Halcyon Class Minesweepers HMS Britomart 1942
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HMS Britomart - Halcyon Class Minesweeper
HMS Britomart

Date of Arrival


Date of Departure

Orders, Remarks etc


HMS Salamander and BRITOMART arrive at Kola Inlet from UK


HMS Sharpshooter, BRITOMART and Salamander carried out searching sweep for mines between Svyatol Nos and Gorodetski. Ships attacked by enemy aircraft on both days.


On 24th HMS BRITOMART shot down one Ju 88. HMS BRITOMART hit by two bombs which failed to explode, suffering only slight damage and two casualties - one killed (Able Seaman Herbert Astley Norris D/J101604 aged 38) and one wounded. No mines swept.




1/2 From BRITOMART: Junkers 88 destruction witnessed by Sharpshooter and Salamander, no survivors from aircraft. Superficial damage. 1 rating killed. 1 rating wounded – not seriously. Position 68° 6’ N 40° 32’ E (war diary)


Kola Inlet


HMS Sharpshooter and BRITOMART carried out submarine patrol off Kola Inlet prior to meeting convoy PQ9 / PQ10.


HMS Britomart - On watch

'On watch S/L Barrington, Bogle, Smudge'
' 4" iced up. Met conv. 6 hours. Prev one lost'
(Source: Jack Barlow)

'Lining up Oerlikon sights' 'Joney' Fisher'
 'Feb 1942 White Sea'
$D.J.'s locker'
(Source: Jack Barlow)

HMS Britomart Kola Jan 1942

HMS Britomart tied up alongside oiling jetty at Rostov Jan 1942'

'Kola Bay Russia Jan 1942'
'Taken in heavy fog. Ship at anchor'
(Source: Jack Barlow)

'Tied up alongside oiling jetty at Rostov Jan 1942'
'Decks free boys make amend' (and mend?)
(Source: Jack Barlow)

Kola Bay 1942 from HMS Britomart

Polyarnoe Feb 1942 from HMS Britomart

'Kola Bay 1942' from HMS Britomart'
(Source: Jack Barlow)

'Pollyanna (Polyarnoe) Ship at anchor'
'Motorboat going ashore with liberty men Feb 1942'
(Source: Jack Barlow)


At sea


Local eastern escort for PQ9/10 (10 ships), with HMS Sharpshooter. No enemy action.






At Sea


Hazard and Speedwell provided local eastern escort for QP7 (8 ships) from Murmansk from 12/2 until 13/2 when BRITOMART and Sharpshooter took over from them until 15/2 (as far as 16 degrees east). No enemy activity.








SS El Ona, Explorer and El Oceano left Molotovsk and were broken through the White Sea by ice breakers, reaching clear sea where they were met by HMS Speedwell and BRITOMART on 23rd February. Thick ice prevented entry into the Kola Inlet. The tanker El Ona grounded but was refloated. El Oceano was lost sight of in the fog on 24th February; although a thorough search was carried out by HMS BRITOMART, she has not since been sighted and has failed to answer R/T signals. It appears that the Master had every intention of proceeding independently should a chance offer, and has openly stated that he disliked convoys. (The ship later arrived at Akureyri, Iceland on 1st March)


At sea


Ocean escort for QP9 with Sharpshooter from Kola Inlet to Reykjavik.




31/3 BRITOMART can be taken in hand for half yearly docking etc by Messrs Menzies of Leith 8/4

HMS Britomart - Reykjavik April 1942
'Reykjavik (Iceland) April 1942'
'Lovely grub. Thawing'
(Source: Jack Barlow)












Taken in hand 14/4 for half yearly docking. Defects and A’s & A’s at Menzies, Leith

26/5 Due to complete late May.

BRITOMART docked in Edinburgh Dry Dock Leith 24/4

BRITOMART undocked from Edinburgh Dry Dock Leith 13/5.

25/5 D U extension from 26/5 due to strike by electricians










On 23 June SALAMANDER, HALCYON and BRITOMART departed Scapa Flow escorting the RFA GREY RANGER to Hvalfjord.


