HMS Mahratta Report and the report on the Mahratta Swords.
The following report was sent to me by Mr M. J. Dyer.
HMS MAHRATTA (G23)
Originally ordered as Job No J1114, this ship was intended to bear the name HMS Marksman. However, on the 26th April 1942 Flag Officer Commanding the Royal India Navy signalled the Admiralty that the Mahratta Brigade wished to sponsor a ship on the same basis as the Gurkhas had already done. The change of name was proposed by the ships’ Names Committee on the 4th May 1942 and the consent of the King was received on the 19th May 1942. Scott’s shipyard were notified of the change of name to HMS Mahratta by letter dated 23rd May 1942.
It was perhaps unfortunate that the town of Walsall had already sponsored HMS MARKSMAN via their War Aid Fund, and it is understood that the renaming was not welcome in all quarters, and was not in accordance with the wishes of the ship’s company.
Having been damaged in an air raid on Scott’s in 1941 and subsequently re-erected, she was finally launched on the 28th July 1942, completed on 8th April 1943 and was assigned to the 3rd DF, Home Fleet.
Her commanding officer was LT Cdr E A F Drought DSC RN, who was appointed to the ship on the 18th February 1943.
HH the Maharaja of Dewas presented the ship with a silver plate and two Mahratta antique swords which were kept not on board but in a place of safety during hostilities.
After her work up in April and May 1943 she took part in Operation FH, the relief of the Allied garrison at Spitzbergen, having proceeded there via Seidisfjord during the first week of June.
In July 1943, she participated in Operations Camera and Governor, the large scale simulated raids off Norway already described in the section on Milne.
On 30th July 1943 a cheque for Rs 25,190-4-8 was received from Col C A Strong of the 5th Mahratta Light Infantry in respect of the sponsorship agreed during the ship’s building, and on the same day she accompanied Milne and Musketeer on Operation SF, one of a series of anti U-boat patrols off Iceland.
The next month Mahratta was part escort to the 10th CS on Operation Lorry, when a fast squadron ferried stores to Kola, and again took part in Operation SF, on another anti-submarine sweep described in the section on Meteor.
In September 1943, Mahratta went south for the only time in her short career when she sailed to the Mediterranean to escort the battleship HMS Valiant back to Plymouth where they arrived on the 10th October.
On the 21st September 1943, Mahratta was in the company of Sardonyx, Obedient and Shihari on convoy duty when a report was received from a n aircraft stating that a U-Boat had been sighted in position 62*19’’N, 14*55’’W. The report which was timed at 0727hrs was relayed to the C-in-C at Rosyth, and the ships worked up to maximum speed to intercept the U-Boat. The next signal from the aircraft corrected the position of the U-Boat, but the ships could not make contact with the aircraft which then failed to carry out the correct homing procedure. The result was that a promising situation degenerated into near farce. With no interception made, and two destroyers had to abandon the hunt early next morning because of lack of fuel.
The first convoy of the 1943-1944 season was RA54A, which returned ships which had spent the summer in Kola. The escorts were sent north between 20th and 28th October (Operation FR), the convoy left on 1st November and arrived at Lock Ewe a fortnight later without having been attacked.
With her sisters Milne, Meteor and Musketeer, Mahratta was part escort to convoy JW56B to Russian the last week of January 1944, the destroyers joined the screen on the 26th and this proved to be a very eventful trip for the escorts.
At 0835hrs on the 29th January, PO F Taylor, who was sweeping through the director binoculars, sighted a U-Boat bearing 120 degrees from the ship, and Mahratta gave chase, accompanied by Whitehall who had sighted the U-Boat five minutes after Mahratta. The two ships proceeded at 24 knots, which was Whitehall’s maximum speed, and at 0856hrs the ships opened fire at 11,000 yards range. The U-Boat dived at 0902 hrs after several shots had fallen close, and Whitehall dropped one depth charge at 0912 hrs, but contact was lost, and no damage was believed caused to the U-Boat. Twelve minutes later Mahratta sighted another U-Boat at about 8,000 yards range. Two depth charges were fired as an anti GNAT measure, and both ships turned towards the U-Boat which dived at 0928 hrs .
Whitehall then closed Mahratta, and at 0932 hrs carried out a Hedgehog attack with no apparent result. And asdic contact was lost six minutes later. The search was abandoned at 0948 hrs, and both destroyers turned due north to rejoin the convoy, but a third U-Boat was sighted at 1055 hrs bearing 085 degrees at 7 miles range. Mahratta and Whitehall gave chase at 24 knots, and the U-Boat dived four minutes after being sighted. At 1109 hrs the range was down to 2,000 yards and Whitehall fired one depth charge, and both ships then carried out “Observant”, before Whitehall gained a doubtful asdic contact. Mahratta made no contact at all, and at 1200 hrs both ships broke off the hunt to rejoin the convoy. During the actions described above, Mahratta expanded 34 rounds of SAP ammunition, but the light was not good, making range finding difficult. Lt Cdr Drought stated in his letter of proceedings that he felt that the ranges had been underestimated. Despite several other inconclusive hunts and many other HF/DF and Asdic contacts, the only loss to the convoy was the V class leader HARDY, torpedoed and wrecked by a U-Boat on 30th January and subsequently sunk by Venus. JW56B having arrived in the Kola Inlet on 1st February, Mahratta returned with convoy RA56 as described in previous chapter.
