Remembering Devoran’s William Head HMS Matabele sunk 17 January 1942

Remembering Chief Stoker William Alfred Head D/K52949 Royal Navy and the crew of HMS Matabele, lost on Arctic Convoy PQ-8 when HMS Matabele was sunk by U Boat U454, 17 January 1942.

Remembered 75 years on.

One of Devoran’s many naval casualties in two world wars.


World War 2 section, Devoran War Memorial Photo: Mark Norris

Remembered on the Devoran Village war memorial and also the Plymouth Naval War Memorial to those lost at sea.

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Chief Stoker W.A. Head’s name on the Plymouth War Memorial. (Image: Mark Norris, 2013)

Read more about William Head, his wife WI stalwart Marion Head (later Rowe) and family at:

Only 2 of 238 of HMS Matabele’s crew survived the freezing waters. Often convoy ships and their escorts were unable to return and search for the missing.

In January 1942 she formed the screen, with Somali, for the cruiser Trinidad on Convoy PQ-8 from Iceland to Murmansk. The convoy departed on 11 January, and came under torpedo attack on 16 January.

On 17 January Matabele was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine U-454 and sank almost immediately. Only two out her complement of 238 survived. Many who were able to leave the stricken ship succumbed in the ice-cold water before rescue was possible. The two survivors were picked up by the minesweeper Harrier. (Wikipedia entry HMS Matabele).


HMS Matabele F26/G26 (Wikipedia / Royal Navy image source public domain) Some of the Carley float life rafts  that were frozen fast can be seen midships.

William Head’s name features amongst the crew and casualty list for HMS Matabele on  (based on The Times Casualty List,  9 March 1942.) based on his CWGC entry.

Read their names so that they are not forgotten.

Arctic Convoy PQ8 and HMS Matabele

For more about the otherwise successful Convoy PQ8 (1 merchant ship SS Harmatris damaged, 1 escort HMS Matabele lost), read Arctic Convoy PQ8: The Story of Capt Robert Brundle and the SS Harmatris by Michael Wadsworth (Pen and Sword, 2009).

At 22.21 hours on 17 January 1942 HMS Matabele (G 26) (Cdr A.C. Stanford, DSC, RN), escorting convoy PQ-8, was hit by one torpedo from U-454 in the stern, which caused her magazines to blow up and the ship sank within two minutes off Kola Inlet. The survivors were unable to release the Carley floats because they were frozen in their lashings and had to jump overboard. Some of them were killed when the depth charges of the sinking destroyer detonated, but the most died of hypothermia in the icy water before they could be rescued.

Only two of the four men picked up by HMS Harrier (J 71) survived.

The U-boat had reported an earlier hit on a destroyer at 18.54 hours and a previous shot that missed. All attacks were probably against the same destroyer. (Source entry, HMS Matabele). is a personal testimonial from a crew of one of the fellow Convoy PQ8 ships. has accounts from sailors who picked up the two survivors Bill Burras and Ernie Higgins. One source quoted suggests that about 60 crew made it off the HMS Matabele alive, despite the explosions and ship sinking in a couple of minutes but died in the freezing sea.

Remembering the crew and families of HMS Matabele and the men of the Russian / Arctic Convoys, 75 years on from 17 January 1942.

Several more of the crew casualties were from Plymouth and Devon, Devonport being the ship’s manning port, and some from Cornwall such as Albert Victor Brown of Mullion, Edward Lyndon Curnow of Goldsithney, William Doidge of Trerulefoot, Leading Stoker Leslie Oliver of Polperro, Leading Telegraphist Douglas Roscorla of Newlyn, Delmore Truran of Porthleve and Albert Wade of Lerryn. All West Country men whom Chief Stoker William Head might have known well.

Remembering also the supportive wartime villagers  of Devoran who looked after the grieving families of Devoran’s wartime casulaties. 

Blogposted by Mark Norris on behalf of Devoran War Memorial project, 17 January 2017.






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