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HMS EUROPA

Royal Naval Patrol Service, Lowestoft.

 

Whilst I have been doing the website and my research, a visit to the Sparrows Nest was on the top of my to do list for the past 2 years. However been a four and a half hour drive away it was a bit far for a day trip, so after a strategically placed holiday booking I managed to visit. So for all my friends and visitors from around the world who are unable to attend the Sparrows Nest here is a insight.

A Visit to HMS Europa.

The Sparrows Nest is located to the northern side of Lowestoft and is easily located off the A12 coming from the town and also from Gt Yarmouth, you can find further directions and information at the RNPS Website

http://www.rnps.lowestoft.org.uk/

The RNPS Museum is located upstairs in the main building and at present is open on weekdays Monday / Wednesday / Friday from 0900 - 1200am, there is also further displays in the Lowestoft War Memorial Museum which is located adjacent to the RNPS museum and open weekdays from 1330 - 1530. Also located close by in the grounds is the Lowestoft Maritime Museum. Whilst the RNPS and the Lowestoft War Memorial museum are free to enter donations are greatly received. The Lowestoft Maritime Museum charge a nominal fee of 75p entry. We must appreciate that the Museums are all manned by volunteers who give their own time and effort to promote and preserve the fast deminishing history of our ancestors.

When arriving at the Sparrow`s Nest gardens on a beautiful sunny day the serene and tranquillity of the surroundings of the well kept gardens is in far contrast to what must have been a hive of activety during it`s occupation as a Naval Establishment. The old theatre and buildings have long gone, leaving behind a place of reflection, rememberance and gratitude for those that passed through this establishment and gave so much for our freedom today.

 

HMS EUROPA - RNPS HISTORY

After the success of the RNR with the use of trawlers / drifters and sailing smacks that where manned by fishermen or RNR personnel for various roles in the Great War, it would be unevitable that they would be called on again in the second world war. In the Great war a member of a minesweeping / or hydrophone listening vessel such as a trawler or drifter would probably have been Royal Naval Reserve or Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve serving with the RNR ( Trawler Section ). The men who volunteered or enlisted to man these vessels where most often the fisherman of all the major ports and in some instances they stayed with their own vessel as it was requisitioned for war service. The main roles for these vessels would be that of combating the submarine and torpedo boat threat, the mine threat, and convoy escort duties.

In the 1914 - 1918 war there was also a minesweeping force at Lowestoft but in this instance they occupied the pavillion on the south pier and are credited with dealing with over 2,300 mines.

The main mine threat in the Great war was from the Contact Mine which we are all familiar with, this was a far less sophisticated device than of those that would appear in the future. The contact mine would be anchored to the seabed at various depths and needed to make contact before detonation. There were many of these mines which broke their moorings and were washed ashore, or moved with the tide into cleared or unmarked areas, causing many losses.

WW II Contact Mine

SECOND WORLD WAR

Many of the Royal Naval Reservists and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve that had served in the great war would again be enlisted into a new branch of the Navy, the Royal Naval Patrol Service. On 24 Aug 1939 Several Days prior to the official outbrake of WW II which was declared on 03 Sept 1939, a Naval contingent from Chatham arrived at the Sparrows Nest Theatre Lowestoft, and as the performing theatre group of Elsie and Doris Waters where relaxing one morning, the chief petty officers and petty officers which had arrived took on the task of taking over the theatre and grounds. This shore establishement first flew the White Ensign on 29 Aug 1939 and which was then named Pembroke X by it`s commanding officer, Commodore B.H. Piercey ( Commisioned 21 Dec 1939 ). This was to be the temporary home for the muster and mobilization of all the fishermen who had been enlisted in the RNR ( Trawler Section ). After the initial immobilization of men and vessels it was planned to move the depot to another port.

As the trains pulled in to Lowestoft with the many men who had been called to arms, others left the town with the women and children aboard, as Lowestoft became a restricted naval area and had a total of 5 bases. Been the furthest port east and closest to the enemy, would make Lowestoft a prime target for the German Navy and Luffwaffe and some 25,000 civilians were evacuated.

BASE
EMPLOYMENT
HMS PEMBROKE X / HMS EUROPA
HEADQUARTERS OF RNPS
HMS MARTELLO
LOCAL MINESWEEPING
HMS MANTIS
COASTAL FORCES - MOTOR GUN / TORPEDO BOATS
HMS MINOS
HARBOUR DEFENCE
HMS MYLODEN
LANDING CRAFT TRAINING FOR RMC

After the Initial immobilization in Lowestoft the decision to move the depot to Shrewsbury was taken, after the fall of France and Belgium it was deemed that the depot at lowestoft was too vunerable. But in a defiant jesture the commanding officer Commodore B.H. Piercey pursuaded the admiralty to keep the Lowestoft Depot. On the 15/2/40, Pembroke X name changed and came under HMS Romola, the name was changed again for the sole purpose of RNPS personnel to HMS Europa on 14/3/40. The depot would remain as the central depot of the RNPS for the next six years been decomissioned in June 1946.

