HMS Whitehall : A History Compiled While the 300-foot HMS Whitehall was a relatively unknown ship from WW2, she was an extremely distinguished destroyer, serving from Dunkirk to Normandy and more.
When the Second World War began on the 3rd of September 1939, HMS Whitehall took aboard stores and her wartime complement, and proceeded to Rosyth for her assignment with the 15th Destroyer Flotilla.
Upon arrival, she took up convoy escort and patrol duties in the North Sea, which she continued through November 1939.
In December 1939, she was transferred to Western Approaches Command for convoy defense operations in the Southwestern Approaches. On 28 December 1939, she joined the destroyers HMS Vanoc, Whirlwind, and Wivern as the escort for the Gibraltar-bound Convoy OG 21 as it formed in the Southwestern Approaches.
The British destroyers remained with the convoy during the initial leg of its voyage, detaching on 29 December to return to base after being relieved by two French Navy warships.
In January 1940, Whitehall proceeded to Gibraltar, where she later set out for the United Kingdom as the escort for a Liverpool-bound Convoy HG 16F along with HMS Vanoc and the destroyer HMS Active, reinforced the following day by the sloop HMS Aberdeen. The three destroyers detached from the convoy on 28 January and returned to base in the United Kingdom.
On the 23rd of March, Whitehall joined destroyers HMS Wakeful and HMS Winchelsea as the escort of the Gibraltar-to-Liverpool Convoy HG 23F in relieving two French warships in the Southwestern Approaches.
She remained with the convoy until its arrival at Liverpool on 26 March. On 5 May 1940, Whitehall, the sloop Rochester, and two French warships joined Convoy OG 28 as it formed in the Southwestern Approaches for its passage to Gibraltar. She and Rochester detached from the convoy later in the day to return to base.
The highly successful German invasion of France and the low countries began on the 10th of May 1940, and on the 20th of May Whitehall was assigned to the support of operations ashore as Allied forces retreated before the German offensive and required evacuation to the United Kingdom.
On the 26th of May, she was assigned to Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk, France, see below:
She made two evacuation trips on the 30th of May, carrying 655 troops from Dunkirk to Dover on the first voyage and another 593 on the second. On 31 May, she joined Winchelsea and the destroyer Venomous in an evacuation run to Dunkirk and carried another 943 troops to Dover.
On the 1st of June, after German aircraft sank the destroyer Basilisk in shallow water at La Panne, Belgium, Whitehall joined the fishing trawler Jolie Mascotte in rescuing 131 members of Basilisk’s crew, and then destroyed the wreck of Basilisk with gunfire.
After suffering damage in a German air attack, Whitehall landed 571 personnel – a mix of evacuated troops and Basilisk survivors – at Dover, bringing the number of personnel she evacuated during Operation Dynamo to 2,762.
After Dynamo, Whitehall was under repair at Plymouth until 26 August 1940. With her repairs complete, she transferred to Harwich to conduct patrols and convoy defense operations in the North Sea. In September 1940, she was transferred to Western Approaches Command for convoy escort duties in the Western Approaches as a part of the 8th Escort Group based at Liverpool.
She joined the destroyer HMS Sturdy, the minesweeper HMS Jason, the corvettes HMS Arabis, Coreopsis, Heliotrope, and Hibiscus, and three naval trawlers as the escort of Convoy HX 79. On the 18th of October 1940 the convoy came under sustained attack by five German submarines, which sank 12 of the merchant ships and damaged another without a single loss to the U-boats.
Whitehall continued on convoy escort duty in the North Atlantic for the rest of 1940 without any major incidents. She would then spend the first half of 1941 on North Atlantic convoy duty without any significant incidents, besides the usual convoy attacks.
In June 1941, Whitehall was selected to carry out trials of a new weapon called the Five Wide Virgin, a mortar designed to fire depth charges ahead of a ship attacking an enemy submarine. Whitehall conducted the trials during July 1941, and the weapon was unsuccessful, although it would later lead to Hedgehog, an anti-submarine mortar designed by the Admiralty that would become an important Allied antisubmarine weapon.
After completion of the anti-submarine mortar trials, Whitehall returned to North Atlantic convoy duty. On 2 August 1941, she deployed with HMS Winchelsea, HMS Witch, the heavy cruiser HMS London, the destroyers HMS Broadway, Gurkha, Lance, and Legion, the Polish Navy destroyer ORP Piorun, and the Royal Netherlands Navy destroyer HNLMS Isaac Sweers from the River Clyde in Scotland as escort for Convoy WS 9C.
