HMS Campbeltown was an old destroyer, one of the fifty superannuated American boats provided by President Roosevelt in exchange for the lease of British bases. Originally named the USS Buchanan, she was a flush-decked four-stacker built in the Bath Iron Works and launched 1919. She had spent most of her service life in reserve, and had been rescued from oblivion by Britain’s desperate need for convoy escorts. A relic of the previous war, Campbeltown, a weary old dog by 1942, to whom fate was about to give one last chance for glory.

On 10 March 1942, Campbeltown arrived at Devonport Dockyard, Portsmouth, where the extensive alterations could be carried out, hopefully, in the three weeks left. The ship was 95 metres long, by almost 10 metres across the beam, and a very slim craft, her flush-deck and four tall funnels giving her a very recognisable silhouette. The Campbeltown displaced almost 1200 tons, and with steam in all four boilers, could make a good 35 knots.

In converting the Campbeltown, it would be necessary always to think of how her draught1 would be affected by every pound of armour and explosives brought on board. To be sure of getting her safely across the mudbanks she would have to lightened to the extent that, even when the work was completed, her draught would be less than it was when work started.
(Draught: is the depth of a loaded vessell in the water)

USS Buchanan later HMS Campbeltown

The officer in charge of Campbeltown’s demolition, proposed that the ship be scuttled immediately after ramming and that her charge be exploded while she rested on the bottom, several hours after the force had cleared the area. The charge would be fixed in place before sailing, fused en route and completely sealed to guard against interference.

Campbeltown anchored in Falmouth on Wednesday 25 March. In addition to all the alterations specified, her after pair of tall, slender funnels had been removed and the forward pair cut at a slant to give her the silhouette of the German Möwe class boats. She had been successfully trimmed so that her stern would draw a mere eleven feet when travelling at 10 knots, which should allow her to pass safely over the shoals. Campbeltown was due to ram her caisson at 01.30 hours BST on the morning of Saturday 28 March.


© J.G. Dorrian, 1995