The Halcyon class was a class of 21 oil-fired minesweepers (officially, “fleet minesweeping sloops”) built for the British Royal Navy between 1933 and 1939. They were given traditional small ship names used historically by the Royal Navy and served during World War II.
- 815 – 835 tons (828 – 848 tonnes) /
- 1,290 – 1,350 tons (1,310 – 1,372 tonnes) full load
There were 21 ships in the Halcyon class, built in two groups; the first using reciprocating steam engines, with steam turbines in the latter. They were generally smaller versions of the Grimsby-class escort sloops. Niger and Salamander of the reciprocating group used vertical triple expansion engines, instead of the vertical compound engines of their sisters. As a result of the increased installed power they had a half knot speed advantage, even though they used slightly shorter hulls. The turbine ships used the same shorter hulls as Niger and Salamander, but with lower installed power, speed dropped back to 16.5 knots (31 km/h).
Gleaner, Franklin, Jason and Scott were completed as unarmed survey vessels, Sharpshooter and Seagull being converted to follow suit. They were all re-armed and deployed in their original role on the outbreak of war. Seagull had the first all-welded hull built for the Royal Navy.
On 3 February 1940 Sphinx (Cdr. J. R. N. Taylor, RN) was sweeping an area 15 miles (24 km) north of Kinnaird Head when attacked by enemy aircraft. A bomb pierced the fo’c’sle deck and exploding destroying the fore part of the ship. She remained afloat and was taken in tow by Halcyon but steadily flooded and capsized and sank. The wreck was later washed ashore north of Lybster and was sold for scrap. The Commanding Officer and forty of the men were killed in the explosion.
Skipjack (Lt.Cdr. F. B. Proudfoot, RN) was attacked and sunk by a force of German dive bombers off De Panne, Belgium on 1 June 1940. On board Skipjack were between 250 and 300 soldiers just rescued from the Dunkirk beaches during Operation Dynamo. Eyewitness William Stone said “she just disappeared”.
Halcyons were pressed into service as anti-submarine escorts; this task slowly decreasing as the ships specifically designed for this task, such as Flower-class corvettes, came off the slips. Halcyons accompanied most of the Arctic convoys, serving both as minesweepers and anti-submarine escorts. Several spent extended periods working out of Soviet naval bases in Northern Russia, such as Murmansk. Four Halcyons were lost during this period.
- Gossamer (Lt.Cdr. T. C. Crease), having escorted the very first Arctic convoy, attacked a German U-boat while escorting Convoy PQ 11, and helped rescue the crew of the cruiserEdinburgh. Gossamer was dive-bombed and sunk on 26 June 1942 in the Kola Inlet.
- Niger (Cdr. A. J. Cubison, DSCand Bar) was lost off Iceland on 5 July 1942 while escorting Convoy QP 13, when part of the convoy wandered into a British minefield.
- Leda was torpedoed and sunk in the Greenland Sea on 29 September 1942 while escorting Convoy QP 14.
- On 31 December 1943 during the Battle of the Barents Sea, Bramble was attacked by the German heavy cruiserAdmiral Hipper while escorting Convoy JW 51B. After sustaining serious damage, Bramble was finished off by the German destroyer Eckoldt.
Hebe and Speedy served in the Mediterranean Sea as part of the 14th/17th Minesweeper Flotilla based in Malta. The minesweepers saw action during the Malta Convoys, Operation Torch, and Operation Corkscrew. Hebe was lost to a mine off Bari, Italy on 22 November 1943.