This entry is courtesy of David Winterbottom
Date of Death:30/01/1944
Service No:D/JX 402047
Memorial:Plymouth Naval Memorial
Panel Ref:Panel 89,Column 1
Telegraphy course at HMS Shrapnel,Aberdeen. Robert is far left on middle row
The other men killed on the Hardy (including three from Oldham) were:
ANKERS REGINALD 20 Able Seaman D/JX 170256 from Whitchurch,Shropshire
BRYAN GORDON 19 Able Seaman D/JX 417493 from Leicester
CARTER HAROLD 19 Ordinary Seaman D/JX 566389 from Chatham
CHAMBERS CLIFFORD 18 Ordinary Seaman D/JX 565859 from Neath
DAWSON RAYMOND 19 Writer D/MX 122554 from Oldham
DONLAN THOMAS 19 Ordinary Seaman D/JX 552138 from Derby
GARTSIDE FRED 29 Leading Cook D/MX 66465 from Werneth,Oldham
GREATBANKS REGINALD 21 Able Seaman D/JX 306054 from Northwich
GREAVES JOHN 22 Electrical Artificer D/MX 102291
HAMLETT GEORGE 23 Able Seaman D/SSX 25668 from Manchester
HARDWICK CLIFFORD 19 Able Seaman D/JX 419364 from Cleckheaton
HAWTHORNE JOSEPH 19 Able Seaman D/JX 417579 from Belfast
HENSON JAMES 19 Ordinary Seaman D/JX 418893 from Bristol
HOWIE THOMAS 26 Leading Stoker D/KX 103879 from Wallsend
JOHNSON ARTHUR 48 Leading Seaman D/J 16173 from Surrey
JOHNSON BERNARD 19 Able Seaman D/JX 417552 from Nottingham
JONES HENRY 19 Able Seaman D/JX 369895 from Rusholme,Manchester
LITTLE GEORGE 39 Petty Officer D/J 101838 from London
LORD JAMES 24 Leading Seaman D/SSX 22927 from Bolton
MALES FREDERICK 38 Petty Officer D/JX 132022 from Barry
MELLIN MALDWYN 21 Stoker 1st Class D/KX 138697 from Glamorgan
MURRELL JOHN Able Seaman D/JX 369066
McHUGH MICHAEL Petty Officer Supply D/MX 61196
NEEDHAM PATRICK 22 Able Seaman D/JX 198409 from Liverpool
ROYALES JAMES 19 Able Seaman D/JX 368601 from Oldham
SMITH ALBERT 19 Able Seaman D/JX 417195 from Glamorgan
SMITH ARTHUR 23 Able Seaman D/JX 304425 from Leicestershire
SMITH SYDNEY 20 Ordinary Telegraphist D/JX 387322 from Yorkshire
SMYTH JOSEPH Able Seaman D/JX 132396
STEVENS RAYMOND 21 Stoker 1st Class D/KX 137794 from Hampshire
SUART GRANVILLE Able Seaman D/JX 418315
TAYLER DOUGLAS 19 Able Seaman D/JX 419163 from Taunton
THOMAS SIDNEY 22 Able Seaman D/JX 366897 from Glamorgan
TUCKWELL CHARLES 43 Petty Officer D/J 115434 from Devon
On successful completion of the telegraphy course (in which his results were very creditable), Robert now classified as an Ordinary Telegraphist travelled to the Scottish shipyard of John Brown Shipbuilding and Engineering at Clydebank having been posted with effect from 4th August 1943 to his first ship HMS Hardy.
HMS Hardy was the flotilla leader of the V class destroyers carrying the Pennant No. R 08. The ship had a full complement of 180 Officers and men, a maximum speed of 31 knots, a normal displacement of 1800 tons with an overall length of 362ft. Her keel was laid down on 14th May 1942, launched on the18th March 1943 and following her builder’s sea trials, was commissioned into the Royal Navy on the 14th August 1943.
Her first posting was the Mediterranean, and although it is not known exactly where the ship went, the fact Robert’s medals included the North Africa Star means that she must have stopped somewhere on the North African continent before returning to home waters towards the end of the year.
On 12th January 1944 HMS Hardy left Loch Ewe in Scotland, as part of the escort to Convoy JW56A en-route to Murmansk on Russian Convoy Duty. Murmansk is the world’s northernmost ice-free seaport. It is situated beyond the Arctic Circle on the eastern coast of the Kola Inlet (lat.69’00’N,long. 33’03’E.). Owing to the Gulf Stream the Kola Inlet does not freeze and its harbour is open for navigation all the year round. The Hardy arrived at the Kola Inlet, the outer estuary leading to Murmansk there to await instructions to meet the next convoy JW 56B, which would leave Loch Ewe on the 22nd January 1944. Convoy JW56B comprised 14 American built Liberty ships and 3 British cargo vessels. HMS Hardy joined the convoy on the 29th January 1944. Following a sighting by a German reconnaissance aircraft some 15 U-boats were directed to the area. Among the enemy submarines was U-278 on its third patrol since being commissioned on 16th January 1943 under the command of Kapitan Lt. Joachim Franze. At 0357hrs on 30th January 1944, U-278 fired a “Gnat” torpedo that struck HMS Hardy causing severe damage. Survivors were picked up by HMS Venus but sadly Robert Lee was not one of them.
The damage to the Hardy was so significant that the hulk was sunk by HMS Venus so as not to be a danger to other shipping, its position some 60 miles south of Bear Island.
Robert Lee, one of many who have no known grave other than the sea is listed on the Royal Naval Memorial on Plymouth Hoe, as Plymouth was HMS Hardy’s home port. However Robert was also remembered by his former employers and colleagues at the Park Mill Royton. In the Reception area a plaque was placed in memory of him and another employee, James Nicholls.
Robert Lee was born in Royton on November 5th 1923, his parents being James & Elizabeth. Possible siblings for him are Lilian & Kathleen, if you have further information on his early life please do get in touch.
Robert was an employee of the Park Mill in Royton prior to joining the Royal Navy as a Telegraphist. He joined Royton Air Training Corps on February 6th 1942, being enrolled as Cadet no. 54 and remained with the Squadron until October 26th 1942. He lived at 154 Rochdale Road and was a regular attendee of St Paul’s Church, Royton.
His first posting was to HMS Royal Arthur where he reported on 2nd November 1942 to undertake Basic Training, HMS Royal Arthur was better known as Butlins Camp at Skegness, for kitting out,basic training in seamanship, then selection for the particular branch for training. As Robert was destined for telegraphy training he was then posted initially to HMS Shrapnel at Aberdeen from December.The wireless telegraphy course was to last some four months whereupon he was posted to HMS Scotia on 2nd May 1943, on the banks of the River Clyde in Scotland just outside Ayr. It was another Butlins Holiday Camp.
The course of training was very intensive and included all forms of signalling. Morse sending and receiving by W/T (Wireless Telegraphy), lamp and flag, visual by semaphore (hand flags and mechanical), signal flag hoists on the mast.The Signal School had a 60-foot mast and course members had to learn to climb it, practising until it was second nature.The instructors were a Chief Yeoman or Yeoman of Signals and course students were quickly told they would have to climb the mast as they were the ones who would replace the signal halyard ropes and the W/T aerials on board the ship and they always seemed to break in the first possible weather. They were reminded the ships mast would not keep still like the one at the Signal School. Course members moving between each period of instruction was done at the “double march”. Only instructors and officers were allowed to walk during instruction periods.
The WW2 memorial plaque that used to be in Park Mill reception
HMS Hardy leaving the Clyde, with Robert onboard, 14/8/1943