John Lesley Jones
At the outbreak of World War Two, 3rd September 1939 (the day Britain declared war on Germany) able-bodied seaman, John Lesley Jones was training at HMS Osprey, an Anti-submarine training establishment at Portland. A few weeks later on the 17th October 1939 he was assigned to HMS Warwick as an ASDIC Operator.
ASDIC (later to be known as Sonar) is named after the Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee. ASDIC’s uses pulses of sound to detect Submarines. Les always described these sounds as, pingggggggggggg and when it hit an object, bop! The time taken for this echo to return was measured to find the distance of the submarine. He would later return to HMS Osprey to train as an HSD (A Higher Submarine Detector is in charge of the ships submarine detector team usually six men allowing two on watch at any one time.) The stress on ASDIC Operators was immense. Should they fail to detect an enemy submarine, their ship and ships in the convoy could be sunk with terrible loss of life. HMS Warwick was part of the Seventh Escort Group which included WW1 V&W Class Destroyers and WW1 American destroyers which had been transferred to the Royal Navy under the Lease Lend Programme.
On the 28 November 1940, in mid Atlantic, Convoy OB 249 dispersed and the Seventh Escort Group rendezvoused with Convoy HX89. At this time HMS Campanula, on detecting a German U-boat at the rear of the convoy dropped depth charges. This early part in the Battle of the Atlantic, which started after the fall of France, was known by the German submariners as their Happy Time, during which the German U-boats experienced significant success against the hard-pressed Royal Navy.
18 Aug 1940. HMS Warwick picks up 11 survivors from the British ship Empire Merchant, which had been sunk by German U-boat U-100 two days earlier 186 nautical miles west of Bloody Foreland on the North West coast of County Donegal, Ireland, with the loss of seven of the 56 people on board.
09.00 hours, on the morning of 24th November 1940, the Seventh Escort Group left, Liverpool escorting Convoy OB249 to rendezvous with the second half of the convoy at sea.The weather quickly deteriorated into a severe gale blowing from the south west with winds of 50 miles per hour and 30-foot-high waves. Sea was breaking over the escorting ships breaking things loose, destroy anything not lashed down and making it almost impossible to move around. Sailors on duty quickly became exhausted by the physical effort of holding on, their clothes always soaked.
Picking up survivors from a torpedoed ship.
These are believed to be survivors from the Ampleforth,
Just before 0200 hours on 19 August 1940 the British merchant ship Ampleforth, a straggler from convoy OA-199, was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-101 west of the Hebrides. Nine crew members were lost. The master and 28 crew members were picked up by the British destroyer HMS Warwick and landed at Liverpool.
HMS Warwick also escorted ships on the Gibraltar Convoys. In many ways the convoys to Gibraltar were worst that the Atlantic Convoys. With the fall of France, Germany occupied the ports and Air Fields in Southern France, bringing the U-boats and the planes within easy range of these convoys.
Convoy HG046 departed Gibraltar on 31 October 1940 to arrive in Liverpool on 19 November 1940 it comprised of 51 merchant ships and 19 escorts amongst which was HMS Warwick.
On the 17th Nov 1940 HG46 was attacked by Submarine U-137 which sank two ships, the Saint Germain (British) 1,044 tones with a Cargo of 1440 tons of pit props. The Veronica (Swedish) 1,316 tones was also sunk. She carried a cargo of 1800 tons of iron ore. Seventeen of her crew died and there were 3 survivors who managed to get to a raft and were picked up after five days by a fishing trawler.
CONVOY FP3, consisting of British Polish and French Troop ships, departed from the Clyde on Wednesday 1st May 1940 heading towards Narvik in Norway. Amongst its escorts was HMS Warwick.
The Norwegian Campaign consisted of two navel battles and a two-month long land battle where Norwegian, French, British and Polish troops fought German mountain troops and paratroopers.
HMS Warwick was built as a minelaying destroyer. To disguise the ship as an ordinary destroyer, a painted canvas screen was added outboard of the mines. Les tells us that when the Warwick came under enemy fire, he would duck down behind the steel plating on the side of the deck. On one such occasion he noticed a small hole in the “steel plate”. He started picking at it with his finger and was horrified to find he had been sheltering behind a sheet of painted canvas.
December 23rd 1940, HMS Warwick detonated mine off Liverpool and sustained serious damage. To prevent sinking the Warwick was beached. She would be out of action for the next 14 ½ months.
Damage Report, HMS Warwick.
Les tells us it was Christmas Eve. In the mess room Jingle Bells was playing on the radio and the crew were preparing for their evening meal. There was a deafening explosion, the ship seemed to lift out of the water.
The bridge collapsed like a deck of cards. He thought the Warwick had been hit by a torpedo. Les grabbed a turkey from the mess table. Well you couldn’t let turkey go to waste, even if the ship was sinking.