After the vessel losses of the Great War a new building programme had taken place, the fishing vessels that where now been requisitioned where bigger modern vessels and they where hurriedly moved to shipyards throughout the country for conversion to various roles. A mass building programme would also soon be started, vessels of all classes where been built and would be manned by the personnel of the RNPS. Whilst the fishermen where the prime choice for the manning of many of these vessels, men where enlisted from all walks of life and by 1945 some three-quarters of the navy's manpower comprised of reservists - approximately 500,000 men and women.

The first intake to arrive at Pembroke x arrived on the 26 Aug 1939 and by the following day the first draft had received their orders and where mobilised to various vessels and ports throughout the country, this was the beginning of a central depot which would eventually have over 70,000 personell pass through, it would have it`s own training rescources in or around the sparrows nest. Firstly the intakes of recruits was small with numbers of around 2,000 - 3000, and a average of approximately 7,000 would be either stationed at Sparrows Nest, training , or awaiting deployment, this peaked in 1944 with approximately 57,000. As with the men the initially deployment of vessels to the RNPS was in the region of 200 - 300 trawlers, drifters, and other craft, by the end of the war 6,000 vessels such as the Trawlers, Drifters, Paddle Steamers, Corvettes, Motor Minesweepers ( MMS), BYMS, Motor Launches, Yachts and various other requisitioned vessels would see service with the RNPS in all theatres from the Arctic to the Far East, our own shores to those of America, these vessels would be paramount in almost all major operations from the expeditionary forces which went to Norway and Normandy to the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Whilst there was no doubt that the men of the RNPS and especially the fishermen were first class mariners, their conformation to naval regulations was at times a little lack lustre, whilst in port the spit and polish regime would be adopted where necessary, but at sea a more relaxed environment was persued. It was with this unfailing disregard of naval discipline that the small ships of the RNPS would aquire the nickname of Harry Tate`s Navy ( named after a renowned comedian of the time ), Churchill`s Pirate`s was also another popular name of description for the men of the RNPS. At first whilst the career men of the navy and the big ships had a comical view of the little ships and their crews, a unsurpassed admiration for their exploits, courage and vigour would emerge as the war continued.

A typical requisitioned trawler which would normally carry a 6 pounder gun on the forecastle and any other armament it was lucky enough to procure.

RNPS LOSSES 1939 - 1945

Of the 6,000 vessels which served with the RNPS over 500 would be lost.

2,385 Brave men perished aboard RNPS vessels.

As we can see by the figures of the vessels lost above, no other branch of the navy would see such vessel losses. With the advances in warfare since the great war the roles carried out by the RNPS where fraught with ever increasing dangers.

Minesweeping : It was the job of the RNPS minesweepers to keep the ports, harbours, estuaries and war channel clear of mines, the war channel stretched around the full length of the British Isles and was approximately a mile wide. This channel was swept and marked by buoys daily, an endless task. In areas of high activety such as the Humber, Tyne, and Bristol Channel mines that had taken days to clear, could be laid instantly in a few hours during the dead of night by submarines, aircraft, or E boat. Such was the advancing nature of mine warfare that there was a constant battle to combat the threat, unlike the great war were we would only see the use of the contact mine, minesweepers now had to contend with the magnetic mine and later the acoustic and acoustic- magnetic mine. Many vessels would be lost in most instances before an effective means to combat the new threat could be found and tried. Whilst clearing a minefield off the coast it was most likely that you would come under attack from an enemy aircraft, aware of the sweepers meager short range armament many sweepers became easy pickings for the Luffwaffe. That said there are many instances recorded of these gallant vessels and men giving as good if not better than they received as they claimed many aircraft, submarine and E boat vicitms. It is due to the efforts of these sweepers that the battleships, carriers and big guns of the navy where able to leave their bases and ports around the world.

Anti - Submarine / Escort : Fitted with a asdic sonar device these trawlers escorted the merchant convoys around the world, their task was to keep the supplies of food and armament carried by the merchant vessels reaching its desired destination. With little armament and only depth charges these small ships took on and sunk or captured several enemy submarines. As with the minesweepers these vessels had many confrontations with the Luffwaffe and in some cases after tremendous feats of gallantry came out victors. It was remarkable that with the many vessels lost during the ill fated PQ17 Convoy from Iceland to Russia in Arctic waters all escort trawlers where amongst the survivors.

Other Tasks: Vessels of the RNPS had many tasks and came in various guises, they where motor gunboats, motor torpedo boats, boom defence, dan layers, cable layers, boarding vessel, fuel carriers, rescue ships and also the Q ships. Each vessel and crew carrying out their tasks and been an integral piece of the might of the British Navy. A small but effective force that would keep the coastline of Britain protected, shipping lanes open and supplies moving. Without their efforts and successes of which we owe so much, the outcome could have been far more sombre.

 

Whilst walking around the gardens it was a pleasure to see, meet and speak with both the younger and older generations, my only constraint was the time I was able to stay at the gardens and museum .

The Oval which would have seen many a parade and muster.