HMS Starling (U66)

HMS Starling, pennant number U66, was a Modified Black Swan-class sloop of the Royal Navy. She was active in the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War and was the most successful anti-submarine warfare vessel of the Royal Navy, being credited with the destruction of fourteen U-boats.

HMS Starling underway, in 1943
United Kingdom
Name: HMS Starling
Namesake: Starling
Builder: Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan
Laid down: 21 October 1941
Launched: 14 October 1942
Completed: 1 April 1943
Reclassified: As a frigate in 1947
Fate: Broken up July 1965
General characteristics [1]
Class and type: Modified Black Swan-class sloop
Displacement: 1,350 tons
Length: 299 ft 6 in (91.29 m)
Beam: 38 ft 6 in (11.73 m)
Draught: 11 ft (3.4 m)
  • Geared turbines, 2 shafts
  • 4,300 hp (3.21 MW)
Speed: 20 knots (37 km/h)
Range: 7,500 nmi (13,900 km) at 12 kn (22 km/h)
Complement: 192
Service record
Part of: 2nd Support Group
Commanders: Frederick John Walker
Victories: 15 U-boats (shared)


Starling was ordered on 18 July 1941 under the 1940 Supplementary War Building Programme; she was laid down by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company at Govan, Scotland, on 21 October 1941. She was launched on 14 October 1942, and commissioned on 1 April 1943, with a build time of 17 months and 10 days.[3]

Service history

Starling joined Western Approaches Command in April 1943 under the command of Captain Frederic John Walker, leader of the 2nd Support Group (2SG). This was a flotilla of six sloops not tied down to convoy protection, but free to hunt down U-boats wherever found. The other ships of the group were Cygnet, Kite, Wild Goose, Woodpecker, and Wren.

Starlings first patrol in May 1943 was uneventful; There were several major convoy battles during the month, but none involving 2 SG. Starlings first success came on 1 June 1943, when the group's first U-boat was detected: fortuitously on a fine day and identified by a Lt. Earl Howe Pitt. This event was dubbed another "Glorious First of June" by Walker.[4] Over a 15-hour period the group found, tracked and destroyed U-202, in the longest hunt of the Atlantic campaign up to that point,

On their return to Liverpool, Starling and 2SG were assigned to "Operation Musketry", an attempt, in concert with Coastal Command, to interdict the U-boat transit routes across the Bay of Biscay. On 24 June 1943 the group was successful in destroying two U-boats; Starling destroyed U-119, but was damaged when she rammed the U-boat to dispatch it. She was forced to return to Britain for repairs, under the temporary command of Cdr. DEG Wemyss of Wild Goose, Walker having stayed with the group.[5]

In October, on returning to the group, Starling was involved in the battle around convoy ON 207. No successes were recorded, though the convoy battle saw three U-boats destroyed, with no ships lost.[6]

In November 1943, in operations around HX 264, Starling and 2 SG accounted for two more U-boats, U-226 and U-842.[7]

In December, while in support of SL 140/MKS 31, Starling attacked and damaged U-843, forcing it to abandon its attack.

In January 1944, supporting convoy SL 147/MKS 38, Starling shared in the destruction of U-592.[8]

In February she took part in the famous "Six in one trip" episode, where 2 SG destroyed six U-boats over a two-week period. Starling shared in the destruction of four of these; U-592 on 31 January, U-734 and U-238 on 9 February, and U-264 on 19 February.[9]

In March 1944, Starling and 2 SG, accompanied by escort carrier Vindex, sought and destroyed U-653, a U-boat on weather-reporting duty in the North Atlantic. Later that month, while supporting Murmansk convoy JW 58, Starling met and destroyed U-961 in transit to the North Atlantic.[10] She had no other success, though three U-boats were destroyed in attacks on JW 58.

In May the group responded to an attack on USS Donnell by U-473. Though starting from 300 miles away Walker, in an inspired piece of work, divined where to search and after a three-day search gained contact. An 18-hour hunt brought U-473 to the surface, where she was sunk by gunfire.[11][12]

In June Starling was part of part of "Operation Neptune" in support of the Normandy landings, and was instrumental in preventing any attacks on the invasion fleet. In all fifteen U-boats were destroyed in attempts to attack the invasion fleet, though Starling herself had no successes.

In July Starling suffered her heaviest blow when Capt. FJ Walker died of a cerebral haemorrhage, brought on by overwork and exhaustion.

Under her new captain, Cdr. NW Duck, Starling and 2 SG had another successful patrol in the Bay of Biscay in August, when four U-boats were destroyed; Starling took part in three of these actions, against U-333, U-736, and U-385.[13]

In September Starling moved to 22EG, under Cdr. GWE Castens, but the U-boat war had changed character, and Starling saw little further success. The campaign became a hunt for single raiders operating in the shallow coastal waters, where a U-boat could hide among the wrecks on the sea bottom. Hunts for these "lone wolves" was a slow and tedious business, though merchant ship losses were kept to a minimum.

In January 1945 Starling, with ships of 22EG, attacked a promising target in the North Channel: They were credited, following examination of German records in the post-war period, with the destruction of U-482. However this assessment was re-evaluated in 1991, and credit withdrawn; the attack was deemed to have been on a non-sub target.[14]

With the end of the war in Europe Starling was earmarked for duty in the Pacific, but while re-fitting for this the war there ended. In September 1945 Starling paid off, and in October went into reserve.

