Wolsey was one of six Thornycroft W-Class destroyer built at Thorneycroft's Woolston
shipyard on the opposite side of the River Itchen from Southampton.Wolsey,
the first Royal Navy ship of that name, was ordered on 9 December 1916
as part of the 10th Order of the 1916–1917 Naval Programme. She was launched on 16 March 1918, completed
on 14 May 1918 and commissioned the same day. Her original pennant
number of G40 was changed to D98 during the
In 1919 Wolsey served with
the 4th Destroyer Flotilla in the Baltic. She was with the Home Fleet
in 1920 but transferred to the Mediterranean in 1921. In 1926 she went
to the China station and was pivotal in preventing the Chinese from
taking over the British river steamer SS Kutwo
after she collided with a Chinese troop carrying launch which sank in
the Yangtze River. She returned to the Mediterranean and went into
reserve at Malta in 1928.
HMS Wolsey was taken out of
reserve in 1938 and converted to a WAIR anti-aircraft destroyer at the
Royal Navy Dockyard at Valletta, Malta. Wolsey
was still undergoing her conversion and refit when war began on 3
September 1939. In January 1940 she began post-conversion acceptance
trials and pre-deployment work-ups at Malta. With all work completed on
21 January 1940, her pennant number was changed to L02, and she was
selected for service in home waters.
After her arrival at Liverpool, Wolsey
was assigned to Western Approaches Command and began convoy escort and
patrol duty in the Western Approaches. On 10 May 1940, she was
transferred to Dover Command to support Allied military operations
during the German offensive into France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the
Netherlands that began that month. Twenty year old AB Albert Howe, an orphan trained at Barnado's Russell-Cotes Naval School, was was lost st sea on the night of 15 May. She was one of two WAIR converted V
& Ws which took part in Operation Dynamo which brought the troops of the BEF back from the beaches and North Mole at Dunkirk. On 30 May an RAF officer, Flt Lt Gordon Leslie MacIntyre, joined Wolsey on "day trip" to the East Mole at Dunkirk and took some remarkable photographs. Wolsey collided with the SS Roebuck near Bray Beach off Dunkirk at 0730 on 31 May.
Wolsey entered the Royal Navy
Dockyard at Plymouth on 3 June for repairs. Upon completion, she began
convoy defence operations and anti-invasion patrols in the North Sea in
July 1940. In August 1940, she returned to convoy escort duty in the
Western Approaches under Western Approaches Command.
In January 1941, Wolsey was
transferred to the Rosyth Escort Force based at Rosyth, Scotland, to
escort coastal convoys in the North Sea and Northwestern Approaches. By
October 1941, these duties increasingly included operations to
intercept German motor torpedo boats – S-boats, known to the Allies as
"E-boats" – before they could attack the east coast convoys from Rosyth
to the Thames. Wolsey was
"adopted" by the civil community of Spennymoor in County Durham,
England, in a Warship Week national savings campaign in December 1941.
She continued on convoy escort and patrol duty in the North Sea without
further major incident until the surrender of Germany in early May
After Germany's surrender, Wolsey supported Allied forces reoccupying Norway, and on 14 May 1945 she accompanied HMS Wolfhound to Stavanger. She joined the V & W destroyer HMS Vivacious (D36) in escorting minesweepers as they cleared the entrance to Stavanger.
