Halcyon Class Minesweepers

HMS Bramble 1942

Bramble Pre War
Bramble 1940
Bramble 1941
Bramble 1942
Bramble Crew



Date of Arrival


Date of Departure

Orders, Remarks etc




12.1.42     BRAMBLE, Hebe and Hazard rendezvoused with PQ7 and brought this convoy into Murmansk


Harrier and Speedwell form part of eastern local escort for QP6 (6 ships) from 24/1 until 25/1. BRAMBLE and Hebe joined on 25/1 along with the cruiser Trinidad and the destroyer Somali, and remained until 28/1 when the convoy dispersed.




1/2 From C in C Home Fleet: Concur

From HM Admiralty: Vessel to be taken in hand for arcticising and concurrent refit by Greenwells of Sunderland at earliest possible date.




7/2 From FO i/c: BRAMBLE is being taken in hand at Greenwells Sunderland, completes 21/2.

12/3 Provisional date of completion will be 10/4

From March 14 1942 until March 21 1942 was Warships Week and the people of Aireborough raised £140,000 to 'pay' for BRAMBLE. Captain Crombie and members of the crew visited the town, presenting a plaque to the Aireborough Savings Committee (which can still be seen in Saint Oswald's Church, Guiseley). (A memorial service was held at Saint Oswald's after the loss of Bramble and her crew.)

HMS Bramble Halcyon Class Minesweeper Memorial  Halcyon Class Minesweeper HMS Bramble Plaque



HMS Bramble - Halcyon Class Minesweeper HMS Bramble - Halcyon Class Minesweeper
 HMS Bramble - Halcyon Class Minesweeper

Photos Source: ADM 176/873

Date of Arrival


Date of Departure

Orders, Remarks etc








15/4 From RA (D) Home Fleet:- It is anticipated that S.O. 1st MS in BRAMBLE with Seagull will be available to escort PQ15 from Reykjavik .

!7/4 Kenneth George Edge, Sick Berth Attendant, died age 25

Received 22nd April 1942

Proceed with BRAMBLE, Leda and Seagull passing Switha 1300 tomorrow Thursday to Hvalfjord routed through position 58.49N, 06.59W , thence direct to Reykjames passage. BRAMBLE, Leda and Seagull will act as escort to Convoy PQ15


Source: ADM 199/721

Report of Proceedings Period 23rd April to 5th May 1942 (Extract

From:            The Rear Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron

Date:            6th May 1942                     No.217/0608

To:               The Commander in Chief, Home Fleet 

The following report of proceedings is submitted: 

2. In accordance with your signal times 1503/22nd April, HMS Nigeria, wearing my flag, sailed from Scapa pm 23rd April to Hvalfiord, preparatory to covering the passage of convoy PQ15 to North Russia.

3. During the passage to Iceland the weather was fine and clear enabling A/S air patrols to be flown.

4. The Captain, 1st Minesweeping Flotilla, in Bramble (with Leda and Seagull in company) was met on passage and I instructed him to increase speed in order that he might reach Hvalfiord in time to attend the Convoy Conference. As Senior Officer of the Close Escort it was most important that he should be present and as a result of proceeding at best speed he was able to arrive soon after the conference had started.

5. I consider that on every occasion it is essential to the security of the convoy that Commanding Officers of the Convoy Escorts should attend this conference and have requested Rear Admiral (D) to sail future escorts accordingly....




26/4 BRAMBLE (Captain J H F Crombie DSO RN and Senior Officer Escort) with Leda and Seagull left Iceland as part escort to PQ15 (50 ships)


PQ15 sailed from Reykjavik on 26/4 with BRAMBLE, Leda and Seagull as part escort.


Heavy escort left the convoy and Capt J Crombie of HMS BRAMBLE became senior officer of the escort.
CLICK HERE for Bramble's Report on Convoy PQ15

At 2009 Seagull (Lt Commander Pollock) with the destroyer St Albans attacked and brought to the surface a submarine later identified as the out of position Polish submarine Jastrzab. She was sunk by gunfire.
(See 'Seagull 1942' for details)


At 0127 convoy PQ15 was attacked by 6 He111’s at low level, sinking 3 merchant ships with their torpedoes. 137 survivors were picked up. Three aircraft were shot down.

At 2230 the convoy was bombed by Ju88’s scoring one near miss for the loss of one aircraft.


In the evening a south-easterly gale blew up off the Russian mainland, filling the air with snow clouds and concealing the convoy.


2100 BRAMBLE arrived Kola Inlet with PQ15.


MESSAGE 2300/B  5th May 1942
From SO 1st M S Flotilla

PQ15 arrived Murmansk. Regret to report loss of Botavon, Jutland, Cape Corso as a result of attack by six torpedo aircraft at 2327 May 2nd in position 73N, 19.40E. Attack carried out in good conditions and aircraft appeared to be led in well by leader who may not have carried torpedo. Indications that shadowing submarine may have surfaced and fired torpedoes at same time. One aircraft destroyed and possibly one other. 136 survivors including Commodore. Convoy bombed at 2230 May 3rd in position 73N, 31.51E. Minor damage from near miss to Cape Palliser only. One Junkers 88 shot down. Attack badly carried out and hampered by low cloud. Convoy continuously shadowed by one or more aircraft and or one or more submarines to 36E. Submarines driven off successfully by screening force forcing them to dive and firing depth charges in vicinity.


Date of Arrival Location Date of Departure Orders, Remarks etc
? Kola Inlet 21.5.42  
21.5.42 At sea



Eastern Local Escort for QP12 comprised BRAMBLE, Gossamer, Leda, Seagull and two Russian Destroyers. Harrier was part of the ocean escort arriving Reykjavik 29/5 without incident.
29.5.42 On the evening of 29/5, 140 miles NE of the Kola Inlet,  Captain Crombie commanding the 1st MSF based at Kola joined convoy PQ16 in HMS BRAMBLE, together with Leda, Seagull, Niger, Hussar and Gossamer. The convoy divided and at 2330 Crombie’s section, escorting six of the merchant ships to Archangel, was attacked by 15 Ju88’s while 18 attacked the Murmansk-bound ships.
30.5.42 Crombie’s division, proceeding in line ahead and led by the Empire Elgar, arrived at the estuary of the Dvina on 30/5 where it met the ice breaker Stalin. They began a passage through the ice lasting 40 hours. Confined to the narrow lead cut by the Stalin, they were attacked by Ju87 Stukas in a noisy but useless attack.  This section of PQ16 passed Archangel and secured alongside at Bakarista, a new wharf two miles upstream.
  The soviet icebreakers Krassin and Montcalm were escorted to Archangel by HMS BRAMBLE, Leda, Hazard and Seagull. HMS Intrepid and Garland were sailed later to act as cover against possible surface attack. The whole force arrived at Archangel on 21st June.


