Halcyon Class Minesweepers HMS Skipjack Pre-War
Skipjack Pre-War
Skipjack 1939
Skipjack 1940
Skipjack - Crew


HMS Skipjack 1937 - Halcyon Class Minesweeper
HMS Skipjack 1937
: www.navyphotos.co.uk

Date of Arrival


Date of Departure

Remarks, Orders etc

4.4.33 J Brown Clydebank   Laid Down
18.1.34     Launched
3.5.35     Commissioned. Pennant Number N38 (later J38)

Extract from Leonard Harris's unpublished book on his navy life entitled 'Without Regret' A full copy is held in the Navy museum in Portsmouth

H.M.S. Skipjack   30th October 1934 - 13th January 1937

30th October 1934

I was on my own when joining the ship, being a relief for a leading seaman time-expired who had already left for Pembroke and Civvy Street.

Taking stock of my new ship and shipmates, I realised that I would be serving with two old ships, both leading seamen. The other old ship - Jack Hodge - had only served with me in barracks, a one time messmate in the field gun mess. There was one other leading seaman in the complement, a Leading Seaman R.N.V.R., originally an Edinburgh tram conductor, but having now volunteered for one years’ active service. 

Before sailing for Portland I was able to spend one weekend with my wife, who, like me, was not very happy at the coming separation, especially as we had been hoping that some period of time in barracks would enable me to take advantage of the three week end leaves out of four which was a feature of life at Pembroke. Normally, drafting allowed for such a spell after a man had returned from a foreign commission; but it wasn’t to be so for me. 

The minesweeping flotilla did not carry out any fleet operations, but proceeded to sea on three days each week in order to carry out minesweeping exercises in West Bay; returning to harbour in time for tea and night leave. 

I was coxswain of the ship’s motorboat, but as the ship usually tied up alongside the wall each evening, the boat was put to very little use whilst the ship was at Portland. 

Two different routines were worked aboard the ships of the flotilla; one, when they were not bound for West Bay and exercises would be normal daily routine, but on exercise days a special mine sweeping routine was worked; the men not going to breakfast until the ship had got under way and the necessary preparations been made. This breakfast usually coincided with the ship’s arrival in the Races, a turbulent stretch of water off Portland Bill, this rather tending to make the meal somewhat of a hazard. 

Then it was “Hands to Sweeping Stations,” all available men busying themselves with such things as Sweep Wires, Oropesas, Kites, Otter Boards and Dan Buoys.

Suffice it to say that this was the gear necessary for bringing mines to the surface - this being what mine sweeping was all about - the mooring wire being severed by means of the serrations on the sweep wire or the cutters which were attached to the Oropesa; the mine then floating to the surface to be disposed of by gunfire. 

In theory a floating mine is not dangerous because the activating mechanism, held open by the strain on the mooring wire, closes when the strain has been taken off with the severing of this wire. It would not do to take chances on this however; for long immersion, and the marine incrustations resulting there from, might very well cause the mechanism to seize up and remain open, thus making it just as lethal as one moored below the surface. 

All the time that the sweeps were out they had to be tended, the men not having a proper dinner hour, but taking their mid-day meal a few at a time. We were compensated for this by not having to work any early morning routine, being allowed to lie in until well after the usual “Guard and Steerage. 

A few weeks of exercises and it was back to Chatham and Christmas [1934] leave, when I saw my wife of three and a half months more than pleased to see me, but feeling so lonely and deserted. We had taken an unfurnished flat in Enfield for which the rent was thirteen shillings per week. This had been furnished without the aid of hire purchase, the furniture having been paid for with money saved during my foreign service commitments. 

As things turned out, this had really been a wrong decision, for after my Christmas leave the furniture spent more time in store than it did in a home. Several of my shipmates had their wives staying in digs at Portland, and having put the proposition to my wife, she being in agreement, we decided to emulate them.

I was able to obtain a bed sitting room with use of kitchen, the rent for which was twelve shillings and sixpence per week. It was impossible to pay both this and the rent of our flat, so the furniture had to be put into store and the flat given up, a further outlay of four shillings each week for the storage, and that much less for the family exchequer; but it did mean that we were together for most evenings and weekends.

