Allied Warships

HMS Thames

Rescue Tug

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeRescue Tug
Class[No specific class] 
Built by 
Laid down 
Launched 1938 
CommissionedJun 1940 
End service 1944 

Displacement: 624 tons.
Armament: 1 12pdr AA gun.
Machinery: 3000 HP.


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Notable events involving Thames include:

26 Aug 1940
HMS Thames takes the abandoned and burning British merchant Stakesby in tow for Stornoway. The vessel had been torpedoed the day before by German U-boat U-124 in convoy HX-65A 23 nautical miles north of Butt of Lewis, Hebrides. The ship was beached at Glumaig Bay after the tow rope broke and sank in shallow water, but was later refloated, repaired and returned to service.

25 Dec 1940
HMS H 31 (Lt. R.D. Whiteway-Wilkinson, DSC, RN) was towed from Campbeltown to Rothesay by the tug Thames. (1)

23 Jun 1941

Minelaying operation SN 70B.

Minelaying operation by the 1st Minelaying Squadron.

At 1900B/23, the auxiliary minelayers HMS Agamemnon (Capt.(Retd.) F. Ratsey, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral R.L. Burnett, OBE, RN) and HMS Menestheus (Capt. J.S. Crawford, DSO, RN) departed Port Z.A. (Loch Alsh) to lay minefield SN 70B. They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Brighton (Cdr. (Retd.) C.W.V.T.S. Lepper, RN), HMS Castleton (Cdr. (Retd.) F.H.E. Skyrme, RN) and HMS Wells (Lt.Cdr. E.J. Lee, RN).

They were joined around 2300B/23 by the light cruiser HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN) which had departed Scapa Flow around 1300B/23 but had first conducted gunnery exercises in the Pentland Firth.

Around 0130B/24, the light cruiser HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN) also joined. She had departed Scapa Flow around 1940B/23.

At 0515B/24, HMS Aurora (Capt. Sir W.G. Agnew, RN) joined company.

At 0545B/24, HMS Arethusa parted company and proceeded on patrol in the Iceland - Faeroer gap.

At 1050B/24, the visibility decrased to 150 yards.

At 1110B/24, The Squadron made an emergency turn to port.

At 1115.30B/24, HMS Kenya sighted a destroyer 150 yards away coming towards.

At 1116B/24, HMS Kenya was hit by the destroyer which turned out to be HMS Brighton. HMS Kenya sustained some damage but was able to continue. This was not the case with HMS Brighton whose bow sustained major damage.

Most ships of the Squadron meanwhile lost contact with each other in the thick fog.

Later HMS Aurora and HMS Wells took the damaged Brighton to the Reyðarfiord, Iceland for inspection.

The remainder of the 1st Minelaying Squadron regrouped and proceeded on with the minelaying operation.

Between 2125B/25 and 2310B/25, minefield SN 70B was laid on a line joining positions, 65°11'0"N, 12°49'4"W and 65°34'6"N, 12°54'5"W.

At 1620B/26, the destroyer HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) joined the 1st Minelaying Squadron. She had been on patrol to the north of Iceland but had been ordered to leave patrol and join the minelayers.

HMS Agamemnon, HMS Menestheus, HMS Castleton, HMS Wells and HMS Eclipse arrived at Port Z.A. (Loch Alsh) at 1717B/27.

HMS Kenya arrived at Scapa Flow around 1800B/27 having parted company with the 1st minelaying Squadron at 1154B/27.

The damaged destroyer HMS Brighton departed the Reyðarfiord for the Clyde on 28 June in tow of the tug Thames. The tug Marauder was standing by. They were escorted by HMS Aurora and the destroyer HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN) which had come from Hvalfiord.

The destroyer HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN) departed Scapa Flow at 1700B/29 to join which she did around 0330B/30.

In the meantime, at 2020B/29, HMS Brighton's bow broke away. The Marauder then took over the tow.

At 2105B/30, while in the North Minches, HMS Aurora, HMS Echo and HMS Lightning parted company to proceed to Scapa Flow where they arrived around 0200/1.

HMS Brighton continued on with the tugs and arrived in the Clyde on 1 July 1941. (2)

10 Nov 1941

Operation Perpetual and the sinking of HMS Ark Royal

Transfer of Hurrican fighters (from aircraft carriers) and Blenheim bombers (from Gibraltar) to Malta.

