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Saturday, 19 August 2017
 
 
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A Brief History of His Majesties Trawler Pine E-mail

These are my brief notes from some research I did into the HMT Pine, they certainly aren’t exhaustive or supposed to give a complete picture but they are enough to give a good idea of HMT Pine and her sister ships, the armed trawlers and their role in the second world war.

HMS Honda
HMS Honda

The Role of the Armed Trawler.

The start of the second world war saw a huge rise in the industrial needs of Great Britain as such our allies and trading partners had only one way to get the raw materials into this country and that was via the sea, it won’t of escaped your notice that we are island nation. Raw materials would be bought in from across the globe to our ports and harbours but they would need protecting throughout their journey. This protection was afforded these merchant ship via the Royal Navy but it left one vital link in the chain unguarded and that was the approaches to our coastline

Initially the armed trawler was a simple and effective attempt to protect the ports and harbours of the country, the navy quickly saw the benefit in converting fishing trawlers to protection duties around the approaches to our major ports after all who better to police the local area than the local fishermen. Many trawlers were quickly converted to both anti-submarine and mine-sweeping duties and crewed with the experience of the local fishing fleets.

This worked well for the fishermen as the boats they knew how best to handle were the very fishing boats being converted for war. Those self same boats were highly seaworthy and able to put out to sea in all weathers. They became the work horse of coastal protection with many and varied roles from the opening and closing of boom gates, barrage ballon tethers, anti-submarine warfare and sweeping the approaches for drifting submerged mines.

The navy initially classified the requisitioned trawlers’ by manufacturer and 3 classes of requisitioned trawler came about, they were the Mersey, Strath and Castle classes. It was only later that the navy began to commission new trawlers to be built and all subsequent classes of trawler had the same ancestry. It was the trawler Basset built in 1935 that all subsequent armed trawlers’ were based upon. There were 13 sub classes of armed trawlers, they were Basset, Tree, Dance, Shakespearian, Isles, Admiralty, Portuguese, Brazilian, Castle, Hills, Fish, Round Table and Military class, in total 250 armed trawlers were built between 1935 and 1945.

With the invasion and subsequent liberation of France, a new phase in the war emerged and the armed trawlers were suddenly called to serve in a new and unfamiliar capacity, this time as convoy protection, a role they were woefully unsuited for both in fire power and manoeuvrability. Many convoys’ plied the coastal routes and armed trawlers were called to provide protection from submarines to these convoys. The slow speed of the trawlers meant that often should a trawler be called away to investigate a submarine sighting or engage the enemy of any kind they would quickly drop behind the convoy and many hours would go by before the trawlers’ could return to their positions.

The German u-boat captains knew of the short comings of the trawlers and would play a cat and mouse game with the armed trawlers. The u-boats could out pace the armed trawlers on the surface so would let themselves be sighted before turning and trying to outrun the armed trawlers to get to a position enabling them to engage the allied convoys.

The heroism and bravery of the armed trawler captains didn’t go unnoticed by the German naval commanders and one engagement shows quite simply how the armed trawlers and their crews fought even in the face of over whelming odds.

His Majesties Trawler Juniper, of the Tree Class, was escorting a tanker during the Norwegian campaign and while in Norwegian waters spotted a German naval squadron comprising two battleships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the cruiser Admiral Hipper and four destroyers. Seeing that she couldn’t escape this squadron as she didn’t have the speed, the HMT Juniper hoisted her battle ensign and turned under full steam for the enemy squadron. With only her diminutive 12 pounder, she turned into 530 tonnes of spitting , fighting fury and sailed head first into the squadron, incredibly surviving for an hour and a half before finally succumbing to the battleships, sinking beneath the waves and leaving only 4 survivors.

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Armed trawlers were stationed in small fleets anywhere the admiralty thought they were required, many stationed around the coast of Britain, in Shetland, Plymouth, Portland, Portsmouth and Rosyth. A number of armed trawlers were stationed further a field from Iceland through Gibraltar and the Mediterranean to the Azores and South Africa. The humble armed trawler made her presence felt across the globe.

General Details

Gross weight of 530 tons. Dimensions of 164ft OA X 27 ft 6 inches. One shaft reciprocating engine 850 IHP 11.5 knots. Armed with 1 x 12pdr, 2x 0.5 inch AA $x LG and a crew of 35.

HMT Pine was built in in the Hall, Russell and Co. Ltd yard in Aberdeen. She was laid down on 29th September 1939, launched on 25 March 1940 and commissioned on 3 July 1940.

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Her commanding officers were:

1940 - 1941 Lt.Cdr Charles ‘Bunty’ Palmer Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserves.
1941 - 1943 T/Lt Charles Meldon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves.
1943 - 1944 T/Lt J Hird Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves.

Convoy W-243, the final voyage of HMT Pine.

Convoy Cw-243 consisted of 10 merchant vessels and 7 escorts destined for St.Helens Roads from Southend, comprising Hms Haslemere, Hms Albrighton, Hmt Rehearo, Hmt Lorraine, Hmt Blackthorn, Hmt Walnut and Hmt Pine. The merchant vessels including among others Caleb Sprague, Emerald, Balduin, Ara and Jernland.

The convoy left Southend on the 30th January 1944 bound for St. Helens Roads. It would be passing through the infamous E-boat alley, a popular hunting ground of German fast attack boats out of Calais. The first day passed uneventfully as the convoy steamed at 7 knots along the south coast. Late into the day a Sunderland of coastal command spotted a U-boat on the surface but it soon submerged and nothing more was reported.

