No 'Phoney War' for the Royal Navy

On This Day in 1939

British east coast – destroyers made a number of depth charge attacks on contacts off Norfolk, starting with JERVIS and JUPITER at 1042, 40 miles west of Orfordness, JAVELIN and JERSEY at 1400, one mile west of Haisborough, JERSEY at 1453, 16 miles west of Cromer, and JUPITER 1510, 24 miles north of Cromer.

North Sea – Dutch steamer MARK(1514grt) sunk by mine in 56‑45N, 04‑04E.

Submarine URSULA on patrol in the Heligoland Bight 35 miles NW of Borkum Island in 53-52N, 06-05E fired four torpedoes at U.35 at 1912 and one more at 1933, but all missed. U.23, also in the area, reported being missed by three torpedoes at 1950 and U.21 reported sighting submarine URSULA.

Baltic - Polish submarine ZBIK laid 20 mines NE of Heisternest, at 54-45N, 18-44E, one of which accounted for German minesweeper M.85.

Dover Straits - minelayer ADVENTURE and auxiliary minelayers HAMPTON and SHEPPERTON arrived at Dover for operations.

British Expeditionary Force - the first BEF convoy arrived in France and by 7 October, 161,000 men, 24,000 vehicles and 140,000 tons of stores had reached France. Troops and vehicles were convoyed from Southampton, tanks, guns, ammunition and stores from Newhaven and petrol from Poole and Fawley. Among the British merchant ships involved were ACHILLES (11,404grt), BELLEROPHON (9019grt), EURYMEDON (6223grt), GLENEARN (8986grt). GLENSTRAE (9460grt), LYCAON (7350grt), MARON (6487grt), RHESUS (6530grt). Steamer GLOUCESTER CITY (3071grt) was among six fitted to carry ammunition.

Engish Channel - Destroyer KEITH attacked a submarine contact near Wolf Rock.

Southwestern Approaches - aircraft carrier COURAGEOUS with destroyers KEMPENFELT, ARDENT, ECHO left Plymouth for anti-submarine duties in the Western Approaches in Operation AS.2. At 1030/10th, COURAGEOUS’ aircraft attacked a submarine contact 280 miles W by S of Ushant and at 1250/10th made another attack 270 miles west of Ushant. During these operations, a Swordfish of 822 Squadron was unable to locate the carrier at the end of its patrol on the 10th and lost with its crew, LtW A H Playfair, Sub Lt (A) H A Wheatman, Naval Airman 1/c F Frizzel. COURAGEOUS arrived at Milford Haven late on the 10th, departed on the 11th and all ships arrived back at Plymouth on the 14th.

U.48 unsuccessfully attacked steamer JAMAICA PROGRESS SW of Ireland.

Mediterranean - destroyer GRENVILLE made a submarine contact at 0508, but was relieved by destroyers MOHAWK and SIKH so she could continue on to Malta.

Destroyer WISHART attacked a submarine contact off Gibraltar.

Australian waters - Australian destroyer STUART on patrol off Terrigal in Broken Bay, north of Sydney, attacked a submarine contact which later proved to be rocks. On the 10th, she continued the hunt with destroyer WATERHEN, both of which had just completed recommissioning trials.

OTD 1939 Paddle steamer MEDWAY QUEEN is requisitioned for war service; taken into Deptford for conversion to sweeping duties & operates from Harwich from January 1940 with (paddlewheel) sister ships in the 9th MSF.

Overnight 9th/10th September 1939 the minelaying destroyers HMS ESK & EXPRESS (pic) conduct a covert lay of GB’s 1st offensive field. Sailing from Immingham to Heligoland Bight, they target suspected German exit channels. They will repeat this operation 48 hrs later.

HMS ESK, along with other units of the 20th (Minelaying) Destroyer Flotilla, was lost during a disastrous minelaying operation off the Texel in August 1940.

OTD 1939 UK suffers its 1st mine casualties of WW2: Loss of SS Magdepur 8000t off Sizewell to a mine laid by U 13. 6 of crew killed, remainder saved by Aldeburgh lifeboat. More info here:

SS Goodwood, carrying coal between South Shields & Bayonne , was also lost to a submarine-laid mine (U 15) off Flamborough Head on this day, with one crew member killed. This wreck website is always an excellent source:

Meanwhile in distant waters, Australian heavy cruisers HMSS AUSTRALIA, CANBERRA and light cruiser ADELAIDE searched for suspected (but non-existent) German minelayers off Gabo Island until the 13th.

Last edited:
On This Day in 1939

Declarations of war - Canada declared war on Germany.

British west coast – patrol sloop PUFFIN attacked a submarine contact off Barmouth in Cardigan Bay.

Steamer GOODWOOD (2796grt) was sunk by a mine, one mile southeast of Flamborough Head, laid by U.15 on the 6th. One member of the crew was lost.

Steamer MAGDAPUR (8641grt) sailing in ballast to Southampton to embark BEF equipment for France was sunk on the 10th in 52‑11N, 01‑43E off Orfordness by a mine laid by U.13 on the 4th. Six crew were lost.

