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by Lt Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd) (c) 2008

HMS SCARAB - Insect-class River Gunboat
Including details of service, eyewitness accounts and photographs, March 1943September 1944 by Russell J  Taylor

HMS Cicala, sister-ship   (scrapbook of Yeoman of Signals George Smith, click to enlarge) return to Contents List 

INSECT-Class River Gunboat ordered from Wood Skinner of Newcastle on 29th February 1915 and launched on 7th October 1915 as the 1st RN ship to carry this name. Build was completed on 14th November 1915. During 1917 she was deployed in support of military operations on the Danube, baaed at Bucharest. She remained there until 1919 when she took passage to join the China Squadron for service in the Yangtse Flotilla to provide aid for British flagged shipping and British nationals in an unstable environment. During WW2 in February 1942 after a successful WARSHIP WEEK National Savings campaign this ship was adopted by the civil communities of Sudbury and Melford, Suffolk.


SCARAB was powered by Yarrow boilers providing 2000 horsepower and an official top speed of 14 knots but capable of 18. She carried a complement of between 54 and 65 and a very respectable armament of 2 x 6 inch guns, 1 x 3 inch gun, 8 x 20 millimetre Oerlikon cannons and 4 x Lewis guns ( from the official logs).


B a t t l e   H o n o u r s



H e r a l d i c   D a t a

Badge: On a Field Black, a scarab blue and gold


M o t t o

Vivo ut vinco: 'I live that I may conquer'



D e t a i l s   o f   W a r    S e r v i c e

(for more ship information, go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search


1 9 3 9


September             Deployed with Yangste Flotilla.

to                            (Not: Intended transfer to Singapore for patrol and minesweeping to allow

December              return of Fleet Minesweepers for service elsewhere was never implemented.)


1 9 4 0


January                  Remained for service based at Hong Kong




July                         Withdrawn from service at Hong and transferred to Singapore




1 9 4 1


                                After deployment at Singapore transferred to East Indies Station


1 9 4 2


                                East Indies Station deployment

                                (Note: No operational use off Burma traced.)


1 9 4 3


January                  Nominated for transfer to Mediterranean

to                            Passage to join Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria.

May                        Transferred to Malta for bombardment support of planned operations


June                        Provided gunfire support for landings in Elba.


July                         Nominated for bombardment of support of planned landings in Sicily

                                (Operation HUSKY)


August                  Deployed in support of military operations in Sicily

                12th        Bombarded east coast of Sicily with Dutch Gunboat SOEMBA



                2nd         Deployed in support of landings on Italian mainland with HM Monitors ROBERTS

                                and ABERCROMBIE. (Operation BAYTOWN)

                3rd          Carried out further naval support bombardments with HM River Gunboat APHIS.


October                  Deployed at Malta.




1 9 4 4


January                  Malta deployment in continuation

to                            Nominated far support of landings in South of France under US Command.



July                         Joined Western Task Force and attached to Special Operations Group (SOG) at

                                Ajaccio, Corsica


August                  Joined HM River Gunboat APHIS, HMS ANTWERP, HMS STUART PRINCE,

                                four Motor Launches and 12 US Navy PT Boats to form eastern section of  SOG.

                                (Notes: HMS ANTWERP was deployed for Air Sea Rescue and HMS ULSTER

                                PRINCE for Fighter Direction duties,

                                The SOG was deployed to create diversion to suggest landings ware to be

                                made between Genoa and the Spanish border.

                                See INVASION OF THE SOUTH OF SOUTH FRANCE HMSO)

                14th        Sailed from Ajaccio with SOG except PT boats which joined later.

                                Air cover was provided to prevent enemy air interference.

                15th        Carried cut bombardments with SOG between Antibes and Var River.

                                (Note: Simulation operation carried out to provide indication of large assault force

                                was a complete success.

                                Radio countermeasures were used to divert attention from the bombardment


                                Took part in second diversionary operation off La Ciotat and carried out shore

                                bombardment of La Ciotat with HMS APHIS and US Destroyer ENDICOTT

                                After retirement from La Ciotat engaged corvette UJ6082 (Ex Italian navy) and

                                UJ 6083 (Turkish yacht KEMID ALLAH) with HMS SCARAB and later USS

                                ENDICOTT. Both ships ware sunk

                                Returned to Assault area.

                18th        Released from DRAGOON and resumed duty with Mediterranean Fleet.


September             Deployed in Adriatic in support of shore operations, based at Ancona




1 9 4 5


January                  Deployed in Malta.


