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Loss of the Submarine HMS Narwhal


HMSub Narwhal (N45) was the 1 of the 6 ship class of Grampus Class Mine Laying Submarine of the Royal Navy. She was built by Vickers Armstrong, Barrow and Launched 29th August 1935 Served  in the Mediterranean, West Indies, 2nd World War in Home Waters.

Laid a minefield of 50 mines North of Laeso Island in the Kattegat, April 1940.  It is assumed that the following were sunk by this minefield: 4 trawlers totalling 1,200 tons, Deutschland 432 tons, M.1701 250 tons, M.1702 218 tons, she also sank the Buenos Aires on the 1st May 1940, 6,097 tons.  Laid another minefield near the island of Laeso towards the end of April 1940, size not known.


Narwhal was lost on the 30th July 1940 in the North Sea or off Norway.  HMSub Narwhal (Lt.Cdr. Ronald James Burch, DSO, RN - 33yrs) sailed from Blyth Harbour on 22 July 1940 to lay mines off Kristiansund, Norway. A German Dornier Bomber (Do-17, Lt. Karl Müller, 1/KF1Gr 606) reported attacking a submarine on the afternoon of 23rd July 1940 about 125 nautical miles due east of Aberdeen, Scotland in position 56º50'N, 01º40'E, it was most likely this attack that is responsible for the loss of the  Narwhal as she failed to return to base and was reported overdue on 1 August 1940.

HMS Truant’s good luck continued when she is also attacked but suffered no damage.
British submarine HMS Clyde fired 6 torpedoes at HMS Truant, off Fejeosen, Norway in an episode of mis-identification. All torpedoes missed their target.

Narwhal had a brief but eventful career in wartime service. In February 1940 she helped HMS Imogen and HMS Inglefield to sink U-63 south east of the Shetland Islands and in May Narwhal torpedoed and sank the German troop transport Buenos Aires and torpedoed and damaged the troop transport Bahia Castillo. The Bahia Castillo reached port but was declared a total loss.  The greatest number of kills were caused by her mines. The German auxiliary minesweepers M 1302 / Schwaben, M 1102/H.A.W. MöllertheGnom 7,Kobold 1 and Kobold 3; the German minesweeper M 11; German auxiliary submarine chaser UJ D / Treff VIII; the armed Trawler V 1109 / Antares and the Swedish merchant Haga were all sunk on mines laid by NarwhalShips damaged by mines laid by Narwhal included: the armed trawler V 403 / Deutschland, the German merchants Togo and Clara M. Russ. The auxiliary minesweeper M 1101 / Fock und Hubert and the German merchant Palime also struck some of Narwhal's mines. They were successfully beached but declared total losses.  Credit is often given to Narwhal for sinking the Norwegian fishing vessel Arild, but in reality Arild hit a German defensive mine.  Narwhal may also have claimed the U-1 which disappeared on patrol on 6 April 1940, having been scheduled to sail unknowingly through a minefield Narwhal had laid earlier that day. Alternatively, Narwhal's sister submarine, Porpoise, reported firing upon an unknown submarine, which may also account for U-1's loss.

HMS Narwhal - The Grampus-class submarines were a group of Mine Layers built for the Royal Navy in the late 1930s. These boats are sometimes referred to as the Porpoise Class from the single prototype, HMS Porpoise built in 1932. Onle 5 boats to a modified design were built between 1936 and 1938. The ships were all named after marine mammals.

