Ahh! Tis another March 17 and time to celebrate another St. Petey’s Day, don’t you know. Time for wearing of the green. So hoist a pint for good ole St. Petey. What? You don’t know of St. Petey? Well, tis not surprising, I’m a-thinking. In large measure St. Petey’s Day has been usurped by a snake charming charlatan, named Paddy. St. Petey is the patron saint of resin and photo-etch. Also known as the Beau Brummel of Brass, St. Petey clearly has more than his share of Celtic magic in his ability to work in nature’s own metals. No pot o’gold under a rainbow glitters with as much brightness as one of St. Petey’s brass frets. Don’t you know the wee ones need navies as much as the big folk. Wee ones hail from many nations and St. Petey cares for them all. You may have brownies that need a battleship or platoons of pixies waiting to go to sea. Do you need a 1:700 scale fleet for your faeries or something bigger in 1:350 scale for your legions of leprechauns? St. Petey is the creator of fleets for all of the wee ones.
St. Petey has clearly been chanting in the night, rubbing magic mushrooms and frolicking in the moonlight because he has crafted a new large pot o’gold known as the HMS Abdiel kit in 1:350 scale from White Ensign Models. Well, before the publicans of Dublin and County Cork get their panties in a wad about having a warship of the Royal Navy associated with March 17, consider that one of the most successful of the class was HMS Welshman and the Welsh have more than a touch of Celt. The HMS Manxman even has a better connection in that the Isle of Man is in the Irish Sea and the islanders also have Celtic heritage and if any of the Abdiel Class had the Luck of the Irish, it was HMS Manxman. So sit back, have a Guinness and celebrate St. Petey’s Day.
Mine-laying operations lack glamour but since the American Civil War, naval mine warfare has exercised a great influence on naval strategy. During World War One the Royal Navy and USN laid huge mine barriers at the northern exits to the North Sea to restrict German submarine movement. For this task they used a hodge-podge of small trawlers and old slow cruisers. There was no problem using these pick-up assets to employ the mines as the barriers were far from the operational area of German surface ships and the limited range of fixed wing aircraft. Even the Zeppelins didn’t come that far north. The German Navy was also very interested in mine warfare and claimed a number of large Royal Navy warships through submarine laid mines. Like the submarine, mine warfare is clandestine. It works if the enemy does not know of its presence. If a minelayer is spotted laying mines, the area is marked and either swept clear of mines or avoided. Another aspect of mine warfare is that the closer to a major naval base or merchant port that a field is laid, the more likely it is to claim victims. However, that presents a problem. How do you approach closely to an enemy base and lay a mine field without being seen. One answer was the use of the mine-laying submarine, which was the chief instrument of German offensive mine operations. However, the use of submarines had a disadvantage. Their limited size and small storage space restricted mine-laying to mere point fields. Another answer is the use of fast ships to lay mine under the cover of darkness, so that the location of the minefields would not be compromised. They certainly would be faster and greater cargo capacity than any submarine but would they be fast enough to get in and out without being seen? During World War One the German Navy built two mine-layer/light cruisers, the Bremse and Brummer, that approached the lines of a warship with this type of mission.
Between the wars mine-warfare was another neglected area in times of budgetary reductions and insufficient funds and assets for the Royal Navy. Just like the area of antisubmarine warfare was neglected, so too was the area of mine warfare, especially offensive mine warfare. The Royal Navy did take one old light cruiser, HMS Adventure, and convert her to a fast minelayer. She certainly had sufficient storage capacity, as she could carry in excess of 300 mines but she had two disadvantages. Her top speed of 27-knots was not fast enough to get in and out of an area close to an enemy base without incurring a significant possibility of being spotted and her AA armament was totally insufficient to protect herself if she came under aerial attack close to the enemy shore. The answer for the Royal Navy was to specifically design an ultra-fast mine layer that would couple a good storage capacity with an extremely high top speed, plus could carry a hefty AA gun fit. By 1938 the British government had finally awakened from its 15-year slumber of parsimonious naval budgets and opened the purse strings. The threat posed by Germany and Italy was evident and as it was, the crash building programs were almost too late.
