Dedicated to the memory of HMS HURWORTH 1939-1943

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The 'Hunts' were conceived and designed just before the outbreak of WW2, and were a whole new breed of warship. Before the 'Hunts', there were Escort Vessels and there were Destroyers. After the 'Hunts' there were no more Escort Destroyers. (And now there is virtually no Navy).

WW1 was the 'War to end all Wars', and Britain in particular, enthusiastically grasped the hope that war had somehow been abolished. This led to fifteen years of neglect of our Armed Forces. In the Navy, hundreds of ships and thousands of men were dispensed with, and tactical thinking languished.

Enter Hitler. By the mid-30s, it was clear that war was very much on his agenda, and too late, the Royal Navy began to be expanded, with a view to a re-run of WW1; but of course not enough money was made available, and there was no clear tactical view of the task ahead, other than the blockade of Germany, battle fleets fighting each other, (even though Germany did not possess one), and the security of our supply convoys to and from the US and the Empire.

But there were neither enough Destroyers to attend the Battle Fleet, or Escorts to keep up with the new breed of fast merchantmen introduced since WW1. Destroyers were getting larger and faster; originally little more than torpedo boats, by the late thirties they were almost the size of WW1 Cruisers, and plainly too heavily armed, too fast (and too expensive at around £700,000 each) to be tied up on humble convoy escort duties. Existing older Escort Vessels were little better engineered and equipped than the merchantmen they had escorted. An Escort, by definition, stayed with the convoy it was protecting, plodding along at the same snail's pace as its charges.

The "Black Swan' class, introduced in 1939, was a 'Rolls-Royce' answer to the provision of modern Escorts. Costing around £470,000 each; they had everything required except speed; they were still designed to keep station on the convoy, not to chase around rounding up stragglers or investigating and attacking contacts some distance ahead or astern. Their broad, weatherly hulls were not built for speed, but they did have room for plenty of fuel, and their twin-shaft geared turbine engines were economical, but only developed 3600 HP, giving a speed of around 19 knots.


While the decision on what sort of ships were required by the Navy was the responsibility of the Admiralty, design and construction was that of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, a part of the Civil Service. The Admiralty was the customer, ordering the ships, and RCNC worked with them to produce the design and oversee their construction, usually by private contractors.

It was plain that either a scaled-down Destroyer, or a faster version of the Escort Vessel would be required in a future conflict, not only to carry out fast escort duties, but also to give back-up to the large Destroyers, which by now were being called Fleet Destroyers, because their duties were mainly in and around the Fleet. Even if Fleet Destroyers were the answer, by 1938 British industrial production was so ineffective that it would have taken some 39 months to design and produce a Fleet Destroyer, whilst it was envisaged that a faster escort could be produced in 30 months, and at a cost of between £3-400,000.

So there was plainly no contest, and in the late summer of 1938, the Director of Naval Construction, (DNC), Sir Stanley Goodall, was instructed to prepare sketch designs for a proposed type of fast escort vessel, with all the offensive capability of a 'Black Swan', but with 19,000 HP turbines giving a speed of 25 knots, enabling them to carry out many, if not all, Fleet operations. Basically a 'Black Swan' in a destroyer hull.

Officially, the 'Hunts' were designed to;

Supplement existing Escort Vessels on A/S and A/A duties.
Provide greater numbers of vessels for A/S and A/A escort for fast transports and detached units of the Fleet.
For use at home and abroad.
Designed for wartime requirements, but could be used for training in peacetime.

As a rule of thumb, it took around six months to design a small or medium sized warship in those days, and they were usually based on existing designs, modified as the result of operational experience. Nobody had ever designed a 'Fast Escort Vessel' before. Notwithstanding, the first 'Hunts' were designed, re-designed, approved and ordered off the drawing board in just 3 months. Corners were invariably cut, and some historians have been unkind to them in consequence. Certainly their sea-keeping qualities (of which more later,) were legendary, but none were lost to the elements, only the enemy.

Two proposed designs, from two different Constructors (Designers) were prepared, and were discussed on 29 August 1938 by Admiral Andrew Cunningham (C-in-C Mediterranean), a noted WW1 destroyer captain, Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson (Third Sea Lord & Controller of the Navy) and Sir Stanley Goodall (DNC). They decided that the design produced by the less experienced Constructor fitted the bill, but DNC then gave the design to the more experienced Constructor to develop.

