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Created: 25 July 2001 - Updated: 25 Nov 2010

HMS Kite 2nd Support Group. Captain Johnnie Walker RN, whilst in command of HMS Kite, flew from her mast his famous signal  "General Chase" last flown
by Admiral Horatio Nelson.

By Mike Kemble (c) From information provided by Ray Holden, Clem Bray, Christine Chaplin, Lionel Irish, Mary Davies, Adrian Raven & Others

HMS Kite Roll Of Honour

Introduction

Picture the scene, you are walking past some church or other, not really taking much notice but you see some men walking slowly out of the church, wearing berets or some other military regalia, some with their ladies and you think, as you pass, that its some soldiers, sailors or airmen remembering dead comrades and suchlike.

At 1500 hrs on Sunday August 20th 1989 such a Choral Evensong Memorial Service was held in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.  This particular service was dedicated to the crew of HMS Kite.  Now these "Memorial Services" are fairly commonplace - but let's stop and look behind the scenes of this one and remember the crew of HMS Kite - in a little more detail.  Those of you who know your Naval WW2 history will know that HMS Kite was one of Walker's ships! That will make your ears prick up no doubt.  After all, Johnnie Walker was the foremost U Boat hunter - ever!  At the bottom of the dedication book to this memorial service something more sombre greets the eye - "torpedoed by U344 on 21 August 1944 in the Barents Sea - loss of 217 lives. Just for the record, U344 did not get away with sinking the Kite; recorded fate of U344 is that it was sunk with all hands, at 0830 hrs 22 Aug 1944, the next day, in the Barents Sea, northeast of North Cape, in position 72.49N, 30.41E, by a Fairey Swordfish from HMS Vindex, piloted by Gordon Bennett.

These pages are intended as a memorial to those 217 brave souls who lost their lives aboard HMS Kite in the Arctic.  It was also intended as a companion to my page Walker RN and not as a duplicate of that page but I seem to have outgrown the Walker pages by some distance! HMS Kite, built at Cammell Laird, Birkenhead, was launched on 13 October 1942.   Commissioned on 20th February and completed on 1 March 1943. Armament: 3 x 4" guns; 2 x 2 pounders; 4 barrelled pom poms; 2 x 20mm Oerlikon; 2 x 3" twin machine guns; 4 rail throwers for depth charges and carried 110 depth charges. 9 April 1943 a founder member of 2nd Escort Group. To put you in mind, I rank Capt Walker alongside Drake & Raleigh and Nelson. He was there when the country needed him.

HMS KITE   (Aug. 21, 1944)  Royal Navy sloop of 1,250 tons, was escorting the aircraft carriers Vindex and Striker, which in turn were escorting a large convoy to Northern Russia when the convoy was sighted by German aircraft. Soon a pack of U-boats attacked the convoy and one U-boat was sunk by Swordfish aircraft from one of the carriers. Two more were sunk by other destroyers. Sometime shortly after the action, the Kite was hit by two torpedoes and sank with the loss of ten officers and 207 ratings. What really happened can now be found on my Board of Enquiry Page. If the whole truth was, in fact, told!


"GENERAL CHASE "
A painting by Bryan Phillips. (St Ives) - Commissioned by Ray Holden

A painting of HMS Kite; commissioned by Ray Holden, shows HMS Kite flying the General Chase pennant when commanded by Capt Johnnie Walker. Depicted in the Bay of Biscay under the command of Captain "Johnnie" Walker, DSO and three bars, flying his famous signal, General Chase. This painting is intended as a lasting memorial to all the 217 members of her crew who lost their lives on 21st August 1944. This is HMS Kite in all her former glory unforgettably captured by Bryan Phillips. A limited edition of art prints, signed by the artist were available from his studio. I believe that these have long since run out. Some of the images below have been "thumbnailed" to preserve space. Click on the relevant image to see full size. I have removed/copied quite a few of the images from this page to help start a new page which focus's on the people of Kite.


General Chase pennant HMS Kite's Ensign
(Now in Bootle Town Hall)


Ray Holden, who kindly provided me with a lot of this material, in 1952, half way through his two and half year commission in the Mediterranean.


Ray's brother Tom and his bride, Edith Rose, a few weeks before the sinking of HMS Kite by U344.


