Saturday, 19 January 2008

HMS Rawalpindi

In recent times, I have been researching the Roll of Honour for World War II. That involves several sessions in Stornoway Library to peruse the various publications for:

North Lochs
South Lochs
Ness to Bernera
North Tolsta
Gress to Upper Coll

as well as an on-line Roll of Honour for Uig on the Hebridean Connections website. The village of Tong appears to have fallen by the wayside in this respect. Like with the Faces from the War Memorial project (World War I), I have listed those that lost their lives in the years between 1939 and 1945, or in later years if as a result of war service. The result can be seen here.

One of the most remarkable stories (and there are quite a few to be found) surrounds HMS Rawalpindi.

Image courtesy

Rawalpindi was an Armed Merchant Cruiser, converted from a passenger liner by adding 10 pieces of gunnery. While patrolling north of the Faroe Islands on November 23, 1939, she investigated a possible enemy sighting, only to find that she had encountered two of the most powerful German warships, the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau trying to break out into the Atlantic. The Rawalpindi was able to signal the German ships' location back to base. Despite being hopelessly outgunned, Captain EC Kennedy of the Rawalpindi decided to fight, rather than surrender as demanded by the Germans. The German warships returned fire and sank Rawalpindi within forty minutes. Two hundred and thirty eight men died, including Captain Kennedy. Thirty seven men were rescued by the German ships and a further 11 were picked up by HMS Chitral (another converted passenger ship). Captain Kennedy, the father of broadcaster and author Ludovic Kennedy, was posthumously Mentioned in Dispatches. A detailed account, from the perspective of the Scharnhorst, can be read here.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain spoke in the House of Commons afterwards: "These men might have known, as soon as they sighted the enemy, that there was no chance, but they had no thought of surrender. They fired their guns until they could be fired no more, and many went to their deaths in the great tradition of the Royal Navy. Their example will be an inspiration to thosse that come after them".

In spite of these fine words, and in spite of later German reports, captain Kennedy was 'merely' [not my words] mentioned in despatches, and the crew have not been posthumously rewarded for their bravery.

This entry is dedicated to the 238 that lost their lives that day, and to the bravery of all 276 crew. Eight of the dead came from Lewis.

1 comment:

  1. "Very moving. Another well done blog posting Arnish."

    mjc from NM,USA

    "WIthout in any way wishing to detract from the bravery of the entire crew, I wonder what military goal Capt. Kennedy hoped to achieve by this action? "

    Barney from Swithiod wondering about valour

    "Captain Kennedy achieved a goal of warning the British Home Fleet of the German battlecruisers' position. Rather than surrender, he decided to fight to the death, against hopeless odds. He knew he had no chance. His bravery was recognised by the opposing side. "

    Arnish Lighthouse from Stornoway

    "Hms Rawalpindi could not hope to outfight 2 battle cruisers but sadly she could not hope to outrun them either. By fighting Captain Kennedy was not only able to warn the admiralty of the presence of the warships he also delayed them, thereby increasing the chances of the Royal Navy intercepting them, he also had the chance of inflicting some damage on one or other of the enemy ships. This was not the only action in which relatively minor RN warships fought, ultimately hopeless actions, against major enemy forces HMS Jervis Bay, another armed merchant cruiser, is a further example. Having lived all of my life without having to fight I have the luxury of trying to be a pacifist. I am nevertheless in awe at the bravery shown by some of these men."

    Hyper-Borean from Orkney Mainland

    "I put a longish comment on here at the end of last week. It's disappeared into Auntie's Bloomers and as the topicallity is now lost I shall retire to Aberdeen for a couple of days in a poots. The strange thing is I posted 4 comments within a short space of time and 2 have appeared whilst 2 have not. Should I start sending everything in duplicate?"

    Hyper-Borean from Coventry????

    "Methinks your missives ended in Peshawar, Hyper-B. The intelligence services there are still deciding whether to forward them onto a dead letter PO Box at the NW Frontier (Waziriztan this, and Waziristan that), or to the great sieve at IBHQ in Glasgow."

    mjc from NM,USA

    "Seems like poking woke the sleeping dragon."

    Hyper-Borean from Some where west of Suez

    "Re Waziristan mjc, I always rather fancied Swat. Provoked no doubt by the lines, " Who or where or why, is the Akond of swat?""

    Hyper-Borean from The Mad Rassah

    "Auntie's Bloomers seem to have revealed at least some of their contents."

    Flying Cat from whatever next!

    "The Akond of Swat, eh? You went to a progressive Madrassah, clearly Hyper-B., with a well stocked library. In my madrassah's library in the tropics, they had the Biggles series, but no Edward Lear. Kipling was there, but no James Joyce."

    mjc from NM,USA