Crest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationCrest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationHMS WRYNECK





HMS Wryneck
HMS Wryneck after her conversion at Gibraltar in March 1940 to a WAIR with twin high altitude 4 inch guns and assignment of a new Pennant Number L04
A year later on 28 April 1941  she was sunk evacuating troops from Greece with the loss of most of her crew
Courtesy Andrew Lyle



HMS Wryneck was built by Palmer's Shipbuilding and Iron Co Ltd at Jarrow on the Tyne. She wasa launched on 13 May 1918 and completed on the last day of the war 11 November 1918. She was given the Pennant Number D21 and took part in the Baltic war to defend the Baltic States from the Bolsheviks. Her sailors took part in the Royal Navy mutiny of 1919. Wryneck was part of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla in the Atlantic Fleet in 1921, which was transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet in 1925 as the 1st Destroyer Flotilla.

Wryneck was put into Reserve during the economic crisis of the 1930s and laid up in Gibraltar. In 1938 she was selected for conversion to a fast escort ship with dual purpose high altitude 4-inch guns for anti-aircrft defence, a
WAIR conversion - see the photograph below. The work at Gibraltar Dockyard began in September 1939 and was completed in March 1940. In April 1940 Wryneck was recommissioned for service with the new pennant number L04, and assigned to convoy defence duty based at Alexandria.

Italian forces invaded Greece through Albania in October 1940 but met with stiff resistance and Germany opened up a second front by invading throught Bulgaria and Greece was quickly overwhelmed. In March 1941 Wryneck was part of the escort of military convoys taking British and Commonwealth troops to Greece, Operation Lustre. In April, with the fall of Greece, Wryneck returned to help the evacuation of Allied troops.

Commanding Officers

Cdr Ralph V. Eyre (18 Sept. 1918 – 6 Aug 1920)
Cdr Alexander S. Douglas (6 Aug. 1920 – 17 August, 1922)
Cdr Philip G. Wodehouse (17 Aug. 1922 – 5 Jan. 1923)
Cdr William J. Whitworth (5 Jan. 1923 – 11 July 1924)
Cdr The Hon. George Fraser (30 July, 1924 – 21 Oct. 1925)
Cdr David B. Nicol (21 Oct. 1925 – 31 December, 1926)
Cdr Henry H. Bousfield (31 Dec.  1926 - 2 May 1928)
Cdr Philip J. Mack (9 April 1928 – 19 May 1930)
Cdr Edward C. Thornton (1 May 1930 – May, 1932)
Lt.Cdr. Robert Henry Douglas Lane, RN (26 Jul 1940 - 27 Apr 1941)
(killed when ship lost under his command)

Officers

Lt Robert Alexander RN (June 1929 - Jan 1932)
Lt John Wellington Hall RN (Jan 1925 - Feb 1927)
Gnr(T) Arthur Smith RN (Aug 1923 - March 1926)
Sub Lt Eric Henry Tilden RN (1926)
Lt Royston Hollis Wright RN (Dec 1931 - Sept 1932)


The sinking of the SS Slamat, HMS Diamond and HMS Wryneck

The most authorative and detailed account of the evacuation of the troops from Greece was published in Supplement 38293 to The London Gazette on Tuesday 18 May 1948. It contains the official accounts of the senior officers responsible for directing the operation to take allied troops to Greece (Operation Lustre) and Operation Demon to evacuate them after the fall of Greece to German forces, It has been saved as a PDF so that it can be read online on this website. Although a great tragedy the loss of HMS Wryneck was only a small part of this operation which successfully evacuated 50,000 troops.

SS Slamat after conversion to troop carrier in WW2The SS Slamat was a twin-prop ship of 11,636 tons of the Rotterdamsche Lloyd (RL). The vessel was launched in 1924 by shipyard De Schelde in Flushing carrying passengers between Rotterdam and the Dutch Dutch East Indies. In order to compete with faster newer ships Slamat was modernized in 1931. Her length was increased to 155.5 meters  by altering the bow which enabled the De Schelde steam turbines to increase the ship's speed from 15 to 17 knots. The Slamat was in Batavia, capital of the Dutch East Indies, when Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940. She was chartered by the British Ministry of War Transport and converted into a troop-ship (on left) in Sydney, Australia. She was mainly deployed in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean  carrying  British Empire troops  to Egypt until the Italian invasion of Greece in October 1940.