In 1938 the Royal Navy ordered four ships specifically designed to have the size and speed to specialize in quickly laying a minefield. These were the fast minelayers of the Abdiel class. The design was unique. The ships approached the size of small cruisers but in appearance looked like very large destroyers, except for their three funnels. They displaced 2,650-tons standard and over 4,000-tons at deep load. Mines are bulky and the Abdiels had to have a large size to store the planned 100 Mk XIV or Mk XV mines at designed speed or 150 mines with some loss of speed. The designed speed exceeded almost all destroyer designs. Requirements were for a ship that would do 40.2-knots on trials and 35.2-knots when loaded down with mines. The ships were given huge power plants for their size. Please note that the 9,100-ton (standard) Southampton (Town class) light cruiser had a plant that produced 75,000shp. The plant of the 2,650-ton (standard) Abdiels fell only a little short of this figure at 72,000shp. This was the same output as of the Leander class light cruisers. When you place a cruiser’s power plant into a large destroyer’s hull, you will get high speeds.
If you look at the stern, you’ll notice the business end of this design. There are two large doors at the stern of the ship through which the mines were planted during a run. This aft exit to the mine deck shows where the spacious mine deck was located. This large deck was perfect for storage of more than just mines. The Abdiel class was given three twin 4-inch/45 DP gun positions of the Mk XVI HA type. Initially they were also fitted with one four-barreled pom-pom (2pdr) mount. Clearly with this armament the class would defend themselves from aerial attack but would rely on their speed to avoid contact with surface ships. In 1941 two more of the ships, Apollo and Ariadne, were laid down to a modified design with only two twin 4-inch DP mounts and two twin Bofors with Apollo and three twin Bofors with Ariadne instead of the pom-pom.
Within three months in 1939 all four were laid down and not a moment too soon. HMS Manxman was actually the first of the four to be laid down on March 24, 1939 followed 5 days later by Abdiel on March 29. Latona followed on April 4 and finally Welshman on June 8, 1939. Abdiel was the first to launch on April 23, 1940 and was the first completed on April 15, 1941. Second came Latona launched August 20, 1940 and completed May 4, 1941. The Manxman and Welshman were not too far behind. Both were launched only a day apart with Welshman on 4 September 1940 and Manxman on 5 September. However, Manxman was faster in completing. She was completed on June 20, 1941 and Welshman on August 25, 1941.
When the Royal Navy was unrivaled through most of the 19th century and into the start of the 20th century, the British Mediterranean Fleet was the premier command. It had been based at Malta well before Jackie Fisher took command in 1902. However, it had lost ships and prestige with the coming of the lean years following World War One. By 1937 it was clear that Italy had to be considered a likely enemy. The Royal Army and RAF adamantly said that Malta could not be held against the Italians since it was over a 1,000 miles from Gibraltar and only 60-miles from Sicily. The Royal Navy was equally insistent that Malta could be held and further that possession of the island was essential. Whoever controlled Malta controlled the choke point at the center of the Mediterranean, where the Sea was most narrow. Fortunately for the United Kingdom Winston Churchill listened to the Royal Navy. The careers of the four ships of the Abdiel class of the 1938 program would be forever linked with the defense of the island fortress of Malta. Although Malta was the target of Italian bombers after Italy entered the war as an partner to Germany, very little damage was caused. In large measure this was because of the Italian tactics of attacking at high altitude. As 1940 was drawing to a close things were looking rosy indeed for the British efforts in the Mediterranean. The Italians were in trouble everywhere, from North Africa to the Balkans. Their fleet had been crippled by the Taranto raid and it seemed that the Royal Navy could go anywhere that it chose. In December 1940 events took an ominous turn as the first personnel of the X Fliegerkorps of the Luftwaffe started arriving in Sicily and southern Italy. This unit had been stationed in Norway and specialized in attacking shipping. It didn’t take long before the Royal Navy discovered that they were in trouble and that Malta was in mortal danger.
HMS Abdiel – Off to the Med on a Lark and Bit of Cretan Silliness
In May Abdiel was operating from Alexandria in Admiral Cunningham’s force. She was loaded with supplies for Malta and became part of the heavy escort for convoy MW7A and MW7B. Another mission quickly arose. When Italy had invaded Greece, Great Britain had quickly moved troops not only to Greece but also to the island of Crete. This in turn triggered the German invasion of the Balkans and Greece, not so much as to save Italy’s bacon but to kick the Brits out of Greece and Crete, since the crucial oil refineries of Romania were within bomber range from Crete. The Wehrmacht quickly swept south through Yugoslavia and then into Greece with catastrophic losses for the British Army in Greece. The Royal Navy made a maximum effort to reinforce Crete and suffered huge losses to the Luftwaffe.
