The Captain class frigate HMS Bullen began her life at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation Shipbuilding Division, Hingham, USA. She measured 306.0′ x 36.9′ x 13.6′ and displaced 1330 tons. Her General Electric turbines delivered 12000 shp. She was armed with 3 @ 3 inch deck guns, 4 @ 1.1 inch anti-aircraft guns, 8 @ 20 mm anti-aircraft guns, 3 @ 21 inch torpedo tubes, 1 depth charge launcher (8 D/Cs, 2 racks).
The Bullen was originally ordered by the United States Navy as the destroyer Escort DE78 on 10th January, 1942 and launched on 17th May 1943. She transferred to the Royal Navy under the terms of the Lend/Lease agreement between the two nations shortly after her launch and before she entered service for the Americans. She was named after Captain Charles Bullen of HMS Britannia at the Battle of Trafalgar. Throughout 1944, starting with her first duty escorting transatlantic convoy HX274, she served on almost continuous convoy and patrol duty until she was transferred to the 19th Escort Group, Western Approach Command in late October that year. In March 1944 she was involved in the unsuccessful attempt to save the submarine HMS Graph from being swept onto the rocks on the west coast of Islay after a tow rope attached to the submarine snapped.
Bullen left Londonderry to patrol off Cape Wrath on her final voyage on 1st December, 1944. Lieutenant A H Parish was in command. The cause of the explosion that sank HMS Bullen a few days later on 6th December was the subject of much debate in the days that followed her loss. The Board of Enquiry, held aboard HMS Defender later that month and presided over by Captain D Liverpool, could only really speculate although one of the ratings that survived the sinking did state that he had seen a torpedo trail just before the explosion. Despite this and the albeit erroneous report of a successful attack on a U-boat by HMS Loch Insh and HMS Goodall, the members of the enquiry board chose to conclude that the likelihood of a successful torpedo attack without the U-boat being discovered in the good Asdic conditions prevailing at the time, was very low. They therefore concluded that the explosion was caused by a mine. After the war German naval records were to show that the Bullen was indeed subject to an attack by U-775. Her commander, Oberleutnant Eric Taschenmacher, fired a single acoustic homing torpedo which hit Bullen as she was turning 30 degrees to port at the end of the latest leg of her zig zag course. The torpedo hit her starboard side on the bulkhead between the engine room and number 2 boiler room. Taschenmacher reported the position of his kill as 58° 42′ N, 04° 12′ W.
HMS Loch Insh and HMS Goodall reported a depth charge attack on the U-boat immediately after the torpedo hit and, in fact reported, wreckage and oil on the surface after the attack indicating that they had successfully avenged Bullen by sinking the U-boat. However, U-775 was not hit and returned successfully to base to report their success in sinking HMS Bullen. Meanwhile Hesperus and Goodall combed the area and picked up many survivors. Goodall’s own whaler was launched and, manned by six men from her crew, quickly picked up around ten of Bullen’s crew. For these men safety was nearly at hand but tragically, as the whaler pulled alongside Hesperus to drop them off, they were plunged back into the sea once more. The whaler tied up to the lee side of Hesperus but, before the men could disembark, Commander Legassick, captain of Hesperus, moved his ship forward to pick up other survivors. As Hesperus turned into the wind the sea swamped the whaler and, as a result, two of Goodall’s men and a number of Bullen’s crew were lost. Bullen’s commanding officer was almost rescued by Hesperus later – as Hesperus gently edged towards him two ratings scrambled down the netting which had been hung over her side but he was just out of reach, They threw him a rope which he succeeded in holding for a few seconds but, as they started to pull him aboard, his grasp slipped and he fell back and was lost. In the aftermath it was discovered that there were 97 survivors from HMS Bullen – 71 men and the captain had been lost.
The wreckage of the bow section of HMS Bullen lies in position 58° 43.751’N, 004° 51.373’W (WGS84) in 86 metres, 7 miles north east of Cape Wrath. The section of wreck is substantially in tact lying oriented 161°/341° and rises 6 metres from the seabed. The wrecksite is protected under the terms of the Protection of Miltary Remains Act and should not be disturbed. There is additional unidentified wreckage nearby in position 58° 44.035’N, 004° 51.373’W (WGS84) which is probably the remains of the stern section of the ship.