HMS Achates (i) (H 12)
Destroyer of the A class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||John Brown Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Ltd. (Clydebank, Scotland)|
|Ordered||6 Mar 1928|
|Laid down||11 Sep 1928|
|Launched||4 Oct 1929|
|Commissioned||27 Mar 1930|
|Lost||31 Dec 1942|
|Loss position||73° 18'N, 30° 06'E|
On 31 December 1942 HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Arthur Henry Tyndall Johns, DSO, RN) was escorting convoy JW-51B in the Barents Sea with 2 light cruisers and 4 O-class destroyers, when the convoy came under attack of a German force comprising heavy cruisers Lützow, Admiral Hipper and 6 Z-class destroyers in position 74N, 28E.
In the prevailing twilight of those latitudes the fighting was rather confused, Achates was hit by unidentified opponents between 0930-1130 hrs, then, from 1130, Admiral Hipper landed several salvoes on her. The superstructure and bridge were wrecked, she lost steam and received several more hits, sinking in three minutes taking 113 men to the bottom, about 135 nautical miles east-south-east of Bear Island in position 73º18'N, 30º06'E. 80 survivors were picked up from the freezing water.
Commands listed for HMS Achates (i) (H 12)
Please note that we're still working on this section
and that we only list Commanding Officers for the duration of the Second World War.
|1||Cdr. Robert James Gardner, RN||26 May 1939||10 Aug 1940|
|2||Lt.Cdr. Robert William Jocelyn, RN||10 Aug 1940||late 1941|
|3||Lt.Cdr. Arthur Andre Tait, RN||10 Mar 1942||21 Jul 1942|
|4||Lt.Cdr. Arthur Henry Tyndall Johns, RN||21 Jul 1942||31 Dec 1942 (+)|
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Notable events involving Achates (i) include:
8 Sep 1939
The aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN) conducted flying operations off Portland. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Arrow (Cdr. H.W. Williams, RN) and HMS Achates (Cdr. R.J. Gardner, RN). (2)
14 Jan 1940
Around noon, HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral S.S. Bonham-Carter, CVO, DSO, RN), departed Portsmouth for Halifax, Nova Scotia. She had on board £ 5 million of gold bullion.
She was being escorted by the destroyers HMS Achates (Cdr. R.J. Gardner, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.T. Thew, RN) and HMS Arrow (Cdr. H.W. Williams, RN) until around 1630/15 when HMS Vanquisher (Lt.Cdr. C.B. Alers-Hankey, RN), HMS Viscount (Lt.Cdr. M.S. Townsend, RN) and HMS Windsor (Lt.Cdr. P.D.H.R. Pelly, RN) took over until around 1200/16. HMS Royal Sovereign then proceeded unescorted. (3)
1 Jul 1940
Around 0515A/1, the light cruisers HMS Newcastle (Capt. J. Figgins, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN), departed Rosyth for patrol which was to end at Sheerness. They proceeded in company with the destroyers HMS Jackal (Cdr. T.M. Napier, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) which were to proceed to the Humber after the patrol.
The force was to be off the Aldeburgh Light float at 2359A/1.
Around 2200A/1, the destroyers HMS Malcolm ( Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN), HMS Venomous (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, RN), HMS Ambuscade (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Fell, RN) and HMS Achates (Cdr. R.J. Gardner, RN) joined.
Around 0600A/2, HMS Newcastle was detached to Plymoputh in accordance with orders received by signal at 1724A/1.
HMS Manchester and HMS Sheffield then proceeded to Sheerness arriving around 0930A/2.
The destroyers proceeded to either the Humber (HMS Jackal and HMS Jaguar) or Harwich (HMS Malcolm, HMS Venomous, HMS Ambuscade and HMS Achates). (4)
27 Jul 1940
In the early evening the battlecruisers HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), heavy cruisers HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.H.D. Cunningham, CB, MVO, RN), HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN), light cruisers HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) escorted by destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN), HMS Tartar (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Achates (Cdr. R.J. Gardner, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. N.J.V. Thew, RN) and HMS Arrow (Cdr. H.W. Williams, RN) sailed from Scapa Flow in response to reports that German battlecruiser Gneisenau was proceeding from Trondheim back to Germany but in fact this German battlecruiser was at that time already nearly back in Germany having left undetected earlier and the ships reported were in fact only merchant vessels.
At 1800/28, HMS Devonshire was detached from the force to give cover to a convoy en-route from the Clyde to Iceland.
The force returned to Scapa Flow around 0630/29.
7 Oct 1940
Convoy WS 3 (Fast).
This convoy departed Liverpool and the Clyde on 7 October 1940. The convoy arrived at Suez on 16 November 1940.
The Liverpool section was made up of the troop transports; Duchess of York (British, 20021 GRT, built 1929), Monarch of Bermuda (British, 22424 GRT, built 1931) and Orontes (British, 20097 GRT, built 1929).
It was escorted by the destroyers HMS Douglas (Cdr.(Retd.) J.G. Crossley, RN) and HMCS St. Laurent (Lt. H.S. Rayner, RCN). HMCS St. Laurent however collided with a small merchant vessel very early on the 8th and had to return to Liverpool for repairs.
The Clyde section was made up of the transports; Capetown Castle (British, 27000 GRT, built 1938), Georgic (British, 27759 GRT, built 1932), Oronsay (British, 20043 GRT, built 1925) and Winchester Castle (British, 20012 GRT, built 1930).
At 0700/8, the Clyde section was joined by the destroyers HMS Arrow (Cdr. H.W. Williams, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) and HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN) which came from Londonderry.
At 1012/8, a large enemy bomber was seen to approach the Capetown Castle off the Clyde section and dropped a bomb which missed.
At 1050/8, HMCS Ottawa and HMS Active were ordered to close the Oronsay which had been damaged by air attack and needed assistance. HMS Active however misunderstood the order and remained with the convoy. Meanwhile the Oronsay had dropped out of the convoy.
At 1152/8, HMS Arrow joined the damaged Oronsay as well.
Around 1400/8, the armed merchant cruisers HMS Cheshire (Capt.(Retd.) M.R. Bernard, RN) and HMS Salopian (Capt.(Retd.) J.M. Alleyne, DSO, DSC, RN) also arrived on the scene. HMS Salopian later departed to continue her patrol. HMS Cheshire remained with Oronsay and the two destroyers.
At 1440/8, Oronsay got underway at slow speed and was able to increase speed to 9 knots.
At 1520/8, the ships that were with the Oronsay sighted the Liverpool section of the convoy which apparently had been delayed by bad weather conditions and therefore unable to have joined up with the Clyde section as had been intended. HMS Douglas, one of the escorting destroyers of the Liverpool section had been unable to keep up with it due to the weather conditions now joined the Oronsay group.
The destroyer HMS Viscount (Lt.Cdr. M.S. Townsend, OBE, DSC, RN) also joined but it is unknown when.
At 2115/8, the AA cruiser HMS Cairo (Capt. P.V. McLaughlin, RN) joined.