On into the night the convoy pressed slowly passing Beachy Head. The three Tree class armed trawlers Walnut, Pine and Blackthorn in the van of the convoy on mine-seeping duties clearing the path for the merchant vessels behind. Leading the port column of vessels was the Fleet Auxiliary Hms Haslemere commanded by the convoy commodore. Tailing the port column of merchant vessels was Hmt Lorraine and behind the starboard column Hmt Rehearo, finally tailing the convoy was the destroyer Hms Albrighton.

At 0145 a radar operator on the Sussex shore spotted 10 new plots on his screen headed straight for the convoy plodding along at 7 knots. The new blips on his radar were headed for the convoy at 40 knots and it could mean only one thing. A pack of E-boats was hunting and had found the convoy. The civilian radar operator then made a fatal mistake of following procedure to the letter and went to find a senior naval officer to give him permission to make a plain language transmission to warn the convoy. All the time the E-boats closed in on the convoy.

The E-boats had lain waiting in the channel with their engines turned off and watching for the lights and listening for the transmission of the convoy proceeding down the channel. When they confirmed their target they started their engines and raced towards the convoy at 40 knots, splitting into 2 groups they encircled the convoy and began to fire torpedoes at the advancing merchant vessels.

One group of E-boats attacked the centre of the convoy and in the ensuing melee the Caleb Sprague and The Emerald were both sank in quick succession. At this time the call of ‘action stations’ had passed along the escorts and Hms Albrighton charged in between the lines of merchant vessels and engaged the E-boats as best she could.

The second group of E-boats had made their way around the front of the convoy and were now attempting to engage the convoy from the coastal side. It was at this time that HMT Pine was torpedoed by S142 commanded by Oberlutenant zur See Hinrich Ahrens. The torpedo hit HMT Pine on the bow and blew it clean off, 10 men were instantly killed in the attack.

Kindly sent to me by the grandson of RPO Tom McCabe

‘…and then tragedy for one of our flotilla, the minesweeper 'Pine'. We were in convoy with the Pine when we got the alarm during the night when we were on the last lap to Portsmouth. 'Action Stations' the usual star shell, tracers and very loud bangs and flashes. There were a couple of terrific flashes and it was rumoured that two small tankers in the convoy had vanished in them, more flashes and the Pine was hit and blown clean in two by a torpedo - the stern half remained afloat, the rest had just disappeared. A few survivors including two officers were fished out of the water and shortly afterward they went back onboard to salvage the stern half of their ship. They managed to get it taken in tow but a couple of hours later it also sank without warning and the survivors had to swim for it again. The culprits had been E boats on a pitch dark night lying in wait in the swept channel with their engines switched off. We had regularly lain alongside the Pine in harbour and we knew most of those lost fairly well, so it came as a great shock to all of us.'

The E-boats seemed content with their 3 ‘kills’ and left as quickly as they had arrived. The convoy stayed on high alert and began to ‘hug the coast’ to try and avoid a further anticipated attack form the e-boats. The convoy was ordered not to slow down and make best speed towards the safety of Portsmouth, leaving the crippled Hms Pine adrift behind them.

It was Lt-Commander Leslie close by in Motor Launch 206 who quickly came to save those still on board Hms Pine. He took 20 survivors from HMT Pine and with encouragement from the survivors again went alongside Hms Pine and a boarding party took further 7 survivors from below decks onto M.L.206. Lt.Cdr Leslie then stayed on station with HMT Pine until the Hmt Rehearo came alongside and took HMT Pine under tow towards Newhaven.

M.L.206 quickly made its way into Newhaven to disembark its survivors. The Naval Officer in command then ordered HMT Pine to be towed to Portsmouth where there were better repair facilities, so Hmt Rehearo turned and towed Hms Pine towards Portsmouth. 2 of HMT Pines surviving officers asked to be put back on board HMT Pine for the tow back into Portsmouth. M.L.206 quickly came along side HMT Pine and the 2 officers transferred across. The 2 officers weren’t on the HMT Pine for long, before, 6 miles from Selsey Bill at 1345 on the 31st January 1944, she suddenly sank.

 

Today she still rests 6 miles or so from Selsey Bill at
Latitude = 50°43'.057 N
Longitude = 000°37'.183 W

Those who lost their lives on board HMT Pine:

AUDIS, Raymond G E, Ordinary Signalman, RNPS, LT/JX 405841, MPK
ELLIOTT, Robert T, Seaman, RNPS, LT/JX 231951, MPK
FAULKNER, Albert V, Seaman, RNPS, LT/JX 203620, MPK
HAYWARD, Arthur, Seaman, RNPS, LT/JX 436311, MPK
HOBSON, Loris, Cook, RNPS, LT/MX 107746, MPK
MARTIN, Edward, Ordinary Seaman, RNPS, LT/JX 355532, MPK
MARTLAND, John, Leading Cook, RNPS, LT/MX 84970, MPK
MASON, Stanley, Ordinary Seaman, RNPS, LT/JX 532715, MPK
PECKHAM, Cecil C, Ordinary Telegraphist, RNPS, LT/JX 370193, MPK
SHERIFF, Ronald B, Seaman, RNPS, LT/JX 379840, MPK

 
 
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