Murmansk   Escorted soviet Icebreakers to Archangel with Leda, Hazard and Seagull.
26.6.42  At sea   26/6 BRAMBLE, Hazard, Leda and Seagull (left 28/6) provide local escort for departing QP13 (36 ships). Niger and Hussar were also included as through escort.

The tanker Hopemount sailed for Port Dickson with a heavy escort of two icebreakers and nine other escorts including BRAMBLE, Hazard, and Seagull. At the edge of the icepack the escorts turned back leaving Hopemount and the icebreakers to continue towards the Pacific by the northern route, fuelling soviet escorts and merchant ships, turning back on 18/9.




At 67.27N, 41.20E HM Ships BRAMBLE and Seagull carried out a successful attack on a U-boat. CLICK HERE to see report.

BRAMBLE and Leda rounded up and escorted survivors of PQ17 into Archangel, arriving 11/7


Dvina Bar




BRAMBLE, Hazard, Leda and four other ships met some of the surviving ships from PQ17 and escorted them into Archangel, arriving on the evening of 24/7.




Source: Extracts from ‘PQ17’ by Godfrey Winn who travelled to North Russia aboard HMS Pozarica

…..just before we reached the juncture of the White Sea with the Dvina River, we were met by the BRAMBLE, the flotilla leader of fleet minesweepers based on North Russia.

 We knew nothing yet of their magnificent work, and like many other introductions (and first impressions) this nearly went astray. Her Captain hailed us in what seemed to our sensitive ears a rather patronizing voice. "What was your bag?" As though we were just returning from the moors after a pleasant day's shooting, to a log fire, and buttered toast, and whisky and soda for those who liked their tea that way. Bag. Bag. Bag. How could we explain the price of every plane we had brought down to someone who hadn't been there? It was all very well when Halcyon signalled earlier, 'Junkers shooting is in season'. She was one of us. Whose was this imperative, so pusser voice? 

It belonged to someone who later became my friend and ally, Captain Harvey Crombie, DSO. I visited his home in Hampshire only last week‑end and yarned till long after mid­night about the bare‑faced landscape of North Russia, and we smiled a little ruefully at some of our memories, but most of all that I should have so hated that morning the first sound of his voice through a loud‑hailer: especially when he went on to inform us, laconically, that a pilot to take us down the river might appear in five hours, five days, five years. Of course, he was only trying to break in the new boys gently. But we were past jokes. We wanted only one thing at that moment: the curtain to come down on this Act.

HMS Bramble - Halcyon Class Minesweeper PQ17  
HMS BRAMBLE during PQ17 (Godfrey Winn)










Godfrey Winn was a regular visitor to the wardrooms of the other ships in North Russia while waiting for a return voyage to the UK. Many of his observations and reminiscences about BRAMBLE give a rare first-hand insight into both the men and the conditions in North Russia and are therefore reproduced below in detail:

...Now it was Captain Harvey Crombie, who was speaking. "We have been out here nearly a year; we have, I think, shown the Russians that we mean business and are a competent flotilla, but the situation doesn't change as regards personal relationships. There is an iron curtain, and I warn you seriously against any attempt to pass behind it. Indeed, I think you were lucky to get away with it on shore yesterday, for it may interest you to know, Winn, that not long ago I was arrested myself and spent a very uncomfortable six hours in the local lock‑up."

My own Captain (of the Pozarica), being of equal rank with the speaker, looked suitably shaken by this admission. "Not too much vodka, I hope?"

"No, but that reminds me when you go to one of their parties, as you're bound to do, your only hope of survival is to eat masses of butter between each glass of the stuff. I was told the tip, and it really does serve as insulation. You'll have to drink whether you want to or not, because if you don't, they think you're a sissy. To them the height of hospitality is to get you under the table, and that's the only kind of fraternization they will tolerate, the Services getting together en masse ‑ no women, of course ‑ and believe me it can be an awful headache as most of us found last winter at Murmansk. He put down his glass and lit another cigarette. "You see, after the party is over, you're back exactly where you were before. It hasn't advanced the general position at all. You're no nearer understanding each other on the ordinary level. I'll give you an example of what I mean. A tiny incident, but in its way more revealing than whole books that could be written on the subject of Anglo‑Soviet relations. Whenever I went ashore at Polyarnoe, I used to wear galoshes, and one day I lost one of them in a snow drift. I forgot all about it, produced another pair, and then months later, when the thaw set in, I was summoned one day to the presence of their Admiral, who informed me, through the interpreter, that something of mine had been found. He sounded so serious I thought some piece of damning evidence was about to be laid on the table between us. Instead it was my galosh that had turned rip! But they didn't think it a bit funny. Not a smile. Only at their 'blinds', after several hours of steady drinking, will you get a flicker of recognition that we are all human beings made to a similar pattern, fighting a common battle together, and both up against it badly at the moment. So my advice to you, Lawford, is eat butter ... but don't talk butter. Don't mince words. When I first arrived, I found they knew about as much about the technical side of minesweeping as the man in the moon, but I soon discovered that they respect you if you make a bloody row. They think you are in earnest which, God knows, we are. They have no use for soft soap diplomacy and I respect them for that, but all the same ...”

"You'd prefer them not to chuck you into cells!"

"Oh yes, of course, I started to tell you about that. Well, the other day we organized a flotilla regatta here in the river. You know the kind of thing. Whaler races and so forth. Anything to try and keep the men happy as the leave situation is so tricky. Well, I changed into mufti, as one does, to make things a little more free and easy, and after watching the show I went for my usual evening walk, when we are in harbour, along the wood‑piles. I'd done it the night before, I did it the night afterwards, but would you believe it, I had hardly got out of sight of the ship's moorings, when a young Soviet sentry ‑ I should think he was about sixteen ‑ popped out on me from behind the wood‑piles and arrested me on the spot. Of course I produced all my paraphernalia, but it was no use. I was not in uniform. Passes meant nothing to him, he couldn't read. So he proceeded to march me off at the point of his bayonet and I was shut up in a filthy little room while, presumably, the Commissar was sent for. I thought at first: best to stay quiet, they can't keep me here long . . . but in the end after several hours of flapdoodle, my patience vanished, I completely lost my temper and gave them a full calibre shot, which immediately produced results. That's what I mean about standing up to them, because don't imagine that soft words and sweet smiles will cure them of this ingrained suspicion and distrust towards us.

