In late 1940, Sabre was modified as a convoy escort. Equipped with 14-charge pattern depth-charge arrangements, both the after 4-inch guns and the torpedo tubes were landed, one 12-pounder (AA) and 8-.5" (AA) (2x4) were added. Radar type 286, and later 291, was added. Later in the war four single 20mm (AA) mountings eventually supplanted the .5" AA mountings.
At the outbreak of war Sabre (Lt Cdr B Dean) was part of the Home Fleet based at Scapa Flow, as a TB Target and PV ranging vessel. In 1939 she was deployed for convoy defence in the Western Approaches. On 13 October 1939 while at Rosyth, Sabre was heavily damaged when rammed by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Jervis Bay. Sabre was under repair until 6 May 1940.
As part of the 22nd Destroyer Flotilla, Sabre was conspicuous in the evacuation of British and French soldiers from the beaches of beaches at Malo-les-Bains and the harbour mole during the Dunkirk evacuation. During nine days and nights of the evacuation, despite being damaged in an air attack, Sabre made ten round trips to Dunkirk. An example of her activity at this time:
Finally on 4 June just after 2:00 pm, the Admiralty announced the end of Operation Dynamo. All together an armada of over 860 ships, including 39 destroyers, had taken part in the evacuation of troops from the beaches and harbour. The Admiralty calculated the total British and Allied troops landed in England amounted to 338,226 troops rescued.
Sabre had made more round trips than most and brought back to Dover a total of 5,765 soldiers – amongst the highest number for any individual ship. Lieutenant-Commander Dean was awarded a DSO –Distinguished Service Order on 6 June. Sabre's midshipman ‘Teddy’ Archdale was mentioned in despatches. (Edward Archdale went on to become a distinguished gunnery officer in the submarine HMS Unbroken).
After Dunkirk there were still Allied forces to be evacuated from other French ports along the coast westward so the navy had further work to do. ‘Operation Cycle' launched on 10 June rescued some 11,000 from the English Channel port of Le Havre. Then on 12 June Sabre was deployed to help with the evacuation of still more British and Allied forces in ‘Operation Ariel’ from the rest of France. It began with the evacuation of Cherbourg and continued for the next ten days, moving south to St Nazaire, Bordeaux and right down to the Franco-Spanish border. Sabre was sent to Alderney the northerly island amongst the Channel Islands on 23 June and helped evacuate around 1,400 islanders to safety in Weymouth. The final Allied evacuation of France ended on 25 June. By that time a further 215,000 servicemen and civilians had been saved, however although successful, Operations 'Aerial' and 'Cycle' never captured the public's imagination like ‘Operation Dynamo’.
In September 1940 Sabre was detailed to meet the first slow Atlantic convoy, as it approached the United Kingdom from Canada. A Finnish merchant ship, Elle, 3,868 tons was torpedoed at 04:25am on 28 August and Sabre joined the hunt for the German U-boat U-101 without success. Then two days later, during the evening of 30 August off Malin Head Sabre helped rescue the survivors of a torpedoed Dutch ship, the 15,434 ton Holland America line, SS Volendam. She was in an outward bound convoy OB-205 for Canada, carrying 879 passengers and 273 crew members. This included 320 children with their escorts under the Children's Overseas Reception Board scheme some as young as five, together with 286 other passengers. They were taken to various west coast ports in Scotland. (Volendam did not sink, and was eventually taken in tow by the rescue tug HMS Salvonia and beached on the Isle of Bute. Repaired in 1941 she returned to war service).
Tory Island incident December 1940
In December Sabre whilst escorting an inbound convoy SC-13 into Liverpool was involved with a rescue attempt as described later in a book, 'Recently she had been badly damaged in a brave attempt to rescue the crew of a Dutch ship SS Stolwijk which had run ashore on Tory Island on the nor'western coast of Ireland in a full gale. The Sabre went in so close that she was almost among the breakers; and one great wave swept her decks, flattening the bridge and taking with it all the upper-deck fittings. The Captain (Lt.Cdr. B. Dean, RN) had been badly injured and was still in hospital, but his was the worst case and fortunately no one had been lost. Sabre put into Derry on December 7 and sailed to Larne, Northern Ireland for repairs on 18 January 1941 under command of Lieutenant Peter Gretton.
