10th October 1940. ‘Harry Tate’s Navy’.

‘It is doubtful if we could have defeated the Germans, at any rate as quickly as we did…if it had not been for assistance which Royal Navy received from the fishing community.(1) 

This naval reserve was affectionately known as Harry Tate’s Navy or Churchill’s Pirates, Harry Tate being a well-know comedian at the time.

HMT Ailsa Craig, Minesweeper, Isles Class, 1944.

His Majesty’s Trawler, Ailsa Craig, Minesweeper, Isles Class, 1944.

One of the little known aspects of the war at sea, was the role played by trawlers, those requisitioned, which were the majority and those specially built to Royal Navy specifications by the smaller shipyards.

These vessels proved their worth in coastal defence and mine-sweeping duties in both wars.(2)

Before World War I the importance of using the fishing fleets was recognized by the C-in C of the Home Fleet, Admiral Lord Charles Beresford with the use of Grimsby trawlers. So by the summer of 1939 the Navy had purchased 67 trawlers and constructed 20 new ones.

HMS Europa at Lowestoft became the Central Depot or ‘Sparrows’ Nest’ for the ‘navy within a navy’, the Royal Navy Patrol Service (RNPS).

It was eventually to become the Administration Centre in all, for 70,000 personnel and 6,000 vessels ranging from trawlers, whalers, corvettes, drifters and motor launches.

It was at a cost for between 1939-1945, 250 trawlers were lost along with 15,000 men of the RNPS, resulting from torpedoes, mines and other causes.

One such and which can stand as an example for the many lost, was The Girl Mary sunk Today in 1940. It was a Royal Navy (RN) Auxiliary Patrol Boat Vessel, ex-trawler, and sunk by a mine in the Firth of Forth off Inchcombe, Scotland.

Two ratings were lost, and acting-Skipper F.B. Plaskitt, Royal Navy Reserve (RNR) and temporary Lt. E.Warren, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) were wounded.

Just other casualties of war, never to make the headlines, but repeated in their thousands.

(1a) Sir Reginald Hugh Spencer Bacon commanded the Dover Patrol 1915-17 to prevent U-boats access to the Channel, to facilitate transporting men and arms to France.

(1b) In WWI the Royal Navy commissioned about 3,000 fishing boats, half were steam drifters used as mooring for barrage balloons, boom-defence and mine-sweeping, convoy escort and anti-sub patrol.

(2) Many were used as Danlayers-the Dan being an anchored pole with a flag on top- marking areas which had been swept.

Ref: wikipedia.org/history_of_shipwrecks_in_1940.

Ref: googlebooks/WWII  Sea War 2013 Vol 3, 2012/history.

Ref: en.wikipedia.org/danlayer/pic ref.

Ref: wikipedia.org/RNPS/Pic Ref.


HM Trawler Classes such as Dogs, Dances, Hills, Fish and Military were built at small yards: Ardrossan Dockyard Company, Cochrane and Sons, Selby, Cook Welton & Gemmell, Beverley, Ferguson Bros Ltd, Port Glasgow, Goole Shipbuilding & Repair Co., Hall Russell & Co Aberdeen, A/J Inglis Ltd, Glasgow, Henry Robb Ltd., Leith and Smith & Co of South Bank on Tees.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

One response to “10th October 1940. ‘Harry Tate’s Navy’.”

  1. Pauline Burnett says :

    I found this a really helpful piece to read. I’ve recently been lent some WW2 correspondence from DORE AND TOTLEY MINESWEEPING TRAWLERS COMFORTS FUND who supported the trawlers based in North Shield. I’ve just begun research in order to write a small book about the group and those they supported.

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