In late May 1941 there was a crisis. Admiral Cunningham had to withdraw all of his forces back to Alexandria in order to refuel and resupply his fleet. Only the destroyers Jaguar and Defender and the Abdiel were at sea in the eastern Mediterranean. On the night of May 23-24 Abdiel was speeding towards Crete with supplies for the army and RAF, as well as reinforcements, when she received a communiqué to suspend all naval operations in the area of Crete and therefore turned south. The Admiralty in London had issued the orders and also asked Cunningham of his view of the situation. Cunningham replied that he had no fuel or ammunition for his fleet and that the Royal Navy could only operate around Crete at night because of the total domination of the airspace over the island by the Luftwaffe during the day. There must have been a full moon because events certainly reflect a droll sense of lunacy. Having suspended operations around Crete and asked Cunningham of his appraisal, when the Admiralty and Chiefs of Staff received his discouraging reply, they ordered him on May 26 to protect Crete from axis sea convoys at all costs, even if it meant operating north of the island in daylight. Cunningham, "found this message singularly unhelpful. It failed lamentably to appreciate the realities of the situation." (Engage the Enemy More Closely, The Royal Navy in the Second World War, 1991, by Correlli Barnett, at page 358) As part of this Admiralty mummery, Abdiel was ordered to turn about and land her troops on Crete. Early on May 27, 1941 Abdiel pulled into Suda Bay and her military passengers trooped ashore. These were the last reinforcements to reach Crete. As these unfortunates of the British Army set foot on the island, the battle had already been lost. German paratroopers had seized control of the key airfield at Maleme and German reinforcements were pouring in by Ju-52 transports since May 22, rather than through sea convoys. As Welshman had been approaching Crete on May 26, the Germans had broken the British lines and encircled the British reserve. As Welshman cleared the Bay, General Wavell in Egypt wired the Chiefs of Staff that defense of Crete was hopeless with the collapse of the Army there and asked for an immediate evacuation. From their insistence to Cunningam that Crete be held at all costs the day before, the Chiefs now readily agreed to evacuate the island as quickly as possible.
Now Cunningham received new orders. He was to use his depleted force, savaged in aerial attacks in holding onto the island, to evacuate the 22,000 troops stuck there. Abdiel again returned to Crete but instead of carrying in the last reinforcements to reach the island, she took off the last troops to escape the island. On the night of May 31 to June 1 Abdiel was with Vice-Admiral King’s force that was conducting the last evacuation from the island. With her was cruiser Phoebe and three destroyers. They had been asked to pick up 3,000 troops but only had capacity for 2,000. However, in a heroic effort in jamming Tommies into every spot imaginable the five ships took off 4,000 troops. In all 16,000 of the 22,000 troops trapped on the island were evacuated.
In December 1941 she sailed out of Alexandria as part of a deception. She cruised around the eastern Mediterranean and transmitted false signals, mimicking the Alexandria fleet on maneuvers, while the fleet moved west in an attempt to contact Italian warships and convoys. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the loss of Prince of Wales and Repulse shortly afterwards, Abdiel, along with HMAS Hobart, were ordered to the east and departed Alexandria to reinforce the depleted Pacific/Indian Ocean force. She was needed there to lay offensive minefields in anchorages likely to be used by the advancing Japanese forces and also defensive minefields around friendly ports. During this period she accidentally grounded and was sent to Durban, South Africa for a damage assessment. In July 1942 she returned to the United Kingdom for repairs, which continued until December.
By 1943 she had returned to the Mediterranean. She laid mine fields, along with Welshman, in the early part of the year. Things were so much different than they were at the end of 1941. Malta had been relieved. Sicily and then Italy proper had been invaded. On September 8, 1943 Abdiel was with a force of five cruisers, USS Boise, HMS Aurora, Penelope, Sirius and Dido, that pulled into Bizerta to pick up troops of the British 1st Airbounre Division. The destination was southern Italy to reinforce the 8th Army Field Marshall Montgomery in fighting in southern Italy. Battleships Howe and King George V joined them at sea and they cruised to Taranto. On September 9, 1943 Abdiel was a victim to her own weapon. Upon entering the harbor at Taranto, HMS Abdiel anchored but had not disembarked her troops when she detonated an enemy magnetic mine and quickly sank with heavy losses.