Minelayer; Lt.Cdr. E.R.J. Oddie, RN. 
25 Feb 40, the German submarine U-63, trying to attack convoy HN-14, in doing so she was sighted by 
Narwhal. The escorting destoyers HMS Escort, HMS Inglefield and HMS Imogen were warned. They located, attacked and sank U-63 with depth charges south east of the Shetland Islands. 
Lt Cdr
Ronald J Burch DSO RN 
4 Apr 40, laid minefield FD 1 (50 mines) in the North Sea in position 54º37'N, 06º35'E. 
13 Apr 40, the German armed trawler V403/Deutschlanddamaged when she hit a mine laid by 
Narwhal on 4 Apr 40 off Skagen. 
13 Apr 40, laid minefield FD 5 (50 mines) in the Kattegat in position 57º26'N, 10º45'E. 
20 Apr 40, the German merchant Togo (5042 GRT) damaged when hitting a mine laid by 
Narwhal on 13 Apr 40 off Skagen in position 57º26'N, 10º45'E. 
23 Apr 40, the German auxiliary minesweeper M1302/Schwaben (436 GRT) sunk on a mine laid by 
Narwhal on 13 Apr 40 off Skagen in position 57º26'N, 10º45'E. 
On the night of 1 May
1940, Narwhal had just finished laying mines in the Kattegat, in the entrance to Laeso Rende, when several ships including the German Buenos Aires sailed into his periscope sights. In a well executed attack, several torpedoes were fired and Buenos Aires quickly sank with 30 casualties. On the same night, Narwhal also torpedoed and severely damaged S.S. Bahia Castillo II (8,570 grt) which belonged to the same company that had owned Buenos Aires. The ship was towed to Kiel and after inspection was found to be beyond economical repair and was subsequently broken up. 
1 May 40, the Swedish merchant Haga (1296 GRT) sinks on a mine laid by
 Narwhal on the same day in the Skaggerak east of Cape Skagen in position 57º30'N, 10º43'E. 
1 May 40, laid minefield FD 6 (50 mines) in the Kattegat in position 57º30'N, 10º43'E. 
3 May 40, the German auxilary minesweeper M1102/H.A.W. Möller sinks on a mine laid by 
Narwhal on 1 May 40 in the Skaggerak east of Cape Skagen in position 57º30'N, 10º43'E. 
11 May 40, laid minefield FD 12 (50 mines) off Bud, Norway in position 62º58'N, 06º48'E. 
30 May 40, the German armed trawler V1109/Antares (291 GRT) sinks on a mine laid by Narwhal on 11 May 1940 off Molde, Norway in position 62º58'N, 06º48'E. 
3 Jun 40, laid minefield FD 16 (50 mines) off Jaederens Point, Norway in position 58º46'N, 05º25'E. 
5 Jun 40, the German merchant Palime (2863 GRT) and the German minesweeper M 11 (874 tons) both hits mines. The M 11 sinks while the Palime is beached and later delared a total loss. The mines were laid by 
Narwhal on 3 June 40 off Feiestein, Norway in position 58º46'N, 05º25'E. 
12 Jun 40, laid minefield FD19 (50 mines) off Haugesund, Norway in position 59º26'N, 05º10'E. 
4 Jul 40, laid minefield FD 21 (50 mines) north of Kristiansund, Norway in position 63º15'N, 07º39'E. 
6 Jul 40, the German auxiliary submarine chaser UJD/Treff VIII (356 GRT) sinks on a mine laid by 
Narwhal on 4 Jul 40 off the Norwegian coast in position 63º15'N, 07º34'E. 
28 Sep 40, the German merchant Clara M. Russ (1600 GRT) damaged when hitting a Narwhal mine laid on 3 June 40, 15 nm SW of Stavanger, Norway in position 58º46'N, 05º25'E. 
13 Oct 40, the German auxiliary minesweepers Gnom7, Kobold1 and Kobold3 sink on mines laid by
Narwhal on 12 Jun 40 off the Osterfjord, Norway in position 59º26'N, 05º10'E. 
Sailed from
Blyth 22-Jul-40 to lay mines off Kristiansand, Norway on 23-Jul-40. German Dornier-17 Bomber reported attacking a submarine of afternoon of 28-Jul-40 about 125 nm east of Aberdeen, Scotland in position 56º50'N, 01º40'E. Narwhal failed to return to base and was paid off on 1-Aug-40. May have been sunk by German mines or aircraft; lost with all hands.

