Author Topic: HMS Hunter - A Survivor's Story.  (Read 1461 times)

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Offline James Hutton

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HMS Hunter - A Survivor's Story.
« on: February 25, 2020, 10:47:56 PM »
Sadly, with the passage of time, stories tend to be forgotten and lost to history. I was involved with the Royal Naval Association (Number 10 Area) and I was lucky enough to speak with many very interesting people.

One of those was John Hague who was involved in the Narvik campaign onboard HMS Hunter. The story is in two parts. The first part was from 1999 telling the remarkable tale of John Hague's remarkable escape from captivity and eventual return to the UK. The second part is from 2008 when ships on a joint exercise rediscovered HMS Hunter's last resting place.

HMS Hunter (H35) was one of nine H-class destroyers of the Royal Navy. She was laid down by Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Limited at Wallsend-on-Tyne on 26 March 1935, launched on 25 February 1936 and commissioned on 20 September 1936.

The ships of this class were equipped with new 4.7 inch gun mountings of the CP Mark XIX type, which were 13 inches taller than the previous single-mount CP Mark XVIII type, and this made it necessary to raise the wheelhouse to give the helmsman an adequate forward field of view. Accordingly, the armoured wheelhouse was raised and placed forward of, rather than below, the bridge. This resulted in a characteristic "wedge" shape, with a sloping roof to give the bridge a view of the fo'c'sle.

Hunter struck a mine south of Almeria on May 13 1937 while serving on non-intervention patrol off Spain during the Spanish Civil War, suffering heavy damage. Eight men of the crew were killed, 24 wounded. The mine had been laid several days earlier by a Spanish nationalist E-boat, either the Falange or the Oviedo.

During the First Battle of Narvik on 10 April 1940, Hunter and five other H-class boats of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla attacked the German destroyers that had transported German land forces to occupy Narvik in northern Norway the previous day. The flotilla was engaged by German destroyers in the Ofotfjord at the entrance to the harbour and sank the destroyers Z 21 Wilhelm Heidkamp and Z 22 Anton Schmidt, heavily damaged Z 17 Diether von Roeder and inflicted lesser damage on two others. Seven German or German-seized transport ships were also sunk. As the British flotilla turned to leave, it was engaged by three German destroyers emerging from the Herjangsfjord and then by two more coming from Ballangen Bay. In the ensuing battle, the British flotilla leader HMS Hardy was badly mauled and had to be beached in flames, while Hunter sank after receiving heavy fire and colliding with HMS Hotspur.

Survivors from HMS Hunter being picked up

A Survivor's Story
In January 1941, five ships sailed up the Clyde, carrying valuable war cargoes of steel, machine tools, aircraft parts and guns, nothing unusual in that except that these ships had been spirited from under the noses of the Germans. Thus begins one of the greatest sea adventures of the last war.

MV Ranja

S/m John Hague of the Trafford branch was taken prisoner by the Germans at the 1st Battle of Narvik, when his ship HMS Hunter was sunk. Shortly afterwards the Allied Forces broke though the German defences and the Prisoners of war became an acute embarrassment to their captors, who were unsure what to do with them. Under armed guards, John, along with the other POW’s, was forced to march in appalling conditions. In sub zero temperatures and blizzards when the snow frequently reached up to their chests, living off very basic rations including ‘Hard Tack’ biscuits, they eventually reached a ski resort on the Norwegian border ,and were set ‘free’ to travel over the border into neutral Sweden.

John spent most of his time in Sweden, working on a farm at Gunnurn. Later he went south to a place called Halsinmo, there the Chief Stoker in charge of the Royal Navy POW’s asked for volunteers. Word reached the POW’s that a plan was being formulated to escape, by stealing five Norwegian vessels ranging in weight from 5,000 to 10,000 tons, ,which had originally been bound for Britain with much needed war supplies, and were now interred in Gothenberg. S/m Hague then a young man of 20 was one of four Royal Naval ratings who along with three others AB’s Hunter, Johnson and Steel volunteered to crew one of the vessels, just enough to man the engines, a Mate and a Skipper, a Scot who worked out of Liverpool on an iron ore ship.

Each one of the volunteers were left in no doubt that this was a life or death situation, as the German Consulate was watching all shipping movements from the harbour closely, John said “We wanted to make a bid for freedom and home. " Having received their instructions, the volunteers waited for a suitable opportunity to take over the ships. On January 20th 1941 at around 1400, the plan was put into action, travelling down to the harbour in civies, they boarded the ships. Even the weather was in the escapees favour, as a heavy fog hung over the water and it was a moonless night. One of the MYs sailed first, acting as a decoy, keeping dose to the Swedish shore, the other four Mvs then left Gottenburg Harbour as the ships were coming out of the Skatterac, they joined up with a German convoy by mistake. John could see the German gun posts on the coast, but fortunately they didn’t open fire, this may have been because the decoy ships were flying the Norwegian flag (a favourite ploy of the German Navy.) John's ship RANJA [see above] was an oil tanker and not only did they have to contend with the German Navy, (who once they realised that part of ‘their’ convoy had turned and were sailing in a different direction from the main body) began firing at the ships, they now had the Luffwaffe straffing the decks, and trying their best to blow the ships out of the water. As if this wasn't enough there were also minefields to negotiate, and when these had been cleared it was every ship for her self. John’s ship kept up a speed of 10 knots going flat out up to dawn, by then they had reached the North Sea, no one had any rest and John and his comrades were on duty for over 24 hours before they sighted a British destroyer and were escorted ‘home’

