Thursday, 12 April 2012

THE SINKING OF HMS THANET


Since today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, it's worth reminding ourselves that the infamous 'unsinkable' White Star Liner wasn't the only ship in history with a story to tell. In fact, there was once a ship called the HMS Thanet that's worthy of remembrance, for obvious reasons, given its namesake.

HMS Thanet was an S-class destroyer built in 1919. At the request of the Mayor of Margate, it ended up sporting a model of the North Foreland Lighthouse as its crest. The ship was purchased by the people of Thanet as part of the Government's Adopt a Warship week (presumably during the Second World War) and I even discovered this video on British Path√© of an old newsreel in which naval officers representing HMS Thanet were presented with a silver plate in Ramsgate. The ship's motto was in hoc signio (''By this sign you will conquer').

So what happened to the HMS Thanet? Well, she sunk. During World War II, the ship was hit in the engine room with a torpedo by a Japanese warship and sank on 27 January 1942. There are some websites which suggest some of HMS Thanet's crew did survive. According to Bob Hackett and Sander Kingsepp's website, the Japanese warship Shirayuki picked 31 survivors from HMS Thanet out of the water. They were never seen again.

According to the National Ex-Services Association website, the only record of one of these survivors is Sub Lt R H Danger who remained aboard the Shirayuki, and was later taken to Indochina held as a Prisoner of War. It therefore looks likely that most of the other HMS Thanet survivors held aboard the Shirayuki were thrown in the same POW camp, but research with a local Japanese resident appears to suggest that they were executed. It looks like the HMS Thanet survivors picked up by the Shirayuki didn't 'survive' for long enough to tell the tale.

However, there were other HMS Thanet crewmembers who reportedly survived. There are some interesting stories of HMS Thanet crewmembers "making their way to the shore line in boats, Carley rafts, and anything which would float." Reportedly, Sgt. Charles Macdonald "came across a number of bedraggled sailors from [HMS] Thanet, and together they made their way through the jungle to Singapore."

A downed Hurricane pilot called Sgt. John Fleming "came across a dozen or more men of the [HMS] Thanet two or three severely injured" and discovered a naval whaler which they used to sail for Singapore. The website states that a signal was received suggesting that a total of 65 of HMS Thanet's crew had managed to find their way to Singapore but that "there is no evidence that any of these men survived to the end of the war." I'm not sure of the veracity of these stories, but it makes for interesting reading.

So, there you go. Once upon a time, the people of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs had a ship to call its own. I'm half-expecting some of you to make comments about Thanet being like a sinking ship in itself, not to mention pointing out the irony that our ship sank not long after a great deal of public money was spent buying it. But since this year is the 70th anniversary of the HMS Thanet's sinking, I think we should forget the hubbub about the Titanic and remind ourselves of a time when Thanet once ruled the waves. Rule Britannia, anyone?!

9 comments:

  1. Very good Luke.. also see http://birchington.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=hms+thanet

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  2. Good article Luke, I wonder if there are plans afoot for a new HMS Thanet?,..no sniggering at the back.

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  3. Thank you, Simon, I hadn't seen your original post on this. Did you yourself dive down to see the wreck? Is that what the Flickr photo was of? If it was, it doesn't seem to be available now.

    I've been aware of HMS Thanet for some time but this is the first time I did some reading up about it, mainly online. As a result of this post I've now discovered that Margate Museum holds some more information about the ship and I've received a message from John Williams, Chairman of Margate Historical Society, giving me lots of info which I shope to share on here once I get his permission. Fascinating stuff.

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  4. During the Malayan emergency and again in the 60's during confrontation with Indonesia, British troops did patrols in remote jungle areas and there were a number of finds of remains of combatants from WWII. I recall a Kittyhawk complete with pilot's remains, a Zero also with pilot still in the cockpit and the remains of a soldier in a cave in a primary forest area, a skeleton, in tatty KD drill rags complete with dog tags.

    There must have been many who went missing in those jungles, whose stories have never been told, just 'Missing, presumed dead.'

    Even as late as the mid 60's maps of the Malaysian interior were often just blank in places.

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  5. charles westbrook15 June 2012 at 17:50

    I thought your article well written. As late as 2009 there was one surviving crew member living in England and there are the children of quite a few crew members with additional information you appear unaware of. One source suggests that the 31 plus or minus captured crew members were all turned over the ija and executed, and further that these men were after the war interned in a military cemetery in graves marked as unknowns. There is a lot that is still unknown about HMS Thanet and a number of people that are very curious about the rest of her story .....please keep up the good work.

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  6. Neil Morrison Bruce21 July 2012 at 10:35

    I am the brother of a crew member, Bill Johnston of Slamannan near Falkirk, Scotland.
    He was as your report says, one of the few who survived the sinking of the ship. You are correct that they swam ashore and made their way in the jungle until picked up by an Australian ship, "Vampire". My recollection of my brother's story was that only 16 were picked up by this ship and were returned to UK.
    I hope this helps to fill in another part of the picture.

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  7. Hi My father was a surviver - made it back to Singapore after makeing their way back by jungle. My fater did talk abut it and had also been interviewed for a local paper about it - if i can dig it out I will let you somehow semnd it to you
    Douglas Trevett

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  8. My uncle Robert Glyde was on this ship does anyone know if there is a list of people who died when hms thanett sank

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  9. My Dad, Stanley Crawford was one of the survivors of the Thanet. He emigrated to Australia and served many more years as a Petty Officer in the Australian navy, naval dockyard policeman and prawn trawlerman.He passed away in 2000 at the age of 79.
    He never spoke of his wartime experiences, so I have little to add.

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