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SERVICE HISTORIES of ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS in WORLD WAR 2 by Lt Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd) (c) 1999

HMS WOODPECKER (U 08) - Modified Black Swan-class Sloop including Convoy Escort Movements

Edited by Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net

 HMS Woodpecker (Navy Photos, click to enlarge)

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Modified BLACK SWAN-Class Sloop ordered from William Demy of Dumbarton under 1940 Build Program as Job No 1259 (Yard No.1359) on 13th April 1940 and laid down on 23 February 1941. The ship was launched on 29th June 1942 by Mrs Greig. She was the first RN warship to carry the name and had been adopted by the civil community of Bushey, Hertfordshire in February 1942 following a successful WARSHIP WEEK campaign for National Savings. The target amount of £120,000 was raised, which for a population of 12,000 was a most creditable achievement. Initially HM Corvette HELIOTROPE had been selected for adoption but when that ship was transferred on loan to the US Navy as USS SURPRISE, this sloop was nominated in her place. Build was completed on 14th December 1942 and her armament included an Ahead Throwing Mortar mounting (HEDGEHOG) for attacks on submarines. She was also fitted with Radar Type 272 for surface warning and Type 285 for fire-control of the main armament which comprised three twin 4in mountings. Another radar outfit, Type 286P was also fitted and gave limited warning of the approach of aircraft and ships. For details of the development and use of radar by the RN, see RADAR AT SEA by D Howse. Close range defence against air attack was provided by the fitting of twin and single 20mm Oerlikon gun mountings during build.


B a t t l e   H o n o u r s


BISCAY 1943 - ATLANTIC 1943-44


H e r a l d i c   D a t a

Badge: On a Field White, a woodpecker clinging to a stump of a tree proper.


M o t t o

Inveniet qui exquirit:   'He who seeks carefully shall find'



D e t a i l s   o f   W a r   S e r v i c e


(for more ship information, go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search



1 9 4 2


December              Contractors sea trials and commissioned for service in 7th Escort Group.

                                Ships' company were provided from Devonport Port Division.

                14th        Build completion and commenced acceptance trials in Clyde area.

                18th        On completion of trials and storing for sailed from build yard.

                19th        Commenced work-up for operational service at Tobermory.


1 9 4 3


January                  Completed work-up and took passage to Londonderry.

                                Under repair in Londonderry before joining Escort Group.

                                Deployed for escort of outward Convoy ON164 to Newfoundland and inward Convoy SC120

                                to UK.

                                Both convoys arrived without major incident.


February                NW Approaches convoy defence in continuation.


March                    Transferred for defence of UK-Gibraltar route convoys.

                16th        Joined escort for joint military convoy KMF11 to Oran and WS28 for Middle East in Clyde

                                with HM Sloop WREN. HM Destroyers BADSWORTH, DOUGLAS, EGGESFORD,

                                GOATHLAND, WHADDON and Polish KRAKOWIAK.

                19th        Detached as escort with Convoy KMF11 when the two convoys split for the separate passage

                                to their destinations

                                (Note: Convoys split in position 36.09N 09.46W.)

                                Part of escort for KMF11 to Oran with same ships.

                                (Note: HM Destroyers MALCOLM, QUADRANT, WITCH and WOLVERINE joined as

                                escort for WS28 when Joint convoy divided.)


April                       Detached from KMF11 in western Mediterranean and joined return Convoy MKF11 escort

                                during return passage to UK.

                                Transferred to 2nd Escort Group on formation for anti-submarine support during passage of

                                Atlantic convoys.

                                (Note: Other Sloops in 2nd Support Group were HMS STARLING (Senior Officer), HMS

                                WILD GOOSE, HMS KITE and HMS WREN.

                                This Group was commanded by Captain F J Walker CB, DSO**, DSC* RN who

                                achieved great fame during WW2 for his outstanding record in convoy defence against

                                U-Boat attack and his contribution to development of the tactics used in Search and

                                Destroy operations. His untimely death on 9th July 1944 after a stroke was without

                                doubt caused by cumulative stress of three years of continuous active service at sea.

                                See FIGHTING CAPTAIN by A Burns, ESCORT COMMANDER by T Robertson,

                                BUSINESS IN GREAT WATERS by J Terraine and THE BATTLE OF THE

                                ATLANTIC by Donald Macintyre.)

                                Deployed with Group for support duties In Western Approaches.


May                        Atlantic support duties in continuation.

                                Joined escort for Convoy ONS8 and Convoy HX240 which arrived without loss.



                2nd         During passage from Iceland with HM Sloops KITE, .STARLING and WILD GOOSE of Group

                                deployed to reinforce escort of Convoy HX241.