The Short Life of HMS Latona
HMS Welshman – Club Run Champion & Patron Saint of Malta
Operation Bowery – Welshman was specifically selected to get spare parts for aircraft and maintenance crew to Malta. "We may well loose this ship,’ Churchill warned Pound, ‘but in view of the emergency…there appears to be no alternative." (Malta Convoys 1940-1943, 2000, Richard Woodman, at page 322) Force W with USS Wasp and HMS Eagle would fly Spitfires to the island and Welshman would follow independently. On May 7, 1942 Welshman took on 340 tons of medical and other stores, 72 crates of smoke making compound, 100 Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and 120 passengers, mostly RAF ground crews. There were also some strange packages. Before standing out to sea the packages were opened. Enclosed were plywood bulkheads and three caps for the stacks. Work started in disguising the Welshman and when it was completed, she stood out to sea disguised as the French super destroyer Leopard. By the time the carriers flew off the Spitfires, Welshman was ahead. On May 9, 1942 Spitfires over-flew Welshman, which was now flying French colors. By 10:00 a Ju-88 spotted Welshman. The bomber circled and then made a run in an attempt to draw fire. Captain Freidburger kept his guns trained fore and aft and only had a few hands loitering on deck. These happy "Frenchmen" cheerfully waived at the Junkers as she passed Welshman at masthead height. Satisfied that the Welshman was a French destroyer, the German bomber waggled his wings in return as he flew off. The next aircraft to happen on the Welshman was a British Catalina. Captain Freidburger asked the friendly aircraft to vacate the area so that his cover wouldn’t be blown. Later another Ju-88 showed up but he too was taken in by the disguise. A fourth aircraft approached but this time it was a Vichy seaplane. Welshman ignored the French aircraft, pressed on and that aircraft also flew away. She deployed her paravanes as she approached Malta, as the area was heavily mined. She hugged the coast but her starboard paravane cut loose two mines, which narrowly missed her stern. Overhead was a fierce air battle as Welshman was about to enter Valetta Harbor, so she ignited the smoke producing material that she carried to conceal her presence. In spite of this she still suffered damage. "Welshman was showered with debris and bomb splinters, and four tons of steel girders were dumped by blast on her forward Oerlikon guns; she was holed above the waterline, her boats were wrecked and her deck plating buckled; but under partial cover of the smoke her cargo of ‘valuable stores, aircraft spares and ammunition’ was safely discharged." (Malta Convoys 1940-1943, 2000, Richard Woodman, at page 325) Welshman unloaded and refueled quickly, as she didn’t want to join the rusting hulks of ships already sunk in the port. By that evening she cleared the harbor accompanied with cheers from those dockside and their singing of Roll Out the Barrel. By May 12 she had regained the safety of Gibraltar, having pulled off a unique Ruse de Guerre.
Welshmanleft for the United Kingdom for a quick visit to the dockyard but it was then decided for her to make another quick run to Malta. She loaded her cargo and headed south to Gibraltar. Unfortunately when she arrived at Gibraltar on June 1 at midnight, she collided with a tug. Her bow and port propeller were damaged and she had to be repaired before her next Malta run.
Operation Harpoon - In mid June Welshman was ready to participate in Operation Julius. This operation involved two prongs. Operation Harpoon was launched from Gibraltar and Operation Vigorous from Alexandria. Although technically they were part of the same operation, each of the two sub-operations was run independently. Harpoon started on June 4, 1942 as convoy WS19z departed, officially bound for Freetown. When the convoy had initially sailed from the UK, the cover story was that they were going to the eastern Mediterranean via the Cape of Good Hope. However, the cat was let out of the bag when an officer was heard telling a merchant captain not to expect a long trip. As the convoy turned east from Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, rather than south into the Atlantic for the Cape, there could be no mistaking their destination. As the convoy entered the Mediterranean it changed their designation to GM4. Heavy escort was in the form of Force W consisting of Malaya, Eagle, cruisers Kenya, Liverpool and Charybdis and eight destroyers. Close support came from Force X composed of AA cruiser Cairo, nine destroyers and four minesweepers. Welshman was ordered to join Force X but under independent orders.
