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The age of extremes
YOU have to hand it to
the great German city from the
HMS Penzance: she
mouth of the Elbe – the river’s
doesn’t go for the middle
ferocious currents meant that at
times the minehunter was doing
ground. barely 5kts.
Martinique ..................1762
It’s either been very big – or From there it was on to another
Atlantic .......................1940
miniscule – so far on her spring major city, Portsmouth, for a
Battle Honours
and summer European ‘tour’. quick spot of maintenance, before
First, the small. Thanks to her resuming mine warfare tasks in
Class: Sandown-class mine
size, the 450-ton vessel can visit UK waters.
counter-measures vessel
places many of her larger RN The Sandown-class warship is
Pennant number: M106
companions cannot. currently home to MCM1 Crew
Builder: Vosper Thornycroft,
Such as Fort William. The 4 – one of eight ships’ companies
minehunter slipped through the which rotate around the entire
Launched: March 11, 1997
Corran Narrows and into Loch squadron.
Commissioned: May 14,
Linnhe. Until the early spring, Crew 4
There she demonstrated what could be found operating HMS
Displacement: 450 tons
she can do as local schoolchildren Pembroke in the Gulf.
Length: 172ft (52.5m)
and Sea Cadets came on board. Penzance’s younger sister
Beam: 34ft (10.5m)
Fort William was a veritable was their home for two years;
Draught: 7½ft (2.3m)
metropolis compared with the sailors guided the ship out
Speed: 13kt
Penzance’s next port of call along of refit, through the rigours of
Complement: 34-40
Scotland’s west coast, however. Operational Sea Training, then
Propulsion: 2 x Paxman es
With such a small ship’s took Pembroke to Bahrain as one
Valenta diesels generating
company, it’s pretty tricky for a half of the duo (Grimsby was her
1,523hp; Voith-Schneider
Sandown to (temporarily) increase partner) replacing HMS Ramsey
propulsion; 2 x Schottel bow
the populace of a port by ten per and Blyth.
cent. Once back in Scotland, Crew
Range: 2,500 nautical miles
But not in the tiny fishing 4 spent some time on leave, then
at 12kt
village of Kinlochbervie, a dozen began getting used to Penzance –
Sensors: Type 2093 mine
miles south of Cape Wrath, home there are slight differences among
search and classification
to barely 400 people. the eight Sandowns.
And a sizeable number of Once accustomed to their new
Armament: 1 x 30mm; 1
those, led by pupils from the local surroundings, the ship’s company
x Minigun; Seafox mine
high school, filed aboard during was thrown in at the deep end:
disposal system
Penzance’s weekend stay. a lovely spell of OST. Clearly,
Motto: diligenter pensa
Aboard for both Scottish visits they passed because since then the
(Diligent thought)
was the local RN commander, ship’s been ‘on tour’.
Facts and figur
Cdre Charles Stevenson, Naval The Sandown is the fourth The second battle honour was
Regional Commander for Scotland bearer of the name of the Cornish added by the ill-fated Penzance
and Northern Ireland. town. No.3.
Rather more visitors were The fi rst was a sixth-rate which The sloop was sunk by U-boat
welcomed at port No.3, the great served at the turn of 17th-18th ace Victor Oehrn in U37 while
city of Hamburg (as we featured Centuries. The second Penzance, escorting convoy SC1 off Iceland
last month). What we didn’t tell a fi fth-rate, earned the name’s fi rst in August 1940. Seven men from
you was the ‘fun’ Penzance had battle honour in the Caribbean her 97 crew were picked up by a
getting there. during 19 years’ service in the merchant ship – which in turn was
It takes nine hours to reach mid-18th Century. sunk that same night by U37.
