Halcyon Class Minesweepers Halcyon Class Ships
Friendly Fire Attack on HMS Britomart
Report of 1st MSF
HMS Britomart
HMS Hussar
HMS Salamander
Daily Telegraph



HMS Britomart - Halcyon Class Minesweeper 

Signalman Lawrence Fitton wrote of his experiences in a letter:

'As you know all things went well although jerry tried his hardest to delay us. Then our day consisted of minesweeping and at night keeping a good lookout for bombers laying more mines around us, but all nights didn't pass easily and jerry found himself being forced back he brought all sorts of foul inventions into play. Mines disguised as buoys and motor boats pilotless and full of high explosives. This occurred so often with night raids and E. Boat raids that the nights became nights of terror and when day came we could sleep in peace. This continued until it was decided to storm Le Havre by sea. So it came about that we were detailed to sweep the entrance to the harbour. At first we were met with heavy gunfire but, towards the end of the week we had the upper hand and we started to get a little bolder and go closer inshore.

Then came the grand finale over the horizon came six allied planes and we being close inshore it was quite natural for them to mistake us for enemy vessels. Therefore after a few mistakes in positioning friendly shipping they attacked. I had only just come off watch and drunken my tot of rum, when a terrific explosion lifted us off the floor, or as we say deck, and flung me and my pals from one side of the ship to the other. We had been hit with a salvo of rockets from a typhoon. In the space of a few seconds I was on my feet and running for top deck. On reaching it I saw several of my mates, chaps like myself who only a short time ago had been sunbathing, lying scattered about in huddled heaps. As the order to abandon ship was given I looked up and saw several of our own planes diving down. Too late I dropped down and when I stood up I was surprised to find I was covered all over in blood and having as yet felt no pain whatsoever.

Next I found myself in a motor boat leaving the ship. This means of transport was apparently too good for me, for when the planes had attacked they had riddled the motor boat, and we soon found ourselves sinking. Still not despaired I kicked off my shoes and commenced swimming, but I soon found myself without lifebelt and I realised it must have been punctured anyhow. To add to his jerry started firing 9.2 heavy calibre shells at clusters of boats and also we were in an unswept part of the minefield, but after about 90 minutes of clinging to wreckage and attempting to swim, because by now the salt was in my wounds, I was eventually picked up and rushed by high speed launch to a hospital ship, from there to England, hospital and home.

But often I think of my pals who not so fortunate as me were either crippled or dead. That is why I find myself in no position to grumble at being away from home as throughout it all I managed to come up smiling and thank God for allowing me to live when better men died.' (Source: Michael Fitton, son, Jan 2009)

AB Bert Hughes in BRITOMART recalls: 

'I was on watch and sitting with my back to the winch helping another seaman to make a wire splice. Suddenly there was a tremendous explosion and there was water everywhere. I assumed that we had struck a mine ourselves. We knew at once they were our planes. We were told they weren't ours, but they had the special striped D-day markings on and you couldn't mistake a typhoon for anything else. I jumped to my feet and everything was confusion. When we looked towards the bridge, which had just been struck by a salvo of Typhoon rockets, it was a terrible mess. BRITOMART started to circle and to settle quite quickly. Eventually an order was given to abandon ship, but not from an officer because they were all dead or dying. We all went into the water. I will never forget the thunder of that attack. There can't be anything like the noise and shaking of it.' 

John Price, a telegraphist on BRITOMART: 

'My first thought was "What the hell are the silly bastards playing at?", and this was overtaken by the thought that they were using us as an exercise target. Then from under the aircraft I could see a red burst, and then there was a loud, dull thump and out of the corner of my eye I saw it hit our bridge. My first thought was self preservation and I moved to crawl under the gun platform. Unfortunately it was only about three inches off the deck and I was a bit too large, so I tumbled down the hatchway in the wardroom flat... Things went very quiet at this stage, and I recall seeing one seaman with the lower half of his face shot away.'

Lieutenant‑Commander Johnson in BRITOMART, the first to be hit: 

'The second lunch had been cleared away and the wardroom table was covered with signals awaiting their turn. All officers not on the bridge ‑ and this included the warrant engineer and even the sweep deck officer ‑ were in the wardroom deciphering the mounds of signals that kept pouring in. We had our heads down to this task when two great explosions shocked the entire ship by their power and violence, smashing, shattering, shuddering. My immediate thought was that we had been mined for'ard, but three seconds later, before we had time to collect ourselves, two more explosions sounded under the quarterdeck on the port side, muffled as though underwater. The ship lurched over to starboard and rolled back to settle with a ten degree list to port, the officers' cabins and alleyways having flooded instantly. Luckily in the wardroom we were all sitting either on the bulkhead settees or in low armchairs, not at the table, for at this moment cannon fire raked the wardroom just above table level, smashing right through the ship. We bundled out on deck only to fall flat on our faces when greeted by a second bout of fire from an aircraft streaking past to starboard ‑ we were horrified to see that it was an RAF Typhoon. It wheeled round some distance astern and flew past us again ‑ our gunner on the after Oerlikon let fly until. No. 1 yelled to him to stop. We also recognized two other planes in the distance by the easily discernible white bands on their wings.' 