Source: Most of the following account of PQ17 is based on 'Arctic Convoys' by Richard Woodman 

Halcyon left Reykjavik with BRITOMART and Salamander as part of the escort for PQ17. The minesweepers (with some other escorts) ringed the convoy at 3,000 yards range, closing to 1,000 yards when air attack was imminent. They were also in a position to investigate U boat activity.



0452 PQ17 suffered its first loss when the freighter Christopher Newport was hit by a torpedo from a single He115 attack. BRITOMART was sent to investigate whether the ship could be saved but reported at 0520 that the engine room and stokehold was flooded. The decision was made to sink the Christopher Newport. After unsuccessful attempts she was later torpedoed by U457.

2020 25+ He111’s and Ju88’s attacked the convoy badly damaging two ships (William Hooper and Navarino) such that Halcyon and BRITOMART were ordered to sink them.

2136 Convoy ordered to scatter. BRITOMART and Halcyon were ordered to sail with Palomares. 

At 11 pm the anti-aircraft ship Palomares (Captain J H Jauncey) as senior escort vessel after Keppel’s departure, merely signalled all the escorts, ‘Scatter and proceed independently’; but some time later she realised that in scattering the escort she had left herself as denuded of anti-submarine protection as the merchant ships: she signalled the minesweeper BRITOMART, seven miles to the north of her, the one word ‘Close’ and then, ten minutes later, the instructions, ‘Take station on my port beam, one mile. Course 077°, 11 1/2 knots.’ Soon after the Palomares ordered the minesweeper Halcyon to take station on her other beam. BRITOMART’s Lieutenant Commander Stammwitz afterwards observed, ‘It seemed wrong that my anti-submarine minesweeper was being used only to escort a heavily armed anti-aircraft ship. But Palomares seemed more concerned with the safe passage of his ship than the merchant ships. The anti-submarine vessels were of course afforded excellent AA protection in this way.

Source: The Destruction of Convoy PQ17 – David Irving


Following the order to scatter, BRITOMART and Halcyon joined by Zamalek and Pozarica headed towards Novaya Zemlya.

Salamander (Lt Mottram) steamed east with Zaafaran, Ocean Freedom and Aldersdale. Later that afternoon this group was attacked by four Ju88’s. Aldersdale, whose cargo included aviation spirit, was hit by a stick of bombs and Salamander went close to evacuate the crew.  Zaafaran was then hit by bombs. On seeing this from miles astern her sister ship, Zamalek, headed towards her to pick up survivors, taking BRITOMART as anti-submarine protection. All but one of Zaarafan’s crew and passengers were picked up. Zamalek, Ocean Freedom and BRITOMART now proceeded after Palomares and Halcyon while astern of them, Salamander, having abandoned her attempts to finish off Aldersdale, strove to catch up.

Sunday 5th. Going NE all the time, almost up to the N Pole. Shadowing plane still around. 700 miles from NP. Dive bombers attacked at noon but were driven off by Britomart and AA ship, rescue ship and M Packet. Dive bomber attacked ship on horizon, it sank in about 15 minutes. We went to help and pick up survivors but R (rescue) ship was coming up so we did asdic sweep. Planes around all day. Salamander came up from astern about 2100. Panic on board, we thought it was a raider. No wireless all trip but just heard that M ship got finished.

Diary of LSBA William Maslen, HMS Halcyon    © Pauline Maslen MMIV


W/T reports were received warning that a German destroyer was in the area. Shortly after midnight on the 5th/6th a mast head was seen on the horizon closing rapidly. Halcyon prepared for action, spliced the mainbrace and, at 0100, opened fire. Shortly afterwards signals were seen coming from the mast indicating that the ship was in fact Salamander. She too had received the same report and was returning at top speed (17 knots, faster than her design speed of 15 knots, which may have led Halcyon to believing her to be the destroyer) from rescuing survivors of Aldersdale.