Captain "Johnnie" Walker


The portrait of Capt Walker stands on the main staircase, Bootle Town Hall - image July 8 2003

 


This picture of HMS Kite was, I strongly suspect, taken on the River Mersey, Kite's home base was Gladstone Dock, Bootle, Liverpool. The barrage balloon is indicative of such a location.  The barrage balloon by the way, was possibly built at Sutton Coldfield, where I now live, because on what was St Georges Barracks, where I finished my Army career, there used to stand an RAF Barrage Balloon factory on that site.


Battle Ensign HMS Kite

HMS Kite

The original HMS Kite, a coastal defence gunboat circa about 1868


Chris McGrath Stoker HMS Kite. Mary Davies, Chris' niece, sent the images to Ray. Chris' brother, Mary's father, also served in the Navy.


The thumb nail (click to enlarge) is of Chris' Passing out Parade. Chris is 4th from the right at the back. Just look how young many of these new Royal Naval sailors actually look! I wonder how many lied about their ages?

1. Telegram notifying his mother of his "Missing in Action"

2. Postcard home from Chris

Letter notifying his Mum of her right to any remains belonging to her son

Letter from the Liver Buildings, Liverpool informing his mum of the worst case scenario. Thanks to Ray Holden and Chris McGrath's niece, Mary Davies.


DSM awarded to Petty Officer Vincent HMS Kite
on 28 June 1944. click on the above image
to read the letter of citation


Roy Curry's Station Card, he left before the sinking and later became a Midshipman


James Croft is another who lost his life with HMS Kite, his body was never found as was many, many others. Sue Robinson sent me these  items. In memory of her Uncle Jimmy. These replace some that mysteriously vanish from the page. I suspect they became corrupted or something?

The above image was sent to me by Robb Webb, son of survivor Frank Webb. It shows the ports of call of HMS Kite. I am not sure of its origin though. Click on image to enlarge.

HMS Vindex in Dock (See full story below)

This model of the Kite was made from a piece of wood from a U Boat



First Day Cover of HMS Kite issued in Liverpool on 3 May 2003. My thanks to Ray Holden for presenting me with this in Braintree on 27 November 2003 on the occasion of Lionel Irish presenting a Kite Plaque to Braintree. See this link


The cover of the book on HMS Vindex
a "stringbag" like that on the cover, sank U344

HMS Vindex at Sea (scrapped at
Kaohsiung - Aug 1971)


Thanks to Robb Webb who sent me this 25 cent coin from his home in Calgary. It is in commemoration of all those Canadians
who gave their lives in all Wars and was issued for November 2005. Addition: June 2006: And my eternal thanks for the donation to the site, I am overwhelmed!


The official and very impersonal way in which Ray and family found out that Tom had died. Even now, in Admiralty Records, Tom is posted as Missing Presumed Dead. Although Ray Holden found an eye witness (Lionel Irish) who certified to Ray that Tom died on board HMS Keppel, the destroyer which rescued 14 survivors. HMS Keppel, in a signal to the Admiralty, confirmed that Tom was one of five buried at sea yet the Admiralty failed to convey this to his family.

a copy of Tom's last letter to his brother Ray. I specifically asked Ray if I could publish this, to which Ray agreed, saying that it would give an insight into life in 1944 and how "little" that could be said in letters home to loved ones. This was written on 20th June 1944 and shows that Tom was located in No 2 Mess; HMS Kite.

Note also that it was written only 2 weeks after the invasion of Europe had begun.  Judging by the time scale, this letter was possibly written when the Kite was either undergoing engine repairs after her channel sorties against U Boats or in Loch Ewes, Scotland.


The cover of the envelope that Tom wrote to Ray, this clearly shows the stamp of the official "censors" who read all the mail before it gets passed onto the post.

Back in the UK, the survivors come ashore. Only 8 in the photo. PO Payne refused to take part in the propaganda, he wasn't going to smile whilst his shipmates had gone.  The ship is HMS Keppel, on which Tom had died and had been buried at sea. Left to Right: Charlie Bonsall; Brannigan; Lionel Irish; Frank Webb; Reg Holmes; Johnson; Sharples; Bradley. That may well be Payne in the background leaning against the bulkhead.