Further convoy rescue off St Kilda 1941
At 7:54 pm on 31 December 1941, the British Motor Tanker Cardita, 8,237 tons (Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co Ltd), a straggler from convoy HX-166, en route Curaçao to Shellhaven (Thames Estuary), was torpedoed by U-87 110 miles (180 km) from St Kilda. The vessel foundered on 3 January 1942. Out of the ship's crew, 27 were lost, 23 were picked up by HMS Onslow and a further 10 crew members by Sabre and landed at Reykjavík, Iceland.
In March 1942 after a successful ‘Warship Week’ National Savings campaign Sabre was adopted by the civil community of Bebington, Cheshire, the same month she was detached for escort of the Russian Convoy PQ 13 during its initial stage of passage to Iceland in the Northwest Approaches.
For most of the war Sabre was attached to 1st Escort Group based at Liverpool and then 21st Escort Group for convoy defence in NW Approaches. In 1943 she was deployed for Atlantic convoy defence, in 1944 Atlantic convoy defence and support based in Iceland. In 1945 Sabre deployed for coastal convoy defence in UK waters.
At the end of World War II Sabre was placed on the disposal list and sold to be broken up for scrap in November 1945, arriving at the breaker’s yard at Grangemouth on the Firth of Forth in 1946.
Lieutenant-Commander Brian Dean, DSO, (15 Nov 1937 – 11 Jan 1941)
He was born in 1895 in Valletta, Malta into a naval family. He was cadet at the Royal Naval Colleges Osborne House in the Isle of Wight and Dartmouth. He served as a midshipman and later a Sub-Lieutenant in various ships including HMS Lion during World War I. His first command was HMS Boyne in the North Sea and Icelandic waters in the early 1930s. He was in command of Sabre from November 1937, until he was retired from sea in January 1941 following a fractured skull sustained in heavy seas. Whilst recovering he served ashore in various appointments at Combined Operations bases in the United Kingdom including HMS James Cook (shore establishment Glen Caladh Castle, Scotland), until 1946. In 1918 he married Phyllis Ripley in Suffolk. She was the eldest daughter of Philip and Theresa Ripley, they were a comfortably middle-class family with servants – her father was a managing director, and ran an agricultural engineering works in Ipswich. They first lived in Yorkshire and later Chichester, West Sussex. They had three children, the eldest, Harold died at childbirth in 1920, and a year later they had twin girls, Mary and Patricia – Patricia died in infancy, at the age of one. Phyllis died after the war in Chichester in 1951. Sometime after that it appears that Brian emigrated to New Zealand, where he died on 19 April 1975. He is buried in Waipukurau cemetery (Plot 55) in Hastings, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand (North Island).
Lieutenant Sir Peter William Gretton, DSC, (11 Jan 1941 – 11 Feb 1942)
Peter Gretton was born in 1912 in Surrey his father was an army officer. He attended Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth, and during the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II was a successful convoy escort commander. He eventually rose to become Fifth Sea Lord and retired as a vice admiral before entering university life as a bursar and academic. He wrote several books on his sea experiences. He died November 11, 1992, in Oxford.
Lieutenant Reginald Lacey Caple, DSC, (11 Feb 1942 – Jul 1943)
He was born in Portsmouth in 1912. He became a sub-lieutenant in 1934, and a lieutenant in 1936, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1940, and promoted lieutenant-commander in 1944 and mentioned in Despatches the same year. He retired 9 February 1957.
T/A/ Lieutenant-Commander (Reginald Charles Howard), The Hon. Grenville Howard, RNVR (Jul 1943 - Jun 1944)
He was born in 1909, the son of Henry Molyneux Paget Howard, 19th Earl of Suffolk. In 1938 he joined RNVR Supplementary Reserve attached to London Division. In 1939 he was appointed T/ Lieutenant and served on HMS Punjabi and HMS Malcolm before joining Sabre. He retired 7 September 1964, and later served as Member of Parliament (MP) for St Ives from 1950 until he stood down at the 1966 general election.
Lieutenant Thomas Cumming, (Jun 1944 – Oct 1945)
He was appointed a lieutenant in January 1939 and lieutenant-commander January 1947. He retired 16 February 1948.