Association Football - A winter's day; a football match, a line of soldiers, some wearing grey coats, watches from the touchline | Image © IWM ART LD 46.

Football at War – HMS Leicester City

On 8 September 1939, the Football Association declared that all football except that organised by the armed forces was suspended ‘until official notice to the contrary’. This was in contrast to 1914 when professional football had continued during the first year of the war. The threat of air attack and the introduction of conscription made it impossible for football to continue as before. But some football teams did go to war in a minesweeping capacity.

There is a letter in Leicester City’s club archive to their Director, Sidney Needham. It was written on 8 February 1942 by Lieutenant F. Everett. He was captain of a minesweeper called HMS Leicester City. This ship was very closely associated with the Football Club throughout the Second World War.

Before the Second World War, HMS Leicester City had been a part of the Grimsby fishing fleet. Built-in 1934, she was one of 23 trawlers named after football clubs. One was appropriately named Grimsby Town, but others included HMS Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Derby County, Everton, Hull City, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Tottenham Hotspur, Stoke City, and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

HMS Arsenal (FY 140)Sunk in Kilchattan Bay, Firth of Clyde on 16 November 1940
HMS Aston Villa (FY 261)Scuttled on 3 May 1940 damage by German dive bombers in Kroken Bay, Norway
HMS Blackburn Rovers (FY 116)Mined off Dunkirk on 2 June 1940
HMS Derby County (FY 171)Scrapped at Ghent, Belgium in 1964
HMS Leeds United (FY 196)Scrapped at Sunderland in 1962
HMS Leicester City (FY 223)Wrecked off Breibuster Head, Hoy Sound on 22 March 1953
HMS Stoke City (FY 232)Scrapped at Inverkeithing in 1964
Football at War - HMS Leicester City
Crew of HMS Leicester City

On 7th May 1945, HMS Leicester City (T/Lt. John Wells, RNVR) was one of three trawlers escorting five freighters, sailing from Methil, in Eastern Scotland, to Belfast. One of the merchants, the Norwegian ship ‘SS Sueland’ was hit on the starboard side by a torpedo launched from U-2366 (Kptlt. Emil Klusmeier.) She sank in two minutes. Leicester City and HMS Valse rescued 19 survivors.

On the way to rescuing the survivors, the minesweeper dropped several depth charges but the U-Boat escaped. Tragically, this action had directly contravened the German High Command’s order issued by Admiral Donitz three days earlier to cease U-Boat operations.

HMS Leicester City had been involved in the last ever U-Boat action of the war. The wartime service of HMS Leicester City hasn’t been forgotten. In the grounds of the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Staffordshire, there is a plaque dedicated to the vessel on one side of a memorial stone dedicated to the Royal Naval Patrol Service.

First published in Leicester City FC News 19/12/20

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