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Middle watch

Arctic .................... 1942-43 Malta Convoys ...........1942 Atlantic .......................1944 Normandy ..................1944 English Channel .........1944 North Sea ............. 1944-45

Class: Hunt-class mine countermeasures vessel

Pennant number: M34

Builder: Yarrow, Govan Launched: April 27 1983 Commissioned: July 4 1984 Displacement: 750 tons Length: 197ft (60 metres) Beam: 33ft (10 metres) Draught: 10ft (2.9 metres) Speed: 15kts Complement: 45 Propulsion: 2 x Ruston- Paxman 9-59K Deltic diesels generating 1,900hp; 1 x Deltic 9-55B diesel generating 780hp; 1 x bow thruster Sensors: Sonar 2193 minehunting sonar Armament: Seafox mine disposal system; 1 x 30mm gun with a range of 5½ miles; 2 x Oerlikon 20mm guns; 1 x minigun

three-year stint in the Gulf.

The veteran minehunter joins the Royal Navy flotilla in Bahrain (comprising two Hunt and two Sandown-class mine countermeasures vessels) working with Allied navies in the region to foster closer co-operation and hone mine warfare skills. The Gulf is probably as challenging an environment as any the Hunts have been sent to during their three decades of service under the White Ensign. To cope with the Middle East climate, Middleton underwent a four- month revamp in her home port. ‘Go faster’ paint (officially called Intersleek) which prevents

organisms building up on the hull was applied, a new air conditioning system installed (to the benefit of sailors and machinery alike), sand filters fixed over every vent, and a tip-top comms system fitted. All those enhancements, plus a


ASSUMING duties from her sister Atherstone right about now, this is Her Majesty’s Ship Middleton, knuckling down to a

controlled mine disposal vehicle. It’s gone, replaced by the much more agile Seafox system. Aside from close ties with their

patron, the ship’s company are bound with the Middleton Hunt in North Yorkshire which gave the ship her name, and the town of Middleton in Greater Manchester. They’re also affiliated with the Middleton-Chadderton and Rochdale Sea Cadet units, Middleton Scouts and the North Manchester Branch of the RNA. And the strongest bond of all is with the L74 Association – the men of the previous HMS Middleton. Their story begins on the day after

thorough work-up for the Gulf, make Middleton – in the words of her CO Lt Cdr Richard Goldstone – “a potent force and welcome addition to the 2nd Mine Counter-Measures Squadron.” Before leaving the Solent in mid- February, the ship hosted the person who launched her back in 1983: Lady Blaker, widow of Sir Peter Blaker who was a defence minister at the time of the Falklands conflict. It’s nine years since the ship’s sponsor was last onboard, during which time a lot has changed on the Middleton front; perhaps the most obvious alteration is the demise of the ‘yellow submarine’ – the remote-

picture: po(phot) brad bradbury, frpu east

HEROES OF THE ROYAL NAVY No. 72 – Cdr Geoffrey Spicer-Simson DSO

shortish journey to the Lualaba River, where Mimi

WEARING the ubiquitous pith helmet of the day, British sailors (plus African labourers) push one of the smallest – and most famous – British warships of the Great War through the Congolese scrub after a steam tractor breaks down. This month’s rummage through the photographic

Unusual because he really wasn’t very good. Not at conventional sailing. He almost sank a submarine on exercises, drove his ship ashore testing the defences of Portsmouth Harbour and sank a liberty boat with his destroyer (for which he was court-martialled). When war came in August 1914, he was given charge of an eclectic force protecting the harbour at Ramsgate. Nothing much happened. So little happened indeed, that Spicer-Simson decamped to a hotel ashore. And from there he watched one of his gunboats disappear beneath the waves one day in November, victim of U12.

Senior officers weren’t impressed and gave him a desk job in a dingy corner of the Admiralty.

and Toutou fi nally set sail. Thus began a 250- mile odyssey through the rivers and lakes of the Belgian Congo to the city of Kabalo.

archives of the Imperial War Museum takes us to Africa in 1915-16 and one of the most unusual ‘heroes’ in the annals of RN history: Geoffrey Spicer-Simson.

Lake Tanganyika was now within touching distance. Another 150-mile railway journey and the expeditionary force arrived at the western shores of the lake in Kalemie. The passage from Cape Town had taken nearly four months.

Even now, Spicer-Simson could not unleash his guerre de course. It was Christmas 1915 before Mimi and Toutou were ready for battle.

When one of the Germans’ scourges of the lake, the gunboat Kingani, investigated the new British force on Boxing Day, Mimi and Toutou gave chase.

The three-pounders of the more agile British boats scored several hits, killing the captain and three shipmates and forcing the senior surviving sailor to haul down his battls battle ensign.

The First Battle of Lake Tanganyika was an 11-minute affair. The Germans had a better gun... but could only fi re forwards. The three-pounders of the more agile British

Mimi and Toutou escorted their battered prize home to port. Repaired and refi tted,

Reichskriegsfl agge

But there was another side to Geoffrey Spicer-Simson. Fairly lousy sailor that he was, the officer was rather good at surveying the wildernesses of the planet: Borneo, the Yangtze River and, for three years, the Gambia. Perhaps that was why he was given command of the most unusual Fleet ever sent to sea. We say ‘sea’ but His Majesty’s Ships Mimi and

Toutou – the French equivalents of ‘meow’ and ‘woof woof’ – never sailed the oceans. After trials on the Thames, the two gunboats were loaded aboard a liner and shipped to Cape Town. Their destination, ultimately, was Lake


Tanganyika – some 2,000 miles distant. Which begs the question: why? Well, in the spring of 1915, the Hun had the run of Africa’s second largest lake. From German East Africa, which lined the eastern shores of Tanganyika, they commanded the lake courtesy of two small gunboats and a 1,500-ton steamer. This was an effrontery to the pre-eminence of the Senior Service. “It is both the duty and tradition of the Royal Navy to engage the enemy wherever there is water to fl oat a ship,” proclaimed First Sea Lord Sir Henry Jackson, dispatching Spicer- Simson and his ragtag force of two dozen men. Getting to the water, now that was a challenge. First there was a train journey to Fungurume in the depths of the Belgian Congo. Then Mimi and Toutou were offl oaded and hauled through 150 miles of scrub and mountain by oxen and steam tractors. There was the small matter of 150 bridges to build to span ravines and waterways barring the boats’ path. It took six weeks to reach the next railhead for a, or by phoning 0207 416 5333.

In six weeks, the over-gunned Fifi was in action;

the White Ensign, the Kingani entered service with the Royal Navy as the newly- promoted Cdr Spicer-Simson’s fl agship, HMS Fifi (‘tweet-tweet’).

the replaced by

war broke out in 1939 when the Admiralty ordered a string of vessels to meet the challenges of a new global conflagration. The result, inter alia, was the Hunt class of destroyers, among them HMS Middleton.

When she joined the Fleet in 1942, she was immediately thrust into the crucible of war, first in the Arctic safeguarding Russian convoys, then in the Mediterranean to sustain Malta, before returning to the Arctic on the ill-fated PQ17 convoy. The destroyer was subsequently at the forefront of the Normandy invasion, supporting British troops going ashore on Sword Beach, before spending the rest of the war in home waters to counter the inshore U-boat campaign against the British Isles. After a post-war refit in South Africa, she was placed in reserve and broken up over the winter of 1957-58.

Facts and figures

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