Henry Lehmann

I joined the Royal Navy as an able rate supply assistant at RN Barracks, Portsmouth on 4 November 1935. I became engaged to Nora on 21 April 1939, and sailed for Shanghai the next morning. I returned to Portsmouth on 3 September 1942; Nora and I got married on 10 October. I joined HMS Wensleydale, a Hunt class destroyer. On 23 October 1943 the ship had been involved in the disaster in the English Channel when HMS Charybdis and HMS Limbourne were lost with many casualties during an operation to intercept German shipping. Our duties were escorting coastal convoys between Lundy Island and Start Point, operating from Devonport. We took offensive action against German naval forces when required.

Wensleydale was recalled to Devonport on 3 June 1944. To my amazement the naval base was full of warships. Normally there would be only a few either being refitted or repaired. We laid out board of another Hunt class destroyer at South Yard. At 1800 a flotilla of motor minesweepers sailed by. I guessed something was afoot. ‘Clear lower deck’ was piped about 1900. The Commanding Officer said, ‘No leave, we sail tomorrow for the beachhead.’ It had been a glorious sunny day.

Next morning was dull and miserable. Wensleydale and another Hunt destroyer escorted a group of American landing craft. We got to Start point and turned round about as the weather deteriorated. That night the force anchored at Cawsand and Whitsand bay. We remained patrolling at sea. We sailed again the next morning. We did not see any other ships until 1400 when the topmasts of ships began to appear on our western horizon. In the afternoon of 5 June we were overtaken by heavy ships of the bombardment force (British, American, French and Allies). Later that afternoon units of the Mulberry Harbour overtook us making for OMAHA beach. We remained ‘closed up’ at our action station, having been so since we left Devonport.

At 0530 on 6 June we were alerted that we had arrived off our beachhead – OMAHA – complete silence, you could hear a pin drop. The sea was covered with every type of warship imaginable and troops were beginning to disembark from the large landing ships. Their landing craft began to move towards the beach. At 0600 all hell let loose as the bombardment began, including the awesome barrage from the rocket ships. HMS Wensleydale anchored at a point off Port-en-Bessin between OMAHA and GOLD beaches.

At 1400 we were stood down. In the evening we moved closer inshore as part of the anti-aircraft defences of the beachhead. From the next day we began with other ships to patrol and protect the beachhead. On 4/5 and 20 August we assisted other destroyers in destroying two U-boats.

On 20 November HMS Wensleydale was damaged in a collision whilst at anchor beyond economical repair and was subsequently scrapped. This was the end of Wensleydale’s successful short wartime career.