                                Wireless transmissions from U202 enabled bearing of the submarine to be found by direction

                                finding equipment available in ships of Group

                                (See above references and SEEK AND STRIKE by W Hackmann).

                                Took part depth charge attacks for several hours during which U202 attempted to escape by

                                changes of depth and course as well as discharge of decoy devices.

                                (Note: Submarine forced to surface and engaged by surface gunfire.

                                Crew abandoned and some rescued by ships of Group.)

                                U202 sank in position 56.12N 39-52W.

                                See U-BOATS DESTROYED by P Kemp.)

                                After return from escort of HX241 transferred with HM Sloops STARLING, KITE. WILD

                                GOOSE and WREN of Group for service in Plymouth Command.

                                Took passage to Plymouth to take part in series of anti-submarine Operations in Bay of Biscay

                                with RAF Coastal Command aircraft covered by HM Cruiser SCYLLA.

                                (Operation MUSKETRY).

                                (Note: See CONFLICT OVER THE BAY by N Franks and HITLER'S U-BOAT WAR by C

                                Blair for details.

                                The objective of this Operation was to attack U-Boats in transit to and from French


                                Details of tactics and weapons used in anti-submarine operations are available in SEEK

                                AND STRIKE by W. Hackmann and above references.)

                24th        During anti-submarine search operation with ships of Group carried out attack on U119 with

                                HMS STARLING, which had made initial detection, and ships of Group.

                                Submarine forced to surface by depth charges from HMS STARLING.

                                After exchange of surface gunfire HMS STARLING rammed submarine which capsized.

                                Made further depth charge attack and sank U449 in position 44.59N 12.24W, NW of Cape


                                (For details see U-BOATS DESTROYED and HITLER'S U-BOAT WAR.

                                (Note: U449 which had been detected by HMS WREN and HMS WILD GOOSE of Group.

                                Ship executed "Creeping attacks" which lasted several hours

                                Wreckage en surface and heavy oil discharge confirmed the sinking.

                                There were no survivors

                                On release from operations took passage to Plymouth with Group including the damaged HMS


                                (Note: This Sloop had been damaged during a ramming attempt which caused serious damage

                                to underwater equipment. See U-BOATS DESTROYED.)

                                On arrival ships' companies were acclaimed for sinking of two submarines in one day.)


July                         Resumed Operation MUSKETRY duties in Bay of Biscay

                                Offensive patrol with Group in Bay completed without success.

                                Returned to Plymouth to replenish and resumed MUSKETRY with Group.

                30th        Sank U504 with HMS WILD GOOSE, HMS KITE and HMS WREN in position 45.53N

                                10.47W with no survivors.

                                Later rescued survivors from German FW200 aircraft which had been shot down on 29th July

                                by an RAF Beaufighter of 248 Squadron.

                                Also rescued survivors from U462 sunk by SUNDERLAND aircraft of 461 Squadron that




                2nd         On completion of MUSKETRY patrol returned to Plymouth.

                                Took passage to Avonmouth.

                                Taken in hand for refit in commercial shipyard.


September             Under refit

to                            (Note: The refit period enabled a visit to be made to Bushey by members

October                  of the ships' company .At a reception held in the Parish Hall a presentation of a

                                model of the ship and piece of a U-Boat recovered after one of the recent sinkings

                                was made to the community. The model of HMS WOODPECKER had been made by

                                ship’s Cox’n. This provided a real opportunity to cement the bonds established the

                                crew to show their appreciation of the gifts sent to them by the citizens of Bushey

                                to improve their welfare during the frequent long periods at sea.)


November              On completion of dockyard work carried out post refit trials.

                                Passage to Londonderry to resume Atlantic convoy escort and support duties with the 2nd

                                Escort Group.


December              Deployed with Group as part of escort for military convoy MKF26 during its passage to the

                                Mediterranean and return Convoy MKF 26 to UK.


1 9 4 4


January                  Deployed with HM Sloops STARLING, WILD GOOSE, KITE and MAGPIE for anti

                                submarine operations in North Atlantic in Support role.

                                Air cover for these operations was provided by HM Escort Aircraft Carriers ACTIVITY

                                and NAIRANA.

                                (For details of weapon improvements and tactical deployments of Support Groups see SEEK

                                AND STRIKE by W. Hackmann, ENGAGE THE ENEMY MORE CLOSELY by C. Barnett

                                and RADAR AT SEA by D Howse).

                31st         Took part in search and anti-submarine operations with ships of Group based on ENIGMA

                                decrypts and other Intelligence data.

                                These searches culminated in sinking of U592 by HM Sloops STARLING, WILD GOOSE

                                and MAGPIE in position 50.20N 17.29W.

                                None of the submarine crew survived.