At 0205/9, HMS Arrow and HMCS Ottawa parted company with Oromsay and the other escorts to proceed to Londonderry.
Around 1030/9, the damaged Oronsay escorted by HMS Cairo, HMS Cheshire, HMS Douglas, HMS Verity, HMS Viscount and HMS Sabre arrived at Greenock.
Meanwhile the Clyde section had continued on escorted by HMS Whitehall, HMS Achates and HMS Active. As did the Liverpool section but apparently unescorted. They had failed to make rendezvous with each other in the heavy weather.
Around 1215/9, the Clyde section was joined by the light cruiser HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN). It seems that at this time the destroyers were no longer present.
At noon on the 12th the Clyde section, with HMS Kenya was finally joined by the Liverpool section of the convoy.
The convoy arrived at Freetown in the afternoon of October 18th.
The convoy departed Freetown on 20 October 1940 and was made up of the Capetown Castle, Duchess of York, Georgic, Monarch of Bermuda, Orontes and Winchester Castle.
The convoy was escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN).
The convoy arrived at Capetown on 28 October 1940. HMS Dorsetshire then proceeded to Simonstown where she arrived also on the same day.
On 30 October the convoy, now made up of the Duchess of York, Georgic, Monarch of Bermuda and Orontes departed Capetown for Suez. They were escorted by HMS Dorsetshire.
In the morning of 3 November the convoy overtook and then merged with the slow section of convoy WS 3 which was made up of the transports Dorset (British, 10624 GRT, built 1934), Erinpura (British, 5143 GRT, built 1911), Highland Brigade (British, 14134 GRT, built 1929), Khedive Ismael (British, 7290 GRT, built 1922), Oropesa (British, 14118 GRT, built 1920), Perthshire (British, 10496 GRT, built 1936) and Port Chalmers (British, 8535 GRT, built 1933) and their escort the armed merchant cruiser HMS Carthage (Capt.(Retd.) B.O. Bell-Salter, RN).
Shortly before noon the Erinpura and Khedive Ismael split off from the convoy and set course for Mombasa escorted by HMS Carthage. HMS Dorsetshire continued on with the remainder of the convoy towards Suez.
In the morning of November 11th, the light cruiser HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clarke, RN) joined the convoy at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden.
The transport City of Lille (British, 6588 GRT, built 1928) and several more escort vessels, the AA cruiser HMS Carlisle (Capt. G.M.B. Langley, OBE, RN), destroyer HMS Kimberley (Lt.Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, RN), sloops HMS Auckland (Cdr. J.G. Hewitt, DSO, RN) and HMAS Parramatta (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Walker, MVO, RAN) joined on 12 November 1940 for the passage through the Red Sea in which the Italian Navy was still active at this time.
The troopships Duchess of York and Georgic also re-joined the convoy after a brief visit to Aden. HMS Caledon also briefly left the convoy to oil at Aden before re-joining it.
Around 2130/12, the convoy entered the Perim Strait.
HMS Dorsetshire parted company with the convoy at 0915/14.
The convoy arrived at Suez on 16 November 1940. (5)
3 Dec 1940
Convoy HX 93
This convoy departed Halifax, Nova Scotia on 3 December 1940 and arrived at Liverpool on 18 December 1940.
The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Baron Napier (British, 3559 GRT, built 1930), Bello (Norwegian (tanker), 6125 GRT, built 1930), Carras (Greek, 5234 GRT, built 1918), Harpagon (British, 5719 GRT, built 1935), Lancastrian Prince (British, 1914 GRT, built 1940), Manchester Citizen (British, 5343 GRT, built 1925), Salabangka (Dutch, 6586 GRT, built 1920) and Scottish Star (British, 7224 GRT, built 1917).
On departure from Halifax the convoy was escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Aurania (A/Capt. I.W. Whitehorn, RN).
A/S escort in the local approaches was provided until /4 by the destroyer HMCS Assiniboine (Capt. L.W. Murray, RCN) and the auxiliary patrol vessels HMCS French (A/Skr. W. Philpott, RCNR) and HMCS Husky (T/Lt. H. Freeland, RCNR).
On 4 December the Bello was ordered to return to Halifax as she could not keep up with the convoy.
On 5 December convoy SHX 93, coming from Sydney, Nova Scotia which it had departed on 4 December, merged with convoy HX 93. Convoy SHX 93 was made up of the following merchant vessels; Anthea (British, 5186 GRT, built 1924), Dux (Norwegian, 1590 GRT, built 1934), Eleni (Greek, 5655 GRT, built 1918), Rupert de Larrinaga (British, 5358 GRT, built 1930), Wanstead (British, 5486 GRT, built 1928) and Welsh Trader (British, 4974 GRT, built 1938).
These ships had no escort.
On 7 December the convoy BHX 93, coming from Bermuda which it had departed on 1 December, merged with convoy HX 93. Convoy BHX 93 was made up of the following merchant vessels; Adula (British (tanker), 8040 GRT, built 1937), Benedick (British (tanker), 6978 GRT, built 1928), Derrymore (British, 4799 GRT, built 1938), Donacilla (British (tanker), 8113 GRT, built 1939), Dunkeld (British, 4944 GRT, built 1937), Elona (British (tanker), 6192 GRT, built 1937), La Paz (British, 6548 GRT, built 1920), Logician (British, 5993 GRT, built 1928), Lulworth Hill (British, 7628 GRT, built 1940), Lunula (British (tanker), 6363 GRT, built 1927), Mahronda (British, 7926 GRT, built 1925), Queen Victoria (British, 4937 GRT, built 1936), Tasmania (British, 6405 GRT, built 1935), Titus (Dutch, 1712 GRT, built 1930), Tosari (Dutch, 7029 GRT, built 1919), Traveller (British, 3963 GRT, built 1922) and Tuscan Star (British, 11449 GRT, built 1930).
Convoy BHX had been escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Maloja (A/Capt. V. Hammersley-Heenan, RN). This ship parted company after the convoy had merged.
On 8 December 1940 the merchant vessel Anthea collided with the Dutch merchant vessel Maasdam (8812 GRT, built 1921) in position 48°44'N, 46°37'W and sank as a result of the colission. At that time the Anthea had straggled from the convoy in the bad visibility.
On 11 December the battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN) took over the escort of the convoy from HMS Ausonia. HMS Rodney was detached on the 13th after the destroyers HMS Matabele (Cdr. R.St.V. Sherbrooke, DSO, RN), HMS Electra (Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN), HMS Escapade (Cdr. R.E. Hyde-Smith, RN) and HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN) had arrived from Scapa Flow to escort her back to Scap Flow.
Also on the 13th the destroyers HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (A/Cdr. E.C.L. Turner, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO, RN) and corvettes HMS Heather (Cdr.(Retd.) J.G.C. Gibson, RN) and HMS Picotee ( Lt.Cdr. N.C.H. Scallan, RNR) joined on the 13th. HMS Achates and HMS Heather were detached on the 16th. The A/S trawlers HMS Lady Madeleine (T/Lt. P.H. Potter, RNR) and HMS Norwich City (Ch.Skr. P. Newman, RNR) also joined later.
