Halcyon Class Minesweepers HMS Britomart 1944
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HMS Britomart - Halcyon Class Minesweper
HMS Britomart
- secured to a buoy in Plymouth Sound (IWM FL2980)

Date of Arrival


Date of Departure

Orders, Remarks etc






Port Z A


By 9/3 Jason, Harrier (SO), Speedwell and Hussar had been joined by BRITOMART, Gleaner, Halcyon, Salamander and Seagull and the 1st MSF proceeded to carry out minesweeping exercises.





























 An account of D Day on HMS Britomart by Clifford Marriott

Sunday 4th June 'D' Day

1.15 pm Commence. Cancelled owing to rough weather, postponed 24 hours.

Monday 5th June

1.15 Sails from Portsmouth
11 pm approx Arrived Le Havre / Cherbourg. Silent, no trouble.

Tuesday 6th June

1 am approx - our bombers commenced.
3 am approx - gliders
7 am - Landings

One of our destroyers broke in half and sunk in a few seconds. Sweeping throughout the day. Same weds/Thurs. Boarded landing craft adrift (removed all moveable objects) crew evidently jumped overboard.

Friday 9th June

9.30 pm - arrived Le Havre/Cherbourg Bay. Three Gerry planes give little excitement.
10.30 pm - anchored just off Cherbourg. Plenty of wreckage floating about, miles of surface oil from sunken craft, dead fish, Lucky Strike packets and ration cartons.
12 pm - plenty of Gerry planes over at midnight, one dived on ship but no bombs dropped.

Saturday 10th June

8.30 am - sweeping again. Grand sight in bay, close in shore hundred of ships. Anchored near beach all night, our bombers over in great strength.

Sunday 11th June

5 am - steamed along coastline until 8 am then anchored near centre beach. Houses and church clearly visible and do not appear to be much damaged. Eight concrete blocks and 70 ships which are to be blown up to form breakwater near this beach. Our bombers still roaring over and loud explosions heard from Cherbourg area. Fields and trees above cliffs seem so peaceful. Remainder of day sweeping. Back to beach head 9pm.

Monday 12th June

Plenty of gunfire during night. Largest convoy yet entered bay, more than 100. Fortresses just passed over to visit Gerry. Weather improved. Sweeping again. E Boats attempted to enter bay, two were sunk others damaged. Anchored in bay 9pm.

Tuesday 13th June

More ships arrived. Dozens of wrecked landing craft can be seen on beach. Scores of planes attacked land targets. Battleships, cruisers etc shelling continuously. Saw three of our planes brought down. Airmen baled out and were fired on by Gerry. Looks as though an attempt is to be made tonight on Le Havre. We have just swept the approaches to the Seine. Anchoring again near the Cherbourg peninsula. Just passed a sunken frigate stern up in the air.

Wednesday 14th June

Sweeping approaches again. Massive air attacks near Le Havre. Saw five planes drop paratroops.

Thursday 15th June

3 am - German planes dropped mines near to our ship anchored off Le Havre coast, almost a direct hit. Sweeping area this morning.

Friday 16th June


Saturday 17th June

Anchored off shore all day. At nigh anchored near entrance to Le Havre. Saw about 300 of our bombers crossing over, one brought down in flames over beach head. We appear to be too close to enemy coast.

Sunday 18th June

1 am - five bombs dropped very close to the ship. First time I had completely undressed, thought my time had come, ship shuddered and rattled like a can. Turned in again about 2.30 am. At 3 am a single bomb dropped near to ship.

Sweeping in morning. Anchored near Le Havre again, more bombs dropped during night.

Monday 19th June

Weather very rough, lost anchor and cable during night. Oil bomb dropped near ship.

Tuesday 20th June

Left beach head for Isle of Wight for oil etc. Arrived 9.30 pm. Best nights sleep for two weeks. No mail yet. Soon be pushing off for Le Havre.

Wednesday 21st June

First letter received dated 5th June

Thursday 22nd to Saturday 24th

Anchored off Isle of Wight. Second letter received dated 16th.

Sunday 25th June

Sailed at 5 am, arrived Le Havre 9 pm, swept all the way. Stern of liberty ship showing above water.

Monday 26th June

1 am - bombs, mines, shells falling all around us, rotten night. Last explosion 3.40 am, will try to sleep.
7 am sweeping coastal area. Secret mines dropped by Gerry - cruiser, two destroyers and two corvettes already damaged.

Tuesday 27th June

Quiet night for a change. Sweeping from 7 am to 5 pm, anchored near original beach. At 8 pm anchored just off Cherbourg peninsula. Tens of bodies floated past ship during the day.

Wednesday 28th June

Good job we changed our anchorage last night as minesweeper and merchant ship was sunk at our usual spot. Sweeping again at 6 am. Sweeping cable caught in screws. Anchored near original beach head 1pm mines and bombs dropped near ship. German plane brought down. No sleep until 4 am.

Thursday 29th June

Tied along cruiser Frobisher at 8 am for services of diver.

Friday 30th June

Sweeping all day, anchored near Cherbourg. Few bombs and mines during the night.

Saturday 1st August

Sailed for Isle of Wight, arrived 5 pm.

Sunday 2nd August

Still waiting for instructions. Joined up with east bound convoy at 2 pm for Harwich. Subs in vicinity, depth charges dropped. During the night about 14 flying bombs shot down by our fighters, ship shuddering with blast.

