238051(Ch) Able Seaman Charles Wilson Hearne H.M.S. "P.C.61"

1890 Oct 8. Born Dover

1891 census at 31 Tower St, Dover

1901 census at 18, Wyndham Road, Dover

1908 Oct 8. Joined the Royal Navy

1911 census he is an Able Seaman at HMS Juno.

1917 Aug 17. Posted to PC 61. The ship was built by Workman Clark, completed as PC class sloop and renumbered HMS PC.61 (1917) 'PC.61' before being launched 19 June 1917. There were P Boats and PC Boats. The P Boats were built as emergency or utility destroyers 690 tons crew of 50 armed with 1 4inch and 2 12pdr guns. Max speed 20kts. There were 40 of these based on Dover. The PC boats were P boats but built with a mercantile superstructure as Q ships. As well as the same guns that a P Boat was equiped with they also had two torpedo tubes. Also with 50 men and a top speed of 20kts.

1917 Sep 26. HMS PC-61 was an escort vessel. Under the command of Lt Cdr F Worsley, she rammed the U boat UC33 in St Georges Channel. The German Commanding Officer, Oblt Alfred Arnold, was rescued by PC-61's crew. Worsley had captained Endurance for Shackleton

In February 1917 Worsley left Wellington aboard the RMS Makura arriving in Liverpool on 9 April 1917.  This was the height of the shipping crisis for the Admiralty as the unrestricted U-boat campaign was sinking one merchant ship in every four before it returned to port and the pace of construction was falling behind the losses due to German submarines.

One of the responses to the immediate threat posed by the U-boats was the Q-ship. This was a merchant ship that carried guns concealed by hatches or false super structure.  Because the German commanders had become aware of the silhouettes of Q-ships, the last to be built were made to look as much as a merchant-ship as was possible. Worsley would be posted to one of the last ten Q-ships to be constructed.

Travelling to London after arrival Worsley was issued with his officer’s kit and sent to HMS Pembroke, a shore establishment at Chatham, to be trained in anti-submarine warfare.  On completion of the training he was posted to the Q-ship PQ61 which was being fitted out at Belfast. The ship was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 31 July 1917 and its disguise was as a small coastal steamer of 600 tonnes. The main armament was a 4-inch (102mm) covered by a tarpaulin between two cargo derricks. Worsley thought that the ship was ‘rather too orthodox and typical of Admiralty build.’

On the morning of 26 September 1917 while conveying the tanker SS San Zeferino PQ61 encountered the German mine-laying submarine UC33 in the Irish Channel. The submarine had fired at torpedo at the San Zeferino which had struck near the engine room and badly damaged the vessel. To fool the German commander that PQ61 was leaving the stricken tanker, Worsley ordered that the revolutions be reduced and took the ship out to 4nm (7km) from the tanker and used it to cover a approach that he thought would intercept the submarine on the surface. He then turned PC61 back towards the tanker.

Seeing the submarine on the surface about 1/2 nm (1km) off the starboard beam about to open fire with its deck gun to finish off the tanker Worsley decided to attack. Steaming full ahead at 24knots, Worsley ordered his crew to prepare for ramming a submarine with a displacement of 1000 tonnes. PQ61 struck the submarine ‘stem on, on port side just abaft [the] conning tower’ The German submarine did not see the ship until it was just about on top of it as the mist camouflaged the approach of PQ61.

Using his skill at handling a ship in Antarctic waters, he timed it exactly so that the shallow draft ship would strike the submarine without tearing its hull upon striking the submarine. Fortunately PQ61 was equipped with a small solid-steel ram. As the ship approached the submarine the gun was fired with one shot hitting near the conning tower. Worsley described what happened next:

The moment before impact the engines were stopped and our bows settled down in the water just as I had timed they should. As the bows fell, the ram caught the submarine amidships, tearing her sides open and rolling her beneath us. We felt a terrific shock and at the same time heard the unearthly rasp of tearing steel. She [the submarine] sank rapidly beneath us and immediately afterwards we were shaken by a tremendous explosion. For a moment I thought that another submarine had got use with a torpedo, but it was either the chamber of the rammed vessel bursting open or her mines exploding.  

The UC33 was one of six U-boats sunk in the Irish Channel and the 88th U-boat sunk in the First World War. Only two of the crew were spotted on the surface. The commanding officer Ober-Leutnant Alfred Arnold was rescued but the rating died before he could be brought aboard PC61. This was a significant victory in that mine-laying submarines were capable of wreaking havoc on shipping lands and forced the RN to commit resources to minesweeping. Lieutenant Charles Palmer RNVR was one of the New Zealanders who served with the minesweepers during this period.

After the rescue of the German commander, Worsley ordered that the tanker be taken under tow. The German officer had volunteered that further submarines were in the vicinity so a watch was kept and Worsley called other warships to begin searching.  Two submarines were spotted but avoided contact with the convoy escorts. After a difficult 12-hour tow the tanker was brought into Milford Haven. Arnold gave his silver whistle to Worsley with a note of thanks for his rescue.

Worsley was awarded the DSO, while his first officer Stenhouse received the DSC and two Petty Officers were awarded the DSM for steering and gunlaying. It was the practice at this time to pay out prize money. Worsley received £68 for UC33. He would serve a further ten months in command of PQ61 and became adept at using depth charges against submarines.

1919 May 4. aged 29. He was drowned when a boat he was in capsized "no blame was attributable" . AB McDowall also drowned

Buried Aughaval, Westport, Mayo. Drowned at sea. Son of George Hearne, of 159, Clarendon Place, Dover.


British Soldiers died in Ireland