The bulk of the convoy arrived at Liverpool on 18 December.
18 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises and RD/F trials to the west of Scapa Flow together with HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN), HMS Arrow (Cdr. R.E. Hyde-Smith, RN) and HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN). When HMS Hermione left at 1102 hours, HMS Achates took over the duty as 'target ship'. (6)
19 Apr 1941
Intelligence reported the German battleship Bismarck proceeding to sea, British movements to intercept.
In the early morning hours of 19 April 1941 the Admiralty received reports that the German battleship Bismarck was reported to have passed the Skaw together with two cruisers and three destroyers.
The battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) with the light cruiser HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN) and HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN) were already at sea (departed Scapa Flow around 1700/18) proceeding southwards to relieve HMS King George V (Capt. W.R. Patterson, CVO, RN, flying the flag of A/Adm. J.C. Tovey, KCB, DSO, RN) and HMS Nigeria (Capt. J.G.L. Dundas, RN) on the Bay of Biscay patrol. They were now ordered to proceed northwards to provide cover for the cruiser patrol in the Island-Faroes passage. HMS King George V and HMS Nigeria initially turned north but soon returned to their patrol area off the Bay of Biscay. Their escorting destroyers, HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN) had been detached to fuel at Londonderry on the morning of the 15th. They returned from fuelling on the morning of the 20th.
For these cruiser patrols the following ships were sailed. From Iceland (Hvalfjord); heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker CB, OBE, RN), light cruisers HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.T.B. Curteis, CB, RN) and HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN). From Scapa Flow; heavy cruisers HMS Suffolk (Capt. R.M. Ellis, RN), HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. C.M. Blackman, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN), destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN).
HMS Inglefield joined the force of HMS Hood around 1045/20.
Shortly before midnight the battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN) sailed from the Clyde escorted by ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski) and HMS Saladin (Lt.Cdr. L.J. Dover, RN). In the early hours of the 20th HMS Rodney collided with the auxiliary A/S trawler HMS Topaze (Ch.Skr. G.R. Gale, RNR) which sank with its entire crew as a result.
The reported German movements turned out to be false and most of the British forces were back in port by the early morning of 23 April 1941 at latest.
HMS Hood and her four escorting destroyers had arrived at Hvalfiord, Iceland in the morning on 21 April. HMS Kenya had been ordered to join the Iceland - Faroer Islands patrol as was HMS Edinburgh. (7)
23 Apr 1941
Minelaying operation SN 71.
Minelaying operation by the 1st Minelaying Squadron.
At 0935/23, the auxiliary minelayers Southern Prince (A/Capt. E.M.C. Barraclough, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral R.L. Burnett, OBE, RN), HMS Menestheus (Capt. J.S. Crawford, DSO, RN, RN), HMS Port Quebec (Capt. (Retd.) E.C. Watson, RN) and the destroyers HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Brighton (Cdr. (Retd.) C.W.V.T.S. Lepper, RN) and HMS St. Marys (Lt. K.H.J.L. Phibbs, RN) departed Loch Alsh (Port Z.A.) for minelaying mission SN 71.
The operation was covered by the light cruisers HMS Edinburgh (Capt. C.M. Blackman, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN) and HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN) from the Iceland - Faroer Islands patrol.
The destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN) departed from Hvalfjord at 0100/25 to carry out an anti-submarine sweep in the line of advance of the minelayers. On completion of the A/S sweep, they relieved destroyers HMS Achates and HMS Anthony in the screen of the minelayers which then proceeded to Reykjavik.
Minefield SN 71 was laid on the 26th. It was made up as follows; SN 71A; between 66°44'9"N, 24°13'7"W and 66°47'5"N, 24°52'0'W
SN 71B; between 66°56'5"N, 24°01'9"W and 67°14'0"N, 24°01'9"W
SN 71C; between 67°09'6"N, 23°46'0"W and 67°08'5"N, 23°44'2"W.
The minelayers laid as follows; HMS Southern Prince 562 mines, HMS Menestheus 410 mines and HMS Port Quebec 548 mines.
HMS Edinburgh, HMS Kenya, after the minelay, proceeded to Scapa Flow where they arrived on the 29th.
HMS Cossack and HMS Zulu arrived at Scapa Flow at 2130/29.
HMS Southern Prince, HMS Menetheus, HMS Port Quebec, HMS Brighton and HMS St.Marys arrived at Loch Alsh (Port Z.A.) at 1957/29. (8)
28 Apr 1941
The battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) departed Hvalfjord, Iceland around 2200 hours to provide cover for the convoys SC 29 and HX 122 during their mid-ocean passage from Canada to the U.K. HMS Hood was being escorted by the destroyers HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN). (9)
3 May 1941
HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) and her escorting destroyers; HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) are ordered to proceed to Scapa Flow but before doing so they put into Reykjavik to fuel (HMS Echo fuelled at Hvalfjord).
4 May 1941
HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) departed Reykjavik, Iceland around 1800 hours for Scapa Flow. They were joined at sea by HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN).
6 May 1941
Around 1300 hours, the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) arrived at Scapa Flow.
16 May 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) departed Scapa Flow for exercises. She was escorted by the destroyer HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN), HMS Eskimo (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) and HMAS Nestor (Cdr. G.S. Stewart, RAN). The exercises included a full calibre 5.25" shoot at the cruiser HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN) which was also out conducting gunnery exercises herself during the afternoon and early evening.
18 May 1941
Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941.
Departure of the Bismarck from the Baltic.
At 2130B/18 the German battleship Bismarck and the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen departed Gotenhafen for an anti-shipping raid in the North Atlantic. The following morning they were joined off Cape Arkona by the German destroyers Z 16 / Friedrich Eckhold and Z 23. They then proceeded through the Great Belt. The four ships were joined by a third destroyer, Z 10 / Hans Lody shortly before midnight on 19 May.
First reports of Bismarck and British dispositions 20-21 May 1941.
On 20 May 1941 two large warships with a strong escort were seen at 1500 hours northward out of the Kattegat. This information originated from the Swedish cruiser Gotland which had passed the Germans off the Swedish coast in the morning. The Naval Attaché at Stockholm received the news at 2100/20 and forwarded it to the Admiralty. At 0900/21 the Bismarck and her consorts entered Kors Fjord, near Bergen, Norway and anchored in nearby fiords. A reconnaissance aircraft flying over Bergen at 1330/21 reported having seen two Hipper class heavy cruisers there. One of these ships was later identified on a photograph as being the Bismarck. This intelligence went out at once to the Home Fleet.
The ships of the Home Fleet were at this time widely dispersed on convoy duties, patrols, etc. Some of the units were ranging as far as Gibraltar and Freetown. The Commander-in-Chief, A/Admiral Sir John Tovey, was at Scapa Flow in his flagship, HMS King George V (Capt. W.R. Patterson, CVO, RN). With him were her newly commissioned sister ship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, with Vice-Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN, onboard), the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), the light cruisers HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral K.T.B. Curteis, CB, RN), HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN) and the destroyers HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) and HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN). HMS Victorious was under orders to escort troop convoy WS 8B from the Clyde to the Middle East. HMS Neptune was working up for service with the Mediterranean Fleet and was to escort convoy WS 8X from the Clyde to the Middle East on completion. She did not sail to operate against the Bismarck having only just began her post-refit work-up programme.
Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker (commanding the first Cruiser Squadron), with the heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN) (flag) and HMS Suffolk (Capt. R.M. Ellis, RN) was on patrol in the Denmark Straight. The light cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) and HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN) were patrolling between Iceland and the Faeroes. The battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) was at the Clyde to escort troop convoy WS 8B.
Action taken by the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet
Admiral Tovey took the following action when he received the news the Bismarck had been spotted at Bergen. Vice-Admiral Holland with the Hood, Prince of Wales, Achates, Antelope, Anthony, Echo, Electra and Icarus was ordered to cover Rear Admiral Wake-Walker's cruisers in the Denmark Straight. His force departed Scapa Flow around 0100/22.
HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), which was taking the Vice-Admiral, Orkneys and Shetlands, to Reykjavik on a visit of inspection, was ordered to remain at Hvalfiord and placed at Rear-Admiral Wake-Walkers disposal. HMS Manchester and HMS Birmingham were ordered to top off with fuel at Skaalefiord and them to resume their patrol. The other ships that remained at Scapa Flow were brought to short notice for steam.
The Free French submarine FFS Minerve (Lt. P.M. Sonneville), which was on patrol off south-west Norway was ordered to proceed to position 61°53'N, 03°15'E and HMS P 31 (Lt. J.B.de B. Kershaw, RN) was ordered to proceed to position 62°08'N, 05°08'E which is to the west of Stadtlandet.
The sailing of HMS Repulse and HMS Victorious with troop convoy WS 8B was cancelled and the ships were placed at the disposal of Admiral Tovey.
A reconnaissance aircraft flying over Bergen reported that the German ships were gone. This information reached Admiral Tovey at 2000/22. HMS Suffolk which had been fuelling at Hvalfiord was ordered to rejoin HMS Norfolk in the Denmark Strait. HMS Arethusa was ordered to join HMS Manchester and HMS Birmingham to form a patrol line between Iceland and the Faeroes. Vice-Admiral Holland, on his way to Iceland was told to cover the patrols in Denmark Strait north of 62°N. Admiral Tovey would cover the patrols south of 62°N.
Commander-in-Chief leaves Scapa Flow on 22 May 1941
The King George V, with Admiral Tovey on board, departed Scapa Flow at 2245/22. With the King George V sailed, HMS Victorious, HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Windsor (Lt.Cdr. J.M.G. Waldegrave, DSC, RN), HMS Active, HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Intrepid (Cdr. R.C. Gordon, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi, HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMAS Nestor. HMS Lance however had to return to Scapa Flow due to defects.
At A.M. 23 May they were joined off the Butt of Lewis by HMS Repulse escorted by HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMCS Assiniboine (A/Lt.Cdr. J.H. Stubbs, RCN) and HMCS Saguenay (Lt. P.E. Haddon, RCN) coming from the Clyde area which they departed on 22 May.
The Commander-in-Chief was 230 miles north-west of the Butt of Lewis in approximate position 60°20'N, 12°30'W when at 2032/23 a signal came in from HMS Norfolk that she had sighted the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait.
HMS Suffolk and HMS Norfolk made contact with the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait on 23 May 1941.
At 1922/23 HMS Suffolk sighted the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in position 67°06'N, 24°50'W. They were proceeding to the south-west skirting the edge of the ice in Denmark Strait. HMS Suffolk immediately sent out an enemy report and made for the mist to the south-east. HMS Norfolk then commenced closing and sighted the enemy at 2030 hours. They were only some six nautical miles off and the Bismarck opened fire. HMS Norfolk immediately turned away, was not hit and also sent out an enemy report.
Although HMS Suffolk had sighted the enemy first and also sent the first contact report this was not received by the Commander-in-Chief. The enemy was 600 miles away to the north-westward.
Vice-Admiral Holland had picked up the signal from the Suffolk. He was at that moment about 300 nautical miles away. Course was changed to intercept and speed was increased by his force to 27 knots.
Dispositions, 23 May 1941.
At the Admiralty, when the Norfolk's signal came in, one of the first considerations was to safeguard the convoys at sea. At this time there were eleven crossing the North-Atlantic, six homeward and five outward bound. The most important convoy was troop convoy WS 8B of five ships which had left the Clyde the previous day for the Middle East. She was at this moment escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), light cruiser (AA cruiser) HMS Cairo (A/Capt. I.R.H. Black, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Cdr. H.N. Lay, RCN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN). HMS Repulse was also intended to have sailed with this convoy but she had joined the Commander-in-Chief instead.
Force H was sailed around 0200/24 from Gibraltar to protect this important convoy on the passage southwards. Force H was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt Sir R.R. McGrigor, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN).
HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk shadowing Bismarck 23 / 24 May 1941.
During the night of 23 / 24 May 1941 HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk hung on to the enemy, The Norfolk on their port quarter, Suffolk on their starboard quarter. All through the night they sent signals with updates on the position, course and speed of the enemy. At 0516 hours HMS Norfolk sighted smoke on her port bow and soon HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales came in sight.
HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales 23 / 24 May 1941.
At 2054/23 the four remaining escorting destroyers were ordered to follow at best speed in the heavy seas if they were unable to keep up with the capital ships which were proceeding at 27 knots. Two destroyers, HMS Antelope and HMS Anthony had been ordered to proceed to Iceland to refuel at 1400/23. The destroyers all managed to keep up for now and at 2318 hours they were ordered to form a screen ahead of both capital ships. At 0008/24 speed was reduced to 25 knots and course was altered to due north at 0017 hours. It was expected that contact with the enemy would be made at any time after 0140/24. It was just now that the cruisers lost contact with the enemy in a snowstorm and for some time no reports were coming in. At 0031 hours the Vice-Admiral signalled to the Prince of Wales that if the enemy was not in sight by 0210 hours he would probably alter course to 180° until the cruisers regained touch. He also signalled that he intended to engage the Bismarck with both capital ships and leave the Prinz Eugen to Norfolk and Suffolk.
The Prince of Wales' Walrus aircraft was ready for catapulting and it was intended to fly it off, but visibility deteriorated and in the end it was defuelled and stowed away at 0140 hours. A signal was then passed to the destroyers that when the capital ships would turn to the south they were to continue northwards searching for the enemy. Course was altered to 200° at 0203/24. As there was now little chance of engaging the enemy before daylight the crews were allowed to rest.
At 0247/24 HMS Suffolk regained touch with the enemy and by 0300 hours reports were coming in again. At 0353 hours HMS Hood increased speed to 28 knots and at 0400/24 the enemy was estimated to be 20 nautical miles to the north-west. By 0430 hours visibility had increased to 12 nautical miles. At 0440 hours orders were given to refuel the Walrus of HMS Prince of Wales but due to delays due to water in the fuel it was not ready when the action began and it was damaged by splinters and eventuelly jettisoned into the sea.