At 0100 on the 6th we were engaged by our sister ship Halcyon, who, seeing the truck of our mast creeping up over the horizon, had fired on us in the belief that we were the destroyer that was causing the fluttering in the dovecote. Accordingly I had to climb the mast with a portable Aldis lamp to establish identity. How I regretted that I was the senior signalman on watch. We caught up with them eventually to learn that they had ‘spliced the mainbrace’ in anticipation of an action (our rate of closing was much faster than SALAMANDER’s maximum speed). No such luck for us though.

Source: Extracts from the Diary of Leading Signalman V Shackleton, HMS SALAMANDER  IWM Ref 5148 96/22/1 

Later that day BRITOMART was sent around Cape Stolbovoi, Novaya Zemlya, to make contact with the Russians at Lagerni, explaining (with some difficulty) that the ships wanted the haven of an anchorage.  

BRITOMART was not challenged on passing Stolbovoi point, so I proceeded at seven knots. When off Lagerni settlement, I stopped to allow a small motor-boat with a Russian naval officer to come alongside. The boat, with a crew of one seaman, was armed with a machine gun which the officer directed against the ship. He did not speak English, but I made him understand that we were not an invasion fleet, and that we required anchorage. The officer then left for the shore, and I proceeded to report the situation to Palomares.

Source: The Destruction of Convoy PQ17 – David Irving 

That afternoon, Palomares (towing the out of fuel walrus aircraft from HMS Norfolk), BRITOMART, Halcyon and Salamander, the crowded rescue ship Zamalek and the single merchant ship Ocean Freedom dropped anchor. At a conference of the commanding officers, the Arctic expertise of the minesweepers’ officers was accepted that they should not attempt to break out east into the Kara Sea on account of ice. (The aircraft was refuelled and confirmed the impossibility of this idea).

Shortly afterwards they were joined by Pozarica, Poppy and La Malouine. Although it was not known if the surface threat had receded, La Malouine was sent to render assistance to any merchantmen she could find. She returned that evening with four ships, Hoosier, Samuel Chase, El Capitan and Benjamin Harrison, that struggled through the deteriorating weather to the anchorage. Shortly before midnight, Lotus, her decks crowded with survivors steamed into the anchorage to a chorus of cheers. 


At dawn on 7/7 three trawlers, Lord Austin, Lord Middleton and Northern Gem arrived, desperately short of steam coal. They replenished from Ocean Freedom.

At a conference aboard Palomares concerns were expressed that the anchorage could quickly turn from haven to trap if they were discovered. The merchant Masters wanted to wait for more naval support and rely on their massive AA firepower to protect them until it arrived.  It was, however, decided to sail and a message was passed to the SBNO Archangel via the Russians radio station.

At 1900, Lotus led the 14 ships out, running into fog which sent one of the merchantmen back.


At 1630 the ships encountered an extensive ice field which broke up the convoy’s cohesion as for several hours they blundered about. Zamalek became stuck on an ice ridge for some hours. El Capitan found a boat with 19 survivors from the John Witherspoon.


In the early hours, BRITOMART, Halcyon and Lotus broke out of the fog and ice, sighting Samuel Chase, Ocean Freedom, Lord Middleton and Northern Gem.

Some 40 miles ahead, Salamander, El Capitan, Hoosier, Lord Austin, Poppy, La Malouine, Zamalek, Palomares and Pozarica also regained clear weather and, yet again miraculously, sighted the remaining 29 survivors from John Witherspoon who had been adrift in two boats for three days.

At 1100 a ‘small convoy’ (the ‘Palomares group’) was reported by the Germans and three U boats homed in on it. Aware it was being trailed, no attempt could be made to detach ships to put the sub down because of an acute shortage of fuel. This group was forced west by the ice and was now steaming south-west (towards the enemy airfields in Norway) in sunshine with 20 miles visibility and light winds. Forty Ju88’s appeared and moved in from different directions while U255 observed from astern. Three bombs damaged Hoosier and she was abandoned, the crew being rescued by La Malouine. With ammunition stocks becoming very low, Russian air cover was requested but no fighters appeared.


0200 El Capitan was damaged by near misses from bombs but continued her journey.

0400 Near misses stopped Zamalek’s engines but no ships were sent back to her. She made good repairs and chased after the group, catching it up to cheers from the other crews.