HMS Kite (hidden behind and under the water) detonating an homing acoustic torpedo (gnat) with a depth charge. Starling can be seen on the right. Kite vanished completely from view for seconds! Image taken from HMS Magpie or Wren.

From the Maritime Museum, Liverpool. Another copy of an image further up this page. The ship in the image is actually Starling and Kite is
hidden behind the water after detonating depth charges to destroy a homing acoustic torpedo. The image caption is incorrectly stating an attack on a U Boat. Image: 070405

A very poor photo, it is very significant because it shows Kite picking up U-Boat survivors, this was in July 1943 when Johnnie Walker was in Command and had flown General Chase, the same time that he gave a crew the option to go back into the water if they failed to divulge their conning tower number. (Image from Ray Holden). The original was so light, I have had to darken it to enable the view to be seen.
 

Taken in a mess deck on Kite with the lads making their own enjoyment. This one is, I believe, the mess of Ray's brother Tom Holden, it really speaks for itself. This confined space is where they all lived eat and slept, hammock bars on the deck head can be clearly seen. The Leading Seaman playing the accordion is L/S Darby Kelly, a Liverpudlian, last seen by Lionel trying to launch the sea boat. Apparently, according to Lionel Irish, one of the U Boat prisoners was a dab hand with an accordion and the lads had him in the mess deck to play for them. Lionel also remembers that the Mess decks were forever dripping with condensation. Image: Ray Holden. The one standing behind the newspaper reader is George Lunt. His page can be accessed from the main Kite page.


Convoy JW59

Vice Admiral FHG Dalrymple-Hamilton commanded convoy JW59 and had chosen for his flag ship HMS Vindex, since she had better command facilities than the cruiser. The convoy had had an uneventful passage, continuous daylight allowed aircraft to be airborne throughout the 24 hour period. The convoy was east of Jan Meyer Island when she was spotted by a Ju88 and early on Aug 21st 1944 the convoy reached a patrol line set up by U Boats of the "Trutz" Group. The U344, U668, U394, U363 and the U997 were deployed across its path. The U344, ahead of the convoy attacked the 22nd Escort Group with a T5 salvo and then sank HMS Kite (Lt Comdr WFR Seagrave, DSC, RN) (Incorrect: Seagrave was in hospital, temp commander on board) with heavy loss of life, only 9 of her crew being rescued. The Commander of the U344 (KapitanLeutnant Ulrich Pietsch) sent off a sighting report which resulted in a fresh line being established from U703, U354, U365 and U711, but these were successfully kept down by air patrols and a Catalina from the 118 Reconnaissance Regiment, Soviet Air Force.

That is how the sinking of the Kite is described in the book "Convoy! Drama in Arctic Waters" by Paul Kemp, first published in 1993 by Cassell Military Paperbacks. The author is only partly correct in that 14 survivors were rescued from the water, but 5 of which died on board HMS Keppel and were buried at sea. 9 survived to make it back to the UK. Of these only two are currently still with us, Reginald Holmes and Lionel Irish. I have had the honour of meeting Lionel on more than one occasion, including having dinner with him and his lovely, long suffering, wife! That meeting was courtesy of Ray & Mrs Holden. Lionel, for many years had said nothing of his life on board Kite, nor of his rescue began to open up and tell a small select company at that dinner in Braintree of some of the aspects of this fateful voyage. Lionel is a real "character" and he is to blame for introducing me to "Pussers" - the real Navy rum!! Reginald Holmes prefers to remain in the background but I would love to hear stories of life on board the Kite, and of his rescue if he ever decides to talk about it.

The book also intimates that it was at least a couple of days before the U344 got its "comeuppance", on the 23rd August. It was in fact the following day when Gordon Bennett, flew his swordfish out of the cloud and found the U344 below him, running on the surface. He attacked and sank the U344 with all hands. Gordon was based on board the "flag ship" of the convoy, HMS Vindex. Another ship in the convoy was a Royal Sovereign Class Battleship being transferred to the Red Army, and was renamed Murmansk, a "juicy" target for any U Boat.