It turned out not to be a torpedo. The Warwick had detonated a mine and suffered severe damage. For the rest of his life, Les hated the carol “Jingle Bells”.
Les arrived back in Liverpool with only the clothes he stood up in. The docks were on fire from end to end. Liverpool was his home town, so he went home to his Dad’s house. The very next night the bombers came again. Les’s Dad woke him, “Come on son, we have to get down to the shelter”.
“I’m not going to the shelter,” replied Les. “I’ve been in action hundreds of times.”
The next bomb was so close, it blew out the windows and tiles from the roof.
On the following night there was yet another raid. This time it was Les knocking on his Dad’s bedroom door. “Come on Dad, we have to get down to the shelter!”
The Christmas blitz of December 1940 killed 365 people in Liverpool. The raids put 69 out of 144 cargo berths out of action and inflicted 2,895 casualties. Over 6,500 homes in Liverpool were completely demolished and a further 190,000 damaged.
Les was transferred to the Hunt Class Destroyer, HMS Garth based at Wildfire, Sheerness, Kent. The Garth’s primary job was escorting convoys along the East Coast.
The east coast shipping lane was known as E-boat Alley. E-boats (Enemy Boats) were Schnellboots, fast German torpedo boats which would come speeding out of the night to launch their torpedoes at the convoys. German Schnellboots, S-38, S-54 and S-57 venture into the Thames Estuary where they are attacked by British destroyers HMS Campbell and HMS Garth. Schnellboots S-38 was sunk.
Convoy FS 650, consisted of fifty-eight ships escorted by the destroyers which included HMS Garth. E-boats of the 2nd German Flotilla attacked sinking the colliers Aruba (one crew member lost), Waldinge (one crew member lost), and the oil tanker War Mehtar.
HMS Vesper and HMS Garth were in close proximity to War Mehtar when she was torpedoes and immediately engaged three e-boats and pursued them into the darkness.
HMS Garth and HMS Vesper sped eastwards at top speed in pursuit of three e-boats. HMS Wolsey and HMS Campbell also chased three more e-boats in an easterly direction parallel to Vesper and Garth. In the darkness and confusion HMS Campbell fired on HMS Garth. HMS Garth suffered damaged in her Boiler Room by a 40mm shell fired from HMS Campbell. HMS Garth sustained considerable damage. Two sailors were killed. An eighteen-year-old leading seaman later died of his wounds. The Garth was so badly damaged that she had to be towed back to port.
Three of the e-boats were intercepted and sunk returning their base.
At 22.45 hours on February 11th 1942 the 35,000-ton battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau along with the 14,000-ton heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and escort vessels including 6 destroyers and with a further screen of torpedo boats, and Schnellboots (Fast boats) left Breast and sailed up the English Channel undetected for 12 hours. The Luftwaffe provided 280 fighter planes to give aerial cover for the duration of the journey.
It had wrongly been assumed that they would sail through the Straights of Dover at night and with the cover of low clouds. The submarine Sea Lion watching the German Fleet at Breast, was not on station as it needed to retire to recharge its batteries.
Anticipating a breakthrough by the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau the British navy had laid more mines in the English Channel and swept two corridors through their own minefields in the North Sea to allow passage by Destroyers of the Nore Command.
Six destroyers equipped with torpedoes, from 21st flotilla at Sheerness and the 16th flotilla at Harwich, were placed on alert. In addition, in readiness were the Hunt Class Destroyers, which included HMS Garth. The Hunt Class Destroyers had no torpedoes were only lightly armed and certainly no match for Battleships.
With the German fleet forcing its way through the channel it was already too late for the 250 bombers allocated for this eventually to take part in the action as it would take up to four hours for the crews to be briefed and the planes fuelled and loaded with bombs.
The task of attacking the German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau fell to six Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers, which were annihilated, and the Sheerness and Harwich destroyers.
The 21st and 16th Destroyer flotillas raced towards the gaps in the mine field. They were armed with 4.7-inch guns compared the German ships 11- and 8-inch guns.
The Hunt Class destroyers followed on.
“Luckily,” said Les. We lost the German Battleships in the darkness and bad weather.
The Worchester wasn't so lucky and was hit by three eleven inch shells from the Pocket Battleship Gneisenau and by five eight inch shells from the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen. The Worchester stopped dead in the water with 26 of her crew killed and 45 injured.
The Dieppe Raid was to be a “Raid in Force” with a number of objectives, which would stay on shore for a short time before withdrawing.
Convoy approaching Dieppe.
Four ships from Sheerness took part in the Dieppe Raid. One of these was the Garth. Right from the start the problems began to mount up. The RAF would not supply bombers to soften up Dieppe before the main assault. (Although RAF fighter, fought the biggest air battle since the Battle of Britain, above Dieppe.) The Royal Navy would not supply any large ships to bombard the enemy shore positions. Although the smaller Navy vessels did everything, and more, asked of them.
