Wednesday 12 July 2017

HMS Thanet

HMS Thanet was ordered in 1917 from the Tyneside ship builders Hawthorn Leslie, a company established  in 1866 by the amalgamation of A. Leslie & Co. (shipbuilders) at Hebburn-on-Tyne and R & W Hawthorn (locomotive manufacturers) at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She was one of 67  S-class destroyers ordered for the Royal Navy during WW1. Her keel was laid down in December 1917. She was completed and launched on 5 November 1918,  just a week before the First World War  ended. She completed her sea trials and was commissioned in August 1919.

HMS Thanet
Thanet displaced 1,075 tons and had a top speed of 36 knots. She was equipped with three quick firing (QF) 4-inch guns, one forward, one amidships (between the funnels) and one astern. In addition she had a pom-pom gun for AA defence, and two sets of twin torpedoes tubes. She had a normal complement of around ninety-six men and six officers. Her pennant number was H29, and her motto in hoc signo vinces, translated from the Latin as in this sign thou shalt conquer. After commissioning, Thanet was used for trials of aircraft platforms on warships, presumably with the platform extended over her lengthy stern section. In December 1919, she visited the Isle of Thanet in North East Kent. A British Pathé film clip records the officers and men visiting Ramsgate, at which time time, the civic authorities of Thanet, and the three main towns of Margate, Ramsgate, and presumably Broadstairs, presented the ship with silverware to mark the occasion. 
   After the carnage of the First World War, the League of Nations had been established with the object  of ensuring peace through a combination of dispute resolution, disarmament, and arms control. People believed that the Great War had been the war to end all wars. Troops were de-mobilised, and ships were de-commissioned. HMS Thanet was a brand new warship, but the war was over and she was surplus to needs, and in 1921, Thanet was mothballed and placed in the reserve fleet. I have not been able to find out  how long she spent in the reserve fleet, but in 1939 she was dispatched to the Far East where she joined the small RN force based in Hong Kong. She was commanded by Lt-Cdr John Mowlam from February 1939 until April 1941, at which time Lt-Cdr Bernard Davies took command of the Hong Kong-based destroyer. 

  Jaunty caps, well turned out, good drill - the ship's company of HMS Thanet at the march-past in pre-war Hong Kong
At the time the Pacific War started there were three S-class destroyers stationed in Hong Kong. These were HMS Thanet,  HMS Scout and HMS Thracian. There were eight MTBs and four river gunboats. The largest gunboats were HMS Cicala and HMS Moth, which were surprisingly well armed with two 6-inch guns, one 3-inch high angle (HA) gun, and a pom-pom gun. There were a variety of boom defence vessels, and the minelayer HMS Redstart, which was used for laying contact mines, remote controlled mines and indicator loops. There were a number of converted launches and tugs, described as auxiliary patrol vessels (APVs) and manned by the HKRNVR. They were used for conducting minefield patrols, minesweeping and war patrols. The APVs were slow and lightly armed and once war started they were of little use militarily.
   The main naval and military presence in the Far East was in Singapore. Hong Kong was seen as an isolated outpost and a strategic liability. Churchill knew it could not be defended. It was too close to Japanese aircraft bases in Formosa and Southern China, and the Japanese had several divisions across the border in southern China. This explains the weakness of the Royal Navy and RAF in Hong Kong in the lead up to war. On the day war started, 8 December, 1941, Thracian, which had been converted into a minelayer role by clearing its rear gun and adding minelaying racks to its stern-quarters, was laying mines in Port Shelter guarded by Thanet. HMS Scout was in dry-dock at Tai Koo  having its bottom plates cleaned. HMS Moth and HMAPV Margaret were in dry-dock at the RN dockyard. These two vessels never got out of dock, and were later scuttled in the flooded dock, and played no part in the battle.
   In the event of war breaking out, there was a standing plan that Thanet and Scout would sail to Singapore and join Force Z, which had arrived in Singapore on 2 December 1941, and consisted of  the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse together with their escort destroyers. This plan had been agreed with the US naval authorities and included a commitment in return for some US warships to be sent to Singapore.
   After nightfall on Monday 8 December Scout and Thanet sailed through the gates of the anti-submarine  boom at Lye Mun. Since Lt-Cdr  Davies on Thanet was more senior than Lt-Cdr Lambton on Scout,  Thanet took the lead as senior ship. While on passage to Manila they spent some time looking for SS Ulysses which had left Hong Kong on Sunday with passengers bound first for Manila and Singapore. Ulysses had sent a distress signal after being bombed and strafed by Japanese aircraft on Monday. She was undamaged and changed course for Singapore. She arrived safely in Singapore, but was sunk by a U-boat off the Carolinas while on passage to UK.

