'Sleaford's adopted ship in WWII'

(Information and photographs kindly supplied by Mr V Mallinson)

This profile is not intended to serve as a comprehensive history, but to provide as much information as possible. The brief history is basically an account of the ship's war years.

The first of seven ships to bear the name "SHELDRAKE" was a 16 gun sloop, completed in 1806.  She took part in a gallant action near St Malo in October 1806, when with the 22 gun frigate CONSTANCE and the 12 gun brig STRENUOUS, she engaged and destroyed a French frigate, the SALAMANDER.

Sleaford adopted HMS Sheldrake in WWII before Warship Week in 1942, when Sleaford and East Kesteven collected £134,000 towards the upkeep of a warship.  A party from the ship visited Sleaford at this time and a model of the ship in a glass case, (this was later used as a battering ram for a break-in at the Council Offices and has since been fully restored by the local branch of the Royal Navy Association).  The Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty also presented the town with the ships crest and both these items are still in the possession of the Town Council.

The following has been gleaned from the Naval Historical Branch, the National Maritime Museum, books that have been written about the war off the East Coast and stories from some of the ship's company.

The East Coast was one of the most dangerous theatres of the war, being close to Germany, and, after the fall of France, the Germans were able to use aircraft, bombs, submarines, mines, surface warships, along with E-boats and torpedoes.  In all some 600 vessels of all kinds were sunk off the east coast (NORE COMMAND) with 300 mined, 170 bombed, 70 lost to E-boats and 10 to U-boats.

The Navel Historian, Capt Beeching drew Mr Mallinson's attention to the importance of high angle 4" guns at a time when many Destroyers guns only elevated to 30 degrees.


Included in the 1935 building programme HMS Sheldrake was laid down at Woolston by Thorneycroft in April 1936 as a 'Kingfisher' class Patrol Vessel (Pennant Number P26) specially built for coastal convoy service.

Miss Diana James christening HMS

The official guests watching Miss Diana James christening HMS Sheldrake at her launching at Woolston on 28th January 1937.

In the water immediately after her launch

In the water immediately after her launch, the bow of Kittiwake is on the right of the picture.

She was launched on 28th January 1937 by Miss Diana James and was commanded by Lt Cdr A E T Christie from 1938 to 1940.  She later changed Pennant Number to L06 and later still to K06 and was re-classed as a Corvette.  On commissioning in July 1937, she was allocated to the Fishery Protection Squadron and employed on the east coast of Scotland.

HMS Kingfisher

HMS Kingfisher

On 5th April 1938 she was re-allocated to the 1st Anti-submarine Flotilla at Portland spending part of 1939 in the Western Approaches Command, where she was reported as moving between Portland, Sheerness, Milford Haven and Belfast, mainly on anti-submarine duties.  After a refit at Chatham she was fitted with additional AA armament and along with her sister ship 'HMS Mallard' (Adopted by the Sleaford Rural District Council) joined the 1st A/S Striking Force (NORE Command) as part of the East Coast Escort Force based at Harwich in April 1940.  Some of the first convoys were those along the British east coast, such movements contained many laden deep-sea ships proceeding between ports from THAMES to METHEL.  The Kingfisher class were employed exclusively on the east coast of England and based at Harwich.  Their speed, high for an escort vessel made them useful against their main adversaries, the E-boat.

HMS Guillemot

HMS Guillemot

The 'Sheldrake' and her sisters were continuously "watch on - stop on" covering patrols during 'Operation Dynamo' the Dunkirk evacuation, east coast convoy escorts, anti-submarine, mine-laying and mine-sweeping, anti-aircraft and anti E-boat duties.  Beside her primary duty of defending shipping against U-boat attack, she also had to meet the challenge of enemy aircraft and high speed E-boats.  She was frequently called out to assist damaged merchant ships making for port, and in the search for survivors from sunken ships.  The other ships of the Kingfisher Class stationed on the east coast were Kittiwake, Mallard, Puffin, Guillemot (Lt Nicholas Monsarrat), Shearwater and Widgeon.

HMS Kittiwake

HMS Kittiwake


Searched with aircraft for U-boat sighted off Oban.

With 'Widgeon' searched for U-boat reported by fishermen off Londonderry.

With 'PC74' and A/S trawlers searched for U-boats off Northern Ireland.