Garth having taken part in the bombardment of Dieppe, at 5.35 switched her fire to the battery on the east headland. For three hours she fought a desperate duel with the shore-based batteries. On many occasions the Garth was straddled by German shells, it was extraordinary that there were not more hits. The Garth was hit twice, the second time with considerable causalities and damage.
At 8.45, Garth badly damaged and with her ammunition nearly exhausted could no longer maintain her bombardment and was ordered to take aboard as many survivors as possible.
Les Jones was an Higher Submarine Detector (ASDIC) in charge of the ships submarine detector team on the Garth at Dieppe. He tells how a German shell smashed through the side of the ship. One of the other sailors picked up the unexploded shell and said “Look at this, it’s a German shell!”
Les replied, “You bloody stupid b****** that might go off at any second.” He took the shell off the sailor, went out on deck and threw it over the side of the ship.
The thing that annoyed Les most was that some years later when the Garth took King George VI from Ostend to Dover there was a story in the newspaper. It seems the sailor who picked up the unexploded shell was still on the Garth. The paper went on to say how this hero threw himself bodily on the shell and threw it over the side saving the lives of many of the crew.” When all he did was to stand there holding the shell and doing nothing.
Les also helped the wounded troops on board HMS Garth, his overalls became so badly caked in dry blood that he simply took them off and threw them into the sea
In 1943, Les ended up at Bermuda where he appears to have been forgotten about.
On 15 Jun, 1944, Les was on HMS Blackwood. The Blackwood was on patrol as part of the 4th Escort Group in the west end of the English Channel to protect the ships of the Normandy landings.
The Blackwood was hit, just forward of the Bridge by a Gnat torpedo from the U-boat U-764. The torpedo hit the hedgehog Depth charge magazine, which caused a huge explosion and the forward part of the ship was blown off and sank, the mast collapsed and the bridge structure was flattened. Les’s ASDIC cabin was adjacent to the bridge. Fifty-eight of her crew were lost with a similar number were wounded. There were ninety-eight survivors.
Hans Kurt von Bremen captain of the U -764 which torpedoed and sank HMS Blackwood.
LES’S STORY. HMS GARTH
John Lesley Jones, 24/10/1919 - 10/02/1983
John Lesley Jones, known to family and friends as Les, too young to join the Royal Navy, joined the Merchant Navy.
On his eighteenth birthday 20th October 1937 Les joined the Royal Navy and undertook basic training at His Majesty’s Naval Base, Devonport.
HMS Blackwood sunk shortly after D-day 15 Jun, 1944.
Home Page Wildfire III. Ship Database. Dunkirk. Battle of the Scheldt. Sweeping the Scheldt. D-day. The Relief of Holland. The Enemy. Ships sunk.
Trawler/Drifter Minesweepers. MMS, Motor Mine Sweepers. BYMS, British Yard Mine Sweepers.
HMS WILDFIRE III, Shore Base, Queenborough. HMS WILDFIRE Shore Base, Sheerness.
Dieppe. Fortress Sheppey. Montgomery. Channel Dash. Amy Johnson. Thames Boom. A Bad day in December.
Damage Report HMS Blackwood.
U-boat U-764 survived the second world war to surrendered on the 14 May 1945 at Loch Eriboll, Scotland.
After some time in hospital Les was assigned to HMS Eglinton (L 87) a Type 1, Hunt-class Escort Destroyer.
At the Battle of Hamburg (18 April to 3 May 1945) the British VIII Corps met fierce resistance from the German 1st Parachute Army. On the 4th May 1945, four days before the Germans surrendered. HMS Eglinton was on Guardship duty in Hamburg.
Les tells us that, “At Hamburg, there wasn’t one brick standing on top of the other. There was a group of five children on the dock side. They appeared to range in age from about seven to ten years old. They were ragged, dirty and looked hungry. Every time Les walked to the front of the ship, where the youngsters had stationed themselves on the dockside, the oldest would stand to attention, salute and say, “Sir, have you bread sir.”
At first Les ignored them. After all, we had just fought a five-year war with Germany and many of his friends had been killed by the Germans.
“Sir, have you bread sir,” the youngster repeated each time Les approached them on his rounds.
They did look hungry and almost certainly were. Les knew that some of the crew wouldn’t like it if he gave food to Germans, even if they were kids. So, he attempted to make a joke of it. He went down to the galley and instead of making traditional sandwiches he cut several loaves of bread long ways, smothered them in butter and jam and gave them to the kids.
Some of the crew still didn’t like the fact that he was feeding the enemy, be it only children and he got a few angry comments and a number of dirty looks.
Les married Dorothy, the girl he met while stationed at Sheerness. The had eight children and emigrated to Australia… But that is another story.