ESCORT                                                       ISSUE 115


A 1:72 scale diorama by Chris Drage



A diorama depicting HMS Poppy rescuing crew from the stricken S.S. Wanstead  (Convoy ONS3)

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest running battle of WW2, fought between September 1939 and May 1945 by British, Canadian and United States’ escorts, protecting convoys of merchant ships carrying essential supplies to Britain, against the German U-Boat ‘Wolfpacks’.  In his memoirs, Winston Churchill recalled “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril”.  The battle reached a peak in early 1943, after which the numbers of Allied ships lost fell, as the number of U-Boats sunk rose.  This was due to the increased numbers of R.N. escorts available, improved radar and sonar in the escorts and the increased operational range of shore based patrol aircraft.  Escorts were also used more effectively by being placed into ‘Escort Groups’.  At this time HMS Poppy was in both E.G.24 (Atlantic - under S.O. HMS Lotus) and E.G.S3 (Gibraltar).

Having distinguished herself in the fated Convoy PQ17, Poppy continued throughout the war to provide safe escort to Atlantic, Arctic and Mediterranean convoys as well as being involved in Operations Torch (North Africa), Husky (Sicily) and Neptune (D-Day landings).  I suspect that the reason she carried so much AA weaponry was due to her Mediterranean excursions – notably Operations Torch and Husky.

The main concern with modelling HMS Poppy depends entirely on the date at which you depict her.  The diorama features a model of her in April 1943 when she was escorting Atlantic convoys ONS3 and SC3 to and from 'Newfyjohn' (St Johns, Newfoundland) as part of Escort Group 24 [Atlantic].  With no plans or drawings available, I was fortunate to obtain information from her Navigation Officer (the late) John Beardmore whose knowledge was indispensable in the absence of any clear photos of her at that time.  Sadly, no photos exist of her port side, as it appeared after her refits.  The only clue I had was two photos taken from the crow’s nest looking fore and aft and John Beardmore’s memories.

John Beardmore dates the first foc'sle extension being Dec 1942 and the second extension being just prior to Overlord in '44.  In 1943 as part of Escort Group 24 (Lotus [SOE], Starwort, Dianella).  Apart from the official admiralty pics of 1942, photos are not dated accurately so we don't really know how far 'extended' her foc'sle was following Dec 1942.  Although John records the date the well-known starboard view of her as 'Tripoli 1943', I suspect that this was actually later in 1944 after her second major refit.  However, at present there is no way of determining this.  The only clue we have to whether the long foc'sle extension was completed in 1942 is HMS Bryony who had a similar length foc'sle extension in that year.

As far as camouflage is concerned, Poppy’s arctic ‘Admiralty Dark’ camo was asymmetrical port & starboard.  Indeed I think Poppy must have been the most asymmetrical of all the Flowers: the two single Oerlikon sponsons on the starboard side were flared slightly on the bow-side of the screen whilst the port side sponson was a simple square ‘box’!  Similarly, when she was fitted with the 6th Oerlikon, the forward port side gun had no shield/sponson but in John's words: ..."was abaft the lifeboat beside the funnel, very exposed with no protection.”  In other words, it was a simple deck mounting.  Similarly, she had an extra life raft fitted to the starboard side.  All this is due, of course, to the urgency of wartime and refits being hurriedly completed or left incomplete.  HMS Poppy always went to sea to the tune of ‘Popeye the Sailor Man’ playing from the ship’s tannoy so it was only natural that he would also adorn her gun shield.

From the few photos I had from John and the I.W.M. coupled with further photos of HMSs Bryony/Pennywort gave me a clue to how HMS Poppy may have looked.  So much research was based on visual evidence alone!

The diorama depicts Poppy as she is about to rescue survivors from the stricken S.S. Wanstead which was torpedoed in Convoy ONS 3 by U413 but did not sink.  Poppy is about to try to sink her with gunfire and on the bridge Lt. Com. Neil Boyd (skipper) is discussing the possibility of sinking the ship using depth charges (each of which proved ineffective and Wanstead was finally dispatched much later by torpedoes from U-415).  Meanwhile the crew is at action stations during this tense moment and every available crew member is on watch with binoculars looking for the telltale trail of a torpedo or any sign of a U-boat in the vicinity.

Poppy’s distinguished war record can be followed here where I have reproduced much of the information as given to me first hand by John Beardmore. /Poppy/index.htm