By June 13 the convoy had been sighted and was being shadowed by Italian reconnaissance aircraft. By then Force W and Force X had joined and Welshman, along with battleship Malaya brought up the rear of the huge convoy. The air attacks started in the morning of June 14. One merchant ship was sunk and the Liverpool was disabled and reduced to 4-knots. She was ordered back to Gibraltar and Welshman was ordered to take Liverpool’s place at the head of the starboard column. Before sun set Welshman departed the convoy under her independent orders. She bent on her high speed and arrived at Valetta at 07:30 on June 15. Last time she had entered the Grand Harbor it had been under heavy attack but this time Captain Friedberger noted, "In spite of a current air-raid warning, the harbour was alive with steamboats and dghaisas, and the tug Robust was ready to meet us, newly painted in her gay Maltese colours.’ Unloading began at once, the discharge of the Merlin engines Welshman carried being facilitated by special trolleys built during the ship’s repair period in Scotstoun." (Malta Convoys 1940-1943, 2000, Richard Woodman, at page 333) Friedberger was eager to clear the Welshman of her cargo as soon as possible in order to return to the GM4 convoy to add Welshman’s AA gunfire to the support. The ship was quickly emptied of cargo, refueled and was underway out of the harbor by 13:30 having only spent six hours in the port. However, it was too late for GM4. The heavy escort of Force W had already peeled off from escort leaving Force X with the convoy. It looked like GM4 would reach Malta with the loss of only one merchantman but the Regia Marina put in an appearance. Light cruisers Raimondo Montecuccoli and Eugenio di Savoia, along with four destroyers intercepted GM4 about an hour before Welshman pulled into the Grand Harbor at Valetta. Although the Italian cruisers could have done more, they striped Force X from the convoy, which made GM4 a very easy target for air attack. In the end the British lost the Tribal class Bedouin, a cargo ship and most importantly the 10,000-ton tanker Kentucky. This ship was brand new on her maiden voyage and was on loan from the United States. She was laden with 14,000-tons of aviation gas and other critically needed fuels. The two merchantmen had been slowed by air attack and were finished off by Italian destroyers. Force X rejoined GM4 at 15:30 and then Welshman joined at 17:30, having missed the engagement. Even though GM4 reached Malta and thought they were safe, through misreading of instructions, three destroyers, a minesweeper and a merchantman all hit mines. One destroyer and the minesweeper were sunk but the merchantman and two destroyers were hauled into shallow water. Welshman was untouched during this fiasco and was back in Valetta early on June 16.
Operation Pinpoint - In July 1942 Welshman returned to the UK for dry-docking and then was loaded with 350-tons of powdered milk, edible oils, fats, flour, 98-tons of soap and 30-tons of minesweeping supplies. Traveling through the Bay of Biscay, she encountered heavy weather and the cargo was damaged. The mine deck, which was susceptible to flooding in heavy seas, was covered with a thick mixture of oil and milk powder. Welshman was dispatched on her third high speed run into Malta. This time it was a "Club Run". Welshman with Eagle, cruisers Charybdis and Cairo and five destroyers left Gibraltar on July 14. Supply missions made solely from Royal Navy warships based at Gibraltar were called "Club Runs" On July 15 Welshman was dispatched to independently make a high speed run to Malta. This time axis forces singled out Welshman for special treatment. On her first two runs to Malta she had remained unscathed but this time she was under concentrated air attack.
She was being circled at long range by pairs of Ju88 and Cant 506B reconnaissance aircraft, so that attack aircraft could vector on her. Then CR42 fighter-bombers attacked at low level out of the sun. One bomb exploded near the transom of Welshman. The stern lifted and the bow dipped into the sea so that she took it green over her entire deck. The next attack was from SM79 bombers, which attacked unsuccessfully from 14,000-feet. Eight Ju88 appeared at 18:50 and made an unsuccessful dive bombing attack, followed almost immediately by an attack by eight Ju-87 Stukas. "One had its undercarriage shot off and one broke away spewing smoke, but several near-misses shook Welshman as Captain Friedberger maneuvered her at a speed approaching 40 knots." (Malta Convoys 1940-1943, 2000, Richard Woodman, at page 371) Another strike near the stern again drove the bow under and a second flood of green seawater deluged the Welshman. Although there were some problems with electrical circuitry, Welshman had evaded concentrated aerial attack. However, there were other axis plans to hunt down Welshman. Three Italian destroyers were sent out to intercept the solitary minelayer but missed her in spite of aerial reports on her position. The Italian submarine Axum then sighted her and fired torpedoes. However, they missed because of the high speed of Welshman. The axis had given it there best shot but Welshman made her third Club Run to Malta and arrived safely on July 16. However, the Regia Marina was now really perturbed at the seeming invincibility of Welshman. They planned to bring major forces to bare in ambushing her after she cleared Malta. On July 18 at twilight Welshman cleared harbor for her westward run back to Gibraltar. Six submarines were in a patrol line just waiting for her. A flotilla of MAS boats was stationed at the small island of Pantellaria waiting for Welshman. To top it off the same two light cruisers and destroyers that had hit GM4 were at sea waiting to attack Welshman. Again Welshman may be said to have the luck of the Irish as her westward progress was concealed by bad weather. It was not until the afternoon of July 19 that she was sighted. Air attacks by twenty SM79 and Ju88 bombers again failed to hit their elusive target and the lucky Welshman entered Gibraltar unscathed on July 21.
