Allied Warships

HMS Gurkha (i) (F 20)

Destroyer of the Tribal class

NavyThe Royal Navy
PennantF 20 
Built byFairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. (Govan, Scotland) 
Ordered10 Mar 1936 
Laid down6 Jul 1936 
Launched7 Jul 1937 
Commissioned21 Oct 1938 
Lost9 Apr 1940 
Loss position59° 13'N, 4° 00'E

Pennant numbers:
L 20 May 1938 - December 1938
F 20 January 1939 - April 1940.

Gurkha's departure for the Mediterranean Sea in December 1938 was delayed while gunsights and other items were fitted, repairs carried out and final trials completed. Eventually arriving at Malta on 20th December 1938, Gurkha was assigned to the 1st Sub- Division of the 1st Tribal Destroyer Flotilla. For most of the time thereafter, Gurkha worked closely with HMS Afridi although there were occasions when she was on her own or with other ships. Examples of these joint operations were: the Albanian Crisis, the visit at Athens, the Red Sea foray and the French troop convoys. For a while Gurkha was employed on North Sea escort duty and in the Humber Striking Force. She then served with the Home Fleet and was almost continuously at sea escorting capital ships on their sweeps in the Atlantic.

The year 1940 began well for Gurkha. On 8 February 1940 she and HMS Nubian hunted a U-boat off Scapa Flow. Later, on 23rd February, she depth-charged and destroyed the German submarine U-53.

The next event was most unfortunate. On a snowy 9th March, HMS Gurkha and HMS Nubian were escorting a southbound convoy off the Shetlands when they met a northbound Norwegian convoy. Gurkha's propeller guard gashed a hole in HMS Kelly's bow when the two ships connected momentarily. Immediately, Kelly's signalman sent the message have been hit by mine or torpedo. Am uncertain which. Gurkha's signal came in clearly, That was me, not a mine.

HMS Gurkha (Cdr. Anthony Wass Buzzard, RN) participated in the very first moves of the Norwegian Campaign sailing with HMS Afridi and a force of cruisers and destroyers from Rosyth, Scotland on 7/8th April 1940. On the 9th April at 1400hours, the force was attacked by Ju88 and He111 bombers. One bomb hit her aft end and blew a 40 foot hole in the starboard side. The stern caught fire and the after magazine had to be flooded. Soon the stern was awash and Gurkha had a 45 degree list to starboard. All the lights were out but the wounded were brought up and laid on the fo'c'sle. Many were blinded by fuel oil and everyone had to cling to the guard rails or anchor chains to keep from falling overboard. Some made it to the boats and Carley floats. It was now getting dark and cold. Useable guns fired air bursts to attract anyone's attention. HMS Aurora arrived on the scene. She stopped 200 yards away and lowered her boats. Gurkha heeled over onto her side. Those men who had not lost their hold on the fo'c'sle clambered through the guard rails and sat on the port side. At 1900, she rolled right over and sank about 35 nautical miles west of Karmoy Island, Norway in position 59º13'N, 04º00'E. Aurora managed to pick up 190 survivors. They were treated and eventually ended up in Devonport, England and given survivors leave. Gurkha was the first Tribal and first British destroyer to be sunk by air attack.


Commands listed for HMS Gurkha (i) (F 20)

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1Cdr. Frederick Robertson Parham, RN14 Sep 193810 Nov 1939
2Lt.Cdr. Peter Vaughan James, RN10 Nov 193921 Nov 1939
3Cdr. Frederick Robertson Parham, RN21 Nov 19395 Feb 1940
4Cdr. Anthony Wass Buzzard, RN5 Feb 19409 Apr 1940

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Notable events involving Gurkha (i) include:

11 Sep 1939
Several ships from the Mediterranean Fleet conducted gunnery exercises off Alexandria; these were the battleships HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. I.B.B. Tower, DSC, RN), heavy cruisers HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN), HMS Sussex (Capt. A.R. Hammick, RN) light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN), HMS Penelope (Capt. G.D. Yates, RN) and four destroyers from the 4th Destroyer Flotilla; HMS Afridi (Capt. G.H. Cresswell, DSC, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. F.R. Parham, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. R.F. Jolly, RN) and HMS Sikh (Cdr. J.A. Giffard, RN).

On completion of these exercises these ships set course to take up a position to the west of Crete to provide cover for convoys passing from west to east through the Mediterranean.

