The History: When the Royal Naval Reserves were mobilised in August 1939, Sparrow's Nest,
Lowestoft became the Central Depot of the Royal Naval Patrol Service, at the most
easterly point of Great Britain, then the closest British military establishment to the enemy.
The advantages of using small ships for minesweeping and other duties had been
recognised during WW1 and many of the crews of the peacetime fishing fleets had
been encouraged to join the Royal Naval Reserve.
At first known as 'Pembroke X' the depot later became HMS Europa and was the
administrative headquarters for more than 70,000 men and 6,000 ships which
included trawlers, whalers, drifters, MFV's (Motor Fishing Vessels), ML's (Motor Launches),
and later MMS (Motor Minesweepers or 'Mickey Mouses'), American produced
BYMS (British Yard MineSweepers) and numerous requisitioned vessels.
Within a short while the Royal Navy had almost taken over Lowestoft with the
establishment of no fewer than five Naval Bases, HMS Europa (RNPS Headquarters),
HMS Martello (the local Minesweeping Base), HMS Mantis (Coastal Forces MGB's
and MTB's), HMS Minos (Harbour Defence, small escort and other craft) and HMS
Myloden (Landing Craft Training for RM Commandos and Combined Operations).
Here, however, we are only concerned with HMS Europa. The RNPS fought all over
the world in all theatres of the war and were involved mainly with minesweeping and
anti-submarine work. The only RNPS VC was won at Namsos by Lt. Stannard of Arab
during the Narvik
campaign but over 850 other awards were made to RNPS personnel as well as over
200 Mention in Despatches.
Vessels from RNPS were on convoy duty in the Atlantic and the Arctic, in the
Mediterranean and the Far East but many will first think of the keeping clear of the
War Channel. Throughout the early years of the war mines were laid by the Germans
by sea and air around the British Isles in an attempt to strangle the coastal convoys
which were used to keep Britain supplied. It was the work of the RNPS to keep the
shipping lane clear so that the convoys could continue and this meant constant
minesweeping because as soon as an area had been cleared it was a simple task for E-Boats or
aircraft to mine it again.
This hazardous work was recognised by the award of a unique silver badge to RNPS
minesweeping and anti-submarine crews. It was not an automatic award and only
given to those officers and ratings who had completed six months sea-time. The first
issue was with a vertical pin at the back but so many of these were lost that it was
changed to having four small eyes so that it could be sewn onto the sleeve.
Because the majority were Royal Naval Reservists the RNPS became 'a Navy within
a Navy' and was given a number of unofficial titles, 'Harry Tate's Navy' and 'Churchill's
Pirates' being two of the more polite. The peacetime crews becoming Naval
seamen together made for a special cameraderie which continued in the Service
throughout WW2 even though by the end most RNPS members were 'hostilities only'
who had probably had no connection with the sea before the war.
This brotherhood is reflected in the continuing activity of those who were involved in
WW2 with the present-day RNPS Association and long may it continue.
The image above is based on the original artwork by Chris Mayger
the Arrow paperback edition of Proud Waters, a novel about minesweeping by RNPS member Ewart Brookes.