On her last run to Malta, Welshman carried 175-tons of seed potatoes to the island with other needed items. It was necessary to carry them on Welshman to avoid their loss to spoilage and to catch the growing season on Malta. Perhaps Welshman had played against high odds too often or like a riverboat gambler had drawn to an inside straight one time too many, for her luck finally ran out. On February 1, 1943 Welshman was lost after being torpedoed by U-617.
HMS Manxman – The Luck of the Irish
Operation Substance – On July 21, 1941 convoy GM1 departed Gibraltar at dawn under sealed orders. This was Operation Substance and involved the first organized relief convoy bound for Malta from the west. The abbreviation GM1 indicates Gibraltar-Malta #1. Once to the east the orders were opened and they were ordered by Admiral Somerville to relieve Malta. The force included the cruisers, Manchester and Arethusa, Manxman and eight destroyers. The mine deck of Manxman was stuffed with supplies. Somerville followed with heavy support of Nelson, Renown, Ark Royal, cruiser Hermione and eight destroyers. The convoy also carried 5,500 troops to reinforce the island. By the morning of July 23, the convoy had been sighted by long range aerial reconnaissance. By 09:15 the first aerial attack composed of 8 SM79 three-engined bombers came in. This attack disabled the destroyer Fearless, which had to be scuttled after the survivors were removed, and another torpedo hit the cruiser Manchester. The 2nd attack was at 10:11 and was made from 17,000 feet. All bombs missed. Manxman was the 2nd ship in the starboard column behind a destroyer, followed by three merchantmen and then Hermione. Early the following morning as the convoy neared Malta, they were attacked by Italian torpedo boats. Edinburgh and Cossack immediately opened fire on them. "Manxman, second in the starboard column, finding ‘the target perfectly illuminated by cross searchlights’, also opened fire." (Malta Convoys 1940-1943, 2000, Richard Woodman, at page 196) Two MAS boats were destroyed but one merchantman in Manxman’s column was hit by a torpedo but the convoy got through.
Operation Style – Operation Style was strictly a RN show with no slow merchantmen to shepherd. On July 31, 1941 the Manxman, Herminone and Arethusa left Gibraltar after dark for a fast run to Malta. "Manxman’s mine decks were capacious compared with the available space on the two cruisers, where every water-closet and bathroom was stacked with cases, drums and cartons of tinned food." ( Malta Convoys 1940-1943, 2000, Richard Woodman, at page 212) As the ships sped east Hermione rammed the surfaced Italian submarine Tembien and the following Arethusa and Manxman felt the sub’s hull too as they rushed over the wreck. The trio made it to Malta, disgorged their cargo and sped west for Gibraltar, which they reached on July 4. The crews of all three ships were exhausted and men were still asleep on the decks as they entered the harbor at Gibraltar. "Coming aboard Manxman to confer with Captain Dickson, Somerville disturbed some of the recumbent forms; apologies were mutual, for Somerville’s genuine solicitude for his men endeared him to them." ( Malta Convoys 1940-1943, 2000, Richard Woodman, at page 212)
Operation Mincemeat - The Royal Navy now had to recover the empty merchants of GM1, still in the harbor at Valetta. Merchant hulls were too valuable to leave them empty, especially in a location as frequently bombed as the Grand Harbor. To provide a diversion for their departure, code named Mincemeat, aircraft from Ark Royal would try to set the cork trees in the north of Sardinia on fire through incendiaries and Manxman would lay a minefield off of Livorno to try to catch any Italian ships that might sortie. Additionally Nelson, Hermione, Encounter and three destroyers were in support.