At 0535/24 hours a vessel was seen looming on the horizon to the north-west, it was the Bismarck. She was some 17 nautical miles away bearing 330°. Prinz Eugen was ahead of her but this was not immediately realised and as the silhoutte of the German ships was almost similar the leading ship was most likely thought to be the Bismarck on board HMS Hood.
Battle of the Denmark Strait, action with the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Loss of HMS Hood.
At 0537/24 HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were turned together 40° to starboard towards the enemy. At 0549 hours course was altered to 300° and the left hand ship was designated as the target. This was a mistake as this was the Prinz Eugen and not the Bismarck. This was changed to the Bismarck just before fire was opened at 0552 hours. At 0554 hours the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen also opened fire. In the meantime Prince of Wales had also opened fire at 0053 hours. Her first salvo was over. The sixth salvo was a straddle. The Norfolk and Suffolk were too far astern of the enemy to take part in the action.
At 0555 hours Hood and Prince of Wales turned two points to port. This opened up Prince of Wales' A arcs as her ninth salvo was fired.
Shortly before 0605 hours Hood signalled that another turn of two points to port had to be executed. Bismarck had just fired her fifth salvo when the Hood was rent in two by a huge explosion rising apparently between the after funnel and the mainmast. The fore part began to sink seperately, bows up, whilst the after part remained shrouded in a pall of smoke. Three or four minutes later, the Hood had vanished between the waves leaving a vast cloud of smoke drifting away to the leeward. She sank in position 63°20'N, 31°50'W (the wreck was found in 2001 in approximate position 63°22'N, 32°17'W, the exact position has not been released to the public.)
The Prince of Wales altered course to starboard to avoid the wreckage of the Hood. The Bismarck now shifted fire from her main and secondary armament to her. Range was now 18000 yards. Within a very short time she was hit by four 15" and three 6" shells. At 0602 hours a large projectile wrecked the bridge, killing or wounding most of the personnel and about the same time the ship was holed underwater aft. It was decided temporarily to discontinue the action and at 0613 hours HMS Prince of Wales turned away behind a smoke screen. The after turret continued to fire but it soon malfunctioned and was out of action until 0825 hours. When the Prince of Wales ceased firing the range was 14500 yards. She had fired 18 salvos from the main armament and five from the secondary. The Bismarck made no attempt to follow or continue the action. She had also not escaped unscatched and had sustained two severe hits.
Such was the end of the brief engagement. The loss by an unlucky hit of HMS Hood with Vice-Admiral Holland, Captain Kerr and almost her entire ships company was a grievous blow, but a great concentration of forces was gathering behind the Commander-in-Chief, and Admiral Somerville with Force H was speeding towards him from the south.
When the Hood blew up, HMS Norfolk was 15 nautical miles to the northward coming up at 28 knots. By 0630/24 she was approaching HMS Prince of Wales and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker, signalling his intention to keep in touch, told her to follow at best speed. The destroyers that had been with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were still to the northward. They were ordered to search for survivors but only HMS Electra found three. The Prince of Wales reported that she could do 27 knots and she was told to open out to 10 nautical miles on a bearing of 110° so that HMS Norfolk could fall back on her if she was attacked. Far off the Prinz Eugen could be seen working out to starboard of the Bismarck while the chase continued to the southward.
At 0757 hours, HMS Suffolk reported that the Bismarck had reduced speed and that she appeared to be damaged. Shortly afterwards a Sunderland that had taken off from Iceland reported that the Bismarck was leaving behind a broad track of oil. The Commander-in-Chief with HMS King George V was still a long way off, about 360 nautical miles to the eastward, and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker on the bridge of HMS Norfolk had to make an important decision, was he to renew the action with the help of the Prince of Wales or was he to make it his business to ensure that the enemy could be intercepted and brought to action by the Commander-in-Chief. A dominant consideration in the matter was the state of the Prince of Wales. Her bridge had been wrecked, she had 400 tons of water in her stern compartments and two of her guns were unserverable and she could go no more then 27 knots. She had only been commissioned recently and barely a week had passed since Captain Leach had reported her ready for service. Her turrets were of a new and an untried model, liable for 'teething' problems and evidently suffering from them, for at the end of the morning her salvoes were falling short and wide. It was doubted if she was a match for the Bismarck in her current state and it was on these grounds that Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker decided that he would confine himself to shadowing and that he would not attempt to force on an action. Soon after 1100/24 visibility decreased and the Bismarck was lost out of sight in mist and rain.
Measures taken by the Admiralty, 24 May 1941.
After the loss of HMS Hood the following measures were taken by the Admiralty. To watch for an attempt by the enemy to return to Germany, HMS Manchester, HMS Birmingham and HMS Arethusa had been ordered at 0120/24 to patrol off the north-east point of Iceland. They were told to proceed to this location with all despatch.
HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN), which with four destroyers was escorting the troopship Britannic (26943 GRT, built 1930) westward, was ordered at 1022/24 to steer west on a closing course and if the Britannic could not keep up she was to leave her with one of the destroyers. Rodney was about 550 nautical miles south-east of the Bismarck. At 1200/24 she left the Britannic in position 55°15'N, 22°25'W and left HMS Eskimo (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) with her. HMS Rodney then proceeded with HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN) and HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN) westwards on a closing course.
Two other capital ships were in the Atlantic; HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN) and HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN). The Ramillies was escorting convoy HX 127 from Halifax and was some 900 nautical miles south of the Bismarck. She was ordered at 1144/24 to place herself to the westward of the enemy and leaving her convoy at 1212/24 in position 46°25'N, 35°24'W, she set course to the north. HMS Revenge was ordered to leave Halifax and close the enemy.
Light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. C.M. Blackman, DSO, RN) was patrolling in the Atlantic between 44°N and 46°N for German merchant shipping and was ordered at 1250/24 to close the enemy and take on relief shadower. At 1430/24 she reported her position as 44°17'N, 23°56'W and she was proceeding on course 320° at 25 knots.
Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was ordered to continue shadowing even if he ran short of fuel so to bring the Commander-in-Chief into action.
The Bismack turns due south at 1320 hours on 24 May 1941.
In the low state of visibility, HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk had to be constantly on the alert against the enemy falling back and attacking them. At 1320/24 the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen altered course to the south and reduced speed. HMS Norfolk sighted them through the rain at a range of only 8 nautical miles. Norfolk had to quickly turn away under the cover of a smoke screen.
It was at 1530/24 when HMS Norfolk received a signal made by the Commander-in-Chief at 0800/24 from which it was estimated that the Commander-in-Chief would be near the enemy at 0100/25. This was later changed to 0900/25.
At 1545/24, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was asked by the Admiralty to answer four questions; 1) State the remaining percentage of the Bismarck's fighting efficiency. 2) What amout of ammunition had the Bismarck expended. 3) What are the reasons for the frequent alterations of course by the Bismarck. 4) What are your intentions as regards to the Prince of Wales' re-engaging the Bismarck.
