HMS Grafton (H89) This G-Class Fleet Destroyer HMS Grafton was ordered from John Thornycroft at Woolston, Southampton, on 5th March 1934. The ship was laid down on 30th August 1934 at Yard No. 1126 and launched on 18th September 1935. She was the seventh Royal Navy ship to carry the name, first introduced in 1679. Her Captain, Commander Cecil Edmund Charles Robinson, was killed when Grafton was sunk during Operation Dynamo, being torpedoed by the German U-Boat U-62. The following account was therefore compiled, on 3rd June 1940 by Lieutenant H.C.J. McRea: I much regret to inform you of the circumstances attending the loss, by enemy action, of HMS Grafton, Commander C.E.C. Robinson in command, at 0250 on 29th May 1940, and I have the honour to report the ship’s proceedings as follows. At about 1100 on Tuesday 28th May, HMS Grafton arrived Dover, from Dunkirk with about 280 troops on board. Troops were disembarked at the admiralty pier and at 1145 the ship slipped and prepared to secure to No.6 Buoy in the Outer Harbour. Before the ship was secured, orders were received from Vice-Admiral Dover to proceed to Dunkirk by the Northern Route. At 1310 approximately HMS Grafton passed through the Eastern Entrance and proceeded at 30 knots. No incidents developed during the passage and no enemy aircraft or surface craft were sighted and HMS Grafton anchored close to the beach off Bray at 1445 on Tuesday 28th May. Embarkation of troops was immediately commenced, using ship’s whalers, and later power boats borrowed from HMS Calcutta. Embarkation proceeded slowly at first owing to the lack of power boats. Troops were stowed as low as possible in the ship, and all Mess Decks, engine and boiler rooms were filled. The more seriously wounded were placed in E.R.A’s mess and the starboard side of the fore mess deck. By 2100, 580 men had been embarked and orders were given that all ship’s boats should transport troops to the schoots lying closer into the beach, and that the schoots should unload to the destroyer’s when they were full. During this period about 50 cases of corned beef and 50 cases of biscuits were landed for the troops on the beach. At about 2310 a schoot under command of Lieutenant D McBarnet (Doggersbank) came alongside the starboard side and reported she had about 360 troops on board. These were embarked, but I consider the number was nearer 280. The schoot then took on fresh water, and at the request of the Commanding Officer, 4 seamen from HMS Grafton were transferred to the schoot to reinforce their small ship’s company. At 0015 Wednesday 29th May, Grafton weighed and proceeded. At this time a considerable amount of shipping was under way proceeding to and from Dunkirk. Navigation lights in all ships were switched on, which apparently attracted the attention of enemy aircraft, as several bombs were heard to fall in the vicinity, and aircraft were heard to cross the line of shipping in a direction N.W. to S.E. One bomb appeared to strike a small vessel about two cables astern of Grafton. At about 0115 I went down to the charthouse where I slept until called at 0230 through the voice pipes by Lieutenant L.E. Blackmore who informed me that a ship had been torpedoed. Commander Robinson was on the bridge. He ordered the ship to be stopped and both whalers lowered. I then saw close on the starboard bow, the bows of a ship standing out of the water. There appeared to be a number of men clinging to the bows and also judging by the shouts for help, men in the water as well. I observed a buoy which I was informed was the Kwint Buoy broad on the starboard bow. While I was superintending the lowering of the whalers a signal was made to a darkened ship, which I afterwards learned was HMS Lydd, asking for information. She replied that she thought HMS Wakeful had been torpedoed by a submarine. After Grafton’s boats had been in the water about ten minutes, the Captain observed a small darkened vessel on the port quarter at about three cables. Believing this to be a drifter he signalled it to close and pick up survivors. I did not observe this ship closing, as my attention was concentrated on the whalers in the water. Within a few seconds, one of the lookouts on the port side of the bridge reported “Torpedo Port Side”. This was followed almost immediately by a violent explosion. A second explosion which seemed of the same intensity followed a few seconds later. I rushed to the after end of the bridge to try and find out what damage had been done. I sent a messenger down to the Engineer Officer to make a report to the bridge as to the extent of the damage, and tried to get as many seamen as possible to keep the soldiers quiet and stationary. After about five minutes I went back to the compass platform to report to the Captain. I found that the compass platform had been wrecked. The whole of the fore screen had been blown in, and the Asdic Control and both binnacles smashed. The sides of the bridge were left standing. The bodies of Commander C.E.C. Robinson and Lieutenant H.C.C. Tanner and a Signalman (D/SSX 16554 Signalman Robert Todd), were buried under the wreckage and a leading Signalman (D/JX 136350 Leading Signalman Dermot Coghlan) had been blown onto B Gun Deck. All four must have been killed instantaneously. The damage appeared to have originated at the port foremost corner of the bridge and been carried diagonally to the starboard after corner. It would appear to have no relation to the damage caused by the torpedo, and in my opinion would appear to have been caused by some form of grenade or stick bomb. There was only superficial damage in the wheel house, caused by the explosion overhead. Meanwhile HMS Lydd appeared to be trying to come alongside our starboard quarter, but after hitting