Allied Warships

HMS Express (H 61)

Destroyer of the E class


A prewar photograph showing HMS Express

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeDestroyer
ClassE 
PennantH 61 
Built bySwan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. (Wallsend-on-Tyne, U.K.): Wallsend 
Ordered1 Nov 1932 
Laid down23 Mar 1933 
Launched29 May 1934 
Commissioned31 Oct 1934 
End service3 Jun 1943 
History

HMS Express was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy as HMCS Gatineau on 3 June 1943. Scrapped at Vancouver in 1956.

 
Career notesBecame the Canadian destroyer Gatineau

Commands listed for HMS Express (H 61)

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CommanderFromTo
1Cdr. Jack Grant Bickford, RN25 Aug 19391 Sep 1940 (+)
2Lt.Cdr. David Hugh Maitland-Makgill-Crichton, DSC, RN1 Sep 1940late 1940

3Lt.Cdr. Francis Jack Cartwright, RN22 Jul 19413 Jun 1943

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Notable events involving Express include:


13 Mar 1940
On or around 13 March 1940 German U-boat U-44 hit a mine in the barrage Field No. 7 laid by the British destroyers HMS Express (Cdr. J.G. Bickford, DSC, RN) HMS Esk (Lt.Cdr. R.J.H. Couch, RN), HMS Icarus (Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC, RN) and HMS Impulsive (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Thomas, RN) on 3 March 1940.

6 Apr 1940
On 6 April 1940 German U-boat U-1 hit a mine in the barrage Field No. 7 laid by the British destroyers HMS Express (Cdr. J.G. Bickford, DSC, RN) HMS Esk (Lt.Cdr. R.J.H. Couch, RN), HMS Icarus (Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC, RN) and HMS Impulsive (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Thomas, RN) on 3 March 1940.

9 May 1940
The mine laying destroyers HMS Express (Cdr. J.G. Bickford, DSC, RN), HMS Esk (Lt.Cdr. R.J.H. Couch, RN) and HMS Intrepid (Cdr. R.G. Gordon, RN) lay 180 mines in known German swept channels in operation XMG.

2 Aug 1940
On or around 2 August 1940 German U-boat U-25 hit a mine in the barrage Field No. 7 laid by the British destroyers HMS Express (Cdr. J.G. Bickford, DSC, RN) HMS Esk (Lt.Cdr. R.J.H. Couch, RN), HMS Icarus (Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC, RN) and HMS Impulsive (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Thomas, RN) on 3 March 1940.

31 Aug 1940
On 31 August 1940 a group of destroyers sailed from Immingham on a mine laying mission off the Dutch coast. The minelayers were from the 20th Destroyer Flotilla and consisted of the destroyers HMS Express (Cdr. J.G. Bickford, DSC, RN), HMS Esk (Lt.Cdr. R.J.H. Couch, DSC, RN), HMS Icarus (Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC, RN), HMS Intrepid (Cdr. R.C. Gordon, RN) and HMS Ivanhoe (Cdr. P.H. Hadow, RN). The minelayers were escorted by members of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla consisted of the destroyers HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN), HMS Jupiter (Cdr. D.B. Wyburd, RN) and HMS Vortigern (Lt.Cdr. R.S. Howlett, RN). Aerial reconnaissance detected a German force and the ships of the 20th and 5th DF were ordered to intercept, believing wrongly that the German ships were part of an invasion force. HMS Express struck a mine and was badly damaged, HMS Esk went to her assistance and hit mine and sank immediately, HMS Ivanhoe also went to her assistance and hit a mine and was badly damaged, so much so she had to be sunk by HMS Kelvin. The following day they were joined by the light cruisers HMS Aurora (Capt. L.H.K. Hamilton, DSO, RN) and HMS Galatea (Capt. B.B. Schofield, RN) and while returning to base HMS Galatea struck another mine and was slightly damaged off Cleaner Shoal Buoy near the Humber light vessel.

9 Oct 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted exercises off Scapa Flow. She was escorted by HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN) and HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, RN). (1)

23 Oct 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Greenock. She was escorted by HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN) and HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN). (1)

25 Oct 1941
Shortly after 1300 hours, HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), departed Greenock for the Far East. She was escorted by HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN) and HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN). (1)

28 Oct 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) and her destroyer screen were joined by the destroyer HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), coming from Ponta Delgada, Azores, around 1500 hours.

