THE DESTROYER HMS CAMPBELL

HMS Campbell was ordered in 1917 from Cammell Laird and laid down in Birkenhead. She was completed a month after the end of the First World War. She was used in the Atlantic Fleet until 1925 when she was laid up in Reserve. She remained in mothballs until 1939 when with the approach of war she was brought out of retirement.

HMS Campbell

HMS Campbell

Having just missed out on seeing active service in the Great War, she was involved in actions throughout the Second World War. In September 1939 she joined the 19th Destroyer Flotilla at Harwich, where she was assigned to convoy escort duties in the North Sea. She remained based at Harwich until February 1940 when she was deployed to the Western Approaches. This involved her being part of the escort of a convoy on 25 March. This had left Liverpool for Gibraltar, but after two days sailing HMS Campbell was diverted to accompany an inward convoy returning from Gib to Liverpool. By the end of the month she was in harbour at Plymouth Dockyard. This was what guarding the Western Approaches meant, and for a few weeks she did routine convoy escort duty, but by the end of April she was sent to Rosyth to embark troops for the campaign in Norway.

The Germans had invaded Norway on 10th April and a joint British and French task force was landed at Narvik to aid the Norwegians in resisting the attack. Having off-loaded 60 soldiers (part of a force some 25,000 strong) and their stores, the Campbell returned to the UK. Meanwhile however events in France had deteriorated to such an extent that Britain could no longer retain its forces in Norway, and they were withdrawn in early June; in France Dunkirk was being evacuated, so the war was going badly for the British. The Norwegian Government and the King of Norway were evacuated to London. HMS Campbell returned to Norway to assist in the escort of the returning fleet. She then resumed the duties she had begun the war doing, escorting convoys in the North Sea from the base at Harwich.

During the Battle of Britain she was employed in anti-invasion patrols on the English Channel. When the immediate threat passed the ship returned her North Sea duties. On the 20th November  1940 she saw action off Southwold in which she sank the German E-boat S38 by ramming it. She was under the command of Captain Charles Pizey. HMS Campbell rescued 19 of the crew who became Prisoners of War. This was the first E-boat to be sunk in the North Sea.

Throughout 1941 she continued to operate in the North Sea out of Harwich, including one engagement when she inflicted serious damage on a British warship in a friendly fire episode. In February 1942 she was diverted to attack the German warships SCHARNHORST, GNEISENAU and PRINZ EUGEN on passage through the English Channel from Brest to Wilhelmshaven. She was in the thick of the action but  German ships survived the encounter. During the summer of 1942 she was fitted with a naval version of RAF Radar. In August she was ordered to Scapa Flow to prepare for escorting an Arctic convoy to Russia; she accompanied the convoy for a few days, but in September she resumed her station at Harwich.

She was involved in East Coast duties until the summer of 1944 when, with approach of D Day, she took up deployment to the river Thames. She joined a convoy of one other destroyer, two armoured trawlers and eight landing craft and RHINO ferries. After leaving the landing craft in the SWORD Beach area on the 6th June the escort returned the Sheerness. With the progress of allied troops through Normandy and the consequent easing of traffic through the Channel the Atlantic convoys were re-routed along the south coast of England and HMS Campbell’s convoy escort duty was extended to include the English Channel. Following VE Day she patrolled the military occupation of Europe. The vessel was paid off after VJ Day, and placed on Reserve. She was put on the Disposal List in 1946 and broken up at Rosyth in February 1947.

The ship's crest

The ship’s crest

HMS Campbell spent all her war service in home waters and most of it off the East Coast. She was the second Royal Navy ship to bear that name, the first having been launched during the Napoleonic Wars. She should not be confused with HMS Campbeltown, another destroyer of World War 2. This ship was of a similar age to HMS Campbell when she was transferred to the Royal Navy from the USA under the Lend Lease Agreement. She played a leading part in the attack on St Nazaire during which she was rammed into the dockyard gates. There was much loss of life and five VCs were awarded for valour during this action.

The ‘Pier Head’ oil painting of the destroyer that heads this blog post was bought from an antique shop in Cromer about ten years ago. I was able to identify the ship as HMS Campbell from the pennants flying from the main mast. It is appropriate that this picture of a vessel so much associated with the sea off  East Anglia during the Second World War should have turned up in one of our coastal towns.

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF THE EAST COAST

joemasonspage@gmail.com

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