In dockyard hands, completion date 10/02/40 (Chatham)

With 'Widgeon', she was ordered to search for floating mines near the searched channel near to South of Cromer Knoll Light Vessel, to ascertain whether the mines were British or German and sink them.  Then to search for U-boat sighted by aircraft in position 53 27N, 01 02E.  Then to carry out A/S search.

With 'Puffin' and 'Widgeon' searching for U-boat reported off Lowestoft, then for rest of the month escorting Trinity House vessels.

'Widgeon', 'Mallard', 'Shearwater' and 'Sheldrake' searched for suspected U-boat 14 miles off Lowestoft.

With 'Widgeon' attacked a U-boat in position 52 39N, 02 25E result unknown.  They were also kept busy standing by and escorting damaged merchant ships.

Searched for U-boat off Kentish Knoll Light Vessel after periscope sighting by 'Marmion'.

'The Miracle of Dunkirk'  Between Sunday 25th May and 4th June, 338,226 men were evacuated from the Dunkirk beaches by a total of 861 assorted ships.  Sadly 243 of these vessels were sunk.  Five of Harwich's seven 'Antisubmarine' corvettes participated in 'Operation Dynamo', Guillemot, Mallard, Shearwater, Sheldrake and Widgeon.  Their job was to fend off small enemy warships.  'Widgeon' rescued some of the crew of the sunken French destroyer 'Sirocco'.

Rendezvous with 'Vega', 'Shearwater', 'Mallard' and 'Widgeon' for night patrol off Dunkirk during the evacuation of Allied troops.

Searched with 'Vega' for U-boat sighted by 'HMS Vimy' off Goodwin Buoy, then night patrol with 'Widgeon', 'Vega' and 'Blyskawica' (Lightning) a Polish destroyer off Dunkirk and was attacked by MTB's.  No damage or casualties sustained.  'HMS Grafton' sunk by U-62.  'HMS Grenade' sunk by aircraft.

Searched with two A/S trawlers for U-boat sighted by 'HMS Vimy' off NW Goodwin Buoy.  Attacked by MTB's, but no damage or casualties sustained.

HM Ships 'Keith', 'Havant' and 'Basilisk' were lost to enemy aircraft.

Sent to blow up the wreck of 'HMS Basilisk', bombed off the French coast, to destroy asdic equipment, was dive bombed but sustained no damage.

After the fall of France, the Luftwaffe were able to take advantage and attack both the northbound (FN) and the southbound (SN) convoys as they sailed between THAMES and METHIL.  These convoys sailed every other day through channels only a few hundred yards wide bordered by offshore shoals and minefields.  They were nicknamed 'The Tramlines' and were marked by lights every five miles.  Although the channel was swept when ever possible by our ever busy Minesweepers, there was always the danger from both enemy and friendly mines breaking from their moorings.  There was also the ever increasing hazard of sunken ships, these wrecks were marked by green painted buoys showing a flashing light at night.  This area soon became known as Piccadilly Circus.

'Operation Purge' (Anti-invasion plan).  'Sheldrake' allocated to the Harwich force.

Bombed in position 54N, 01E.  No damage reported.

The day that has become the official date of the commencement of the 'Battle of Britain'.  'Halcyon', 'Harrier' and 'Speedwell were attacked by bombers with no damage reported.

The destroyers 'Montrose' and 'Wren' were escorting the Minesweeper 'Halcyon' and 6 M/C Trawlers 40 miles east of Harwich in the mine barrier at 1700hrs when they were dive-bombed by 15 planes.  'Montrose' survived many near misses and was disabled.  'Sheldrake' secured alongside while 'Halcyon' towed her back to Hollersley.  'HMS Wren' later sank, the name was later given to a 'Black Swan' class of sloop.

Stood by and assisted with the tow of the mine damaged 'City of Canberra' to Hollesley Bay where she was later repaired.  At the beginning of September she was kept busy escorting convoys and driving off E-boats.

Took part in mine laying off Flushing to cover the minelayers from enemy attacks.

Sailed with 'Mallard' to cover minelayers against enemy attacks on an operation to lay mines at the entrance to Ooste Gat and hinder shipping at Flushing.  The operation had to be abandoned at the first attempt, owing to repeated attacks by E-boats, but was completed successfully at a second attempt later that night.