Able Seaman Tom Holden is still officially posted as "Missing presumed dead"; the Admiralty have never informed his wife/relatives officially of his death, although he died on board the destroyer HMS Keppel. I now have a copy of a signal from Keppel to the Admiralty regarding the burial at sea of Tom. See my page on "The Sinking of HMS Kite". The narratives provided By Ray Holden are reprinted and are linked below. On a visit to Liverpool in February 2002, to take pictures of Walkers statue, I purchased a copy of a video "Battle of the Atlantic" on it is footage of Walker and his "chicks" taking on a U Boat - successfully, with the commentary "When Walker found a U Boat, it's chances of survival were nil". Also on the film is footage of their return to Liverpool following the Six in One Trip voyage and the Address by the Viscount Alexander Hillsborough on the quayside. Sadly, also on the video is footage of Walker's funeral,  procession through Liverpool, placing the coffin onboard HMS Hesperus and subsequent burial at sea. It also includes interviews with sailors including some from HMS Starling and Wild Goose. Battle of the Atlantic is available from Mersey Ferries shops at the Pier Head and Woodside £13.99. Produced by Luther Pendragon and narrated by Julia Somerville. RGI 3037 is the tape code. Updated items from those who sailed on the convoy etc can be found on  The Sinking of HMS Kite. Thank you to all those people who have sent emails to me regarding HMS Kite. Most from relatives and neighbours of crew members, and some from other sailors from that fateful convoy.  It is very pleasing to me to see that all the work put into these pages (and others) have been so well received. Many to say that finally a "ghost" had been laid to rest as they did not know what had happened - till now. Thank You - all. Updates are becoming rare


Some of the crew from HMS Kite. The only surviving member in this particular photo is Danny Hogan (Nov 2003).
"Tommy" Farr's real name was William. He survived one sinking, but wounded, only to recover in time to sail with Kite.
Adrian Raven provided the info on "Tommy" who was his mothers uncle.

A photograph of the Air Crew of HMS Vindex - Lieutenant (A) RNVR Gordon Bennett, the pilot who sank the U344 is in
the front row standing, 3rd from the left.

This picture of HMS Keppel, the destroyer on which Tom died, was almost certainly taken on the River Mersey. The tower just off Keppel's bow is that of the Mariners Home in Wallasey.  Footnote: 18/03/02: The picture of Keppel in the Mersey must have been taken very early in the war, perhaps even before 1939.

When Mermaid operated with her, her for'ard funnel had been removed, as well as one of her boilers, to make room for another fuel tank. It reduced her top speed, of course, but as a lowly escort she didn´t need those extra knots. The loss of that funnel detracted from her appearance, though! I believe her main armament had also been reduced. In fact whenever we saw her, she always looked really down-at-heel, like the rest of us, in fact.

After a boiler clean and a lick of paint and maybe a few patches of corticene decking renewed, it only took a week at sea to bring back the rust stains again. Our first Lieutenant, St John-Benn, RN, who was hardly more than twenty three, always wore the scruffiest of uniforms at sea - verdigris cap badge hanging by a couple of threads, greyish submariner´s white sweater, a grease -smeared, shiny jacket and sea boots. Of course, we all followed his example, and started coming back off leave with warm civvy clothing of every description, as well as a fantastic assortment of headgear - hardly a sign of pusser clothing amongst the lot! He did put his foot down finally, however, when someone fell in on the quarterdeck all ready for another days work, wearing a bowler hat. Jimmy merely said quietly, "Able Seaman Smith, go for'ard and find your issue cap if you don't want appear before me on a charge!" For all his youth, Benn was an excellent seaman and was popular with all the lower deck. We were sorry to see him drafted to another ship, especially when his replacement proved himself an utter *##"&!!, to say nothing of the guy who took over command at the same time from Lt-Commander John Mosse, who was also a good officer and seaman. John Murray HMS Mermaid.

Ray: 19/03/02. The destroyer Flotilla Leader, HMS Keppel, launched in 1920, modified as a short range escort but retaining her full torpedo armament, was no stranger to Russian convoys, and had been the flagship of Jackie Broom, commander of the close escort with PQ17." Although she had been modified she was still classed as a destroyer, if she still had a torpedo armament how would she deliver them without the speed to do so? Torpedoes are for use against surface ships, there had been no German surface ships capable of carrying out an attack for some considerable time, therefore this would suggest that she was modified when this threat did exist.