10 November 1941.

At 0235 hours (zone -1) on 10 November 1941, Force H departed Gibraltar for operation Perpetual. Force H was made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, CBE, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN). They were escorted by seven destroyers; HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN).

At 0800 hours, HMS Argus flew off one aircraft for A/S patrol and a Catalina aircraft joined from Gibraltar at 0930 hours. The force passed to the north of Alboran Island. A French merchant vessel was sighted ahead at 1526 hours. She was north bound. During the afternoon AA firing exercises were carried out.

11 November 1941.

Force H continued to the eastward during the night. As the takeoff of the Blenheim bombers from Gibraltar was delayed due to unsuitable weather conditions it was decided that Force H would withdraw to the westward for a while, with the dual object of increasing the distance to the enemy air bases in Sardinia and to give the impression to possible enemy shadowers that the fly off of the Hurricanes had already taken place, and that Force H was already retiring.

At 0935 two aircraft were reported by RDF to the southward. Later the echo faded, but they were sighted flying very low over the Algerian coast. They were too far to be identified and were thought to be possibly French. However a report timed 0935 by an Italian reconnaissance aircraft was intercrypted shortly afterward and it became clear that the two aircraft were in fact Italian.

As hurricanes were range on Ark Royal’s flight deck, making it impossible for her to operate her own fighters. Argus had two Sea Hurricanes ranged, but the enemy aircraft disappeared before these could be launched.

Between 1835 and 1910 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville had a message transmitted that unless the Hurricanes could be flown off the following morning he intended to return to Gibraltar, as he did not consider it desirable to remain in this area without A/S air and fighter patrols.

At 2130 hours, Force H turned to the eastward again towards the flying off position.

12 November 1941.

Shortly after midnight a signal was received that it was intended that the carriers could launch their Hurricanes for Malta at 1000 hours.

At 0743 hours a signal was received that the firt group of Blenheim bombers was airborn at that they would be near the takeoff position of the Hurricanes shortly after 1000 hours.

Between this time and the completion of flying off of all the land Hurricanes, no fighters were available for the interception of enemy aircraft.

Two aircraft, presumed hostile, were detected by RDF to the north-eastward at 0907 hours, but they were not sighted. Later a report from an Italian reconnaissance aircraft time 0907 hours was intercripted, and this no doubt originated from one of these two aircraft.

At 1004 hours four Blenheim bombers were sighted and by 1021 hours 13 Hurricanes had been launched by Ark Royal and 6 by Argus. One of the Hurricanes that was to be launched from Ark Royal had troubles with the engine and was, after repairs, included in the second batch that was to be launched.

At 1048 hours, two more Blenheims were sighted, and within five minutes Ark Royal had flown off the first of the Hurricanes for her second batch. By 1112 hours all Hurricanes had been launched by the carriers and they made off with the Blenheims for Malta.

By 1130 hours all ships were back in position after the flying off operations and course was set to the west. From Ark Royal one Swordfish was flown off for A/S duties and four Fulmars for fighter patrol. These patrols were maintained until dusk.

At 1425 hours HMS Ark Royal reported an aircraft in sight low down to the southward. The four Fulmar fighters were vectored but a section of two Fulmars only sighted the enemy until on the return trip from the chase. One of the Fulmars was able to fire one good burst of gunfire from 300 yards before the enemy aircraft escaped into the clouds. Both wings of this Fulmar were damaged by enemy gunfire. Two sighting reports from this aircraft were intercepted.

Between 1500 and 1515 hours RDF reported that enemy aircraft were shadowing the fleet but by now weather had deteriorated and there was much low rain cloud. Although fighters were vectored no interceptions were made.

At 1625 hours hours Malta reported the arrival of 34 Hurricanes and 7 Blenheims. One Blenheim had returned to Gibraltar with engine trouble. Also a report on U-boat sightings in the Western Mediterranean was received.

Late in the evening speed had to be reduced in the bad weather to avoid weather damage to the escorting destroyers.

13 November 1941

At 0140 hours, weather had improved at bit and speed was increased by one knot to 17 knots but by 0500 hous weather had worsened even further then earlier and speed was reduced to 15 knots. This was only temporary though and at 0630 hours speed was increased to 17 knots and by 0800 hours (daylight) even to 19 knots.