On the 9th of August, she escorted the military convoy WS 8C from the Clyde to Scapa Flow as part of the build-up for a planned occupation of the Azores that later was canceled, returning to the Clyde on 10 August. She joined Witch and the Royal Netherlands Navy light cruiser HNLMS Jacob van Heemskerck in escorting Convoy WS 10X from Liverpool to the Clyde on 15 August 1941.
From the 17th to 24th of September 1941, HMS Whitehall, Witch, Isaac Sweers, Piorun, the destroyers Laforey, Lightning, and Oribi, the Polish Navy destroyer ORP Garland, and the escort destroyer Blankney escorted WS 11X from the Clyde during its passage of the Northwestern Approaches bound for Gibraltar and Operation Halberd, a major effort to relieve Malta, then under a heavy siege by the Axis forces.
The destroyers detached to return to the Clyde while the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and light cruisers HMS Euryalus and Kenya covered the convoy during its Atlantic passage. From 1 to 4 October 1941, Whitehall, Witch, the light cruiser HMS Cairo, and the destroyer Verity escorted military convoy WS 12 during its passage of the Northwestern Approaches, detaching along with the other escorts to return to the Clyde.
From the 13th to 18th of November 1941, she joined Witch, the destroyers Maori and Vanquisher, and the escort destroyers Badsworth and Exmoor as local escort of the military convoy, which departed the Clyde and transited the Northwestern Approaches, detaching to return to the Clyde. The R class battleship Royal Sovereign provided the ocean escort for the convoy.
HMS Whitehall remained on North Atlantic convoy duty until February 1942, when she was transferred to the Mediterranean. She arrived at Gibraltar on 27 February to take part in Operation Spotter I, an aircraft delivery run to Malta that was canceled due to aircraft fuel problems. On 6 March 1942, Whitehall, Laforey, Lightning, Blankney, the destroyers Active Anthony, and Wishart, and the escort destroyers Croome and Duncan set out from Gibraltar as the escort of the aircraft carriers Argus and Eagle and the battleship Malaya for Operation Spotter II, another aircraft delivery to Malta.
On the 20th of March, Whitehall, Active, Anthony, Blankney, Croome, Duncan, Exmoor, Laforey, and Wishart again departed Gibraltar as escort for Argus and Eagle as the two carriers again delivered aircraft to Malta in Operation Picket I. On 27 March, the same ships began Operation Picket II to deliver aircraft to Malta yet again.
In April 1942, Whitehall returned to the United Kingdom to rejoin her escort group, and was selected for conversion into a Long-Range Escort. In May 1942, she entered the Royal Navy Dockyard at Sheerness to undergo a refit and begin the conversion, which included the installation of a Type 271 surface warning radar and a Type 286P air warning radar. After the completion of her post-conversion acceptance trials and pre-deployment work-ups, she rejoined her escort group in August 1942.
On the 30th of September 1942, she was detached from the group to escort the 1st Minelaying Squadron while it laid mines in the Northern Barrage, and in October 1942 she transferred to the 2nd Escort Group to continue North Atlantic convoy defense operations. Later that month, she joined the destroyers Hesperus and Vanessa in escorting Convoy ONS 138 on a transatlantic voyage from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; the convoy avoided attack by German submarines by exploiting radio direction-finding information to alter course around them. In November 1942, Whitehall returned to the United Kingdom as part of the escort for a convoy making the reverse trip.
Whitehall continued on Atlantic convoy duty without major incident until April 1943, when she joined Hesperus, Vanessa, corvettes of her escort group, and the 5th Support Group – consisting of the escort aircraft carrier Biter and four destroyers – in escorting Convoy ONS 4.
The convoy came under attack by German submarines of Wolfpack Meise.
HMS Hesperus sank the submarine U-191, and the escorts damaged other submarines, Whitehall and the corvette HMS Campanula pursued a radio direction-finding fix on U-732 on 23 April, but were unable to attack because U-732 dived to avoid attack by aircraft from Biter before their arrival on the scene. In May 1943, Whitehall, Hesperus, and ships of the 2nd Escort Group were among eight escorts of the 25-ship Convoy SC 129, which came under attack by 21 German submarines of Wolfpack Elbe on the 11th of May.
