V & W Class destroyers played a vital part in evacuating the
treoops of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from the beaches to
the east of Dunkirk and from the North Mole, the breakwater of concrete
piles at the entrance to Dunkirk harbour. Vic Green describes the part
played by HMS Worcester, the V & W on which his father served.
Following an extensive refit Worcester
recommissioned on May 8th. 1940 and after working up at Portland took
up her duties with the 11th. Destroyer Flotilla in the Western
Approaches. When some 120 miles north of Lands End she received a
signal to proceed to Dover where she arrived at 07.15 on May 28th. and
immediately set off for Dunkirk albeit at reduced speed owing to a lack
of fuel. Arriving at Dunkirk she took 509 troops on board and
attempted to refuel from HMS Anthony
but could only get 10 tons so the return journey was made at a more
economical speed (18 knots). A possible submarine was detected
near West Hinder so a pattern of depth charges was dropped resulting in
wreckage but no oil.
After unloading her passengers and refuelling it was back to Dunkirk to
load 800 troops during a heavy bombing attack; Worcester escaped unscathed but HMS
Grenade was sunk. Worcester
returned to Dover, unloaded and set off again, this time to Bray
beaches to embark troops from small boats, a slow process during which
German aircraft approached but were driven off by the ship’s
Back to Dover to unload and collect Rear Admiral Dover and his staff
and ferry them across before collecting 800 troops from boats at La
Panne and Bray beaches. On her return journey at low water Worcester rounded a buoy in
Dunkirk Roads a bit too close and went aground
for a while before being refloated. Back at Dover she unloaded, refuelled, had her propellers examined by divers and then set
off for the beaches again, reaching them at dusk on May 31st. The
mole at Dunkirk was full and Worcester visited each of the beaches in
turn. The minesweepers with their shallow draught were
able to get closer inshore and the small boats took the troops to them instead of Worcester.
When dawn came shore batteries began to fire at her so she moved to the
East Pier which by now was less congested, embarked 750 troops and
The next journey almost ended in disaster. On approaching Dunkirk she
had to weave around wrecks and pick up survivors from sunk
transports. A signal was received instructing them
to return to Dover immediately but Cdr. Allinson thought that having
got this close it wasn’t worth going back empty handed so took the ship
into Dunkirk, berthed at the East Pier and took 900 troops aboard
before obeying his instructions and setting off to Dover. En
route the ship was attacked by successive waves of dive bombers and as the
attacks were pressed home down to a couple of hundred feet it
seemed that only a miracle prevented the ship from being sunk.
The raids resulted in 46 dead and 180 injured and splinter holes all
over the ship; oil tanks were ruptured, electrical circuits disrupted
(including the gyro compass). Holes in the oil tanks allowed water
to enter the tanks, Worcester lost steam and her engines stopped near the Goodwin Sands. A tug was sent to tow her in
but hard work by the engineers got her going
again and she continued to Dover. The damage done to
engines, rudder and propellers made manouvering to enter the inner harbour
difficult and Worcester collided with the ferry Maid of Orleans suffering further
damage which put an end to her part in the evacuation from Dunkirk. On securing Worcester
alongside Commander Allinson was heard to remark ‘Well, that finishes
me with this ship!’
made six trips to Dunkirk and brought back 4,350 troops, expended 266 rounds of 4.7” ammunition, 360
rounds pom-pom and over 10,000 rounds .303. The majority of the
dead and injured were army personnel, the ship’s crew lost 6 dead and
suffered 40 injured. After patching up Worcester went to
Tilbury for repairs
Conversations with Lofty Childs, Doug
Jordan and Harry Phillips concerning the Dunkirk evacuation.
Before the last trip Cdr. Allinson ordered the stores to be opened,
nutty (chocolate), cigarettes etc. were available on a help yourself
basis; as the opposition got worse on each trip they didn’t expect to
Lofty Childs - Mr.
Smillie (C. Eng,) was standing on the ladder leading from the engine
room, I picked up his cap which had been blown off and returned it to
him saying ‘ Here you are sir,’ only to find that shrapnel had taken
off the back of his head.
Harry Phillips – After the
fifth trip Cdr. Allinson considered enough was enough, Lt. Woods
pointed out that there were a hell of a lot of men still left there so
Cdr. Allinson changed his mind.
