WWII: Kiwi RNVR Officers in the English Channel 1940-1

HMS Deodar under the command of Lt Cdr P.G Connolly escorting an East Coast convoy.

In July 1940, fourteen pre-war Kiwi RNVR officers, freshly arrived in the UK, were only a voyage away from being members of their RNVR Divisions in New Zealand.

They were subsequently appointed to ten minesweeping and anti-submarine trawlers of the Tree Class.

25th M/S A/S Group:
  • Ash - Cdr F.E Taylor (Senior Officer), CO, 
  • Lt J.Lennox King, XO.
  • Chestnut - Lt Cdr.J.A.Smyth, CO              
  • Walnut - Lt Cdr.G.Bridson, CO
  • Blackthorn - Lt J.G. Hilliard, CO              
  • Hickory - Lt R.E. Harding, CO

These ships, 20 of which were completed between 1939-40, were 530 tons, 50 metres in length, with a speed of 11.5 knots. Their original armament consisted of 1-12pdr, twin 12mm Vickers and two twin Lewis machine guns plus depth charges. Their complement was 35.

Lt Cdr P.G. Connolly was appointed to the Deodar on July 24 1940 and sailed his ship south from Dundee to Plymouth where it joined the organization detailed above.  Their job was to escort convoys of merchant ships from Portsmouth to the Thames and from the Thames to Portsmouth - a distance of 130 miles. Normally the convoys were escorted by two destroyers, 3 escort trawlers and 4 minesweeping trawlers - the Tree class. These sailed ahead of the convoy with their anti-mine sweeps out.

The routine was to sail so that the convoy passed Cape Gris Nez in France during the hours of darkness to avoid shelling by the German big coastal guns there. They also faced attacks by E-boats (German Motor Torpedo boats) and dive-bombers. There was the ever present threat from newly laid mines and also the navigational difficulties in narrow permitted channels. British Coastal Forces, MTB's and Royal Air Force fighters helped to drive off German attacks.

On September 11 1940, the first west bound convoy from Thames Bay was badly damaged during an air attack by 50 planes and had to return to port. On October 22 Hickory hit a mine and sank in 3 minutes with loss of 20. Pine picked up survivors including the CO, Lt Harding with a broken leg. On October 30 Chestnut  (commanded by Lt Finch) was sunk by a mine.

Deodar and Blackthorn were damaged by German coastal artillery on December 27 and required dockyard repairs. Ash, now commanded by Lt Newell, was sunk by mine on June 5, 1941.

These ships escorted 52 convoys with the loss of only 4 cargo ships. For their exploits the following personnel had awards made to them in February 1941:

  • DSO: Newman
  • DSC: Connolly Tidswell Phipps Palmer and Hilliard.
  • m.i.d: Newman, Tidswell, Phipps, Hilliard, Newell.
  • DSM: awarded to Otago Telegraphist J.C.Leckie from Acacia

These officers were a powerful group and played a big part in subsequent naval history:
Peter Phipps after commanding Scarba, Moa, Matai and Arabis transferred to the RNZN and eventually was knighted after becoming the first Chief of Defence Force. Jack Seelye commanded Arabis before also transferring to the RNZN. He later became the Mayor of Devonport. Other transferees to the RNZN were Lennox King and Harding. Phil Connolly took command of the new Moa and later became Minister of Defence while  Bridson commissioned the Kiwi which sank a Japanese submarine. J.G. Hilliard was a post war CO of Ngapona and Taylor was CO of Olphert.

This story epitomises the attitude of the VR showing their resourcefulness and the ability to learn quickly.

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