In early 1942 Manxman was back in home waters when she was placed under the control of Dover Command. Their chief concern was the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen, lying across the English Channel at Cherbourg. The mine laying capacity of Manxman might come in handy if the Germans decided to run north up the Channel. Of course it came to nothing as on February 11, 1942 the heavy German ships did exactly that and caught the Royal Navy with their knickers down. On November 10, 1942 Manxman was based in Alexandria. Most of the Gibraltar force was utilized supporting Operation Torch, as the American North African landings were called, so Manxman was selected to run to Malta from the east with powered milk, dried cereal and preserved meat. She arrived safely on November 12, unloaded, and then continued westward to Gibraltar to pick up a load of mines. Again Manxman had a chance to function as designed as she laid a minefield off Cape Bon. Welshman made the trip in reverse, leaving Gibraltar, bound for Malta. She arrived in Malta, dropped off her cargo of supplies on November 18 and then continued east to Haifa for a load of torpedoes. She then dropped these off with the 10th submarine flotilla and returned to Gibraltar on December 4, 1942. Manxman was also struck by a torpedo but unlike her sister Welshman, she survived. Although, the torpedo damage effectively put her out of the war because of the two years that it took to repair her, Manxman served long after the war. She was finally stricken from the Royal Navy lists in 1971, as the last of the original Abdiels.
Using the Abdiels as high-speed transports tended to stress the hull and the large open mine deck posed a flooding threat and therefore a stability problem in heavy seas. The Apollo and Ariadne tried to correct this by including portable watertight cofferdams to sub-divide the mine deck. The operational history of the two modified Abdiel class mine-layers, Ariadne and Apollo, are not covered in this article because there were significant differences between them and the group of four 1938 Abdiels, which is represented by the White Ensign Models kit. (History from: Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1922-1946, 1980, Edited by Roger Chesneau; Engage the Enemy More Closely, The Royal Navy in the Second World War, 1991, by Correlli Barnett; Malta Convoys 1940-1943, 2000, Richard Woodman; The Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940-1943, 1998, by Jack Greene and Alessandro Massignani; Nelson to Vanguard, Warship Design and Development 1923-1945, 2000, by David K. Brown)
White Ensign Models 1:350 Scale Abdiel
In looking at the hull profile, you are struck at how long waisted these ships were. They have a short forecastle and a short quarterdeck connected by a loooonnnng waist. The hull sides are very smooth and two rows of deeply drilled portholes/scuttles are found at the bow and the stern but none in the center. The bow has a slight sheer but a significant flair. However, the most interesting features are the two mine deployment openings at the stern. These are large deeply incised rectangles that are very finely done on the casting. Each of the doors has a short platform on the outboard lower corner, which was undoubtedly used in some manner in the deployment operation.
Although the forecastle may be short, it is still loaded with fine detail. The nicest single feature is the solid bulkhead shield, which surrounds the A gun mount. This shield is eight-sided and has excellent outside support gussets, while the shield itself is very thin. There is no breakwater on this design, so the solid bulkhead served that purpose. At the inside forward peak of this bulkhead is found a ready ammunition locker. Forward of this is an assortment of anchor machinery and fittings detail. Another mark of the high quality on this kit is the depth to which the anchor chain hawse are drilled. They are so deep at least it seems that one could easily use a pin vice to connect the deck hawse with the hull exit hawse. They are located within prominent deck fittings. The anchor windlasses on raised machinery fittings are integral to the hull casting and have the classic hourglass shape. A raised deck plate located between the deck hawse and windlasses serves several functions. The fittings for the entrance to the chain locker are found here, as well as a couple of other fittings. Two unusual fittings that resemble upright German potato masher grenades are found on either of the deck hawse. Two more fittings found here are two sets of deck edge bollards.
At the other end of the deck is an equally short quarterdeck. There are more deck fittings found here than on the forecastle. The gun deck bulkheads for X mount are very different than the single angular bulkhead for A mount at the bow. For X mount there are two bulkheads, one on each side of the mount base plate and they are rounded, not angular. Another difference is that the support gussets are on the inside At the stern are three rows of depth charges. The frames that surround them are found on the included photo-etch fret. There is a single centerline windlass with a solid safety shield just forward of the fitting. Two small old-fashioned J funnel ventilator cowlings are inboard halfway along the quarterdeck. A further nine of the oddly shaped single post bollards are also located along the deck edges.
In between these two short decks there is still some unusual deck fittings, even though the bulk of the area is covered with superstructure. Chief among these are six square raised mine loading hatches, four at the stern and two amidships. The hull casting has the raised base with the actual a found on the brass fret. Two more twin bollards are located amidships The rest of the cast detail on the deck amidships are various locator slots designed to ease correct placement of the superstructure parts. The lower hull casting is very well cast. The lower hull is dominated by two large bilge keels, which are perfectly formed on the casting. Also perfectly formed are the two propeller shaft housings at the stern. There is a significant ridge to the centerline keel and a base plate for the rudder. On the top of the lower hull casting are a series of ten locator tabs designed to secure a perfect fit between the two hull halves.
