Here you will find the stories from the men and women who sailed on the ships, what was it really like to be working on a ship in a raging sea and in the pitch dark of night, the real stories some funny some sad, some good and some bad.
Dedicated to all the brave men and women who sailed the vessels from the Leith Shipyards.
Above photo from Tony Gathercole showing his Z-Craft being towed from Cyprus to the landings at Egypt
Note:- The bow ramp has been welded to the deck. You can also just make out the convoy of warships in the back ground.
HMS WARDEN â€“Landings Port Said-Gulf Crisis 1950's
Story by Tony Gathercole
All the crew, 11 of us, were men who had completed national service and were recalled as reservists, On the 2/3rd of November I was told to go with crew to Limassol, a Z craft had just completed having its refit there, we were to make ready for the Bustler class tug that would be arriving to tow us over to Egypt.
When the Warden arrived we were not quite ready, a little work was still to be done with the ramp, also both engine's were playing up (she was twin screw) it was something to do with fuel supply. The skipper of the Warden wanted to sail, as soon as possible, he had orders to take another Z craft from Famagusta with us to Egypt. It was just after midday and he would have liked to be underway. It was decided, after a delay of an hour or two, we would go. One engine had been sorted, the other engine the craft engineer would deal with on the way over. I remember the skipper of the Warden saying to me if I get any problems on the way, let him know on the radio, he was surprised when I told him I did not have a radio on board. Top marks to him, he gave me a box containing a hand held Aldis lamp. (fortunately there was no call to use it.) We soon arrived in Famagusta for the other Z craft, this was taken in tow. At last we got underway and the towing hawser was played out until we were about quarter of a mile astern of the Warden. The other Z craft about the same distance astern of us, the weather was reasonable. After dark the weather worsened, the Z craft was a flat bottom vessel, and wasn't the best craft to be aboard at sea in bad weather. The Warden increased our speed during the night, we must have been moving at 10+knots, no trouble for Warden with her 3000+ H.P.
Sleep was not coming easy that night. All the accommodation aboard was aft, by the engine room. With the sea hitting the bow (forward part of the flat bottom,) it was making it a rough crossing. Because we were being towed, both engine's were stopped and out of gear, the flow of water being forced against the props while being towed was turning the shafts and making a lot of noise, the engine's were put into gear to stop the shafts turning. Great that stopped all the noise. Until about 2am, then there was an loud roar of an engine starting up. The rate of knots we were being towed, must have turned the engine over and because it was in gear, made one of the engines to start!!
At dawn I could see the north African coast in the distance. The Warden had winched us in, we were within hailing distance. We carried on for another hour or two passing many ships which were laying a few miles off Port Said. Finally we said goodbye to the Warden, (with instructions to proceed to the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean, and good luck.)
(Note:- HMS WARDEN then was on her way back to Cyprus to tow a heavy lift barge back to the area to help with the removal of the block ships.)
I have attached a photo of our arrival at Port Said the morning of the landings. The quality is not great but you can see the navel ship's on the horizon. Our Z craft is shown minus its ramp, removed and welded to the deck, before leaving Cyprus for the tow over to Port Said, also a temporary bow/breakwater welded to the deck to stop the sea washing all over the decks.
Our first job on arrival was to load Centurion tank ammunition, from HMS Ocean, to be taken to Abbas quay in the inner harbour past the block ships. The masts and funnels were not a problem, the underwater obstructions were, the Z craft had a shallow draft this helped, and we got through and delivered the ammunition.
I served my national service in 1952/54, I was posted to Egypt in the Canal Zone for 22 months. I was in the Royal Engineers my posting was to an IWT squadron in Ismalia by Lake Timsah on the canal. I was put on the tug Helen K Henges as skipper a couple of months after my arrival. We worked from Adabiya Port in Suez Bay to Port Said, the length of the canal.
I have attached 2 more photos these were taken in '53, one is a Z craft being towed by the Helen K Henges.
The Z craft was out of commission but loaded with ammunition, I had to tow it 15 miles north of Port Said in the Med. to be dumped.
The other photo was towing a barge loaded with old railway lines going to Port Said for scrap, from Fanara in the Bitter Lake
I have wondered about the Helen K. Henges but could never get any information about where she was built.
She did not have a plaque with the builder or year she was built. The only thing I heard was she was a Canadian lakes tug, and going by the lines of her I think this is right. (Note:- If any of our readers have info on the tug Helen K. Henges then please contact the website)
The following is some recollections from one of the Ship's crew Graham Whatmore who served as "Signalman" on the HMS WARDEN.
My memories of life on Warden are very vague now of course after all this time but I do remember it being one of the best times in my career, she being such a small ship with a small crew of about 35 including the Captain, a Lt Cdr, a Lt Cdr as Jimmy plus two subbies one and Australian the other a New Zealander we knew each other inside out so it was a very friendly crew. As the signalman onboard my duties weren't exactly onerous so I volunteered for duty on the wheel as part of my watch something I had always wanted to do, I became in a short time one the skipper's reliable wheelmen and I loved every minute of it. The wheel of course was on the open bridge ideal for steaming backwards and forwards across the Indian Ocean and I, like the others would sit on the high seat steering with my feet and surprisingly the officer of the watch never corrected us except if we zig zagged a bit.
The Skipper was the most experienced tugmaster in the RN and an amazing ship handler, it seemed there was nothing that man couldn't do. On the way to Malta from Pompey we picked up a tow in Gibraltar, a harbour tug with no power and four of our crew manning her. We almost immediately went headlong into a storm force gale and in the middle watches the tow broke leaving the harbour tug at the mercy of the storm with no power for steering and we just drifted with her until daylight. That was one night to remember and the danger of the tow capsizing was very great of course but thankfully she got through it and the skipper miraculously managed to pick up the tow by manoeuvring our stern so close to the bow of the tug it was frightening, it was actually overhanging our stern at times. They had no power as I said and four men were unable to take the weight of a six inch manila which meant we couldn't float it to them so we had to pass it over their bow which we did eventually and the tow was safe again, all this took place in mountainous seas so it was a magnificent piece of seamanship by our skipper.
To say he was a character would be an understatement, he loved his gin and often came on the bridge in a state of shall we say "happy" and I well remember his habit of bringing a revolver as well to shoot cowboy style at the flying fish, the officer of the watch used to clear the foc'sle when he did this because his aim wasn't very good to say the least and made worse by the bottle of gin inside him. Ha, ha, ha! Happy days. After our last tow we stopped in Aden as usual and the skipper sold all the tow ropes, (seriously,) as they wouldn't be needed any more, he bought us a couple of barrels of beer on the proceeds and we sat on the tow deck most of the night until we finished them off. The poor 1st Lieutenant was an ex public schoolboy, very posh and exactly the opposite to the skipper who was a very down to earth hard bitten tug master and the skipper didn't like him one bit, it must have been a bad period of his life I think. We all quickly earned to keep out of his was in the mornings, he always had a hangover and wasn't very sociable until the steward fetched him his daily dose of gin after which he was one of the lads again. The two subbies must have been amazed at the casualness of life onboard and lack of discipline but they knew better than try to impose it, it was unnecessary because everyone did their job regardless and even our tot was always neaters which was totally against Navy rules and regs, to be honest I don't think the skipper would have allowed it anyway.
I believe she was de-commissioned on our return to the UK and taken over by the RFA but I may be mistaken in that assumption, it was a long time ago, she was a happy ship with a happy crew but so unlike the usual naval vessel as to be almost civvy in its running but no one can ever doubt how efficient she was.
Should you know of anyone who may have sailed on her, then please feel free to get in touch so that we can add the story here.