wivern
put into dockyard hands. We returned on board next morning to find our
belongings had been rifled and money and any items of value had been
stolen. Whilst in dockyard hands, we were able to visit our injured
shipmates in hospital and I was able to join the burial party for my
friend Nobby. All of Wivern’s crew received a letter from the Canadian Naval Authorities thanking them for their efforts in saving as many of Weyburn’s crew as possible and expressing regret for the damage and casualties caused to HMS Wivern.
After patching up, and with only a skeleton crew, Wivern
was taken in tow by the deep-sea salvage tug “Destiny” and left
Gibraltar, bound for Devonport. A signal was received from Gibraltar,
which read, “Good luck Wivern, your Destiny is ahead.” How very apt. HMS Wivern
arrived safely at Devonport on the 17th March 1943, after some 14 days
under tow, unescorted. My role during the voyage was to keep the large
diesel-driven pump operating, to control the ingress of water from
various leaks – a full time job, which took ones mind off the slow
speed of the journey. After a few weeks in Devonport, the Wivern paid off and we all went our various ways. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Wivern had rejoined the fleet, as I thought she would have been considered a constructional total loss and scrapped in 1943.