At 1630 hours, HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN) and HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN) left the destroyer screen to refuel at Ponta Delgada. They rejoined the destroyer screen at 1900/29 after which HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN) and HMS Legion left the screen. (1)

5 Nov 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), and her escorting destroyers, HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN) and HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN), arrive at Freetown. (2)

6 Nov 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), and her escorting destroyers, HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN) and HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN), departed Freetown for Capetown, South Africa. (2)

16 Nov 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), and her escorting destroyers, HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN) and HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN), arrive at Capetown.

While at Capetown seven single 20mm Oerlikon AA guns were added by the Simonstown Royal Dockyard. (2)

18 Nov 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), and her escorting destroyers, HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN) and HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN), departed Capetown for Colombo, Ceylon. (2)

24 Nov 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) and her two escorting destroyers, HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN) and HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN), made a short stop at Mauritius. (2)

28 Nov 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), and her escorting destroyers, HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN) and HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN), arrive at Colombo. (2)

29 Nov 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), and her escorting destroyers, HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN) and HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN), departed Colombo for Singapore. At sea they made rendez-vous with the British battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. Sir W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) and her two escorting destroyers HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN) which came from Trincomalee. (2)

2 Dec 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. Sir W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) and their escorting destroyers, HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN) and HMS Express, HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN) arrive at Singapore.

At Singapore HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Encounter and HMS Jupiter were taken in hand for some much needed repairs. (3)

8 Dec 1941

Sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse

Movements of Force Z, 8 to 10 December 1941

At 1735 hours, Force Z, made up of HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN and flagship of Acting Admiral Phillips), HMS Repulse (Capt. Sir W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) escorted by the British destroyers HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN), HMS Tenedos (Lt. R. Dyer, RN) and the Australian destroyer HMAS Vampire (Cdr. W.T.A. Moran, RAN) departed Singapore for a raid against Japanese landing forces that were reported off the east coast of Malaya. Course was shaped to the east-north-east to pass east of the Anambas Islands in order to avoid possible minefields.

At 0125/9 an important signal was received from the Chief of Staff who had remained in Singapore, which confirmed that the air reconaissance asked for had been arranged, but it also stated that owning to the current military situation fighter protection off Singora the next day would not be possible. It also added that the Japanese had large bomber forces based in Southern Indo-China and possibly in Siam and that a requist had been made to the US General MacArthur to attack the Indo-China airfields with longe range bombers from the Philippines as soon as possible. Finally the signal stated that the airfield at Kota Bharu airfield had been evacuated and that we seemed to be 'loosing grip' in the other northern airfields due to enemy action.

Admiral Phillips decided, to carry on with the operation provided that he was not being sighted by enemy aircraft during 9 December. At 0400 hours course was therefore altered to the northward.

At 0620/9 HMAS Vampire reported an aircraft. It was sighted for a few seconds by one lookout only and as the weather was favourable for evasion, with frequent rain squalls and low cloud, the squadron held its course to the northward.

Between 1700 and 1830 hours, however, the weather cleared and three Japanese reconnaissance aircraft were sighted from the Prince of Wales at 1740 hours. This meant that all hopes of surprise had been lost, and a heavy scale air attack off Singora had to be anticipated. Under these cirumstances the Commander-in-Chief that the risk was unjustifiable and that the strike against the enemy landing fleet at Singora had to be given up.

At 1825/9, HMS Tenedos, which was by now getting low on fuel was detached to Singapore. She was also ordered to transmit a signal at 0800/10 to the Chief of Staff requisting additional destroyers to meet Force Z off the Anambas Islands at dawn on the 11th. The remainder of the squadron then altered course to the north-westward at 1850 hours and to the westward towards Singora at 1930 hours. The squadron continued to the westward until 2015 hours when Admiral Phillips finally decided to abandon the operation and return to Singapore at high speed.

