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September 5, 2008

Blankney at Sea

If people were asked what involvement Blankney had at sea in WW2 the general answer would probably be "none, the nearest sea is the North Sea and that's 40 miles away. "Blankney" in actual fact had a very active part to play in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the North Sea during this time as there was a ship named after her.

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HMS Blankney was a Hunt Type II Escort Destroyer, one of a number named after British Fox Hunts. Between 1939 and 1942 86 such destroyers were built in four different classes from Type I to Type IV. As suggested, these vessels were used primarily on convoy duties but many saw active duty, including HMS Blankney herself, involving sinking German U-boats,

Obviously Type I, of which there were 20, was the first such destroyer but it was quickly established that these had a design fault, being too short and narrow and also lacking range for open ocean work. Because of this these were predominantly used in the North Sea and the Med.

The Type II vessels, of which there were 36, including HMS Blankney, saw the hull split lengthwise with an extra section added which, with the increased beam, gave more stability for its additional armament and more storage for her depth charges (raised from 40 to 110).

The Type III vessels (27 of them) were designed for specific work in the Mediterranean and were easily recognised by their straight funnel with a sloping top. The final two (Type IV) vessels were built to a private design. Of the 86 vessels completed, 72 were commissioned by the Royal Navy with the remaining 14 transferred to allied navies, including the Greek, Polish, Norwegian and French.

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HMS Blankney was built at Clydebank in Scotland by John Brown Shipbuilders with work commencing in May 1940. It was launched in December and fully fitted out by April '41. Measuring 280 feet in length and 31 1/2 feet in breadth she had a standard displacement of 1,050 tons (1,340 tons fully laden). The vessel was designed for a top speed of 29 knots, with a range of 3,500 nautical miles at 15 knots. This fell dramatically to just 1,100 nautical miles at full speed.
The Type II Destroyer's weaponry initially included six four inch guns and one 2 pounder (4 barrel) pom-pom. Later this was complemented with two 20 m.m. Oerlikon guns and depth charge armament for anti-submarine warfare. The vessel carried the pennant L30 and is believed to be the only Royal Naval vessel to carry the name of HMS Blankney.

In early 1942 the Government introduced a National Savings campaign (named "Warship Week") with the intention that towns throughout Britain would "adopt" one of the Royal Navy's ships. Once "adopted" the people of the specific town would give support to the ship whilst also developing a keener interest in what was happening at sea during troubled times. HMS Blankney was "adopted" by Nantwich in Cheshire and to this day this town still has fond memories of her and has a residential street named after her.

Based in Northern Ireland "Blankney" was first involved in escort duties for troop carriers to and from Gibraltar. Then in December '41 came the first "real" action when she was dispatched to give reinforcements elsewhere. An aircraft from HMS Audacity advised that a U-boat had surfaced north-east of Maderia. Together with other vessels she gave chase and using gunfire and depth charges, the German Submarine (U-131) was forced to surface with all hands taken prisoner. This was on 17 December and just a day later "Blankney", along with HMS Stanley, chased down a second U-Boat (U-434) and after repeated attack, the submarine, severely damaged, surfaced to allow her crew to be saved. Just two of the subs crews were lost with the remainder, along with the previous crew, then taken by "Blankney", as prisoners, to Gibraltar.

During the following year much of "Blankney's'" time was taken in escort duties around the Arctic, assisting Russian convoys.

In July 1943 the ship was heavily involved in the action which took place in Sicily, carrying a landing party to and providing covering fire for our invading troops. Those involved suffered desperately rough seas and air attack but the "Hunt" class Destroyers proved their worth throughout.

Come March 1944 "Blankney", together with other vessels, including USS Madison, were again involved in the sinking of another U-boat (U-450), this time in the western Mediterranean. Two months later "Blankney" collected recognition for the assistance in the capture and sinking of her fourth U-boat. This time U-371 gave up battle off the Algerian coast, having itself inflicted considerable damage to US Destroyer USS Menges and French destroyers Senegalis.

In the June "Blankney" was a member of the crowded waters of the English Channel which took part in Operation Neptune. Here she escorted infantry landing crafts and rescue craft (part of the assault convoy) from the Solent to "Gold" Beach during the operation involving the Allied landings in Normandy.

For the remainder of her service "Blankney" was deployed in and around the Channel and the North Sea in relation to the interception of E-Boats and other submersibles attempting to lay mines in the Thames estuary. "Blankney's" war was nearly completed when in August 1945 she docked at Simontown in South Africa to undergo refit. Following VJ Day she returned to the UK where she was laid up in Sheerness as part of the Reserve Fleet.

In the early 1950's she was moved to Hartlepool and by 1958 was placed on the Disposal List. The next Blankney's life ended when she was broken up in Blyth. During her life in service "Blankney" had three commanders, Lt. Cdr. Philip Frederick Powlett DSC, Lt. Cdr. Douglas Henry Read Bromley and A/Lt. Cdr. B.H. Brown. "Blankney" had her own badge of recognition (heraldic data: a badge on a Red field, a Griffin's head erased Gold in front of two hunting horns in Saltire White).

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While one can recognise the support Nantwich in Cheshire must have given to their "adopted" vessel, what if anything can we suppose the people of that town know about the real Blankney and her history?

Pete Ford