Joe Bennett was a Stoker on HMS Keppel when Kite was sunk. He has been in touch with Ray Holden who passed this on to me:

24/07/02 Is the date on the email.  An eye witness account from the decks of the Keppel. At the time of the Kite sinking Joe had been sent on deck to get a container of drinking water. He took the opportunity to grab a bit of fresh air. Kite was on his starboard quarter.  Just after he returned to the boiler room he heard two large explosions.  He explained that the sound of explosions within the confines of the engine room were magnified.  There is no way to tell if it is your ship that is the target or that it is your ship doing the attacking; you just wait and see.  Orders came down to increase speed and a change of course was evident.  The P/O Stoker told Joe to nip up and have a look. He could not believe his eyes - the only way Joe could explain what he saw was "A complete mess".  Other men stood around the guard rails in disbelief, only wreckage and oil remained where Kite once was.  There follows some historical information on the Keppel which, for the sake of history, I shall reprint here.  When Keppel was launched she had 4 boilers rooms, these exhausted through two boilers to each of her two funnels which were flat sided funnels. Capable of a top speed of 36 knots, normal for destroyers.  Keppel retained her two funnels until the day she was broken up.  The old V and W destroyers had two funnels flat sided and one round - these were the destroyers which had the forward flat sided funnels removed.  The after round funnel became known as "woodbine" funnels. A woodbine was a brand name and a byword for cigarettes; a "woody".  Joe (and Harry Busby) were most indignant when a brand new ship with only one funnel wanted to pinch one of theirs; Joe - "what the hell do they want another funnel for; they only have two boilers!!".

This account comes in another email from Ray from a man called Harry Busby also on 24/07/02. He met up with Ray Holden and this is Harry's account.  He was an A/B Torpedoman on HMS Keppel.  He was closed up on the after torpedo tubes, leaning against them and he and his mate were looking across towards HMS Kite on Keppel's starboard quarter. They were discussing what nice lines these sloops had. Suddenly two huge balls of fire blotted out HMS Kite and when it cleared she was nowhere to be seen.  Keppel immediately turned towards Kite and circled around her position but could find no ASDIC contact. She wasn't allowed to pick up survivors until HMS Peacock and HMS Mermaid arrived from the port side of the convoy.  Harry relates that it seemed like hours but later found out it had only been 40 minutes during which all that time those poor devils had been in the freezing water.  Eventually Keppel cut engines and gently nosed her way alongside a group of survivors, some of them drifting along the side down stern, we could not make out faces only blobs of thick stinking fuel oil.  Men were hanging through the guardrails trying to clutch hold of them but could not get a grip because of the slime.  About 15 men drifted around the stern end and the No 1 ordered the launching of the whaler. At first the disengaging gear would not slip which lost a few minutes but eventually the whaler was dropped into the water.  The whaler collected all the 14 men who were brought back to Keppel. No 1 came down to the stern where men were throwing grappling hooks and using boat hooks but all the men in the water appeared to be naked or semi naked and there was nothing to "hook onto".  The Skipper sent a message to No 1 to say that he would have to turn the screws because the Foxer gear (the cause of Kites demise in the first place!) was sinking down towards the screws. No 1 asked him to belay that order but the screws started to turn and all the survivors at the stern were sucked under. The bodies of the five men who died were laid out against the torpedo tubes. A three badgeman, A/B Pritchard was given additional rum and he sewed the bodies up in canvas, the last stitch going through the nose in traditional Royal Naval fashion, and the bodies weighted.  A small funeral service was held and the bodies confined to the deep, again, in Royal Naval fashion - all received a true Royal Navy burial at sea.

September 27th 2005: The War Illustrated Vol 10 No 236 published on July 5th 1946 has the following image of HMS Kite. The magazine cost me £15 on eBay to buy which makes this a rather expensive image! The caption reads:  Motto: "Kite Flies To The Stars" and continues "A war built sloop of 1375 tons, HMS Kite was senior officer's ship of the celebrated Second Escort Group, commanded by Captain F J Walker, CB, DSO, RN during part of 1943 and early 1944. In June 1943 the Kite, in company with four other sloops, sank two enemy submarines. During August, the Group, acting in conjunction with aircraft, was responsible for the destruction of seven U Boats in the Bay of Biscay. It was in the course of these actions that Captain Walker made to the ships under his command the time honoured signal "General Chase" (see illus in page 263 vol 7). Two more enemy submarines were sunk by the Kite and her consorts off the Azores in December; and on March 19 1944, it was announced that in operations covering twenty days the Second Escort Group had accounted for six U Boats in the Atlantic, 300 miles south west of Ireland. (See pages 710-711 vol 7) This brought the Group's total bag up to 17. Captain Walker died on July 10th 1944 (see illus in page 233, Vol 8) and his ship did not long survive him. Three months later she was lost while escorting a convoy to North Russia; though it is satisfactory to know that other ships of the escorts she was concerned in the sinking of three more U Boats.