'The realization that we had been attacked by friendly aircraft came as a great shock. A double shock, for any attack at all had seemed most unlikely with us steaming in the middle of a minefield, where no U‑boat could venture, and with the air completely dominated by Allied planes.' 

'BRITOMART was settling quickly by the stern with an increasing list to port and flooding fast. The magazine hatch on the sweep deck was open and I saw two ratings who had been working there scramble safely out of the water, but ominously smoke was also emerging. We could see little of the rest of the ship because of dense smoke belching from for'ard, then she started to swing to starboard and a breeze cleared some of the smoke. The view that met our eyes was grim. No bridge, only a smoking hole where it had been, and just forward another deep smoking hole which had been the stokers' mess. The funnel had also vanished completely and the main deck had burst open opposite the fiddley, ripping clear across and making it impossible for us to get for'ard ‑ we were isolated in the after part of the ship. The steering gear had jammed to starboard and the ship circled into the minefield, still dragging her Double L sweep wire which continued to pump out 5000 amps. We overtook our electrodes well before the ship lost way, becoming exposed to any hungry mine.' 

'The engine took some time to stop. The Chief (Engineer Officer, Warrant Officer J R D Grigson)  ran on deck with an axe and cut off the tail as a precaution ‑ he could have killed himself in an electrical explosion. As the ship stopped our severed tail floated alongside. BRITOMART now lay at an angle of thirty degrees and still deeper by the stern. The No. 1, Lieutenant George Merritt, and I decided to order "Abandon ship". We had difficulty in persuading some men to take the plunge, though others had already gone over the side before the ship stopped. All six officers including myself penetrated along the decks as far as we could, urging men to jump overboard and in some cases having physically to throw them into the sea. Some men were wounded, two I tried to rally were dead. The ship's motor launch was lowered into the water but it had not gone far before it sank with the men inside, its bottom holed in several places by cannon shells. Our burning ship was surrounded by bits and pieces of lockers, planks, Carley floats and men swimming in their Mae Wests. One resolutely cheerful rating who had helped to get others into the water now took the plunge himself and, to the tune of "Mairzy Doats", began to sing, "Motor boats and Carley floats and little rafts and dinghies..."

'We were so busy trying to save the survivors among our crew that we did not see any other ships, the rest of the flotilla had disappeared from view, although we did see boats some distance away picking up some of our swimmers. By chance we now found some spare life jackets which we thrust to men who had been reluctant to jump because, against standing orders, they had not been wearing their own. We quickly saw them over the side, for the smoke pouring from the depth‑charge magazine was an added incentive to be gone. The ship was capsizing rapidly and a sudden lurch to forty‑five degrees sending away the last of the reluctant swimmers, another officer and myself, having placed our shoes neatly side by side on the sloping deck, stepped off into the sea.'

Ernest Staniforth

My father Ernest Staniforth,SSX25410 served on Britomart from 2/06/1941 to its sinking on 27/08/1944. He very rarely spoke about his experiences during the war as the sinking was very traumatic and he lost friends in terrible circumstances. At the time of the attack he had just been taken of watch in the wheelhouse and was down in the mess, the chap who had taken him off was killed outright while at the the wheel. My father ended up in the water with a mate who was injured, my dad swam with him for a while in all the oil and flames, he eventually had to abandon him as he had lost most of his lower torso and would not have survived. He ended up ashore in an orchard in France and was eventually rescued and taken to Dartmouth and sent on survivors leave. (Source: R. E. Staniforth (son) Oct 2008)

William George Jenkins

was a crew member on Britomart for the whole war until it was sunk. He was a "Leading Writer" in charge of the ships administration. He escaped the burning ship by swimming under the burning slick of oil despite a broken collar bone and much shrapnel in his leg and some in his head. He was invalided out  after that from his injuries. (Source: Georgie Tsyplek)

BRITOMART, still on fire, turned completely over and floated keel upwards, but sinking by the stern. It had all happened in thirty minutes. Her commander and thirteen others were killed when the bridge was blown to bits by rockets. The dead included the officer of the watch, the yeoman, wireless staff Asdic ratings, the quartermaster and bosun's mate. Other men lay dead or dying. More than seventy of the surviving crew members were wounded, some very severely.


