H.M.S. Ashanti and H.M.S. Fame

October 17th

At 11.30 hours the Brigade was called out by the Coast Guard for service. (Wind E by N.E. moderate to fresh breeze, sea moderate to rather rough, rain, fog, visibility ½ mile) The Rocket Apparatus was loaded on motor lorry and proceeded to Whitburn where the two vessels – H.M. Ships “FAME” (H. 78) and “ASHANTI” (G. 51) were aground on the rocks; The “ASHANTI” broadside on to the low cliffs and about 130 yards distant, the “FAME” some little distance further off. Roker Volunteer Life Brigade were already engaged with the “ASHANTI”. Whip and Hawser were sent out to the bows of the “FAME” which were showing behind the “ASHANTI”. Difficulty seemed to be experienced in finding a suitable place to make the Hawser fast on that part of the ship, but it was surmounted and the work commenced. In this work we received valuable assistance from the Military stationed near. The task was complicated at first by lumps of cotton waste which were brought up by the Hawser and Whips from the oil-covered water and which wrapped themselves tightly round the lines. As soon as these were cleared, however, the work proceeded rapidly. A number of Firemen were sent by the Apparatus to the ship, which was on fire in the after part. Ammunition was being unloaded on to the beach.  After sixty persons had been brought ashore and six carried on board a halt was called from the ship. As work was not yet finished the gear was left standing; a number of members stood by all night.

Friday, October 18th.

At about 05.00 hours at request from the ships operations were recommenced – we working with the Roker Brigade on their apparatus communicating with the “ASHANTI”, which was then apparently accessible from the “FAME”. Thirty persons were landed from the “ASHANTI”. Yeoman service was again rendered by the soldiers. Our apparatus communicating directly with the “FAME” was again called for later, and 14 more persons were landed.  At about 10.00 hours our services no longer required the Apparatus was completely recovered and taken back to the Brigade House; 74 persons were landed from the “FAME” , 30 from the “ASHANTI”, our Brigade working with Roker Brigade, and 6 persons were carried on board. The total number of persons carried by the Breeches Buoy in this joint service was 264.

Source: S.S.V.L.B. Minute Book 4

H.M. Destroyers Fame and Ashanti went aground when leaving the Tyne to carry out escort duties and, up to the present, attempts to refloat them have been unsuccessful. The crews and valuable stores and ammunition have been removed and, provided the weather holds, it is hoped to attempt salvage operations at the next spring tides on the 1st November.

Source: War Cabinet, Weekly Resume, (No. 60) of the Naval, Military and Air Situation from 12 noon October 17th to 12 noon October 24th 1940

H. M. Destroyer Ashanti, which ran ashore off the Tyne on the 17th October, has been refloated and docked at Sunderland.

Source: War Cabinet, Weekly Resume, (No. 62) of the Naval, Military and Air Situation from 12 noon October 31st to 12 noon November 7th 1940

H.M.S. Fame which had been beached off the Tyne, has now been refloated.

Source: War Cabinet 299 (40), December 2, 1940

When Two Destroyers Crashed Off Whitburn

Some details of the story of how two British destroyers were got off the rocks at Whitburn by a fine piece of repair and salvage work, after they had run aground in October of 1940. have been given to the Sunderland Echo by Mr T. W. Greenwell. managing director of T. W. Greenwell & Sons, Lid., the Wear firm of ship repairers, and Mr J. S. Martin, the firm’s works manager.
They fully justify Mr Greenwell's claim, when making the presentation to Mr Martin last week in honour of his receiving the M.B.E. that the way in which the job was tackled by Mr Martin and his men was a real epic.
Fast On Rocks
It was a “dirty" night when the two destroyers H.M.S. Ashanti and H MS. Fame got fast on the rocks at high tide. Both vessels were very badly damaged, and fire broke out in the stokehold of Fame. Flames were belching out of the funnel until Sunderland Fire Brigadesmen got to work and, by pouring foam extinguisher down the funnel, got the fire under control.
To make the problem of flotation easier of solution, guns, director tower, mountings, and other heavy equipment had to be taken off the ships. To do this an aerial transporter. 330 ft. long, with double wires, was rigged up between the cliffs and the two vessels, which lay close alongside each other.

The Fame, the more heavily damaged of the two ships, was absolutely stripped Six - ton loads were hauled ashore by the aerial transporter, which also served to carry workmen and all their ship repairing gear and material across to the ships.

Ammunition Removed

Air compressors were set up ashore to provide power for the pumps and other machinery, and an electric cable was run across to the ships. Ammunition was taken off by troops and carried ashore across the rocks.

The Ashanti, the more valuable of the two destroyers, was tackled first. She had great holes in her bottom and side. The propellers of the Fame had pierced a gaping hole in the side of the H.M.S. Ashanti when the ships grounded. The bottom had to be cobbled up and the sides patched, and in ten days, at the first attempt, she was successfully floated and towed into Greenwell’s dry dock, and later taken round to the Tyne for permanent repairs.

To get Fame off the rocks was a much tougher job. She was in a much worse state. Both tailshafts had to be cut away, along with the "A" brackets and the propellers, which were embedded in the rock.

While the men were working on this, a heavy sea smashed in the starboard quarter, making a hole at least 20 feet by nine feet. Water was pouring in and driving up against the bulkhead of the forward end of the steering flat. If that had gone it would have been impossible to save the ship. The bulkhead and the deck were shored and a temporary plate patch fixed. Dozens of patches had to be welded on to the bottom.

These all had to be very skilfully made, to an exact fit. Leslie Irving and W. Bowman were two of Greenwell’s workmen who did excellent work in this respect.

Between Tides

Men could only work between tides and even then they had to work under the worst possible conditions. At low tide the rocks were studded with pools of water in which men had often to lie while working on the ship's bottom. Often, too, other men were working on staging up to their waists in water, working to the last possible minute which the rising tide allowed. “The men really worked most gallantly,’’ said Greenwell. They put in a really first-class effort.”

For forty-two feet the bottom was “up” and severed from the side. At one point the bottom was up above its proper position by as much as four feet. This all had to be bracketed on the inside and on the outside and sealed with flange plates.

William Stewart was another workman worthy of mention in this connexion. He frequently had to be in water up to his waist and use his acetylene burner under water.

Hauled Off

After six weeks of intensive work Mr Martin and his men got the Fame sufficiently repaired to be watertight and ready for hauling off by a specially heavy tide. They knew if they did not succeed on that tide the ship would in all probability be lost for the weather was worsening and there was not such another tide for a fortnight.

“I was working up to the waist in water myself.” said Mr Martin, “putting the last bolts in. Within an hour of me going up the ladder to the staging with the last bolt, the ship was afloat. Ground gear had been fixed for hauling the ship off. The port shoulder of the vessel seemed held around a rock until I yelled, “Pull on that tackle.” When the men on board pulled in the required direction, the ship fairly shot off into deep water and was taken in tow by tugs.”

Mr Greenwell. watching the final operation, had almost despaired of success when the ship did not respond to the first efforts, but ten minutes after the tide had turned he saw her off quite suddenly, like a cork. “She behaved very well.” he said. She was leaking all over, but we got her into dry dock without any trouble. Later Fame was taken elsewhere for permanent repairs and. in fact, practically rebuilt.”

Source: Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Telegraph 5 march 1943