TRIBAL WARFARE: HMS TARTAR, 1942-1946

February 18, 2022
Posted by: REAR ADMIRAL R. G. MELLY

Tribal Warfare is a book which details the experiences of a ‘Hostilities Only’ rating serving onboard the Tribal class destroyer HMS Tartar between June 1942 and his return to ‘civvy street’ in January 1946.  The author, Archie Meiklem, was clearly in breach of regulations in keeping a diary, albeit it was written from a relatively ill-informed perspective.  Nevertheless, as the Navigating Officer’s Assistant for much of the period, he carefully noted the salient points of the numerous engagements in which his ship was involved.  The result is an engaging and readable account of the ship’s involvement in actions as varied as a Malta convoy (PEDESTAL), an Arctic Convoy (P18), the invasion of French North Africa (Operation TORCH), and operations in the Mediterranean (Sicily and Salerno), the Channel and, latterly, the East Indies Station.

Archie Meiklem died in 1971, aged just 49, as the result of a violent mugging.  However, sometime before this tragic event, he had passed his hand-written manuscript to a fellow Tribal veteran – who later was to become known as Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin!  On the Admiral’s passing in 1999, the original hand-written manuscript was found in his papers by his son, who decided that the story deserved to be published.  Whilst the style of writing is not sophisticated, the author was clearly observant, and the descriptions both of the scenery and the shipping and also of the vivid and graphic recollections of the actions in which the ship was involved, are really quite gripping.

HMS Tartar had a busy war.  One of 16 Tribal class destroyers, of which only four survived the conflict, she was amongst the most powerful of the Royal Navy’s escorts.  She was therefore much in demand and often in the thick of the action.  The descriptions of air attacks in the Mediterranean are graphic, but the ship’s involvement in the destruction of two German destroyers in the Channel on 9 June 1944 (Ile de Batz), during which the ship was hit by three shells, is a particularly poignant section of the tale.

Despite long hours closed up and the intensity of some of the actions, the author makes no mention of any apprehension; rather, there is an enduring sense of his being involved in a great adventure which stretched across the world.  Indeed, the scale of the effort required to support so many ships in so many places is amply illustrated by the story of this one hard-worked vessel; by the time she left the Mediterranean in October 1943, she had already steamed her 200,000th wartime mile!

I found this book difficult to put down – although in truth, as this is an eBook, I was glued to my computer. This, however, had the advantage that I was readily able to ‘Google’ some of the actions to which reference is made. The book is generously illustrated with a large number of images of ships and of life onboard, and I have no hesitation in recommending this fascinating insight into war at sea.  Having fought his way across half the world, it is shocking that the author was to lose his life to two muggers on his own shores.