An underwater explosion was observed by HMS Legion in her wake at 0413 hours. This was also heard be several of the other ships. Legion at that time was the starboard wing destroyer. This was thought to be a torpedo exploding at the end of its run.

This might well be correct as according to German sources the German submarine U-205, at 0506 hours (Berlin time), made a torpedo attack on a force of enemy warships but no hits were obtained.

At 0645 hours, Ark Royal flew of an AS patrol of six Swordfish for a dawn A/S patrol. They sighted nothing. They returned at 0850 hours. More A/S patrol were maintained throughout the day.

At 0817 hours a report was received that submarine were to be expected to be in the area. Course was now altered to approach Gibraltar directly from the east and not as was usually the case along the Spanish or Maroccan coast.

Later in the morning HMS Laforey and later HMS Lightning both reports A/S contacts and the fleet evaded these.

The fleet conducted exercises in the afternoon. HMS Laforey reported another A/S contact and the fleet once again made an emergency turn. The contact was however soon classified as ‘non sub’ and the main course was promptly resumed.

At 1541 hours, while in position 36°03’N, 04°40’W HMS Ark Royal was hit by a torpedo on the starboard side. Following this HMS Malaya immediately altered course to port and increased speed. HMS Legion and HMS Gurkha, the rear destroyers on the starboard wing at once turned outwards and started an A/S search to the north and east of the Ark Royal, the most probable area where the attacker must have been.

At this time HMS Ark Royal was still going ahead at considerable speed, listing to starboard and apparently under port wheel. A number of her aircraft were still circling overhead as she had been conducting aircraft operations when she was hit.

At 1549 hours, HMS Laforey and HMS Lightning were ordered to join HMS Ark Royal who appeared to be loosing speed. Signals were also made to require tugs to be sent out from Gibraltar and all available A/S craft to be sent out to patrol the area. HMS Hermione was ordered to stand by HMS Ark Royal The remaining three destroyers, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and HrMs Isaac Sweers were ordered to screen HMS Malaya.

By 1610 hours, HMS Ark Royal was laying stopped and listing heavily to starboard but she reported she had steam on her port engine. HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning and HMS Gurkha had closed her and were circling Ark Royal. HMS Legion was alongside Ark Royal. HMS Hermione was still closing. HMS Malaya and her three escorting destroyers were about 5 miles off and proceeding to Gibraltar at 18 knots as was HMS Argus who was some distance astern of her but catching up on Malaya. At 1615 hours Argus flew off two Swordfish aircraft for A/S patrol.

At 1710 hours, when 8 nautical miles eastwards of Europa Point, HMS Malaya was passed by units coming out of Gibraltar to assist. These were the destroyer HMS Wild Swan (Lt.Cdr. C.E.L. Sclater, RN), motor launches ML 121, ML 130, ML 132, ML 135, ML 170, ML 172, ML 176 and the tugs St. Omar and Thames. Shortly before the tug St. Day had also been sighted proceeding eastwards. Besides these ships the destroyer HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, RN) had also been ordered to proceed to the east.

HMS Malaya and HMS Argus entered harbour around 1820 hours and before she was berthed Vice-Admiral Somerville had transferred to HMS Sikh and went out again to proceed to HMS Ark Royal. Shortly before Sikh left the harbour the destroyer HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN) had also left the harbour to assist. Sikh, Zulu, Isaac Sweers and Wishart joined the patrol near Ark Royal for the night.

At 1900 hours, three corvettes departed Gibaltar to assist. These were; HMS Rhododendron (Lt. H.I. Davis, RNVR), HMS Marigold (T/Lt. J. Renwick, RNR), HMS Pentstemon (Lt.Cdr. J. Byron, RNR). This last corvette had a large 6” portable pump on board

The trawlers HMS St. Nectan (T/Lt.Cdr. H.B. Phillips, RNR) and HMS Lady Shirley (Lt.Cdr. A.H. Callaway, RANVR) had also been sailed around 1715 hours to patrol the area. They had not been very near to Ark Royal during the coming night.

Around 2040 hours the situation was as follows. Ark Royal was being towed by Thames and St. Day. The tow was proceeding at 2 knots. It was hoped that Ark Royal was able to raise steam shortly.