The sinking of the SS Slamat is described as "the greatest disaster in Dutch Merchant Navy History" on the website of the Museum of her shipowner
Rotterdamsche Lloyd (RL). The part played by the Dutch Liner Slamat in the evacuation and the rescue of survivors from the Slamat by Wryneck and Diamond and the sinking of all three ships is described below.

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John R Batt MPKJohn Reginald Batt CM/X 53459
Leading Supply Assistant

John Batt was was born on the 16th May 1918 in Sandgate Kent to Walter Leonard Batt and Emily Elizabeth Batt.

He came from a naval family and was educated at the Royal Hospital School which was founded at Greenwich in 1712 to provide an education for children from a naval background. It occupied the present buildings of the National Maritime Museum until 1933 when it moved to the village of Holbrook in Suffolk on the bank of the River Stour near HMS Ganges, the boys training school on the Shotley peninsula.

The photograph of him posing in front of one of the 4-inch HA / DP main guns in Wryneck was provided by his great nephew, Andrew Lyle, in Australia. Andrew is building a scale model of HMS Wryneck as a memorial to his uncle and all the men who died when she sunk on 27 April 1941.

John Batt joined the Navy before the war, was not married and left no children when he died. Only 27 crew members survived the sinking of HMS Wryneck. His body was not recovered and he appears on official lists as MPK (Missing Presumed Killed).

The names and fates of all the men in Wryneck when she sunk are recorded on the list of crew members compiled by Ian McLeod from official records in The National Archives, Kew, and can be see on the linked page.

In the afternoon of 26 April, 1941, Slamat, HMS Glenearn and Khedive Ismail of 7,290 ton (under Egyptian flag) escorted by the cruiser HMS Calcutta and five destroyers were directed from Crete to evacuate the troops from Nauplia in the in the Peloponnese. The Glenearn, an LSI (Landing Ship Infantry), was bombed and a bomb hit the engine room stopping the LSI dead in the water. The destroyer HMS Griffin was ordered to tow the landing ship back to Crete. The loss of the Glenearn was a bitter set back;  their landing craft would have madeb the evacuation of the troops much easier.

In the evening the ships dropped anchor in the bay at Nauplia. The harbour was still blocked by the wreck of the Ulster Prince and since the landing craft of the Glenearn were not available the troops could only be ferried to the ships in the life-boats of the ships themselves and some small loocal boats. The cruisers HMS Orion and HMS Perth and the destroyer HMS Stuart which had replaced HMS Glenearn, took the first 2,500 troops aboard. By 03.00 the Khedive Ismail had taken aboard no troops at all and Slamat only a few hundred, when HMS Calcutta signalled that departure was due. Captain T. Luidinga of the Slamat knew that hundreds of evacuees remained on shore and against orders he continued to embark troops. HMS Calcutta and the Egyptian ship only departed at 04:00 and Slamat at 04:15. In spite of the decision by captain Luidinga to board more troops there were only 600 troops onboard, only half of her capacity.

After a few hours they were attacked in the Sea of Pelagos by nine German Ju 88 bombers and the Slamat (on left) received a direct hit between the bridge and the foremost chimney which caused a fierce blaze. The crew tried to control the fire but this was made more difficult by heavy machine gun strafing by Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter airplanes and Ju 87 (Stuka) bombers. The ship received another near-miss and started to list. Captain Luidinga ordered abandon-ship. The life boats and rafts which had been left were inadequate and two overcrowded life-boats capsized. To make things worse the drowning troops were machine gunned in the water by the German planes while the other ships maintained heading and speed. HMS Calcutta took a few survivors aboard and ordered the destroyer HMS Diamond to stay and rescue as many survivors as possible.