Along with the other volunteers, John received a telegram from the Admiralty thanking them for their ‘Spirited and courageousness which has enabled 5 merchant ships to reach this Country with their valuable cargo.’ For his part in this escapade John received the British Empire Medal.

Rediscovering HMS Hunter.
HMS Hunter went down on 10 April 1940 with the loss of more than 100 lives. The ship had remained unlocated and undisturbed until the Norwegian Minehunter HNOMS TYR located her on March 10th 2008. HNOMS TYR was participating in a large multinational exercise, Exercise Armatura Borealis, involving the Royal Navy, Royal Norwegian Navy and the Royal Netherlands Navy along with ships from Spain, Belgium and Germany when she discovered the sunken vessel by using her echo sounder.

On dispatching her remote operated submersible to investigate, it became clear that this was the long lost HMS Hunter, lying as she was when she had finally succumbed to the unforgiving waters, after bravely fighting during the Battle of Narvik; an action that would result in the first Victoria Cross of WWII being awarded. The presence of the Commander of the United Kingdom's Amphibious Force, Major General Garry Robison, and other Royal Navy ships participating in the exercise will enable the appropriate marks of respect to be paid in a ceremony which is due to take place later this week.

The ships of the RN, the Netherlands Maritime Force and the Norwegian Navy, who are participating in Exercise Armatura Borealis, will lay wreaths over her grave in a commemorative service complete with the ships sailing past the site of the sunken destroyer in a formed line. Major General Robison said: "Finding HMS Hunter was a poignant moment and being able to pay our respects along with our Norwegian and Dutch allies is particularly fitting to those who lost their lives."

The Norwegian National Joint Headquarters was pleased to inform the British Authorities that they had finally found HMS Hunter, which will now be marked as a wargrave, after several attempts over the years had proved unsuccessful.

Senior Spokesperson, Colonel John Øgælnd, said: "Being able to host this large multinational exercise is great for us but to find HMS Hunter whilst doing so makes it very special indeed. We remain close allies and are eternally grateful to those who helped preserve our freedom."

Royal Navy warships conducted a formal wreath-laying and memorial service over the war grave of the newly discovered last resting place of HMS Hunter on Saturday 8 March 2008.

The Exercise Task Group of 21 ships, which have been taking part in Exercise Armatura Borealis 08 off the north west Norwegian coast, steamed over the wreck in formation. HMS Albion, HMS Bulwark, HMS Cornwall, RFA Mounts Bay and NOCGV Andenes crossed the site of HMS Hunter conducting synchronised ceremonies on their decks. The ships then turned in formation before conducting a 'Steam Past' of the Flag Ship. The procession of warships from the Royal Navy showed their respects by laying wreaths and toasting the fallen by the traditional Navy method of pouring a tot of rum over the side.

Engineering Technician Joe George and Able Seaman Warfare Specialist Yasmin Thornton dropped the wreath over the side on behalf of the ship's company. In traditional form, with signal flags, Albion flew the last order of Captain Warburton-Lee, the Commander of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla who died leading the naval attack: "Continue engaging the enemy." As the Royal Navy sailed from the fjord for home, it signalled back by Morse "Farewell, we'll meet again."

Led by the Flag Ship HMS Albion and attended by Vice Admiral Reksten, Royal Norwegian Navy, and Major General Garry Robison, the Commandant General Royal Marines, the formed line of ships sailed over the spot where HMS Hunter lies 305m below.

S/m John Hague from Trafford Branch RNA said "I am so pleased and overwhelmed to know that after so many years HMS Hunter has been found and my fellow shipmates have a known resting place. I'm so sorry not to be able to go to the wreath-laying, but I will be spending a quiet time at home with my family and thoughts. Also my daughter in Cornwall will be laying flowers at sea for me dedicated to my shipmates."

John Hague crossed the bar in 2010.


Offline stokerstan

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Re: HMS Hunter - A Survivor's Story.
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2020, 04:34:52 PM »

  Lest we forget.
    My father served in the Narvik area at the early part of the war. I have only ever had scraps of what he was doing, but have established that he was there when the King and Queen of Norway was evacuated to U.K. I believe he was at this time he was serving with the Royal Naval Patrol service. They seem to have served almost every where.

   Stan M.

Offline Topsey

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Re: HMS Hunter - A Survivor's Story.
« Reply #2 on: June 29, 2020, 10:41:32 AM »
what a great story, True respect to all these people who we owe so much to