HMS Ashanti (F 51)
Destroyer of the Tribal class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||William Denny & Brothers (Dumbarton, Scotland)|
|Ordered||19 Jun 1936|
|Laid down||23 Nov 1936|
|Launched||5 Nov 1937|
|Commissioned||21 Dec 1938|
Every British Tribal was supposed to visit the people for whom the ship was named. If this suggestion was carried out, it would have been a very lengthy voyage for HMS Maori, an impossible task for HMS Gurkha and diplomatically impossible for HMS Cossack and HMS Tartar.
Luckily, HMS Ashanti was the only Tribal to make a special journey to her namesakes, the country of Ghana in Africa and specifically an area known as the Gold Coast. Her completion had been held up by the delay of gun mountings. After workups were completed at Portland, England Ashanti departed to Gibraltar in company with HMS Eskimo. After Gibraltar, Ashanti continued alone to Freetown, Sierra Leone and then to Takoradi, Ghana where she arrived on 27 February 1939. There, the ship's company was presented with a silver bell and a gold shield by the Asantehene (through Chief Prempeh II) and the people of Ashanti. When the ship was open for visitors, the local witchdoctors presented emblems of good fortunes to her and placed symbols of valour and survival upon the destroyer.
On 3 May 1939, Ashanti and her sister Tribals arrived at Cherbourg, France for a good will visit. With war looming, it seemed likely that British and French destroyers would be working together very closely. It was important that they be friends, not just allies. As part of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla (D.F.), Ashanti was ordered to the Irish Sea on 1st June when it was reported that the submarine HMS Thetis had failed to surface during her sea trials. The submarine was located with 18 feet of her stern sticking out of the water. Four had escaped but ninety-nine men were still trapped inside. A salvage attempt failed and the submarine disappeared beneath the sea.
When war began, the 6th D.F. was cruising with the Home Fleet and French ships in the North Atlantic. Gradually the ships saw less and less of each other as wartime patrols and new missions developed. Over the next several months, Ashanti's main responsibilities were anti-submarine patrol followed by some brief escort duties in December. Ashanti began 1940 with more anti-submarine patrols, convoy escort duties and supporting capital ships. Seawater began seeping into her boiler feed water tanks so she was dry-docked for repairs at Cowes, England on 21 March . Later on 9 April, she returned to the Home Fleet in time to participate in the Norwegian campaign. She shared in the fruitless sweep of the North Sea and the enemy air attacks which accompanied those missions. While exploring a Norwegian fiord with HMS Nubian, she was attacked by German bombers. One near miss bounced off Ashanti's side and exploded beneath her. The main turbo-generator was blown off its bedplate by the resultant shock and naturally, the power failed. Steering by hand from the tiller flat, Ashanti zigzagged out of the fjord at 26 knots for a successful escape. For most of June, July, August and September, she took part in fleet escort duties and anti-submarine patrols in the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. By 16 October, the new British battleship HMS King George V was nearing completion at the Vickers-Armstrong yard on the Tyne river. That ship would need a powerful escort of cruisers and destroyers to take her up the coast to Scapa Flow, Scotland. Ashanti and five other destroyers were ordered to carry out a high speed run through the channel leading to the Tyne river. Collectively, it was hoped that these ships would produce enough magnetic and acoustic disturbance to simulate a battleship’s passage and detonate any mines which may have been sowed in the channel by the enemy. Surrounded by secrecy and steaming at speed in a murky drizzle, HMS Fame ran straight onto the beach at Whitburn Rifle Range. Ashanti, doing six knots and slightly behind her, struck Fame a glancing blow. The shock shattered The shock shattered fuel oil pipes in both ships and HMS Fame caught fire. HMS Maori also came too close to shallow water and sheared off her ASDIC dome. The other ships stopped in time and no further damage occurred. No one new why they were there or the purpose of the entire exercise. When daylight came, it became obvious that the destroyers were left high and dry by the receding tide. As the tide rose, the bows of many of the destroyers held fast. The swell lifted and swung their free sterns dropping them unto the rocks and damaging the bottom plates. Ashanti, in particular, sustained such severe damage, that Vickers-Armstrong sent a crew to her aid. They stripped off all armament and sealed off what they could at low tide. On 9th of November, after two weeks of effort, Ashanti was re-floated and taken to Sunderland, England for extensive repairs and hull stiffening. The winter of 1940/41 proved to be a trying period for Ashanti. A shortage of armament and numerous new defects beset the ship and caused the re-commissioning date to be continuously postponed. At last, at the end of August 1941, she was ready for action again but a propeller shaft that was found to be out of alignment caused another delay.
The autumn of 1941 consisted of patrols, sweeps and constant exercises interspersed with boiler cleaning. Just before Christmas 1941, the Tribals of the Home Fleet learned that they were to take part in an Operation in the Lofoten Islands. Force 'Z', as it was known, would clear the Germans out of the village of Rheine and use it as a base for offensive operations against German coastal shipping in Norwegian waters. Shore targets were hit and small German boats were damaged. The presence of Force 'Z' was reported back to Germany so a decision was made to abandon the harbour on 28th December after some coaxing by the German Luftwaffe.