Crew of HMS Narwhal

My dad had been a regular in the Royal Navy since 1936. Time served Fitters and Turners were particularly welcomed into the Navy, especially as my dad had knowledge of steam engines from J M Henderson & Co, and had a stint on trawlers fishing out of Peterhead, as Ships Engineer, which the Navy thought was pure gold.  However, my dad may have taken a demotion from Chief Petty Officer, ERA, on HMS "Newcastle," to get into submarines based in Malta, to get away and away from Steam and Naval bullshit, as he hated both of them. He wasn't too popular for leaving his surface ship for a "useless sub." Despite this experience he had never learned how to swim. So, J M Henderson's must have built many steam engines, and trained their apprentices well. If he'd stayed on the HMS Newcastle, he might have survived the war along with the vessel. As it emerged he was lost on HMS "Narwhal," just 125 nm due east of Aberdeen, in 1940, while on a mine laying mission to Kristiansand, Norway, rather far away from the balmy Mediterranean Valletta he had anticipated. A Luftwaffe bomb got all hands and the sub, then the Navy's largest.  Thus JMH lost one of its better, time served Journeymen. - Fraser H

Will Fyffe Promotes War Bonds 1943


Porpoise(N14) Vickers, Barrow 30 August 1932 Sunk by Japanese aircraft in the Malacca straits, 16 January 1945.
Grampus(N56) Chatham Dockyard 25 February 1936 Sunk by Italian torpedo boats Circe and Clio off Sicily 16 June 1940.
Narwhal(N45) Vickers, Barrow 29 August 1935 Sunk 30 July 1940 by German aircraft near Norway.
Rorqual(N74) Vickers, Barrow 21 July 1936 Arrived Newport to be broken up 17 March 1946.
Cachalot(N83) Scotts 2 December 1937 Sunk by Italian torpedo boat Papa off Cyrenaica 30 July 1941.
Seal(N37) Chatham Dockyard 27 September 1938 Captured by the Germans in the Kattegat 4 May 1940 after sustaining mine damage, commissioned as the UB, scuttled 3 May 1945, but later raised and scrapped.

HMS Rorqual

HMS Rorqual (N74) was the one of the 6 ship class of Grampus-class mine-laying submarine of the Royal Navy. She was built by Vickers Armstrong, Barrow and launched 27 July 1936. She served in World War II in the Mediterranean and in the far east. She was the only Grampus class submarine to survive the war.  Sent to the Mediterranean in 1940, Rorqual began laying minefields and attacking enemy shipping. Amongst the shipping lost to mines laid by Rorqual were the Italian merchants Loasso, Celio, Leopardi, Verde, Ticino, and Salpi; the Italian pilot vessel F 34 / Rina Croce, the Italian torpedo boats Calipso, Fratelli Cairoli, Generale Antonio Chinotto, Altair and Aldebaran; the Italian auxiliary minesweeper AS 99 / Zani, the German troop transport Ankara; the French merchant (in German service), P.L.M. 24; and the French fishing vessel Coligny.  Rorqual arrived in the far east in 1945 to operate against the Japanese, serving as part of the British Pacific Fleet. She laid minefields and sank 3 Japanese sailing craft and 3 coasters with gunfire, and damaged a 4th coaster.

HMS Seal

James William Grey - Lost in the North Sea 125nm  off Aberdeen aboard HMS Narwhal as one of a Complement of 55 Ratings and Officers

1803 Naval Chronicle:

"...seamen would have met a watery grave; or, to use a seaman's phrase, gone to Davy Jones's locker."

Displacement (tons):1,520 sf 2,117 sm Porpoise 1,500 sf 2,053 sm
Length (ft): 293 oa Porpoise 288 oa
Breadth (ft): 25.5 oa Porpoise 29.75 oa
Draught/Height (ft): 15.75 Porpoise 13.75
Machinery: 2 Admiralty x 1,650 bhp diesel engines. 2 Admiralty x 1,630 bhp electric motors. Twin screws.
Speed (kts): 16 kts sf 8.75 kts sm
Oil Supply (tons): 150 tons
Armament: 6 x 21 inch bow tubes. 12 reloads. 1 x 4 inch gun. 2 x Machine guns. 50 mines.
Range: 7,400 nm at 10 kts sf.
Complement: 55 Officers and Ratings.

sm = submerged, sf = surfaced, oa = overall, hp = horsepower

Beneath the casing ran two rails which stretched the entire length of the casing, except in Porpoise. The mines were stowed on the rails until the time of laying the minefield. The casing had large stern doors which were opened when laying the mines and the mines were strewn through these stern doors.

Though the new type of mine was developed with the intention of patrol submarines being able to lay minefields this was never the case during WWII and all mine laying was carried out by this class during the duration of WWII.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013