0600 A lone Ju88 stopped El Capitan with a near miss, her crew being rescued by Lord Austin.

1230 Two Russian destroyers joined and led the remaining ships of the ‘Palomares group’ into Gourlo where they headed for the River Dvina, securing alongside at Archangel at 1600.


1100 Sixteen Ju88’s attacked the second group of Samuel Chase, Ocean freedom, Lotus, Halcyon, BRITOMART, Lord Middleton and Northern Gem. The attack lasted 90 minutes, bringing the Samuel Chase to a standstill. The group now split into two. BRITOMART and Northern Gem escorted Ocean Freedom while Halcyon took the Samuel Chase in tow and Lord Middleton provided anti-submarine cover.

Both groups continued to fight off attacks with Ocean Freedom being damaged by a near miss but not stopped. In the late afternoon, Russian hurricanes at last provided air cover, Hazard and Leda hove into view and two Russian minesweepers joined, taking the weary convoy in to Archangel.


Dvina Bar


21/7 While on routine A/S patrol BRITOMART detected and attacked a submarine. CLICK HERE to see report




Escorting Winston Salem


A great morale booster for us while we lay alongside, came after a get-together of the officers from the fleet sweepers, and the three trawlers to help to try and get rid of the boredom that was creeping gradually over us all, both officers and men alike. They came up with the idea of holding inter-ship sports of various kinds; in some of the sports the trawlers were classed as one ship, the men from all three who wished to take part putting their names down for any type of sport which took their fancy, and were then chosen for a team to represent us all. This made for great rivalry, and despite the weather, we enjoyed some good sport and fun, either by taking part, or by just watching and cheering the teams on to do their best aided by some ribald comments.

The Northern Gem's own newspaper, the Sunday Buzz, Vol 1. No 1, for Sunday 2nd August 1942, gives this story and the following list of results:-

Sports. . . Despite inclement weather, we have enjoyed some good sport during the past week, in which the trawlers have by no means disgraced themselves. For the benefit of future historians the results are summarised below. We hope that these events are only the forerunners of a series of contests, thoughtfully provided to relieve the monotony of our sojourn.

Whaler Pulling


Whaler-cum- Canoe Race


(1) Halycon

(1) Halycon

(1) Halycon


(2) Trawlers


(2) Leda

(2) Leda


(3) Leda

(3) Trawlers

(3) Trawlers

(4) Leda

(4) Northem Gem

(4) Salamander


(5) LordMiddleton



(5) Salamander

Tug of War - At the time of going to press this event had not been held.

Source: http://www.naval-history.net/WW2Memoir-RussianConvoyCoxswain06.htm
COXSWAIN IN THE NORTHERN CONVOYS - S.A. Kerslake published by William Kimber, 1984












2/9 Petty Officer Stoker Leslie Bolt (age 36) D/KX75645 DIED.


BRITOMART, Halcyon, Hazard and Salamander joined QP14 (20 ships) from Archangel as local eastern escort. The Ocean escort included Bramble (Captain J F H Crombie, Senior Officer, Escorts), Seagull (until 26/9) and Leda (sunk on 20/9).


At 1620 PQ18 (which included Sharpshooter, Harrier and Gleaner) was met by the local eastern escort of BRITOMART, Salamander, Halcyon and Hazard.


PQ18 arrived off Archangel at 1700 on Saturday 19th but a north westerly gale prevented ships proceeding into harbour until Monday 21st September. Harrier’s anchor dragged and when she weighed and hove to, her steering gear failed, so she spent the next 11 hours under the wearisome control of her cumbersome hand-steering gear. During the passage of this convoy the enemy lost three U-boats and about 40 aircraft but managed to sink 13 merchant ships.


Four ships ran aground on the Dvina Bar at the entrance to the White Sea during an attack by twelve Ju88’s while seeking shelter during a gale. BRITOMART, Ulster Queen and a Russian destroyer remained to protect the merchantmen. At 1545 two Ju88’s attacked but missed the ships.


BRITOMART joined QP15 (28 ships) as ocean escort with Halcyon, Hazard, Salamander and Sharpshooter.