Mahratta’s final voyage commenced on 25th February 1944, when she departed from Lock Ewe as part escort to the cruiser Black Prince (Flag), Berwick and Jamaica which were covering convoy JW57, which consisted of 43 merchant ships.
On the night of 25th February 1944 Mahratta was screening the convoy at 12 knots in position 71*17’’N 13*30’’E about 280 miles off North Cape when she was torpedoed by U-990 in a heavy snowstorm. At 2100 hrs a slight shock was felt and the screws stopped. About five minutes later a much heavier explosion occurred as a result of a second torpedo hit. The ship flooded heavily abaft the engine room, and it is possible that her stern was blown off. She rolled over to port and sank by the stern at 2232 hrs, eleven officers and 210 ratings losing their lives, amongst them PO Taylor, who survived the sinking, but subsequently died of his wounds. The seventeen survivors were rescued by Impulsive and Active.
At the Board of Inquiry into the ships’s loss, held on 9th March 1944, LS T F Tomkins, D/SSX 27960, who was in the director when the ship was hit stated that all communications “were busted” after the first explosion, so he got out of the director and went to the after part of the bridge where he was drenched in oil fuel when the second explosion occurred.
Leading Stoker F A Gaines, D/KX 101319, was in the gearing room when the first explosion, which “wasn’t much of an explosion, more like a bump” took place, he thought at about 2055 hrs. The screws stopped immediately and lubricating oil began to leak from the system. The Chief left the gearing room to go to ascertain what had happened but before he got back there was a much more violent explosion, with a lot of blast and the gearing room filled with oil fuel. Leading Stoker Gaines thought that the 4” gun had come down into the ship, as there was a larger jagged hole where it should have been. He also stated that there was a lot of debris on top of the engine room hatch and on top of the pom-pom. He could not recall seeing any fire or flash, however.
AB W G McDonald, D/FX 103544 stated that he say a flash when the second explosion occurred, and thought he heard the Captain say “Send a signal-Mahratta been hit”, as he (McDonald left the bridge after the first explosion. When asked if the after magazine had exploded he said that he thought that possible, but couldn’t be sure, although a lot of debris was thrown up.
Mahratta was awarded the battle honour Arctic (1943-1944)
Her badge: In front of two swords in saltire white a shied also white on a blue ground.
Report on the Mahratta Swords and other Gifts, that was given to HMS Mahratta.
(From the Royal Navy Trophy Center, Portsmouth)
In 1943, the MahrattaRegiment of India presented the ship with a statue of a Mahratta Sepoy, a silver trat. 2 silver ink pots and a silver ink pad, and an unspecified number of Mahratta Infantry Swords and a Sheild. A letter from the Secretaryof the Admiralty to the ships's Commanding Officer dated 4th October 1943 explains that these items were the subject of a Dedication Agreement, that they were presented by His Highness Maharaja of Dewas and the Mahratta Light Infantry and that the Infantry had donated £885. 4s 0d towards the cost of the ship and made a donation of £1000. 0s 0d to the Royal Naval War Amenities Fund. A Dedication Agreement is a formal document which allows the donor of a Naval Trophy to stat his (or her) personal wishes fot the future of the gift once the original recipient ship reaches the end of her life, in the majority of such cases, the aggangements are that the items are to be held in safe custody until another ship of the same name enters service, at which time they are to be placed in the new vessel. In some cases the donor may ask that the items be returned to him/her when the ship is disposed of finally.
In July1959 the Admiralty Secretary was approched by the Indian Naval Authorities in London, who wished to establish whether the Trophies were still in use and, if so, where they were, the precise reason for this enquiry is not known.
The Commodore, HMS DRAKE was able to confirm that an Admiralty letter dated May 1945, had directed that the Trophies wer to be despatched to India. It was also confirmed that on 13th June 1945, 2 boxes, 1 parcel and 1 bag containing the items presented to HMS MAHRATTA had been sent- in all probability by sea- via the Superintending Naval Stores Officer in Devonport Dockyard to the Flag Officer Commanding Royal Navy, c/o Naval Headquarters in Bombay.
So the evidence indicates beyond any reasonable doubt that these gifts were returned to the original donor.