June                        Nominated for service with British Pacific Fleet


July                         Took passage to join Fleet at British Forward Base in Manus, Admiralty Islands


August                  Diverted to Singapore after VJ Day whilst on passage.


P o s t   W a r   N o t e s


HMS SCARAB was Paid-off on arrival and reduced to Reserve. In May 1946 she was lent to the Burmese Navy and returned in 1947. Placed on the Disposal List she was sold in 1948 for demolition locally.






by Russell Taylor


Click here for Frank Taylor's full story, added June 2012


My Dad,  Able Seaman Frank Sutton Taylor JX 324358, was born 2 March 1923 and passed away 11 September 1986 aged 63. HM Ships he served on were: 

HMS DAUNTLESS, light cruiser          17 June 1942   - 10 April 1943
HMS SCARAB, river gunboat              11 April 1943   -  15 September 1944
HMS BIRMINGHAM, light cruiser      16 September 1944 - 29 July 1945


Frank Taylor (no enlargement)


In recent years a photo album which had not seen the light of day for many years was recovered. The contents were faded and very worn because of time. I have since started having all them professionally re-done mainly of HMS SCARAB. I have also  made application over the last 2 years to MOD and received my Father's WWII Medal entitlements which for reasons unknown he did not collect. These include: 1939 - 1945 Star, Atlantic Star with France and Germany Clasp, Africa Star, Italy Star and 1939 - 1945 War Medal. I believe that the contribution made by gunboats SCARAB, APHIS and COCKCHAFER and the significant role they played in the 8th Army advance in North Africa and in the Mediterranean were grossly underestimated. With her small crew of 55-65, the men of SCARAB seem to have been a very close-knit bunch, at least from the photos I have recovered.


Taken at Alexandria, Egypt in 1943. Frank Taylor back row left, arrowed



Details of Service, 31 March 19437 September 1944


1 9 4 3


March                    Gunboat attached to Persian Gulf Division – Eastern Fleet


                31st         Transferred from Persian Gulf Division - Eastern Fleet to Mediterranean

                                with HMS COCKCHAFER.



                2nd         Arrived Basra

                25th        Departed Aden



                4th          Arrived Port Said, Egypt, departed on 5th

                6th          Arrived Alexandria                             



                9th          Departed Alexandria                           

                10th        Port Said

                27th        Suez and Port Said

                28th        Alexandria



                1st           Departed Alexandria                           

                4th          Departed Benghazi

                6th          Arrived Tripoli, departed same day

                10th        Arrived Malta                      

                30th        Departed Augusta, east coast of Sicily


August                  Nominated for support of allied landings in Calabria


                7th          Arrived Malta, departed on 9th        

                13th        Bombarded roads near Taormina, Cape Schiso (Sicily) at 500 yards range with

                                Dutch Sloop (Gunboat) SOEMBA to impede German retreat.

                22nd       Arrived Malta, departed on 30th      

                31st         Deployed with HM Insect-Class River Gunboat HMS APHIS,

                                HM Monitors EREBUS, ROBERTS and ABERCROMBIE to bombard

                                shore positions (coastal batteries) on Italian mainland coast between Reggio,

                                Calabria, Pessaro and Villa San Giovanni prior to landings by British XIII Corps

                                across the Straits of Messina (Operation BAYTOWN – See above references ).




2nd         Took part in preparatory bombardments before landings.

3rd          Provided cover and naval gunfire support for operation BAYTOWN

                                (first assault on mainland of Italy by 8th Army ferried from West Sicilian

                                ports to landing beaches north of Reggio ) during landings.

                                Note: HM Battleships VALIANT and WARSPITE, HM Cruisers ORION

                                and MAURITIUS together with HM River Gunboat APHIS, HM Destroyers

                                QUEENBOROUGH, QUILLIAM and OFFA.

                                Departed Augusta, east coast of Sicily.

4th          To remain under command of Flag Officer Sicily to assist 8th Army.

                                Returned to Malta on release.

                15th        Arrived Augusta, departed same day

                28th        Arrived Augusta, departed 29th      

30th        Arrived Malta




2nd         To remain at disposal of Commander in Chief, Mediterranean.

                                To be refitted and modernised

3rd          Arrived Tripoli, departed on 5th       

                11th        Arrived Alexandria

24th        Taken in hand for boiler cleaning and repairs.


November              At disposal of Commander in Chief, Mediterranean.




