HMS Worcester

The ships badge and memorial plaque commemoration the donations made by The City of Worcester citizens. This can be seen in Worcester’s Guildhall

After two years of war the British government needed to raise funds to replace or repair Royal Navy ships.

Between October 1941 and the end of March 1942, there was a drive across the United Kingdom to encourage people to invest in Post Office Savings deposits, Government Bonds and National Saving Certificates. Within each area a savings goal had been calculated based on the population size and each one was linked to a specific Royal Navy warship which was to be ‘adopted’ by the city, town or village. The fund-raising events were known as Warship Weeks and they proved to be very popular.

On the face of it, theses weeks were held to bring the people at home closer to the fighting men. It gave those at home the opportunity to contribute directly to the war effort and have a direct association with a fighting unit. In turn the crews of the sponsored ships found that people in ‘their’ town would send goodie bags, cards and letters to the crews.

To cement these relationships the Admiralty provided a certificate, that provided details of the adopted vessel, along with two plaques displaying the ship’s crest. Typically the captain of the warship would present one to the civic body and the other was mounted on the ship. Later, a large number local Sea Cadet Units took the name of the ship embraced by their region.

Over 1200 ships of all sizes were adopted during the savings initiative. One of these was the 23-year-old HMS Worcester, a V and W class destroyer.

In 1913 the first Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, proposed that all destroyers of the same class should have names beginning with the same letter. The Admiralty V and W class boats incorporated all the power and armament innovations of earlier class destroyers, that had been proved during the war, as well as the latest technology, and installed them in a hull that was larger and tougher. The W class were fitted with two sets of triple torpedo tubes while the later Admiralty modified W class, such as HMS Worcester, featured the larger BL4.7” Mk1 guns. There was a price to pay for this modern design. Men serving on this class of destroyer were paid ‘hard-lying’ money, because in rough weather conditions on board became extremely uncomfortable.

HMS Worcester pictured around 1937

Worcester was the eighth ship of the fleet to carry the name from 1651. Laid down in the shipyard of J Samuel White at Cowes, on 20 December 1918, she was launched in October 1919 and then towed to Portsmouth to be fitted out by the Royal Navy Dockyard. Completed 20 September 1922, she immediately undertook full power trials followed by gunnery test. These successfully completed she was accepted into service on 16 November 1922 and assigned the pennant number D96.

Initially allocated to the 1st Destroyer Flotilla, Home Fleet, she was first sent to Ireland to support the Irish Free State Government and then to Gallipoli when, in 1923, Turkey became a republic and Mustafa Kemal the country’s first president. The destroyer then spent most of its service life as part of the Mediterranean Fleet, before it was transferred to the Reserve Fleet in Portsmouth in 1933.

As part of the Admiralty’s preparation for the expected war, she was commissioned to conduct torpedo firing exercises with other destroyers off Malta. On 16 February 1937 the steering gear of HMS Active failed and she collided with HMS Worcester, causing extensive damage to the upper starboard hull and deck. She was taken into Malta for repairs and then returned to Portsmouth prior to a full refit. Following this she was recommissioned into the 11th Destroyer Flotilla, Western Approaches, for convoy and patrol duties.

Dunkirk May 1940

While patrolling 120 miles north of Lands End, Worcester was ordered to make speed for Dover. Arriving early morning of 28 May 1940, she made the first trip of six trips to rescue troops of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and French armies from the beaches of Dunkirk. As they approached the famous beaches crew experienced their first taste of the persistent air attacks they would face over the next days. On the first two trips they managed to make their way through the chaos into the harbour and tie up on the east pier. On the second trip they tied up to a channel ferry and another tied up to Worcester, making a quick escape impossible. Ships, boats of all sizes and orderly lines of troops were mercilessly bombed by Stuka dive bombers, their sirens screaming as they dived through the palls of smoke.

Returning for a third time there was no room to tie up, so Worcester anchored offshore. Her boats were lowered to fetch the troops directly off the beach and transfer others off the famous ‘Little Ships of Dunkirk’, back to the destroyer. It was all a slow and confusing process that took place under intense bombing attacks. Fortuitously the weather was fine and the seas calm.