North Sea - the British submarine force suffered its first loss of the war. On the Montrose-Obrestad air patrol line, SW of Stavanger, TRITON sighted OXLEY. After repeated challenges to which OXLEY failed to respond, TRITON fired two torpedoes at 2100 believing her to be an enemy. One torpedo struck and sank OXLEY at 58‑30N, 05‑42E. Only the commanding officer Lt Cdr H.G. Bowerman and AB H S Gluckes survived. The casualties were Lt R P Coppinger, Lt FK Manley RNR, Sub Lt W H Palmer, Warrant Engineering Officer R W C Robertson and forty nine ratings. Lt Cdr Bowerman was not held at fault for the loss and assumed command of destroyer WALPOLE on 21 November.

Baltic - a small German fishing vessel was sunk on a mine off Trelleborg, S Sweden and the survivors rescued by another German trawler.

Dutch waters - minelaying destroyers ESK and EXPRESS left Portsmouth early on the morning of the 10th and laid 120 mines that night in minefield AA off Terschelling in 53-32N, 5-07E before returning to Immingham. Next night, the 11th/12th, they laid field QQ in the Bight at 54-04N, 4-19E.

English Channel – destroyer JACKAL attacked a submarine contact 10 miles S by W of the Needles, Isle of Wight.

UK-France convoys and sailings - convoy of steamers BRIGHTON, CANTERBURY, MAID OF ORLEANS, PARIS departed Southampton on the 9th and anchored in the Solent overnight before setting of with troops for Cherbourg. MAID OF ORLEANS was damaged in a minor collision with the escort at the start, but was able to continue.

Bay of Biscay - U.34 was attacked by an Allied aircraft with a single bomb in the Bay, but no damage was done.

Australian waters - Australian heavy cruisers AUSTRALIA, CANBERRA and light cruiser ADELAIDE searched for suspected German minelayers off Gabo Island until the 13th.

OTD 1939 RN minelayers HMS ADVENTURE (Cruiser - pictured) & PLOVER plus auxiliary minelayers (HMS SHEPPERTON & HAMPTON), accompanied by ‘Halcyons’ HMS HARRIER, HUSSAR, SKIPJACK start laying the Dover Barrage in Straits of Dover.

These efforts were covered by the HMS CAIRO & 19th Destroyer Flotilla. The initial ‘lay’ was between the Goodwin & Dyck Banks before expanding across the Straits between Folkestone - Cap Gris Nez comprising 3 lines of shallow mines & 2 rows of deep mines.

3000 mines would be laid over the next 6 days, claiming at least 3 U-Boats in the following weeks and shutting off the Dover Straits as a through-route for German submarines

On This Day in 1939

Northwestern approaches - U.47 sank steamer FIRBY (4869grt) 300 miles WNW of Cape Wrath in 59‑40N, 13‑50W. The survivors were rescued by destroyer FEARLESS, detached from HOOD’s screen.

U.30 sank steamer BLAIRLOGIE (4425grt) west of Ireland in 54‑59N, 15‑08W, but remained with the crew until American steamer AMERICAN SHIPPER (7430grt) was sighted. She rescued them.

British east coast - Convoy FN.3 departed Harwich on the 11th escorted by destroyer BROKE and sloops BITTERN and ENCHANTRESS. Sweeping ahead of the convoy, BROKE attacked a submarine contact seven miles ENE of Orfordness and BITTERN, also escorting submarine OBERON in FN.3 made another attack on a contact off Cromer Knoll Light Vessel. Destroyers MATABELE and SOMALI joined in the latter attack. Then 14 miles east of Orfordness, BROKE made yet another, all this still on the 11th. BROKE's asdic set went out of action and required repair, and the convoy arrived at Methil on the 12th.

Dover Straits - Destroyer BLANCHE made a submarine attack five miles NNE of North Goodwins in 51-24N, 1-39E.

Dover Straits minefields - British minelaying began with a mine barrage GR laid across the Straits of Dover with a channel left open for Allied ship use off the Goodwins. Navigational markers were laid between the Goodwins and Dyck by survey ships FRANKLIN and SCOTT from 7 to 10 September. The field was laid from the 11th to 16th between Galloper and North Hinder by cruiser-minelayer ADVENTURE, coastal minelayer PLOVER and converted train ferries HAMPTON and SHEPPERTON. Minesweepers HARRIER, HUSSAR, SKIPJACK accompanied the force and anti-aircraft cruiser CAIRO and 19th Destroyer Flotilla (less BULLDOG in the Mediterranean) provided escort.

English Channel - Light cruisers CERES and CARADOC departed Portland to cover a BEF troop convoy, and arrived at Plymouth on the 14th.

Southwestern Approaches - U.38 sank British tanker INVERLIFFEY (9456grt) 270 miles WSW of Land's End in 48‑14N, 11‑48W, whose crew was rescued by American steamer R G STEWART (9229grt).

Central Atlantic - German pocket battleship ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE and accompanying supply ship ALTMARK had a near encounter with heavy cruiser CUMBERLAND, which was sighted by GRAF SPEE’s aircraft only 30 miles away on an intercepting course. However, CUMBERLAND was en route from Freetown to Rio de Janiero and did not even sight the aircraft.