SS Ulysses - the story of a

After docking in Manila the destroyer crews learnt that Prince of Wales and Repulse had been sunk by Japanese aircraft. The task force had been sent up the east coast of Malaya to intercept Japanese landings but lacked air cover. The new aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable should have been part of Force Z, but was being repaired following damage caused by a grounding whilst in the Caribbean Sea. The two destroyers then proceeded to Batavia, now known as Jakarta, and thence to Singapore arriving on 13 December.
   The two destroyers were involved initially in escort work around the Straits of Singapore. On Christmas Day Thanet was sent out on an SOS mission to pick up the crew of a Catalina flying boat that had been shot down by Japanese AA fire. The crew were picked up by a Dutch submarine before Thanet arrived. On 26 January 1942, a Japanese troop convoy was reported approaching Endau, on the southeast coast of Malaya, north of the town of Mersing, and by leap-frogging down the coast by use of troop landings, the Japanese Army were outflanking the British and getting closer to Singapore.

Map showing location of Endau relative to Singapore
The Japanese vessels and their destroyer escorts were attacked first by nine RAF Lockheed Hudson bombers and twelve Vickers Vildebeests. The Vildebeests were obsolete torpedo bombers with a maximum speed of not much more than 100 mph. The attack was not successful and five of the outdated Vildebeests were shot down. 
Lockheed Hudson 

Later that day, on 26 January, HMS Thanet and HMAS Vampire were ordered to sail from Singapore to intercept the Japanese convoy at Endau some eighty miles north of Singapore.  In the early hours of 27 January they sighted a Japanese warship, thought to be a destroyer, and Vampire fired at her with torpedoes, which missed the target. The Japanese vessel turned out to be a minesweeper and the torpedoes probably passed underneath her shallow hull. A short while later they sighted the  Japanese destroyer IJN Shirayuki, and Vampire fired two more torpedoes which also missed their target. Thanet then launched her four torpedoes, which also missed. The two Allied destroyers then engaged the Japanese vessels with their 4-inch QF guns. Shirayuki was joined by the Japanese cruiser Sendai. Outgunned and outnumbered, the two Allied destroyers started to withdraw towards the southeast. At 0400 hours Thanet was hit in the engine room, lost propulsion and was brought to a stop. Vampire commenced laying a protective smokescreen, but it was too late, Thanet was immobilised and was already sinking. The Japanese destroyers, Fubuki, Hatsuyuki, Asagiri, Amagiri, and Yugiri closed in for the kill. Thanet sunk within fifteen minutes of being hit. Vampire was undamaged, but facing a strong Japanese naval force, had no opportunity to assist Thanet, and accordingly, she disengaged and sailed back to Singapore.
   After the order was given to abandon ship,  there was enough time for most of Thanet's  crew to get off the ship and into the water. Many were able to get aboard the Carley floats, others hanging on to floating debris, they started paddling, and pushing their rafts towards the East Malayan coast. Reports suggest that the Shirayuki picked up thirty-one of Thanet's crew members. They were landed at Endau and handed over to the Japanese Army. None of these men were seen again and it is assumed they were all executed by the Japanese possibly as an act of retaliation for Japanese losses in an ambush carried out by Australian troops. One of the Thanet officers, Sub-Lt R.H. Danger, the ship's Torpedo Officer, remained on Shirayuki, it is not clear why; perhaps he was wounded, perhaps they wanted to interrogate him as to presence of minefields. He was later interned in Indochina, and he survived the war.