After a boiler clean on 10 January 1942, Ashanti arrived at Scapa Flow and spent January and February escorting capital ships on exercises besides convoy escort on the Murmansk run. By the beginning of August, she and the other ships of Force 'Z' set sail for Gibraltar. There, they would provide cover for a massive convoy being assembled to support Malta. After the exhausting heat of the Mediterranean, the Tribals were sent back to the bitter cold of the Arctic for convoy duty. Later in the war, surviving Tribals would be 'arcticised'. Steam or electric heating was supplied to the gun mountings and torpedo tubes and special insulation was fitted to critical machinery to ensure it would not be affected by the freezing temperatures. On 20th September, while providing cover for convoy QP-14, a German submarine was detected. Depth charging did not produce any results and the contact was lost. Ashanti, running low on fuel, interchanged positions with HMS Somali on the inner screen and awaited a favourable opportunity to refuel. Somali took up Ashanti’s position and was immediately hit amidships by a torpedo from the German submarine U-703. The damage was very extensive. Only the upper deck was holding the ship together. Most of Somali's crew was transferred to other ships except for 80 who remained aboard for damage control. Somali was then taken in tow by Ashanti. After towing the crippled ship for nearly 420 miles, Somali's remaining plates buckled and she folded in half and sank on 24th September. Only a few men survived.
By the end of October, HMS Ashanti, HMS Eskimo and HMS Tartar, joined Force 'H' for Operation Torch, screening the big ships en route to the invasion of North Africa. On 8th November, the landings began and Force 'H' cruised off -shore to deal with any interference from enemy ships.
In January 1943, Ashanti returned to Gibraltar for repairs to her feedwater tanks. While berthing along HMS Renown, the destroyer chipped one of her propellers on the battlecruiser’s bilge keel. After repairs were completed, more North African coastal patrols were assigned to the ship. By March, Ashanti, was pronounced unfit for operations and was sent to Malta to have the defects rectified. Following that, she sailed back to England for a major refit and more work on the chronic problems with the feedwater tanks.
On 15 October 1943, she arrived at Scapa Flow to begin workups and service with the Home Fleet. By now, the lengthening Arctic nights afforded some protection so she was back on convoy duty. From now on, Ashanti would be working closely with the Canadian Tribals. Eventually she became a 'chummy' ship with HMCS Haida. Beginning in 1944, Ashanti and numerous other ships began a series of patrols in the Straits of Dover and the mouth of the English Channel in preparation for 'D' Day. As part of the 10th D.F. now, she provided cover during the invasion and patrolled the English Channel keeping it clear of enemy ships. Ashanti spent some time protecting convoys between Plymouth, Falmouth and Milford Haven, England but on 16th September, she arrived at Palmer’s Jarrow Yard for a refit. Her troubles were very serious. All auxiliary machinery had to be restored. The low pressure turbines were removed and partially rebladed. Numerous other items had to be rectified. The Royal Navy spent a quarter of a million pounds on repairs. When the refit was over, more problems were discovered and she was held up again. This time Ashanti was passed over and went into reserve at Rosyth, Scotland and was later laid up at Harwich.
In 1948, she was used in damage control tests in Loch Striven. Ashanti had survived North Atlantic gales, the Norwegian Campaign, running aground, Arctic convoys, the invasion of North Africa, U-boats, aircraft, and some of the toughest destroyer fighting of the Second World War. On 12 April 1949, she could no longer hold on and was destined to be broken up at Troon. She was an absolute nightmare from a maintenance and engineering viewpoint, yet she never let anyone down while in action. What more could be asked of a warship? The old witchdoctors’ spells had proved stronger than the hazards of the sea and the violence of the enemy.
Commands listed for HMS Ashanti (F 51)
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|1||Cdr. William Gronow Davis, RN||29 Nov 1938||early 1941|
|2||Cdr. Richard George Onslow, RN||1 Jun 1941||13 Dec 1942|
|3||Lt.Cdr. John Richard Barnes, RN||13 Dec 1942||19 Aug 1944|
|4||Lt.Cdr. Cuthbert Richard Purse, DSC, RN||19 Aug 1944||24 Jun 1945|
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Notable events involving Ashanti include:
13 Sep 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted exercises to the west of Scapa Flow together with HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN).
During these exerices Prince of Wales was escorted by HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. B.G. Scurfield, OBE, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) and HMS Vivacious (Lt.Cdr. R. Alexander, RN). (1)
8 Oct 1942
HMS H 34 (Lt. J.P.H. Oakley, DSC, RN) conducted A/S exercises at / off Scapa Flow with HMS Meteor (Lt.Cdr. D.J.B. Jewitt, RN), HMS Obdurate (Lt.Cdr. C.E.L. Sclater, DSO, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, DSO, RN) and HMS Eskimo (Capt. J.W.M. Eaton, DSO, DSC, RN). (2)
- ADM 53/114892
- ADM 173/17242
- File 2.12.03.6398 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.