Doug Jordan – Once alongside
Dover we rigged secondary lighting to remove the dead and injured and
were then marched to Dover Castle for the night, we had beds but no
mattresses but we slept like logs. One A.B. fell asleep still
wearing his tin hat and ended up with a stiff neck in the morning.
Barny Barnett – On one of the
return trips we came across a small boat making its way back with a
load of soldiers, as we came up it was being machine gunned by German
planes so we joined in with our guns and drove them off. The boat
was called Sundowner, owned
and skippered by Mr. Lightoller who was one of the surviving officers
from the Titanic. Last
time I was in Ramsgate I was delighted to see Sundowner berthed in the harbour
Secretary of the V & W Destroyer Association and son of
Vic Green, Wireman in the Torpedo Branch, HMS Worcester
"Belt, Boots and Spurs" Jonathan Raban on his father’s flight to Dunkirk
Peter Raban was born in Worcestershire and joined the Royal
Artillery 67th Field Regiment, Territorial Army, in the summer of 1939.
"The war rescued my father, Peter
Raban, from his first job as a probationary teacher in the West
Midlands and restored him to his proper station as an officer and a
His son Jonathan described his father's "flight to Dunkirk" in the London Review of Books on the 15 October 2017. Most of his Regiment escaped from Dunkirk aboard HMS Worcester on 1 June but Second Lieutenant J.P.C.P. Raban RA (TA) got away on HMS Esk:
weather on 30 and 31 May had largely grounded the Luftwaffe, but 1 June
was a day of clear blue skies and an air raid had just started when the
truck arrived in the already bombed-out city. A Troop immediately took
shelter in a basement. The remainder of the regiment were already on
the beach, from where they would eventually be rescued by HMS Worcester.
My father and his troop were
extraordinarily lucky, at least in his own savagely abbreviated notes.
As soon as the Luftwaffe raid was over, they were ordered to move at
the double to a destroyer at the end of the narrow eastern breakwater
(or mole). HMS Esk was about to cast off to answer a mayday call from a requisitioned passenger ship, the Scotia,
which had been bombed in the raid and was sinking fast near No. 6 buoy
with around two thousand French soldiers aboard. Since the Esk had only just arrived in Dunkirk during the raid, A Troop may have been the first and last British soldiers to embark on her.
The Esk, after rescuing close to a thousand French troops from the Scotia, with HMS Worcester assisting (though she was badly bombed, and several soldiers on the Worcester’s
open deck were killed or injured), sailed, unmolested by the Luftwaffe,
to Dover, from where my father caught the train to Victoria Station."
HIs well researched and vividly told account is well worth reading in full.
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 first hand accounts were first published in Hard
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.
Memories of Dunkirk by an Engine Room
Harold Barnett E.R.A.
I joined Worcester in
Sheerness dockyard on 24 April 1940. She was at the end of a fairly
extensive refit. The Engineer Officer was Mr Smillie, commissioned
Warrant Officer, the C.E.R.A. was Sid Silkins, and the watch keeping
E.R.A's (Engine Room Artificers) were in order of seniority Ron
Brenton, Bill Peters, and George Angus I came bottom of the pile,
supernumerary 5th. Our skipper was commander Allinson.
I had a lot to learn, and was given a large book and a 'Pussers'
notebook and sent off to trace the source of oil and water, main and
auxiliary steam, pumping and flooding systems, identify valves, the
bits of the machinery and their valves in the engine room and boiler
room. Then after spending all day crawling through bilges and under
deck heads of the machinery spaces, I was told to find a quiet corner
in the mess to make fair sketches and write details of my days work.
This was presented to the Chief and the Engineer the next morning, who
both questioned me closely to make certain that I had learnt something,
before sending me off to clamber over or under something else. Hard men
to please, but looking back they were fair, and making sure that I had
learnt my trade thoroughly, and become a good member of, what was, in
the end, a good team.
The refit complete, we were soon at sea, what we were doing, or who we
belonged to I had no idea. I do remember going into Portsmouth and then
steaming over to Le Havre for some reason, then back to Portland.