HMS Wryneck and two V & W destroyers in the Australian Navy, HMAS Vendetta, HMAS Waterhen, were ordered from Souda Bay in Crete to reinforce the escort for the Convoy. HMS Wryneck was ordered to assist HMS Diamond in rescuing survivors from the Slamat. After rescuing as many men as possible HMS Wryneck fired a torpedo at the Slamat which sank her within minutes. HMS Diamond already had about 600 victims onboard and HMS Wryneck another few dozen and at 13:00 headed for Crete. A quarter of an hour later both ships were attacked by Ju87 dive bombers coming out of the sun. HMS Diamond received two hits and sank within eight minutes. HMS Wryneck received three hits, capsized on her port side and sank within fifteen minutes. The crew of the Wryneck had been able to lower a single life-boat and both destroyers had launched their three Carley rafts. The capacity of these was far short of what was needed and hundreds drowned, especially those wounded.

This is an extract from p3053 of the Supplement to the London Gazette referred to above.

Loss of Diamond and Wryneck

When it was realised that Diamond had not arrived with Phoebe and other destroyers I became anscious about her. From 1922 to 1955 Diamond had been called without reply. As Diamond had last been heard of with Wryneck during the forenoon, Phoebe and Calcutta were asked whether Wryneck hd been seen going away with GA.14 since I did not wish to ask Wryneck herself to break to break W./T silence. Their replies at 2235 and 2245 gave no definite indication. I therefor despatched Griffin to the position of the sinking of the Slamat to investigate. At 0230 Griffin rerported that she had come upon a raft from Wryneck and everything pointed to the fact that both Wryneck and Diamond were sunk. HMS Griffin picked up about 50 survivors. Wryneck's whaler was reported to have made towards Cape Malea. This eventually arrived at Suda. The total  naval survivors from the two ships comprised one officer and 41 ratings. There were, in addition, about 8 soldiers. From statements of the survivors, it appears tht the two ships were bombed at about 1315 both receiving hits which caused them to sink almost immediately.

In the evening of 27 April the destroyer HMS Griffin was sent out to establish why HMS Diamond and HMS Wryneck had failed to return. Griffin found two rafts at the spot where Slamat had sunk. Fourteen survivors were picked up and next morning another four, who were taken to Crete. The life-boat of HMS Wryneck reached a little rocky island thirteen miles south east of Milos on the 28th of April. Here they found a Greek fishing boat full up with Greek and British refugees from Piraeus. That evening the fishing boat and the life-boat sailed for Crete and were spotted during the night by a landing craft on its way with refugees from Port Raphtis. All the evacuees were taken aboard the landing craft and arrived safely at Crete.


The Sinking of HMS Diamond and HMS Wryneck - on 27th April 1941
A survivor's story by AB Edward Gray D/SSX 32903

with thanks to Gary Clarke and naval-history.net

On the 7 February 2011, Gary Clarke wrote to Gordon Smith of Naval-History.net:

"We have recently found in a relatives possessions a 7 page hand written letter with detailed drawn map (but see below) from a sailor on HMS Wryneck detailing how they  were ordered to assist picking up of survivors from a sinking ship, states how on arrival HMS Diamond was already there,  and describes how after picking up survivors they were attacked by Junkers 87 dive-bombers. He describes jumping overboard , the sinking of both destroyers, and how he was picked up and survived but never wanted to go to sea again."

This letter was written by AB Edward Gray D/SSX 32903, one of seven brothers (but the only one who was a sailor), to his niece, the sister of Garry Clarke's wife. Eddie Gray was one of the survivors whose name is on the list of men who served in HMS Wryneck. You can read the original letter as a PDF or Gary's transcription below:
                                
Letter from AB Eddie Gray to his niece describing the loss of HMS Wryneck"At dawn on the 27th of April HMS Wryneck was ordered to sea, and assist in escorting a convoy which was between Greece & Crete. When we were about 2 hours steaming from Crete we sighted the convoy which we were looking for. In the convoy there were the Merchant ship of considerable size, escorted by 3 destroyers & HM Cruiser. We were then told that one of the convoy had already been dive-bombed & hit. We were then at action station, where we had been for the last to days, without any real kind of dinner, but we were even more alert now, that we had heard there were dive bombers in the vicinity. However left the convoy & proceeded to where the badly damaged Ship, was forever dive bombed. We arrived at the scene to find H.M.S Diamond already picking up survivors who were machine-gunned & torn to shreds in the water.