HMS Barham and HMS Penelope however returned to Alexandria after the exercises had been completed while the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious (Capt. G. D’Oyly-Hughes, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN) joined the other ships. (1)

2 Nov 1939
A submarine was reported near Margate Buoy and the destroyers HMS Keith (Cdr.(Retd.) H.T.W. Pawsey, OBE, RN), HMS Blanche (Lt.Cdr. R.N. Aubrey, RN) and HMS Gurkha (Cdr. F.R. Parham, RN) were ordered to hunt this submarine. No contact was obtained though.

23 Nov 1939

Sinking of the armed merchant cruiser HMS Rawalpindi

Around midday on 21 November 1939 the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, escorted by the light cruisers Köln and Leipzig and the destroyers Z 11 / Bernd von Arnim, Z 12 / Erich Giese and Z 20 / Karl Galster, departed Wilhelmshaven for a raid into the North Atlantic, this was to relieve the pressure of the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee operating in the South Atlantic. Late on the 21st the escorts left the battlecruisers.

Just after 1500 hours on 23 November the British armed merchant cruiser HMS Rawalpindi (Capt.(Retd.) E.C. Kennedy, RN) sighted the Scharnhorst. Rawalpindi was part of the British Northern Patrol and was stationed south-east of Iceland in the Iceland-Faroe gap. Captain Kennedy at first tried to outrun the German ship, to report to the Admiralty that he sighted the German pocket battleship Deutschland, still believed to be operating in the North Atlantic, and to buy time so that other ships of the Northern patrol could come to his assistance. Just after 1600 hours, Rawalpindi came within range of the Scharnhorst and was quickly reduced to a flaming wreck. During this engagement Scharnhorst was hit by a 6in shell from Rawalpindi causing only light damage. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau together picked up 27 survivors from the Rawalpindi which finally sank around 2000 hours.

The British light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt J. Figgins, RN), that was also part of the Northern Patrol, picked up Rawalpindi's signal and closed the scene. She sighted the Gneisenau but the Germans managed to escape in the fog.

The Admiralty also thought the ship sighted by Rawalpindi and Newcastle was the Deutschland that was trying to return to Germany. In response to the sighting and destruction of the Rawalpindi the Admiralty took immediate action;
The battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN) HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN) and the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN) escorted by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. C.S. Daniel, RN), HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) departed the Clyde to patrol of Norway to cut off the way to Germany for the Deutschland.

The light cruisers HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) and HMS Aurora (Capt. G.B. Middleton, RN) escorted by the destroyers HMS Afridi (Capt. G.H. Creswell, DSC, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. F.R. Parham, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN), HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, RN) and HMS Isis (Cdr. J.C. Clouston, RN) departed Rosyth to patrol between the Orkney and Shetland islands.

Light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN) was sent from Loch Ewe to the last known position of the German ship(s).

On northern patrol, south of the Faroes were the light cruisers HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clark, RN), HMS Cardiff (Capt. P.K. Enright, RN) and HMS Colombo (Capt. R.J.R. Scott, RN). These were joined by HMS Dunedin (Capt. C.E. Lambe, CVO, RN) and HMS Diomede (Capt. E.B.C. Dicken, RN).

Of the ships of the Denmark strait patrol, the heavy cruisers HMS Suffolk (Capt. J.W. Durnford, RN) and HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.G.B. Wilson, MVO, DSO, RN) were ordered to proceed to the Bill Bailey Bank (to the south-west of the Faroe Islands).

The light cruiser HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN) escorted by the destroyers HMS Maori (Cdr. G.N. Brewer, RN) and HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford, RN) were already at sea patrolling north-east of the Shetlands were to be joined by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. W. Kitcat, RN), HMS Impulsive (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Thomas, RN) and HMS Imogen (Cdr. E.B.K. Stevens, RN).

The light cruisers HMS Calypso (Capt. N.J.W. William-Powlett, DSC, RN) and HMS Ceres (Capt. E.G. Abbott, AM, RN) were stationed off Kelso Light to act as a night attack striking force. The destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSC, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. P.V. McLaughlin, RN) and HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, RN) had just departed Belfast on escort duties. They were ordered to join Admiral Forbes. The ships they were escorting were ordered to return to Belfast.

The destroyers HMS Tartar (Lt.Cdr. D.E. Holland-Martin, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN) and HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN) departed Scapa Flow with orders to locate and shadow the German ships. HMS Tartar however had to return to Scapa Flow the next day due to a damaged rudder.

Despite the British effort to intercept the German ships, both German battlecruisers returned to Wilhelmshaven on the 27th.