Extracts from ‘PQ17’ by Godfrey Winn who travelled to North Russia aboard HMS Pozarica



The tanker Hopemount sailed for Port Dickson with a heavy escort of two icebreakers and 9 other escorts including BRAMBLE, Hazard, and Seagull. At the edge of the icepack the escorts turned back leaving Hopemount and the icebreakers to continue towards the Pacific by the northern route, fuelling soviet escorts and merchant ships, turning back on 18/9.



Captain Crombie said “…I hope most sincerely, for your sake, that you will not be stuck here long. Otherwise you'll be adopting favourite verse as your signature tune, also: 

“Let us then be up and doing
With a heart for any fate
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour‑and learn to bloody well wait." 

I could tell from the twinkle in his eye that the emphasis he put on the last line was meant to dissolve the seriousness of the discussion into laughter: part of the man and his make‑up: part of many Englishmen and their make‑up: part of a refusal to allow any conditions, however trying, to destroy your sense of balance, your ironic delight in self‑mockery as an aseptic corrective to any tendency towards sermonizing. I think it was at that moment that my respect and admiration for them all was born ‑ this little group of exiles, whose work had been completely unpublicized ‑ even as I realized that in an hour's talk not one word had been said to suggest the extreme severity of their own life out there, their living conditions during the long months of complete darkness, when it was a common­place for the thermometer to register between eighty and ninety degrees of frost. True, it was summer at last ‑ a brief few, weeks ‑ and there was daylight, but another winter lay over the horizon, and as though he sensed the questions hovering on my lips, Captain Crombie added quickly: "Now, you're a literary fella. Perhaps you can tell us the author of that quotation?" 

"What, of the last line?" I countered, not wanting to commit myself. (Longfellow or?) 

“Oh, we all wrote that didn't we?" he said smiling, and including the other guests seated round the table, especially the commanders of such of the First and Sixth Flotillas of fleet minesweepers which happened to be alongside at that moment. All those who found themselves chance neighbours so far from home had come in a body to pay their respects and sign their names in the visitors' book of the Pozarica's Captain, and I was looking through the book the other day to make sure who had been there that evening ‑ Lt. H. J. Hall, Lotus ... Lt. Boyd,Poppy . . . Lt. Rankin, Dianella . . . Lt. Bidwell, La... Lt. Wathen, Lord Austin ... Banning, Rathlin, Master and one of them had added “PQ17, Novaya Zemlya, and Ekonomia, and quite enough!" ‑ but, in the end, after much reminiscent search, I could only be certain that the three signatures which came to mean most to me personally during our incarceration in North Russia were those of the commanders of the Leda, Halcyon, and Hazard. 

Three very different types of men: Seymour of Hazard, who had just been awarded his brass hat, possessing an aquiline profile and a passion for the R.N. that made his ship a model of efficiency and his manner at first slightly intimidating till one came to appreciate that if you are compelled by Service obligations to spend years of your life, first in China, then in North Russia, it is as well to adopt a creed of self‑sufficiency: Wynne‑Edwards, ruddy cheeked, hospitable, warm‑hearted, whose ship, Leda, became such a second home to me out there that I cannot even now think of her and her crew without my heart contracting: and finally Corbett‑Singleton of Halcyon, like a huge sheep‑dog with a shy, sleepy manner, that did not prevent him from winning a double D.S.C. in the course of the war, or from sending ‑ a lightning flash of relieving humour - my favourite signal of the whole voyage. Just as the news had been passed from ship to ship that our convoy had to scatter, he hoisted, "Now I know what the Itie fleet feel like!" 

Now I know myself, because I have made it my concern to sort it all out, something of the exploits of these two flotillas that first became discs on the operational maps when they commenced their shuttle service, accompanying the second convoy to make the trip through the Barents Sea. That was in October, 1941, the flotilla leader, BRAMBLE, was there, and from that time on no convoy made the journey either way without at least two or three of this small group as part of their escort the whole voyage. I, think it was only when I found myself, later, a member of the crew of the Cumberland serving in those same waters, in winter, that I became in the least degree cognizant of what it must have been like for ships, by comparison so tiny, facing exactly the same hazards, with an inevitably minute proportion of the same resources to combat not only the ravages of the weather but all the other dangers that surrounded them. 

On one of their cabin walls I found hung up a kind of Christmas card with an enscrolled text. Oh God, be good to me, because Thy sea is so large, and my ship is so small. I did not fully understand the need for this prayer when I first explored the living space of these ships: the wardroom was pleasantly spacious, the Captain's cabin on the upper deck compared favourably with the one I had come to know so well: yes, I was told, there is room enough below for every man to sling his hammock: but ... that admission on the cabin wall came to have a new meaning for me when I asked Captain Sherbrooke, who won the V.C. for the manner in which he brought yet another convoy through to Russia, at the end of 1942, if he could give me any details of the loss of the BRAMBLE that had been with him at the time when four enemy cruisers came into the attack. It happened we were fellow guests at lunch, the next summer, in the panelled dining‑room of a country house, so far removed in atmosphere from the action of this book. But I had to be sure if there was anything more to know than that she was swallowed up with all hands in the blackness of the winter's night. My neighbour looked away towards the windows and the massed herbaceous borders, flowering in all their beauty and all their colour that you miss so dreadfully at sea. He shook his head and then added slowly, "No, there was just a sudden flash of light on the horizon and that was all . . ." 