   The web site for Force-Z survivors (, details some one hundred and thirteen crew members, including some Chinese stewards and cooks, and identifies those that were killed in action on 27 January 1941. There are thirty-seven Thanet crew listed as killed and their details are also shown in Commonwealth War Graves Commissions records. Thirty of those thirty-seven listed as killed on 27 January must have been in the group picked up by Shirayuki and the remaining seven may have perished when the ship sank, or they may have failed to make it ashore and drowned,  or, they may have died whilst trying to make their way south to Singapore.
   Some seventy-six members of the crew survived the sinking, and made it to the shore including the commanding officer. A large number, reports suggest more than fifty, of the crew made it back to Singapore ahead of the surrender of Singapore on 15 February 1942. Five crew members are listed as having died in POW Camps. Some of the POWs may have been caught in Singapore at the surrender, some may have been captured in Malaya whilst trying to escape south to Singapore.
   When the survivors reached the shore they became widely dispersed. Few of them had any footwear or much clothing. They all headed southwards determined to get back to Singapore more than eighty miles away. Some went along the jungle shore following the coast. Some found boats. Some went along roads through the jungle towards Johore. The survivors ran into various RAF aircrew who had been shot down, and who were also heading south for the relative safety of Singapore with the Japanese relentlessly advancing behind them. Sgt Charles MacDonald had been shot down in his Vildebeest, most likely in the attack on the same group of Japanese landing ships and destroyers at Endau. He recalled coming across a number of Thanet survivors. They joined up and made their way through the jungle to Singapore. Sgt Harry Lockwood had been shot down in a Fairy Albacore. He met up with six Thanet survivors who were heading for Singapore. Two RAF officers who had ditched their aircraft north of Mersing, found a boat which they used to cross the Mersing River. They then ran into a group of Thanet survivors. They joined up, and used the boat to go south, rowing at night and sleeping ashore during the day. They were eventually picked up by a coaster and taken to Singapore. In another incident, RAF pilot John Fleming had ditched in the sea. He swam ashore and started heading south. He swam the Mersing River and after continuing southwards came across a large group of Thanet survivors, some of which he recalled had been badly injured. They found a whaler and used the boat to sail down the coast. At one point they were hailed by another group of Thanet survivors who were with two aircrew from a shot-down Vildebeest. They were taken onboard the whaler and the escapees continued down the coast eventually reaching Singapore.
   Between fifty and sixty survivors trickled back to Singapore all having made incredible escapes, some by land and some by sea. The Naval Historical Society of Australia web site states that some of the survivors were allocated to HMS Stronghold and HMS Sultan. The former was another S-class destroyer which was sank in March 1942, the latter was the RN shore base in Singapore. Other sources state that a number of Thanet survivors together with other Force Z survivors got away on HMS Endeavour which was reportedly one of the last evacuation ships to get away from Singapore before the surrender.

