HMS Leicester City

Leicester City In The Second World War: The Minesweeper HMS Leicester City

There is a letter in the Club’s archives which provides an interesting postscript to the 1941/42 season. It was written on 8 February, 1942 to one of Leicester City's directors, Sidney Needham, a prominent local industrialist in the shoe industry.
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The letter was from Lieutenant F. Everett. He was captain of a mine sweeper called HMS Leicester City. This ship was very closely associated with the Football Club throughout the Second World War.

He wrote: “We have had a little excitement since I last wrote, and whenever we do have any we listen to Lord Haw-Haw in the evening to hear his version.”

Lord Haw-Haw was a nickname applied to wartime broadcaster William Joyce, remembered for his propaganda broadcasts that opened with the words ‘Germany calling, Germany calling’, spoken in an upper-class accent. He was executed for treason after the war.

Lieutenant Everett went on to say that the crew had just enjoyed a spot of shore leave but had missed Christmas Day by two days. He said that gifts from the Club were greatly appreciated in the difficult conditions they had to face and added: “Still we never get despondent. We are ‘Semper Eadem’ (this was a reference to Leicester’s civic motto, which means ‘always the same’); a really happy ship’s company.”

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HMS Leicester City crew
HMS Leicester City crew

The crew onboard the HMS Leicester City minesweeper.

Before the Second World War, HMS Leicester City had been a part of the Grimsby fishing fleet. Built in 1934, it was one of 23 trawlers in that pre-war fleet which was named after a football club.

One was appropriately named Grimsby Town, but others included Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Derby County, Everton, Hull City, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Tottenham Hotspur, Stoke City and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

During the 1930s, several railway locomotives were also named after football clubs, including Leicester City.

On 19 September, 1939, soon after the outbreak of war, the ship was taken over by the Admiralty and, in November, it was commissioned as a minesweeper in the 30th anti-submarine group.

It was part of the Royal Naval Patrol Service (RNPS) which was a rough and ready fighting fleet of hundreds of hastily-armed trawlers and drifters gathered together to guard Britain’s harbours and coastal convoys.

Following a suggestion from Simon Dee in his Leicester Mercury column, the directors of Leicester City Football Club decided to officially adopt the ship carrying the Club’s name.

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HMS Leicester City crew
HMS Leicester City crew

The crew after receiving Leicester City kit from the Football Club.

They then planned to send packages of useful items to the crew each month.

A leading light in this initiative was Needham’s wife, Eirene, who kept in touch with the ship throughout the war, regularly sending the crew packages of scarves, gloves, magazines, records and even a football kit.

With other ladies of the Croft Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS), she ‘did her bit’ for the war effort by knitting garments for Leicester City Football Club’s adopted sailors.

A handwritten inventory list for one of these packages, dated October 1941, still exists in the Club’s archive collection, as does a greetings card from the Ship’s Company sent to the Club via the Needhams for Christmas 1942 and the New Year of 1943.

Operating throughout the war in dangerous and hostile waters, HMS Leicester City survived. It was still in action as late as 7 May, 1945, the day before VE day.  

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HMS Leicester City
HMS Leicester City

The HMS Leicester City sunk due to adverse weather conditions on 22 March, 1953.

It was one of three trawlers escorting five freighters, forming a small coastal convoy sailing from Methil, in Eastern Scotland, to Belfast. One of this convoy, a Norwegian ship ‘SS Sueland’ was hit by a U-boat torpedo on the starboard side and sunk in two minutes, pitching the survivors in to the water.

There, they clung to debris before being picked up. On the way to rescuing the survivors, HMS Leicester City was blindly dropping several depth charges. Seven men from the SS Sueland, including the captain, were killed. The U-Boat escaped.

Tragically, this action had directly contravened a German High Command order issued by Admiral Donitz three days earlier to cease U-Boat operations.

HMS Leicester City had been involved in the last ever U-Boat action of the war. Whether or not this attack was a deliberate contravention order will never be known. HMS Leicester City was decommissioned in 1946 and returned to its owners as a trawler. It is ironic, that having survived the war, the ship then sank off the island of Hoy in the Orkneys in a storm and in fog on 22 March, 1953.

The wartime service of HMS Leicester City hasn’t been forgotten. In the grounds of the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Staffordshire, there is a plaque dedicated to the vessel on one side of a memorial stone dedicated to the Royal Naval Patrol Service, of which it was part.

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