For the next 14 months (26 July 1942 until 11 October 1943) Signalman Brooks served under Skipper Jack Mawer RNR aboard HMS Windermere (FY 207.)
Windermere belonged to the Lake Class of anti-submarine whaler. There were six in the class, originally designed and built as commercial whalers but taken over by the Admiralty midway through construction. They were excellent sea boats, fast and very manoeuvrable and could stay at sea in the foulest of weathers.
HMS Windermere was built in 1939 by Smith’s Dock Co. Ltd in South Bank and Stockton. Launched on the 21st July that year, she was commissioned into the Royal Navy on the 8th November. As an anti-submarine vessel, she would act as both convoy escort and as part of an offensive anti-submarine strike force. For a small ship, she had an eventful war.
Her Skipper Jack Mawer had already seen action. Mentioned in dispatches on 11th July 1940 for heroism displayed in the face of the enemy, Mawer survived the sinking of his ship HMT Bradman to bombing by German aircraft during the Allied evacuation of Andalsnes in Norway on 25th April 1940.
Mawer became Skipper of HMS Windermere in July 1941. A month later they were involved in the second of only six U-Boat captures during the war, U-570 .
Two months later, on 12th September, Skr. Mawer took Windermere out into the North Atlantic to shepherd Convoy SC 42 back into Liverpool after the sixty-five ship convoy had been attacked over the three nights of the 9th, 10th & 11th September by fifteen U-boats of the Markgraf Wolf Pack . Sixteen merchant ships were sunk for the loss of 2 U-boats, the worst Allied loss that year.
From 10th November 1942 until 30th January 1943, HMS Windermere was stationed in Reykjavik, or Hvitanes to be more precise, a small peninsular of land jutting out into the Hvalfjörður. Just big enough for 250 buildings and a ‘town’ that including a cinema, workshop, housing, lighting, heating, and everything a small British force needed. The pier (now ruined – see main photo of HMT Celia) was built to load and offload equipment for the base. The Northern Lights must have been spectacular.
Iceland began the war as neutral but its strategic position in the North Atlantic, crucial to both the Allies and Axis powers would prevent the Icelandic parliament from pursuing a non-belligerent policy. Britain had offered assistance to Iceland after the outbreak of war but the Reykjavik government declined, reaffirming its neutrality. But a strong German diplomatic presence on the island, combined with her strategic importance, unnerved Churchill. After failing to persuade the Icelandic government to join the Allies, the British invaded on the morning of 10th May 1940. They met no resistance and the freezing waters of the Hvalfjörður became home to Icelandic Command of the Royal Navy. The landscape around Hvalfjörður is varied and beautiful, with wide areas of flat land ringed by majestic mountains enclosing an anchorage 30 Km long and 5 Km wide. Safe from long-range German aircraft and south westerly gales, the fjörður became the staging post for the Arctic PQ/QP Convoys to Russia which began with Operation Dervish on 21 August 1941.
The New Year heralded the same old routines, carried out in mind-numbing cold. HMT Windermere was back in Loch Ewe on the 15 January, then north to the remote Seyðisfjörður on the east Icelandic coast, an auxiliary base for British & US warships preparing for Arctic Convoy. The wreck of the SS Grillo, a British tanker sunk by German aircraft in 1944 and now one of Iceland’s popular diving wrecks, is a reminder of Seyðisfjörður’s turbulent past.
By the end of March 1942, HMT Windermere was in Scrabster harbour, the base for the ferry operation that transported explosives from the Scottish mainland to the naval base on Scapa Flow.
By July 1942, Signalman Brooks and HMS Windermere were part of the 10th Anti-Submarine Striking Force under Iceland Command and based in Reykjavik. The force consisted of six anti-submarine whalers; HMS Buttermere, HMS Ellesmere, HMS Thirlmere, HMS Ullswater, HMS Wastwater and HMS Windermere.
Just weeks earlier, the Arctic Convoy had reached its nadir in the disastrous Convoy PQ17. Due to the perceived threat from the German battleship Tirpitz, a series of misguided signals sent from The Admiralty to the covering warships ending with the infamous signal ‘Convoy is to scatter’ left the Escort Commander in no doubt that Tirpitz was about to appear over the horizon (in fact she was still anchored in a Fjord in Trondheim.) With the merchant ships now scattered, 24 of the 35 ships that left Hvalfjörður were sunk by U-boat and aircraft.
In September 1942 HMS Windermere was one of four escorts to cover convoy UR 40 (Inc. HMS Angle, HMS Portsdown & HMS Yestor.) Just 2 merchant ships were escorted, the Greek Agia Varvara at 2,433 tons and the Dublin based Liseta at 2,580 tons. The convoy departed Loch Ewe on 7th September arriving in Reykjavik five days later. The return leg 2 days later ( RU 40) arrived in Loch Ewe with eight merchants and three escorts, HMS Windermere remaining in Reykjavik. The UR series of convoys ran the Loch Ewe to Reykjavik route every week from 1941 throughout the war without cancellation or a single ship lossed – 169 convoys escorting 1060 merchant ships in total.
The routine of patrols and escorts for a small ship in very big seas finally took its toll when Windermere was taken in hand by the shipyards of Glasgow and underwent major refurbishment. Due to be completed on Christmas Day 1942, Signalman Brooks had already left HMS Windermere and reappears on the Payment & Victualling records back at Sparrows Nest, Lowestoft. Apart from one day’s allocation to HMS Beaver of the Trawler Relief Pool, my father would serve the next seven months aboard HMT Ephretah.