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HMS Rorqual in the Second World War 1939-1945 - The Wartime Memories Project -

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- HMS Rorqual during the Second World War -


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World War 2 Two II WW2 WWII

HMS Rorqual




If you can provide any additional information, please add it here.



Those known to have sailed in

HMS Rorqual

during the Second World War 1939-1945.

  • Brammer Alfred. Diver.
  • Bruce John Darlington. Stoker 1st Class
  • Napier Lennox William. Lt. Cdr.
  • Owen Humphrey Howell. CPO.
  • Palmer Samuel Henry. Acting Leading Stoker
  • Saunders Charles William Thomas. Lt.

The names on this list have been submitted by relatives, friends, neighbours and others who wish to remember them, if you have any names to add or any recollections or photos of those listed, please Add a Name to this List

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Lt. Cdr. Lennox William Napier DSC DSO HMS Rorqual

For Captain Lennox Napierís inspired and courageous captaincy of the mine laying submarine Rorqual, he was appointed DSO in 1943 and won the DSC in 1944. Napier, who had been in the submarine service since 1934, took command of Rorqual, a Porpoise class submarine in June 1941. With the capture of Crete, it was imperative that Malta did not fall into German hands. Under daily siege, Malta had to be supplied with both food and fuel for domestic purposes, as well as for its RAF Squadrons fighting for the survival of the island. A number of convoys had run the gauntlet from Gibraltar or Alexandria to Malta and all had suffered casualties.

Admiral Andrew Cunningham, Commander-in-Chief of the British Naval Forces in the Mediterranean, boldly decided to use the Rorqual and her sister submarine Cacholot to get supplies to the island. One associates a submarine with confined space, but Rorqual, launched at Barrow in 1936, was 280 feet long and had a beam width of 29 feet. On her first voyage to Malta, she carried a vital cargo of two tons of medical supplies, 62 tones of high-octane aviation spirit for the RAFís Hurricanes, 45 tones of cooking fuel and 25 passengers, as well as a crew of 59; but perhaps most important, at least for the islandís morale, 147 bags of mail. On her return to Alexandria, amongst her somewhat lighter cargo, were 130 bags of mail.

It was fraught and nerve-wracking week before Rorqual arrived in the Grand Harbour, much to the relief of crew and islanders. A month later she arrived back in Malta with a similar cargo. An even larger cargo was carried on 31 July, but Napier was concerned when during heavy weather a number of fuel cases stored in the hull developed leaks. This resulted in the submarineís diving almost seven tons light when these tins were empty in the morning, and slowly filling up with water and re turning Rorqual to normal trim while submerged in the daytime.

After this trip, Napier was pleased to get back to his normal route of mine lying Rorqual could carry 50 mines. Napierís skill in laying these mines, in the often crystal-clear water of the Mediterranean, brought him a number of successes. In August 1942, his men blew up an Italian steamer. Later that month, he engaged two merchant vessels, sank one and then had his periscope rammed by the other. Although under orders not to engage enemy shipping, because he was carrying vital stores and passengers, Napier attacked a convoy and destroyed the last ship. The passengers had an interesting experience as 16 depth charges were dropped close by.

In January 1943, Rorqual laid mines off the Tunis approach, one of which caused the loss of the valuable German heavy-lift ship Ankara, loaded with tanks for Rommelís Afrika Corps. This success was reinforced when he sank the Wilhelmsburg, carrying much-needed oil to Greece, with two torpedoes at 2,500 yards in the Dardanelles approach.

After two and a half years of successful command Napier fell ill with jaundice. On recovering, he went to the land-based HMS Dolphin to train future commanding officers for the submarine services.

Lennox Napier was a descendant of John Napier, the inventor of logarithms.

Jan Bruce



Stoker 1st Class John Darlington Bruce HMS Rorqual

John Darlington Bruce whilst training.

My father served on HMS Rorqual.

Jan Bruce



Acting Leading Stoker Samuel Henry Palmer MID. HMS Rorqual

My Father was desperate to join the forces during the Second World War, his two elder brothers Walter and Harold were already serving in the Royal Navy and the Fleet Air Arm, respectively. His Father Frank was also serving with the Royal Engineers, having been called up again, because of his intimate mapping knowledge of Northern France and Belgium, experience gained from the First World War, which he somehow survived, including the dreaded Battles of the Somme and Passchendale. My Gran was left with two daughters at home, she thanked her lucky stars when they all arrived home safe at the end of the war, having lost a brother in the First World War.

Dad trained at Chatham and was assigned to HMS Rorqual, a mine-laying sub, eventually becoming Acting Leading Stoker. He was 6í3Ē tall, rather tall for the cramped conditions on board a sub and used to sling his hammock between the pistons to give himself a bit of extra space. He told me about one occasion when they were submerged and being hunted by a German sub, the Captain stopped the engines, absolute silence was called for, in case the sonar picked up any noise. Dad was playing cards with a few other crew members when one of them panicked and started screaming in fear, so Dad stood up and knocked him out, as it was endangering them all.

On another occasion he was berthed in Trincomalee, on the island of Ceylon, (now known as Sri Lanka) and to his delight found both his brothers were there too, the first time they had seen each other since the start of the war. As you can imagine there was a joyous celebration on board that night, all empty bottles were loaded into an empty torpedo tube and finally jettisoned into the harbour, next morning!

He was also awarded an oak leaf for bravery and mentioned in dispatches; the mine-laying rails didnít always function efficiently, one dropped off the rear of the sub only to come floating back towards them, so Dad got hold of a boat hook and calmly pushed it out of the way, he said it was safe as long as you didnít touch the spines! At the end of the war he joined the police force, but sadly died aged only 57. My family and I are immensely proud of him.

Ann Taylor



Diver. Alfred Brammer HMS Rorqual

Alfie Brammer was my uncle, he was a diver on HMS Rorqual and was lost when diving removing mine nets. I would love to know more about him & the exact details of his death.

James Patrick



Lt. Charles William Thomas Saunders DSO. HMS Rorqual

My father, Lt (Engineering)Charles Saunders, served on the minelaying submarine, HMS Rorqual during most of it's Mediterranean career. Before joining the submarine service during the War, he had been serving as an officer on HMS Shropshire in 1939; in charge of the Walrus catapult launching system. I suspect he trained for submarines in 1940 - 41. I am sure he would have known and served under two of Rorqual's CO's Dewhurst and LW Napier, because I remember him telling stories of the Ursus incident and the faulty torpedo which forced Rorqual to dive out of harm's way as it was going round in circles, eventually exploded.

Also he described an incident where Rorqual was on the surface at night near the island of Pantellaria (near Tunisia) with faulty aft mine doors. In discussion with Lt Commander Napier, my father was instructed to go outside in the water with a colleague to try to sort out the problem of the jammed doors. He was advised that if the submarine had to dive in an emergency, both of them should swim to the island and await to be collected the next evening. There is also the story of the successful mining of the 'Ankara' outside Tunis harbour. Mr father also recalled an Admiralty signal congratulating Rorqual on this success, stating: "Rorqual Well Done".

I'm afraid I do not know much more than this and other reminiscences are sketchy. My father died in 1970 at Newport, Isle of Wight. He retired from the Royal Navy in the early to middle 1950s with the rank of commander.

John Saunders



CPO. Humphrey Howell "Harry" Owen DSM HMS Rorqual

Harry Owen joined the Royal Navy in approximately 1939 and served on HM Submarines Rorqual, Seadog and others. He won the DSM on HMS Rorqual, served in Malta and Trincomalee. That's all I know. Anybody knowing anything please let me know.

Graham Owen







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