1 9 4 4



10th        Arrived Port Said, Egypt

14th        Departed Suez                     


February                Suez

                24th        Departed Alexandria

29th        Departed Port Said


March                    Alexandria



                25th        Departed Alexandria. At sea with Convoy GUS 38 of 51 merchant vessels, escorted 



30th        Arrived Malta



                26th       Departed Malta                   


June                        Nominated for support of landings in South of France under US



                15th        Arrived Porto Vecchio, departed on 16th       

16th        Deployed with Flotilla to carry out landing on Island of Elba

17th        Provided naval support fire in Operation BRASSARD (Assault on Elba) with HM

                River Gunboats APHIS and COCKCHAFER, also HM Minesweeper ROSARIO,

                SPANKER, BRAVE and RINALDO which cleared 40 mines in advance.




Excerpt from interview with Douglas Fairbanks Jnr interview:


WWII: were you involved that June in the D-Day landings at Normandy?


Fairbanks: No, but I did take part in a smaller invasion in the Mediterranean that month – the tiny island of Elba, where Napoleon had spent his first exile. At 6 a.m. on June 17, 1944, a Free French Bataillon de Choc was to land on the island’s south coast. Four hours earlier however, I was to lead a group of PT-boats to the north, in hopes of diverting German forces toward us. After our commandos landed and signalled us, we began firing, smoke-laying, rocket-launching and blaring pre-recorded sound effects. The Germans responded with tracers and 140mm guns, but fortunately their fire was inaccurate. One German we found in a little sort of cement hut was chained to his machine gun-his superiors were afraid he’d run away. He stopped shooting, but he couldn’t get away from his gun, and he was afraid we’d shoot him. He was a little butcher from Hamburg, and he was terrified, poor fellow. But he managed to hang a dirty white handkerchief to the muzzle of his gun, and he survived.



June (cont)

                19th        Arrived Maddalena, departed on 23rd            

23rd        With HM River Gunboat APHIS and Coastal Force carried out patrols in

to            two groups between Porto Fino and Arno River.

                24th        Arrived Bastia


July                         Joined Western Task Force and attached to Special Operations Group at

                                Ajaccio, Corsica.


                2nd         Departed Bastia                                                   

                3rd          Arrived Maddalena, departed 11th

                12th        Arrived Porto Vecchio, departed 14th             

                16th        Arrived Maddalena, departed 24th  

                26th        Arrived Malta



August                  Joined HM River Gunboat APHIS, and HM Ships ANTWERP, STUART PRINCE,

                                four Motor Launches and 12 US Navy PT Boats to form

                                eastern section of SOG. ( Note: HMS ANTWERP was deployed for Air

                                Sea Rescue and HMS ULSTER PRINCE for Fighter Direction duties.

                                The SOG was deployed to create a diversion to suggest landings were to

                                be made between Genoa and the Spanish border. (See Operation Dragoon.)


Further excerpts from interview with Douglas Fairbanks Jnr


WWII: What was your role in the Allied invasion of southern France?


Fairbanks: The Americans were to land at three places simultaneously - Saint-Tropez, Saint-Maxime and Saint-Raphael - on the morning of August 15. Prior to that, my BJ unit was to stage its largest diversion since its inception – two big mock invasions, one to the right and one to the left of the actual beachhead. I was to command the operation from HMS Aphis, an old British Yangtze River gunboat. She and her sister ship, HMS Scarab, each mounted a 6-inch gun as its principal weapon. We also had 12 American PT-boats, some air-sea rescue craft (ASRCs) and some amphibious raiding craft called MLs (motor launches). We were also afforded backup firepower from the destroyer USS Endicott, commanded by Lt. Cmdr. John D. Bulkeley, who had already won the Medal of Honour for commanding the PT-boat squadron that evacuated General MacArthur, his family and staff from the Philippines in 1942. For the first stage of our operation, we landed a group of French commandos, called the Groupe Navale d'Assaut, at La Pointe des Deux Freres, between Cannes and Nice - the first Free French troops to return to mainland France.


WWII: What diversionary tactics were you able to then bring into play?


Fairbanks: Our small craft broadcast lots of meaningless radio chatter while a single sirplane was dropping tinfoil that somehow gave the German radar the impression of an imminent major air attack. At the same time, aircraft dropped 300 dummy paratroopers in the hills near Toulon. They were inflatable dummies that I’d invented myself. They could be packed into a small-size carton, and when released, they would blow up into a full-size man. Some were on a smaller scale, so that they would look like they were farther away, in the far distance. They were also booby-trapped, so that when Germans came up to take a closer look at and inspect them, they’d blow up at a touch. Dirty trick, wasn’t it? 