However, we picked up as many as we could, and then a few of them were already half dead. When we finally satisfied ourselves that there was nothing more to be done, we made up our minds to return to Crete. That was about 12.15, so we put ourselves or rather took up our positions. Diamond then flashed that they were going to torpedo the already badly blazing ship. The Diamond fired one only which hit right amid-ships. We saw the vessel give a great lurch and then begin to sink very quickly. During these operation Dive-Bombers never came near us. Then when they began to think they were saved & all was well, out of nowhere came those Junkers 87, those terrifying dive bombers, with something like vengeance, which they quickly got. All we knew was when we heard the whining of the machine & the machine guns & a second later bombs.

I never experienced as much in all the war as I did those next five minutes. One bomb landed on the forward gun & wiped out nearly everyone out, then one landed on the after gun but lucky only one was hurt, the other one or two were near misses, but they did all the damage. After the Nazis thought they had done a good job which they nearly had, they never bothered us again, which was to my relief. I didn’t fancy having a machine gun bullet in me. However the ship now had a great list to port & was sinking rapidly. My Pal who I owe my life to found me forward in the (galley flat) and these were the words he spoke to me quite calmly. They got us, Dolly.  Dolly was my nick name in case you want to know. We went out on the Upper Deck together, & he said to me,  Have you got a life belt,

I said no, I didn’t need one, but he gave me one as he had two and we did a bit of work together, we untied a Carley Raft & threw it over the side, however the ship was going about 20 knots & we could not hold on to it, that we made our objective. We travelled a bit further on, I should say a few seconds, because all this happened within six minutes. I look over to have a look at the Diamond but it had already gone down. When we finally decided to jump over, me & my pal, we gripped one oar each, before we went. Believe me they came in handy. We made to get clear of the oil-fuel which was now spreading on the water, and then for the rafts which we could not see. When we had swam a couple of miles together, we noticed that someone else had got the whaler free so we made for this, eventually I think we swam about 3 miles before we caught up with the whaler, which we then noticed had collected two rafts, We got to one of these rafts and clambered inboard.

The time would then be about 2.15 - 2.30. We kept good hearts and I joked with a few of my favourite comrades who were in the whaler. I cannot tell you every little detail, but I’m writing this down to give an idea what I thought was a terrible ordeal.

It came to dusk & I think we had picked only two more survivors up, then a rough sea sprang up, as I have already told before we were on a raft. However it began to get rougher & rougher every minute. The whaler who was towing us suddenly decided to cut us adrift. We never thought such a thing could happen among English sailors or more so one that you share the same ship & eat with. However when we found to our misfortune that we were actually adrift, we almost gave up. Time wore on hour after hour went by till we thought that we would never be picked up when suddenly about half past three in the morning we sighted a ship but not before they had sighted us, it was a destroyer, one of those dark grey shapes. We realised but it took quite a bit to do so that it was making straight toward us, at least that what we thought, but thank goodness we were wrong. I’ll never forget that night of terror.

The destroyer finally came along-side us with great skill, and we were pulled up the side of the ship, our legs were numb & we could hardly use them, but we were full of smiles. We were treated splendidly aboard HMS Griffin which was the name of the destroyer. I was only interested about getting something to eat.  I didn’t. We got something to drink which did us the world of good. When we arrived at Crete the same morning I was relieved & never wanted to go to sea again. But I'll never forget the splendid behaviour of my ship company."

