U-boat rammed and sunk by Havant people’s ship

HMS Oribi
HMS Oribi
HMS Victory takes pride of place in this 1949 picture of Portsmouth dockyard.

Nation’s archive raided for a glimpse into Portsmouth’s recent past

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Havant historian Ann Griffiths has been researching the town’s largely-forgotten links with a Second World War warship and would like to enlist readers’ help in tracking down memorabilia associated with it.

The ship was the destroyer HMS Oribi. Her construction was sponsored by the South African government, which is why she was named after a small antelope. She was launched on January 14, 1941.

The following year Havant held its Warship Week when it was hoped to raise £210,000, the cost of the hull of a destroyer. Although the total fell £20,000 short, the Havant area was allowed to adopt her.

Ann says Oribi escorted many convoys in the Atlantic and to Malta.

‘The most eventful time was under Lt-Cdr John Ingram RN, who was born in South Africa and entered Dartmouth aged 13.’

She adds: ‘He commanded Oribi between February 1943 and September 1944. On May 6, 1943, while east of Newfoundland, his ship rammed U-boat 125.

‘Lt JW Murphy RNVR was reported as saying: ‘We hit her with a metallic clang and she sank like a stone. The watch below thought we had been torpedoed. The other U-boat dived and we had to hunt her, so we couldn’t wait to see if there were survivors from the one we rammed’’.’

The official story is that the U-boat was disabled by Oribi and sunk with gunfire from the British corvette HMS Snowflake.

Ann continues: ‘Oribi’s part in Convoy ONS-5 was regarded as the turning point of the Battle of the Atlantic, and resulted in Lt Cdr Ingram being awarded the DSC in June 1943 ‘‘for his great skill and daring’’.’

In September 1943 Ingram was awarded a bar to his DSC. He retired as a Commander in 1960, and died in South Africa in 1992, aged 81.

After being paid off in 1946, HMS Oribi was acquired by the Turkish Navy, renamed Gayret, and scrapped in 1965.

Says Ann: ‘The Admiralty presented a replica of the ship’s badge, an oribi on a blue field, to the Havant district and, in return, Havant presented a commemorative plaque to the ship. The question is, where are these items now? If you know, please get in touch.

Ann has also researched the day Queen Victoria dropped by at The Bear, in East Street, Havant.

Early in 1842 Queen Victoria’s infant daughter, The Princess Royal, needed a change of air and on February 10 six carriages set off from Windsor for the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

On February 28, Victoria and Albert travelled by carriage from Brighton to Portsmouth where they inspected the Dockyard and HMS Queen (110 guns and 1,000 men). Ann’s research shows that the cortège comprised ‘four carriages and four, outriders in the royal livery and an escort of the Royal Scots Greys’. They reached Havant about 11.30am.

Ann says: ‘At the eastern entrance to Havant, Victoria and Albert passed through a treble archway decorated with evergreens and welcoming banners, which was topped with a plume of feathers.

‘Children from the national schools lined the road. At their head was a Chinese boy dressed in Chinese clothes who waved a small standard. He was from Chusan Island, near Shanghai, and had implored the protection of Colonel Mountain, Adjutant General with the Expeditionary Force, during the Opium Wars.

‘The boy had been sent to England in HMS Conway to be entrusted to the care of Colonel Mountain’s brother, the Rector of Havant.’

The Morning Chronicle announced that ‘Fourteen of the Royal stud have come down by train, from London, to await Her Majesty’s arrival at Havant, and The Bear Inn, in that town, has orders for three sets of four horses, as well as another for the Earl of Liverpool.’

The royal party spent about five minutes at Havant, where they changed horses, at The Bear.

However, Queen Victoria did not alight from her carriage. Queen Victoria’s final journey through Havant was in 1901 when her body was taken from Osborne House to Gosport in HM Yacht Alberta and then by train via Havant to London.