HMS Firedrake
MOD Summary of Service 1935 - 1942.
HMS Firedrake, an 'F' class Destroyer, was ordered under the 1932 program on the 17th March 1933. It was built on the Tyne, by Vickers Armstrong, using Parson machinery. Laid down on the 5th July 1933, the HMS Firedrake was launched on 28th June 1934, by Mrs Blake, wife of Rear Admiral Geoffrey Blake DSO, the Fourth Sea Lord. She was completed on 30th May 1935 at a cost of £243,916 - the eighth of the class completed. On commissioning, the Firedrake joined her sisters in the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, Home Fleet.
HMS Firedrake and the sinking of U-39

In May 1939, Home Fleet Destroyer flotillas were reorganised and the 'F' class became the 8th DF. At the outbreak of the Second World War on 3rd September 1939, the 8th DF was based with the rest of the Home Fleet, at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys.

On 11th September, the Firedrake left Scapa with aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal for an anti-U-boat sweep to the westward of the Orkneys.

At 15.12 hrs on the 14th September, while off the Hebrides, U-39 (Kapitanleutenant Glattes) fired two torpedoes at the Ark Royal, both of which missed astern.

At 15.34 hrs, HMS Foxhound obtained ASDIC contact and attacked with depth charges, followed shortly by the HMS Faulknor and the HMS Firedrake. The U-boat was forced to the surface, surrendered and sank in position 58° 32’ N, 11° 49’ W. The entire crew of 43 officers and men, were taken prisoner.
On the 22nd September the Firedrake, together with HM ships Fortune, Mashona and Matabele, dropped 24 depth charges on a U-boat contact in position 58° 27’ N, 01° 30’ W, with no result. The following day in company with HMS Fortune, the Firedrake attacked another contact 40° NNE of Peterhead again with no result.
On the 25th September practically the whole of the Home Fleet was ordered to sea to cover the return to Rosyth of the submarine HMS Spearfish which had been badly damaged on patrol in the Heligoland Bight. The Firedrake, together with HM ships Fame, Foresight, Bedouin and Punjabi accompanied the Nelson, Rodney and Ark Royal: the rest of the 8th DF escorted the Battle Cruiser Force and the 18th Cruiser Squadron. The Spearfish was met by the destroyers Somali and Eskimo early in the morning of the 26th September, whereupon all ships made for home. During the return passage the fleet was repeatedly attacked by enemy aircraft; the Ark Royal was near missed and the Hood received a glancing blow on her armour belt, but all ships returned safely to their bases on the 27th September.

On the 4th October 1939, 25 miles east of the Orkneys, the Firedrake picked up six survivors from the SS Glen Farg , torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat at 05.50hr that morning, and landed them at Scapa. The following day she attacked another contact in position 59° 55’ W, but again there was insufficient evidence for a ‘kill’. The Firedrake spent the rest of 1939 on patrol duties with units of the Home Fleet, broken by a defects period on the Clyde during November. On the evening of the 12th March 1940 the Firedrake unsuccessfully attacked a U-boat contact in position 58° 49’ N, 02° 20’ W. Later in the month she took part in operation ‘DU’ - a sweep down the Norwegian coast and into the Skagerrak to intercept enemy shipping outside territorial waters.

On 20th March, the Firedrake was one of eight destroyers which left Scapa at 23.30hr accompanying the 2nd Cruiser Squadron HM ships Galatea (flag of VA 2CS), Aurora, Arethusa and Penelope.
On the evening of the 21st March the ships divided into two equal forces - force B consisting of the Galatea and Aurora, with the destroyers Firedrake, Foxhound, Sikh and Somali and force C, consisting of the remaining two cruisers with the destroyers Fame, Foresight, Mashona and Matabele.
Force B cruised off the southern coast of Norway between Lister and Osko lights. A number of Danish vessels were investigated but the only two German ships were well inside territorial waters.
HMS Ark Royal under attack

The force rejoined at 07.00hr on 22nd March and throughout the day the whole group proceeded northwards along the Norwegian coast. At 09.22 HMS Somali reported a German vessel ahead which proved to be the SS Butt.

