Allied Warships

FR Epee

Destroyer of the Le Hardi class

NavyThe French Navy
ClassLe Hardi 
Built byF.&Ch de la Gironde (Bordeaux, France) 
Laid down15 Oct 1936 
Launched26 Oct 1938 
Commissioned1 Jun 1940 
End service27 Nov 1942 

Renamed L'Adroit in 1941.
Scuttled at Toulon on 27 November 1942 to prevent her capture by the Germans.
Raised in 1943 by the Italians and renamed FR 33.
Captured by the Germans at Toulon on 9 September 1944.
Captured by the Allies in 1944.


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Notable events involving Epee include:

24 Sep 1940
Early in the afternoon Gibraltar was bombed by the Vichy-French airforce, therefore it was decided to put to sea to avoid the risk of being damaged while in harbour so at 1550/24, HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), screened by HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, DSO, RN) and HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) departed Gibraltar and proceeded eastwards. They were joined in Gibraltar Bay by two more destroyers, HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) en HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN), which had been on patrol in the Straits.

After dark course was changed to the west and Renown and her escorts passed the Straits westbound before moonrise.

At 0500/25, a report was intercepted from HMS Wrestler (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, RN), which was on patrol in the Straits, that she had been attacked by four Vichy-French destroyers (these were the Epée, Fleuret, Fougueux and Frondeur. HMS Wrestler had returned fire but she had not been hit. The French had departed Casablanca on 24 September. They arrived at Oran on 25 September.

At 0805/27, when in position 35°50'N, 09°26'W, HMS Renown and her escorts were joined by the destroyers HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) after which HMS Griffin and HMS Encounter proceeded to Gibraltar to refuel.

At 0830/28, HMS Griffin and HMS Encounter rejoined the screen so then HMS Hotspur and HMS Gallant were sent to Gibraltar to refuel. Later that morning, HMS Renown was ordered to return to Gibraltar.

At 1045/28, a vessel was sighted at a range of about 10 miles, it was at first thought to be a small vessel but was later seen to be a surfaced submarine so HMS Wishart was detached to hunt it. Position was 36°00'N, 08°10'W. At 1051/28 the submarine dived. HMS Wishart commenced depth charge attacks at 1123/28. At 1230/28, HMS Wishart reported a good contact and four patterns were dropped. A large amount of oil was reported as having come to the surface. At 1355/28 a flying boat arrived to assist in the hunt. The submarine in question was the Italian Leonardo da Vinci which did not report any damage.

On entering the Bay of Gibraltar at 1732/28, HMS Griffin was detached to go to the aid of HMS Wishart which had reported that she had only four depth charges left.

HMS Renown with HMS Firedrake and HMS Encounter arrived at Gibraltar at 1745/28. (1)

29 Sep 1940
At 0700/29, HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), escorted by HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, DSO, RN) , HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) and HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) departed Gibraltar. In the Straits they were joined at 0730 by HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN) which had been on patrol. Course was set to the west.

The Admiralty was under the impression that the Vichy-French battleship Richelieu had departed Dakar en-route possibly to a Bay of Biscay port. And if that was correct the ship would fall in the hands of the Germans and this was to be avoided at all costs so HMS Renown was ordered to intercept.

On leaving harbour two Vichy-French destroyers were sighted proceeding westwards, these were the Epée and Frondeur. They increased speed to bout 28 knots on sighting HMS Renown. A signal was then sent to the Admiralty that HMS Renown had been seen proceeding westwards by the French ships.

At 1307/29, when in position 35°41'N, 07°14'W, a Vichy-French aircraft was sighted on Renown's port quarter. This aircraft shadowed HMS Renown until 1350/29 and then made off to the south-eastward. That Renown was shadowed was also reported to the Admiralty.

At 1333/29, a signal was received from the Admiral Commanding , North Atlantic Station, that owing to recent attacks on our aircraft by Vichy-French fighters, close observation of Casablanca was impracticable, and it wasintheded to maintain a patrol to the north-west of Casablanca in case Richelieu had gone there and was later to sail for a Bay of Biscay port. HMS Renown now set course towards Cape Finisterre.

At 2110/29 a signal was received from the Admiralty (sent 1910/29) which stated that air reconnaissance off Cape Finisterre was arranged for 29 September P.M. and that it was intended for HMS Renown to patrol to the westward of Gibraltar between 10°00'W and 15°00'W In view, however, of the report that two German merchant ships with troops on board had been reported in the south-east corner of the Bay of Biscay the Admiralty thought it possible that these vessels might be proceeding to capture the Azores, HMS Renown was ordered to proceed to the vicinity of these islands.