The Captain of the Kite at the time of her sinking, mostly by his ignorance. Informed by Ray Holden as a result of his research.
Lt Comdr ANG Campbell RN

He joined the Royal Navy at the age of 13 on 15th may 1923. DOB 11th nov.1909.
Married Frances G "Poochy" Howell at Chelsea in 1935.
She was born 25th October 1908, died 25.1. 1975.
Campbell was rated Lt.Cdr in 1932 so was experienced but haven't found out yet in WHAT?
Lt Cdr ANG Campbell commanded HMS Severn N57.     30th October to 7th January 1944.
                                                  

HMS Severn was a River Class Ocean going Submarine top speed 22.5 Knots.
Campbell was a Lt. in 1932 and was promoted to Lt. Cdr. in 1940.
22nd June 1941 HMS Severn fired torpedoes at an Italian submarine in the Bay of naples.
26 th June 1941 she torpedoed and sank Italian merchantman Polinnia off Ischia Island.
28th June  1941 she torpedoed and sank Italian merchantman Ugo Bassi off Cape Monte Saqntu.
7th August 1941 she fired torpedoes at a submarine, all torpedoes missed.
 
Campbell left Severn in early 1944 and commanded HMS Kite (U87) from May 1944  To 21st August !944.

He joined Kite in May 1944 and just days after took part in the DDay landings as CO of Kite. Looks to me that he was thrown in at the deep end from submarine to escort ship. He would hardly have know his way around, it takes some time to get established on a ship, I know, I had enough of them. I need to get hold of more of his ship records to see if he favoured subs because in those days it was a voluntary service. Personally I still feel that he was totally inexperienced for an escort which Kite then was. Ray Holden former RN.

 

This Page Continues

A site belonging to someone known as 'pingbosun' describes HMS Kite as this below left. it could not be more wrong!!

http://picasaweb.google.com/pingbosun/FRIGATES#5076848460175240066
 

FICTION: HERE IS CAPTAIN WALKERS FAMOUS HMS KITE, SHE WAS HIT WITH A TORPEDO AND YOU COULD DRIVE A DOUBLE DECKER BUS THROUGH THE HOLE, AND STILL HE BROUGHT HER HOME.  HIS SQUADRON WAS THE LEADING U BOAT KILLERS IN THE ATLANTIC AND RUSSIAN CONVOYS, HE WORKED OUT A NEW SCHEME OF STALKING AND KILLING U BOATS UNFORTUNATELY HE DIED SHORTLY AFTER THE WAR FINISHED WITH A MASSIVE HEART ATTACK BROUGHT ON BY LACK OF SLEEP AND FATIGUE AS HE NEVER SLEPT WHEN HIS SHIP WENT TO SEA, ONLY TAKING TEN MINUTE NAPS. by Idris Welsh.

FACT: Kite was not Captain Walkers; that was Starling. Kite WAS one of Walkers Support Group, not Escort Support Group. She was NOT 'torpedoed but he managed to get her home'. This did not happen to any of Walkers ships. He did lose one, at sea, but it was not Kite. Walker's Sqn  (Squadron??) did not do Russian Convoys; he roamed the Atlantic but mainly Bay of Biscay. He did not die AFTER the war but on 21 July 1944. And Kite was sunk a month later on Russian convoy detachment. It WAS NOT a massive heart attack but a Thrombosis brought on by exhaustion. Where do people get their information from? He never slept! Another lie. HMS Kite was NOT a frigate but a black swan class sloop. Complete fabrication!

http://www.warsailors.com/convoys/jw59.html

 

 http://www.diggerhistory.info/pages-hobart/success-may-not.htm
nothing to do with Kite, but full of sailors memories


 

 

 

Copyright © mike kemble