August (cont)

                5th          Departed Malta                   

7th          Arrived Ajaccio, Corsica

14th        Departed Ajaccio with SOG except PT Boats which joined later.

                                Air cover was provided to prevent enemy air interference.

15th        Carried out bombardments with SOG between Antibes and Var River.

                                (Note: Simulation operations carried out to provide indication of large

                                 assault force was a complete success. Radio countermeasures were used

                                to divert attention from the bombardment ships.)

17th        Participated in Operation DRAGOON (Allied landings on South Coast,

                                France). Took part in second diversionary operation off La Ciotat,

                                bombarded Baie de Ciotat (15 miles E of Marseilles) with HM River

                                Gunboat APHIS and US Destroyer ENDICOTT.




The assault on Southern France


Note: Royal Navy Ships were under overall command of Vice Admiral H K Hewett.


Between mid-June 1944 and the end of July more than a division a week and huge stocks of vehicles, equipment and supplies, were withdrawn from U.S. Fifth Army in Italy to train and stage for Operation Dragoon. Final approval for Dragoon came on 11 August 1944, and the landings took place 15 August, between Toulon and Cannes on the French Riviera, preceded by a parachute drop inland, behind the German lines, and commando raids. Over 900 ships and 1300 landing craft were utilized, covered by a huge air fleet of 1300 British, American, and French bombers. Over ninety-four thousand troops went ashore on the 15th, composed of three U.S. divisions (3rd, 36th, 45th) supported by French and British units. Eleven thousand vehicles were also landed on the first day. They were followed several days later by U.S. VI Corps HQ, U.S. 7th Army HQ, French First Army, and French I and II Corps, all operating under the command of Lt. General Alexander M Patch’s Seventh U.S. Army.


The operation was a phenomenal success. Within two weeks the Allies had captured 57,000 prisoners and opened the major ports of Toulon and Marseilles at a cost of less than 7,000 casualties. Dragoon forces then advanced nearly 400 miles north up the Rhone River Valley toward Lyon and Dijon, capturing Lyon on 3 September. In less than 1 month, on 11 September, they linked up with Patton’s Third Army west of Dijon, creating a solid wall of Allied forces stretching from Antwerp, Holland to the Swiss border. Four days later, Dragoon forces were reorganized into the 6th Army Group, under the command of Lt. Gen. Jacob L Devers, reinforcing Eisenhower’s force in Europe to three full army groups.


Aftermath and Analysis of Dragoon


Operation Dragoon was an outstanding success. The Allies annihilated Hitler’s 19th Army, captured over 100.000 German prisoners, liberated the southern two thirds of France and linked up with the Normandy invasion forces, all within thirty days. Until the port of Antwerp was opened in November 1944, the ports of southern France were the source of more than one-third of Allied supplies in Europe.



August (cont)

18th        After retirement from La Ciotat together with HM River Gunboat APHIS

                                (and later USS ENDICOTT) engaged and disabled corvette UJ6082

                                (Ex Italian Navy) and UJ6083 (Turkish yacht Kemid Allah).

                                Both corvettes were sunk and 210 survivors taken prisoner.

                                (See eye-witness account below – Special Operations Group).




Some information shows evidence of controversy and substantial differences. For example the site PRdoug and PRdoug2 - an interview with Douglas Fairbanks in his real-life role as a naval officer in World War II - Lieutenant Commander Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, USNR Commander of the Special Operations Group's Eastern Diversionary Unit (Specialist in Diversion) aboard SCARAB's sister ship HMS APHIS when both she and HMS SCARAB were involved in a battle with two German Corvettes. USS ENDICOTT was called to assist and arrived (as Fairbanks relates) when the action had already more or less been concluded. (The US version tells a different story.) Please refer to the above references and USS ENDICOTT site on Google. There is also a reference to Operation Brassard (Elba) which is very interesting (see above).


Further excerpts from interview with Douglas Fairbanks Jnr


WWII: While you engaged in this diversion, I think you got a surprise of your own, didn’t you?


Fairbanks: That’s right. At 5:40 a.m., we were just retiring when one of our air-sea rescue craft, ASRC-21 reported an enemy hull on the horizon, and that she herself was under fire. I sent a

PT–boat ahead and rushed to her aid as fast as those gunboats could go – only about 10 knots – while reporting the situation to Admiral Hewitt’s headquarters ship, Catoctin, and radioing Endicott

to come to our assistance. At 6:10, we opened fire on the enemy ships which turned out to be two corvettes: Unterseebootjager-6083, which had formerly been the Italian Capriolo, and Kemid Allah, a former Egyptian khedivial yacht that had been purchased by the Germans and converted into a warship with two radar-controlled 88mm guns. Commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Hermann Pollenz, they had just left Toulon and were en route to Marseilles when they ran into us.