At 2335/9, a signal was received mentioning a landing by the Japanese at Kuantan, this was over 150 miles to the southward of Kota Bharu and it seemed unlikely that the enemy would expect Force Z, last located on a northerly course and making for Singora, to be as far south by daylight. Kuantan was a key military position of great importance, it was not far off the return track to Singapore and was 400 miles from the Japanese airfields in French Indo-China. On these grounds Admiral Phillips decided to alter course for Kuantan at 0052/10 and increase speed to 25 knots.

Japanese reaction during 9/10 December.

Bad weather had precluded air search by shore base aircraft on 9 December but that afternoon the British squadron had been sighted by the submarine I-65. This report reached the 22nd Air Flotilla, based near Saigon, Indo-China at about 1600 hours. Aircraft then took off for a night attack but the British force was not found and all aircraft returned to their base around midnight.

In the meantime Force Z had been located by aircraft from the heavy cruiser Kumano and light cruiser Kinu and Admiral Kondo who was moving south from Hainan with the battlefleet (battleships Kongo, Haruna, heavy cruisers Atago, Takao and destroyers Arashi, Hagikaze, Nowaki, Maikaze, Ikazuchi, Inazuma, Asashio, Oshio, Michishio and Arashio), decided to keep in touch with Force Z by aircraft and submarine during the night and to attack at dawn with all available aircraft. He also ordered Vice-Admiral Ozawa's forces (heavy cruiser Chokai and destroyer Sagiri) and Rear-Admiral Kurita's forces (heavy cruisers Kumano, Mikuma, Mogami, Suzuya and destroyers Fubuki, Hatsuyuki and Shirayuki to join his flag at 0230/10 south of Pulau Condore, when he would move with his whole fleet to the southward on the flank of Admiral Phillips probable line of retreat.

The shadowing aircraft however lost touch with Force Z during the night owning to rain squalls however at 0221/10 the Japanese submarine I-58 sighted Force Z on a southerly course and attacked HMS Repulse with five torpedoes which all missed. She then surfaced and followed at 16 knots but lost contact at 0305 hours.

On receipt of the enemy report from the I-58 at about 0315 hours it was clear that Force Z was out of reach of the fleet which then set course for Camranh Bay at 0645/10. All was then dependend on aircraft and submarines.

At Saigon, twelve aircraft armed with two 60kg bombs took off at 0600/10 to conduct a sector search. About one hour later a striking force made up of 84 aircraft (30 bombers and 54 torpedo planes) took off and was ordered to the estimated position of the enemy task force. The force was organised in flights of of about 9 planes. The general plan was to attack continuously, stating with a bombing attack from about 8000 feet. All attacks were to be controlled by the flight leaders according to the way in which the situation developed. As will be seen the attacks were carried out almost exactly as planned.

The flights proceeded independently to the south along the 105th meridian. Nothing was seen of Force Z during this southerly run and after sighting Singapore they turned to the northward, a course which was to lead them straight to their quarry, which was sighted by a land based reconnaissance aircraft at 1026/10.

Loss of the Prince of Wales and Repulse.

In the meantime Force Z had been closing the shore at 25 knots and at dawn on 10 December was about 60 nautical miles east-north-east of Kuantan. The sun had just risen when HMS Repulse reported an aircraft which was not identified (Capt. Tennant later stated that it was Japanese). The force continued to the westward. HMS Prince of Wales launched a Walrus aircraft which arrived of Kuantan at 0800 hours. No enemy forces were sighted. HMS Express was then ordered to investigate and reported 'complete peace' and rejoined the force at 0845 hours. The Commander-in-Chief then decided to investigate a tug towing some barges which had been sighted at extreme visibility during the run in. Course was then altered to the northward and later to the eastward for this purpose.

It was during this run to the eastward that Force Z was attacked by successive waves of Japanese bomber and torpedo aircraft which eventually sank both capital ships.

Shortly after 1000/10 reports of hostile aircraft were received from the destroyer Tenedos, then being bombed 140 nautical miles to the south-east. At 1020 hours a shadowing aircraft was sighted from the Prince of Wales and the first degree of readiness was assumed. Soon afterwards an enemy aircraft was picked up by the radar of HMS Repulse.