17 Feb 1940
At 0930Z/17, HMS Manchester (Capt. H.H. Bousfield, RN), is joined by the British destroyer HMS Gurkha (Cdr. A.W. Buzzard, RN).

At 1400Z/27, HMS Gurkha, parted company and HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN) took over the escort duties until 0710Z/20. (2)

23 Feb 1940
German U-boat U-53 was sunk in the North Sea in the mid Orkneys, in position 60°32'N, 06°14'W, by depth charges from the British destroyer HMS Gurkha (Cdr. A.W. Buzzard, RN)

24 Feb 1940
HMS Khartoum (Cdr. D.T. Dowler, RN) and HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, RN) departed Scapa Flow for the Northern Patrol but they were later diverted to proceed to the south of the Faroer Islands. They were to join HMS Gurkha (Cdr. A.W. Buzzard, RN) already operating in the area.

Later this day HMS Khartoum and HMS Kingston made rendez-vous with the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Circassia (Capt.(Retd.) H.G.L. Oliphant, DSO, RN). (3)

3 Mar 1940

Convoy ON 17.

This convoy was formed off Methil on 3 March 1940. It arrived in Norwegian waters near Bergen on 7 March 1940.

This convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Aina (British, 1698 GRT, built 1904), Aspen (Swedish, 1305 GRT, built 1908), Becheville (British, 4228 GRT, built 1924), Borgund (Norwegian, 303 GRT, built 1917), Brita (Swedish, 1252 GRT, built 1908), Carbonia (Swedish, 1918 GRT, built 1916), Drabant (Swedish, 1767 GRT, built 1897), Edle (Norwegian, 654 GRT, built 1916), Falken (Swedish, 1308 GRT, built 1893), Finlandia (Finnish, 1464 GRT, built 1920), Flimston (British, 4674 GRT, built 1925), Frans (Swedish, 1169 GRT, built 1924), Frode (Norwegian, 697 GRT, built 1917), Greenawn (British, 784 GRT, built 1924), Helfrid (Swedish, 719 GRT, built 1922), Iron Baron (Norwegian, 3231 GRT, built 1911), Jacob Christensen (Norwegian, 3594 GRT, built 1920), Karen (Danish, 1194 GRT, built 1917), Knud Villemoes (Danish, 1582 GRT, built 1905), Kongshavn (Norwegian, 751 GRT, built 1906), Kul (Norwegian, 1310 GRT, built 1907), Lily (Danish, 1281 GRT, built 1920), Marianne (Danish, 1239 GRT, built 1924), Marita (Finnish, 1869 GRT, built 1923), Merkur (Estonian, 1291 GRT, built 1913), Minona (Norwegian, 1147 GRT, built 1919), Nicke (Swedish, 1170 GRT, built 1918), Nurgis (Norwegian, 700 GRT, built 1919), Regin (Norwegian, 1386 GRT, built 1917), Rolf (Swedish, 1120 GRT, built 1919), Roy (Norwegian, 1768 GRT, built 1921), Sirius (Swedish, 1832 GRT, built 1889), Sixten (Swedish, 2171 GRT, built 1912), Skarv (Norwegian, 852 GRT, built 1923), Sophie (Danish, 945 GRT, built 1920), Svanholm (Norwegian, 696 GRT, built 1917), Thore Hafte (Norwegian, 626 GRT, built 1896), Torafire (Norwegian, 823 GRT, built 1920), Trewellard (British, 5201 GRT, built 1936), Varanges (Norwegian, 2214 GRT, built 1908) and Vim (Norwegian, 1114 GRT, built 1913).

Escort was provided by the AA cruiser HMS Calcutta (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN), the destroyers HMS Delight (Cdr. M. Fogg-Elliott, RN), HMS Diana (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. A.W. Buzzard, RN) and HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN) and the submarine HMS Narwhal (Lt.Cdr. R.J. Burch, RN).

The light cruisers HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) and HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN) departed Rosyth on the 3rd to provide cover.

On the 4th the merchant vessel Greenawn was detached to Scapa Flow escorted by HMS Diana. HMS Narwhal was also detached with orders to proceed to Scapa Flow.

7 Mar 1940

Convoy HN 17.

This convoy was formed off Bergen, Norway on 7 March 1940. The bulk of the convoy arrived at Methil on 10 March 1940.

This convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Albuera (British, 3477 GRT, built 1921), Baron Kelvin (British, 3081 GRT, built 1924), Bonde (Norwegian, 1570 GRT, built 1936), Effie Maersk (Danish, 1308 GRT, built 1925), Einvik (Norwegian, 2000 GRT, built 1918), Ek (Norwegian, 995 GRT, built 1911), Fairwater (British, 4108 GRT, built 1928), Gol (Norwegian, 985 GRT, built 1920), Hafnia (Norwegian, 1315 GRT, built 1920), Havborg (Norwegian, 1234 GRT, built 1924), Jaederen (Norwegian, 902 GRT, built 1918), Janna (Norwegian, 2197 GRT, built 1919), Kirnwood (British, 3829 GRT, built 1928), Lysaker (Norwegian, 910 GRT, built 1919), Margareta (Finnish, 1860 GRT, built 1919), Maurita (Norwegian, 1569 GRT, built 1925), Nesstun (Norwegian, 1271 GRT, built 1917), Notos (Norwegian, 2712 GRT, built 1898), Orland (Norwegian, 1899 GRT, built 1917), Ovington Court (British, 6095 GRT, built 1924), Reias (Norwegian, 1128 GRT, built 1918), Royal (Norwegian, 759 GRT, built 1918), Spica (Norwegian, 500 GRT, built 1915), Stanja (Norwegian, 1845 GRT, built 1915), Star (Norwegian, 1531 GRT, built 1922), Varegg (Norwegian, 943 GRT, built 1910), Vesta (Norwegian, 1310 GRT, built 1930) and Warlaby (British, 4875 GRT, built 1927).

Escort was provided by the destroyers HMS Delight (Cdr. M. Fogg-Elliott, RN), HMS Diana (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN) and HMS Gurkha (Cdr. A.W. Buzzard, RN).

On the 9th the convoy split and the west coast section was then escorted by HMS Delight and HMS Diana. They were reinforced by HMS Kimberley (Lt.Cdr. R.G.K. Knowling, RN) which came from Scapa Flow. Also HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, RN) joined having sailed late in the afternoon of the 8th.

In the moring of the 9th, HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, RN) joined the escort but she collided with HMS Gurkha in bad weather and soon had to be detached to Lerwick for emergency repairs.

At 1412/9, HMS Gurkha obtained an A/S contact and attacked with several pattern of depth charges in position 59.07’N, 00.44’W. HMS Ilex then took over the hunt and HMS Gurkha rejoined the east coast section of the convoy. HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) joined from Scapa Flow in the early hours of the 10th to replace HMS Ilex which was still hunting Gurkha’s A/S contact. She eventually rejoined the convoy before it arrived at Methil. The A/S contact was later determined to be a wreck.

7 Apr 1940
The light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN), HMS Galatea (Capt. B.B. Schofield, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral G.F.B. Edward-Collins, CB, KCVO, RN), the British destroyers HMS Afridi (Capt. P.L. Vian, RN), HMS Cossack (Cdr. R.St.V. Sherbrooke, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. A.W. Buzzard, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. J.A. Giffard, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford), HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN), HMS Kelvin (Lt.Cdr. J.L. Machin, RN), the Polish destroyers Burza (Lt.Cdr. W. Francki), ORP Blyscawica (Lt.Cdr. S.M. Nahorski, ORP) and ORP Grom (Lt.Cdr. S. Hryniewiecki) departed Rosyth in the evening for operations of Norway. They were to proceed to a position west of Stavanger and then were to sweep northwards.

9 Apr 1940
At 0700 hours (zone -1), HMS Manchester (Capt. H.H. Bousfield, RN) and HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN) both joined the C-in-C in the Home Fleet.

At 1140 hours, HMS Manchester (Capt. H.H. Bousfield, RN), HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN) were detached for an operation in Norwegian territorial waters (operate against German forces in water at and around Bergen). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Afridi (Capt. P.L. Vian, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. A.W. Buzzard, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. J.A. Giffard, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) and HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN).

Soon after 1400 hours however a signal was received cancelling the operation and the ships set course to re-join the fleet.

In the afternoon the German Luftwaffe however started to attack the ships and near missed lightly damaged HMS Southampton and HMS Glasgow. HMS Gurkha was however sunk. Survivors were picked up by HMS Aurora (Capt. L.H.K. Hamilton, DSO, RN) who was also on her way to join the Home Fleet at sea.

Later on the 9th most of the ships involved in the intended opertion against Bergen were ordered to proceed to Scapa Flow or Sullom Voe for refuelling. (4)

Media links

British destroyers & frigates

Norman Friedman

Destroyers of World War Two

Whitley, M. J.


  1. ADM 199/389
  2. ADM 53/112661
  3. ADM 199/362
  4. ADM 53/112663 + ADM 186/798

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.

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