WWII: What did you do?


Fairbanks: Not much. Besides learning very quickly that we were outclassed by the enemy, I learned from my gunnery officer that our guns were overheated and would need a few minutes before they’d be fit to fire again. I ordered our MLs to screen us a best they could, and we circled around in the smoke while the enemy’s accurate gunfire straddled us ever closer. The radar of both gunboats was shot away, but we fired back with our small anti-aircraft guns.


WWII: In the heat of action, I suppose your fear had been overcome by the need to fight and to survive?


Fairbanks: No. Indeed, I was still terrified. I had a way of disguising it- somewhat- with a forced show of good spirits. Usually, only I knew that my light-hearted banter was my own private form of hysteria. I’d also deliberately drop my helmet, my binoculars and whatever other objects I could on the deck in order to have an excuse for ducking the next salvo of flying metal. Fortunately, Aphis’ skipper was as calm as if he were on a peaceful exercise. Although damaged, the two gunboats had not taken any casualties thus far. At last the gunnery officer announced that our 6-inch guns were cool enough to use again. Then, when we emerged through a thin spot in the smoke screen, we found ourselves at right angles across the bows of the oncoming Germans – “crossing the enemy’s T.” It was a classic manoeuvre accomplished through sheer luck. I don’t recall whether or not I gave the order, but in any case, Aphis fired a point-blank salvo without the benefit of any targeting device, and by golly, we scored a direct hit on the Uj-6083, while Scarab scored a damaging near miss. Uj-6083 began to list, while Kemid Allah seemed to hesitate.


WWII: Didn’t the destroyer Endicott arrive to help you out?


Fairbanks: Yes, but it was really all over by that time. Admiral Bulkeley and I didn’t always agree on what happened. But as I recall, Endicott arrived in time to strike Kemid Allah a mortal blow. Kemid Allah’s ammunition began to explode, and she went down at 7:09. After launching two torpedoes at Endicott, which missed, Uj-6083 finally sank at 8:30. Endicott rescued 169 German survivors, while Aphis and Scarab picked up another 41.


WWII: Did the Germans have anything to say about the action?


Fairbanks: They were too scared to talk. They were mostly kids, who had been taught by their propaganda that we were going to torture them and pull their fingernails out…all sorts of things. They were just scared to death. I witnessed one exceptional incident during the rescue. As you may know, when an officer is coming aboard a naval ship he is supposed to salute the quarterdeck first thing. Well, as a German lieutenant commander was being pulled aboard, he gave a “Heil Hitler” to the quarterdeck. So our chief petty officer (CPO) stuck his foot in the German’s middle and pushed him overboard. The CPO then called down in his richest cockney: “Naow, none of that there ‘ere! You come back up and do it proper-like-or back in you bloody well go again!”


WWII: The German obeyed?


Fairbanks: Yes , he did. He was furious, but he gave the proper naval salute.



August (cont)       Returned to assault area.

                                On release from DRAGOON resumed duty with Mediterranean Fleet and deployed

                                in Adriatic for patrol and support of British Army advance up the east coast of Italy

                                with HM Destroyers UNDINE, HMS URCHIN, HMS KIMBERLEY, LOYAL and

                                HM Gunboat APHIS.                         

                19th        Arrived Ajaccio

21st         Arrived Naples, departed on 26th

28th        Arrived Piombino                

30th        Departed Brindisi

31st         Arrived Ancona


September             Deployed in Adriatic in support of shore operations, based at Ancona.

7th          With HM Destroyer LOYAL began a series of bombardments of gun positions in

                Rimini area.


1 9 4 5


HM River Gunboats SCARAB, APHIS and COCKCHAFER all saw significant 

service during  WWII and survived.



4th          The three gunboats proceeded together through Suez, the Red Sea via Aden returning to the

                                China Station after war service in the Mediterranean. 



Mr J D (Dave) Downey of Ballarat, Victoria, Australia was my Father’s best mate. I first enquired of him if Dad would mind me going into his war service. He gave me an order - “Do it”. Dave Downey  was a WWII Sergeant , a decorated veteran of the Pacific Campaign and a family friend for over 50 years.



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