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Writer was on Atlantic corvette; Maritime TALES.


WiNSTON Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty at the outbreak of World War II, ordered the building of corvettes, lightly-armed warships, to escort vital supply convoys crossing the Atlantic.

These corvettes - which were named after flowers - were based on whale catchers and were small and cheap to build.

First coming into service in April 1940, they bore the brunt of British and Canadian naval escort work in the Battle of the Atlantic. Nearly 300 corvettes were built and they sank 38 U-boat submarines with the loss of just 25 of their own number.

Liverpool-born Nicholas Monsarrat, author of best-selling 1951 novel The Cruel Sea, served as a young Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve on the Liverpool-based corvette HMS Campanula.

He used his memories from this period as material for The Cruel Sea and his wartime book HM Corvette (1942).

In The Cruel Sea, he described how the crew of a corvette "looked as if they had been through a tidal wave, emerging in tatters at the end of it" after 22 days at sea.

The RNVR - 6,000-strong in 1939 -was the Royal Navy's second line of reserves. Unlike the Royal Navy Reserve, it consisted of volunteers with no professional sea experience or training, who learnt their new roles remarkably quickly.

At Merseyside Maritime Museum, there is a display featuring Nicholas Monsarrat's wartime medals, both full-sized and miniature groups.

They are the 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star (with France and Germany clasp), Africa Star, War Medal 1939-45 with bronze oak leaf (for mention in despatches) and the Coronation Medal 1953.

A photograph shows Monsarrat, wearing a duffel coat and holding binoculars, on the bridge of the Campanula. The ship was based at the Albert Dock, which is now the home of the Maritime Museum.

In command of Campanula at this time was Lt Commander Richard Case RNR. Born and educated in Liverpool, Case was a professional sea officer with Coast Lines before the war.

After serving on Campanula, he took charge of the Londonderry-based frigate Rother which he guided safely through some of the fiercest convoy battles of the war.

On display are his steel helmet and woollen mittens which evoke those critical days on Atlantic and Arctic escort duties.

There is a 1:96 scale waterline model of one of the corvettes which did not come back. HMS Picotee, based in Greenock, was torpedoed and sunk by the U-568 while escorting a convoy off southern Ireland. More than 60 crew were lost.

Merseyside Maritime Museum is open seven days a week, admission free.


LOCAL LAD: Nicholas Monsarrat wrote The Cruel Sea based on his experiences on the corvette Campanula in the Battle of the Atlantic. Below, a model of HMS Picotee, which was sunk in 1941
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 20, 2007
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