Monday, 23 November 2009

23 November 1939

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="362" caption="HMS Rawalpindi"]HMS Rawalpindi[/caption]

Today is the day in 1939 that HMS Rawalpindi was sunk by Nazi German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The brief battle has gone down in naval history as an incredible display of bravery on the part of the Rawalpindi's crew. After trying to hide themselves from the Germans in the North Atlantic fog south of Iceland, they were ordered to surrender by the Scharnhorst. In response, the captain of the Rawalpindi said: never. And he fired a shell at the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau to underline his point. Bear in mind that the Rawalpindi was a converted passenger liner, kitted out with a gun and some armour plating. The Scharnhorst had to reply in kind, and sank the Rawalpindi. The bravery was noted by the German admiralty (sic!). All but 37 of the Rawalpindi's crew were lost in the sinking. Their sacrifice was not in vain; before battle commenced, the Rawalpindi had been able to signal the position of the German battlecruisers to back to base on the Clyde, and an armada of British warships was heading north to intercept. More on this story here.

[Line below edited in response to comment #5]
Of those lost on the Rawalpindi 8 men were from Lewis, namely:

Seaman COLIN MACKAY, 31 South Bragar, aged 29
Local memorial: West Side, Bragar

Leading Seaman MURDO MACKAY, 53 Back, aged 33
Mac Choinnich Dhomhnuill Alais 'c Dhonnachaidh
Son of Kenneth and Henrietta MacKay, of Back, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.
Local memorial: Back

Seaman DONALD SMITH JNR, 52 North Tolsta, aged 19
Domhnall a'Bhard
Son of Angus and Margaret Smith, of Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.
Local memorial: North Tolsta

Seaman DONALD MACARTHUR, 10 Cromore, aged 20
Dollan Mhurchaidh Alasdair
Local memorial: Pairc, Kershader

Seaman JOHN MACKENZIE, 21 Swordale, aged 26
Son of Mr. and Mrs. Donald MacKenzie, of Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.
Local memorial: Point, Garrabost

Seaman NORMAN MACLEOD, 25 Swordale, aged 31
Son of Donald and Mary Macleod, of Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.
Local memorial: Point, Garrabost

Seaman JOHN MURDO NICOLSON, 39 Lower Bayble (and 3 Marybank, Stornoway), aged 36
Son of John and Christina Nicholson, of Stornoway, Isle of Lewis; husband of Williamina Nicolson, of Stornoway.
Local memorial: Point, Garrabost

Petty Officer WILLIAM MACLEOD, 14 Sheshader (and Marybank, Stornoway)
Local memorial: Point, Garrabost

These names are mentioned on the Plymouth Naval Memorial (panel 35); a picture can be viewed on this link. They are all cited in the third column.


  1. A fine tribute from you, AL.

  2. An excellent Blog. I learn something everytime from your Blog. All these brave lives lost in the horror of war. Thanks for doing what you do.

  3. Me too, thanks AL.

  4. Mac an t Sronaich24 November 2009 at 00:11

    We will remember them.

    Whilst not wishing to detract in anyway from your excellent article, may I respectfully point out the Rawalpindi had more than 8 Lewismen among her crew. You would appear to have listed those who were lost in action. The late Ludovic Kennedy whose father was Captain regularly corresponded with a survivor from Marvig after the war.

  5. Many thanks for your positive feedback.
    Mac an t-Sronaich, I have rephrased the sentence you refer to. It now runs:

    Of those lost on the Rawalpindi 8 men were from Lewis [...]

  6. I'm reading In Bed with an Elephant right now by Ludovic Kennedy. It's a good book so far.