A warning shot was fired to stop her, but she managed to escape into territorial waters. All other ships encountered during the forenoon were neutrals. At noon the force was off Utsire light when course was altered to 263° to simulate a return to base, but at 14.00hr when out of sight of land, it worked round to the south, altering to 090° at 18.00hr. An hour later force C was detached; each force then swept midway between the Norwegian and Danish coasts, covering the normal approach routes, but two neutral vessels were all that were sighted. At 11.43hr on the 23rd March the Aurora and the destroyers were detached to Scapa, and the other ships proceeded to Rosyth.

On the 25th March, together HM ships Icarus and Impulsive, the Firedrake was sent to search for the U-boat responsible for sinking the tanker Daghestan, on passage from Scapa to Sullum Voe, five miles north-east of the Pentland Skerries earlier that day, but without success. On the 28th March she was damaged Whilst going alongside the Icarus at Invergordon which necessitated her repair at Cardiff between 2-26th April.

The Firedrake was back in action during May 1940 - this time in the Norwegian campaign. On the 8th May she intercepted the Norwegian mail steamer Helgel bound for Mosjoen from Mo, and then proceeded to MO to investigate the extent of the German advance to Mosjoen. Later in the month she escorted a number of convoys between Narvik and Harstad. Between 24-28th May the Firedrake was involved in the naval operations connected with the capture of Narvik, and bombed enemy position in Ofotjord. On the 23rd May she was attacked by enemy aircraft and sustained a near miss which caused splinter damage above and below the waterline aft. At the end of the month she was involved in the withdrawal of troops from Bobo to Hastad.

Troops about to be landed in Norway

In June she was detailed, with HM ships Coventry, Southampton, Havelock, Fame, Beagle, Delight and Echo, to rendezvous with and escort a convoy of eight merchant ships between Harstad and the Clyde. On 12th June she was again attacked by enemy aircraft and was narrowly missed by a bomb which fell some 20 ft away, causing minor splinter damage above and below the waterline amidships. The port steering motor ‘A’ 4.7in gun were put out of action, and the Firedrake proceeded to the Clyde for action damage repairs, completing on the 20th June.

Picture Left: Troop convoy to Norway June 1940

During July 1940 the Firedrake escorted convoys between the UK and Iceland. On the 2nd July she was one of a large number of ships detailed to assist in the search for survivors from the SS Arandora Star, which with German and Italian internees and prisoners of war aboard, had been sunk 125 miles from Malin Head.

At the end of July she was temporarily allocated to the 4th DF Home Fleet. On 4th August, together with HMS Achates, the Firedrake was ordered to hunt a U-boat which had been bombed by aircraft in position 59° 48’ N, 05° 30’ W, but no trace of this submarine was found. Later in the month, back with the 8th DF, she took part in operation ‘SN 12’ - a minelaying sortie off Scapa Flow, the Orkneys and Cape Wrath.

At the end of August the Firedrake was one of a number of ships which participated in operation ‘Hats’ passage of naval reinforcements to the Eastern Mediterranean. She left on the 22nd August with destroyers Bedouin, Mashona and Tartar, escorting HM ships Illustrious, Sheffield and York to Gibraltar, arriving on the 29th August.

The capital ships continued on to Alexandria, escorted by Mediterranean Fleet destroyers, but the Firedrake remained at Gibraltar. On the morning of 17th September, together with HM Gallant, she left Gibraltar to join Force H, consisting of the battle cruiser HMS Renown and four destroyers, then patrolling off Casablanca to intercept any Vichy French warships, returning to Gibraltar on 20th September.

At the end of September force H left Gibraltar to intercept the French battleship Richelieu should she attempt to leave Dakar for a Biscay port.

Other Pages Below
HMS Firedrake Page 1 The history of HMS Firedrake. HMS Firedrake details. Survivor Donald Coombes Survivor George Walker Joe Curbishley and John Bridge Bert How & Bill Aldous Topsy & Scouse Cliff Vincett, Wiggy Bennett & Reg Furgusson. Stanley Humphries and Henry Timpson. The Coxswain and the Chrysanthemum Memories from the Sunflower Some of Firedrake's last crew. Some more of Firedrake's last crew. Robinson, Waliker and Liberty. Capt. S. Norris. DSO. DSC. and Comm. E.H.Tilden DSC. RN. The Mailli Breze Tragedy and J. Wallbank. Adopted by Tynemouth. Edwards, Sym and Pattison. The U39 and Durbo story Dr John Aldren's story Peter Kelly Remembers Lt D.J.Dampier. Survivor Leonard Browne & George Dougal The "F" Class Destroyers Ken Neale OBE. FSA.