At 1100 hours course was altered to 135°. A few minutes later nine enemy aircraft were seen approaching from the starboard bow, flying at about 10000 feet. All ships, except HMAS Vampire, which was outranged, opened fire. The enemy concentrated the high level bombing attack on HMS Repulse. One bomb fell just clear to starboard, seven very close to port, and one hit the port hangar, bursting on the armour below the marines mess deck at 1122 hours. This caused a fire on the catapult deck and fractured a steam pipe. No damage was done to the engine or boiler rooms and the fire was rapidly got under control.

Twenty minutes later nine torpedo bombers attacked from the port bow. They had been seen to cross from starboard to port at extreme range, and after making use of cloud on the port beam to do a series of turns together, attacked in waves of two or three in line abreast. The attack was very well executed and the enemy was in no way disturbed by gunfire from Force Z. HMS Repulse alter course right away to starboard and escaped unhurt. HMS Prince of Wales however altered course to port and it was thought at that time that she had avoided all torpedoes fired at her except one which hit the port side aft, approximately abreast of 'P 3' and 'P 4' 5.25" gun turrets, but it now seems probable that she was actually hit simultaneously by another torpedo abaft 'Y' turret. The consequences of this attack were disastrous. 'B' engine room, 'Y' boiler room, the port diesel engine room and 'Y' action machinery room were flooded. Both propeller shafts stopped and speed dropped to 15 knots. The steering gear was damaged and the ship was never again under complete control. Within a few minutes she assumed a list of 13° to port and increased her trim by the stern, till by 1220 hours the port side of the quarter deck was awash. All the 5.25" armament, except turret 'S 1', was put out of action either due to the list or failure of power.

As they crossed the line of advance after dropping their torpedoes, two of the enemy aircraft were hit. One crashed into the sea on the starboard beam.

At 1156 hours HMS Repulse was attacked by another group of nine torpedo bombers. These came in from her port side. Repulse altered course towards them and succeeded in combing a large number of torpedo tracks. Almost simultaneously a high level bombing attack developed, again concentrated on HMS Repulse. The ship was manoeuvering at high speed, being actually under helm when the bombs fell at 1158 hours and escaped untouched. There was one near miss to starboard and the remainder fell just clear to port.

Owing to independent avoiding action, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse had opened some distance apart. Captain Tennant, who was uncertain what signals the Prince of Wales had made, himself made an emergency W/T report 'enemy aircraft bombing' at 1158 hours and after the second high level bombing attack, he informed the Commander-in-Chief by visual that HMS Repulse had so far avoided all torpedoes and that damage from the bomb which had hit her was under control. He also asked him whether the flagship's wireless was still in action, in case he wished any reports made by HMS Repulse. At 1210 hours the Prince of Wales hoisted 'not under control' balls and Captain Tennant closed her, reducing to 20 knots to see if he could be of any assistance. In the meantime another attack was developing. About eight aircraft were sighted low on the horizon on the starboard bow of the Repulse. When about three miles distant they split into two formations. The right-hand one attacked the Repulse from the starboard side, dropping their torpedoes at about 2500 yards range.

Captain Tennant, foreseeing this, had already started to swing the ship to starboard, and anticipated no difficulty in combing their tracks. The left hand formation was appartently making straight for the Prince of Wales, at that time abaft of the Repulse's port beam, but suddenly turned straight at the latter and dropped torpedoes when about 2000 yards on her port beam. No avoiding action was possible as any large alteration of course would have incurred a hit from the torpedoes whose tracks were already being combed, and one torpedo hit amidships on the port side. This Repulse stood well and she continued to manoeuvre at 25 knots.

Almost at the same time HMS Prince of Wales was attacked from her starboard side. She seemed incapable of taking avoiding action, and sustained two hits at 1223 hours, and a further two a minute and a half later. The first two of these hits were forward of the breakwater and just before the bridge, the others aft, near 'Y' turret and abreast of 'B' turret. The immediate effect was to reduce the list to 3° to port, the starboard outer propeller shaft stopped and speed dropped to about eight knots. One of the attacking aircraft was shot down.

Fresh waves of torpedo bombers then attacked HMS Repulse from several directions. She shot down two at 1226 hours but a torpedo hit jammed her stearing gear, and, though she could still steam at well over 20 knots, almost immediately afterwards three torpedoes hit her abreast the superstructure, two simultaneously on the port side and one on the starboard side. She turned sharply 90° to starboard, listing heavily to port. This brought her fine on the Prince of Wales' quarter, steering a parralel course. Captain Tennant knew that the end was at hand, and at once gave the order for everyone to come on deck and cast loose the Carley floats. HMS Repulse hung for at least a minute and a half to two minutes with a list of 60° to 70° to port and then rolled over at 1233 hours.

