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December 26th - Focus: HMS Petard

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Alpha Tester
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19 ships laid down, including Cleveland-class light cruiser USS Denver and a rare appearance by the US Coast Guard with cutter Minnetonka. We're going to be covering a destroyer, one of three British ones, laid down today; HMS Petard. (The other two are HMS Penn and HMS Porcupine.)

11 ships launched, none large enough to be interesting; the biggest is destroyer HMS Legion.

And 27 ships commissioned, the largest being AMC HMS Carthage.


Italy: Got nothing.


Axis: Japanese armored cruiser Tsukuba, laid down in 1905, and everybody's favorite German battlecruiser/battleship Scharnhorst, sunk at North Cape in 1943




HMS Petard is, unusually for us, a destroyer. She's on this list for one reason, her encounter with U-559, but that's not the only thing she did. Petard, among other achievements, is one of the few ships that can claim the distinction of sinking a submarine from each of the Axis navies; the German U-559, the Italian Uarsciek, and the Japanese I-27.


HMS Petard at anchor in Port Said.



HMS Petard was a P-class destroyer, a close relative of the O-class, laid down in December of 1939 and launched in May of 1941. She was laid down as HMS Persistent but before launching her name was changed. Part of the War Emergency Programme destroyers, she was armed with four 4” guns in high-angle mounts, two quad 21” torpedo tubes, a single quad 2pdr “pom pom”, and smattering of 20mm Oerlikons. She was also quite small, being 500 tons lighter than the American Fletchers and Japanese Yugumos she was contemporary with. Yet Petard was much better off than many British destroyers, as she had a Dual-Purpose main battery to fight aircraft with and a healthy depth charge stowage as designed, with 100 depth charges.


The man originally slated to command Petard was Lieutenant Commander Stephen Beattie, who would later win the Victoria Cross during the St. Nazaire raid. Instead, on commissioning day Lieutenant Commander Mark Thornton was ship's captain. This was Thornton's second destroyer command of the war, and he had already won the Distingushed Service Cross when his previous ship had sunk a U-boat. The builders at Vickers, Walker-on-Tyne shook their heads in sympathy for the crew during Thornton's vicious speech about destroying the King's enemies and his promise to send them a trophy.


During workups and at Scapa Flow Thornton was known for his vociferous manner with a demeanor of perpetually fresh anger and high demands for exactitude. In suspected U-boat encounters he was known for standing at the back of the bridge, in sight of the pom-pom crew, and raising one finger in the air; a signal to get him one dead German if the submarine surfaced. During the stay at Scapa he was known for beating the wardroom bulkhead until it boomed in sympathy, demanding action with the enemy. His presence was moderated by his First Lieutenant, Anthony Fasson, a Scot known for his optimism and willingness to listen; Fasson had made a name for himself during the First Battle of Narvik serving aboard HMS Hostile. The two formed an effective team.


Assigned to escort Convoy WS 21 to Alexandria via the Cape of Good Hope, Petard had an inauspicious voyage. Other escorts shot down a pair of friendly Short Sunderland flying boats, while Thornton's reputation for evil genius grew by leaps and bounds as he trained the crew mercilessly, spreading soap on the deck to inhibit their footing or artificially listing the ship and spraying them with fire hoses while they struggled to action stations to simulate a torpedo hit. Petard joined the 12th Destroyer Flotilla in Port Said on 22 September 1942, using her guns in anger a few days later for the first time in fighting off a trio of Ju 88s.


HMS Petard underway at high speed, taken from HMS Formidable during escort operations during the Italian campaign.



