HMS Glowworm

The most famous ship of the G class Fleet Destroyers is HMS Glowworm, which encountered the German Heavy Cruiser, Admiral Von Hipper and her destroyer escorts on 8th April 1940. The Glowworm had been built by Thornycroft at Woolston, launched on the 22nd July 1935, commissioned for trials on 14 January 1936, and in May that year joined the 20th Destroyer Force in the Mediterranean. In August she transferred to the 1st Destroyer Force where she remained until June 1938 when she moved back to Portsmouth to be paid off. The approaching threat of war led her to be recommissioned and transferred back to the 1st Destroyer Force in the Mediterranean in July 1938. She recommenced peacetime duties such as escort work at the time of the Spanish Civil War and the Munich crisis. In an eerie foretaste of what was to come, she suffered moderate damage to her bow when she collided with her sister ship, HMS Grenade, on 16th May 1939, off the island of Malta during night exercises. Glowworm also collided with the Swedish ship Rex in February 1940. Both incidents resulted in the ship having to have significant repairs made to her.

HMS Glowworm

HMS Glowworm

HMS Glowworm in Drydock

The Glowworm was transferred with the 1st Destroyer Force to Harwich in December 1939. On the 5th April 1940 she sailed as part of the destroyer escort to the battle-cruiser HMS Renown and the cruiser HMS Birmingham in Operation Wilfred, an attempt to intercept the expected German invasion force, and if necessary, mine Norwegian waters. On the 6th April, whilst screening a mine laying operation, Glowworm lost a man overboard in heavy weather. Her CO, Lt Commander Gerard B Roope obtained permission to conduct a search for the missing man. After spending sometime looking for him, the Glowworm attempted to return to the group. On the 8th April, the Glowworm sighted a destroyer who when challenged, identified itself as Swedish. It was in fact the German von Röder class destroyer, Bernd Von Arnim, which very quickly opened fire, to which Glowworm responded. Unfortunately another German destroyer, the Paul Jakobi soon appeared. However, the Von Arnim was packed with invasion troops and soon both it and the Paul Jakobi turned and fled into a rain squall. Lt Cdr Roope gave chase despite guessing that they were trying lead him onto their main force in an attempt to discover there whereabouts and inform the Admiralty.

HMS Glowworm during battle with the Hipper
HMS Glowworm during battle with the Hipper

As the Glowworm emerged from the squall she came face-to-face with 14,000 ton the German Heavy Cruiser, Admiral Von Hipper armed with eight 8 inch and twelve 4 inch guns. The Glowworm laid smoke and conducted torpedo attacks from the cover of the smoke screen but failed to hit the Hipper. Glowworm had sustained substantial damage by this time and Lt Cdr Roope gave the order 'Stand by to ram'. The Hipper, realising what was happening tried to turn and ram the Glowworm but was too slow. The Glowworm tore into the starboard side of the Hipper amidships and tore 100 feet of armour plating away, damaged her starboard torpedo tubes and punctured two fresh water tanks. After ramming the Hipper, Glowworm drew clear, but received another close range salvo from the Hipper to which the single gun, commanded by Petty Officer Walter Scott responded. Glowworm by this time had sustained massive damaged and started to sink and Lt Cdr Roope gave the order to abandon ship. He went down to open the sea cocks himself and the ship started to sink, forcing men into the freezing water or onto her bow. The Captain of the Hipper, Helmuth Heye, gallantly stayed for over an hour picking up survivors. He positioned Hipper so that the tidal currents would carry the survivors too them. All the personnel on deck helped with hauling survivors aboard but many were too exhausted to make the final effort of climbing up the ropes and ladders and slipped away, including Lt Cdr Roope who helped many of his men to get life jackets on and to get to ladders. Out of a crew of 149, only 31 survived, the only officer being Lt Robert Ramsey. The prisoners were treated well by the Germans who congratulated them on a good fight, and Captain Heye told the men that their Captain was a brave man. Later, Heye sent a message through the International Red Cross recommending Lt Cdr Roope for the Victoria Cross, the only time in British history that a VC has been recommended by the enemy. The survivors spent the rest of the war as PoWs and afterwards, Lt Ramsey was able to return home and tell the whole story. The story was published on the 10th July 1945, in the Fourth Supplement to the London Gazette for Friday, 6th July 1945. As a result, Lt Cdr Roope was awarded the Victoria Cross, Lt Ramsey the Distinguished Service Order and three other ratings received the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

G Class Destroyers on the U-boat Net
HMS Glowworm on The Friends of HMS Cavalier website
HMS Glowworm website
G Class Specifications

Pearce, F. Sea War: Great Naval Battles of World War II, Robert Hale Ltd, 1990, London
cover cover cover

Chapter 3 entitled 'HMS Glowworm: The Supreme Sacrifice'.

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How to cite this article:Antill, P. (12 March 2001), HMS Glowworm,

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