On This Day in 1939 (Abridged)

Northwestern approaches - aircraft carrier ARK ROYAL aircraft attacked a submarine 150 miles NW of Cape Wrath. Destroyers FAULKNOR and FIREDRAKE were detached to search, but failed to make contact. Destroyers FAME and FORESTER from were despatched to search the area. The destroyers returned to Scapa Flow later that day.

Sloop BITTERN attacked a submarine contact 18 miles off Flamborough.

Sloop ENCHANTRESS attacked a submarine contact off Flamborough Head.

U.13 on patrol in the central North Sea near Orfordness picked up four men from a downed German Do.18 aircraft.

Destroyers of the 19th Flotilla attacked a submarine contact near Kentish Knock.

Baltic - German experimental ship OTTO BRAUN was damaged by a Polish coastal defense battery at Hela. Reports in contemporary Allied press reports identified her as battleship SCHLESWIG HOLSTEIN.

On This Day in 1939 (Abridged)

Northwestern approaches - U.27 sank British trawler DAVANA (291grt) 21 miles NW by N from Tory Island. Survivors were rescued by steamer WILLOWPOOL (4815grt).

U.21 attacked a destroyer off the Firth of Forth on the 22nd, U.14 a submarine off Duncansby Head on the 24th, and U.24 destroyer FORESIGHT off the Shetlands, also on the 24th, but all failed due to torpedo defects.

North Sea - German trawler STOLP (122grt) was sunk in accidental collision with torpedo boat LUCHS in the North Sea.

Norwegian steamer RONDA (5136grt) was mined and sunk off Terschelling in 54-10N, 4-34E, with 17 crew lost. The survivors were rescued by Italian steamer PROVVIDENZA (8459grt).

Baltic - Greek steamer KATINGO HAJIPATERA (3661grt) was damaged on a mine off Falsterbo, Sweden and ran aground. She was refloated and proceeded the same day to Copenhagen escorted by a Swedish minesweeper.

During the night of the 13th/14th, Polish minesweepers JASKOLKA, RYBITWA, CZAJKA laid 60 mines south of Hela to prevent German battleship SCHLESWIG HOLSTEIN shelling the Hela Peninsula.

Dover Straits - destroyer JAVELIN, with sister ship JERSEY in company, attacked a submarine contact near the East Goodwin Light Vessel.

Destroyer BLANCHE attacked a submarine contact five miles east of Dungeness.

English Channel - Destroyer MALCOLM attacked a submarine contact 22 miles east of Guernsey.

Southwestern Approaches – U.35 was attacked by a British aircraft which dropped three bombs west of Ireland. No damage was done.

U.29 sank tug NEPTUNIA (798grt) SW of Ireland at 49‑20N, 14‑40W. She was en route to tow destroyer WALKER. Her 21 man crew was rescued by steamer BRINKBURN (1598grt) after spending 28-30 hours in the ship's boat.

Casablanca, Morocco - French minelaying cruiser LA TOUR D'AUVERGNE (CV H J E Dubois) was offloading mines at Casablanca when a mine being disarmed accidently exploded, setting off a chain reaction that blew up and destroyed the ship at anchor. EV 1/c A E H Pugliesi-Conti was killed and CV Dubois, LV H G E O L'Hertier, Commander of Marine Detachment Lt Marc, Doctor 1/c Tarello CH MO, Reserve Officer EV 1/c Merlen, IGM 2/c Salle, Supply Officer 2/c Levaique, Reserve Officer EV 1/c Lepeque and Doctor 3/c F Brunet went missing. Two officers were wounded and some two hundred ratings killed or missing. Many of the rest of her crew of 17 officers and 407 ratings were wounded. Trawlers ETOILE DU MATIN, SULTAN, MARIE MERVEILLEUSE were lost and a number of other ships in the harbour damaged by the explosion. Auxiliary minesweepers CHELLAH (70grt), GOSSE (300grt), and CHARCOT were badly damaged and not repaired. ALCOR and GRODIN were damaged.

Mediterranean - Destroyers GRENADE, GRIFFIN, GARLAND, GIPSY, of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla departed Malta to escort Convoy Green 1 en route to Alexandria. On the 16th, GARLAND was damaged by the explosion of one of her depth charges dropped while steaming at slow speed. The explosion not only damaged her stern but wrenched loose another depth charge on the depth charge thrower. The second depth charge was thrown into the water and exploded under the ship. GARLAND was towed to Alexandria by GRIFFIN, arriving on the 17th. Additionally, four of GARLAND's more seriously wounded crewmen were transferred to light cruiser GALATEA which also arrived at Alexandria on the 17th. After emergency repairs, GARLAND was taken to Malta in October for repair, which lasted until 16 May 1940.

"80 years ago today in Orkney...
17 Oct 1939: The first German plane shot down by British AA guns, and the first shot down to British soil.
The first bombs to hit land in Britain in WWII fell near Lyness, Hoy, on the same day.
HMS IRON DUKE was badly damaged during the raid."