The gallant Thanet (Naval Historical Society of Australia)
It has been difficult putting this story together, particularly as it relates to the escape to Singapore and the fate of the survivors. As usual I would appreciate any comments, corrections or additional information that I can include in this post. As for the gallant Thanet, she still rests in that watery grave off the east coast of Malaysia. Recreational divers have reported diving on Thanet, lying at a depth of some 20 metres, and stating that she was immediately recognisable, although broken in two, by her three sets of single barrelled 4-inch guns, which still stand, and still seem to whisper by this sign I will conquer. 


Ship's Company Details:

Danger, Richard Henry
He was born I'm Lynton, Devon on 5 April 1918.  He was a Merchant Navy Officer and a member of RNR. He enlisted in 1936. On Thanet he acted as Torpedo officer. He was held on board the Japanese destroyer Shirayuki. Thereafter he was incarcerated in POW camps in French Indochina and in Singapore and Thailand. He married Alexandra De Veer in Jan 1949. He died in London in December 1997.

Flint, Francis Murray
Andrew Glynn kindly sent me a wartime press cutting from the Daily Telegraph (date not confirmed) regarding Lt Francis Flint, RNVR. He had managed to get evacuated from Singapore after he and a petty officer and 17 ratings managed to sail and row a raft down the coast. They received food and water from a village.  Flint mentions AB Barber as being in their group. They were given five canoes. At one point they were  guided to a British Army camp but when they got their they found it had been evacuated. They returned to the canoes. They joined up with another canoe in which was the Yeoman of Signals, the ship's cook and a stoker all from Thanet. They then got hold of a sampan and paddled to a fishing village  where they were given a mast and sail and finally reached Singapore. Lt Flint was the son of an artist Russell Flint. Francis Flint had artistic ability and in 1943 (after return to the UK) he painted a water colour depicting the loss of Thanet. This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Johnston, William (1916-2007) SSX 25688
He joined the Royal Navy 25 May 1938. He served in RN shore establishment at Chatham HMS Pembroke (1938/1939). He sailed to Hong Kong on the County Class heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall (15/3/39-25/5/39). He dived into the water following the order to abandon ship and was picked up by one of the Carley floats and reached the shore. When they got ashore they found a small boat. They were later were picked up by a whaler (ship's boat) and sailed to Singapore. He was evacuated from Singapore on board HMAS Hobart and taken to Batavia (Jakarta) from where he sailed on the troopship HMT Dunera to Colombo, Ceylon. On return to UK he joined the submarine service, serving on submarines including HMS Scorcher and HMS Unruly. He was promoted to Petty Officer. After the war he served in the Merchant Navy. He never forgot his time on Thanet, the battle at Emdau and the escape to Singapore. He passed away in 2007 aged 91. He left four daughters one of whom, Lorrain Johnston, has kindly provided me with information about her father's war time experiences.

Mowlem, John 
Commanding officer from 1939 until April 1941. John Mowlem's son contacted me and advised that his father is shown in the photograph as the officer leading the march-past by the ship's company (see above).  He thinks the occasion was the King's Birthday Parade. 

Rix, Leslie Herbert Samuel (1918-1942) C/SSX 17513
Leslie Rix was born 21 June 1918 in Sparham, Aylsham, Norfolk. His mother was Winifred May Charlotte Rayner. His step father was Clifford Ernest Rayner. Leslie Rix died aged 23 following the sinking of HMS Thanet  in January 1942. He gave an address at Abbey Lodge, Thetford, Norfolk. He left his assets to his mother Winifred Rayner. He was survived by two bothers Jack Levi Rayner, who served in the Royal Artillery in India and Burma, and Allen Albert Rayner who served in the Green Howard's Yorkshire Regiment. They had exaggerated their age in order to enlist and serve. 

L/S Leslie Rix (Courtesy Sam Rayner)

Trevett, Alexander (Alec) Y
Alexander Trevett joined the Royal Navy in November 1930 aged fifteen. He was serving in Hong Kong before the war (1938/39) with the gunboats before transferring to HMS Thanet. He survived the sinking and made it to shore in the ship's skiff with several other crew members. He made it down the coast (80 miles) to Singapore and was evacuated on one of the last ships to leave Singapore. He continued to serve in the RN throughout the remainder of WW2. After the war he joined the Royal New Zealand Navy.

A/B Alexander Trevett (Courtesy Keith Trevett)