Oct 1940
'Sheldrake' spent most of October on convoy escort duty, a long series of operations in dangerous east coast waters that continued without respite to the end of the war.

Sailed with 'Guillemot' for convoy escort.

Escorting convoys FN7 and FS8.

Picked up survivors from the mined 'O' Trawler 'William Wesney', one of three ships mined in the Outer Thames Estuary, six men died, two ships were sunk by bombs.

Escorting FS49.

Arrived back in Harwich.

Standing by 'Clan Murrary' until she rejoined convoy, then to join in convoy FN67 with 'HMS Primula'.  'Sheldrake' to return to north of Sheringham at dawn.

Early 1941
Commanded by Lt Roland C (Basher) Watkin (1941-1942), later to become Commodore, as her skipper 'Sheldrake was kept busy with escort duty.

With 'Puffin' to escort FS90 and FN89 from Harwich, 'Sheldrake' to join FS92 at Outer Dowsing, standing by the damaged 'Bonnington Court' later sank, then escorting FN72 and FS76.

Escorting FS401.

At Sunderland to escort the damaged 'HMS Fame' on tow by two tugs to Chatham.

Escorting FS419.

While escorting FS427 had to return to Harwich with a critically injured crew member.

While escorting FN426 the convoy was under constant attack by aircraft and E-boats and at 2035hrs while steaming at the rear of the starboard column a torpedo hit 'SS Dotterel'.  'Sheldrake' secured alongside and sent over a boarding party to help with damage control, but while she was alongside a second torpedo from 'Ltzs Mirbach's' S29 E-boat passed under 'Sheldrake' exploding in the merchantman and blowing her into two half's, the stern sinking killing 8 of the 'Dotterel' crew plus Lt Chellucci and 2 ratings from 'Sheldrake'.  The second explosion caused minor damage to 'Sheldrake's' shafts and propellers.  After taking off 19 survivors she engaged the E-boats and with the help of 'Puffin' managed to inflict severe damage, and then landed the survivors at Yarmouth.  In the action 5 merchant ships were sunk and 2 beached.  Severe damage was reported to have been inflicted on both the German E-boats and aircraft.

Standing by the sinking 'SS Artemisia' sunk by bombs and took off her Captain and 46 crew.  Also in March she escorted the damaged Dutch ship 'MV Abberkirk'.

Mine laying and overnight anti E-boat patrol with 'Puffin, 'Wallace' and 'Eglington'.

Gave AA cover to the attempt to refloat 'HMS Dashwood' and then escorted 2 ships into Harwich.  Shot down one enemy aircraft (not confirmed).

With 'La Melpomene' escorting Operation BS53 (Mining) from Humber to Tyne.  Then, for most of the month, Operation BS55 with 'Kittiwake' and 'Teviotdale' mine laying in the East Coast Barrier.  During a refit at this time had an extra AA Oerlikon gun fitted.

Escorting convoy 'Arena' under air attack.

'Sheldrake's' sister ship 'Pintail' was sunk by a mine, only twenty two of her crew were rescued out of a ship's company of eighty.

Most of July and August given to convoy escort duty.

Escorting convoy FN487 under air attack. Standing by 'SS Toorak'.

Escorting convoy EC46 and FS453.

During July the new submarine 'Umpire' on route from Chatham to Scotland with an FN convoy was in collision with the Harwich Trawler 'Peter Hendricks' escorting a FS convoy and sank with the loss of twenty two lives.

Escorting convoy EC53 and FS556.

Escorting convoy EC56 and FS561.

Escorting convoy EC62 and FS571.

Standing by mined 'SS Czestochowa' (ex FN507) and taking off survivors.  Escorting mined 'Peter Hendricks' under tow to Harwich.

Escorting convoys EC69 and FS586 and then EC75, EN587, FS973, EC75 and FS598.

While the ship's company were holding their ships dance at the Phoenix Hotel, Dovercourt, the German raiders 'Scharnhorst', 'Prince Eugen' and the 'Gneisenau' broke out of Brest for the 'Channel Dash', the crew were recalled and the ship joined the chase with most of her crew being a little worst for wear.

Aircraft seen to jettison bombs during attack on convoy FN517 by 5 aircraft, one seen to be shot down.

Escorting convoy FN525 and FS608.

Escorting convoy FN537.  Attacked by 3 aircraft, 2 ships sunk and then continuous escort duty for the rest of 1941.

