Development and pre-conversion service:
The V & W Class destroyers, as they came to be grouped, were a collection of six very similar destroyer groups, ordered for the Royal Navy during the 9th, 10th, 13th and 14th War Emergency Programmes during The First World War. The Admiralty V-Class destroyers were ordered under the 9th War Programme in July of 1916 as more or less identical copies of the V-Class leaders ordered 3 months prior. For the latter half of the war, the V and subsequent W-Class destroyers would serve as the Royal Navy’s most modern and advanced destroyers, serving with the Grand Fleet until 1918, with some seeing action against Bolshevik forces during the Russian Civil War in 1919.
HMS Vidette was ordered in 1916 from Alexander Stephens & Sons Ltd. in Linthouse, Glasgow and was laid down on 1 February 1917. She was launched on 18 February 1918 and was completed on 27 April. She served with the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet until war’s end on 11 November 1918 and was subsequently placed in reserve in 1923 but not before receiving ASDIC, one of the first British vessels to do so. In 1936, Vidette was brought back into service with the First Anti-Submarine Flotilla at Portland. In 1939, she was assigned to the 13th Destroyer Flotilla at Gibraltar and had her pennant number changed to from D48 to I48, being assigned to protect convoys on the Gibraltar-UK route. In 1940 she sailed to Oran to join Force H in screening battleships for Operation Catapult, the Royal Navy’s destruction of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir. In November she took part in Operation Collar, assisting the transport of aircraft to Malta. For most of 1941, Vidette would serve as a local escort for the West Africa station, transferring back to the Gibraltar convoy routes in September and assisting in the attempted rescue of HMS Cossack after it was torpedoed by U-563, sinking under tow shortly after. in early to mid 1942, she found herself back under the command of force H, running escort missions for aircraft resupply to the besieged island of Malta.
Conversion and Atlantic service
In September of 1942, Vidette returned to the UK to be refitted as a long-range escort at Sheerness in Kent, being 1 of 21 V&W Classes to undergo this extensive modification. This included the removal of the forward boiler to create extra space for fuel tankage, increasing the range extensively for Atlantic escort duties but reducing the top speed from 34 knots (39mph/63km/h) to 25 knots (28mph/46km/h) and the accompanying thinner forward or ‘tickler’ funnel was also removed, providing extra space for bunkerage and accommodation. The foremost turret at the bow of the ship was removed to be replaced by a hedgehog ASW system and the rearmost turret was also removed to accommodate depth charge rails and depth charge throwers. The midships were stripped of their two torpedo mounts and the space left was occupied by extra storage for depth charges and anti-aircraft mounts, in this case additional 20mm Oerlikon cannons. Finally, she was fitted with the type 271 submarine hunting radar in it’s ‘lamp’ dome.
After conversion, she was assigned to Western Approaches Command as part of Mid-Ocean Escort Group B-7, operating from Liverpool. From September 1942 to February 1943, her convoy duties were uneventful and occurred without losses. This was all to change in March, however, with the convoy HX 231. After a short docking period in Argentia, Newfoundland, Vidette joined HX 231, homeward bound for Liverpool. Joined by HMS Tay, a River-Class Frigate and 4 Flower-Class Corvettes, the escort group ran into the U-boat wolfpack Löwenherz on 4 April. A battle between the convoy and the U-boats ensued from 4 - 7 April. Vidette attacked a radar contact on the 4th and fired depth charges but the U-boat dived and Vidette was ordered to break off and return to the convoy. Ultimately, HMS Tay and a VLR Liberator; R186 would sink two of the U-boats but Vidette managed to sufficiently damage U-594 enough to force it to withdraw from the battle. By comparison, the convoy lost only 3 ships, a straggler and two merchant ships that wilfully left the convoy, exposing themselves to the U-boats.
Later that month, however, Vidette would take part in a battle that has come to be considered the turning point of the Battle of the Atlantic, beginning the period know to the U-boat crewmen as ‘Black May’. Vidette was assigned to convoy ONS.5, a so-called ‘slow convoy’ bound from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Vidette was undergoing repairs in Liverpool after minor weather damage on her previous eastbound escort run and first sailed to Reykjavik to pick up a small contingent of 3 ships. B7 escort group joined the convoy on 22nd April but Vidette did not join them with her detachment of 3 ships until 26 April, having to be guided in by HMS Duncan’s ‘huff duff’ radar. The weather improved on the 27th and the convoy escorts were able to refuel and were also able to be assisted by aircraft from Iceland. What lay ahead of the convoy was the single largest assemblage of U-boats against a single convoy in the entire war - over 40 in total. The battle itself started on the 28th when ONS.5 picked up heavy U-boat radar traffic straight ahead. It had been hoped that with more convoys in the vicinity, the U-boats would be drawn away from ONS.5 but this was not to be. The ensuing battle raged for an entire week from 29 April - 6 May with 6 of the u-boats sunk or damaged by allied air cover or escorts for the loss of 13 merchant ships. Vidette is credited with destroying U-630 and attacking U-531 with her hedgehog mortars which was then sunk by the corvette HMS Snowflake. Vidette would go on to spend the rest of 1943 fighting the wolfpacks in the Atlantic and their ever depleting influence, credited with sinking U-274 and U-282. In 1944, Vidette was serving in the English channel as part of Operation Neptune and later that same year was credited with the sinking of U-413, her 5th U-boat kill. With the end of WWII in Europe, Vidette was sold off in 1945 and was scrapped in 1947.
Displacement: 1,200 ton standard, 1,550 tons full load
Length: 312 ft (95.1 m)
Breadth: 29 ft 6 in (9.0 m)|
Draught: 15 feet (4.572m)
Propulsion: 2 shaft geared turbines, 27,000shp
Top Speed: 25 knots (28mph/46km/h)
Range: 4,500 miles at 12 knots
Armament: 2 x Single 4 in/45 QF Mk.V Cannon
1 x Single 3 inch 12pdr 12 cwt QF Mk.V Cannon
4 x 20mm Oerlikon Mk.II autocannons
1 x Hedgehog ASW mortar system
8 x Depth charge mortars
2 x Depth charge racks
Render by Carlo Cestra - ArtStation
Vidette in 1939 - prior to 1942 ASW conversions
Configuration for V & W Long Range Escorts
Book: British Destroyers 1939–45: Pre-war classes