Diary of the Second World War – April 1943

Eskdale: The E-boats strike again

Contemporary black and white photograph of ship, bows to left foreground with riverside buildings in the distance at left.
Eskdale seen on the Mersey in a disruptive paint scheme, possibly around the time of launch in March 1942.
(FL 9757) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120800

The names of ships matter – they are carefully thought out to display a naval or shipping company heritage, while ships may be renamed for political reasons, as many were in the redistribution of former German ships after the Treaty of Versailles.

Eskdale was a Type III Hunt-class destroyer built under the 1940 War Emergency programme at Cammell Laird, Birkenhead. She became one of three Hunt-class destroyers loaned immediately on completion in 1942 to the Kongelige Norske Marine (Royal Norwegian Navy, also known as the Free Norwegian Navy), her command being assumed by Skule Storheill who would go on to be decorated by not only Norway and the United Kingdom, but also France and the Netherlands, for his war service. (1)

The blog has previously covered the wrecks of Norwegian merchant vessels which were taken into British service during the First World War (see, for example, this post on August 1917) but here the reverse is also true: here are British ships taken into the service of the Norwegian Navy in exile. The Royal Norwegian Navy had escaped in June 1940 after the fall of Norway, along with the King of Norway, Haakon VII, and the government, and would be based in Britain for the duration of the war. Three of the Hunt-class destroyers were loaned to the Royal Norwegian Navy, the first, HMS Badsworth, being renamed Arendal.

It is not clear whether the choice of Eskdale and Glaisdale for the Royal Norwegian Navy had any greater significance than being ships that could be made available for the numbers of volunteers and refugees which swelled the numbers of the Norwegian Navy as time went on, but it would be unsurprising if there was a subtle but reciprocal diplomacy at work: the dale or valley (of Old Norse origin) in those names corresponds to the -dal element of Arendal, so the names were a nod to a common heritage and the compliment was returned by the two ships retaining their English names in Norwegian service. (2)

A group of four Norwegian sailors on board ship making a fuss of a cat and dog. Behind them the ship's funnel blows smoke and the Norwegian flag flies.
Crew of the Eskdale, their cap tallies reading KGL NORSKE MARINE (Royal Norwegian Navy) photographed 27 February 1943, a few weeks before the loss of their ship. This was an official Admiralty photograph intended for publication, as part of the original caption shows: ‘Norway with its long sea tradition has many of her sons fighting alongside the Allies in the battle for freedom. Norwegian sailors with their ship’s cat named Petra and Peggy, a dog visitor who goes on board whenever the ship makes port’
(A 14723) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205147868

For the next year Eskdale and Glaisdale were primarily on convoy operations as escorts, in the Arctic and Channel, but also deployed on operations elsewhere at need. Over January to April 1943 they became regulars on the Portsmouth to Milford Haven run and back, sometimes together, sometimes on separate PW (Portsmouth-Wales) and WP (Wales-Portsmouth) convoys. Under wartime restrictions photograph locations would not be published, but we can see from convoy movements that Eskdale was back in Portsmouth on 27 February, so it seems likely that Peggy the dog as shown in the photograph above this paragraph was a Portsmouth resident! (3)

Both ships were worked hard, returning to Portsmouth as part of convoy WP322 on 12 April 1943, leaving Portsmouth again for Milford Haven on 13 April 1943 with six merchants, and a combined Norwegian-British trawler force as escort reinforcements. Off the Lizard the convoy was targeted by the 5th S-boot Flottille, which was using St. Peter Port, Guernsey, to refuel on its Channel operations at this time. (4)

At 3 o’clock in the morning S 90 fired two torpedoes at Eskdale in a position ENE of the Lizard, with S 65 and S 112 finally sinking her. Out of a crew of 185, 25 men, all Norwegian, lost their lives. (5) The ship has been identified in the position stated at the time of loss with her stern blown away in two separate sections, listing to starboard and evidently well collapsed. She lies near one of her charges from this convoy, the British cargo vessel Stanlake, attacked in a very similar fashion, initially torpedoed by S 121 and then finished off by S 90 and S 82. (6)

The two ships lie close together, a tangible reminder of a time when ‘Home Waters’ for British ships would be the temporary ‘home waters’ for other naval forces.

Two men stand either side of four cannon pointing right and upwards to the sky
27 February 1943: Norwegians at action stations stand by on a pom-pom used for anti-aircraft action on board their destroyer HMS Eskdale. A few weeks after this photo was taken the attack came, not from the sky, but from an E-boat.
(A 14726) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205147870


(1) Mason, G 2004 Service Histories of Royal Navy Warships in World War 2: HNoMS Eskdale (L36) (published online); Wikipedia, Skule Storheill

(2) The diplomatic dance of nomenclature appears to have continued with the formal post-war sale of Glaisdale to the Norwegian Navy, whereupon she was renamed Narvik, which no doubt evoked on both sides the Royal Navy’s participation in the Battle of Narvik only a few years previously.

(3) Convoyweb, movements of PW and WP convoys; movements of Eskdale and Glaisdale

(4) ibid; Rohwer, J and Hümmelchen, G 2007-2022 Chronik des Seekrieges 1939-1945 April 1943 (Württembergische Landesbibliothek: published online) (in German); Historisches Marinearchiv Lebenslauf S 90 (online: in German) Brown, D 1990 Warship Losses of World War Two (London: Arms and Armour)

(5) World War 2 at Sea: Royal Norwegian Navy, Ship Histories, Convoy Escort Movements, Casualty Lists 1940-1947 (nd: published online)

(6) Eskdale: Hydrographic Office 17429; Stanlake: Hydrographic Office 17430 and 17504

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