The submarines sank two of the convoy’s merchant ships that day, and Whitehall, Hesperus, and the corvette Clematis had to join forces to drive off U-359 and U-383. Hesperus damaged U-223 and sank U-186 on 11–12 May, while Whitehall pursued two radio direction-finding contacts on the afternoon of 12 May, attacking one submarine with depth charges and another with gunfire and depth charges damaging them both. German attacks ceased on 13 May after HMS Biter arrived to provide air cover.
In October 1943, Whitehall participated in Operation Alacrity, the establishment of air and refueling bases in the Azores, escorting convoys carrying men, equipment, and supplies to the islands. Later in the month, she returned to convoy escort duty, taking part in the escort of the combined convoys MKS 28 and SL 138. On the 31st of October, while the convoys were under attack by German submarines of Wolfpack Schill, a radio direction-finding fix on U-306 allowed Whitehall and the corvette Geranium to depth-charge U-306 and sink her and her crew of 51 in the North Atlantic northeast of the Azores.
In November 1943, Whitehall was reassigned to the escort of Arctic convoys between the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. On the 15th of November, Whitehall, the destroyer Inconstant, the corvette Heather, and the minesweeper Hussar set out from Loch Ewe, Scotland, as the escort of Convoy JW 54A during its passage to the Kola Inlet in North Russia, where it arrived without incident on 24 November. She and the same ships escorted Convoy RA 54B from the Kola Inlet to Loch Ewe between 27 November and 9 December 1943 in another uneventful passage.
On the 20th of December 1943, she set out from Loch Ewe with the destroyer HMS Wrestler, the corvettes Honeysuckle and Oxlip, and the minesweeper Gleaner as the escort for Convoy JW 55B after the German battleship Scharnhorst put to sea to threaten the convoy, destroyers of the Home Fleet joined the escort on 25 December.
Heavy units of the Home Fleet sank Scharnhorst in the Battle of the North Cape on 26 December 1943, and JW 55B arrived at the Kola Inlet on 30 December without losing any ships. On the 31st of December, HMS Whitehall, Wrestler, Honeysuckle, Oxlip, and the corvette Rhododendron departed the Kola Inlet as the escort for Convoy RA 55B.
Although the German submarines of Wolfpack Eisenbart detected Convoy RA 55B and attacked it in early January 1944, all of their attacks were ineffective. Whitehall and her fellow escorts drove off all attacks and delivered the convoy’s eight merchant ships to Loch Ewe without loss on the 8th of January 1944.
On 22 January 1944, Whitehall, Oxlip, the destroyer Westcott, the sloop HMS Cygnet, and the minesweeper HMS Seagull departed Loch Ewe escorting Convoy JW 56B to the Soviet Union. Six German submarines of Wolfpack Werewolf attacked on the 30th of January, sinking the destroyer Hardy but failed against convoy’s merchant ships, and in response Whitehall and the destroyer Meteor depth-charged and sank the German submarine U-314 that day in the Barents Sea southeast of Bear Island with the loss of her entire crew of 49. Whitehall detached from the convoy upon arrival at the Kola Inlet on the 1st of February 1944. On the 3rd of February 1944, she departed the Kola Inlet with HMS Cygnet, Hussar, Oxlip, Rhododendron, and Westcott, the corvettes HMS Dianella and Poppy, and the minesweepers HMS Halcyon and Speedwell as the escort for Convoy RA 56, which made an uneventful passage to Loch Ewe, arriving on 11 February 1944.
After arriving at Loch Ewe, Whitehall was reassigned to North Atlantic convoy defense, but in March 1944 she once again was selected for Arctic convoy work. On 27 March 1944, she joined HMS Honeysuckle, Westcott, Wrestler, and the corvettes Bluebell and Lotus as the escort for Convoy JW 58, departing Loch Ewe that day. The escort later was reinforced by two escort aircraft carriers, the light cruiser HMS Diadem, and destroyers of the Home Fleet, and aircraft from the escort carrier HMS Tracker; the ships combined managed to sink four German submarines after they began attempts to attack the convoy on the 29th of March. JW 58 arrived at the Kola Inlet on 4 April 1944. On 7 April, Whitehall departed the Kola Inlet with HMS Inconstant, Westcott, Wrestler, the escort aircraft carrier HMS Activity, and the destroyers HMS Beagle, Boadicea, Keppel, Venus, and Walker as the escort of Convoy RA 58, detaching at sea on 12 April before the convoy arrived at Loch Ewe.