The answers by Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker were as follows. 1) Uncertain but high. 2) About 100 rounds. 3) Unaccountable except as an effort to shake off HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk. 4) Consider it wisely for HMS Prince of Wales to not re-engage the Bismarck until other capital ships are in contact, unless interception failed. Doubtful if she has the speed to force an action.
The afternoon drew on towards evening. Still the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen held on to the south while the Norfolk, Suffolk and Prince of Wales were still keeping her in sight.
At 1711/24 in order to delay the enemy if possible, by attacking him from astern, the Prince of Wales was stationed ahead of the Norfolk. The enemy was not in sight from the Norfolk at that time, but the Suffolk was still in contact.
At 1841/24 the Bismarck opened fire on the Suffolk. Her salvoes fell short, but one or two shorts came near enough to cause some minor damage to her hull plating aft. HMS Suffolk replied with nine broadsides before turning away behind a smoke screen.
On seeing the Suffolk being attacked, HMS Norfolk turned towards and she and HMS Prince of Wales opened fire, the latter firing 12 salvoes. By 1856 hours the action was over. Two of the guns on the Prince of Wales malfuntioned again. After the action the cruisers started to zig-zag due to fear for German submarines.
British dispositions at 1800 hours on 24 May 1941.
From the Admiralty at 2025/24, there went out a signal summarising the situation at 1800/24. The position, course and speed of the Bismarck was given as 59°10'N, 36°00'W, 180°, 24 knots with HMS Norfolk, HMS Suffolk and HMS Prince of Wales still in touch. The Commander-in-Chiefs estimated position at 1800/24 was 58°N, 30°W, with HMS King George V and HMS Repulse. HMS Victorious was with the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya). They had parted company with the Commander-in-Chief at 1509/24. Heavy cruiser HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN) was in position 42°45'N, 20°10'W and had been ordered to leave her convoy and close the enemy. HMS Ramillies was in estimated position 45°45'N, 35°40'W. She had been ordered to place herself to the west of the enemy. HMS Manchester, HMS Birmingham and HMS Arethusa were returning from their position off the north-east of Iceland to refuel. HMS Revenge had left Halifax and was closing convoy HX 128. HMS Edinburgh was in approximate position 45°15'N, 25°10'W. She had been ordered to close and take over stand by shadower.
Evening of 24 May 1941.
At 2031/24 HMS Norfolk received a signal sent by the Commander-in-Chief at 1455/24 stating that aircraft from HMS Victorious might make an attack at 2200/24 and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker now waited for an air attack which he expected at 2300 hours. By that time Bismarck had been lost from sight but at 2330/24 HMS Norfolk briefly sighted her at a distance of 13 nautical miles. At 2343/24 aircraft from HMS Victorious were seen approaching. They circled round HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Norfolk and the latter was able to direct them to the enemy. At 0009/25 heavy anti-aircraft gunfire was seen and the Bismarck was just visible as the aircraft attacked.
HMS Victorious and the 2nd Cruiser Squadron detached by the Commander-in-Chief.
At 1440/24 the Commander-in-Chief ordered the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Hermione) and HMS Victorious to a position within 100 nautical miles from Bismarck and to launch a torpedo bombing attack and maintain contact as long as possible. The object of the torpedo bombing attack was to slow the enemy down. On board the Victorious were only 12 Swordfish torpedo bombers and 6 Fulmar fighters. Victorious was only recently commissioned and her crew was still rather green. She had on board a large consignment of crated Hurricane fighters for Malta which were to be delivered to Gibraltar.
At 2208/24 HMS Victorious commenced launching 9 Swordfish in position 58°58'N, 33°17'E. Two minutes later al were on their way to find the Bismarck. The Squadron was led by Lt.Cdr.(A) E. Esmonde, RN.
HMS Victorious aircraft attack the Bismarck.
When the Swordfish took off from HMS Victorious the Bismarck was estimated to be in position 57°09'N, 36°44'W and was steering 180°, speed 24 knots. At 2330/24 they sighted the Bismarck but contact was lost in the bad weater. Shortly afterwards the Swordfish sighted HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk. HMS Norfolk guided them to the enemy which was 14 nautical miles on her starboard bow. At 2350 hours a vessel was detected ahead and the squadron broke cloud to deliver an attack. To their surprise they found themselves over a United States Coastguard cutter. The Bismarck was 6 nautical miles to the southward and on sighting the aircraft opened up a heavy barrage fire. Lt.Cdr. Esmonde pressed home his attack, 8 of the Swordfish were able to attack, the other had lost contact in the clouds.
The 8 planes attacked with 18" torpedoes, fitted with Duplex pistols set for 31 feet. At midnight three Swordfish attacked simultaneously on the port beam. Three others made a longer approach low down attacking on the port bow a minute later. One took a longer course, attacking on the port quarter. One went round and attacked on the starboard bow a couple of minutes after midnight. At least one hit was claimed on the starboard side abreast the bridge. The Germans however state that no hit was scored but that the violent maneuvering of the ship to avoid the attack, together with the heavy firing by the Bismarck caused the leak in no.2 boiler room to open up. No.2 boiler room was already partially flooded and now had to be abandoned.
All Swordfish from the striking had returned to HMS Victorious by 0201/25. Two Fulmars launched at 2300/24 for shadowing failed to find their ship in the darkness due to the failure of Victorious' homing beacon. Their crews were in the end picked up from the chilly water.
HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk loose contact at 0306/25.
While the aircraft from HMS Victorious were making their attack, HMS Norfolk sighted a ship to the south-west and gave the order to open fire. HMS Prince of Wales was able to identify it in time as an American coast guard cutter, but in the movements prepartory to opening fire HMS Norfolk lost touch with the enemy for a time and it was not until 0116/25 that she suddenly sighted the Bismarck only 8 nautical miles away. There followed a brief exchange of fire. HMS Norfolk and HMS Prince of Wales turned to port to bring their guns to bear and the latter was ordered to engage. It was then 0130/25. The Prince of Wales fired two salvoes at 20000 yards by radar. The Bismarck answered with two salvoes which fell a long way short. The light was failing and the enemy was again lost to sight. HMS Suffolk, which had to most reliable RDF set was told to act independently so as to keep in touch.
Around 0306/25 the Suffolk lost touch with the Bismarck. At 0552/25 Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker asked if HMS Victorious could launch aircraft for a search at dawn.
Search measures, 25 May 1941.
With the disappearance of the Bismarck at 0306/25 the first phase of the pursuit ended. The Commander-in-Chief, in HMS King George V with HMS Repulse in company was then about 115 nautical miles to the south-east. At 0616/25, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker signalled that it was most probable that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen made a 90° turn to the west or turned back and 'cut away' to the eastward astern of the cruisers. Suffolk was already searching to the south-west and Norfolk was waiting for daylight to do the same. Prince of Wales was ordered to join the King George V and Repulse.
