William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was born in 1911, the son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Shakespeare. He was the husband of Joan Shakespeare, of St. Mawes. They resided at Laurel Cottage, St. Mawes. It is likely that he was a fisherman before the war.

William was in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. As such he was appointed Temporary Sub-Lieutenant on 29 January 1940 and promoted to Temporary Lieutenant on 17 September 1940.

On 11 August 1942 William took command of the requisitioned trawler HMS Swansea Castle which was assigned a minesweeping role. This command lasted until 1 October 1942. He is listed as having taken command of HMS Cap D’Antifer on 8 October 1942. This was an ex-French requisitioned trawler, also being used as a minesweeper. What happened next is not clear. There is no end date for his command of the Cap D’Antifer and it has no other listed commander until early 1944. However, on 19 October 1942 William took command of HMS MMS 87, a custom-built motor minesweeper. He would remain in command of this vessel until his death.

On the night of 4/5 August 1943 a minesweeping group that included HMS MMS 87, HMS MMS 18 and HMS Red Gauntlet were operating in the area between Harwich and Orford Ness on the East Coast. MMS 18 was a sister vessel to MMS 87 and Red Gauntlet was a requisitioned trawler. Unfortunately, they were surprised by seven E-boats of the 2nd and 6th flotillas.  The commanders of MMS 87 (William Shakespeare) and MMS 18 (George Gutteridge) were both killed when the German vessels opened fire on the minesweepers with machine guns and anti-aircraft guns; the open bridges of their vessels would have left them unprotected. All of the minesweepers except HMS Red Gauntlet were able to flee the Germans to safety. Red Gauntlet had its booms down and was unable to quickly manoeuvre or flee. Consequently, the ship was lost when it was unable to avoid torpedoes launched by the E-boat S36. The trawler exploded and sank with all 21 crew, including the commander Lieutenant James Childs.

William Shakespeare is buried in St. Just churchyard.


HMS Swansea Castle – 256 tons, built by Smiths Dock Co., Ltd. (South Bank-on-Tees) in 1912, requisitioned July 1940 and returned February 1946.

HMS Cap D’Antifer – 294 tons, built 1920 by Ferguson Brothers Shipbuilder & Engineers Ltd., Glasgow, requisitioned by the French Navy in 1939 from Belgian owners, taken over by the Royal Navy in 1940, sunk (torpedo) 13 February 1944.


Motor Minesweeper 87 off Devonport March 1943

Admiralty type, first group, 165 tons, crew of 20, built by Wivenhoe Shipyard Ltd. (Wivenhoe), ordered 5 September 1940, launched 30 May 1942, commissioned 27 October 1942, sold 9 December 1946, armed with two 0.5 inch machine guns in a dual mounting and capable of 11 knots.

HMS Red Gauntlet

red gauntlet

338 tons, built by Smiths Dock Co., Ltd. (South Bank-on-Tees), launched 11 June 1930, requisitioned August 1939 and sunk 5 August 1943.

S36 – S30 group

S30 class E boat

81 tons, crew of 16, built by Lùrssen, Vegesack, between 1939 and 1941, capable of 36 knots, armed with two torpedo tubes and 2 20mm anti-aircraft guns in a dual mount.

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