One of the themes of particular interest to us from the beginning has been the use of the river, foreshore, and its banks during the world wars. The Thames at War research project was undertaken in 2014 by FROG members, led by Gustav Milne, to write pieces for the Riverpedia section of the TDP website. One of the findings of this project was the critical role of Thomas Peirson Frank and his Thames Flood teams in protecting London from flooding on the occasions the river wall was breached by aerial bombs and missiles.

We also wanted to understand how the river was protected from air attack. In response to this, Will got in touch with his old TA unit (68 Inns of Court and City Yeomanry Signal Squadron), as The City of London Yeomanry, an ancestor regiment, had been tasked as an air defence battery during the Blitz. Major Michael O’Beirne TD at the Inns of Court and City Yeomanry Museum and Dennis Durkin did some further research and found the diary of Eric Rawlinson who recorded that 32 (City of London Yeomanry) Battery Royal Artillery had been tasked to place their Bofors anti-aircraft guns aboard a trio of Thames paddle steamers.

Early on in World War II both sides used anti-shipping mines to deny access for shipping to the open ocean. In the First World War German mines and submarines had exacted a frightening toll on shipping, and in the Second the German navy (Kriegsmarine) under the influence of Admiral Doenitz was determined to starve Britain into submission. The British authorities were mystified when ships began exploding in the areas of the Thames estuary which had been swept for mines in the preceding days. Eventually it became clear that German aircraft had been dropping newly-developed magnetic mines into the estuary. It was decided to deploy anti-aircraft guns on paddle steamers which had been requisitioned for mine clearance work. We have not found records of how many attacking aircraft were shot down from these boats but mines continued to account for a great deal of lost shipping throughout the war.

The photograph above was found in the archive showing soldiers of the City of London Yeomanry aboard one of the paddle-steamers attempting to detonate a sea mine with shots from their .303 SMLE rifles. Gus discovered that the three paddle-steamers survived the war, with the Queen of Kent and the Queen of Thanet being scrapped in the early 1950s, but the fate of the Thames Queen remains unknown.

You can read more about WWII and the Thames in Gustav Milne’s new book The Thames at War, published by Pen & Sword, available to order online from their website.

Pen & Sword are currently offering a 25% discount, just £14.99 per copy, if you use the code THAW25 at checkout.