Force H was still on a course to intercept the Bismarck while steaming on at 24 knots. The Rear-Admiral commanding the 2nd Cruiser Squadron in HMS Galatea had altered course at 0558/25 to 180° for the position where the enemy was last seen and the Victorious was getting 8 aircraft ready to fly off at 0730/25 for a search to the eastward. This plan however was altered on orders being recieved from the Commander-in-Chief to take the cruisers and Victorious and carry out a search to the north-west of the Bismarck's last reported position. Five Fulmars had already been up during the night, two of them had not returned to the ship. The search therefore had to be undertaken by Swordfish, the only aircraft available. At 0810/25, seven Swordfish were flown off from position 56°18'N, 36°28'W to search between 280° and 040° up to 100 nautical miles. The search was supplemented by Victorious herself as well as the cruisers from the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (Galatea, Aurora, Kenya and Hermione) which were spread some miles apart.
DF position of the Bismarck of 0852/25.
HMS King George V was still proceeding to the south-west when at 1030/25 the Commander-in-Chief recieved a signal from the Admiralty that the Bismarck's position had been obtained by DF (direction finding) and that it indicated that the Bismarck was on a course for the North Sea by the Faeroes-Iceland passage. To counter this move by the enemy the Commander-in-Chief turned round at 1047/25 and made for the Faeroes-Iceland passage at 27 knots. HMS Repulse was no longer in company with HMS King George V, she had been detached at 0906/25 for Newfoundland to refuel. Suffolk also turned to the eastward to search, her search to the south-west had been fruitless. The search by HMS Victorious, her aircraft and the 2nd Cruiser Squadron to the north-west also had no result. Six Swordfish were landed on by 1107/25, one failed to return. HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora and HMS Kenya now turned towards the DF position of the Bismarck to search in that direction. HMS Hermione had to be detached to Hvalfiord, Iceland to refuel as she was by now down to 40%. The other cruisers slowed down to 20 knots to economise their remaining fuel supply wich was also getting low. At this moment HMS King George V had about 60% remaining.
Events during 25 May 1941.
At 1100/25, HMS King George V, HMS Suffolk and HMS Prince of Wales were proceeding to the north-east in the direction of the enemy's DF signal. HMS Rodney was in position 52°34'N, 29°23'W some 280 nautical miles to the south-eastward on the route towards the Bay of Biscay. On receiving the Commander-in-Chiefs signal of 1047/25 she too proceeded to the north-east.
Meanwhile to Admiralty had come to the conclusion that the Bismarck most likely was making for Brest, France. This was signalled to the Commander-in-Chief at 1023/25 to proceed together with Force H and the 1st Cruiser Squadron on that assumption.
In the absence however of definite reports it was difficult to be certain of the position of the enemy. The DF bearings in the morning had not been very definite. At 1100/25, HMS Renown (Force H), was in position 41°30'N, 17°10'W was ordered to act on the assumption the enemy was making for Brest, France. She shaped course accordingly and prepared a comprehensive sheme of air search. At 1108/25, HMS Rodney, was told to act on the assumption that the enemy was making for the Bay of Biscay. At 1244/25 the Flag Officer Submarines ordered six submarines to take up intercepting positions about 120 nautical miles west of Brest. The submarines involved were HMS Sealion (Cdr. B. Bryant, DSC, RN), HMS Seawolf (Lt. P.L. Field, RN), HMS Sturgeon (Lt.Cdr. D. St. Clair-Ford, RN) from the 5th Submarine Flottilla at Portsmouth, HMS Pandora (Lt.Cdr. J.W. Linton, DSC, RN), which was on passage to the U.K. from the Mediterranean to refit, HMS Tigris (Lt.Cdr. H.F. Bone, DSO, DSC, RN), from the 3rd Submarine Flottilla at Holy Loch and HMS H 44 (Lt. W.N.R. Knox, DSC, RN), a training boat from the 7th Submarine Flotilla at Rothesay which happened to be at Holyhead. Seawolf, Sturgeon and Tigris were already on patrol in the Bay of Biscay, Sealion departed Portsmouth on the 25th as did H 44 but she sailed from Holyhead. Pandora was on passage to the U.K. to refit and was diverted.
At 1320/25 a good DF fix located an enemy unit within a 50 mile radius from position 55°15'N, 32°00'W. This was sent by the Admiralty to the Commander-in-Chief at 1419/25 and it was received at 1530/25. It was only in the evening that it was finally clear to all involved that Bismarck was indeed making for a French port. Air searches had failed to find her during the day. (11)
18 May 1941
Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941.
26 May 1941.
By now the question of fuel was becoming acute. For four days ships had been steaming at high speeds and the Commander-in-Chief was faced with the reality of fuel limits. HMS Repulse had already left for Newfoundland, HMS Prince of Wales had by now been sent to Iceland to refuel. HMS Victorious and HMS Suffolk had been forced to reduce speed to economise their fuel.
Coastal Command started air searches along the route towards the Bay of Biscay by long range Catalina flying boats. Lack of fuel was effecting the destroyer screens of the capital ships. There was no screen available for HMS Victorious. The 4th Destroyer Flotilla, escorting troop convoy WS 8B, was ordered at 0159/26 to join the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V and HMS Rodney as was HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN) which sailed from Londonderry. Leaving the convoy the 4th D.F. proceeded to the north-east. Force H in the meantime was also approaching the immediate area of operations. These forces were to play an important part in the final stages of the chase of the Bismarck.
Force H, 26 May 1941.
HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Sheffield were having a rough passage north in heavy seas, high wind, rain and mist. Their escorting destroyers had already turned back towards Gibraltar at 0900/25. At dawn on the 26th there was half a gale blowing from the north-west. At 0716/26 HMS Ark Royal launched a security patrol in position 48°26'N, 19°13'W to search to the north and to the west just in case the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had departed Brest to come to the aid of the Bismarck. At 0835/26 there followed an A/S patrol of ten Swordfish. All planes had returned by 0930. None had seen anything.
Bismarck sighted at 1030/26.
It was at 1030/26 that one of the long range Catalina's of the Coastal Command sighted the Bismarck in position 49°30'N, 21°55'W. It was received in HMS King George V at 1043 hours and in HMS Renown in 1038 hours. It placed the enemy well to the westward of the Renown. It was confirmed within the hour when two Swordfish from the Ark Royal which reported the Bismarck in position 49°19'N, 20°52'W some 25 miles east of the position given by the Catalina. The Commander-in-Chief was at that moment about 130 miles to the north of the Bismarck but it was soon clear that the Bismarck had too great a lead to permit her being overtaken unless her speed could be reduced. Nor was the question one merely of distance and speed. The Bismarck was approaching a friendly coast and could run her fuel tanks nearly dry and was sure of air protection, while the British ships would have a long journey back to base in the face of air and submarine attack. HMS Renown was ahead of the Bismarck but it was important that she did not engage the Bismarck unless the latter was already heavily engaged by the better armoured HMS King George V and HMS Rodney.