May 27/28th we were steaming down the western end of the English
Channel when we increased speed, steaming East through the night, we
were off Dover early in the morning. And were ordered straight to
Dunkirk. We were berthed alongside another V&W who's
name I cannot recall at the extreme end of the Western Mole, we
immediately started to embark troops and, at the same time transfer oil
from our neighbour, it seems that we were running pretty low after our
fast run up the Channel. I seem to remember it was very noisy, but
troops continued to come aboard in an orderly fashion. How long it took
I know not, but we were back in Dover harbour with over 500 troops at
Time meant very little during the next five days, we were back and
forth, Dover - Dunkirk, picking up troops and survivors from ships that
had been hit along the beach or while they were at the mole. By the
morning of June 1st we had landed some 3,200 men at Dover. On our way
back over that day we came upon a motor cruiser which was being
attacked by three German fighter aircraft, they sheered off when we
joined in, leaving the cruiser to continue her way to Dunkirk. When we
arrived things were rather hectic, and I believe that all the
destroyers had been ordered to return to harbour that afternoon.
The skipper decided that it
didn't make sense to return without taking aboard as many as we could. We continued to Dunkirk harbour and pulled away with our precious human cargo wat about
We immediately came under attack from Stuka dive bombers, they were a
very determined lot, wave after wave came at us dropping over a hundred
bombs. Due to the brilliant way Commander Allison handled
the ship we received no direct hits. There were plenty of near misses
which sent huge columns of water over the ship and our sides and upper
works were riddled with splinters. By the time the attack eased off,
there were 46 dead and 180 wounded. Most were of course the lads
that we had picked up from the Mole. Unfortunately Mr Smillie was one
of the fatalities. He had been at the top of the engine room hatch the
whole time during the attack.
We were far from being out of trouble, for while we were taking
evasive action in the shallow waters off Dunkirk we must have hit the
bottom or some submerged object damaging our propellers. Quite how
badly we were damaged was not discovered until we dry docked later. While we were making our way to our berth at Dover Western
dock, the ship was not responding as she should and we collided with
the Channel steamer Maid of Orleans,
our bows striking her just forward of her bridge, her way ahead heeled
us over at an alarming angle, shooting some of the poor soldiers over
the side into the water. We remained at this perilous angle until our
engines, going astern had the desired effect and we became upright
again. We finally berthed at 2115 hrs and landed 947 troops, bringing
our total up to 3,350.
Thus ended my first six weeks in a sea going ship. We took the
ship to Gravesend for repair and then joined the 16th destroyer flotilla based at Harwich. We had a new
skipper, Lt Cmdr E.C.Coates, and our new Engineer was Commissioned
Warrant Officer Griffiths. A little aside about our collision
with the Maid of Orleans.
Some years ago, my son and his family moved
close to Dover where our two Grand daughters attended the village
school, there they became 'best friends' with two sisters of their own
age. One day my son was entertaining the parents and grandparents of
these two young girls in the garden, we two Grand Dads were in the
shade of the pear tree 'swinging the lamp' only to discover that Ernie
was an apprentice seaman aboard the 'Maid' when we ploughed into
We settled down to the drudgery of
the East Coast convoys and I continued to learn my trade and as a
result was promoted to fourth in January 1941. Chief and Mr Griffiths
seemed to think that I was beginning to 'catch on' which was confirmed
in March of that year. Having got my 'sums' right they must have
persuaded the base Engineer Commander that I was worth the risk, I was
given my engine room ticket in April 1941, so now, at last I was on the
watch bill. Ron Brenton left soon after that, so now we were back to
three watches, but at least I was no longer 'supernumerary'.
I have no clear memory of the next nineteen months after we left
Gravesend, except that we were alongside a repair ship in Scapa Flow
after a trip near Iceland. Christmas 1940 we were
hiding away in the Faroes with a tanker for a few days, why I cannot
remember (if I ever knew), part of some larger strategy I have no
doubt. Christmas 1941 found us sampling the delights of
Greenock, when the locals were only interested in the
fast approaching New Year. All this of course was interspersed
with the periodic five days boiler cleanings alongside at Harwich or in
dock at Chatham, and of course chasing the odd E-boat away from our
convoy, and picking up the pieces of the ones we missed.