Resin Superstructure Pieces
The aft superstructure piece continues the detail of the forward piece. This piece is dominated by four Oerlikon positions, two on each side. The pattern of detail is very similar in these positions with that found in the forward piece Oerlikon positions. They have raised circular platforms with solid splinter shields. There appears to be an unusual tall blast shield at the aft end of this deck, which seems to deflect blast from X mount. There is a whole series of other deck detail on 01 level deck, including more of the oddly shaped single bollards and an equally odd key-hole shaped fitting forward of the front starboard Oerlikon position. This aft superstructure part is asymmetrical, which further adds to its attraction. Side detail is similar to the forward piece with the same raised ridge, waffle style doors, cable ducts and portholes.
There is a bag of smaller resin parts. Chief among them is the bridge with its very destroyer like appearance. The navigation deck has a raised forward platform and significant detail with flag lockers at the rear. Lookout positions are found on each side with a baffle pattern along the top edge. Side detail includes waffle pattern doors, cable ducts, portholes but no centerline ridge. There are three funnels, all of which have a tear drop cross section, however, the center funnel is much larger than the other two. Each of the funnels has a lip at the top, an incised line partway down the funnel and detail inside the stack opening. Four of the smaller resin parts are platforms or deckhouses. The pompom mount is a raised circular position with ready ammo locker. Another platform on deckhouse is a platform for two searchlights and single Oerlikon. Two other deckhouses are the wireless room and an aft deckhouse, which also serves as a platform for a yagi radar. Two parts go to the four-barreled pompom. One is the actual ordnance and it is an extraordinary piece of casting. The barrels are thin with the flared flash suppressors at their ends. It is a totally remarkable piece of casting. The mount for the ordnance is a separate part. The three gun shields for the twin 4-inch mounts have openings for the white metal guns and cradles for the guns inside. There was a slight amount of flash to be removed to clear the gun openings. The last four resin castings are the ship’s boats. One is an open whaler with rudder and tiller as cast on detail. Two more are large covered launches and a small gig.
White Metal Parts
Brass Photo-Etched Fret
Included are twelve ship’s nameplates, two for each of Abdiel, Ariadne, Apollo, Latona, Manxman and Welshman. I think that substantial modifications and additions would need to be made to model Ariadne or Apollo but the kit is perfect for the four units of the 1938 program. Lattice and ironwork brass detail abounds in the fret. There is an intricate catwalk that surrounds the Mk III director and a large support structure placed under the pompom mount. Other lattice structures include seven carley raft racks, bridge windscreen, Oerlikon platform supports, and foremast braces. That doesn’t end the parade of brass detail as the fret also includes signal lamps, two-piece anchors, funnel sirens and platforms, 282 Yagi antennae, 285 Yagi antenna, stack grates, searchlight lenses, 291 radar, starfish support brackets, stove pipes, boat fittings, DF antenna, gun training stops, yard arms and multi-piece accommodation ladders. For Abdiel WEM includes specially designed railings for the forecastle to account for the bow sheer. There are four runs of three bar railing, two runs of open stanchion two bar railing and one run of close stanchion two bar railing. Also included are four runs of vertical ladder and two runs of anchor chain. Also included are three brass rods of different sizes for tripod legs, pole masts and propeller shafts.
Starting on page five, the instructions begin the standard WEM modular approach to presentation of instructions. Page five includes modules on the early fit Vickers mg, Oerliokons, pompom mount, four-inch gun mounts, 285 Yagi, 282 Yagi, Mk III HAC director and mine cranes. Page six has modules on foremast tripod assembly and fitting, 291 radar, funnel assembly, forward superstructure details, dinghy assembly and crane location. Page seven continues with main mast assembly, aft superstructure fittings, searchlight platform, ventilator cowl placement, aft 20mm placement, boat assembly and placement. Page eight finishes the assembly with modules on anchor assembly, rudder/propeller assembly and stern details. Each module employs excellent drawings and concise descriptive text to thoroughly explain each step in assembly. Of course no WEM set of instructions would be complete without a gorgeous color plate on the subject and the one included in this kit is of Abdiel in her 1942 pattern Admiralty Disruptive camouflage as of March 1943.