Eight minesweepers (armed trawlers) were built to this class between 1942-43, all being named after Knights of the Round Table, Sir Agravine, Sir Galahad, Sir Gareth, Sir Geraint, Sir Kay, Sir Lamorack, Sir Lancelot and Sir Tristan. They operated in home waters and survived the war. Their role was to act as convoy escorts, rescue vessels, minesweepers, for anti-submarine duties and also general harbour and channel protection. Occasionally they were involved in special duties with the other armed services. Later in WWII some of the class including Sir Lancelot were converted to Dan Layers, laying marker buoys (Dans) to indicate swept channels prior to the Normandy invasion.
The Royal Naval Patrol Service was a Navy within the Navy and did not readily take to formal naval discipline. The term Harry Tates Navy, a jargon for anything amateurish, was frequently used to describe them (also referred to as the Silver Badge Navy). The term Harry Tate originated from a music hall entertainer from the First World War who would play the clumsy comic with various contraptions. His act included a car that gradually fell apart around him. The officers and ratings of the RNPS were far from amateurish, but had to make do with whatever equipment was available to them, which was often out of date weaponry dating back to WWI. Somehow they made their antiquated and outdated equipment work to the very best to their advantage under the most horrendous conditions occurring in those times.
Their Headquarters was H.M.S. Europa, situated in the Sparrows Nest Gardens, Lowestoft, Suffolk in East Anglia. Because of its location, it was close to the Axis military machine and was formally known as Pembroke X, a detachment from H.M.S. Chatham. H.M.S. Europa became the administrative HQ for more than 70,000 men and 1637 small ships of many different types. Most of these ships on commissioning would attend a rigorous and extremely demanding course, usually at H.M.S. Western Isles situated at Tobermory in Scotland. Much more could be written about this significant part of naval history as it contributed so much at the time, but was never outwardly seen or subsequently recorded in any great detail.
At first the crews had no uniform, as none was available to them, so they wore what they could find and just simply got on and did a very dangerous and demanding job, often looking more like pirates than RN seaman. Prime Minister Winston Churchill recognising the stalwart and critical role the RNPS performed, insisted that officers and ratings alike should have their own distinctive badge of service symbolising the work of both minesweeping and anti-submarine personnel. In the early stages of the war, the RNPS personnel were unable to wear uniform (nothing available), so Winston Churchill hoped that the badge made out of silver would prevent the crews if caught by the Germans being shot as spies. This became the only badge worn on a naval uniform throughout WWII other than the Dolphin of the Submarine Service worn on Royal Naval uniform. If discovered by chance at some car boot sale today, the badge would probably be worth a lot of money. The silver RNPS badge is about the size of an old shilling for those that can remember it - like myself!
The ships of the RNPS consisted of numerous requisitioned trawlers ( a few built for the role like Sir Lancelot), whalers, drifters, paddle steamers and yachts - all generalised as minor war vessels, as the Admiralty termed them.
Sadly 2385 members of the Royal Naval Patrol Service lost their lives in action in WWII. Dedicated in 1952, a RNPS Memorial to them was erected in their memory within the Sparrows Nest Gardens, Lowestoft. Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma insisted that he personally dedicate the memorial and during his speech he openly acknowledged the outstanding and significant role that the RNPS contributed to the war effort. Some of the original RNPS buildings still exist, together with a RNPS museum at the Sparrows Nest Gardens and it is well worth a visit.
H.M.T. Sir Lancelot
The Round Table class of minesweeper were 137ft long, steam driven with a coal fired boiler powering a reciprocating engine (600HP) on a single shaft. Maximum speed was 11kts with range of 3000 miles. Normal crew was 35 men, all attached to the Royal Naval Patrol Service (RNPS) and they were usually recruited fishermen. The officer in command of the trawler in the early stages of the war was usually a lieutenant and being termed Skipper. The armament consisted of one 12pdr HA/LA gun, one 20mm AA Oerlikon gun and two twin mounted Lewis guns. Some vessels also carried depth charges for anti-submarine activities together with asdic equipment. Ships of the class were mainly used for minesweeping. Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad were equipped for moored mine clearance, the other six being influence sweepers. The latter using percussion noise and various other techniques to destroy mines - a very hazardous role. On the stern, the model has depth charges being made ready for use. However, research and some photos taken in the 1940s indicate that a large winch for minesweeping (or mine trawling) was fitted to Sir Lancelot and not depth charges. Well I think we call it modellers licence and Im certain that many a marine modeller is guilty of this, but it is never to be admitted!
Sir Lancelot was constructed in 1941 by John Lewis and Co. of Aberdeen. Initially completed in March 1942 as a minesweeper and in 1944 she was converted to a Dan Layer. She took part in Operation Neptune, the D-Day landings. In 1946 Sir Lancelot was sold to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, being used on fishery protection duties. It is believed that the vessel was later sold in 1962 and converted for fish trawling. Recorded as still in service in 1981, this was a credit to her design and to the shipyard that constructed her.
This was purchased through the For Sale section of Model Boats and is slightly modified from the original Mount Fleet kit. A very good job of assembly had been made when I took over the model. Then I did my own thing with it as regards to the final detailing and radio control installation. The model is 56ins long and 10ins beam, weighs 52lbs and is to a scale of 1:32. You need to be careful when handling a model of this weight, so I usually get my wife to help me with lifting it and hopefully she will not read this! Drive is provided by a seven pole motor powered by a 6v 12ah battery which provides a full mornings sailing at full speed. Radio control is Futaba with six channels. Included are working navigation and cabin lights, fog horn, ships telegraph bell, asdic, morse and aldis effects, all by ACTion R/C Electronics using an additional 12v 1.3ah battery. She looks good on the water and has been at sea in some rough and very windy conditions at my local lake in Stevenage, performing very well with no problems or difficulties whatsoever. Mount Fleet really do produce an excellent range of ship model kits and the time and effort involved in putting them together and adding the detail is satisfying in all respects.
Most of the information in this article has been obtained from the numerous pages written on the Royal Naval Patrol Service available on various websites. Just type Royal Naval Patrol Service into your search engine.
If you do not have access to a computer, then a visit to your local reference library may be well worthwhile. I found that ours had several books on the RNPS and they then got in further books from other libraries for me to read. There are several novels written about minesweeping and anti-submarine activities of the RNPS. I bought myself a copy of Proud Waters written by Ewart Brookes, but there are many others that have been published. They all make very interesting reading and there is a complete list available on the RNPS website.
Should any factual errors unintentionally become apparent, please do not blame the editor. If something has been recorded incorrectly on the websites or in the text books that I have read, then unknowingly I have repeated the same in this article. Mr John Dunn, Secretary of the Royal Naval Patrol Service Association was able to provide me with some really most useful information regarding the history of H.M.T. Sir Lancelot and I am taking this opportunity to thank him for his help.
If you would like to visit the RNPS Museum at Sparrows Nest Gardens, Lowestoft, then it is suggested that you make arrangements in advance. Telephone: 01502 586250 (Monday, Wednesday, Friday mornings) or Royal Naval Patrol Service Association or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, Craig Talbot of ACTion R/C Electronics gave me a lot of help in fitting out my model with his sound and lighting effects. He lived quite close to me and I would often show up at his house and he would within minutes resolve all my electronic problems and glitches that I had with my various models. Sadly he died in 2007 and us marine model engineers will now miss Craig from our fraternity. His friend and colleague Dave Milbourn has now taken over and you can reach him at the ACTion website.
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