Survivors in Wryneck's whaler reached Crete in three stages. On 28 April they aimed for the island of Milos in the Aegean Sea, but were too exhausted so they landed at Ananes Rock, about 13 nautical miles (24 km) southeast of Milos. There they met a ca´que full of Greek refugees and British soldiers evacuated from Piraeus, who were sheltering by day and sailing only by night to avoid detection. In the evening everyone left Ananes and headed south for Crete, with most people in the ca´que and five being towed in the whaler. On 29 April the ca´que sighted a small landing craft that had left Porto Rafti near Athens. She took aboard everyone from the ca´que and whaler, and the next day they reached Souda Bay.

George Dexter's Story

George Dexter still shakes his head in disbelief when he remembers the day he survived TWO ship sinkings by the German Luftwaffe. George, who is 96, is the only known living survivor of the Luftwaffe’s attack on evacuating Allied ships SS Slamat and HS Diamond, on April 27 1941, in the Greek Mediterranean during the Second World War. He was one of just eight soldiers, one naval officer and 41 seamen to survive the disaster. The other 843 men perished in the attacks.

George was a soldier serving with the 308 Company of the Royal Army Service Corps and was placed on the evacuating Dutch ship SS Slamat. George, who was 25 at the time, recalls he was asleep on top deck when he was awoken by a huge explosion. He looked out of his sleeping quarters to see carnage with the deck strewn in ship debris and bodies.  He said:

“It was a scene of total carnage and devastation. The deck of the ship and the water surrounding was covered in debris. I managed to find a rope and abseiled down the ship where I dived into the water. I don’t know if it was bomb shock or just his sense of humour but in the middle of all this death and destruction a sailor was clinging to the top of a floating barrel merrily singing ‘roll out the barrel.’ It was quite a surreal moment.”

George then swam out away from the burning, sinking ship and managed to find a small floating boat which he climbed into. He thought his nightmare had come to the an end when he was picked up by the ship HMS Wryneck which had come to rescue survivors. George, who worked as a mechanic all his life, said: “I was so relieved to be rescued and get back on board. I was shown to the mess where there were other soldiers and navy servicemen. I closed my eyes to get some sleep.”

George Dexter aged 97 This is when George heard another terrific explosion for the second time in the night. The HMS Wryneck had now been hit.

"I opened my eyes and saw utter carnage. There were bodies everywhere. I realised I was the only guy in the mess moving. The ship started to list heavily to one side and started to sink. I knew I had to get out as quickly as possible.”

George, who is now a widower following the death of his wife Audrey 14 years ago, found himself in the water again for a second time. He managed to scramble on board another small boat with three other servicemen.

“I could see the Wryneck steaming away in the distance on fire and sinking and HMS Diamond bobbing like a cork in the distance then sinking below the waves. It is a moment ingrained in my memory.”

The men were eventually picked up by another ship called HMS Orion and taken to Crete. George went on to serve in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Palestine, Beirut and Syria – but he never forgot the men who perished at sea that day. In his later years he even commissioned a memorial at Shard End British Legion Club.

He added: “It has been 72 years but the memories of that day are as clear as they were on that day. I will never forget the men who lost their lives. I still don’t know how I survived but I am just so grateful I was given another chance in life. Hundreds of other brave men who died that day weren’t so lucky.”

George Dexter was 97 when he died at Birmingham in 2014


Almost one thousand men perished when the Slamat, HMS Diamond and HMS Wryneck were sunk on 27 April 1941
Only eight of the 600 men being evacuated by the Slamat survived plus  eleven of the 214 crew and 21 Australian and New-Zealander artillery men.
Of the 166 crew of HMS Diamond 20 were saved and of the 155 crew of HMS Wryneck 27 survived.

Click on the link for a complete list of men known to have been aboard HMS Wryneck when she sunk with their fates where known




HMS Wryneck between the Wars
HMS WRyneck between the wars

Hms Walrus and Why Wryneck in Drydock at Mlta on Christmas Day
  HMS Walrus (D24) and HMS Wryneck (D21) were photographed on Christmas Day in the Drydock at Valletta in the 1930s
Courtesy of John Lawton


If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Wryneck you should first obtain a copy of their service record
To find out how follow this link: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/servicerecords.html


If you have stories or photographs of HMS Wryneck you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Bill Forster



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