….. It must be put on record, too, that the Russians possessed none of the latest minesweeping gear, and even if they had, were not sufficiently sea‑animals to employ it properly without supervision. They had to be taught about degaussing, magnetic mines, Oropesa sweeps. And while the teaching went on the sweeping went on also. Indeed, if it had not been for our flotilla's efforts, the White Sea would have been quite impassable to allied shipping and the Northern route would have been closed for the duration. Just to keep the channels clear of the constant mine‑dropping aircraft sorties was a whole‑time job, under reasonable conditions. But the conditions were not reasonable. Pack ice a hundred feet high was a commonplace the more vicious battle was with the elements. As for the darkness, for nine months in the year it was as much their waking as their sleeping companion. "For your sake, I hope you will not be stuck here long." M.S.1, as he will always be known to every man under his command, had spoken those words in his usual pusser voice, without emotion, without feeling though I do not doubt he was visualising another winter's approach just round the bend of the river. We were temporary visitors against the wood‑piles: their ships were fast becoming part of the barren landscape, and though they refused to allow the darkness and the isolation to diminish their morale, they could not prevent the perpetual night from playing strange tricks with their eyesight and inducing a physical lassitude. This they fought by deliberately increasing their time at sea, until their knowledge of "local conditions" was such that when the sailed forth to meet the incoming convoy, the senior naval officer in charge would always have the sense and the faith to allow M.S.1 to lead the merchant ships his own way into harbour, even if it entailed a detour into the ice as the safest protection against the stepped‑up attacks of the German subs, now finding the Barents Sea a more profitable hunting ground than the Atlantic. The BRAMBLE's captain drew attention to his galoshes: the reason for the DSO ribbon on his tunic I had to discover for myself. And I discovered, too, how far from infallible first impressions can be. As it happened, in our case, through the scattering of the convoy, we were far down into White Sea before we had our first meeting. Otherwise I should doubtless have had a different reaction to that laconic, casually shouted greeting of, "What was your bag?" 

Source: Extracts from ‘PQ17’ by Godfrey Winn who travelled to North Russia aboard HMS Pozarica 


Dvina / Archangel


During August the sweepers’ duties included a nightly watch for mines dropped by enemy planes.  


Kola Inlet


HMS BRAMBLE (MS1), Seagull, Hazard, Salamander, Blankney, and Middleton arrived from Archangel at 2300 on 23rd August bringing about 402 survivors with them including 30 hospital cases. 

On account of the increasing air activity in the Kola Inlet, the prospect of having these ships here was not one that I enjoyed. Their arrival was timed for the darkest part of the night (it is still light enough to read a newspaper between 2300 and 0100 in clear weather) when German air activity was at its lowest, allowing the safe transfer of survivors and stores. After completing their transfers the four Halcyon minesweepers moved out to 'hide' under Kildin Island before daylight.

Report of SBNO North Russia Aug 1942



…"Do you think you could rake up a tin of any sort that is different, for lunch?" He (the captain of the Pozarica) didn't care for himself. It was the only time he ever asked, but he had Admiral Bevan coming to see him. The S.0.N.R. had turned over his command to Admiral Fisher, and was waiting transport home, resting meanwhile, an anonymous guest ‑ if you can be anonymous with all that gold braid‑in one of our own merchant ships, lying at Ekonomia. 

I passed him coming towards our ship. A man with grey hair and a sensitive, gentle face. He looked very tired, I thought. I was going out to lunch, too. M.S.1 had invited me to take "pot luck" and I was wondering all the way along the quayside what the main dish would be. It turned out to be bully beef fritters! 

"How's Admiral Bevan going home?" I asked M.S.1 (Captain Crombie) with a sigh. 

“They're sending a Catalina for him." 

"I wish there was room for me in the plane." 

The words slipped out involuntarily and the next instant I was ashamed of them. My host was looking at me keenly with his very blue eyes. He seemed about to make a suggestion and then changed his mind. "I suppose you find it rather difficult with so much time on your hands and nothing to do.” 

"Very." Then, in case he should misunderstand the one curt monosyllable, I added: "I love the Pozy and all the people in her more than I shall ever love any ship, but when we're alongside like this, week after week, I don't feel I fit in –“ I was going to say "belong" but altered the word at the last minute " ‑ as I do when we are at sea. Besides, I am Iong overdue for the Ganges. I've probably been posted as a deserter now. And I've got this big story."

“For your newspaper?" 

“For the Admiralty, too. An eye‑witness account. After all, I am a reporter." 

He nodded, judiciously, a captain sifting the evidence at ‘Defaulters'. Off Caps. I was very conscious of the defensive note in my voice and looked away, about the cabin, at the usual set of photos on the writing‑desk, in the usual sort of Asprey frames. Only in this case the wife was young, and the children were still small. And unlike the other cabin there was a copy of The Times laid out, too, which I picked up later, when we were having our coffee. To my surprise it was dated long before our sailing from Belfast. As though he could sense what was in my mind, my host said quietly: "When the mail does I arrive ‑ and for obvious reasons there has been quite a gap lately ‑  hand over the whole bundle of Times to my steward and Jones then brings me one with my breakfast every morning. You know there is not really much difference. The correspondence column is the same and the fourth leaders have been better than ever lately." 

"I don't know how you all stick it out here," I blurted out. M.S.1 raised his eyebrows. It was a gesture of some formidableness for they were very bushy ones. He was a man of about forty with a big head which dominated his body. You could not imagine somehow his ever having been of lesser rank .. a midshipman, fresh from Dartmouth, joining his first ship, the Q.E. But it had been emphasized by my new friends in the flotilla how popular M.S.1 was with the men under his command. He only barks when he really means it, they said. And a matlow likes that, I was to learn later: what he hates is what P. O. Hynes called "flannel". 

“ I mean, the monotony must be so awful," I added, watching the eyebrows with some apprehension. "You forget, Winn, that your matlow is the most adaptable creature in the world. I don't care to what country he belongs. It is something in a sailor's blood. Look how they have transformed the quayside here in a moment. You see, they are used to long periods of exile, in peacetime, too. 'Going foreign', we call it. And yet however foreign to their way of life is the corner of the seven seas in which they find themselves, still somehow they manage to preserve their own personality, and come up smiling, clean, and good‑tempered."

Extracts from ‘PQ17’ by Godfrey Winn who travelled to North Russia aboard HMS Pozarica







“… You are sailing about noon. I did not tell you before, in case it fell through.” (Captain of Pozarica)

An operation was pending. The American cruiser Tuscaloosa was due to reach Kola Inlet that night, to take back as many of the wounded and survivors as possible…. 