● HMS Penzance about to conduct winching drills – as seen from a Sea King from HMS Gannet – during
the ship’s attachment to NATO, prior to the current crew taking charge of her
Picture: WO1 Ian Arthur, FRPU North
Boatswain John Sheppard VC
IN SIX years of conflict, there were episodes And then the captain waited for the night to
in the war at sea where individual bravery – be torn by the sound of a Russian warship being
sometimes coupled with technological brilliance ripped apart by Sheppard’s charge. And he
– stirred the hearts of men. waited. And he waited.
Operation Frankton (better known as the Three hours passed. No explosion – and the
Cockleshell Heroes) Operation Jaywick (a canoe first strains of dawn were cast upon the Crimea.
attack on Japanese shipping in Singapore), the On the shoreline Keppel and his comrades were
Italian X-MAS charioteers crippling the British all too visible to Russian troops and began
fleet in harbour, midget submarines striking at to move away from the water through the
enemy warships in the Strait of Jahore – all were scrubland. The captain was distraught at the
the epitome of special operations. thought of Sheppard’s demise – “if caught, he
Long before the limpet mine became the would be shot as a spy”.
saboteur’s weapon of choice, before man But he was not. Later that morning, the sailor
could safely travel beneath the waves, before walked into a British camp having ditched his
collapsible canoes, indeed before there were canoe.
such things as ‘operations’ and codenames, a After paddling silently between numerous
middle-aged rating laid the foundation for such Russian steamers, Sheppard had closed to
attacks – single-handedly. within 400 yards of the men o’war, only for the
The progenitor of these future tip-and-run harbour to suddenly come alive with enemy
raids was boatswain John Sheppard, a 37-year- boats as troops were ferried across.
old senior rate aboard the screw battleship HMS For an hour, the boatswain waited unseen
St Jean d’Acre. in his canoe. With first light, there was no
In the summer of 1855, the 101-gun battleship hope of making the attack – nor of returning to
was investing the great Crimean port of his launching point. He made for French-held
Sevastopol. shoreline, then sought the British encampment.
The Russians had already scuttled more than A month later he repeated the attempt – again
a dozen vessels in an effort to keep the Anglo- in vain. The “plucky fellow”, his invention
French fleet at bay during a siege which was by and singular bravery gy
then in its tenth month. inspirnspired Keppel and
The harbour remained a mainstay of the Lyons, however.
enemy’s defence of the great fortress city – and Eighteen months
it remained rich with targets. later he wasater he was
And that sparked an idea in the mind of among the very
Sheppard. He took it to his captain, the affable first men to be
Henry Keppel, who took it to his admiral, Sir gazetted for
Edmund Lyons, along with Sheppard’s special the newly-
apparatus. cast Victoria
Sheppard had devised a unique canoe, a Cross.
canvas duck punt, with a freeboard of just
three inches and a centre section capable of
carrying a bomb – an 18in iron case packed with
explosives, detonated by a fuse which would
burn under water.
The senior rate would paddle across
Sevastopol harbour in the dead of night, fix
the charge to a Russian man o’war, then return
having caused mayhem.
Lyons was “amused” and approved
Sheppard’s ingenious plan. For the next three
TO QUOTE The Navy Lark “If you carry on that course you will be doing 50 knots up Gosport High
weeks he practised (‘attacking’ HMS London to
Street!”... which would be quite an achievement for sailors in training at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint. Our
prove such a raid was feasible) and waited for a
delve into the photographic archive of the Imperial War Museum takes us to Cornwall in 1941 and new
suitably dark night.
recruits learning to pull a boat on dry land in preparation for nearby waters. The picture forms part of a
That night was July 15-16. Sheppard was
photographic essay on the progress of a man joining the RN, following him through training. (A3141)
launched from the Crimean shore in his punt and
■ THIS photograph – and 9,999,999 others from a century of war and peace – can be viewed or
“was immediately lost to sight, nor was there the
purchased at, by emailing, or by phoning 0207
slightest sound,” Keppel recorded in his diary.
416 5333.
012_NN_July.indd 1 19/6/09 11:01:47
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