In late October, however, she made herself famous. Along with sistership HMS Pakenham and other destroyers HMS Dulverton, HMS Hurworth, and HMS Hero, she engaged in an ASW sweep off the Nile delta in response to the report of another Sunderland that a submarine was in the area. Spotting Hero approaching, U-559 dived. But escape was not that easy. The destroyers located U-559 on sonar and spent the next 16 hours stalking and depth-charging the submarine, during which Thornton showed considerable savvy at preventing the submarine from escaping. With the oxygen inside U-559 running out (one of the crew was already dead of carbon dioxyide poisoning, three others from being thrown into things by nearby depth charge detonations) and her pressure hull cracked, U-559 had no choice but to surface.


HMS Hero in her portrait photo from 1939; also present for U-559.



Coming to the surface near to Petard, the main armament could not depress sufficiently to engage U-559 so the pom-poms and Oerlikons opened fire. Fire was quickly checked when it became obvious the crew was abandon ship, and Fasson and several others were sent across to the U-boat in hopes of capture. The U-boat was slowly flooding, and while the British recovered documents and other the water rose. It was two feet high in the control room when the last run was made. Fasson and Able Seaman Colin Grazier were still in the U-boat when it sank, while Tommy Brown, 16-year-old canteen assistant from the NAAFI on the conning tower managed to overcome the suction of the sinking and swim away. The documents recovered permitted the British to break back into U-boat encryption after nine months of blackout. Fasson and Grazier were considered for the Victoria Cross, but it was determined that, having not acted in the face of the enemy, they were not eligible; instead they were given the George Cross. Brown, a civilian, received the George Medal; unfortunately his actions also called attention to the fact he had lied about his age to join up, and he was sent home. (A perpetual hero, he would die two years later trying to rescue his sister in a house fire.) True to his promise, Commander Thornton sent a U-boat crewman's lifevest to Vickers at Walker-on-Tyne as a trophy.


Petard served convoy escort in the Med, where with her DP guns she was much-loved by the merchants. During Operation Stoneage she towed the damaged cruiser HMS Arethusa to safety; Thornton remained on the bridge for three full days during heavy weather while the tow went on, calling on everything he knew to keep the tow moving safely. In December, Petard and the Greek RHN Vasilissa Olga were en route to Malta for operations there when they stumbled upon the Italian submarine Uarsciek on the surface. They mistook it for the HMS P-35, until Uarsciek fired two torpedoes at Petard. Petard turned between the torpedo tracks and charged, while Olga opened gunfire. Uarsciek surfaced again after three depth-charge runs. After a brief gun action, determined not to allow the submarine to escape, Petard rammed and sank it. Thornton again sent a trophy from the kill to the Walker-on-Tyne yard, Uarsicek's ceremonial colors.


Thornton requested relief of command in January 1943, worn out by his service so far. He was repalced by Lieutenant Commander Rupert Egan. She escorted convoys to Tripoli and covered a shuttle service run from Tobruk to the front. During this period the crew was eating tinned food, captured from the Italians; but most of the labels were missing, so every meal was a bit of an adventure. Assigned to Operation Retribution, the blockade of German forces in North Africa, Petard fought off repeated air attack; Commander Egan's characteristic method of coping with German dive bombers which liked to attack out of the sun was to lay back with a pair of polarized night-adaption goggles on and call out course and speed changes. Petard along with sistership HMS Paladin and Tribal-class HMS Nubian attacked the Italian torpedo boat Perseo and the merchant it was escorting on May 4th off Cape Bon, the last Axis stronghold in Africa. The merchant was set afire and stopped quickly. Perseo ran for shore, but was sunk by a magazine explosion in sight of the last Axis troops in Africa.


A Spica-class torpedo boat, similar Perseo. (This one is Pallade, though; there are no pictures of Perseo.)



During the Sicilian Campaign Petard tangled with the 11” guns on Pantellaria island, requiring some repairs due to near-misses, then escorted the invasion force. She conveyed Eisenhower to the British Beaches on 14 July. Near Catania Petard engaged in a direct-fire duel with a German tank during a bombardment mission, which the tank unsurprisingly lost.