Our arrangements still had to meet with a snag, for on the day that my wife was to arrive, Skipjack was ordered to Portsmouth, there to be attached to the Torpedo School for four days exercises. My wife was met at Weymouth station by my new landlady, keeping her company until the four days had elapsed and our plans at last materialised

To help my finances a little I decided to stop my tot and draw the three pence per day instead: a sad wrench, but the blow softened a little by the fact the navigating officer - a sub lieutenant - was presenting me with a bottle of beer a day in appreciation of my doing his chart corrections; a job which he himself should have done, but which I apparently, could do better. Hurrah for Advanced Class! 

This happy state of affairs lasted until we had been married for a year. I was now a fully fledged leading seaman, having been confirmed in the rating, and to lift us a little further above the bread line, my wife had taken a job as a daily help, for which she was given her mid-day meal and paid ten shillings per week, thus enabling us to afford an occasional visit to the cinema at Weymouth. 

Then Mussolini threw a spanner in the works, for not knowing what the outcome of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia might be, units of the fleet had been ordered to Alexandria, the Portland Minesweeping Flotilla also, there being no minesweepers active with the Mediterranean fleet. 

[Oct 1935]

Having learned just a few weeks earlier that I could expect to become a father in March I was by no means pleased at the move, but it was the navy’s job to be mobile, and I, like many others, thought that we would be home again long before my happy event took place. 

But what a disillusionment. Eight months away, and practically the whole of the time spent anchored in sight of the Ras-el Tin lighthouse, which had been taken over as a signal station. 

There were but two bits of excitement during this period: one when an Italian liner caught fire in the harbour and, was gutted, the other when a destroyer moving about the harbour was in collision with a Sunderland flying boat which was building up speed for a take off. Fortunately there was no loss of life, although, as can be imagined, the flying boat was a write off. 

The formation of a Fleet Club did much to relieve the monotony, and one must be grateful to the members of the European community who gave up their time to run it. 

The club did not go down too well with the local bar owners however, for the majority of the libertymen preferred its atmosphere to that of the local establishments, a quiet drink and a game of tombola being available without having to be pestered by purveyors of dirty postcards and pornographic books; or touts offering a guided tour of Sister Street and the brothels. 

Chief and petty officers were offered a chance to visit Cairo and the Pyramids, at their own expense of course, and had the invitation been extended to junior ratings, it would have been beyond my pocket. 

Fishing over the ship’s side became an additional pastime, there being one type of fish, similar to a mackerel in appearance, which seemed intent on committing suicide. All that one required was a length of cane, a short line fitted with a hook and a supply of cigarette papers: one of these papers was attached to the nook which was then trailed along the surface of the water. Soon there was a bite, a snatch, and one more fish had given up without a struggle, this doing much to augment the supper ration. 

Invitations to attend their cinema performances were extended to us by the larger ships in company, and what with this, an occasional visit to the Fleet Club, and the inevitable soccer matches, time moved on without boredom becoming too apparent. As soon as my wife realised that there was to be no early return, she had gone to stay with her mother, and arrangements had been put in hand for her to remain there until the birth of our baby, giving up the accommodation in Portland. 

In the February [1936] I was given a scare when I received a cablegram via Ras-el-Tin lighthouse. This was from my sister and it read - Elsie seriously ill. Temperature 103º. Come at if humanly possible. Florrie. 

An urgent request to be sent home on compassionate grounds did not meet with much success, as the following dialogue will show. 

First the coxswain. “Leading Seaman Harris, sir. Request to return to U.K. on compassionate grounds - Documentary proof.” 

“What proof,” asked the Captain. 

“Cablegram Sir.” I replied, handing it to him. 

“This is not from a doctor - Who is Florrie’? 

“My sister Sir.” 

“Well,” said the Captain, “Cable your sister and tell her that we must hear from the doctor before any action can be taken - Can you afford to fly?” 

“No Sir.” 

