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HMS Bulldog : Legendary Destroyer of The Royal Navy

HMS Bulldog : Legendary Destroyer of The Royal Navy

The small destroyer that had a brilliant wartime career and unknowingly to her crew won the Battle of the Atlantic 

Men signalling Bulldog from shore near Veulettes-sur-Mer, 10 June 1940. Watercolour by Richard Harding Seddon (1915–2002)

HMS Bulldog was a B-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy in 1931 laid down under the 1928 Naval Programme. Bulldog was completed on 8 April 1931. After her commissioning, she was assigned to the 4th Destroyer Flotilla with the Mediterranean Fleet until September 1936, when she was transferred to the Home Fleet. Bulldog aided survivors of the 1932 Ierissos earthquake and patrolled southern Spanish waters during the first month of the Spanish Civil War. During her time in the Mediterranean the ship would be refitted at Gibraltar in 1932 and 1935 and then in Malta in 1936.

Once she returned to Britain, Bulldog was almost continuously under repair or refitting at Chatham Dockyard until 1937.
HMS BULLDOG secured to a buoy on the East Coast. Fitted with a bow chaser

Remaining with the 4th Flotilla until January 1939 and made multiple deployments off the coast of Spain enforcing the arms embargo on Spain until 31 March 1938, when she was refitted, at Sheerness Dockyard. The ship then escorted the battleship HMS Resolution to Scapa Flow in September during the Munich Crisis. Bulldog was briefly assigned to the Gibraltar Local Flotilla in January 1939, until she became escort for the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious in the Mediterranean in March.

In October she was deployed with Glorious, the battleship HMS Malaya and the destroyer HMS Daring as part of a Hunting Group in the Indian Ocean, based at Socotra. She sailed to Malta with Glorious in January 1940 for another refit, then returned to guard duty but this time for HMS Ark Royal during March. In April Bulldog had basic repairs made to her at Devonport that lasted until 3 May.

Bulldog joined the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow and sailed on 9 May.
Scapa Flow in April 1942

With a force consisting of the cruiser HMS Birmingham and thirteen destroyers, to search off the coast of the Skagerrak for German minelayers. The British force was spotted by German E-boats but the German ships returned quickly to base before they could be intercepted. One of the E-boats torpedoed the destroyer Kelly the next day causing serious damage to her. Bulldog then towed Kelly to Hebburn for repairs, sustaining damage to her stern during the tow, which had to be repaired that lasted from 13 to 21 May.

The ship damaged her propellers again and on 27 May was under repairs at Chatham Dockyard until 4 June, when she was transferred to the 1st Destroyer Flotilla.
Chatham was the first Royal Dockyard to build submarines and went on to specialise in both building and maintenance. Over a period that spanned two World Wars, 1908 to 1945, the Dockyard built 50 submarines on the site and a further 7 before its closure. https://thedockyard.co.uk/learning/digital/history-of-the-dockyard/

She sailed for Le Havre on 9 June, to assist in the evacuation of British troops during Operation Cycle and was severely damaged by three hits from German aircraft that knocked out her steering gear. Bulldog’s crew was able to effect temporary repairs and she reached Portsmouth Dockyard the following morning. Whilst being repaired, she was further damaged again by splinters during an air raid on the 24th August. After her repairs were completed on the 2 September, Bulldog rejoined the flotilla.

She was refitted again from 2 January to 18 February 1941 and was assigned to the 3rd Escort Group for convoy escort duties to and from Iceland.

Commander Joe Baker-Cresswell was the ship’s captain and commander of the group. Together with the destroyer HMS Amazon and the sloop HMS Rochester, she attacked damaged U-94 on 7 May, while escorting the Convoy OB 318 off Iceland. 

Two days later Bulldog and the corvette HMS Aubrieta depth-charged U-110, forcing her to the surface. Bulldog and the destroyer HMS Broadway first fired on it, then closed on the U-boat, whose crew were abandoning the boat as it was sinking. Sub-Lieutenant David Balme of Bulldog led a boarding party that removed the Enigma coding machine and various codebooks. This was one of the most important actions of the naval war as they were of lifesaving help to the Government Code and Cypher School in breaking German naval codes. She then took the submarine in tow, but it eventually sank the next morning due to the damage. Bulldog remained on Atlantic convoy duties until October. When she sailed to Fairfields in Govan, for a complete conversion into a escort destroyer that lasted until February 1942.

A Type 271 target indication radar was installed above the bridge, replacing her old director-control tower and rangefinder equipment. 

Bulldog was an unattached ship assigned to Western Approaches Command from 10 February 1942. And aided the destroyer HMS Richmond. After she had collided with the American merchant ship SS Francis Scott Key. Furthermore, on the 31 March whilst escorting Convoy PQ 14 from Scotland to Reykjavík in Iceland. On 12 April, she rejoined the convoy en route to Murmansk, where they would arrive a week later.

On 28 April, she escorted the returning Convoy QP 11 with the same ships. Two days later the light cruiser HMS Edinburgh joined the convoy. Whilst Edinburgh was taking position ahead of the convoy later on the day, Edinburgh was hit by two torpedoes from the submarine U-456. The cruiser was heavily damaged and with her steering gear wrecked had to be taken in tow for the voyage back to Murmansk.

On 1 May the convoy was attacked by the German destroyers Z7 Hermann Schoemann, Z24, and Z25 which had been searching for HMS Edinburgh.
Aerial view of HMS EDINBURGH, ‘Southampton’ class (third group) cruiser in Scapa Flow, October 1941

Commander Maxwell Richmond, Bulldog’s captain and commander of the escorts, interposed his four destroyers between the Germans and the merchantmen and drove off the Germans in a three-hour battle during which Bulldog was damaged by shell splinters. She was repaired from 2 June to 14 August and then assigned to the Greenock Special Escort Division. In November she then escorted British ships participating in the Allied landings in North Africa, and then returned to Greenock for repairs from 23 November to 14 December.

Bulldog was assigned to an escort for Convoy JW 51B on 20 December, but had to return home for repairs on 28 December after damage sustained in a bad storm. After repairs were completed on 16 January 1943, she went back to convoy escort between Iceland and the UK for the next two months. After the escorting she sailed to Freetown for escort duties between Lagos, Freetown and Gibraltar. Bulldog returned home in October for a lengthy refit at Portsmouth Dockyard that lasted from 8 November to 24 May 1944. In June she began escort duties between the River Clyde and the Faeroe Islands and sank U-719 by depth charge with her hedgehog with all 52 hands lost on the submarine on 26 June.

On 20 August, her hull was badly damaged after a collision with the frigate HMS Loch Dunvegan in Gourock Bay.
Photograph of British frigate HMS Loch Dunvegan.

After repairs that lasted until 4 September, she resumed convoy duties between the Faeroes, the Clyde and Scapa Flow until she required major machinery repairs in November. Upon completion on 30 January 1945, Bulldog escorted convoys between Plymouth and various Irish ports for the remainder of the war.

Signing the surrender document liberating the Channel Islands

 On 9 May 1945, she sailed to Guernsey. Where she participated in the Liberation of the German-occupied Channel Islands with German officers surrendering to British representatives onboard the HMS Bulldog. Bulldog was placed in Category ‘B’ reserve on 27 May and reduced to Category ‘C’ reserve on 13 December, she was eventually turned into scrap in 1946.

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Written by Harry Gillespie

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