Again, she returned to service the smaller boats. The gunners on board fired at will against the waves of Luftwaffe aircraft and were relieved to be away with another valuable load of soldiers. As she turned away from the beaches she grounded on a sandbank and damaged the starboard propeller which reduced her speed to 18 knots.

On the fifth trip, Worcester was again anchored offshore but in the early morning of 1 June 1940, shore batteries began shelling the ship and it was decided to make for the East Pier to load as many men as possible. After disembarking over 660 troops at Dover at 8.45 a.m., she made a quick turnaround and set sail for her sixth and final trip.

That morning, The Admiralty fearing crippling losses, ordered all destroyers to return to their home ports. Worcester received this order as she arrived off Dunkirk and so the captain, Commander John Allison, R.N., chose to ignore the directive and continued toward the harbour, picking up on the way survivors from sunken vessels.

He made his way to the East Pier and shortly after the famous Little Ship, Sundowner tied up alongside. Many of those boarding were members of the Worcester Royal Artillery Battery and Midland Infantry and in no time the decks were full. The commander of Sundowner volunteered to take 100 men on board and those closest were ordered to climb onto the small wooden boat. Throughout the embarkation the two vessels were under continuous attack, thankfully protected by Worcester’s anti-aircraft guns which kept up uninterrupted return fire.

When the two vessels turned for home the Luftwaffe targeted the larger vessel and for over 30 minutes wave after wave of bombers pounded the destroyer.

Initially the bombs were fused to explode below the water line and several times Worcester was lifted out of the water, luckily without suffering any structural damage. During later strikes the bombs were set to explode on impact with the water, with the express purpose of showering Worcester and her decks with deadly shrapnel. This tactic resulted in the deaths of 46 men and injured another 180. Bomb fragments damaged the hull allowing water into the fuel tanks, which fortunately did not immediately disable the fleeing vessel. It was only as the damaged Worcester approached Dover that the engines failed. Floundering the Worcester was taken in tow by a tug until the engineers managed to restart the engines and Worcester continued unaided. In hindsight it would have been safer if she had been towed into Dover. Her electrical systems were virtually in operable, the engines did not have the power to make the rudders effective and she proved difficult to manage. As they entered the harbour at 20h30 the Southern Railways Maid of Orleans was leaving the harbour for Dunkirk and the men on the bridge of Worcester could do nothing to avoid the ferry. Worcester sliced open the Maid’s port side. Neither vessel took any further part in the evacuation. Worcester had rescued 4 350 troops.

Following a month of repairs Worcester returned to service with the 16th Destroyer Flotilla, with a new pennant I96 and one set of torpedo tubes replaced with a 3 inch anti aircraft gun. She was at first allocated to patrol in the North Sea before being assigned to convoy and defence duties on the Western Approaches

Worcester was transferred back to the 16th Destroyer Flotilla in January 1941 for North Sea duty. On 6 March, Convoy FS29 along with its naval escort, came under attack by the Luftwaffe. The following day, Worcester and Whitshead were drawn away from their charges by a threatening German torpedo boat. Exactly as planned by the enemy the two escorts were out of range the convoy when it was attacked by the main force of German E-boats which sank two merchant vessels.

Pictured at Harwich in early 1942 a month or so prior to being adopted by the City of Worcester

The Channel Dash 11 to 13 February 1942

The German pocket battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, as well as the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were based in Brest, ready to pounce on the Atlantic convoys. Fortunately they were unsuccessful as the continuous raids by RAF bomber command ensured they could not set sail. It was a waste of important strategic assists and the Germans decided to move these important ships to Norway. The shortest route was through the English Channel. The Royal Navy was aware that plans were afoot and planned to take full advantage of the opportunity to attack the German vessels and remove significant threats to Allied shipping. Motor Torpedo Boats were to open the attack, followed by aircraft launched torpedoes and backed up by the big guns at Dover. As safeguard mines had been dropped at various points and destroyers positioned east of Dover to mop up any enemy vessels that had managed to survive.

The German capital ships were to be escorted by three flotillas of E-Boats, a rolling forces of 21 destroyers and scores of Luftwaffe aircraft. At 22h00 on 11 February 1942 this formidable fleet began its transition through the Channel, unnoticed by the British. The Royal Navy submarine that had been monitoring the Germans had left her position to charge her batteries, while the Coastal Command aircraft had all experienced technical failures.