“If we hear from the doctor, the Canteen Fund might lend you the fare - Stand Over.” 

A cable to my sister brought the following reply. Elsie greatly improved. No further cause for alarm. Florrie. 

The reason for the first cable as I later found out, was that inflammation of the bladder, together with the nearness of our baby’s arrival had given rise to complications, and there had been a crisis. It was the doctor who had told my sister to send for me, but by the time the cables had been sent and received, the crisis had passed. 

So, things sorted themselves out. I did not get into debt with the canteen fund, neither did I miss the examining board for higher rating, which would have been the case if my request had been granted and, happy ending, I passed professionally for petty officer. 

A few weeks later, working in the motorboat with my crew, the duty signalman called to me and said - “Cablegram for you at Ras-el-Tin.” Without more ado I cast off and got the boat underway to collect it. 

The First Lieutenant, choosing that moment to come up on to the upper deck saw the boat on it’s way inshore, and turning to the quartermaster asked, “Where is the motor boat going?” 

“I don’t know,” he replied, “I never called it away.”

“Tell the coxswain to report to me as soon as he gets back,” he ordered. This I did, only to be asked why I had taken the boat away without permission.

A look at my cablegram was the only answer necessary. It read, Daughter born to Elsie 7- 30 a.m. Weight 7 1bs. Both doing well. Florrie. 

“Congratulations,” he said. The date? Friday 13th March. 

Another two months were to elapse before I saw the new arrival for the first time. In the interim, leaving mother,” my wife had taken our bits and pieces out of store and installed herself once again in unfurnished rooms; actually the top half of a house which was more or less self-contained. The rent was twelve shillings and six pence per week and the accommodation was within easy reach of her family home.

The increase in our family also brought an increase in our income, the Admiralty paying an allowance of five shillings per week for young Patricia. 

[June 1936]

Skipjack’s return to the U.K. saw us first at Chatham for leave, and then back to Portland to continue where we had left off when Mussolini had interrupted the proceedings.

The one difference was that my wife would not this time be with me, mother and daughter staying put; although they did, on several occasions during the following six months, spend a couple of weeks at Portland; once, all three of us living, eating and sleeping in a fisherman’s cottage at Chiswell, with a paraffin stove for cooking and candles for illumination; the washing being put out to dry on Chiswell Beach.

A return to Chatham for Christmas [1936] leave saw me leaving Skipjack, the advancement roster having improved to such an extent, that after only nine months passed in the rating I was promoted to Acting Petty Officer, this putting me in excess of complement. 

[13th January 1937]

So, once again I left a ship to be domiciled in Chatham Barracks; but this time with a few extra privileges such as not having to double across the parade ground, being allowed to proceed ashore until 2100, entitled to an extra half hour’s leave in the morning, and having my kit-bag and hammock humped for me.


CLICK HERE for Annual Report on the Progress of Minesweeping1936 


CLICK HERE for Annual Report of Minesweeping 1st November 1936 - 31st October 1937


20/4 recommissioned with reserve crew for service in Reserve Fleet The Nore at SN as tender to the Cardiff


29/4 From C S Sheerness: SKIPJACK Taken in hand for refit
21.5.38 21/5 From C S Sheerness: Completes 30/7 ex trials
13.6.38 13/6 Ready for service 27/8 subject to satisfactory trials
2.8.38 2/8 Completes 18/8. Ready for service 1/9
14.9.38 14/9 From V A C R F: SKIPJACK will be completed with full active service crew. Propose when ready ship leaves Chatham in company with Halcyon, Harrier and Speedwell for Portland to shake down under administration of Capt F P & M. Date of readiness will be reported

15/9 From VACRF: Ready for sea 17/9
Owing to International situation commissioned 15/9

16.9.38 16/9 Shall carry out trials off Sheerness returning to the Nore on completion as personnel is not at present available to complete the ship to the complement necessary for her to proceed to Portland
29.10.38 Reduced to former status 29/10

HMS Skipjack - Halcyon Class Minesweeper
HMS Skipjack 1934


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This site was last updated 17 Januar 2012