On 20 April 1944, Whitehall got underway for the Kola Inlet to take aboard Soviet Navy personnel slated to man warships in the United Kingdom scheduled for transfer to the Soviet Union and to escort empty Allied ships to the United Kingdom. The ships arrived at the Kola Inlet on 23 April, and Whitehall embarked 14 passengers before the force got underway again as the escort for Convoy RA 59 on 28 April. On 3 May, Whitehall, Boadicea, Diadem, Fencer, Walker, and the destroyers Ulysses, Verulam, and Virago detached from the force and proceeded independently to the United Kingdom.
Upon arrival in the United Kingdom, Whitehall was reassigned to North Atlantic convoy duty, but later in May 1944 was selected to participate in Operation Neptune, the Naval assault phase of the upcoming Allied invasion of Normandy, scheduled for early June 1944. Accordingly, she joined Rhododendron and the naval trawlers Scoma and Ulva at Milford Haven, Wales, to form Escort Group 139.
The escort group escorted Convoy EBC 1, made up of preloaded stores coasters, from Milford Haven to the Isle of Wight on 3 June, then to the Solent on 5 June. On 7 June, the second day of the invasion, EBC 1 and its escort group proceeded to the invasion beaches. On 9 June, Whitehall’s escort group was back at Milford Haven, and then began a cycle of escorting convoys carrying reinforcements and supplies to the beachheads until they were released from Operation Neptune on the 27th of June 1944.
Upon her release from Neptune, Whitehall was assigned to another tour escorting Arctic convoys.
On the 15th of August 1944, she departed the United Kingdom as part of the close escort for Convoy JW 59 with Bluebell, Cygnet, Honeysuckle, Oxlip, the frigate HMS Loch Dunvegan, and the corvettes Camellia and Charlock. The passage was marred by the loss of the sloop Kite, which sank in one minute on 21 August after suffering two torpedo hits, but the convoy arrived at the Kola Inlet on 24 August.
On the 28th of August, Whitehall, Keppel, Loch Dunvegan, and the sloops Mermaid and Peacock departed the Kola Inlet as the close escort for Convoy RA 59A, on the 30th of August, Whitehall rescued the survivors of the American merchant ship SS William S. Thayer, which the German submarine U-771 had sunk. On 2 September 1944, she shared credit with HMS Keppel, Mermaid, Peacock, and a Fairey Swordfish from the escort aircraft carrier HMS Vindex for the sinking of the German submarine U-394 and her entire crew of 50. Whitehall detached from the convoy upon its arrival at Loch Ewe without the loss of a single merchant ship on the 5th of September 1944.
From 15 to 23 September 1944, HMS Whitehall, Cygnet, Keppel, the destroyer HMS Bulldog, and the corvettes HMS Allington Castle and Bamborough Castle escorted Convoy JW 60 from the United Kingdom to the Kola Inlet without interference by German forces. The same ships escorted Convoy RA 60 on its voyage from the Kola Inlet to Loch Ewe between 28 September and 5 October 1944, losing two merchant ships to U boat attacks on the 29th of September
Whitehall was transferred to North Atlantic convoy defense operations on 7 October 1944. She carried out these duties through the end of 1944 and into early 1945 without major incident
After beginning 1945 on the North Atlantic convoy duty, Whitehall was selected later in January 1945 to return to the Arctic convoy run. On 2 February 1945, she got underway from the Clyde with HMS Bamborough Castle, Bluebell, Cygnet, Rhododendron, the sloop HMS Lark, and the corvette HMS Alnwick Castle as the close escort for Convoy JW 64. She and Lark repelled a torpedo attack by German aircraft on 10 February, and the convoy arrived at the Kola Inlet on 15 February.
On the 16th of February, Whitehall took part in anti-submarine operations off the Kola Inlet to clear the way for the next departing convoy, Convoy RA 64, and then joined the same ships that had escorted JW 64 to escort RA 64 to the United Kingdom. The convoy departed the Kola Inlet on 17 February, and that morning a German acoustic torpedo badly damaged HMS Lark and forced her to return under tow to the Kola Inlet, but the other ships pressed on for the United Kingdom.
Whitehall was forced to leave the convoy on the 21st of February because of boiler problems and proceeded on her own. She was repaired in March 1945 and then was assigned to escort duty in the waters around Britain, which she continued to do until the day of the surrender of Germany in early May 1945.
Written by Harry Gillespie
HMS Whitehall : A History
Harry Gillespie is a military historian who resides with his wife in the United Kingdom.
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Gracious thanks to the Imperial War Museum for the use of images: Imperial War Museums (iwm.org.uk)