Southend has adopted two ships over the years one had a distinguished war record the other never went to war.
Southend adopted the Second World War Tribal class destroyer HMS Ashanti, the ship was built by William Denny of Dumbarton, she was named after the Ashanti People ethnic group who are located on the Gold Coat in West Africa.
HMS Ashanti was ordered in June 1936 with the keel being laid down on 23rd November 1936, her production was rapid with Ashanti being launched on 5th November 1937. At her launch she carried the pennant number L51, she carried this number until December 1938 when she re-designated F51 however this designation only lasted until Autumn 1940 when she became G51.
Ashanti along with her 15 Tribal class sister ships for the Royal Navy were all expected to visit their tribal’s people however Ashanti was one of the few to actually undertake a visit to the people she was named after.
She visited Takordal on 27th February 1939, the Ashanti people presented the ship crew with a silver bell along with a gold shield. The presentation was made by the Asantehene the leader of the Ashanti Chief Osei Tutu Agyeman Prepeh the 2nd. The ship welcomed the Ashanti people on board many of who gave the crew members good luck charms and symbols of valour to protect the ship from harm.
With the dark clouds of war looming, the Royal Navy dispatched Ashanti on a good will visit to France in December 1939 as an act of friendship and trust between the two once foe’s. The following month Ashanti was pressed into service with the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, she was tasked to attempt the rescue of the submarine HMS Thetis the submarine was found afloat but heavily damaged just four men were pulled from the stricken submarine before she slipped below the waves taking the other 99 men trapped deep inside the submarine with her.
At the outbreak of the Second World War Ashanti was still with the 6th Flotilla they were working alongside the French Navy, however as France was rapidly over run by the advance of the Nazi war machine the 6th Flotilla saw less and less combined operations with the French Navy, by 1940 Ashanti’s main role was in anti-submarine patrols, escort duties and as a support ship to the big gun capital ships.
She was called back to port in march 1940 after a leak let seawater into the main boiler water feed.
Repairs were rapidly undertaken with her leaving port in April 1940, when she was sent to support operations in Norway during her time in the North Sea she achieved little in combat victories but came under regular attacks from patrolling German fighter aircraft, one attack knocked out her main turbo-generator resulting in the main power systems on the ship failing. Low power was restored to the ship so she zigzagged her way out of the fjord and to the relative safety of more friendly waters.
She was returned to escort and anti-submarine duty’s in June 1940.
With the introduction of the new battleship King George V, Ashanti was tasked to form part of a five ship “Special Escort” to Scapa Flow, the main threat to the new battleship was the underwater mines dropped by the Luftwaffe.
The five Destroyers took the lead and had to sail straight into the minefield, HMS Fame ran aground during the night whist at high speed the weather at the time was drizzle and low visibility. Ashanti was immediately to the stern and collided with Fame damaging both ships fuel lines HMS Fame caught fire whist Ashanti was able to move away. The tribal class destroyer HMS Maori also ran aground destroying it’s secret ASDIC dome.
The crews had not been briefed on the nature of the escort but as the tide receded they all become grounded and had to wait for the next high tide before refloating, however as the tide came back in the destroyers swung on their anchor chains and were rammed against rocks, Ashanti suffered to its hull, the damage was so severe that Vickers Armstrong sent a repair crew to the site of the Ashanti to carry out emergency repairs, the refloating of Ashanti took two weeks to complete she was then taken undertow to Sunderland for extensive repairs and hull stiffening the work took a year to complete.
Once she was back in service Ashanti met up with other tribal class destroyers on Operation Archery off the Norwegian Lofoten Islands during December 1941. The operation was to clear the German forces from the islands so that they could be used as a forward operating base for attacks on German shipping. The operation was called off on 28th December 1941 after mass German air attacks on the fleet.
The Tribal fleet were next tasked to join the Arctic Convoy escorts on runs from the United Kingdom to Murmansk, they were then switched to escort runs to Malta, before being returned to escorting the Russian convoys. The Tribal class destroyers had been escorting the freighters to Russia without the essential insulation round the vital parts of the ship, this resulted in cold related breakdowns and damage, each ship was called back to port to have the insulation fitted before returning to the Russian convoy escort duties.
