Diary of the Second World War – August 1943

HMS/HMT Red Gauntlet

It is my pleasure to introduce for the first time my new colleague Cal Pols, Maritime Archaeologist at Historic England, and in his inaugural article for Historic England, Cal covers the loss of HM Trawler Red Gauntlet in August 1943. We have previously looked on several occasions at the work of the minesweeper-trawlers of the First World War, and Cal now turns to covering the minesweeper-trawler service during the Second World War.

He writes:

Fighting to keep British waters safe . . . .

Historic black & white photo from the railings of a ship at sea which blur the bottom foreground, looking towards five minesweepers at work on the horizon
The sweep begins: trailing long steel wires, the little trawlers spread out across the Channel to start their search for enemy mines, November 1941. Copyright: © IWM A 6300 Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205140435

HMT Red Gauntlet was a steam powered fishing trawler built in 1930 by Smith’s Dock Co. Ltd, at South Bank, Middlesborough, on the River Tees in north-east England. [1] Pre-war images of Red Gauntlet with her London fishing number of LO33 can be explored on Tees Built Ships (hover to expand images).

On August 29th 1939, less than a week before the declaration of war on Germany (September 3rd 1939), Red Gauntlet was requisitioned by the Royal Navy to operate as a minesweeper. [2]

A short film issued by Gaumont British News on October 30th, 1939, entitled Britain’s Minesweepers at Work, provides a glimpse of the important role minesweepers like Red Gauntlet played in the war. Flotillas (groups) of minesweeper-trawlers would be put to work clearing important shipping routes around Britain of contact mines – a dangerous job that involved dragging a weighted line under water to pull enemy mines away from their positions.

Four years later, on August 5th 1943, Red Gauntlet sank after being torpedoed by a German E-Boat (S-86) in the North Sea off Harwich. [3] The E-boat was the Allies’ name for the German fast attack craft, the S-Boot or Schnellboot (literally, ‘fast boat’), that often operated as either patrol or torpedo vessels during the war. (See previous articles on E-boat attacks in English waters: e.g. Convoy Battle! October 1942).

Author Nick Stanley provides an excellent overview of the important role undertaken by British minesweepers during the war, with a parallel day-by-day account of Royal Navy minesweeping, which highlights the staggering undertaking of the men aboard these vessels, who often gave their lives trying to keep Britain’s waters clear. During Operation Overlord, the massive Allied invasion of Europe in summer 1944, minesweepers played a crucial role in securing a successful amphibious assault. Mines posed a serious threat to the invasion and even with the efforts of the Allied minesweepers, mines were the single greatest cause of loss of Allied vessels before and after the D-Day invasion on June 6th 1944. [4]

By the end of the war in August 1945, RN minesweepers had cleared over 20,000 mines and the original fleet of minesweepers from September 1939 had risen from just 36 fleet sweepers and 40 trawlers (like HMT Red Gauntlet) to 250 fleet sweepers and nearly 250 trawlers as well as 307 motor minesweepers (MMS), 136 British ‘Yard’ Minesweepers (BYMS), and many motor launches and drifters. Over a million tons of British shipping were lost to mines and, at times, Britain was in serious danger of being starved of necessary resources coming in from her allies due to Axis blockade efforts. However, in part due to the efforts of the minesweeper crews, crucial access to British ports and shipping was never fully stopped.

Minesweeper vessel losses and casualties were heavy; 45 fleet sweepers, 10 paddle sweepers, 3 mine destructor dhips, 34 MMS, 6 BYMS, and at least 223 trawlers, plus 22 auxiliary vessels, were lost over the course of the war. All the men on board HMT Red Gauntlet, 21 in total, sadly lost their lives when she sank. Most of them are commemorated on the Grade-II listed Lowestoft Naval Memorial, alongside nearly 2400 other sailors.

Modern colour photo of circular base of memorial, the text flanked on either side by the badge of the Royal Naval Patrol Service, an anchor in a shield encircled by laurel and oak leaves
Base of the Lowestoft Naval Memorial, whose inscription reads:
These officers and men of the Royal Naval Patrol Service died in the defence of their country and have no grave but the sea 1939 – 1945
© Adrian Pye, Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED original source


[1] Requisitioned trawlers were given the prefix HMT (His Majesty’s Trawler) but are often referred to by the standard naval prefix HMS in contemporary and later records; Appropriation Books and Mercantile Navy List, 1940, placed online by the Crew List Index Project; Tees Built Ships, entry for Red Gauntlet

[2] Colledge, J.J,, 1987. Ships of Royal Navy (Vol. 2): navy-built trawlers, drifters, tugs and requisitioned ships from the fifteenth century to the present, Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press.

[3] Tees Built Ships, entry for Red Gauntlet; Colledge 1987

[4] Stanley, N 2020 “Minesweeping in the Second World War”, The Vernon Link, published online

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