“M.S.1 and I put our heads together as soon as we heard. I did not want to raise your hopes too soon, but he is to be Senior Officer of the operation this end, his flotilla is helping to take all the passengers up from Archangel to Kola, and he very sportingly has offered to try to find you, if possible, too. It’s a gamble of course. Every ship going home is bound to be dangerously overcrowded.” 

It was a calm and beautiful afternoon: by far the most pleasant day since our arrival at Ekonomia: gone, the molten sky: gone the low cloud‑level, pressing ever down upon the pulses at our temples: there was real blue in the heavens and the river, even when it broadened out into the White Sea, remained as placid as the upper reaches of the Thames. Once again a day for “getting brown for leave", and the decks of the BRAMBLE were crowded with an assortment of Merchant Navy personnel first and second officers mostly, but dressed in shipwrecked, scarecrow clothes that concealed all rank. But nothing could conceal their deep spring of excitement to be at sea again and sailing in the right direction. They crammed themselves together against the rails of the quarter‑deck, just chewing the prospects ahead, and stripping down to the waist, many of them, as though the touch of the sea‑air against their skins had in itself some magical quality that would cleanse their minds as well as their bodies of all the squalor of the bread line. 

I squeezed down in a corner against a bollard and closed my eyes. You learnt that in war: to sleep while the going was good. I do not know how long I had been in a semi‑conscious, drifting state when I must have felt that someone was standing between me and the warmth of the sun. I looked up, and there was the Captain's secretary, a boy with bright gold hair and the face of an undergraduate in his first year at Oxford. 

"Hello, Culley. Does M.S.1 want me?" 

"No, but he asked me to give you this. It's something he said when he spoke to all the flotilla one Sunday when they were in harbour together." 

David Culley squatted beside me and took off his naval tunic, to sunbathe, too. Now in his open tennis shirt and grey flannel trousers he was an undergraduate, even to the small leather book in his hand which he opened and I was so curious to know its contents that I forgot about the piece of paper till much later. 

"Do you read much poetry?" I asked. 

“I do, as a matter of fact. It makes the dog‑watches pass more quickly, out here. I even try to write a bit. I know most of A Shropshire Lad by heart," he went on quickly. “ Actually I come from that part of the country myself.”­

“The Cotswolds ?"


“So did I originally. It's wonderful, unforgettable country, isn’t it? Do you know the view from the top of the hill above Broadway as well as from Bredon? How many counties is it you are supposed to be able to see there ... eight ? ... I always forget but I keep on promising myself to go back there ... as soon as ...all this... is over."

"So must I," he said simply… 

… “I could not help remembering that moment with the sun on his face and his shining hair and the red‑leathered pocket volume open on his lap, when months later they told me that the BRAMBLE had been swallowed up in the black winter's night, with all hands, and then it came to me how I should have quoted instead lines that he would have recognised at once.

"Life to be sure is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is and we were young."

 But in another way I am glad I didn't, for he was so splendidly certain that everything was going to be all right, and his optimism was a crown… 

…."Do you think we shall have a flap tonight?" I asked. 

"With bombing, do you mean?" 

"Yes, any sort of flap." 

"I hope not for the sake of the wounded. Personally, I've got a hunch it's going to pass off like a picnic 

His hunch was right; everything went off to plan, with one tiny exception. At the hour of the rendezvous, the Tuscaloosa  stood in to Kola, and all night long the transferring went on and I thought: one of those stretcher cases is Jimmy Campbell But everything was dim and faint and muffled in the darkness. The still night: the mountains, guarding the inlet: the faint silhouettes of the ships: the flashing of the code signals: the passengers and the crew, intermingled, so many shapes, taut padlocked, waiting for the final moment. As usual, I was astonished by the precision with which the operation was carried out: not a voice raised, not a single mishap within the range of one's vision. (Such manoeuvres always look so easy on paper.) The minesweepers had to come alongside the destroyers, who, in their turn, had to slide under the bows of the cruiser. Yet the distances were judged with the correctness of a daylight exercise. But before daylight came, we must be gone. Hadn't the Gossamer been sunk here only two months before? I was glad enough when it looked like being my turn to pass over the gangway' a human parcel being sent by Passenger Goods, one step farther on my way. 

BRAMBLE's No. 1, Lt‑Commander Benson, came up, peering over the side. He had been superbly efficient the whole night, and I was not surprised to hear soon afterwards that he had been given his Brass Hat, one of the few R.N.V.R. officers to achieve such a distinction. 

"What's her name?" I asked, in a stage whisper that was quite unnecessary, but by this time one was completely caught up in the smuggling atmosphere. 

"I'm not sure. She's American." 

"American? Good God, they won't want me on board." 

"Well we can't chase our own destroyers round the inlet let. There isn't time. Didn't you see her Captain come over the side? He's down with M.S.1 now. American ships are dry you know, and M.S.1 is giving him a drink. I reminded him that a few tins of American peaches wouldn't come amiss. Trust M.S.1 to put it over, if he can.‑“ 

Indeed, I did trust M.S.1. You couldn't help doing so. All the same, I waited in a mounting sweat of anxiety. Should l burst in on them and produce as a trump card the fact that I had an American grandmother from Boston, Massachusetts? Should I tell the story of how an English sea‑captain, sworn to celibacy, sailed across the Atlantic and brought home with him a bride on his next voyage? I wouldn't care if I never saw another Californian peach as long as I live (I, too, swore to myself), if only ... 

I need not have made any such rash promise. Indeed, I got the peaches, too. And so did the BRAMBLE, who passed some of the windfall, I believe, on to the Pozy so that quite a few of the people in this book had cause to be grateful to Commander Mitchell of the U.S. Destroyer Rodman. 

……….And I was left, too, with the scrap of paper M.S.1 had given me, as a memento of so many things…. This was on the piece of paper. 

“We have in the Navy a unique expression. We talk about a ship being in good order. It means discipline of the right sort, it means giving of service which means more from the heart than the head, it means happiness, it means integrity, it means modesty, it means courage and selflessness.” 

Extracts from ‘PQ17’ by Godfrey Winn who travelled to North Russia aboard HMS Pozarica


Britomart, Halcyon, Hazard and Salamander joined QP14 from Archangel as local eastern escort. The ocean escort included BRAMBLE, Seagull (until 26/9) and Leda (sunk on 20/9). The weather was poor during the convoy, which finally reached Loch Ewe on 26/9 having lost 4 merchantmen and two escorts.