During these attacks HMS Express had been screening the flagship's starboard bow, and HMAS Vampire on her port bow, while HMS Electra, which had been detached to pick up a man who had fallen overboard from the Prince of Wales at 1205 hours, was between the two capital ships. HMS Vampire and HMS Electra now at once closed HMS Repulse by order of the Commander-in-Chief and they succeeded in rescuing 42 out of 69 officers (including Captain Tennant) and 754 out of 1240 ratings.

The Prince of Wales meanwhile had been heading north, her speed reduced to eight knots. Just after Repulse had capsized nine high level bombers were seen passing from port to starboard, and then ten minutes later a high level bombing attack developed from ahead. At 1244 hours a bomb hit near 'S 3' turret wrecking the port crane and canteen flat, and causing a fire. It failed however to pierce the armoured deck. The remainder of the bombs missed narrowly aft, falling on both sides of the ship.

At 1250 hours a signal was sent to Singapore requisting all available tugs, but by this time the ship was clearly doomed and a few minutes later HMS Express went alongside the starboard quarter, and the disembarkation of wounded and men not required to fight the ship commenced. Carley floats were launched and the gripes cast off the boom boats. By 1310 hours the ship was settling rapidly, listing steeply to port and orders were passed to inflate lifebelts and abandon ship. At 1320 hours HMS Prince of Wales heeled over sharply, turned turtle and sank.

Skilfully handled, HMS Express had remained alongside until the last possible moment and had to go full speed astern to clear herself, sustaining damage from a projection on the hull of the battleship, possibly the bilge keel, as she heeled over. The next three quarters of an hour was spent in rescue work, at the end of which time she was completely full and at 1415 hours course was set for Singapore. All the remaining survivors for whom she had no room were then on rafts or in boats, from where they were subsequently picked up by HMS Electra and HMAS Vampire. A total of 90 officers out of 110 and 1195 ratings out of 1502 were rescued. Neither Admiral Phillips nor Captain Leach was among them.

At 1515 hours, HMAS Vampire left the scene followed at 1602 hours by HMS Electra after she had made a final search of the area. All three destroyers arrived at Singapore between 2300/10 and 0000/11. (3)

4 Jan 1942
HrMs De Ruyter (Cdr. E.E.B. Lacomblé, RNN and flagship of Rear-Admiral K.W.F.M. Doorman, RNN), HrMs Tromp (Cdr. J.B. de Meester, RNN) and the destroyers HrMs Piet Hein (Lt.Cdr. J.M.L.I. Chompff, RNN) and HrMs Banckert (Lt.Cdr. L.J. Goslings, RNN) departed Banten Bay to bolster the escort of convoy BM 9B that was en-route to Singapore. The Dutch ships joined the British convoy around 1300 hours.

The Dutch ships remained with the convoy until 2000/5.

Convoy BM 9B was made up of the following ships; passenger (or in this case troops / cargo ships Madura (8975 GRT, built 1921), Rajput (5521 GRT, built 1925), Risaldar (5407 GRT, built 1940), Jalarajan (5076 GRT, built 1925) and El Madina (3962 GRT, built 1937). They were escorted by the Australian light cruiser HMAS Hobart (Capt. H.L. Howden, CBE, RAN), the British light cruiser HMS Danae (Capt. F.J. Butler, MBE, RN), the British destroyers HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN) and HMS Stronghold (Lt.Cdr. (retired) G.R. Pretor-Pinney, RN) and the Australian minesweepers HMAS Goulburn (Lt. B. Paul, RANR(S)) and HMAS Burnie (T/A/Lt.Cdr. G.E. Gough, RANR(S)). (4)

Media links


British destroyers & frigates

Norman Friedman


Destroyers of World War Two

Whitley, M. J.

Sources

  1. ADM 53/114892
  2. ADM 199/2566
  3. ADM 234/330
  4. Files 2.12.03.6849 and 2.12.27.121 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.


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