So it was that the new vessels were to be 265' long and 28' broad ('Black Swans' were 283' x 38' and the new 'J' class Fleet destroyers 339' x 36'), with a speed of nearly 30 knots. Armament was to be six 4" HA/LA guns in three twin mountings, (two in the first design), and the torpedo tubes of the first design also dispensed with. Furthermore, they were to be fitted with ASDIC submarine detection, depth charges, and stabilizers. Truly a quart in a pint pot!

This is probably where the stability problems began. An inexperienced designer had created a completely new type of ship, and a different designer introduced major design features, all in a much smaller hull than anybody had previously worked on, (and therefore much more space and weight-critical). This was bound to be a major challenge, not least for DNC. Factor in the armament changes, with gun mountings increased by 50%, and torpedoes dispensed with, (the significance of this was that torpedoes were carried at deck level, and the only place for another gun mounting was some 10'-12' above deck level on the after deckhouse); if anybody has ever made or sailed a model, let alone the real thing, bells should have been ringing about STABILITY.

On 13 October, it was decided not only to develop and cost the torpedo-carrying version, but also to lengthen the hull of the accepted design by 7' to improve living space and trim, although the Admirals wanted 20'. More design details, not overly affecting the structure, were added and agreed by the First Sea Lord, Sir Roger Backhouse on 22 October, and in November the complicated mathematics of the Metacentric Height, based around the centre of gravity and therefore fundamental to the stability of a design was calculated, wrongly as it turns out, and in hindsight, perhaps not a surprise.

On 31 November 1938, the Board of the Admiralty gave approval to the design, described as 'Fast Escort Vessels', with a hull length of 278' Overall, 272' Waterline, and 264' between perpendiculars. They were to be 28' 3" broad, and their draught, that is the minimum depth of water required to float, was 7' 11". Displacement was calculated at 890 tons standard, and 1185 tons deep load -fuelled, crewed and ready to go. They were to be armed with three twin 4" guns, two machine guns and two Depth Charge throwers. The crew was to be 142 or 145 Officers and men, and in their small hulls, they were to carry enough oil fuel for 2500 nautical miles (A Statute mile is 5280', and a Nautical mile is 6080') at 15 knots, although their 19,000 SHP engines were capable of 29 knots.

Tenders were invited for the first ten units on 20 December 1938, and were to be received back at the Admiralty on 20 January 1939. Plainly, design work was still going on, because on 31 January, discussions with the builders were taking place over something as fundamental as whether the ships should be built of mild or galvanised steel, and on 8 February, the building drawings were sent simultaneously to the Board of the Admiralty and the builders, and neither could agree on the weight of the hull. Little surprise therefore, that DNC decided on an increase of 6" in beam (width), and then asked for a further 3", in an attempt to improve stability. On 15 February, the builders were informed that the beam was to be increased by 9" to 29'. On 14 March 1939, Sir Dudley Pound, the First Sea Lord, directed that in order to speed production, the second batch of ten were to be repeats of the first ten; which were were ordered, straight off the drawing board, on 21 March 1939, and the second ten were ordered on 11 April. The first units were laid down by the builders on 8 June 1939, being the first date that vessels of this type could be commenced because of Treaty obligations -War imminent and still playing by the rules! So around £860,000 of taxpayers' money had been committed to produce 20 ships straight off the drawing board, which DNC had reason to think were unstable. How did we win the War?


They were named after Fox Hunts, and the first of the class, ATHERSTONE, nearing completion, was inclined at Birkenhead on 7 February 1940. Inclination is when a vessel is deliberately tilted, (in a controlled manner in a closed dock) to make sure that the calculations of the designer, or changes made whilst in the hands of the dockyard, like weight, centre of gravity, are still correct, and the ship is safe. The story is that during inclining, she kept going over, and ended up jammed against Cammell Laird's Dock wall. Probably not, but DNCs diary says "....ATHERSTONE's inclining results. GM 1 foot less than calculated, bad error in calculation, shall have to do something drastic". You bet. (GM is the Metacentric Height, which must be well above the Centre of Gravity to ensure safety; (KM=KB+BM if you really want to know)). It turned out that the distance between the upper deck and the keel had been taken at 7' instead of 17', and this was not noticed, apparently, because the ship was so much smaller than previous designs. Also, ATHERSTONE turned out to be 60-70 tons heavier than estimated. Something had to be done, and quickly.