Click Here for Escort Orders


On passing Cape Gorodetski at Noon convoy formed in 9 columns, HMS Britomart stationed on starboard quarter.

Source: Report of Proceedings HMS Britomart QP15 ADM199/721


Wind freshened from the starboard and enveloped into a gale by pm. Visibility deteriorated to five cables. Contact with convoy was lost for three hours during the night owing to breakdown of the gyro compass and Type 271 reporting wave contacts as ships.

Source: ADM199/721


Gale increased to force 9, ship rolling heavily in high seas. Position CC was reached at 1400A and convoy altered course to 270 degrees. Visibility was then about 5 cables and from plot obtained by Type 271 it was obvious that ships were becoming scattered. Wind backing and reaching force 10 in squalls. C in C H F’s 1343A/20 altering convoy route was received at 1952A. Contact by Type 271 with about six ships was maintained during the night.

Source: ADM199/721


Wind NE Force 9, whip rolling very heavily in high seas, starboard whaler and motor boat stove in. Gyro compass wandering.

During the forenoon in semi-daylight I made contact with the SS Empire Morn, American SS Charles McCormack and Russian SS Petrovski. I requested Empire Morn to act as Commodore and passed the new route. Course was altered for position YY south of Bear Island at 1100A. Ships were unable to keep station and became separated after dark, contact with Empire Morn and Charles McCormack was maintained by Type 271 but Petrovski straggled to the Northward.

Source: ADM199/721


1600 BRITOMART with Charles McCormack in company joined up with Commodore’s ship.


0600 Convoy remnants regained track, altered course 270º. The following ships are now in company: Temple Arch, Empire Morn, and Charles McCormack with escort vessels BRITOMART, Hazard and Bryony.


1010 Commodore Meeks informed by BRITOMART that route altered east of Iceland. 1200 Lat 72.19N, Long 0035E. 1345.Three vessels sighted ahead which proved to be destroyers Landsbury, and Intrepid with Dan-y-Bryn in company.


1100 Commodore received signal from BRITOMART stating Goolistan, a straggler in the convoy, had been torpedoed in Lat 75.30 Long 8.00E. 1200 at Lat 70.05N Long 6.03W.


Off Seidisfiord, escorts relieved by destroyers. Halcyon, BRITOMART, Salamander and Hazard making good defects. Following a report of a line of mines, BRITOMART and Hazard are sent to sweep them as they are the more modern ships and not suffering from as many engine room defects. They then proceeded to Scapa.

…Orwell had previously reported a line of moored mines detected by mine detector unit near the western edge of the swept channel. HALCYON was ordered to consult RNO and clear this up before QP15 M passed (the remnants of the convoy coming from Akureyri).

I consulted with HALCYON (SO Minesweepers) and it was decided to send Britomart and Hazard with QP15M as they were modern ships and were not suffering as many engine room defects as Salamander and Halcyon. 

Source: Report of HMS Faulkner ADM 199/721



Communication was not possible for about 21 hours each day during prolonged gales, the risk attached to closing to V/S distance in darkness and in the high seas was considerable. As the convoy route was altered three times this entailed considerable amount of signalling on the part of the escorts and convoy was badly scattered before the first and major alteration was received. In view of the above difficulties it is submitted that all alterations of route for PQ and QP convoys be passed by BAMS during the winter months.

Type 271 proved invaluable for rounding up stragglers in low visibility but with high seas running operators had some difficulty in distinguishing between wave and ship contacts at ranges under 3000 yards.

The weather proved too much for the gyro compass (Browns) and it was quite unreliable for the major part of the voyage. The main trouble was experienced by Britomart in Arctic Waters during the winter of 1941-1942 and a new master and repeater system were installed in May 1942. This new compass behaved satisfactorily until the recent heavy weather was encountered.

S S Stammwitz
Lt Commander in Command

Source: Report of Proceedings HMS Britomart QP15 ADM199/721












D of D 21/12: Taken in hand Grimsby 7/12, completion date 15/1

5/1 from Commodore D: It is necessary to advance completion date to 13/1


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