In the Italian campaign, she mostly served as an escort to the carriers and battleships of the Mediterranean Fleet, and did gunfire support duty at Salerno. Warspite, however, had a habit of mistreating her escorts. Having already damaged Petard somewhat during an incident off Sicily when the battleship sideswiped Petard, this time a mis-aimed 6” shell from Warspite struck Petard, forcing her to return to Malta for repairs. Petard was the only ship in several groups to come out intact during the Aegean campaign. In one action Petard saw sistership HMS Panther blown apart by German bombs and AA cruiser HMS Carlisle damaged beyond repair. In another, Petard and HMS Eclipse blundered into a minefield and Eclipse was sunk.


HMS Panther, before she got all explodey in the Dodecanese Islands.



After that, the 1944 posting to the Far East Fleet must have seemed a welcome relief. Petard once again took up escort work in company with HMS Paladin, and on 12 Feburary, responding to the sinking of the merchant Khedive Ismail, the two encountered Japanese submarine I-27. Petard attacked with depth charges, forcing I-27 to the surface. Her crew could scarcely belive their eyes; the Japanese I-boat was almost as large as their own ship. (In fact, it actually displaced more but was slightly smaller in dimensions.) Paladin made to ram, but Petard waved her off in fear the huge Japanese submarine would damage her too badly; one of the sub's hydroplanes cut a 15-foot gash in Paladin's engine room. With Paladin consumed in fighting flooding, Petard and I-27 engaged in a brief gunfire duel which Petard won, but the Japanese showed no inclination to abandon their ship. Petard tried to sink I-27 with close depth-charge drops, but they couldn't be set shallow enough to do so. 4” gunfire was delivered, but the Eastern Fleet had not equipped Petard with the SAP ammo that would let her do more than damage the skin of the sub, so the pressure hull remained untouched by the impact-fuzed shells. Petard finally had to expend most of her torpedoes to sink I-27. After that Petard had to rescue survivors from Khedive Ismail and tow sistership Paladin to Addu Atoll.


After this, Paladin went home for repairs and upkeep, returning to the UK for the first time in the war. She was in dock when the war in Europe ended and sortied for the Far East once more. Arriving after the end of the war, it was not entirely clear that all Japanese forces would obey the surrender order, or even knew about it, and Petard actually engaged a Japanese plane with her guns off Malaya, chasing it off. She accepted the surrender of the Japanese destroyer Kamikaze at Singapore, and encountered of all things a natural tornado while on her way back to Singapore again after a visit to Batavia; thousands of disoriented birds ended up using Petard as a perch because of the tornado, until she approached land again.


Placed in reserve after her end-of-war duties, Petard was converted to a Type 16 ASW frigate postwar, and laid up until 1960. She recommissioned that year and served in the Home Fleet as a training ship, was sent for disposal in 1964, decommissioned and disarmed in 1965, and broken up at Borrowstounness in Scotland in 1966.


HMS Tenacious, here to show off what a Type 16 ASW frigate looks like for us.




Displacement (standard): 1595 tons

Displacement (full load): 2210 tons

Length: 362 feet 9 inches

Beam: 35 feet

Draft: 11 feet 4.5 inches



4x 4”/45 QF Mark V guns (increased by one in 1943)

1x quad 2pdr QF Mark VIII (40mm/L39)

6x 20mm/70 QF Oerlikon Mark II

2x quad 21” torpedo tubes (reduced by one in 1943 to make room for a fifth gun)



2 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 2 Parsons turbines, 2 shafts

40000 SHP



36.75 knots

3850 nautical miles at 20 knots


Crew (as completed)


  • Cool 8

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Alpha Tester
952 posts
334 battles

Sweet! An amazing service vessel for the RN from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean (lol, 1vs1 with a tank and pwned it) to the Far East/Indian Ocean.:honoring:


Great work NGMT!

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79 posts
7,267 battles

A great post, +1. The bit about the birds perching on Petard would have been funny to see, too bad there is no photo of that.

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