Memories of first Royal Navy ship sunk by a guided missile - Nostalgia
Martin Longhurst contacted me about his late father Herbert who served in the sloop HMS Egret, said to be the first ship sunk by a guided missile, and this was in 1943.
During an anti U-boat mission, Operation Percussion, in the Bay of Biscay in August, Egret fell victim to a Henschel 293 glider bomb launched from a Dornier 217.
The weapon was a 500kg bomb fitted with wings with a range of seven miles and was radio-controlled by an operator in the aircraft. There was a small rocket motor of 12-second duration.
HMS Egret capsized and only 35 officers and ratings were rescued by the Canadian HMCS Athabaskan. Herbert was not among them.
A total of 194 members of the ship’s company went down with her plus four RAF technicians hoping to determine the radio frequency operating the missile. Three days earlier a similar missile had damaged the sloop HMS Bideford.
Martin says: ‘Being only six months old at this time, I of course wasn't aware of this. I was seven before my mum told me that my dad had died in the war and even then she had, like all wartime widows, only limited information because of early post-war security.
‘It wasn't until many years later when I myself was at sea, serving in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary deep sea tug Reward, that I contacted the RN records museum and was sent scanned records of the battle log and more importantly the longitude and latitude to pinpoint where my dad and his shipmates rest. This is about 30 miles west of Vigo, Spain, very near the main shipping routes for vessels sailing to and from the Mediterranean and beyond.
‘In my 12 years at sea I had possibly passed over or very near where Egret lay. It is with regret that had I known I could have marked the occasion.’
Martin adds: ‘My dad's name, along with his shipmates, are engraved on our well-kept cenotaph on Southsea common and my wife Linda and I visit each remembrance Sunday. I'm pleased to say each of our sons and six grandchildren has also visited.’
And the Royal Navy theme continues in the family. Martin continues: ‘My granddaughter Amber has recently joined the Royal Navy and passed out at HMS Raleigh.
‘She always showed an interest in her great grandad Herbie, as she calls him.
‘On completion of basic training, she awaits her first seagoing deployment and has promised me that should she find herself anywhere near the position of Egret's resting place she would, in her words, “blow Herbie a kiss and throw her smartest salute”.
‘I find that very humbling and it makes me very proud.’