Vice-Admiral Somerville then requisted the RFA tanker Orangeleaf (5927 GRT, built 1917) to be sent out from Gibraltar to patrol on the parallel of 37°30'N between 27°00'W and 30°00'W. Later a signal was received that Orangeleaf was expected to arrive on the eastern edge of that patrol area at 1100/4.

At 0039/30, a signal was received from the Admiralty stating that if the Richelieu was encountered she was to be shadowed.

At 1240/30, when in position 36°23'N, 14°36'W, a merchant ship was sighted bearing 204°, range 14 miles. HMS Encounter was ordered to investigate and reported that it was a Greek ship and that she was allowed to proceed.

It was intended to oil the destroyers during 1 October but the first attempt (to oil HMS Hotspur) proved that this was not possible owing to the north-easterly swell.

At 1901/30, a signal had been received from the Admiralty giving possible landing places in the Azores, Vice Admiral Somerville decided to establish destroyer night patrols off the north and south approaches to Horta, Ponta Delgada and Angra. HMS Renown would remain in support of the destroyers to the south-west but unscreened.

At 1800/1 the destroyers were detached and were ordered to take up the following positions
Encounter - Northern approaches to Horta.
Hotspur - Southern approaches to Horta.
Gallant - Off Angra.
Firedrake - Off Ponta Delgada.

The destroyers were ordered to rejoin HMS Renown at 1300/2 in position 37°00'N, 28°10'W, for fuel, since they would have insufficient remaining by the time the Orangeleaf would arrive.

By noon on 2 October all destroyers were back with HMS Renown at the rendezvous and oiling commenced. There was still a south-easterly swell running, which made conditions difficult, but all destroyers were given 150 to 170 tons of fuel, together with fresh provisions, without incident. The last destroyer (order had been Encounter - Hotspur - Gallant - Firedrake) completed after dark at 2100 and all four destroyers were ordred to resume their patrols with HMS Renown proceeding to the westward.

The fuel given to the destroyers was sufficient to enable them to maintain their patrols until after daybreak on 4 October and then to proceed with HMS Renown to Gibraltar without refueling.

At 1912/2 Admiralty signal 1835/2 was received ordering HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) to carry out air reconnaissance between the Azores and Cape Finisterre wth the object of identifying shipping approaching the Azores.

At 0010/4, Vice Admiral Somerville was ordered to leave patrol that morning and return to Gibraltar.

All destroyers had previously been instructed to rendezvous with HMS Renown in the forenoon and by noon the last one, HMS Firedrake had rejoined. She had intercepted and investigated two Portugese ships therefore she was a little late in rejoining.

At 1345/4, a ship was sighted well down to the westward and HMS Hotspur was sent to investigate. As anticipated this ship proved to be the Orangeleaf and she was instructed to return to Gibraltar.

At 1807/4, HMS Hotspur was detached again to investigate a merchant vessel which proved to be American and it was allowed to proceed.

At 0230/5, a darkened ship was sighted ahead crossing Renown's track from south to north. This proved to be the merchant vessel Highland Monarch (British, 14139 GRT, built 1928).

At 0810/5, a Greek vessel with Swiss markings was sighted. This ship had been reported to be in the area and was allowed to proceed.

During the forenoon of the 5th all ships carried out gunnery exercises.

At 1215/5, smoke and ships were sighted to the north-west and once again HMS Hotspur was sent to investigate. She was soon recalled as it appeared to be convoy SLS 49.

In the afternoon of the 5th all ships carried out AA gunnery exercises.

In the evening of the 5th dummy torpedo attacks were carried out by the destroyers on HMS Renown.

In the forenoon of the 6th a search and plotting exercise was carried out. Northing furter occured on the 6th.

HMS Renown, HMS Hotspur, HMS Gallant, HMS Firedrake and HMS Encounter arrived at Gibraltar at 0830/7. (1)

11 Oct 1940
At 0204/11, Vice-Admiral Somerville received Admiralty message 0108/11 stating that the Vichy French light cruiser Primauget had departed Casablanca escorting a merchant ship loaded with munitions and bound for Dakar.

At 1737/11, Vice-Admiral Somerville received Admiralty message 1710/11 ordering HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN), HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN) and HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN) to steer course 090°. Seven minutes later Admiralty mesage 1718/11 was received ordering HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN) to come to four hour's notice.

At 1821/11, Admiralty message 1732/11 was received in which HMS Barham and her three escorting destroyers were ordered to intercept the Primauget and the merchant vessel she was escorting. At the same time Admiralty message 1727/11, ordering HMS Renown and HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN) to proceed to the westward, being clear of the harbour as soon after 0700/12 as possible, was received.

