Y THE late forenoon of Tuesday February 20
1945, the 60-plus ships of convoy HX237 were
just a day from their destination.
For a fortnight they had Within 20 minutes, Vervain
sluggishly, yet inexorably, made had disappeared beneath the
their way from the New World waves, taking 33 of her 85 crew
to the Old. with her.
Like every convoy the vessels But by then, the hunter had
were a potpourri of merchantmen become the hunted. HMS
– tramp steamers, tankers, Amethyst was already closing
lumber ships, explosives carriers in on U1276. Minutes later,
– feeding Britain and the Allied the boat’s hull was shattered
war effort. by a flurry of depth charges.
The passage from New York Before 12.30pm that fateful day,
had been as uneventful as any U1276 plunged to the seabed.
wartime crossing of the Atlantic Karl-Heinz Wendt and his 48
in the depths of winter could shipmates perished.
be. This is the only confirmed
Oberleutnant zur See Karl- U-boat kill achieved by the
Heinz Wendt had been at sea Amethyst.
a week longer than the ships of History remembers her as the
convoy HX237. ship which ran the Communist
It had been a frustrating three Chinese gauntlet on the Yangtze
weeks at sea for Wendt and the in the summer of 1949.
crew of U1276, waging Dönitz’s But she was built to safeguard
last-gasp U-boat campaign Britain’s maritime lifeline, one
against shipping in coastal of a sizeable class of warships
waters. which proved to be particularly
But now a target came into adept U-boat killers.
view: HMS Vervain. Twenty-nine German
The Flower-class corvette, submarines are believed to have
workhorses of convoy been sunk by Black Swan-class
protection, had survived runs to sloops, half of them at the hands
Russia and North America. of the legendary Capt ‘Johnnie’
But 15 minutes before mid- Walker and HMS Starling.
day on this Tuesday, she was The Black Swans trace their
fatally rocked by an explosion roots back to the late ’30s and
as a torpedo crashed into her. the Admiralty’s need for ocean-
going escorts which could
fend off air attack and hunt
Between 1938 and 1946,
Britain’s shipyards built 37
Black Swans for the Royal Navy,
nine of the original class, plus
two dozen ‘modified’ sloops
with a slightly wider beam,
improved anti-air defences,
radar and other technological
HMS Amethyst was one of
those modified Black Swans,
laid down in the spring of 1942,
launched 14 months later, and in
service before the end of 1943.
She served initially in the
Mediterranean before being
recalled to home water to she appeared on the big screen
counter the growing threat of in The Yangtze Incident (also
the German inshore U-boat known as Battle Hell in the
campaign. USA), a cinematic portrayal of
After taking part in the formal her most famous hour.
surrender of submarines off Richard Todd, star of The
Lizard Point with her sister Dambusters, played the lead role
Magpie, Amethyst was ordered of Lt Cdr Kerans, but among
east for the closing stages of the the cast were also future Doctor
war with Japan. Who William Hartnell and a
By the time she reached the youthful Bernard Cribbins.
Far East, Tokyo had sued for The ship was used for some
peace, and instead the ship of the filming – although special
found herself as escort to carrier effects experts were a little
HMS Glory which took the heavy handed in their use of
surrender of Japanese forces explosives to recreate some of
in Rabaul. the battle scenes, blowing a
Amethyst would remain in the hole in the hull and flooding the
Far East for the next four years, engine room.
only returning after her exploits HMS Magpie doubled up for
on the Yangtze. her sister, with the River Orwell
By then the term ‘sloop’ had standing in for the Yangtze.
been replaced by the Admiralty By the time Amethyst was
with ‘frigate’ and Amethyst’s broken up in Devonport, the
original U16 pennant number days of the Black Swans were
swapped for F116. drawing to a close.
The ship received a rapturous The last of the class to fly the
welcome in Devonport on her White Ensign, HMS Crane, paid
return from the Far East in off in 1961.
November – the ship’s company The story does not end there,
were honoured with the Freedom however.
of Plymouth. Several of the class served,
Yet her days of peace were ironically, with the Bundesmarine
short-lived; after repairs and an in the late 1950s and mid-
overhaul, Amethyst was sent 1960s.
back to the Far East to take part And one, HMS Whimbrel, was
in the Korean War (for which she sold to the Egyptians.
earned her final battle honour). ENS Tariq, as she became,
Korea was Amethyst’s last remains in Egypt six decades
action; she was paid-off and later.
joined the Reserve Fleet for the There is a cherished hope
final five years of her existence. that she might be brought
She was eventually broken back to the UK to serve as the
up in 1957 – but not before one centrepiece for a Battle of the
last hurrah. Atlantic memorial and museum
The same year as Amethyst in Liverpool, but as of mid-2009,
arrived at the breaker’s yard, the dream remained unfulfilled.
© Crown Copyright (MOD) 2009. Artwork: Ross Watton. With thanks to Rick
Cosby of www.maritimeprints.com; David Scoble at Devonport Dockyard
Historical Centre; Brad King and Andy Curran from HMS Belfast; Trudy Samson
and her father , Eric Mustoe, who was serving on board during 1949, both of the
HMS Amethyst Association.
AAmethyst Cutaway.indd 2methyst Cutaway.indd 2 222/7/09 16:52:262/7/09 16:52:26
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