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)

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. E.C. Kennedy, (retired), RN) sighted the Scharnhorst. Rawalpindi was part of the British Northern Patrol and was stationed south-east of Iceland in the Iceland-Faroer 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 Rawalpindi. Rawalpindi 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 with Admiral Forbes aboard) 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 Faroes).

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).

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)

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. (3)

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 53/112663 + ADM 186/798

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

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