HMS Rye, Minesweeper

HMS Rye, Minesweeper

This article by Stuart Osmer commemorates the 60th Anniversary of the presentation of the Ensign of HMS Rye to the town and its dedication in St Mary’s Church, Rye, in 1946.

The life of HMS Rye

HMS Rye was a Turbine Type, Bangor Class Fleet Minesweeper, built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company Ltd., Troon , Scotland. She was launched on the 19th August 1940.  Rye¹s first contact with the ship was on 24th October 1941 while it was still being built. It was completed in November 1941 , commissioned on 9th March 1942 and adopted by the Town of Rye on the same date. After distinguished war service as part of the 14th and 17th Minesweeping Flotillas she was decommissioned in February 1946, sold 24th August 1948 and subsequently broken up at Purfleet.

Basic features: Displacement – 656 tons; Dimensions – 174 x 28.5 x 9.5 feet; Complement – 60; Armament – 1 x 3inch AA., 1 x 2 pdr., 2 x 20mm.AA., 4 x MG; Machinery – Geared Turbines, two shafts, SHP 2,400 = 16 knots. Two Admiralty small tube type boilers.

1942:  Minesweeping Flotilla Duties

HMS Rye, under the command of Lt. J. A. Pearson was initially assigned for minesweeping training and sweeping duties off the east and then west coasts of Scotland. She was then ordered to Dover for sweeping duties in the Channel followed by attachment to an Atlantic convoy down to Gibraltar. At Gibraltar, Rye joined up with Speedy and Hebe, both Halcyon Class, and Hythe, Bangor Class, to be designated the 17th Minesweeping Flotilla under the command of Commander Jerome in Speedy. During 1942/3 she took part in many convoys between Alexandria, Port Said, Gibraltar and Malta. The two most significant were:-

  1. June 1942 OPERATION HARPOON. This convoy consisted of six merchant ships with escorts and a large covering force of Capital ships. The convoy was repeatedly attacked by aircraft and Italian surface ships. Four merchant ships and a destroyer were sunk and two support warships badly damaged. During these actions the Rye shot down enemy aircraft. She also picked up survivors from the torpedoed SS Tanimbar and SS Chant. Rye and Hebe were ordered to sink the SS Kentucky, a tanker whose engines were out of action due to a near miss from bombs. Rye took off the crew, after which Rye and Hebe set the Kentucky on fire with gunfire. In the approaches to Malta, Hythe cut a mine, which surafced ahead of the Rye. Rye hit her on her bow. The mine bumped right down the side of the hull, but did not explode. She became known as Lucky Rye.
  2. August 1942 OPERATION PEDESTAL. The 17th MS Flotilla came out from Malta to meet the transports SS Melbourne Star, Port Chalmers & Rochester Castle, damaged but able to steam, to escort them into Malta. At daybreak on 14th August the Rye and Ledbury, with motor launches, went out to join the destroyer Penn to bring in the seriously damaged SS Ohio, and they reached harbour the following day. Rye took part in towing the Ohio. The Brisbane Star made her own way in. The tanker Ohio was laden with fuel oil desperately needed by the defending aircraft in Malta. Only five merchant ships of the original 14 dispatched arrived in Malta, but the seige was lifted.

1943: Italy, Malta, Gibraltar

HMS Rye swept ahead of the Sicily landings in July 1943 and later off Italy. She left Malta in early October 1943 with a small convoy to Gibraltar. Whilst acting as escort on the north side of the convoy and laying a smoke screen, she ran out of smoke canisters and was ordered to swap places with her ‘chummy ship‘ HMS Hythe, which was on the south side of the convoy. That night HMS Hythe was torpedoed and sunk. Rye picked up twelve survivors, two of whom subsequently died. HMS Hythe, under Lt.Cdr. L. B. Miller, sank on 11th October 1943 off Bougie, Algeria. She had been torpedoed by U-371.

HMS Rye left Gibraltar on Christmas Eve 1943 on passage to the UK. In the Straits of Gibraltar she was in collision with one of three American Liberty Ships coming in and her bow was severely damaged. She sailed, damaged, to the Azores, where her bows were filled with concrete, and like that she steamed back to the UK, to Troon, where a new bow was fitted.

NORMANDY 1944. HMS Rye, under the command of Lt. F. Williams, joined the 14th MS Flotilla assigned to clear the cross channel seaways for the invading forces. She swept the Omaha beachhead ahead of the American landing craft and then took part in keeping open the approach seaways that the enemy was frequently re-mining. The sweeping was interspersed with escort duty between the UK and Omaha. On one occasion she came under particularly heavy bombardment from shore batteries and had to beat a hasty retreat, cutting her sweeps. The flotilla worked its way down to Brest, where Rye was anchored for six weeks and was virtually Brest Radio Station for that area of the Allied Armies. The telegraphists worked a tiring “four hours on, four off” watch for six weeks. After taking part in clearing the coastal waters towards Belgium and Holland, she spent four weeks under going a refit at Flushing.

In May 1945 she was at Stavanger clearing anti-submarine mines, when two German U-boats came into harbour and surrendered to her. She then came home to Edinburgh, and then down to Swansea to sweep the Bristol Channel area. HMS Rye was paid of in Swansea in 1946.

First posted in Maritime Rye on 10th July 2008
Last updated: 27th November 2012