Destroyer at War – Review – The Fighting Life and Loss of HMS Havock from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean 1939-1942

HMS Havock was one of the H-class (or Hero-class) destroyers that saw extensive action through the Second World War. The H- lass were similar to the G-class but used more welding to save weight. The H-class were approved in mid-1934 and were armed with the heavier CP XVIII 4.7-inch gun mounting which were also installed in the Tribal-class.

While the destroyers were generally as good as any others around at the time, their two main failings were their design for the North Sea and Mediterranean operations (reduced endurance) and poor anti-aircraft protection.

Destroyer at War – The Fighting Life and Loss of HMS Havock from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean 1939-42 is published  by Frontline Books, written by David Goodey and Richard H. Osborne and contains 293 pages. It was published on 3 October 2017 (ISBN: 9781526709004).

I was looking for a couple of things to read on my recent trip back to Australia to spend some time with mother and this was one of the books I took with me. The book struck my interest as it was written in part by the son of of one the members of the Havock‘s crew and also involved interviews with around 50 surviving members of the crew. In many respects it is David Goodey’s tribute to his father, Stoker Alber W. Goodey.

HMS Havock was one the the Royal Navy’s most famous destroyers from the first half of the Second World War with her exploits reported regularly in the English press.

Havock saw action in the Spanish Civil War and the report of the air attack by a single “four-engined Junker Type monoplane” that proceeded to attack with four bombs from about 6,000-feet while travelling at about 90 mph is an interesting entrance the rest of the book. I did like the description of the bombing run as Havock was in company with HMS Gipsy and the report notes,

Fire was opened with 0.5 machine guns. The aeroplane altered course to counteract Gipsy‘s manoeuvre and about 1646 1/2 four bombs were seen to leave the machine.

Gipsy promptly altered course further to Starboard and Havock to Port and the bombs fell between the two ships about 100 yards from  Gipsy and 300 from Havock.

The authors then go on to provide recollections from various crew members, in this case John Thomson, the Havock‘s Signals Telegraphist, Nobby Hall, also from Signals, and Able Seaman Griff Gleed-Owen. The book follows this pattern throughout, recounting the action, talking to the men who were there, then describing where Havock went next.

Havock did see a lot of action being present at:

  • Spanish Civil War
  • The Battle for Narvik
  • The Invasion of Holland
  • Service generally in the Med
  • The Battle of Matapan
  • Convoy escorts and the Tripoli Bombardment
  • Evacuation of Greece and Crete
  • Action around Syria, Tobruk, Groundings and More Convoy Work
  • and lastly, the Second Battle of Sirte and the ship’s eventual grounding and the crew being taken prisoner

Apart from the story of Havock and her crew, the book also has a fine collection of pictures included, many from the collections of the authors.

The book is an exciting read where the prose flows and even the casual reader will find an engrossing story without resort to great quantities of technical information. Destroyer at War provides some evidence of the contribution of the hard-working H-class destroyers through the Second World War. I happily recommend this to both naval historians and general readers. It is a compelling tale and one I have enjoyed immensely reading.

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More on HMS Rattlesnake – the figurehead

HMS Rattlesnake Figurehead

After posting the article yesterday on HMS Rattlesnake, HMS Samarang and Port Hamilton I received a comment on my facebook page from Alan (Kaptain Kobold) who is now a Pommie loose in Oz.

Alan used to work at QinetiQ in Farnborough, England. QinetiQ has the figurehead from Rattlesnake in the walkway leading to the canteen in the office.

There are some other photos of the figurehead at Kaptain Kobold’s photo stream on flickr.

Also in the photo stream is a close-up of the rattlesnake on the figurehead.

HMS Rattlesnake FigureheadIn some respects, it is a pity I model ships for wargaming in 1/1200th scale and smaller generally as the scale makes it too small to worry about some of the wonderful detail on old wooden ships. The figurehead was important to vessels built in the 16th to 19th centuries. The practice may have been inherited from the Vikings in earlier centuries with their carved dragon’s heads at the front of their longships although it has also been suggested that as with the stern ornamentation on these old wooden vessels, the purpose of the figurehead may have been to indicate the name of the ship in a non-literate society.

Kaboutermannekes (or water fairies) were believed by some some European sailors (principally German, Belgian and Dutch) to live in the figurehead of a ship. The spirits were supposed to guard the ship from harm. However, if the ship sank, the Kaboutermannekes guided the sailors’ souls to the Land of the Dead. To sink without a Kaboutermanneke condemned the sailor’s soul to haunt the sea forever, so Dutch sailors believed. This is similar to early Viking beliefs.

When the world moved forward to steel ram ships there was really no place for figureheads anymore. However, the practice seems to have been maintained in a different form in modern navies with a ships badge now being a unique identifier of a vessel.

HMAS BombardAs an example, the badge to the left is from one of the Attack class patrol boats of the Royal Australian Navy. It is the badge of HMAS Bombard, one of the patrol boats stationed at HMAS Waterhen in Sydney. A number of the crew were friends of mine at the time so I knew this vessel quite well. She had a number of claims to fame. One was was her circumnavigation of Australia, celebrated with a somewhat ribald t-shirt, and completed on 7 September 1974 under commander, Lieut R. Cook, RAN. This was the first circumnavigation of Australia by a patrol boat.

She was also used in the production of the 1979 ABC series, Patrol Boat ((the IMDB entry for Patrol Boat appears fairly mixed up between the various series as there is no mention of either Andrew McFarlane or Robert Coleby who played the two central characters of the first series)) where her pennant number, 99, was replaced with 83 for filming as she replaced HMAS Advance. After suffering an engine room fire near Point Perpendicular, an RAN Grumman Tracker from HMAS Albatross overflew the Bombard looking for her but saw pennant 83 on the bow so kept looking. I really should write up a short history of the Bombard, an interesting little boat.

I will finish with another view of the figurehead from the Rattlesnake.

HMS Rattlesnake Figurehead

And stop humming that tune about ships named Venus! 😆