- Hampshire, A. Cecil
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2001 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On 28th April 1940 the trawler Arab was on patrol in Namsen Fjord along with her sister ships of the 15th and 16th A/S Striking Forces. Commanding the Arab was 38 year old Lieutenant Richard Been Stannard, RNR. Son of a master mariner, Stannard was himself a big ship man. He had been educated at the Royal Merchant Navy School, and served his cadetship at sea in the old C and D Line. Ten years before the outbreak of WW II Stannard joined the Orient Line as a First Officer and the Royal Naval Reserve as a Sub Lieutenant. He was perfectly at home in a trawler, however, having been trained by the Navy both in A/S work and minesweeping.
As his first lieutenant Stannard had a young Australian Naval Reservist, also an A/S specialist, Sub-Lieutenant Ernest Lees; his other watchkeeping officer was Temporary Sub Lieutenant R.F. Ellis RNVR. The Second Hand and Coxswain was David George Spindler, who with the rest of the crew belonged to the RNR Patrol Service.
The Arab was a vessel of some 530 tons gross, built by the Smiths Dock Company of Middlesborough in 1936, and owned by Hellyer Brothers of Hull. She was a modern trawler with a cruiser stem, 170 ft long with a beam of 28 ft, and had been equipped with the latest echo-sounding gear and wireless direction-finding apparatus. One of the 400 trawlers earmarked to be taken up from the fishing fleet, she had also been requisitioned by the Admiralty in September 1939, and fitted out as an anti-submarine escort vessel.
Some 5000 Allied troops had been landed in Namsos, and supply vessels were arriving with ammunition, petrol and heavy equipment, but none remained longer than could be helped in the inferno that was Namsen Fjord. Stores were dumped round the pier or anywhere along the waterfront where room could be found. With their steel-helmeted crews closed up at the guns, the little trawlers weaved about among the bigger vessels lending aid and protection where they could. Dodging the sticks of bursting bombs that fell almost without ceasing and fighting off the diving Stukas, they nudged storeships alongside, ferried troops from transports, and went to the aid of vessels that had gone aground in the chaos.
Events happened with such speed and unexpectedness that it was impossible for any senior officer to exercise control. If some task was seen to require attention the nearest available warship was detailed to deal with it. Yet despite the overall confusion ships were somehow brought in, anchored or secured alongside if there was room, their cargoes unloaded, and sent off on their way as quickly as possible.
The 28th April 1940 was a Sunday, but there was no let up in Namsen Fjord. No Sunday Divisions for the ships’ companies, with the church pendant at the yardarm and Divine Service on the quarterdeck afterwards. No let up for the transports and supply vessels, whose winches continued to spurt steam and their derricks to swing back and forth as loads were hastily hoisted from the holds and dumped ashore. The airfields at Trondheim and elsewhere in German hands were busy, too, bombing up and arming the Stukas which, with their white-edged black crosses standing out starkly on oil-streaked wings and fuselage, came swooping down on to the harried ships in Geschwaders of six, nine and twelve at a time. The whistle and thud of bombs, the crack of 4″ and 12 pounders and the constant hammering of machine-guns continued unabated.
At about that time in the forenoon when the sailors of the fighting British trawlers would normally have been welcoming the traditional pipe of Up Spirits a particularly vicious air-raid developed over Namsos. Droves of high flying Dormers drenched the fjord with high explosive, to be followed by the inevitable swarms of dive-bombers. When the last of those had finally jinked over the hills in the direction of Trondheim, a huge column of smoke arose from stricken Namsos. Adding their quota to the darkening pall rising high above the fjord were flame-shot gusts of smoke from a fire raging amid the piled-up stores on the pier. Close by lay a dump containing many tons of hand-grenades. In addition to other damage the Luftwaffe bombers had wrecked the town water supply beyond repair, and firefighting from shore resources was out of the question.