Basil DOWSON 1919 – 1940

Able Seaman P/SSX 22575 Basil Dowson, RN HMS Glowworm, was lost at sea 8 April 1940 aged 20.  He is commemorated at Panel 38, Column 2, Portsmouth Naval Memorial[1] and the Cockfield War Memorial.

Family Details

Basil Dowson was born 1920,[2] the son of Sydney and Alice Ann Dowson.  By 1939, the family lived at 4 Staindrop Road, Cockfield with daughter Eva born 8 May 1925 and 1 other child.  Basil was not recorded.  Sydney was an unemployed general labourer.[3]

Service Details

Basil Dowson service record has not been researched.  He served on HMS Glowworm, H92, a British Royal Navy Destroyer Type Class G built in 1934 by Thornycroft of Southampton, UK.

8 April 1940 when NW of Trondheim in the Norwegian Sea, HMS Glowworm rammed the German heavy cruiser “Admiral Hipper” creating a hole in her side which made her return to base.  HMS Glowworm already damaged by gunfire was fatally damaged by the ramming and sunk with the loss of 118 hands.[4]

More details are provided below:[5]

On the morning of 8 April 1940 Glowworm was on her way to rejoin Renown when she encountered the German destroyers Z11 Bernd von Arnim and Z18 Hans Lüdemann in the heavy fog before 8:00 a.m. The destroyers were part of a German naval detachment, led by the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, on its way to land troops at Trondheim as part of the German invasion of Norway (Operation Weserübung).

Glowworm opened fire and the German destroyers attempted to disengage, signalling for help. The request was soon answered by Admiral Hipper which spotted Glowworm at 09:50. Hipper initially had difficulty in distinguishing Glowworm from von Arnim, but opened fire eight minutes later at a range of 8,400 metres (9,200 yd) with her 20.3-centimetre (8.0 in) main guns. Glowworm was hit by Hipper’s fourth salvo and she started making smoke. She turned into her own smoke in an attempt to break visual contact with Hipper, but the cruiser’s radar-directed guns were not affected by the smoke. When the destroyer emerged from her smoke the range was now short enough that the cruiser’s 10.5-centimetre (4.1 in) guns could fire. Glowworm’s radio room, bridge, and forward 4.7-inch gun were all destroyed, and she received additional hits in the engine room, the captain’s day cabin, and finally the mast. As this crashed down, it caused a short circuit of the wiring, causing the ship’s siren to start a banshee wail.

At 10:10, Lieutenant Commander Gerard Broadmead Roope fired five torpedoes from one mounting at a range of 800 metres (870 yd), but all missed because Captain Hellmuth Heye had kept Hipper’s bow pointed at Glowworm throughout the battle to minimize his risk from torpedoes. The destroyer fell back through her smoke screen to buy time to get her second torpedo mount working but Heye followed Glowworm through the smoke to finish her off before she could fire the rest of her torpedoes. The two ships were very close when Hipper emerged from the smoke and Roope ordered a hard turn to starboard to ram the cruiser. Hipper was slow to answer her helm and Glowworm struck the cruiser just abaft the anchor. The collision broke off Glowworm’s bow and the rest of the ship scraped along Hipper’s side, gouging open several holes in the latter’s hull and destroying her forward starboard torpedo mounting. One German sailor was knocked overboard by the collision. Hipper took on some 500 tonnes (490 long tons) of water before the leaks could be isolated, but was not seriously damaged. Glowworm was on fire when she drifted clear and her boilers exploded at 10:24, taking 109 of her crew with her.

Admiral Hipper hove to in order to rescue her man overboard and Glowworm’s survivors. The German sailor was not found, but 40 British sailors were recovered, although at least six later died of their wounds. Lieutenant Ramsay, the senior surviving officer, told his rescuers that neither the helm nor the emergency rudder were manned when the ships collided so the destroyer’s turn towards Hipper was probably accidental. German accounts only mention four torpedoes fired by Glowworm, but British accounts say all ten were fired. This was confirmed by photographic evidence taken after the collision showing all of her torpedo tubes empty.

Roope, who drowned when he could no longer hang on to a rope whilst being pulled up the side of the cruiser, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, thus becoming the first VC recipient of the Second World War. The award was justified, in part, by the recommendation of Heye, who wrote to the British authorities via the Red Cross, giving a statement of the valiant courage Roope had shown when engaging a much superior ship in close battle. Ramsay was also awarded the DSO. Both awards were made after the end of the war.

Lieutenant Commander Gerard Broadmead Roope VC


Able Seaman P/SSX 22575 Basil Dowson, RN HMS Glowworm is commemorated at Panel 38, Column 2, Portsmouth Naval Memorial which commemorates nearly 10,000 naval personnel of the First World War and almost 15,000 of the Second World War who were lost or buried at sea. [6]  He is also commemorated on the Cockfield War Memorial.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 191-2007 Vol.10a p.590 1919 Q4 Auckland

[3] 1939 England & Wales Register



[6] Commonwealth War Graves Commission