HMS Punjabi

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HMS Punjabi.jpg
Punjabi at anchor
United Kingdom
Name: HMS Punjabi
Namesake: Punjabis
Ordered: 19 June 1936
Builder: Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Greenock, Scotland
Laid down: 1 October 1936
Launched: 18 December 1937
Completed: 29 March 1939
Identification: Pennant number L21, later F21
Fate: Sunk, 1 May 1942 in a collision with King George V
Badge: On a Field Blue issuant from the base, the head of a soldier of the Punjab Regiment proper.
General characteristics (as built)
Class and type: Tribal-class destroyer
Length: 377 ft (115 m) (o/a)
Beam: 36 ft 6 in (11.13 m)
Draught: 11 ft 3 in (3.43 m)
Installed power:
Propulsion: 2 × shafts; 2 × geared steam turbines
Speed: 36 knots (67 km/h; 41 mph)
Range: 5,700 nmi (10,600 km; 6,600 mi) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Complement: 190
Sensors and
processing systems:

HMS Punjabi was a Tribal-class destroyer of the Royal Navy that saw service in the Second World War, being sunk in a collision with the battleship King George V. She has been the only ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name "Punjabi" which, in common with the other ships of the Tribal class, was named after various ethnic groups of the world, mainly those of the British Empire.

Construction and career[edit]

She was ordered under the 1935 Naval Estimates, on 19 June 1936 from Scotts at Greenock, Scotland. She was launched on 18 December 1937 and commissioned on 23 March 1939 at a total cost of £343,005, which excluded items supplied by the Admiralty, such as weapons and communications outfits. Punjabi was commissioned for service in the 2nd Tribal Destroyer Flotilla in the Home Fleet, which was re-identified at the 6th Destroyer Flotilla in April 1939. While on work-up trials, she was redirected to aid in search and rescue attempts for the submarine Thetis, which had sunk in Liverpool Bay. She then rejoined the Home Fleet on exercises.

On the outbreak of war in September, Punjabi deployed with the Flotilla for Home Fleet duties including anti-submarine patrols and convoy defence in the North Western Approaches and the North Sea. In October, she made an unsuccessful attempt to salvage a crashed German flying boat. On 2 December, she sustained structural damage to her bows when she collided with the merchant vessel Lairdscrest south of Holy Island. She was under repair at Alexander Stephen and Sons' shipyard in Govan from 15 December to late February, when she rejoined the flotilla. She was then based at Scapa Flow on screening and patrol duties.

In April she made a number of deployments with the Home Fleet to search for German warships in the North Sea and off the Norwegian coast. On 8 April, she screened the battleships coming to assist the destroyer Glowworm, which was under attack by the German cruiser Admiral Hipper. Glowworm eventually rammed Admiral Hipper, before sinking. Punjabi was then deployed off Narvik as a screen for operations during the Second Battle of Narvik. On 13 April, she engaged a number of German destroyers, receiving six hits and being disabled for an hour before she could resume service. She was temporarily repaired at Skelfjord before returning to Devonport Dockyard for more thorough repairs. Her 4.7 in (120 mm) mounting in "X" position was replaced with a twin 4 in (100 mm) anti-aircraft mounting.

On returning to active service in June she was based at Plymouth. On 17 June, she took part in the evacuation of allied military and civil personnel from Saint-Nazaire. She returned again on 20 June to evacuate Polish troops. On 9 August, she deployed with other Home Fleet destroyers in escorting the capital ships of Force H from Gibraltar. In September, Punjabi screened the military convoys for Operation Menace, the attacks on Dakar on their passage through the North Western Approaches. She also escorted the damaged cruiser Fiji back to the UK after she had been torpedoed and damaged off the Hebrides. The rest of the year was spent on deployments with the Flotilla. On 23 October, Matabele, Punjabi and Somali shelled and sank the weather ship WBS 5 Adolf Vinnen in the Norwegian Sea off Stadlandet, Norway.[1]

In February 1941, Punjabi returned to Scapa Flow with the Flotilla, before undergoing a refit at Rosyth in March–April. The work included the fitting of a RAF ASV type radar outfit modified for shipborne use. At the end of May, she was part of the escort for capital ships of the Home Fleet hunting for the German battleship Bismarck after the sinking of the battlecruiser Hood. On 27 July, she and Tartar escorted the cruisers Aurora and Nigeria to assess the potential of using Spitsbergen as a refuelling base for escorts used in the defence of convoys on passage to and from North Russia.

Arctic Ocean[edit]

On 1 August, Punjabi and Tartar evacuated Norwegian nationals from Bear Island and carried out an offensive sweep off the Norwegian coast before returning to Scapa Flow. On 30 August, Punjabi, Matabele and Somali escorted the aircraft carrier Argus and the cruiser Shropshire during an operation to supply the Soviet Union with Hawker Hurricanes and RAF personnel. She then resumed normal flotilla duties before beginning a refit in December at Hawthorn Leslie and Company's yards at Newcastle upon Tyne. The refit lasted until the end of January 1942 and involved repairing damage to machines and systems due to excess stress when steaming in heavy weather.

In March, she joined other Home Fleet units in providing cover for convoys PQ-12 and the returning QP-8. During these operations, it was believed that the German battleship Tirpitz had put to sea to intercept the convoys. Punjabi was one of the ships tasked with supporting the search for her, but Tirpitz had in fact returned to port. Punjabi was detached from the search on 11 March and returned to Scapa Flow after encountering problems with her steering gear. In April, she escorted Convoy PQ-10 back to the UK. On 12 April, she came under attack from U-453, but the attack was unsuccessful. She escorted Convoy PQ-10 to Iceland and was detached from the convoy on its arrival there on 21 April.


King George V, photographed with a huge hole in the bows after she had collided with Punjabi in dense fog on 1 May 1942

Punjabi was deployed on 26 April as part of the screen providing distant cover for the passage of Convoy PQ-15. They sailed from Hvalfjörður on 29 April. On 1 May, she was rammed and sunk in a collision with the battleship HMS King George V in foggy conditions. While steaming in formation in heavy fog, the lookout on Punjabi reported what he believed to be a mine dead ahead; the captain reflexively (and regrettably) ordered a 15-point emergency turn to port; in so doing, she sailed directly into the path of King George V and was sliced in two by the battleship's bow. 169 of the ship’s company were rescued from the forward section, and another 40 were picked up from the sea by other escorts, including Marne. Those crew left in the aft section, which sank very quickly, were killed when her depth charges detonated; 49 of her crew lost their lives in the accident. She sank directly in the path of the US battleship USS Washington, which had to sail between the halves of the sinking destroyer. Washington suffered slight damage from the detonation of the depth charges. King George V sustained serious damage to her bow, and was forced to return to port for repairs. Further investigation revealed no mines in the area, or indeed in any part of the convoy's eventual path. It is unknown what the lookout actually spotted, if anything.


  1. ^ "NAVAL EVENTS, OCTOBER 1940 (Part 2 of 2) Tuesday 15th - Thursday 31st". Naval History. Retrieved 17 February 2015. 


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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 66°0′N 8°0′W / 66.000°N 8.000°W / 66.000; -8.000