Cdr. Cecil Athos Newcome Chatwin, RN (Dec 1939 - 16 Feb 1940)
Lt.Cdr. Colin Henry Campbell, RN (16 Feb 1940 - 12 Jan 1942)
Lt. Thomas Frederick Taylor, RN (12 Jan 1942 - Jul 1943)
Lt.Cdr. Sydney Alexander Cuthbert, RN (Jul 1943 - 31 Dec 1943)
Lt. Frederick William Hayden, RN (31 Dec 1943 - mid 1945)
Gunner F.W. Benoy (joined 2 Feb 1940) Lt G. Blackler, the XO (28 Nov 1939) Temp Surg Lt R Dowie RNVR (joined 11 April 1940)
S.Lt J.W. France RNVR (joined 20 Nov 1939)
Lt J.B. King-Church (joined 1 May 1940) Temp S.Lt A.V. Stubbs RNR (joined 2 Feb 1940) S.Lt A.R. Taudevin RNVR (joined 20 Nov 1939) Warrant Eng C.H. West (joined 17 April 1939)
Former full members of the V & W Destroyer Association who servd in HMS Wolsey A. Beer (Maidenhead), W. Fairbrother
(Richmond, (North Yorkshire), W. Flett (Edinburgh), P.J. Taylor
(Gravesend, Kent), F. Walklett (Stoke-on-Trent)
Please get in touch if you knew one of these men or had a family member who served in HMS Wolsey
On 26 May 1940, Wolsey was assigned
to Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Allied troops from the beaches
at Dunkirk, France. She embarked evacuees from small craft offshore on
27 May and disembarked 102 evacuated troops at Dover on 28 May. She
delivered another 315 troops from Dunkirk at Dover on 29 May. On 30
May, she made two evacuation voyages, carrying 616 troops to Dover on
the first one and 1,065 on the second. Some remarkable photographs taken by a young RAF officer illustrate the events of that day.
On 31 May while at Dunkirk, she
suffered damage when a fire broke out in her degaussing equipment and
in a collision with a merchant ship, but despite her damage she
deployed offshore to serve as a wireless transmitter link between
Dunkirk and Dover and later in the day landed 425 evacuated troops at
Dover. She carried another 535 troops from Dunkirk to Dover on 1 June
before being withdrawn from evacuation operations later in the day for
The following extracts from the Report of Proceedings written by Lt.Cdr. Colin
Henry Campbell RN, the CO of HMS Wolsey at Dunkirk, are taken from The Royal Navy at Dunkirk: Commanding Officers' Reports of British Warships In Action During Operation Dynamo (Casemate, 2017).
Ordered to Dunkirk and berthed alongside Felix Faure Jetty. Embarked 200 walking wounded.
Sailed for Dover at 2105, and disembarked wounded at Admiralty Pier, finally securing to buoy at 0230.
Sailed for Downs to instruct Hospital Ships Isle of Thanet and Worthing to Dunkirk, calling at Dover en route. Wolsey had
to lead them as they did not have the necessary charts. Arrived 1430.
Embarked 180 Officers and Officers of the Army GPO and other non
combatants. Ships sailed in company at 2045. The Hospital Ships were
ordered to Newhaven.
Wolsey disembarked troops at Admiralty Pier, finally securing at buoy at 0415/24.
Wolsey proceeded to Le Havre with Windsor with demolition parties. On return Wolsey was ordered to load ammunition for Calais but this was subsequently cancelled. On proceeding to a buoy Wolsey fouled the fixed boy of the West Entrance Boom and destroyed the ASDIC dome.
To Calais with Wolfhound and carried out bombardment of the road to seaward of the Scouring Basin.
Returned to Dover at 1850.
At 1930 ordered to Dunkirk as WT Link. Fog encountered on passage but
finally secured Felix Faure Jetty at 2350. (LW 2157 3.4 ft, HW 0329
Shifted berth to allow transports to come alongside. Remained under way
in anchorage, but found communications with Shore Signal Station
difficult and berthed alongside East Pier at 0700. Calculated that ship
could remain alongside until one hour before low water but at 0915
found that water was getting shallow and as an air raid began at 0930
to move to the anchorage immediately. (LW 1017 3.4ft).
Grounded propellers and eventually hauled off by French Tug at 1030.
It is interesting that Wolsey grounded her propellers on the same tide as Wolfhound is believed to have done so, though Wolfhound is not mentioned as arriving until 1800.
Remained in anchorage for rest of day, maintaining V/S contact with
Shore Signal Station with great difficulty due to dense clouds of smoke
and almost continuous air raid. Ship was at action stations all
day, over 70 rounds per gun being fired. Wolsey claims to have downed one plane, but not confirmed. Anchorage bombed six times but no bombs fell dangerously close to Wolsey.
