HMS Matabele was a Tribal-class destroyer of the Royal Navy that saw service in World War II, being sunk by a U-boat on 17 January 1942. She has been the only ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name Matabele, which in common with the other ships of the Tribal class, was named after an ethnic group of the British Empire. In this case, this was the Anglicisation of the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe.
Matabele was ordered on 19 June 1936 under the 1935 Build Programme from the Greenock yards of Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. She was laid down on 1 October 1936 and launched on 6 October 1937. Also launched on this day from Scotts' yard was Matabele's sister, Punjabi. She was commissioned on 25 January 1939 at a total cost of £343,005, which excluded items supplied by the Admiralty, such as weapons and communications outfits. She was initially assigned to the 2nd Tribal Destroyer Flotilla of the Home Fleet, which was renamed the 6th Destroyer Flotilla in April 1939.
Her early career with the flotilla mostly involved port visits and exercises. On 12 May she escorted the ocean liner RMS Empress of Australia through the English Channel. Empress of Australia was carrying King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their Royal Tour to Canada. In June Matabele was assigned to assist in rescue operations for the stricken submarine Thetis which had sunk during builder's trials in Liverpool Bay. On her release from these duties, Matabele resumed her Home Fleet programme with the Flotilla. With war looming, she took up her Home Fleet war station in August, and was deployed for interception and anti-submarine patrol in Home waters.
On the outbreak of the Second World War, Matabele carried out duties including the interception of German shipping attempting to return to German ports and commerce raiders on passage to attack British shipping in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as patrols to intercept U-boats operating in Home waters. On 25 September she was deployed with sisters Somali and Mashona to search for the submarine Spearfish, which had been badly damaged during a patrol in Heligoland Bight. Having successfully made contact with Spearfish on 26 September, they escorted her back to the UK under the cover of major warships of the Home Fleet.
Through October to December, Matabele carried out patrols to intercept German ships on passage for attacks on coastal shipping, as well as heading into the Atlantic Ocean for attacks on convoys or for submarine minelayers. She also carried out screening duties for major Home Fleet warships. In January and February 1940 she was under repair at HMNB Devonport for work which included the replacement of turbine blades, damaged due to excess stress during high speed steaming in inclement weather, and the installation of de-gaussing equipment for protection against magnetic mines. She returned to active service in March, and took part in convoy escorts to and from Norway, as well as sweeps to intercept German warships. Whilst carrying out these duties, Matabele came under heavy air attacks on 13 April, and again on 16 April, but escaped undamaged. On 17 April she escorted the cruisers Effingham and Coventry to Bodø. On 18 April she ran aground on Foksen shoal, but managed to re-float with damage to her structure. Effingham also ran aground, but suffered serious damage. Matabele took off troops and equipment from the stricken cruiser, after which Matabele scuttled Effingam with torpedoes and gunfire.
She continued supporting operations off Norway , and then returned to the UK at the end of May for repairs and a refit at Falmouth. This work lasted until July and involved the replacement of her twin 4.7 inch mounting in "X" position aft with a twin 4 inch HA mounting to improve her defence against air attacks. She returned to active service after post refit trials on 19 August. She continued to serve in Home waters and off Norway. On 22 October she and Somali attacked a convoy off Åndalsnes and on 23 October she. Somali and Punjabi sank the German weather ship WBS 5 Adolf Vinnen off Stadlandet. Matabele sank a coaster. November and December were spent operating out of Scapa Flow, including forming part of a screen for the search for the German raider Admiral Scheer which had been reported on passage to attack the Atlantic convoys.
In January 1941 she screened minelaying operations off Norway and on 16 January she escorted the battleship King George V, then on passage to the United States carrying Lord Halifax and senior defence personnel, through the North Western Approaches. Further screening of minelaying operations followed. In March she began to escort convoys, but entered refit again in Vickers-Armstrong's Barrow-in-Furness yards on 11 April. This lasted until May and consisted of the removal of the mainmast and the top of the after funnel to improve the arcs of fire for her close range weapons. A Type 286M radar was also fitted. On her departure from Barrow on 5 June to rejoin the fleet, she grounded and sustained major damage to her underwater fittings, including her shaft brackets and propellers. She returned to Barrow for repairs, which lasted until mid August.
On 30 August she was deployed with the aircraft carrier Argus, the cruiser Shropshire and the destroyers Punjabi and Somali on a mission to deliver RAF equipment and personnel to North Russia to support Soviet military operations after the Soviet Union had entered the war. The operation was completed successfully and the ships returned to Scapa Flow on 15 November. Matabele spent October to December on patrol, and screening operations off Norway.
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.