our starboard side she sheared off and appeared to ram a vessel on the port quarter. Grafton opened fire with multiple machine guns when Lydd was clear as we were under the impression she had rammed the MTB. Later the target was shifted to another vessel further away on the port quarter which was engaged by multiple machine gun and Lewis gun fire. Lieutenant Blackmore and Chief Petty Officer Chappell who manned one of the Lewis guns later reported to me that this vessel had blown up, with a bright flash. Meanwhile finding it impossible to get hold of the Engineer Officer, due to the crush of soldiers and realising the ship was not sinking rapidly, I went down to inspect the damage. It was impossible to get clear of the bridge until the soldiers had been quietened down. With the assistance of Lieutenant Blackmore, I was able to do this and pass the word for the Engineer Officer. He reported that the stern of the ship from the after magazine bulkhead, aft, had been blown off, and that the upper deck abaft the after tubes had been buckled across its entire width as though the ships back had been broken there. The ship was still on an even keel though down on the stern. The foremost group of torpedoes were fired to lighten the ship, but the after tubes were damaged and could not be fired. No ships at all were in sight, so all Carley floats, life rafts, and all wooden fittings were made ready for use. Both whalers were manned and lying off the ship awaiting orders. The behaviour of the soldiers was now all that could be desired, and a tribute must be paid to their coolness and discipline. All compartments below decks had been evacuated, and auxiliary steam was being maintained. Wind and sea were freshening from N.W., and the ship started to roll rather slowly and unsteadily. About 0335 two merchant ships were observed approaching from the direction of Dunkirk. A signal was made asking them to take off the soldiers. They stopped about a mile on our port beam and lowered boats. A further signal was made to the leading ship to come alongside. At this moment a MTB was reported on the starboard bow. She was approaching at high speed from green 45 at a range of about 4,000 yards. Fire was opened with the foremost group of 4.7” guns and the starboard multiple machine gun was manned. The range was soon found and at about 1,500 yards the MTB altered away quickly and was not seen again. It is not known whether she fired a torpedo. At about 0400 LNER steamer Malines came alongside our starboard side and I gave orders for the troops to transfer to her. This was carried on mainly over the forecastle and by jumping ladders from aft. The troops under the charge of sailors were for the most part orderly. The Master of SS Malines (Captain G Mallory) handled his ship with extreme skill, and it is mainly due to him that this embarkation was carried out in an expeditious manner. It was found impossible to transfer the seriously wounded owing to the height of Malines deck above our own, and to the now heavy rolling. This decided me to get the Malines clear as soon as possible, as Grafton was being badly battered and had taken up a list to starboard. I accordingly transferred such officers and men of my ship’s company I could spare. Lieutenant L.E. Blackmore and Lieutenant E Hoskin volunteered at once to stay on board, and Surgeon Lieutenant Shields RNVR refused to leave his wounded men. All SP’s on the bridge were thrown overboard in a weighted bag, also all QZ charts, Fleet charts and table of lettered positions. These were all observed to sink. It was not possible to get into the Captain’s after cabin, which apart from being completely wrecked was now making water. Five detroyers were seen approaching from the direction of Dover, and on a signal being made to the leading ship, Ivanhoe was detached and closed Grafton. Grafton was preparing to “tow for’ard” and Ivanhoe came alongside to take off the wounded. These were all safely transferred. The ship was now listing more heavily and the sea was lapping over the after end. After consultation with Commander P.H. Hadow, RN, the Captain of Ivanhoe, I decided that she would not float much longer. I therefore gave the order to abandon ship. While making a final round of the ship she began to settle more quickly. After all hands had abandoned ship, Ivanhoe fired three shells into Grafton from a range of about 500 yards and then proceeded to Dunkirk. The conduct of the officers and ships company was exemplary. The difficult task of keeping some 850 soldiers under control was efficiently carried out, and at the same time guns and boats were manned. Lieutenant L.E. Blackmore deserves special mention. He carried out the duties of 1st Lieutenant in an efficient and cheerful manner. Lieutenant E Hoskin took charge of the evacuation of Engine and Boiler Rooms, and maintained steam for auxiliary purposes, and was of great assistance in assessing damage and with constructive suggestions to keep the ship afloat. Surgeon Lieuteant Shield, RNVR worked indefatigably among the many wounded and with complete disregard for his own safety visited damaged compartments in the stern, before he could have possibly have known that the ship would not sink at once. He was responsible for the rescue of at least one wounded army officer from the Ward Room Lobby. A total of fifteen crew members are listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that died on the 29th May 1940 serving on board HMS Grafton including the ship’s Captain. All are remembered on the Royal Navy Memorial at Portsmouth. Lest We Forget. Report from ADM files at the National Archives and transcribed from Martin Mace's excellent book The Royal Navy at Dunkirk with a couple of minor additions by yours truly.