At 2224 hours, the Capt. (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla on board Laforey reported that Ark Royal had her own steam and power and that flooding was apparently under contral and that no more tugs would be required until off the harbour. Shortly afterwards Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore ordered the three corvettes to establish A/S patrol astern of the Ark Royal and to close her only by daylight.

At 2355 hours, HMS Legion arrived at Gibraltar packed with crew of HMS Ark Royal which were not needed in the rescue effort. After landing these she proceeded back to sea.

14 November 1941

At 0221 hours, the Capt. (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla reported that Ark Royal had lost steam (and power) and that a powerful pump would be required. Another signal at 0242 hours stated that another tug would be required. This indicated that the situation was deteriorating. Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore ordered HMS Sikh to close. HMS Pentstemon, the corvette with the portable pump on board, was also ordered to close. From Gibraltar the tug Rollicker was also sent out to assist.

On approaching HMS Laforey, which was alongside Ark Royal together with St. Day, signaled to Sikh that Vice-Admiral Somerville could better transfer to an ML which he did. At 0430 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville boarded Laforey to find she was on the point of casting off from HMS Ark Royal. Capt. Maund was also on board Laforey with the last of the steaming party. Ark Royal now had a list of 35° and was listing still further judging by the straining and parting of wires securing the ships alongside her. The situation was reported by signal to the Admiralty at 0446 hours.

After getting clear in HMS Laforey, Vice-Admiral Somerville, ordered St. Day to go ahead of Thames but at 0600 hours Thames reported that she had cast off the tow as Ark Royal was sinking. The carrier turned over at 0613 hours and remained bottom up for a few minutes after which she disappeared from sight. This was reported by signal to the Admiralty at 0623 hours.

Vice-Admiral Somerville then ordered the Capt. (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla to take all destroyers in the area under his command and to commence an A/S sweep to the eastward. He was instructed to return to Gibraltar by dark. In the end HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion and HMS Zulu returned to Gibraltar at 1535/14 followed about 15 minutes later by HMS Wild Swan.

Vice-Admiral Somerville himself returned to Gibraltar in HMS Sikh arriving at 0830 hours as did HrMs Isaac Sweers at 0900 hours. (3)

2 Dec 1943

Convoy SL 142.

This convoy departed Freetown on 22 November 1943.

On departure from Freetown the convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Balfe (British, 5369 GRT, built 1920), Baron Elgin (British, 3942 GRT, built 1933), Cape Wrath (British, 4512 GRT, built 1940), Egton (British, 4363 GRT, built 1938), Empire Foam (British, 7047 GRT, built 1941), Empire Pibroch (British, 7046 GRT, built 1942), Empire Swale (British, 5452 GRT, built 1937), Fordsdale (British, 11023 GRT, built 1924), Gerard Dou (Dutch, 7242 GRT, built 1941), Janeta (British, 4312 GRT, built 1929), Katanga (Belgian, 5183 GRT, built 1917), Lycaon (British, 7552 GRT, built 1913), North Leigh (British, 5450 GRT, built 1937), Royal Star (British, 7900 GRT, built 1919), San Tirso (British (tanker), 6266 GRT, built 1913), Silverlarch (British, 5064 GRT, built 1924), Silverlaurel (British, 6142 GRT, built 1939), Temple Arch (British, 5138 GRT, built 1940), Troilus (British, 7422 GRT, built 1921), Umberleigh (British, 4950 GRT, built 1927) and William Hawkins (American, 7177 GRT, built 1942).

The rescue tug Thames was also part of the convoy.

On departure from Freetown the convoy was escorted by the destroyer HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. P.G. Merriman, RN), sloop HMS Enchantress (Lt.Cdr. E.D.J. Abbot, DSC, RN), corvettes HMS Bellwort (A/Lt.Cdr. N.F.R. Gill, RNR), HMS Columbine (T/Lt. J.C. Grose, RNR) and the A/S whaler HMS Southern Gem (T/Lt. P.H. Riseley, RNVR).

On 3 December 1943, the Umberleigh arrived back at Freetown after having been forced to return .

On 4 December 1943, HMS Southern Gem was detatched as was the William Hawkins which arrived at Bathurst later the same day.

