HMS EGRET (sloop)

Ordinary Seaman John William Cliff, P/JX 386283, RN
Able Seaman Peter Robert Cliff, P/SSX 36112, RN
Died 27 August 1943, aged 18 and 20 respectively

HMS Egret leaving dock, September 1942
HMS Egret leaving dock, September 1942.
Image Source : Imperial War Museum © IWM (FL 22644)

John and Peter were two of the children of Joseph Cliff and his wife Florence Rose (nee Crump), who were married in 1914. The full list of children is shown below.

Joseph Edwin1914 (died 1990)
Peter Robert1922 (died 1943)
John William1924 (died 1943)
Dennis Donald1926 (died 1981)
Pauline M1930
Michael David1932 (died 2010)

The Cliffs lived at 12 Castle Road, Epsom. Mrs Cliff died in 1963 and her husband in 1969.

HMS Egret (L75/U75) was a sloop of the Egret Class: there were only three of these and just one (HMS Pelican) survived World War 2. They were long-range convoy escort ships which were also used for anti-submarine patrols. In August 1943 Egret was detached for anti-submarine service in the Bay of Biscay as part of the 1st Support Group, consisting of Egret and Pelican, together with four frigates, the Canadian destroyer HMCS Athabaskan and the British destroyer HMS Grenville. Egret was commanded by A/Cdr John Valentine Waterhouse DSO, RN (later Captain Waterhouse OBE).

A/Cdr John Valentine Waterhouse DSO, RN
A/Cdr John Valentine Waterhouse DSO, RN
Image Source : Imperial War Museum © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 3299)

The Germans had a new weapon, the Henschel HS 293, which was a radio-guided glide bomb with a rocket slung underneath, launched from an aircraft at a considerable distance. Like most experimental weapons at that period it had been developed in a rush and was far from perfect. In due course the Allies developed effective radio-jamming techniques, but in August 1943 the Luftwaffe was trying out the HS 293 in the Bay of Biscay.

Henschel HS 293
Henschel HS 293
Image Source: Deutsches Museum Munich, photo by Jean-Patrick Donzey via Wikipedia(Creative Commons Licence.)

On 25 August 1943 the sloop HMS Bideford had been damaged by HS 293s which fell short but two days later Egret was attacked by a squadron of Dorniers just west of Vigo, Spain and suffered the grim fate of being the first ship ever sunk by a guided missile. 194 crew members died, including the Cliff brothers. Athabaskan was also badly damaged, one of the glide bombs passing clean through her and detonating on the outside of the ship.

HMS Egret blowing up and sinking, 27 August 1943.
HMS Egret blowing up and sinking, 27 August 1943.
Image Source : Imperial War Museum © IWM (A 19448)

John and Peter are commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial (Panel 76, Column 2 and Panel 74, Column 1 respectively).

In April 1944 HMCS Athabaskan was sunk near the island of Batz in the English Channel (just off Roscoff) with heavy loss of life.

Linda Jackson, May 2016