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This page last updated 14th July 2009

The 7th MSF
(Minesweeping Flotilla)

In the first four months of 1944 the 7th MSF comprising PELORUS (Senior Officer), PLUCKY, PICKLE, LENNOX, PINCHER, RECRUIT and FANCY was formed. A short period of sweeping, including acoustic sweeping, off the east coast was the prelude to arriving at Portsmouth, there to prepare for Operation "Neptune", the naval part of "Overlord", the Invasion of Normandy. By now joined by RIFLEMAN, the flotilla was attached to Force J, part of the Eastern Task Force, covering the assault of Courselles, the sweepers task being to sweep channel 8, and after the assault troops had landed, to keep clear the area between channels 7 and 8. On 5th June, 1944 the naval force set forth for France, led by the 7th and with PELORUS at the head. This was most symbolic as the Captain of PELORUS was Commander George Nelson, and as they sailed the flotilla replied to the "Good Luck" message from Admiral Ramsay by proudly flying the signal "Nelson in the Van".

The problems in sweeping in tidal waters over such a period and distance as that required for the Normandy invasion are indeed difficult and most complex. Sufficient to say that the 7th as did all the Algerine flotillas engaged that day, successfully accomplished the necessary manoeuvres, receiving the commendation of the Task Force Commander (Sir Philip Vian) for their "magnificent work in the difficult conditions of rough sea and fierce channel cross-tides".

For the next few weeks the flotilla continued sweeping channels and anchorage areas off Normandy, interspersed with escorting convoys to and from the beach areas and south coast ports. On 10th July the 7th suffered its first casualty when PELORUS, taking part in an Oropesa sweep was damaged by a mine exploding under the port quarter, lifting the ship bodily from the water. The port engine and screw were damaged but no casualties reported.. As a result PELORUS had to retire and was three months being repaired on Tyneside. At night during this period the flotilla took its turn on the "Trout Line" but without any incident of note. As the troops moved up the coast so the flotilla went with them clearing channels to the ports as these became available. In November PELORUS and LENNOX transferred to the 6th MSF leaving PICKLE as Senior Officer.

In the early part of 1945 the flotilla was sent out to the Far East to be based at Colombo. The ships went out in penny numbers as part of escort groups for various convoys. The passage of PINCHER and RECRUIT provided the greatest drama. On 22nd April off Cape St Vincent, the convoy escorted by a pair of Algerines encountered a U-boat, U300, on the surface. The two Algerines opened fire with all weapons which could be brought to bear and scored a number of hits, forcing the crew to abandon the U-boat which then sank. This was the first confirmed sinking of a U-boat by an Algerine, the credit being shared equally between PINCHER and RECRUIT.

Another of the flotilla, the newly allotted SQUIRREL, also had a passage full of incident when escorting a floating dock which foundered in the Bay of Biscay. In trying to get a boarding party on board the dock SQUIRREL was damaged and had to return to Plymouth, delaying her joining up with the 7th until May. Meanwhile the flotilla now comprising PICKLE (SO), PLUCKY, VESTAL, CHAMELEON (new replacement), RECRUIT, PINCHER and RIFLEMAN assembled in Colombo in late April. A former member of the flotilla, FANCY, had left the 7thin the Mediterannean where she stayed with the 19th MSF.

The 7th was quicky involved in operations when called upon to take part in the assault on Rangoon early in May. This task successfully completed, and after more sweeping and escort duties, a number of the flotilla, PLUCKY (SO), VESTAL, RIFLEMAN, PINCHER and SQUIRREL sailed from Trincomalee on 19th July to take part in Operation "Livery" supported by the battleship NELSON, the cruiser SUSSEX, four destroyers and two escort carriers. The area to be swept lay off Phuket Island. On the evening of the 24th July, the first day of the sweep, a mine exploded and destroyed PLUCKY's starboard sweep. The next ship in line was SQUIRREL, which did not turn quickly enough to port, and thus continued to steam into unswept water and almost immediately hit a mine. She was very badly damaged and after a couple of hours the crew were taken off and SQUIRREL was sunk by the gunfire of the supporting ships.

During the next two days the flotilla continued the sweep, in which time a further 24 mines were swept. On the morning of the 26th July the Force was attacked by Japanese bombers which were driven off after losing several and causing little damage. The same evening a Kamikaze (suicide) squadron returned, the first such attack on any unit of the East Indies fleet. Despite anti-aircraft fire from the Force one plane crashed onto VESTAL, resulting in the ship being badly damaged - "the whole of the centre of the ship being a blazing crater". the crew abandoned ship, leaving 20 of their shipmates dead or missing. VESTAL was then sunk by gunfire from the destroyers. So the 7th had suffered grievously in the space of three days, losing two ships and many good men.

After returning to Trincomalee there followed a sweep of the Malacca Strait by PLUCKY (SO), RIFLEMAN, RECRUIT and PINCHER along with the Algerine 6th MSF FRIENDSHIP (SO), and the Royal Indian Navy 37th MSF (Bathursts). The minesweeping force cleared the approaches to Sabang and Penang for the cruisers LONDON and CLEOPATRA and the battleship NELSON aboard which the surrender of Penang was to be signed. More sweeping for the cruisers was done by PINCHER, CHAMELEON and PICKLE clearing channels to port in Batavia. The next twelve months were spent undertaking mine clearance off Malaya and North Borneo. Finally, in August 1946, the flotilla left Colombo to return home; some, like PICKLE and PINCHER, to the reserve, others to join other flotillas elsewhere. In its short life of just three years the 7th MSF had taken part in the biggest minesweeping operation in history at Normandy and had suffered the loss of two of its ships in a war thousands of miles from home. The Battle Honours awarded to the ships of the 7th MSF - Normandy 1944 and Burma 1945 cannot fully reflect the tremendous work done by this flotilla in the cause of victory.

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