Report of Commanding Officer HMS BRAMBLE Senior Officer of the Close Escort

The wind moderated in the afternoon and with the assistance of Russian tugs the convoy assembled successfully and weighed and proceeded at 1600 on 13th September. Passage through the White Sea was without incident and in fine weather. 


The first incident of note was at 0730 on 15th September when a Ju 88 commenced shadowing the convoy. The convoy at this time was being escorted by two Russian fighters and it was hoped that they would shoot down, or any way drive off this shadower. They appeared, however, not to see her, in spite of crossing and re-crossing at what looked like very close range to each other. Every endeavour was made to call the attention of these fighters to this shadower by V/S but without effect; eventually the British Naval Liaison Officer in the Russian destroyer Uritsi reported that they were unable to communicate with their fighters. HMS Middleton then fired one round in the direction of the shadower. This, as I feared, had exactly the opposite effect to that intended, and the Russian fighters disappeared home, probably complaining that they had been fired at.

Report of Commanding Officer HMS BRAMBLE


During the following day the convoy was constantly shadowed in daylight hours.The convoy made good speed and with the prevailing current I realised that we were ahead of the estimated position signalled by the SBNO, North Russia. On the other hand we were not ahead of schedule based on the C in C Home Fleet's message of 12th September.

During the afternoon of the 16th September the weather started to deteriorate and the visibility to decrease and I realised that these factors combined with the errors in position would make contact difficult unless I reported the position of QP14. Not wishing to break wireless silence I delayed making my signal by R/T until I felt certain that the two forces were close enough for reception to be certain. The signal reporting my position and speed was made at 1515 on the 16th September. The weather continued to deteriorate during the night and the convoy got a little scattered. I ordered HMS Seagull to return along the track of the convoy and round up SS Winston Salem and Silver Sword. SS Troubadour had been a very early straggler and the Commodore had decided not to wait for her.

Report of Commanding Officer HMS BRAMBLE


It is snowing hard this morning. We have been spotted by a Dornier and unless the weather favours us, I guess we will all be standing by.

Source: Diary of Jack Bowman who served on La Malouine, another of QP14's escorts


The Rear Admiral (D) Home Fleet was sighted at 0517 17th September and after the other destroyers had joined an A/S screen was formed in which HMS BRAMBLE took one of the positions on the port bow of the convoy. 

Report of Commanding Officer HMS BRAMBLE


The decks are covered with ice and snow, and it is blowing a gale. We took on oil from one of the tankers, this was done while under way. Some of the seamen were brought in with their jaws frozen up. It is icy-cold in the engine room. I have been so long without a good meal I don't think I shall be able to eat one now. We passed the island of Good Hope tonight.

Source: Diary of Jack Bowman who served on La Malouine


We are running alongside Spitzbergen today. It is all covered in snow and ice. I am glad that I live in the U.K. We are being shadowed by German aircraft all the time.

Source: Diary of Jack Bowman who served on La Malouine


The weather during the passage of the convoy was poor. At 0530 on the morning of the 20th, U435 (Strelow) torpedoed Leda which was at the rear of the convoy. Later that day another escort (HMS Somali) and a merchantman were torpedoed.


BRAMBLE picked up a U boat on her Asdic but was frustrated by the release of a ‘Pillenwerfer’ – compressed gas – by the submarine.


0530 Three merchant ships were sunk by U435, including one with the previously rescued Commodore Dowding who was picked up by Seagull where he remained.


A gale hit the convoy but it abated on the 25th leaving the convoy struggling southwards in a heavy swell.


BRAMBLE and Seagull left the convoy for Scapa.




27/9 BRAMBLE has collision damage Port side of foc'sle stove in from stem to 30ft aft in collision


'BRAMBLE came back to England Oct/Nov 1942 and to add one injustice upon another, as she was approaching Scapa Flow she was hit by one of our own destroyers who gouged a large section of the side of the ship out, fortunately above the water line. No casualties.
This necessitated a court marshal sitting in Scapa Flow at which Captain Crombie attended. He was completely exonerated of blame but the captain of the other ship was found guilty of 'dangerous driving'! BRAMBLE went into dry dock and extensive repairs and modernisation took place like the fitting of the latest anti submarine devices and extra guns to combat the air attacks.

Source:Rodbourn http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/U597628




6/10 BRAMBLE taken in hand by Humber Shipwright Co, Hull for damage repairs and refit. Provisional date of completion 16/11.

14/10 Date of completion now 30/11







…..Commander Wynne-Edwards (of the recently sunk HMS Leda) turned up too, not looking in the least like a survivor who, a fortnight before, had been clinging to a Carley float, but in a brand new uniform, and with a brand new ship awaiting his command, to take over from a Yankee shipyard, and yes, he had equally positive news of Aarl. “He’s got promotion. He is to be the Pilot of the BRAMBLE, when she goes back to Russia. He’s tickled to death,” his late Captain added. 

“And what about your No.1 in the Leda?” I asked. “I suppose you’ve heard he’s made it with his girl in Aberdeen. He sent me a piece of the cake. I meant to keep it for today, but I ate it!”

“No.1 in the Leda? Oh, he’s going back on the same run too as No.1 in the BRAMBLE. That’s a step up for him, also. Benson is getting his brass hat, you know. While M.S.1 is due to go to the Admiralty, as Director of Minesweeping.”

Extracts from ‘PQ17’ by Godfrey Winn who travelled to North Russia aboard HMS Pozarica



Cdr H J RUST - took command 16 Nov 1942


Captain Crombie and some of the crew visited Aireborough groups and schools. The town had raised £140,000 to buy the ship in 1939. 






BRAMBLE (Commander H T Rust, Senior Officer of close escort) was part of the escort for JW51B from Loch Ewe to North Russia, leaving 22/12. The convoy met bad weather


The orders were from Admiral Tovey and said:

 ‘Convoy JW 51B 16 ships. Sail from Loch Ewe 22 December. Speed of advance 7 ½  knots routed as follows…Escort Loch Ewe, HMS BRAMBLE (S.O. M/S Flotilla), Blankney, Ledbury, Chiddingfold, Rhodedendron, Honeysuckle, Northern Gem and Vizalma’.