Read Harold Barnett's vivid description of Worcester's gallant attempt to intercept the German cruisers on their "Channel Dash" through the Straits of Dover
A Pongo's story Gunner
Sitting at home one evening the
telephone rang and a voice said I've been waiting over 55 years to say
this "Thank you for saving my life" Blimey I thought, I'm a hero, but
whose life had I saved? He went on "You won't know me, but I was a
'Pongo'. You took me off the beaches at Dunkirk". Now, I was too young
to have been at Dunkirk, it was the crew of HMS Worcester he
wished to thank. He was replying to an advert that I placed for V&W
shipmates to contact me. This is his story:-
first time I saw HMS Worcester
was on the evening of the 30 May 1940 off the beach at La Panne. We had
been holding the line at Nieuport for two days as makeshift infantry
until relieved by the Royal Fusiliers. We were told to make our way to
La Panne where the Navy would pick us up. We got there in the early
hours of the morning. During the day an assortment of ships were
picking up troops, but we did not get lucky until HMS Worcester appeared.
They sent us out in small boats and
we had to board via a rope ladder, it was a job for me as I had been
wounded in my right arm and shoulder. Progress up that ladder was very
slow, when I got near the top a sailor looked over and said "Come on
mate, your holding the cinema queue up." Then he saw the reason and
leant over the side and grabbed my webbing braces and lifted me bodily
on to the deck. He then said to me "Walking wounded in the stern, you
can sit down there." I then asked him if that was the back end of the
boat. I cannot put in to print his comment.
We sailed at 2200 hrs but not
before a German bomber came over, it was pitch dark, but it was that
low we could see the outline of the plane. By this time there must have
been over 600 troops on board, but there was complete silence, until
one of the Oerlikons opened up. I believe it was the Captain who made
the comments which followed. In plain English it was "Why don't you
send him a postcard and tell him we are here." In actual fact I have
never heard so many swear words put in to one short sentence. I think
it must have even frightened the German because he did not come back.
I got talking to one of the gun
crew, an old sweat, and I got a quick history of the ship, including
the fact that she had won the destroyer trials in the 1930s. He was
very proud of her. I dropped off to sleep, when I awoke there was a
sailor swinging the lead and calling the depth up to the bridge. The
ship was first going forward and then astern, after repeating this
operation several times we then shot forward and picked up speed. I
asked the gunner what had happened. He told me that we had run aground
on a sand bank, I made a remark about bad driving, he then said "You
missed the fun." A German torpedo boat fired two torpedoes at us and in
taking evasive action we had run aground.
As dawn broke we were going at full
speed, my friend the gunner came along with a steaming mug which he
gave to me, it looked like cocoa, but it was thick and the spoon was
'standing to attention', and it smelt like rum, I think he called it
"Pussers Kye." Whatever it was it was a great drink.
We entered Dover at about 0730 on
the 31st May, as we went into the harbour every destroyer there sounded
their sirens, when they finished the Worcester replied. I was nineteen
years old at the time, but even now if I hear those sirens it sends a
shiver down my spine.
As I went down the gangway I looked
for my sailor pal, but none of the ships company were to be seen, so I
could not thank anybody for bringing me home - I did thank the
ship. I do know that the next day Worcester
was dive bombed and suffered a lot of casualties. Later when I read of
the German capital ships and the 'Channel Dash' I felt a great sense of
pride when I learnt that Worcester
had played a brave part in the action.
Just before the Normandy invasion
we had some nineteen year olds posted to the Regiment. One day one of
them said to me, "You were at Dunkirk, how did you get home?" I simply
said to him, "La Panne to Dover via Worcester".
I think that he is till trying to work that one out.
In closing this story I would like
to quote a drill sergeant I had when I first joined the army in 1938.
When the squad did not perform to his liking he would say, "When I look
at you lot, I say to myself, thank God we have got a Navy". I said
those words to myself in 1940. In defeat most of us have reached an all
time low, we felt let down by our own Generals, the French, the
Belgians and most of all the RAF (at that time). What we did not
question was the statement that the Navy will pick you up. I think that
the Worcester was one of the
finest ships ever to fly the White Ensign. (All of us who served in the
V&Ws feel the same about our own ship). I know I have
gone on a bit, but it has been in me for the past 57 years waiting to
R.H.Q 53rd Medium Reg't Royal Artillery.