Blackpool’s HMS Penelope: ‘With Constancy and Faith’

The title refers to the Motto of the Penelope. She was the eighth Royal Navy warship to carry the name of nine:

1778,     A 24-gun, captured by Spanish prisoners in 1780.
1783,     A 32-gun, broken up 1797.
1798,     A 36-gun, Nelsons Squadron alongside HMS Foudroyant during the ‘Siege of Malta’ in 1799 to 1800. Wrecked in 1815.
1829,     A 46-gun, completed in 1843 as a paddle frigate, broken up in 1864.
1867,     An armoured corvette, became a prison hulk in 1897, sold in 1912.
1914,     An ‘Arethusa’ Class light cruiser, hit by a German U-Boat Torpedo in 1916, scrapped in 1924.
1918,     A tender purchased in 1918 and sold in 1922.
1935,     ‘Our Penelope’
1962,     A Leander Class Frigate, served in Falklands War, decommissioned following a collision with a Canadian ship, sold to Ecuador in 1991, became the ‘Presidente Eloy Alfaro’.

(From: Wikipedia)

‘Our Penelope’ was to achieve a great reputation during operations in Norway in 1940 and patrol and convoy escort operations in the Mediterranean between 1941 and 1942 and later in the support of the Allied landings at Salerno in 1943 & Anzio in 1944. During the defence of Malta she was involved in the infamous ‘Op Pedestal’ a British operation to re-supply Malta in August 1942. The story includes the amazing account of ‘SS’ Ohio, the aircraft fuel tanker, which limped into Valletta after being bombed and strafed.

IMG_20180710_123607605

Figure 1 The ‘Neptune’ & ‘Kandahar’ Memorial at NMA

In December 1941 she was slightly damaged after hitting a mine, during the same action, Cruiser HMS ‘Neptune and Destoyer HMS ‘Kandahar’ were sunk.  After repairs in Malta , she returned to service in Jan 1942. In March she was holed and damaged by air attacks, so much so that the Crew christened her ‘HMS ‘Pepperpot’. The crew repaired the damages with long wood ‘Plugs’, giving the appearance of and nickname of ‘HMS Porcupine’.  In April on route to Gibraltar, she was repeated damaged. After temporary repairs in Gibraltar, she sailed for repairs in the USA. She returned to UK in October 1942, where the crew and Officers were invested with medals by the King, as ‘Heroes of Malta’.  She remained on service in the West Mediterranean, participating in some of the best-known naval operations.

fig2penelope

Figure 2  HMS Penelope in the Grand Harbour, Valletta

In 1941, a successful ‘Warship Week’ National Savings campaign led to its adoption by the population of Blackpool. She was referred to in the local press as ‘Blackpool’s Battleship’.  As mentioned earlier she was the second ship to bear the name, the first being part of

fig3pepperpot

Figure 3  ‘Pepperpot’ damage to HMS Penelope. June 1942

On return to Naples to restock with ammunition and supplied she was sunk with all hands (415, incl the Captain) following a submarine attack in February 1944. There were 250 survivors.

One of the casualties was ex Blackpool Grammar Schoolboy ALFRED JOHN BROOK, son of Cyril and Kathleen May Brook of Bloomfield Road, from Waterloo Juniors in 1936 until 1941. He was 18 and is remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

There is a memorial to HMS Penelope in St Johns Church, Blackpool along with a Roll of Honour book with the names of the Officers and crew of the ship. A Penelope Association was also formed by survivors. Blackpool also has links with the Blackpool Sea Cadet unit ‘TS Penelope’ at Bispham, the name reflecting the Blackpool link.  The Blackpool branch of the Royal Naval Association (RNA) met in the ‘Penelope Mess’ at the Stretton Hotel on North Promenade, although the RNA in Blackpool no longer exists.

Following the demise of Penelope and to maintain links with the resort, Blackpool adopted HMS ‘Swiftsure’, a Minotaur Class Light Cruiser, Launched in February 1943 and scrapped in October 1962. She saw action in the Okinawa campaign in March-May 1945 and was Flagship of the British Pacific Cruiser Squadron, until the end of the war in 1945.

The Mayor’s Parlour at Blackpool Town Hall holds a number of artefacts relating to our ‘Penelope’ and the later ‘Penelope’ and ‘Swiftsure’

Sources:

Gordon, E., (1985), HMS ‘Pepperpot’: The Penelope in WW2, Robert Hall, London

‘Our Penelope: HMS Penelope by her Crew’, 1943, Harrap, Reference Only, Bay 14, Open Shelves, Blackpool Central Library

Williams, J.F., 1985, HMS Penelope: The history of the ships of the Royal Navy that have borne the name ‘Penelope’., Self Published. Reference Only, Bay 14, Open Shelves, Blackpool Central Library

Websites:

www.HMS-Penelope.com

Brief History at:
https://wartimememoriesproject.com/ww2/ships/ship.php?pid=2525

Crew List at:
https://uboat.net/allies/merchants/crews/ship3190.html

Ship Information at:
https://uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/4007.html

Detailed Story at:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Penelope_(97)

Personal Accounts:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/68/a2947368.shtml  &
https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/95/a2086995.shtml

Service Diary at:
http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-06CL-Penelope.htm

Blackpool links with Malta at:
https://fyldecoaster.wordpress.com/2017/01/29/blackpools-links-with-malta/

HMS ‘Swiftsure at:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Swiftsure_(08)

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