East Coast Convoys

Much has been written about the Atlantic and Arctic convoys but few people have even heard of the East Coast convoys even though they were the subject of continuous action throughout the war.  Almost everything that the South East needed to keep going, particularly coal and oil for the power stations had to come down the North Sea, by 1939 London alone needed a minimum of 40,000 tons of coal each week, a quantity which road and rail could not deliver.  The First World War had shown the vulnerability of shipping along the East Coast route so even before the Second World War began merchant shipping was placed under Admiralty control which gave them the authority to enforce merchant ships to travel in convoy whether they liked it or not (usually they didn’t!).  Placing ships in convoy obviously meant that they needed escorts to protect them and bearing in mind that both the Norwegian campaign and Dunkirk evacuation had been expensive as far as losses of destroyers were concerned initially the few available escorts were thinly spread and worked intensively.  At any given time there were at least two convoys passing up and down the North Sea, the convoys were labelled FS (Forth South) and FN (Forth North) followed in each case by a number.  Numbers ran up to 100 and then started again at 1, this may not have confused the enemy but it certainly confused me during my researches.

The convoys  were subject to attack from all directions, from above by aircraft bombing and machine gunning, above the water from torpedoes and gunfire by E-Boats and below the water by mines of various types.  If these didn’t provide enough excitement there was always the danger of collision to fall back on bearing in mind that there were no navigational aids such as lighthouses, numerous wrecks and shoals, the notorious North Sea fog and a bit of bad weather thrown in for good measure.  The reports written by the escort’s commanding officers often show them to have closed up to a buoy to read its number so as establish just where they were, one destroyer is reputed to have approached Whitby pier in thick fog to ask for directions. This was the stage that Worcester entered in July 1940 having joined the 18th. Destroyer Flotilla based at Harwich following extensive repairs to damage received during the Dunkirk evacuation, she was welcomed by a bomb dropped near her while berthed.  The escorts were at sea continually, the normal practice was to work up to about 28 knots at dusk to be ready for the E-Boat attacks, unfortunately destroyers were not the ideal tool for the job, the main armament was too slow to train and follow a rapidly moving target while the single pompoms were usually of too close a range to be effective, many reports state that ‘at least we frightened him off’ but very few E-Boats were sunk or even damaged. 

My father was aboard Worcester at this time and well remembered one night in March 1941 when he counted at least 15 flashes of torpedoes being discharged, the Commanding Officer’s Report of Proceedings bears out his memory.
Vic Green
Secretary of the V & W Destroyer Association and son of
Vic Green, Wireman in the Torpedo Branch, HMS Worcester

Hard Lying

Conditions on V & W Class destroyers were so bad in rough weather that the men who served on them were paid
hard-lying money This brief annonymous account was first published in Hard Lying, 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.

One Man's story ...

After making my own way from HMS Victory I joined Worcester in the late afternoon of a day in June 1941 and was taken to see the temporary Officer Of the Day. I was assigned to a mess and left to my own devices until the bulk of the crew returned about five days later. When the full time 'Bosun' returned I was given various jobs and was delegated number three on 'A' gun a low loading 4.7 separate ammunition gun. I stayed with this job for over a year until I was transferred to the torpedo party awaiting a draft chit to a torpedo party school. The Leading Seaman in charge of 'A' gun had been a Petty Officer but had been reduced to L/S for having machine-gunned Japanese seamen. The crew was made up of about three R.N. Regulars and 23 Hostility Only (HO's) who, like me had been called up. We had at least four amateur boxers among them, so, we had to be careful who you quarrelled with or you would soon get a 'right ear full'.  

The First Lieutenant was a survivor of the
Thetis which had been lost in the Mersey and for some reason the Captain refused to speak to him, they used a signalman to pass notes from one to the other on the bridge! During my stay on the Worcester we took part in all sorts of operations, going round the British Isles more than once. On the afternoon of the 27 July 1941 we were sent out in a mad rush to the assistance of HMS Malcolm damaged during a bombing raid by Junkers 88's; another of the V&Ws, the Wren had been sunk in the same raid. We made fast alongside the Malcolm and towed her into Harwich.

We had a number of scrapes during the time I was aboard the Worcester yet we only had one casualty A.M Farlane who was hit by pieces of an Oerlikon shell fired from our own gun. I left Worcester in September 1941 to go to HMS Vernon at Portsmouth, in the following February she was involved in the 'Channel Dash' operation and was severely damaged. I still wonder sixty years on, what happened to 'A' gun's crew.

If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Worcester 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 Worcester you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Vic Green

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