- A.N. Other
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2
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- June 2021 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By John Smith
One would have thought that the Australian Fleet would have been proud to have a warship named BRADMAN to honour our most famous cricketer, Sir Donald Bradman. But no, there has never been an HMAS Bradman. However, perhaps surprisingly, there was an HMS Bradman. So why did the English name a warship after the nemesis of their cricketers? To find the answer we must visit the fishing town of Grimsby, situated on the North Sea.
Grimsby has an Australian connection being not far from where James Cook grew up and also where he started his sea going career in North Sea colliers. Later Grimsby became one of the busiest fishing ports in England. One of the fishing companies in the 1930s was a family business called Crampins and the family, like many Yorkshire folk, were keen cricket fans. There is an old saying ‘When Yorkshire plays well – England plays well’ so it is not surprising that a fleet of fishing trawlers, built in Yorkshire, should be named after leading cricketers.
In the late 1930s Crampins began a building program to modernise their fleet of steam trawlers. This became known as ‘The Cricketer Fleet’ with each ship being named after a cricketer who had played for England or Australia in an Ashes series. Fishermen and cricketers have one thing in common, they are both superstitious. In particular, trawlermen insist that seven is their lucky number and so each of the vessels was named after players with seven letters in their surnames, and this explains the exclusion of such greats as Sir Leonard Hutton. Thus the new trawlers were: Larwood (England), Hammond (England), Jardine (England), Gregory (Australia), and of course, Bradman (Australia). As a term of cricketing endearment it has been said that an Englishman’s ideal of an Australian is a sunburnt Yorkshireman.
The trawler Bradman of 452 tons was built by Cochrane & Sons on the River Ouse at Selby in Yorkshire. Selby, while some distance from the sea, was once the home of a large shipbuilding industry. Bradman was coal-fired with a triple expansion steam engine and her streamlined hull gave a very respectable top speed of 14 knots. She was launched on 31 October 1936 and less than three years later, on 26 August 1939, requisitioned by the Admiralty and commissioned in October of that year as HMS Bradman.
When war broke out in 1939 the Admiralty requisitioned some 400 trawlers and drifters for what was known as the Royal Navy Patrol Service, their crews being enlisted into the RNR. The trawlers were modified, having guns fitted and limited anti-submarine equipment installed. Bradman was strengthened and fitted with a single 4-inch gun forward and down aft 2 x 0.303 Lewis guns. Depth charge throwers were fitted together with ammunition storage and an ASDIC installed. Additional accommodation was provided for the now increased crew of 30 men.
As fishermen were none too keen on naval discipline some RN and RNR officers and rating were transferred to these vessels and communications numbers came from civilian employment. When the ‘Cricketers’ were requisitioned in August 1939 Bradman gained an experienced fisherman, Jack Mawer as Skipper (later LCDR J. Mawer MID RNR) and Lieutenant Arthur Norman Blundell RNR in command (later LCDR A. N. Blundell RD RNR). The new CO had joined the RNR in 1930 so it is assumed he was a professional seafarer. Before joining Bradman LEUT Blundell had commanded a Dutch coaster in rescuing 126 men from Dunkirk and would later go on to command another three RN ships before retiring from naval service in 1949.
HMS Bradman’s first skirmish with the enemy came in November 1939 when she was attacked by aircraft in the North Sea, but without damage. On New Year’s Day, 01 January 1940, when off Lowestoft Bradman suffered the indignity of being rammed by the sloop HMS Hastings, possibly through no fault attributed to the armed trawler as Hastings seemed rather fond of collisions at this time in her career. Bradman was obliged to enter dock for repairs. Back at sea on 03 February she was again attacked by enemy aircraft but with little damage.
On 20 April 1940, Bradman joined with her sisters of the 22nd Anti-Submarine Strike Force in the Shetland Isles and sailed in support of the ill-fated attempt to stop the German invasion of Norway. Bradman and Hammond were involved in ferrying ashore troops and stores from the larger ships anchored in the fjords. Bombing and strafing continued for three days but on ANZAC Day, 25 April, their luck ran out and both Bradman and Hammond were sunk, but fortunately with no loss of life. Regrettably, all five of the ‘Cricketers’ were lost in this campaign.
Bradman’s 19-year-old ASDIC Operator, Seaman Robert Roberts, swam back through ice-cold water to the abandoned ship, to rescue their canine mascot ‘Sailor’ and her puppies.
This was not the last of these fine ships as all the ‘Cricketers’ were raised and put into service with the German Navy. Bradman was salvaged on 11 July 1940; renamed Friese and based at Molde on the central coast of Norway where she was used as an anti-submarine patrol vessel. On 18 August 1944 while on convoy escort duties off North Cape, close to the Russian port of Murmansk, she was torpedoed and sunk by the Russian submarine M-201. All 32 of her complement were lost in this attack.
Further information on this interesting ship can be found in HMS Bradman: The Story of the Cricketer Trawler Fleet by Grahame Cumming & Kenneth Newman. This small book was surprisingly published in Sydney in 2003, a copy of which is held in the Society’s library. It also contains a useful annex with details of all Australian fishing vessels requisitioned by the RAN in both world wars.