Allied Warships

HMS Punjabi (F 21)

Destroyer of the Tribal class

HMS Punjabi during the Second World War

NavyThe Royal Navy
PennantF 21 
Built byScotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. (Greenock, Scotland) 
Ordered19 Jun 1936 
Laid down1 Oct 1936 
Launched18 Dec 1937 
Commissioned29 Mar 1939 
Lost1 May 1942 
Loss position66° 00'N, 8° 00'W

Pennant numbers:
F 21 January 1939 - Autumn 1940
G 21 Autumn 1940 - May 1942.

Immediately at the outbreak of World War 2, Punjabi began to patrol the North Atlantic with the rest of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla. For the first three months, her duties consisted of anti- submarine patrols and fleet screening duties all aggravated by exposure to violent gales.

During the Second Battle of Narvik on 13 April 1940, Punjabi was badly damaged by six shells but was back in action an hour later. Bigger action was to follow.

On 21/22 May 1941, it was believed that the German battleship BISMARCK was ready to break out into the Atlantic. Confirmation came through on 22nd May and the Home Fleet sailed at 2245. Punjabi as part of that Fleet, was not to share in the final cornering of Bismarck. Two days of high speed search soon depleted the destroyers fuel oil and by the 24/25th, all destroyers had to return to Hvalfiord, Iceland to refuel.

Prior to the invasion of Russia by Germany, Force 'K' consisting of Punjabi, HMS Aurora, HMS Nigeria and HMS Tartar left Scapa Flow for Spitsbergen with the intention of investigating that island's use as a naval base. It was intended that the ships stationed here could strike against German convoy traffic off Norway. Rear-Admiral Vian in Nigaria layer reported that a military occupation of Spitsbergen could be feasible but the winter ice in the fjords would prohibit the island's use as an all-year round naval base. After that mission, all of Punjabi's operations focused on Russian convoys.

In January 1942, Punjabi was retrofitted at Palmer's Yarrow Yard and immediately returned to her Home Fleet duties. On the 5 March 1942, she joined HMS Ashanti and HMS Bedouin in an abortive hunt for the German battleship Tirpitz. After a second attempt, Punjabi was forced to return to base with disabled steering gear.

While on duty with convoy PQ-15 on 1st May 1942, visibility suddenly closed in and the 35,000 ton battleship HMS King George V crashed into Punjabi's (Cdr. the Hon. John Montagu Granville Waldegrave, DSC, RN) port side just abaft the engine room and went through her like a butter knife at 25 knots. Punjabi's stern sank almost immediately. Her ready-use depth charges detonated, bucking the battleship's sides below the waterline and causing severe injuries to the survivors. Fortunately, Punjabi's forepart sunk quite slowly thus allowing 169 people to be saved by HMS Martin and HMS Marne.
Position 66º00'N, 08º00'W.


Commands listed for HMS Punjabi (F 21)

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1Cdr. John Trevor Lean, RN22 Feb 193928 Feb 1941
2Cdr. Stuart Austen Buss, RN28 Feb 194114 Jan 1942
3Lt.Cdr. John Montagu Granville Waldegrave, DSC, RN14 Jan 19421 May 1942

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Notable events involving Punjabi include:

24 Oct 1940
HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN) HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN) and HMS Matabele (Cdr. R.St.V. Sherbrooke, DSO, RN) sink the German weather ship WBS 5 / Adolf Vinnen (391 BRT) some 25 miles north-west of Stadlandet, Norway.

This sinking is often credited to the British submarine HMS Seawolf but this is not correct.

1 May 1942
I was a Telegraphist on Punjabi from its retrofit in January, 1942, until she was sunk by KGV in a thick fog on May 1, 1942, while part of a distant escort to convoy PQ15. Fortunately, I was in the forepart of the ship, waiting to go on watch at 1600 hours, in the aft part of Punjabi. Miraculously, due to HMS Martin and HMS Marne coming to our rescue, 206 crew members survived.Ironically, we made the trip back to Scapa Flow from Iceland aboard the ship that sank us, KGV. She had a bad gash in her bow. (1)

Media links

British destroyers & frigates

Norman Friedman

Destroyers of World War Two

Whitley, M. J.


  1. Personal communication

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