Post-war service

In 1946 Starling was re-activated for service with HMS Dryad, the Royal Navy's Navigation Training School. She was modified as a Navigation training ship and remained in service for the next ten years.

In 1953 she took part in the Fleet Review to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.[15]

During her last year in commission she visited the Norwegian fjords and the U-boat base at Kiel. Her final voyage was a call at Bootle Liverpool to attend a farewell celebration provided by the local authority and Captain Walker's widow took passage on the final sailing from Bootle to Portsmouth where she paid off.[16]

She was subsequently placed on the disposal list and arrived at Lacmots, Queenborough for scrapping on 6 July 1965.

Battle honours


Starling participated in the sinking of fourteen U-boats:

Date U-boat Type Location [17] Notes
2 June 1943U-202Type VIICNorth Atlantic
56°12′N 39°52′W
sunk, depth charges and gunfire from Starling.[18]
24 June 1943U-119Type XBN Atlantic, NW of Cape Ortegal
44°59′N 12°24′W
sunk, gunfire, ramming, by Starling.[19]
6 November 1943U-226VIICN Atlantic, east of Cape Race
44°49′N 41°13′W
sunk, d/c by Starling, Woodcock and Kite.[20]
6 November 1943U-842Type IXC/40North Atlantic
43°42′N 42°08′W
sunk, d/c by Starling and Wild Goose.[21]
31 January 1944U-592VIICN Atlantic, south-west of Cape Clear
50°20′N 17°29′W
sunk, d/c by Starling, Wild Goose and Magpie.[22]
9 February 1944U-734VIICAtlantic
49°43′N 16°23′W
sunk, d/c by Wild Goose and Starling.[23]
9 February 1944U-238VIICAtlantic, south-west of Cape Clear
49°44′N 16°07′W
sunk, d/c, hedgehog, by Kite, Magpie and Starling.[24]
19 February 1944U-264VIICNorth Atlantic
48°31′N 22°05′W
sunk, d/c by Woodpecker and Starling.[25]
15 March 1944U-653VIICNorth Atlantic
53°46′N 24°35′W
found by Swordfish A/825 from Vindex, d/c by Starling and Wild Goose.[26]
29 March 1944U-961VIICAtlantic, north of Faroes
64°31′N 03°19′W
sunk, by Starling, Magpie.[27]
6 May 1944U-473VIICAtlantic, west of Cape Clear
49°29′N 21°22′W
sunk, d/c, gunfire by Starling, Wren and Wild Goose.[28]
31 July 1944U-333VIICEnglish Channel, west of the Scilly Isles
49°39′N 07°28′W
sunk, d/c by Starling and the frigate Loch Killin.[29]
6 August 1944U-736VIICAtlantic, west of St. Nazaire
47°19′N 04°16′W
sunk, Squid, d/c by Starling and Loch Killin.[30]
11 August 1944U-385VIICBay of Biscay, west of La Rochelle
46°16′N 02°45′W
sunk, d/c, air attack by Starling and Sunderland P/461.[31]

During the war the Starling was credited, along with the sloops Amethyst, Peacock, Hart, and frigate Loch Craggie, with sinking the U-482 in the North Channel on 16 January 1945. The British Admiralty withdrew this credit in a post-war reassessment.[32]

  • Starling's service in the Arctic convoys (fictionalised as "HMS Sparrow") is described in the prologue to children's adventure novel The Salt-stained Book by Julia Jones (2011).


  1. Conway p57
  2. Elliott p143
  3. Elliott p141
  4. Wemyss p.63
  5. Wemyss p.70
  6. Blair p436-7
  7. Blair p440
  8. Blair p488
  9. Blair p498
  10. Blair p516
  11. Wemyss p101
  12. Blair p511
  13. Blair p608-13
  14. Blair p631
  15. Souvenir Programme, Coronation Review of the Fleet, Spithead, 15th June 1953, HMSO, Gale and Polden
  16. served on her 1958-59.
  17. Locations per Kemp; other sources may differ
  18. Kemp p122
  19. Kemp p126
  20. Kemp p156
  21. Kemp p156
  22. Kemp p166
  23. Kemp p167-8
  24. Kemp p167-8
  25. Kemp p171
  26. Kemp p177
  27. Kemp p179-80
  28. Kemp p187-8
  29. Kemp p207
  30. Kemp p208
  31. Kemp p209
  32. Blair (2000), 630-631.


  • Clay Blair : Hitler's U-Boat War Vol II: The Hunted 1942–1945 (1998) ISBN 0-304-35261-6
  • R Gardiner, R Gray : Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1921 (1985) ISBN 0-85177-245-5
  • Arnold Hague : The Allied Convoy System 1939–1945 (2000). ISBN 1-55125-033-0 (Canada); ISBN 1-86176-147-3 (UK).
  • Paul Kemp  : U-Boats Destroyed (1997) ISBN 1-85409-515-3
  • Axel Neistle  : German U-Boat Losses during World War II (1998). ISBN 1-85367-352-8
  • Warlow, B : Battle Honours of the Royal Navy (2004) ISBN 1-904459-05-6
  • Wemyss, DEG : Relentles Pursuit: The Story of Capt. FJ Walker CB.DSO***RN, U-Boat Hunter and Destroyer (2003) Cerberus Publishing ISBN 1841450235 (First published in 1955)


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