Source: Philip Marriot, son of Clifford Marriott. Sept 2008




















7/8 Intend sailing BRITOMART to Harwich 9/8 for boiler cleaning

Postponed 24 hours













HMS Britomart

Copy of a letter written by Signalmen Lawrence Fitton (who served on Britomart February to August 1944) supplied by his son, Mike Fitton Jan 2009. 'Please find below the text of a letter that I have found, including spelling mistakes, written to his Canadian Pen-pal, Ruth Spatz. As we still have the letter I rather suspect that he was not allowed to send it':

"My dear Ruthie, 

I said I would write you a real sailors yarn with plenty of salt. Well here goes This consisted of my short spell on my last ship. 

I joined her in a big naval base so I was pretty glad when we sailed out , as all naval ports seem to wear an expression of misery and from there we commenced a gay little cruise round England working our way up the west coast around the top of Scotland and back down the East Coast till we reached our starting point which was Plymouth. This all took part at a rather quiet phase of the war in  the West when both sides were gathering strength on both sides of the channel. So apart from a few U boat scares the little fleet minesweeper continued her voyages’ often putting in at small ports where everyone could find something to amuse himself and pass away a few hours of enjoyment to break the monotony of the daily routine.  

However as all things come to an end, this was no exception and in the may of 1944 strong roumers were floating about that the attack on Europe  was in the offing. Then still nastier roumers spread to say that fleet minesweepers would indeed play a very active part and be the very first ships to approach Hitlers stronghold in order to sweep the necessary channels inshore that would allow the main body of the allied fleet to carry out the assault. So it was, that on June 4th we were told to prepare for the great day, but this was cancelled and yet the news was out, and for another 24 hours we were allowed to brood over it. The majority of us began to write home, letters that told nothing but at least would suffice for a few days to come. Others sat around playing cards, all taking it easy but inwardly tense and thinking back on others like this when everything worked out on top, and hoping and praying we would come out again top sides up. Well the 24 hours were up and we sailed all day and swept throughout the night. Apart from a few shots and heavy ack ack fire the night passed quietly. But the following morning as dawn broke all hell was let loose and as the inferno of gunfire and bombs flattened out all resistance consciences became more clear and little of the tension dropped away. Thus I found myself on the morning of June the 6th badly shaken but a little freer round the thought and most of all tired out. 

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 bomber 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 Harve 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. 

I hope I didn’t bore you with my little story, but it was just a passing whim to write about it and I swear everything I’ve written is what actually happened. You have to take into consideration that I’m not the only one that this happened to and it will happen to more to come. 

Well if you can read that you’ll be doing because I was going as fast as I could and I didn’t stop to make it correctly spelled or pronounciated, but thats just how I felt. 

Now my thoughts are for brighter things, so before I close kiss yourself goodnight for me, and my advice would be to burn this once its been read. 

Lots of Love o X o 


After D-Day the 1st Minesweeping Flotilla's main task was keeping the swept channel between Portsmouth and Arromanches clear of mines. On 22nd August, operating out of the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches, they were sent to clear a magnetic minefield off Cap d'Antifer. This was to enable the battleship' Warspite' to get closer to the French coast to bombard the port of Le Havre still in German hands.  On being ordered back to their previous duty after a maintenance day at Arromanches, the Commanding Officer of HMS Jason (SO 1st MSF in the absence of the Flotilla leader) pointed out to the staff at the minesweeping HQ that the urgent task off Cap d'Antifer was not completed. An amending signal, cancelling the return to the Portsmouth/Arromanches channel, was duly made.

The 1st. Flotilla, led by HMS Jason and including the BRITOMART, Hussar, Salamander and the trawler 'Colsay', began their fifth day of minesweeping on Sunday, 27th August, 1944.  At about noon on 27 August when the ships were sweeping, an RAF reconnaissance aircraft flew over low, the pilot returning the waves from the ships' companies.  Between 1330 and 1340 on this beautiful day, with the sea smooth as a duck pond, sixteen RAF rocket-firing Typhoons, of 263 and 266 Squadrons accompanied by a Polish squadron of Spitfires, swooped out of the sun and attacked the BRITOMART. On their second attack, the Salamander and Hussar were hit. In just over 10 minutes, two ships were burning and sinking, a third badly damaged and on fire. Men swimming in the water were now subjected to shelling from the German shore batteries. 

Hussar and BRITOMART were sunk and HMS Salamander so severely damaged as to be beyond economical repair. The minesweeper Jason and the dan laying trawler Colsay were also damaged in the attack. A total of 78 officers and ratings were killed and 149 wounded, many seriously. Twenty two men were killed on the BRITOMART and fifty five on Hussar. Survivors were later told to 'keep their mouths shut about the whole affair'.

A court of enquiry, held at Arromanches two days later, found that this appalling blunder was due to "an error in communications". This regrettable episode occurred because the signal ordering the 1st MSF to resume their task off Cap d'Antifer, rather than sweeping off Arromanches, was not repeated to the Flag Officer British Assault Area. Although, therefore, the reconnaissance aircraft had reported the ships as friendly and the leader of the airborne Typhoons had twice questioned his orders to attack, the shore staff persisted with the strike because it was thought that enemy vessels were trying to enter or leave Le Havre. The RAF was completely exonerated.  



Wreck of HMS Britomart  - Halcyon Class Minesweeper

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

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


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This site was last updated 17 Januar 2012