HMS Erith was a Steam trawler, Official Number 130000, built 1917 at Selby, Yorkshire by Cochran & Sons, as a Mersey Class Royal Naval mine-sweeper of 325 gross tons. Originally named Thomas Atkinson, it served in that capacity until sold to commercial buyers in 1922, re-named Cavendish, and registered at Hull with the Fishing Number H909. It was re-named Eugenuisz in 1938 and moved to Fleetwood in 1939 and re-named the Erith, no.FD93. It was requisitioned by the Royal Navy as a mine-sweeper in 1940 until the end of hostilities in1945
The Erith like other trawler minesweepers did not carry depth charges, relying simply on being able to cut the hawser of fixed, submerged mines and generally using service issue rifles to try and detonate them. The "hawser" was nicknamed the " Paternoster" for two reasons, the first it was an old fashioned term for a fishing line with many hooks on it to increase the chances of a catch. The second referring to the religious Paternoster "The Lords Prayer" because having caught a mine that's when one started to pray
The steel hawser had a Buoyant Float shaped like the hull of a yacht and when towed at "mining speed" usually anything above 8knots the float would swing out to the starboard side of the ship and the line played out to a safe distance. In most cases 200 - 300 hundred yards, but only if in safer waters i.e.not within distance of the German shore gun batteries or in frequently patrolled water where German aircraft or E Boats were operating and of course if sweeping near a harbour.
In these conditions the line was kept short 50 to 100 yards so it could be retrieved quickly to sneak away, this of course is when the second part of the nickname came in useful. Just before the float about 2 yards up the wire, a cutter was clamped to slice through the anchor cable releasing the mine to the surface or in most cases, this is what should have happened. If the mine anchor cable jumped the cutter it would foul up the float and start to pull the float down to the mine and would either explode the mine or as in most cases just tangle up. The crew had to be alert at all times so as not to tangle up and drag the mine which may then tangle on others, if there were any about, if the float had tangled, it was at the Captains discretion to cut away the hawser or order a retrieval which meant some unlucky crew member had to go out and untangle the mess, more often than not, it would be dragged to try to dislodge the anchor and hope the mine would surface, if it had not done so already then the crew members got to shoot at it, with the totally reliable 303 Lee Enfield in what was usually at best choppy waters with most of the time 3 to 6 feet swells, most of the crew would be on deck watching from the best hiding position and the lad who hit it, got extra rum and tobacco so most became good shots .
During February 1945 HMS Erith was on task with the Minesweeper Auxiliary Group 21 sweeping mines from around the area of the Humber Estuary when Robert Aerstall was involved in a tragic accident on 15th February 1945 resulting in him losing his life after being lost overboard.
Age - 20
Date of Death:15/02/1945
Service No:LT/JX 364514
Service:Royal Naval Patrol Service
Unit:HM Trawler Erith
Memorial:Lowestoft Naval Memorial
Panel Ref:Panel 16, Column 3
Whilst it is not known exactly where HMS Hound sailed during Robert’s time with the ship what is known is that it took part in D-Day operations off the coast of Normandy. It was one of the eighty eight minesweepers engaged on sweeping operations during the Allied assault on the Normandy Beaches before, during and after the 6th June 1944.
On the 24th August 1944 he was posted to an Auxiliary Training Establishment at HMS Nimrod in Campbeltown followed by a return to HMS Drake at Devenport on 6th January 1945. On 2nd February Robert was posted to HMS Europa the base of the Royal Naval Patrol Service, based at Lowestoft but with outstations throughout the country, much of the RNPS fleet consisted of requisitioned trawlers equipped for minesweeping the inshore waters of the UK. His posting was to HMS Colonsay the RNPS outstation at Grimsby four days later on 6th February and upon arrival immediately joined the Grimsby based trawler minesweeper HMS Erith.
Many thanks to David Winterbottom for this entry
HMS Hound © IWM (A 15138)
Robert Aerstall was born in Rochdale in 1924 and was the son of Robert and Eda (nee Ramsbottom). Possible siblings for him were Dorothy, Robert, Margaret, George and Olwyn.If you have further information on his family please get in touch. He was a parishioner of St.James' in Thornham and his name is also recorded on that church's memorial.
Robert lived on Castleton Road, Royton and was employed in one of the local mills in the area. He joined Royton ATC on its first parade night, one of the 37 recruits that evening on the 2nd January 1942 being enrolled as Cadet no. 9. He was with the Squadron until he left on July 4th 1942 to enlist in the Royal Navy
He reported to HMS Raleigh at Torpoint for basic training on the 8th July 1942 followed by training at HMS Defiance in Devonport on the 29th September 1942. On the 8th November 1942 he was posted to HMS Drake to await joining his first ship. The first ship was HMS Hound, an Algerine class Minesweeper, built by Lobnitz & Co Ltd of Renfrew, of which the Royal Navy had a total of 98 such craft in service during the War. The ship had a full complement of 107 Officers and men with a displacement of 990 tons, a maximum speed of 16 knots and armaments comprising 1 - 4 inch gun, 4 – Oerlikon 20mm guns, Hedgehog anti submarine weapon as well as a stock of 92 depth charges.
The Algerine Class Ships were capable of dealing with Acoustic, Moored or Magnetic Mines and were designed to be able to clear such hazardous objects in conditions up to Force 5.
Robert's entry on the Lowestoft Naval Memorial
The trawler Cavendish at Grimsby in 1938,later to be requisitioned as HMS Erith. Courtesy of David Winterbottom