The 'Sheldrake' is the ship chosen to be adopted by Sleaford and East Kesteven.

Standing by the mined 'Largo' (ex FN597), damaged near buoy 54E.  Then towing back to Harwich.  Then spent some time in dock hands at Immingham, it must have been at this time that some of the crew visited Sleaford.

Escorting FS477.  Attacked by 3 aircraft in position 53 19N, 01 02E, no damage or casualties.  She then spent some time having a refit at Harwich before rejoining the 1st Anti-Submarine Striking Force.  There seems to be no records of her actions while with this group.

HMS Sheldrake's Commanders message (from the Sleaford Gazette).

Lt RC Watkins, in command of 'HMS Sheldrake' the corvette which Sleaford and East Kesteven have adopted, in a letter to Mr J Welborn states that he hopes to be able soon to send a photograph of 'Sheldrake' as she now appears.  It would give me great pleasure if I could bring a party to visit you during Warship Week, but because of the uncertainty of our movements I cannot let you know of this until a later date. 'He adds'. In the meantime I would like to send a message to the people of Sleaford and East Kesteven. 'The Captain, Officers and ships company of 'HMS Sheldrake' send their best wishes to you.  We all appreciate the sacrifices which the figure already attained in your Warship Campaign must have entailed.  For our own part we will endeavour to use the arms with which you are supplying us to the greatest advantage.  May your Warship Week prove a record one.'

Early in 1942 'Sheldrake got a new skipper, Lt Cdr R Chapman RNR.

Saw her back with the East Coast Patrol where she was kept busy through July, August and September with escort and anti E-boat patrols.

Escorting FS865 to Sheerness.

Stationed on East Coast Patrol.

HMS Sheldrake

Took part in a defensive action to protect convoy FN832 from attack by 12 enemy E-boats off Cromer, 4 ships were sunk.

Escorted ML206 and 18 survivors to Harwich and spent the rest of the year on the East Coast Patrol.

The presentation to the town of the ships model and plaque had to be postponed as Lt Cdr Chapman had damaged his eye, his successor Lt G T Parry RNR, promised to come at a later date.

Saw action with 3 E-boats who were made to withdraw.

Owing to the ship being too busy on active service the crew could not be represented at the presentation of the ships plaque's to the town and EKDC by Capt R J Harris-St John DSO, RN while the town plaque was presented to the ship.

'A Treasure for Sleaford'. (Sleaford Gazette)

The model of the ship made by her crew was handed over to the safe keeping of the town by the ship's Coxwain A V Sears, ERA Tom Longbottom and P/O L E Hall DSM, members of her crew.

At this time the enemy were strengthening their techniques by adapting trawlers, minesweepers and ferries with a multitude of cannons to create 'flak ships' and 'gun ships' along with the E-boats.

P/o Robinson sends a letter to the Sleaford Gazette asking for tools to help with the crew's hobbies.

While in action driving off E-boats, 'HMS Sheldrake' was in collision with the destroyer 'HMS Eglington', (later reported to be the first allied warship to close in on the D-Day beaches), off Cromer, was badly damaged and went aground.  After a damage control party managed to shore up the forward bulkheads with railway sleepers she was towed back to Harwich by 2 tugs for repair and was out of action until December.  Her crew were paid off and drafted to other ships.

Saw a new skipper, Lt T C Harrison RNVR and a new crew.

Still on the East Coast Patrol where on 26th March with MTB's 389 and 233 she engaged and drove off 3 E-boats trying to reach a convoy off Orfordness..  These boats were probably a diversionary attack as a further force of 7 E-boats were driven off with damage by the rest of the escort.

'Sheldrake's' sister ship 'Puffin' was so badly damaged by a midget U-boat or 'Seehund' that she was scrapped.

The only reported incidents for the rest of 1944/45 are that on the 15/11/44 she was shifted to the NORE Patrol, on the 17/02/45 was in action with 4 E-boats.

She sank a midget U-boat.

She was accepted into Category C Reserve at Harwich on 11th June 1945.  Approval was given on 8th March 1946 for her to be scrapped, but on 13th September 1946 she was sold to the San Pelu Steam Navigation Co Ltd of Shanghai and was converted to a merchant ship of some sort.  Her name was reported to have been 'Tuch Loon' but this does not appear in Lloyds List and there is no further information about the ship.





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