Ashanti was one of the escorts for convoy PQ18, the convoy departed loch Ewe, Scotland on 2nd December 1942. The convoy was attacked by a number of U-Boats and raids by the Luftwaffe aircraft one raid consisted of 42 Heinkel He111 torpedo bombers with with 35 Junkers Ju88 dive bombers flying in at the same time over loading the air defence guns. Once the bombers had left the scene the U-Bpats returned and begun picking the ships off one at a time. However the U-Boats did not have it all their own way U-88 was sunk by HMS Faulknor, U-457 by HMS Impulsive and U-589 by HMS Onslow assisted by the aircraft from HMS Avenger. The convoy lost eight ships on 12th September but revenge for the losses saw five German aircraft show down the following day by the Sea Hurricanes of HMS Avenger, the convoy lost the tanker AA Atheltemplar after being hit by torpedoes on 14th September. The convoy remained under attack but the crews concentrated its protective umbrella of anti aircraft fire to great effect shooting down a further 20 aircraft no more ships were lost at sea the convoy arrived in port on 21st September 1942, however a raid by the Luftwaffe on Murmansk harbour saw two more ships sunk in total 13 of the convoy’s 40 merchantman’s were lost.
Ashanti was assigned to escort the return convoy (QP14) this convoy also came under sustained attack by the German forces, with HMS Somali was working in conjunction with Ashanti hunting U703 however lack of fuel hindered the search, the U-boat was able to launch a torpedo hitting the Somali causing extensive damage a skeleton crew were left on the ship with the rest evacuated, the crew remaining onboard attempted to save the ship but it suddenly sunk taking them down with it. The losses on that day continued with five merchantman’s being lost along with the minesweeper HMS Leda.
Ashanti was then reassigned to form part of the Operation Torch task force escorting the big capital ships preparing for the invasion of North Africa on 8th November 1942, once the landings were underway Ashanti was tasked to patrol the Mediterranean to fend off any German ships interfering with the landings. She would remain stationed here until June 1943 when a further leak with the water feed tanks saw her return to the United Kingdom for further work this time visiting the Thames Estuary shipyards.
Upon leaving the shipyards she was positioned at Scapa Flow and tasked to escort the convoys going through the Arctic routes throughout the rest of 1943. From early 1944 she was repositioned to patrol the English Channel as the build up of the Normandy Landings go underway. She was joined on the patrol by the tribal class destroyers Eskimo & Javelin, these were assisted by the N-Class destroyers of the Polish Navy ORP Piorun, ORP Blyskawica.
With the liberation of Europe underway Ashanti was redeployed to prevent the evacuation of German troops from France, she engaged a German convoy off Ile d’yen on the 5th August 1944 she sunk two escort minesweepers and a patrol vessel her patrol partner the Canadian HMCS Haida was damaged in the battle. This saw her last active engagement of the war.
Ashanti was recalled to port for an extensive and expensive re-fit she missed the rest of the Tribal class force deployment to Asia to aid in the fight against Japan.
Despite the major refit it was clear that the Ashanti was past her fighting prime and no longer a capable machine of war so with that in mind she was placed into the Naval Reserve after VJ DAY.
Ashanti was transferred to the Fit for Disposal list and then moved to a Navy Gunnery range as a target ship, she was then towed to the West of Scotland Shipbreakers arriving on the 12th April 1949.
HMS opportune was an Oberon class submarine she was laid down on 26th October 1962 at the Scotts Greenock Yard, Scotland. She was launched on 14th February 1964 and entered service on 29th December 1964, The Opportune had a surfaced displacement of 2030tons with a submerged displacement of 2410tons, her length was 295ft 3in, with a beam of 26ft 6in. HMS Opportune visited Southend on Wednesday 12th—Tuesday 18th August 1987.
She remained in service until paid off on 2nd June 1993.
Opportune remained at the Pounds Scrapyard, Portsmouth for a number of years before it was finally scrapped.