Last Name First Names Rank Date of Death Commentary
Armstrong Thomas James A/B KIA 27/1/1942 KIA Battle of Endau
Bailey Horace Norman Warrant Officer Survived survived
Barber G.S. A/B survived
Barron Albert L/S 27/1/1942 KIA
Bates C. A/B survived
Bicknell Allen survived
Bonner Henry Walter Albert A/B Died as POW 31/1/1942 Died in POW Camp 
Bowen Raymond A/B 27/1/1942 KIA
Brady Ernest Jones A/B 27/1/1942 KIA
Brainbridge J.G.  A/B survived
Brett V. PO Sto. survived
Britt Noel A/B POW - Survived
Brown ABF PO Sto. survived
Calder Alexander Andrew A/B survived
Cannon A. A/B survived
Cawkwell Frank Richard A/B 27/1/1942 KIA
Cheshire Joseph A/B survived
Combden Edward A/B survived
Connor J.C. PO Sto. survived
Cornwell Edward A/B 27/1/1942 KIA
Craig P.L. L/S survived
Crawford Stanley. A/B survived
Currie Sidney James PO 27/1/1942 KIA
Danger Richard Henley Sub- Lt POW - Survived Reportedly was picked up by IJN Shirayuki and remained on board when others were taken off and was held in POW Camp in Dutch East Indies and survived internment. 
Davey Patrick Vere Mollan Sub- Lt survived
Davies Bernard Sydney  Lt-Cdr survived Commanding Officer
Dean Cecil Rowland Delamotte O/S 27/1/1942 KIA
Dickens George ERA survived Elsewhere shown as Lt (E)
Durman Frederick PO Sto. 27/1/1942 KIA
East T. O/S survived
English Robert James PO Stwd 27/1/1942 KIA
Fearn Sydney PO survived
Flint Francis Murray Russell Lt survived
Flux E.B. CERA survived
Foale William  O/S survived
Frost Herbert Leonard O/S 27/1/1942 KIA
Fry James Ronald A/B 15/1/1941 Died in POW Camp
Fryatt John Alfred William PO Tel. 27/1/1942 KIA
Fung Hing Cook survived Chinese crew
Gallacher David Anderson A/B 27/1/1942 KIA
Gammond A.S. A/B survived
Gibson W.A. L/S survived
Gilbert James Edwin O/S 27/1/1942 KIA
Gilmour W. Tel. survived
Glyde Robert L/S 27/1/1942 KIA
Grant W.L. l/Tel survived
Greenwood W Cook survived
Harling George Frederick PO survived
Hearsum Edward John O/S 27/1/1942 KIA
Higby Phillip Ralph CERA 27/1/1942 KIA
Hucklin L. A/B survived
Hull A.W. L/S survived
Hutchison George Moir Dorian Lt. Cdr survived
Ings William George Rowland Yeoman of Signals survived
Jarvis C. O/S survived
Joel J.E. A/B survived
Johnston William A/B survived
Jackson Ronald Ernest O/S 27/1/1942 KIA
Jones George Arthur Lt 27/1/1942 KIA
Jones R.C.  O/S survived
Kee ? Sto. survived Chinese 
Kenny Lionel Desmond Bryan Lt survived
Keys Raymond Gorddon L/Stwd 27/1/1942 KIA
Kirby F. O/S survived
Lamb B. O/Tel survived
Lysaught Edward St.Ledger Sto.2. 27/1/1942 KIA
Margison Charles Stwd. 27/1/1942 KIA
Marrs J. A/B Survived
McGrath Milton Albert A/B 27/1/1942 KIA
McKenna John A/B 27/1/1942 KIA
Mechen J.  Stoker survived
Medhurst Alan A/B 31/1/1942 Died as POW 
Morgan J. Stoker survived
Monk Jonathan James Sto.1. 27/1/1942 KIA
O' Brien John Patrick Sto.2. survived
Okines Leonard Arthur Sto.1. 27/1/1942 KIA
Paul E. PO Sto. survived
Pengelly Ronald George Arnold A/B 27/1/1942 KIA
Pink R.  A/B survived
Poland Harry William A/B survived
Porter F. Sto. 1 survived
Potter G.P. L/S survived
Powell R.J. A/B survived
Press William C. ERA survived
Price R. O/Sigm survived
Rix Leslie Herbert Samuel L/S 27/1/1942 KIA
Roberts Sidney O/Sigm survived
Robertson J.C. Sto. 1 survived
Robertson T. Sto. 1 survived
Rowley Algernon O/Sigm survived
Sheppard Reginald Nelson CPO 31/1/1942 Died as POW
Smith Charles James Sto.1. 27/1/1942 KIA
Smyth John Richard WO Gunner survived
Stephen Alexander Taylor L/S 27/1/1942 KIA
Symons Herbert Joseph A/B 26/1/1942 KIA
Su Tai Cheung Stwd. survived Chinese Steward
Tall Arthur Joseph L/Stoker 26/1/1942 KIA
Taylor A.E. Sto.2. survived
Taylor V.T. Sto. 1 survived
Thomas Cecil Pinder A/B 5 31/1/1942 Died as POW
Trevett A.Y.  A/B survived       
Trice Frederick L/Stoker 26/1/1942 KIA
Turner Stanley Robert L/S 26/1/1942 KIA
Vaughn Arthur R Tel. survived
Warrender W. Sig. survived
Watkins Raymond James ERA 26/1/1942 KIA
Watmore Charles Maurice Sto. 1 26/1/1942 KIA
Wharmby A. Sto. 1 survived
Williams William George PO Sto. 26/1/1942 KIA
Wilsher Albert Leonard A/B 37 26/1/1942 KIA
Wilson J. Sto. 1 survived
Wong Ah San Stwd. survived Chinese 
Wood J.H.  A/B survived
Young Albert. E PO 71 POW - Survived
Ship's Company 113
Died as POW          5 
KIA 37
Survived 71
Sources: www.forcez-survivor web 
CWGC Web site