 There was, as usual, the fun of picking code names for the individual ships and groups for use on the voice radio. Thus, BRAMBLE became ‘Prickles’…

At Loch Ewe the convoy and escort conferences on Tuesday, 22nd December were held in a wooden hut, and a strong wind was blowing as if to remind all present that is was a bleak Scottish winter. In fact it was the precursor of a vicious gale…Sherbrooke held an escort conference giving his orders to the escorts – under Cdr. H T Rust, DSO, in the minesweeper BRAMBLE – which would take the convoy up to position ‘C’, off Iceland, where Sherbrooke and his destroyers would meet it and take over. Rust was an old friend – the two men had been in the same term at Dartmouth and each had a complete trust in each other.

 Source: Extracts from ’73 North’, Dudley Pope



Convoy located by German air reconnaissance and shadowed by U534. Clearing weather and a bright yellow moon showed up the ships of the convoy.


On Christmas day the convoy was about 150 miles east of Seidisfiord… Admiral Tovey had signalled earlier the day before that a westbound U-boat was nearby, and its course must have taken it within a short distance of the convoy…And just after the U-boat signal the Admiral had wirelessed to Rust: Your position was probably reported by a FW aircraft at 1315. …(In fact the aircraft did not report the convoy.)  

 Source: Extracts from ’73 North’, Dudley Pope


Six destroyers joined 150 miles east of Iceland, their commander relieving Rust as senior officer. The convoy was closed up in four columns with BRAMBLE and Hyderabad, both of which possessed good radar sets, were sent ahead on either bow as pickets. Unaware of U534’s presence JW51B passed Jan Mayen and was half way to Bear Island when the next depression caught up with the convoy. Storm force north-westerly winds drove a heavy sea upon the ships’ port beams, causing them to roll. Curtains of rain and snow swept from horizon to horizon, cutting visibility to nil. Ice formed on decks and upper works, and parties were sent to clear it. Below the customary ingress of water in the escorts slopped about the messdecks churning up a soup of odds and ends, items of clothing and broken crockery, while the bulkheads and deckheads streamed with condensation.  The convoy was broken up by the bad weather, Oribi, Vizmala and 5 merchant ships losing contact. One, the Jefferson Myers, hove to in order to secure her deck cargo of bombers which was threatening to break loose from its lashings.

As the light improved and a slight moderation in the weather allowed the remaining nine merchant ships to be reformed, Rust was sent to search for stragglers using BRAMBLE’s superior radar.


That night (Sunday 27th December) the barometer started falling slowly but with an ominous steadiness: another big depression was rolling across the North Atlantic towards them. Then the wind got up, first just whining in the rigging and wireless aerials. Within an hour it was beginning to howl with high-pitched urgency, bringing fair sized seas in its train and snow squalls which blanketed off what little visibility there was in the darkness. It was now that station keeping became a real nightmare… soon the wind was screaming at Force 7… spray blowing over the ships started forming ice on the decks, rails and superstructure.

 Source: Extracts from ’73 North’, Dudley Pope


Monday the 28th passed (with no let up in the weather). Tuesday came, and with it even worse weather, the wind backing so that in the early hours it was round to NNW, blowing at nearly 40 knots…The wind…was as bitter as any the convoy crews had yet encountered. It was knocking up waves of 18 feet high and blowing the crests off in spindrift; dense streaks of foam laced the tumbling surface of the waves, which were 700 feet apart and travelling at around 35 knots. Within a short while the Daldorch, leading the port inner column, signalled that her deck cargo had carried away. She could no longer steer the convoy course (071°) and would steer 055° until the weather eased. This probably misled the ships on the port wing column, because at 0200 the trawler Vizalma, whose station was the last ship in the port wing column, discovered that she and three other ships were separated from the rest of the convoy. All four merchantmen were finding it impossible to keep on the convoy course because of the heavy seas and high wind, which forced their bows off, so they hove to, all on different courses and all drifting off in different directions.

Then at noon on this vile Tuesday the weather suddenly moderated and visibility in the half-light increased to 10 miles. Quickly the anxious escorts looked for the convoy: it hardly existed as such: instead of fourteen ships in four orderly columns, there were only nine merchantmen in sight scattered all over the horizon… 

By this time anything up to three inches of ice had formed on the ships. As they were, in their sheath of ice, the escorts were no longer fighting machines…

Captain Sherbrooke’s problem was to find the missing ships: five merchantmen, one destroyer and a trawler… A third of the convoy was missing. It was vitally necessary to round them up as soon as possible, before they straggled too far. Sherbrooke therefore decided to send a ship to search with radar…He sent BRAMBLE, one of the few escorts fitted with an effective surface-search radar set, to look for the missing ships., and at 1230 on 29th December she was called up by signal lamp and told to search to the north-west. Rust, her captain, was warned that the convoy would shortly alter to due east, the time depending on the result of the star sight. 

As soon as the final Morse ‘R’ came from BRAMBLE, showing she had received the signal, she turned away, her radar aerials revolving, to begin the hunt. She was never seen again by British eyes.

 Source: Extracts from ’73 North’, Dudley Pope


With JW51B 150 miles south-west of Bear Island (and well astern of her dead reckoning) three of the merchantmen rejoined, one was travelling in company with Vizalma, while BRAMBLE was still searching for the Jefferson Myers.

On board the merchantman Empire Archer a disturbance broke out among her firemen after some had broached a consignment of rum intended for the Kola based minesweepers. In the ensuing violence two men were knifed. This fight occurred simultaneously with the threatened break adrift of a railway locomotive which, among a deck cargo of eight heavy tanks, had parted some of its lashings. The drunken firemen were suppressed by the ship’s master and his officers. Desperate for merchant seamen, these ne’er-do-wells had been offered a bonus of £100 when they were recruited from Scotland’s notorious Barlinnie Gaol.


Following a report sent by U354 that the JW51B was weakly escorted and giving its position, Admiral Hipper, Lutzow and six German destroyers were sailed to intercept the convoy.

U354 worked its way round to the front of the convoy and was preparing to attack the convoy when she was sighted by Obdurate which tried to ram it but the U-boat crash dived and escaped. 


Wednesday 30th December, with the convoy eight days out of Loch Ewe, found the weather a good deal better and all ships had every available man on deck chipping off the sheath of ice.  

During the morning three of the missing merchantmen rejoined the convoy; a fourth along with an escort trawler had overtaken the convoy in their efforts to catch up. At 1240 the convoy was spotted by U-354.