On 5 December 1943, the Lycaon arrived at Dakar after having been detached from the convoy while the merchant vessels Djebel Aures (French, 2835 GRT, built 1929) and Rutenfjell (Norwegian, 1334 GRT, built 1935) departed Dakar to join the convoy as did the submarine tender Jules Verne.

Also on 5 December 1943, HMS Bellwort was detached and joined southbound convoy OS 59.

On 12 December 1943, the merchant vessels Belgian Crew (Belgian, 7048 GRT, built 1943), Fort Frobisher (British, 7134 GRT, built 1943), Thistlemuir (British, 7237 GRT, built 1942) and Tilemachos (Greek, 3658 GRT, built 1921) departed Casablanca to join the convoy. They were escorted by the patrol vessels USS PC-480 (Lt. F.W. Meyers, Jr., USNR), USS PC-481 (Lt. N.W. Roeder, USNR) and USS PC-482 (Lt. D.W. Hunter, USNR).

On these ships joining the Djebel Aures and Jules Verne were detached to Casablanca where they arrived on 13 December 1943 escorted by the three above mentioned patrol vessels.

On 14 December 1943, the convoy merged with convoy MKS 33(G) coming from the Mediterranean.

This convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Anadyr (British, 5321 GRT, built 1930), Baron Forbes (British, 3061 GRT, built 1915), Blackheath (British, 4637 GRT, built 1936), Boltonhall (British, 4824 GRT, built 1935), Ceronia (British (tanker), 4955 GRT, built 1929), City of Lancaster (British, 3041 GRT, built 1924), Debrett (British, 6244 GRT, built 1940), Egholm (British, 1327 GRT, built 1924), Empire Faith (British, 7061 GRT, built 1941), Empire Gareth (British, 2847 GRT, built 1942), Empire Trent (British, 5006 GRT, built 1927), Errington Court (British, 4913 GRT, built 1925), Masirah (British, 6578 GRT, built 1919), Norman Monarch (British, 7005 GRT, built 1943), Rancher (British, 5882 GRT, built 1927), Rippingham Grange (British, 10365 GRT, built 1943), Robert Maersk (British, 2294 GRT, built 1937), Schiaffino (British, 3236 GRT, built 1920), Spurt (Norwegian, 2061 GRT, built 1918) and Tarantia (British, 7268 GRT, built 1942).

The rescue ship Fastnet (British, 1415 GRT, built 1928) and the headquarters ship HMS Hilary (Capt.(Retd.) J.F. Paget, RN) were also with the convoy.

Convoy MKS 33(G) was escorted by the destroyers HMS Highlander (Cdr. C.W. McMullen, DSC, RN), HMS Walker (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), frigates HMS Avon (Lt.Cdr. P.G.A. King, RD, RNR), corvettes HMS Abelia (Lt. R.I. Floris, RNZNR), HMS Asphodel (Lt.Cdr. H.P. Carse, DSC, RNVR), HMS Clover (Lt. P.H. Grieves, RNR) and the A/S trawlers HMS Northern Spray (Lt. F.A.J. Downer, RNR) and HMS Northern Sun (T/Lt. H. Meredith, RNVR).

The original escort of convoy SL 142 then parted company and proceeded to Gibraltar where they arrived on 14 December 1943.

Around 1120Z/17, the escort carrier HMS Fencer (Capt. E.W. Anstice, RN) joined the convoy.

During 20/21 December 1943, the escort was reinforced by the destroyers Hurricane, Wanderer, Watchman and the frigate Glenarm.

On 22 December 1943, in bad weather conditions the Baron Forbes straggled from the convoy.

On 23 December 1943, HMS Hilary was detached to Milford Haven where she arrived on 26 December 1943.

Around 1700Z/24, HMS Fencer, HMS Walker and HMS Abelia were detached from the convoy to proceed ahead with three of the merchant vessels (the Troilus was one of them). HMS Fencer arrived at Greenock on 26 December 1943, HMS Walker and HMS Abelia arrived at Londonderry also on the 26th.

On 25 December 1943, the Tilemachos straggled from the convoy.

The convoy arrived in U.K. waters on 27/28 December 1943.


  1. ADM 173/16282
  2. ADM 53/113675 + ADM 53/114492 + ADM 199/411 + ADM 234/560 + ADM 234/561
  3. ADM 199/657

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

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