By daybreak the next day the German fleet had covered 250 miles unscathed as were only 40 miles from the Straits of Dover, with the British totally unaware of their presence. Aerial patrols initially missed the fleet and it was only after 10h00 that Spitfires from Kenley spotted the large ships.

It seemed the weather also conspired to provide cover for the escaping Kriegsmarine craft. It was raining, the cloud was low and visibility very poor. As the Germans entered the narrowest part of the Channel the Dover guns opened limited fire and failed to hit any of the targets. The MTBs attacked and bravely closed in the enemy but not one of their torpedoes found a target. As planned the follow was delivered by the ancient Fairey Swordfish of the Fleet Air Arm’s 825 Squadron. These slow biplanes were sitting targets for the ship board anti aircraft and the Luftwaffe fighters. All six aircraft were shot down, 12 men died and not one torpedo had found its mark.

The stop gap destroyers were at sea practice firing when they were informed that the Germans were through the Straits and increasing speed. To be able to engage the enemy the British destroyers had to risk a dash through the defensive British minefield. Successfully transitioned the destroyers raced at 28 knots to catch their quarry.

Their pursuit was hampered by severe weather and sea conditions, snow and very limited visibility. Radar guided the British ships to within four miles of the speeding German vessels. Worcester was one of three that turned to attack the leading German ship. They faced a barrage of fire from the battle cruiser, supported by cannon and torpedo attacks delivered by the Luftwaffe. Worcester was the last and bravest. Her commander raced to within 2 200 yards before he turned. Almost immediately she was hit, losing her 12 pounder gun, suffering significant casualties and severing communications with the bridge. Assuming that the bridge had been destroyed, the gunner commander fired the torpedoes manually. Incoming fire brought Worcester to a halt and as she drifted, she received further damage. Preparations were made to abandon ship but before the order was given some of the crew had dived overboard. The German cruisers ceased fire fully expecting the heavily damaged destroyer to sink.

In the dark and freezing water of the flooded the boiler rooms the engineers worked to restore power, while elsewhere some sort of order emerged from the chaos. Eventually, sitting very low in the water Worcester managed to make some headway, using sea water in the boilers and jettisoning anything that would reduce weight. She limped into Harwich with 26 dead and 45 injured men. Not one of the torpedoes fired by the destroyers had found their mark. The Scharnhorst suffered sever damage from two mines and the Gneisenau, light damaged from a third mine.

It is unclear if the bravery of Worcester’s crew and her damages were made clear during the Warship Week ending 14 March 1942. In any case she was adopted by the civil community of the City of Worcester and their savings no doubt contributed to the repairs and modifications that were in progress.

The last of the V and W class boats had a different boiler room layout which prevented them from being modified to hold enough fuel to undertake long range escort duties. Because these Short Range Escorts retained their high speed, they were typically used to escort convoys in the North Sea, where they were within easy reach of refuelling bases. HMS Worcester was reclassified and modified as an SRE, while under repair. She was stationed in Scapa Flow and the Orkney Islands in support of the famous Artic convoys. During Operation Gearbox she was one of a fleet of six destroyers that established a refuelling station at Spitsbergen.

Early in 1943 Worcester again returned to the 16th Destroyer Flotilla to operate in the North Sea, escorting convoys and patrolling further afield to pre-empt German attacks. These operations continued successfully until 23 December 1943 when her stern was destroyed when she denotated a mine. Towed into Great Yarmouth she was surveyed and found to beyond economical repair. It seemed this brave little ship had come to the end of her career. Although decommissioned she was modified as an accommodation ship and towed to London where she served in this role under a new name HMS Yeoman until August 1945.

Her end came when she was disposed of on 17 September 1946 and scrapped at Grays shipbreakers yard, Essex, in February 1947.

Her bell hangs in Worcester's Guildhall


Mace M., The Royal Navy at Dunkirk: Commanding Officers’ Reports of British Warships, Frontline Books, 2017

Richards, J. Dunkirk Revisited,, 2008