It was. Further calculations showed that at least 1200 tons/ft would have to be recovered, and so the Type 1 Hunts, as they became known, had the upper gun turret removed, the after superstructure and bridge redesigned, the funnel reduced in height, and 52 tons of permanent ballast added to the keel. That sorted it, and ATHERSTONE joined the Fleet on 23 March 1940, but the Type 1s, all 23 of them, were poorer fighting vessels as a result.

Despite all this, the 'Hunts' as a class were very successful. Once the stability problem had been solved, by increasing the beam even further, to 31'6", by redesigning the bridge and setting it further aft, and fitting a lowered funnel with special deflector plates to reduce the effect of exhaust gases on bridge personnel, more were ordered, although they kept a reputation for rolling, even in harbour. They were now armed with the designed three twin 4" turrets, and two 20mm Oerlikon guns replacing the machine guns either side of the bridge, and quadruple pompom AA guns fitted abaft the funnel. These were the Type 2s, and the first 17 were ordered on 4 September 1939, along with 3 more Type 1s, and a further 16 Type 2s on 20 December 1939.

The 'Hunt'2 SLAZAK/BEDALE at Malta. Built as BEDALE, she was transferred to the Poles in April 1942 before completion, and named SLAZAK. She was returned to the RN as BEDALE in July 1946. Photo taken in Malta between August 1943 and April 1944 when she returned to Home Waters for D-Day. Unusually, she seems to be in St Julians Bay rather than Sliema. Perhaps the Creek was full.

Meanwhile, the question of the torpedo-equipped 'Hunt' was still under investigation, and when the 1940 War Emergency Building Programme was being discussed in the spring of 1940, it was clear that because of losses, 'Hunts' would be undertaking more duties formerly carried out by Fleet Destroyers. Accordingly, in early May 1940, the 'Hunt' Type 3 was approved, slightly heavier and faster, and with one twin 4" gun mounting suppressed and replaced by a twin 21" torpedo mounting. A taller, American-style funnel was fitted, and the mast lost its jaunty rake in order to carry the Warning and Fire Control radar required. Thirty were ordered in stages between 4 July and 23 August 1940, and all had joined the Fleet by June 1942.


Finally, two Type 4s were produced, with a view to post-war requirements. BRECON and BRISSENDEN were the result of intense lobbying of the Admiralty by their builders, Thornycroft of Southampton, (now Vosper-Thornycroft). BRECON was commissioned on 18 February 1942, and BRISSENDEN on 12 February 1943. While successful, the design was not proceeded with.


Because of their perceived lack of endurance (remember they were never designed to go to America and back..), the 'Hunts' were not used on deep-ocean duties, although several, including LAMERTON, LEDBURY and BLANKNEY did take the place of Fleet destroyers on Arctic convoys, and LAUDERDALE was sent over to Canada to assess whether they would be suitable as North Atlantic escorts. The Type 1s all started in Home waters, escorting East Coast convoys between the Thames and the Forth, and round to Londonderry, and the rest found themselves in the Mediterranean. As the war progressed, the Type 1s did time in the Mediterranean, before many returned to Home waters to support the D Day landings.

To sum them up, we turn to Captain TD Manning's assessment of them in his excellent book "The British Destroyer".
"...their function was escorting, not fleet work, but they were tough little ships, and very good for their size.
"...their endurance was limited and they had to refuel at sea too often, especially if they used high speeds which were often necessary on escort duty. They were not really up to fleet screening on account of their relatively low speed and small size, which cut them down in a seaway so it was hard to keep up without damage, but they were magnificent A/S ships, manoeuvrable, fast and with quick acceleration".

It was also said a 'Hunt' would pitch and roll on a wet flannel.

An official view of the 'Hunts' was expressed in 1942 when Churchill, clearly impressed with them, asked whether we should turn out nothing but 'Hunts' in the future. The Admiralty replied

"...We understand the need for a large number of escort vessels and have concentrated on the production of corvettes, which are the most economical and easily produced type. These corvettes have the necessary endurance for crossing the Atlantic, which the 'Hunts' do not.
"...The future needs of the navy indicate a large carrier force, augmented by battleships, cruisers and destroyers with a speed comparable with the heavy units, long endurance and excellent seaworthiness. The 'Hunts' have a maximum speed of 26 knots, are of limited endurance, and their size limits their ability to make headway in bad weather.
"...The Naval Staff is strongly opposed to the main units being hobbled by the inferior performance of the accompanying destroyers."

Which was a bit harsh.

Last update; 29 October 2009 
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