HMS Whitehaven

HMS Whitehaven (J 121) was a minesweeper of the Bangor Class. She was built by George Philip & Sons Ltd. (Dartmouth, UK). Ordered by the MOD on 9 Sep 1939 and launched on 29 May 1941. She was sold after the second world war, on 18 August 1948 as scrap.

She was of 640 g.r.t., had a top speed of 16 knots and was armed with one 3 inch anti-aircraft gun, one two pounder anti-aircraft gun, two 20mm anti-aircraft guns and four machine guns. The vessel was formally adopted by the town during ‘Warship Week’ in February 1942, when the town raised £197,000. The town motto Consilio Absit Discordia was displayed on her quarterdeck, and letters and parcels from the 'Comforts fund' of the town were sent out to her ship mates. The crew reciprocated by sending sweets and fruit for the town Schoolchildren.

After her completion in November 1941 HMS Whitehaven was allocated to the 14th Minesweeping Flotilla (Mediterranean Fleet). She left the Scottish port of Greenock on 1 March 1942, arriving on station at Alexandria (Egypt) on 6 June 1942.

'Whitehaven' was the senior officers ship of the group escorting convoys between Alexandria and various ports in the Eastern Mediterranean. This was also the period of the war when Malta was under siege and desperate for supplies from any convoy vessels that could get through. On 18 November 1942 one such Malta convoy vessel - the 'Arethusa' - was torpedoed by aircraft about 70 miles from Alexandria and 'Whitehaven' was sent to assist, helping to bring the 'Arethusa' safely back to Alexandria harbour.

Coincidentally, this was also an active period of minesweeping following the Allied victory at El Alamein and 'Whitehaven' led the 14th Minesweeping Flotilla in this important task. Over several months the 14th Flotilla, led by 'Whitehaven', swept the North African ports of Mersa Matruh, Bardia, Tobruk, Benghazi, Tripoli, Sousse and Sfax. In recognition of her part in the North African victory General Bernard Montgomery visited 'Whitehaven' in March 1943.

By the middle of 1943 the siege of Malta had also been lifted. During May and June of that year 'Whitehaven' joined in the clearance of the sea channels around Malta which also helped prepare for the imminent invasion of Sicily. In mid-June 1943 King George VI sailed into Valletta, Malta with 'Whitehaven' having the honour of sweeping in the 'Aurora' - with the king's party on board - into the Grand Harbour.

During the invasion of Sicily (July 1943) ‘Whitehaven’ had a particularly important role. On 12 July, with fighting still taking place in Syracuse and despite coming under fire from the air and shore batteries, 'Whitehaven' broke the boom into Syracuse harbour. This action enabled a naval landing party with explosives to clear the port facilities and help establish the use of the harbour for the Allies.

After additional convoy duties in the Mediterranean, ‘Whitehaven’ was sent back to Benghazi, arriving on 27 October 1943 to protect convoys in that area from U-Boat attack. On 13 November 'Whitehaven' was sent to Port Said, leaving there with the rest of the 14th Flotilla on 1 December 1943 and headed for home waters.

Arriving in Plymouth on 7 January 1944 ‘Whitehaven’ was then refit to the end of March in preparation for the Normandy Landings, where she was assigned to ‘Force U’. This was part of the Western (United States) Task Force under Admiral D.P. Moon of the U.S. Navy, and made the assault on the Varreville area.

During and shortly after the Normandy campaign 'Whitehaven' was employed in keeping the channels clear for the Allied supply ships and troop ships and minesweeping off Cherbourg and Brest. Between November 1944 and January 1945 'Whitehaven' was engaged in minesweeping around the southern approaches to Britain and the French ports (Bristol Channel, Scilly Isles, St Malo, Channel Islands etc).

In February 1945 the 14th Flotilla was dissolved and 'Whitehaven' joined the 15th Flotilla, based on the eastern coast of Britain around the Humber. After VE Day (8 May 1945) 'Whitehaven' was employed in clearing the outer channels to Germany ands the Netherlands, and general mine clearance around the British coastline. In October 1945, HMS Whitehaven and its crew paid a goodwill and thanksgiving visit to the port that gave its name to the vessel. The ship was finally decommissioned and scrapped in 1948. It had been deemed her useful life had come to an end.

HMS Whitehaven Bangor Class Minesweeper
HMS Whitehaven


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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