Wreck of HMS Britomart - Halcyon Class Minesweeper

Sketch made by divers of BRITOMART 30 metres down on the sea bed in 2002

Position: 49°40.294N / 000°06.775W www.grieme.org


Source: ADM 1/30555

tempy. lieutenant g merrett rnvr 

On the occasion of  total loss of HMS Britomart, 27/8/44 

After ‘Abandon Ship’ had been executed , Lieut Merrett remained aboard assisting Lieut E J W Cooper and myself to remove a number of unconscious ratings from the after deck into the sea, first providing buoyancy to any who were negative lifejackets.

Two or three lives were thus saved. I noticed a revival after their hitting the water, and they were picked up later by H.M.T. Lord Ashfield’s boat. Unfortunately the majority of the ratings that were disposed of in this manner proved to be dead. 

During the time this work was in progress, the ship was ablaze fore and aft, the boarding on the after magazine, situated below the quarterdeck. The 20mm ready use ammunition on upper deck was exploding spasmodically, and the fire was uncomfortably near the primed grenade locker. 

Lieut Merrett displayed admirable coolness and courage.

Signed   Harold Johnson, Act Temp Lieutenant Commander, HMS Mandate



H M S Britomart  Honours and Awards


The Honours and Awards Committee has considered the good service of Officers of H.M.S. Britomart and submits that the King be asked to approve the Appointments and Awards set forth below.


When HMS Britomart was on fire and sinking after being attacked from the air Lieutenant Commander Johnson and Lieutenants Cooper and Merrett did gallant service in removing a number of unconscious ratings from the after deck into the sea providing buoyancy to any who were negative life-jackets, thereby saving some lives.




T/A/Lt.Cdr. Harold Johnson, RNR


Mention in Despatches


T/Lt. Edward John Cooper, RNVR


T/Lt. George Merrett, RNVR



Signed  Vice Admiral

Chairman, Honours and Awards Committee

17th December 1945.


HMS Britomart Admiralty regrets


21 Officers and men killed on 27th August 1944 (includes 2 who died shortly after) and there were 70 wounded









Thomas William

Ordinary Seaman

 D/JX 570723




Lewis Henry Hubert

Able Seaman

 D/J 104664


Son of Mr and Mrs Jack Brickle; husband of Olwen Brickle, of Orielton, Pembrokeshire, Wales



Able Seaman

 D/SSX 24580


Son of John and Florence Cutler, of Sneinton Dale, Nottingham


William Richard

Able Seaman

 D/J 73416




Albert Newton

Chief Yeoman of Signals

 D/J 90489


Son of Frederick and Margaret Gerred; husband of Miriam Esther Gerred, of Shirley, Southampton



Able Seaman

 D/JX 238295


Son of James and Emma Harrison, of Hyde, Cheshire


Ernest Charles

Ordinary Seaman

 D/JX 570743


Son of Ernest George and Emma Louisa Johnson, of Horfield, Bristol


Alan Hugh

Ordinary Seaman

 D/JX 559094


Son of Joseph and Alice Matilda Jones, of Risca


Leon Kenneth Edgar

Ordinary Seaman

 D/JX 559568


Son of Leon Christopher and Eleanor Jones, of Newport


George Herbert

Stoker 1st Class

 D/KX 147555




Sidney Clifford

Able Seaman

 D/JX 184868


Son of Sidney William and Anne Ethel Marston; husband of Eileen Alice Marston, of Richards Castle, Shropshire



Petty Officer Stoker

 D/KX 86002




John Henry

Ordinary Telegraphist

 D/JX 610352




Philip James

Ordinary Seaman

 D/JX 570495




Walter George

Leading Steward

 D/LX 24871


Son of John and Frances H Smith; husband of Joyce Lilian Smith, of Brimscombe, Gloucestershire


William Robert

Able Seaman

 D/J 89495


Son of William and Elizabeth Scott Spence; husband of Laura Ethel Spence, of Plymouth


Ernest William

Able Seaman

 D/JX 304909


Son of Joseph and Mary Ellen Sykes, of Manchester


Kenneth Martin




Son of Frederick and Mabel Ware, of Taunton, Somerset; husband of Margery Seward Ware, of Taunton


Albert Edward

Stoker 1st Class

 D/KX 152777


Son of Thomas and Emily West, of Exmouth, Devon; husband of Barbara M West, of Exmouth


William Frederick


 D/J 39682


Son of Alfred and Ellen Whitfield; husband of Lena Whitfield, of Woodford Greell, Essex



Stoker 1st Class

 D/KX 140883


Son of Charles and Annie Yates, of Liverpool


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