 Source: Extracts from ’73 North’, Dudley Pope


Early on New Year ’s Eve convoy JW51B was on an easterly course, driven well south of its planned route by the heavy gale two days earlier. Two merchant ships, the trawler Vizalma and BRAMBLE were still missing from the convoy. Unknown to Sherbrooke, BRAMBLE was about 15 miles north-east of the convoy and probably steaming a similar course: while Vizalma with Chester Valley were both about 40 miles to the north, steering east and making 11 knots, hoping to overtake the convoy but in ignorance of the fact it was south of them.  

Thus, as the German force (Hipper, Lutzow and six destroyers) approached from the south-west before dawn on New Year’s Eve, the convoy was closest to them and Force R (the cruisers Sheffield and Jamaica) was 30 miles beyond; Vizalma and the Chester Valley were even farther north. The BRAMBLE, alone, was ahead of the convoy.


 Source: Extracts from ’73 North’, Dudley Pope


The Arctic ‘dawn’ (between 0800 and 1500 there was a ‘nautical twilight’ as the sun never rose to more than 12° below the horizon) broke to a freezing morning with a heavy frost and all the ships covered in a thick mantle of ice. The wind had dropped and the sea had moderated, leaving a heavy swell. Except where the snow squalls shut it in, visibility was quite good, up to 10 miles to the south. About a dozen miles to the north east BRAMBLE was still searching for the Jefferson Myers (which was in fact miles away from BRAMBLE’s position).

Around 7:00 a.m., the convoy was seen by Hipper’s destroyers. While the Hipper diverted herself to the North to push the convoy into the clutches of the Lutzow, the destroyers shadowed the convoy.


At 0820 the corvette Hyderabad made the first sighting of two destroyers due south. At this stage it was uncertain is they were Russian or German. They were German.

Just about this time the minesweeper BRAMBLE transmitted a brief signal. 'One cruiser bearing 300°', but only the Hyderabad picked it up. Apparently she assumed the signal – the last ever received from the BRAMBLE – had been picked up by other ships of the escort, for she did not pass it on to Kinloch, who was unaware of it until several days later.  

At about 0915 the German destroyers Eckholdt, Beitzen and Z29 engaged Obdurate and the battle of the Bering Sea commenced. Shortly after this, Hipper engaged Onslow.

 Source: Extracts from ’73 North’, Dudley Pope

While the convoy was sailing eastwards in the company of the Achates alone, the other British destroyers put themselves between the convoy and the German cruisers and destroyers. The British ships managed to avoid the enemy fire until the Onslow was hit by four heavy shells at 10:20 a.m., suffering extensive damage. The British destroyers then vanished in the fog. 

After dealing the Onslow a crushing blow without realising it, Admiral Kummetz ordered the Hipper to increase to 31 knots – full speed – and steer to the ENE with his three destroyers in company. The convoy was now more than twelve miles away to the SSW steaming, he hoped, into the guns of the Lutzow and the three destroyers.

Suddenly at 1036, a destroyer or corvette – the look-outs could not be certain which in the darkness and snow squalls – was sighted on the port side, steering away from the Hipper. ‘I directed the Hipper to engage this ship, which was at first taken to be a corvette or destroyer,’ wrote Kummetz, ‘because it would have meant a very unpleasant link on the lee side of the firing in an engagement with the convoy. After finishing off the destroyer I intended to resume action with the convoy. The destroyer was probably an escort stationed on the flank of the convoy.’ 

In fact the ‘destroyer’ was the 875 tonne minesweeper BRAMBLE, commanded by Cdr H T Rust, and manned by seven officers and 113 ratings. She had one 4 inch gun firing a 31 pound shell against the Hipper’s eight 8 inch and twelve 4.1 inch. Immediately the Hipper was sighted, Rust must have sent off an enemy report – received only by Hyderabad – knowing nothing could save him. At 1043 HMS Hyderabad picked up the following message on Fleet Wave:

Addressed ONSLOW from BRAMBLE.

 One cruiser bearing 300 degrees.

 T.O.O. 1039A

Apparently Hyderabad assumed the signal – the last ever received from the BRAMBLE – had been picked up by other ships of the escort, for she did not pass it on to Kinloch, who was unaware of it until several days later.  

The Hipper’s guns did not sink BRAMBLE, even though they were firing for six minutes, and at 1046 Kummetz ordered the Freidrich Eckholdt by radio-telephone: 'Sink the destroyer in position 1500. Destroyer was fired on by Hipper'. Kummetz then swung the Hipper round to get nearer the convoy again.

 Source: Extracts from ’73 North’, Dudley Pope


BRAMBLE had managed to fire a single round at Hipper from her 4" gun and a few rounds from her Oerlikons before being overwhelmed by the cruiser's heavy weapon fire. BRAMBLE sank at 11:58, eight officers including her captain Cdr H J Rust and 113 ratings were drowned.

In the subsequent action, the Eckholdt herself was sunk when she mistook the Sheffield for Hipper. Sheffield swept past at point blank range with the full-calibre weapons depressed at an elevation never previously attempted, firing into the enemy destroyer with ‘all guns down to pom-poms’ and destroying her in minutes.

The outclassed German ships retired and contact was lost at about 1400. The convoy proceeded unmolested.


During the afternoon Harrier and Seagull joined as part of the eastern local escort, leading the main body of the convoy into Kola where it arrived the next day, though final berthing was delayed by dense fog.

The Jefferson Myers finally made her way into Molotovsk, escorted by a Russian destroyer, on 6/1.


The Board of Enquiry reported on the presumed loss of HMS BRAMBLE. CLICK HERE for details


Source: http://www.naval-history.net/Cr03-55-00BarentsSea2.htm


A Memorial Service for BRAMBLE was held in Aireborough: BRAMBLE was special to Aireborough because in one week residents raised £140,000 to buy it in Warships Week (March 14 1942 until March 21 1942) and prior to its sinking the crew members, including Captain Harvey Crombie visited Aireborough groups and schools.

At the memorial service held in Guiseley Parish Church, the Captain said:

 "They had braved difficulties and perils probably unparalleled in the annals of the British Navy, and calls upon their courage and endurance were constant, but they never failed. They would not have us think sadly at this time, but rather that we should praise God that they had remained steadfast to duty to the end."


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This site was last updated 17 Januar 2012