HMS Havock was one of the most active British destroyers of the Second World War, taking part in the Norwegian campaign, the fall of Holland, the battle of Matapan, the evacuation from Greece and Crete, the campaign in North Africa and the efforts to keep Tobruk and Malta supplied, before eventually being lost after running aground while attempting to escape from Malta.
The Havock was one of nine members of the H class of destroyers, all built in 1935-36. Despite being comparatively new, they were based on a mid 1920s design, produced when the Royal Navy decided to resume destroyer construction after the First World War. Their biggest problem was a lack of anti-aircraft guns, based on the assumption that fast moving destroyers would be difficult targets for aerial attack. This would prove to be largely true for high altitude level bombers, but not for dive bombers.
This is an excellent detailed history of the service record of the Havock, making it clear just how busy some of these destroyers were. In two years she fought in Norwegian waters, struggling to manoeuvre in icy fjords, took part in the brief campaign in the Netherlands and then returned to the Mediterranean, where she was constantly busy. The narrative is supported by a good range of eyewitness accounts, and contemporary documents, in particular in the detailed appendix. We also move on beyond the loss of the ship to look at the time her crew spent in internment in Vichy run Tunisia.
The Havock was an indirect victim of both the Italian navy and German air power. She was damaged by fire from the Italian battleship Littorio during the Second battle of Sirte, an attempt to defend a convoy heading for Malta. She was then subjected to heavy air attack while under repair at Malta (where she suffered further damage), and eventually ordered to make her way west to Gibraltar. This involved heading west into the dangerous gap between Sicily and Tunisia (at the time officially neutral territory under the administration of Vichy France). In order to avoid minefields just outside Tunisian waters she had to stay within two miles of the coast, but to avoid Axis air power and E-boats she needed to get as far west as possible under the cover of darkness. Unfortunately she strayed too far inshore and ran aground off Cape Bon. It quickly became clear that it wasn’t possible to save her, and she was abandoned. Unfortunately she was carrying a number of passengers when she was lost, and her crew and passengers ended up being interned by the French in conditions little different from being Prisoners of War.
This was a controversial way to lose a ship, and her captain, Lt Commander Watkins, was court-martialed. The authors have included a sizable section on the court-martial, including the main witness statements and the conclusion of the trial, so we thus follow the story of the ship all the way to the end.
1 – A Ship is Born
2 – Spanish Civil War (January 1937-March 1939)
3 – Run up to War (March 1939-March 1940)
4 – The Battle for Narvik (April 1940)
5 – The Invasion of Holland (May 1940)
6 – Mediterranean Maelstrom (May 1940-February 1941)
7 – The Battle for Matapan (27-30 March 1941)
8 – Convoys and the Tripoli Bombardment (April-May 1941)
9 – Evacuation of Greece and Crete (April-June 1941_)
10 – No Rest for the Wicked:Syria, Tobruk, Groundings and More Convoys (June 1941-March 1942)
11 – The Slow Death of HMS Havock: The Second Battle of Sirte and Beyond (March-April 1942)
12 – Prisoners of War in Laghouat (April-November 1942)
I: Particulars of HMS Havock
II: Report of Proceedings of HMS Havock during the Action off Narvik, 10 April 1940
III: Copy of W/T (Wireless Transmission) Log of HMS Havock, Communcations during the First Battle of Narvik, 10 April 1940
IV: HMS Havock Ship Movements
V: Two Speed Destroyer Sweep
VI: Cablegram from Lieutenant Commander G.R.G. Watkins to his Wife, 13 April 1942
VII: Report of Commanding Officer of HMS Havock, Lieutenant Command Watkins, on the Loss of his Command
VIII: HMS Havock Roll of Honour
IX: HMS Havock Decorations, Medals and Awards
Author: David Goodey and Richard Osborne