                                See U-BOATS DESTROYED and HITLER'S U-BOAT WAR.)


February                Atlantic convoy support duties with Group in continuation for defence of convoys between

                                UK and Gibraltar in SW Approaches.

                7th          Supported merged Convoys SL147 and MKS38 under threat from IGEL group of U-Boats.

                                (Note: HMS ACTIVITY and HMS NAIRANA took position within convoy and 2nd

                                Support Group ships were deployed independently for Search and Destroy duty.)

                8th          Carried out A/S attacks on U762 with HMS STARLING after initial detection by HMS

                                WILD GOOSE.

                                Submarine was sunk in position 49.02N 16.58W with no survivors

                9th          Took part in Group operations against U238 which was sunk by depth charge attacks from

                                HMS KITE, HMS STARLING and HMS MAGPIE in position 49.44N 16.07W with none

                                of the submarine crew surviving. References as above.

                11th        Sank U424 with HMS WILD GOOSE in position 50.00N 18.14W.

                                None of crew survived.

                                (Note: During these operations ships of Group came under attack by T5 Acoustic

                                torpedoes (GNAT) - See U-BOATS DESTROYED and above references.)

                15th        Deployed with HM Destroyer HESPERUS with ships of Group to support passage of

                                Convoy HX278 under air attack and threat from U-Boat pack.

                17th        Transferred with ships of 2nd Support Group to supplement escort of Convoy ON224

                                under threat from HAI group of U-Boats following sighting by enemy aircraft

                19th        During defence of ONS224 passage sank U264 with HMS STARLING in position

                                48.31 N 22.05W after seven hours of A/S attack operations.

                                53 survivors were rescued by HM Sloops STARLING, WILD GOOSE and


                                (Note: This was first sinking of an operational SCHNORKEL fitted submarine.

                                See above references.)

                20th        During subsequent A/S operations against HAI group attacked by U764 and hit aft by T5

                                Acoustic (GNAT) torpedo in position 48.49N 22.11W. 500 miles W. of Cork.

                                Stem structure blown off.

                                (Note: There were no casualties but the submarine escaped.

                                U764 survived hostilities and was sunk on 2nd January 1946 when used as target

                                during Operation DEADLIGHT).

                21st         Ship taken in tow by HMS STARLING.

                                (Note: Tow was later transferred to Tug STORMCLOUD.)

                26th        Weather worsened near Scillies during passage to Devonport.

                27th        Ship capsized and sank in position 49.51N 06.46W.

                                Ship's company were rescued by HM Corvettes AZALEA and CHILLIWACK (RCN).

                                part of the convoy escort.  


F i n a l   N o t e


HMS WOODPECKER was the only ship belonging to the 2nd Escort Group to be lost  during the extensive  and intense deployments as a convoy escort or in support of passage of convoys. Her last period of duty had been for 27 days during which the Group sank six submarines.  Her record of service was outstanding and but for the unfortunate circumstances of her loss in bad weather, she would undoubtedly have to continued to play a major role with the 2nd Support Group in the defence of Russian convoys and in operations to prevent U-Boat attacks on cross Channel convoys during the allied landings Normandy later in 1944.


The customary exchange of a ships badge to be placed in Bushey Council Chamber and a Plaque from the community to be fitted in a prominent position on was carried out as described in the 1992 Journal of Bushey Museum. The Bushey Plaque was accepted by Vice Admiral C E B Simeon RN on behalf the Commanding Officer, HMS WOODPECKER. However, to the great regret of all concerned the Armorial Badge carved by a  local fireman, was never placed on board the Sloop


Some of ships' company of HMS WOODPECKER joined the new  Sloop HMS LARK which was completed in April 1944 and during deployment for defence of a Russian Convoy  in February 1945 was also hit by a homing torpedo. This newly completed ship was badly damage but was towed to Rosta near Murmansk and later handed to the Soviet Navy. Although many of the ship’ company were rescued there were some casualties and some of these had served in HMS WOODPECKER.


During 1995 seven of the ships' company from HMS WOODPECKER attended a reunion at Bushey. They took part in a special Presentation Evening at the Museum which was attended by local dignitaries and Friends of the Museum. The occasion proved to be to be most emotional and enabled the earlier links with the civil community to be renewed.






by Don Kindell


This convoy list has not been cross-checked with the text above






Date convoy sailed

Joined convoy as escort

Convoy No.

Left convoy

Date convoy arrived








ON 164





SC 120





KMF 011





MKF 011





HX 236





SL 128MK





ONS 008





HX 240





HX 241





KMF 026





MKF 026





SL 144MK





OS 064KM





HX 274





ON 222





SL 147MK





HX 278





ON 224








(Note on Convoys)


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revised 31/5/11
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