1800 Wolfhound arrived and went alongside (HW 1553 16.4ft). Wolsey and Wolfhound then anchored as close as possible inshore and embarked troops from the beach.
Both ships sailed at 0100/28, Wolsey bringing back approximately 150 troops.
Oiled and ammunitioned ship
Sailed for Bray Beach by route “Y”. Arrived 2300. Boats were
immediately lowered and embarkation of troops
Sailed for Dover with 500 troops.
1100 Wolsey ordered to proceed to Sheerness in company with Vivacious and Vimy.
Sailed from Sheerness at 1830 for Operation FD, but this was cancelled
by Admiralty and Wolsey returned to Dover. Remained alongside while one
rating who had been injured by a berthing wire was discharged to
Sailed for Dunkirk. Secured alongside East Pier at 0915 (HW 0623 15.6f,
LW 1252 4.6ft). Embarked approximately 800 troops and returned to
Dover. Disembarked troops and again proceeded to Dunkirk at 1525 (HW
1858 15.4ft). Again secured to East Pier and embarked approximately
1060 troops, returning to Dover at 2235 . Troops disembarked and Wolsey oiled. A young RAF officer, Gordon MacIntyre, took some remarkable photographs on one of the two crossings HMS Wolsey made that day.
Embarked Colonel Blake RAMC and medical stores and sailed for Bray Beach.
In collision with SS Roebuck.
Berthed East Pier to land Colonel Blake and stores and proceeded to
Bray Beach (HW 0733 15.6ft). After embarking 40 troops and two hours,
ordered alongside by Codrington. Secured alongside, embarked 500 troops (LW 1400 4.4ft). Returned Dover at 18 kts and disembarked troops.
Slipped from Admiralty Jetty and returned to Dunkirk (HW 2005 15.6ft).
While inside Dunkirk Harbour and proceeding alongside East Pier
Wolsey’s DG Coil fused and caught fire. This may possibly have been due
to a shell splinter, as Dunkirk was being shelled at the time. Embarked
600 troops while the Electric Light Party endeavoured to repair the DG
Coil. At 2330 the Electrical Artificer reported that he had done all he
could and that the coil was 30% efficient. Considered the risk
justifiable and having announced repairs complete sailed for
Dover at 12 knots. Either the coil in its condition was effective
against magnetic mines or Wolsey was lucky and the passage was made
safely. The phosphorescence was extremely noticeable and
several aircraft were heard, so Wolsey proceeded at 12 knots for
the first hour and a half.
Secured alongside Admiralty Wharf to disembark troops, and then secured
to a buoy to effect repairs to the DG Coil. At 1300 Wolsey reported
ready for sea.
Sailed for Portsmouth for repairs to collision damage.
A Brief Account of the collision with SS Roebuck
As described by
Lt.Cdr. Colin Henry Campbell, RN in his Report of Proceedings:
"HMS Wolsey was proceeding to Dunkirk along Route X, and shortly before entering Dunkirk approach channel SS Roebuck was observed by me about one mile on port bow steering roughly a parallel course.
Wolsey altered (probably to port) round No 5 buoy to new course 090. SS Roebuck
was then sighted on the port bow about 6-7 cables distant, entering the
approach channel between nos 5 and 7 buoys, and steering a course
nearly at right angles to the channel.
I held my course and speed and SS Roebuck
came right across the channel across my bows. When it was seen that
collision was imminent I ordered Full Speed Astern Both, and then
ordered Hard a Starboard, sounding three blasts. This appeared to cause
SS Roebuck to sight me for
the first time and she altered to port. Collision was nearly avoided,
the large iron-bound rubbing strake of SS Roebuck causing most of the damage to Wolsey."
Remarks: SS Roebuck was not keeping a proper lookout. Once Wolsey had altered to Port she had right of way. It is unlikely that any damage was sustained by Roebuck.