Destroyers on patrol were then rcalled and those making good minor defects were ordered to complete repairs with all despatch. HMS Australia was warned to be ready to proceed at midnight.

At 2145/11, Admiralty message 2112/11 was received which ordered HMS Australia to sail as soon as possible for Las Palmas at 25 knots. HMS Renown was ordered to sail to the westward at 0500/12. HMS Australia sailed accordingly at 2330/11.

At 0450/12, HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) and HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar to carry out an A/S sweep in Gibraltar Bay. HMS Renown slipped shortly afterwards. Course was shaped to the westward at 18 knots with the destroyers screening.

A Vichy-French Glenn Martin aircraft was sighted at 1440/12 shadowing HMS Renown from astern. Course was altered to 300° to mislead this machine. This Glen Martin finally made off to the eastward at 1635/12.

At 1600/12, Vice-Admiral Somerville received a signal stating that the Yugoslav merchant vessel Orao (5135 GRT, built 1919), on passage to Gibraltar under armed guard from HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, DSO, RN), was being fired at by a submarine (this was the Italian Enrico Tazzoli) and that the crew had taken to the boats in position 35°43'N, 10°20'W. As there appeared to be a reasonable chance of attacking this submarine, Vice-Admiral Somerville decided to sent the whole of Renown's screen to hunt this submarine. HMS Gallant and HMS Griffin were therefore ordered to proceed to the vicinity at full speed, HMS Wishart and HMS Vidette following at 25 knots. Meanwhile HMS Renown increased to 24 knots and carried out a broad zig-zag, subsequently altering course at 1700/12 to 180°.

Before parting company the destroyers were ordered to rendezvous with HMS Renown at 0800/13 in position 33°22'N, 11°58'W, this position being selected in order to make contact with the transports Ettrick (British, 11279 GRT, built 1938) and Karanja (British, 9891 GRT, built 1931) that were proceeding to Gibraltar escorted by HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN).

Shortly afterwards HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), previously escorting convoy HG 45, reported that she was proceeding to the position of the Orao at 32 knots. As four destroyers had already been directed to hunt the submarine, the Admiral Commanding North Atlantic Station, instructed HMS Firedake to join HMS Greyhound to provide additional escort for the two transports.

The four destroyers arrived in the position of the arrived in the position of te Orao about 1930/12 and found the ship in a sinking condition. The crew and armed boarding party of HMS Hotspur were picked up by HMS Gallant and HMS Griffin, who carried out an A/S sweep to the westward and the northward. HMS Wishart and HMS Vidette swept to the eastward and southward.

No contact had been obtained by midnight, at which time the destroyers left the area to rendezvous with HMS Renown as previously arranged. The submarine that attacked the Arao was a large one with two guns. Before leaving HMS Wishart sank the Arao, who was still afloat, with one torpedo.

HMS Renown sighted HMS Firedrake at 0724/13 proceeding to join HMS Greyhound. At 0745/13, HMS Gallant, HMS Griffin, HMS Wishart and HMS Vidette were all in sight and all were in their position in the screen by 0820/13. Course was then altered to close the estimated position of the convoy that was being escorted by HMS Greyhound.

At 1045/13, a merchant ship was sighted bearing 060° and HMS Gallant was detached to investigate. This ship turned out to be Portugese and was bound from the Cape Verde Islands to Lisbon. She was boarded and after investigation was allowed to proceed.

HMS Firedrake was again encountered at 1100/13 still searching for the convoy. Vice-Admiral Somerville ordered her stationed 10 miles on his port beam.

The convoy was sighted at 1300/13 and HMS Vidette was ordered to join HMS Greyhound and the convoy. HMS Firedrake was now ordered to take the place of HMS Vidette in Renown's screen as she had more fuel remaining than Vidette.

At 1430/13, Vice-Admiral Somerville received Admiralty's 1308/13 directing HMS Renown, HMS Barham and HMAS Australia and their accompanying destroyers to return to Gibraltar if the Primauget had not been sighted by 1800/13.

In view of the recent submarine reports in the vicinity of the Straits Vice-Admiral Somerville decided that HMS Wishart should join the convoy. HMS Renown now screened by HMS Firedrake, HMS Gallant and HMS Griffin proceeded towards Gibraltar at 24 knots with the object of entering the harbour as early as possible, so as to free the screening destroyers for local patrol and convoy escort duty.

On passing through the Straits HMS Renown overhauled the Vichy-French destroyer Fleuret escorting two merchant vessels proceeding eastwards.

HMS Renown and her escorting destroyers entered harbour at 1030/14. (1)

Media links

Destroyers of World War Two

Whitley, M. J.


  1. ADM 199/392

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.

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