When the Catalina found the Bismarck at 1030 hours, the 4th Destroyer Flotilla was steering east to join the Commander-in-Chief. They seem to have crossed astern of the enemy's track about 0800/26. The Catalina's report reached Capt. Vian in HMS Cossack at 1054/26 and 'knowing that the Commander-in-Chief would order him to intercept the enemy' Capt. Vian altered course to the south-east.
First attack by aircraft from the Ark Royal.
At 1315/26 HMS Sheffield was detached to the southward with orders to close and shadow the enemy, who was estimated to be 40 nautical miles south-west of the Renown. The visual signal ordering this movement was not repeated to HMS Ark Royal, an omission which had serious consequenses for the aircraft that were to take off did not know that HMS Sheffield had parted company.
At 1450/26 HMS Ark Royal launched a striking force of 14 Swordfish aircraft with the orders to proceed to the south and attack the Bismarck with torpedoes. Weather and cloud conditions were bad and a radar contact was obtained on a ship some 20 nautical miles from the estimated position of the enemy that had been given to the leader shortly before takeoff. At 1550 hours they broke through the clouds and fired 11 torpedoes. Unfortunately the supposed enemy was HMS Sheffield which managed to avoid all torpedoes. The Bismarck at that time was some 15 nautical miles to the southward. The striking force then returned an all aircraft had landed on by 1720/26.
At 1740/26, HMS Sheffield, sighted the Bismarck in position 48°30'N, 17°20'W and took station about 10 nautical miles astern and commenced shadowing the enemy.
Ark Royal's second attack, 2047/26.
The first striking force on its way back sighted the 4th Destroyer Flotilla 20 nautical miles west of Force H. As soon as the aircraft from the first strike had landed they were refuelled and rearmed as fast as possible. Take off started at 1910/26, a total of 15 Swordfish were launched. Reports coming in from HMS Sheffield placed the Bismarck at 167°, 38 nautical miles from the Ark Royal. The striking force was ordered to contact HMS Sheffield who was told to use DF to guide them in.
At 1955/26 HMS Sheffield was sighted but soon lost in the bad weather conditions. She was found again at 2035 hours, she guided the Swordfish in and directed them by visual signal on the enemy bearing 110°, 12 nautical miles. The force took departure for the target in subflights in line astern at 2040/26.
At 2047/26 no.1 subflight of three Swordfish dived through the clouds and sighted the Bismarck 4 nautical miles off to the south-east. One Swordfish of no.3 subflight was with them. Approaching again just inside the cloud they made their final dive at 2053/26 on the port beam under a very intense and accurate fire from the enemy. They dropped four torpedoes of which one was seen to hit. No.2 subflight, made up of two Swordfish, lost touch with no.1 subflight in the clouds, climed to 9000 feet, then dived on a bearing obtained by radar and then attacked from the starboard beam, again under heavy and intense fire. They dropped two torpedoes for one possible hit. The third plane of this subflight had lost touch with the other two and had returned to HMS Sheffield to obtained another range and bearing to the enemy. It then flew ahead of the enemy and carried out a determined attack from his port bow under heavy fire and obtained a torpedo hit on the port side amidships.
Subflight no.4 followed subflight no.3 into the clouds but got iced up at 6600 feet. It then dived through the clouds and was joined by no.2 aircraft from subflight no.3. The Bismarck was then sighted engaging subflight no.2 to starboard. The four aircraft then went into the clouds and cicled the German battleships stern and then dived out of the clouds again and attack simultaneously from the port side firing four torpedoes. All however missed the Bismarck. They came under a very heavy and fierce fire from the enemy and one of the aircraft was heavily damaged, the pilot and air gunner being wounded.
The two aircraft of subflight no.5 lost contact with the other subflights and then with each other in the cloud. They climbed to 7000 feet where ice began to form. When coming out of the cloud at 1000 feet aircraft 4K sighted the Bismarck down wind, she then went back into the cloud under fire from the enemy. She saw a torpedo hit on the enemy's starboard side, reached a position on the starboard bow, withdrew to 5 miles, then came in just above the sea and just outside 1000 yards fired a torpedo which did not hit. The second plane of this flight lost his leader diving through the cloud, found himself on the starboard quarter and after two attempts to attack under heavy fire was forced to jettison his torpedo.
Of the two Swordfish of subflight no.6 one attacked the Bismarck on the starboard beam and dropped his torpedo at 2000 yards without success. The second plane lost the enemy, returned to the Sheffield for a new range and bearing and after searching at sea level attacked on the starboard beam but was driven off by intense fire. The attack was over by 2125/26. Thirteen torpedoes had been fired and it was thought two hits and one probable hit had been obtained. Two torpedoes were jettisoned. The severe nature and full effect of the damage done was at first not fully realised. Actually the Bismarck had received a deadly blow. The last of the shadowing aircraft to return had seen her make two complete circles. One torpedo had struck her on the port side amidships doing little damage but th other torpedo that hit was on the starboard quarter damaging her propellors, wrecking her steering gear and jambing her rudders, it was this torpedo hit that sealed her fate.
HMS Sheffield was still shadowing astern when at 2140/26 the Bismarck turned to port and fired six accurate salvoes of 15". None actually hit Sheffield but a near miss killed three men and seriously injured two. HMS Sheffield turned away and while doing so she sighted HMS Cossack and the other destroyers from the 4th DF approaching from the westward. She then gave them the approximate position of the Bismarck. At 2155/26, HMS Sheffield lost touch with the Bismarck. The destroyers continued to shadow and eventually attack. Meanwhile HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal shaped course for the southward to keep the road clear for the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V and for HMS Rodney. Also in the Ark Royal aircraft were being got ready for an attack on the Bismarck at dawn.
Bismarck, 26 May 1941.
The Bismarck could no longer steer after the torpedo hit aft. The steering motor room was flooded up to the main deck and the rudders were jambed. Divers went down to the steering room and managed to centre one rudder but the other remained immovable. She was by this time urgently in need of fuel. It was hoped by the Germans that while she was nearing the French coast strong forces of aircraft and submarines would come to her assistance.
At 2242/26, Bismarck sighted the British destroyers. A heavy fire was opened on them. Their appearence greatly complicated the situation. Before their arrival however, Admiral Lütjens seems to have made up his mind as one hour earlier he had signalled to Berlin 'ship out of control. We shall fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer.'
The fourth Destroyer Flotilla makes contact, 26 May 1941.
Just as the sun was setting, Captain Vian (D.4) in HMS Cossack with HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun arrived on the scene.
Shortly after 1900/26 HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal were sighted to the northward. Ark Royal was just about to fly off the second striking force. The destroyers continued on the the south-east. At 2152/26 HMS Sheffield was sighted and from her Captain Vian obtained the approximate position of the enemy.
The destroyers were spread 2.5 nautical miles apart on a line bearing 250° - 070° in the order from north-east to south-west, Piorun, Maori, Cossack, Sikh, Zulu. During the latter stages of the approach speed was reduced and the flotilla manoeuvred so as to avoid making a high speed end-on contact.
At 2238/26, ORP Piorun on the port wing reported the Bismarck 9 nautical miles distant, bearing 145° and steering to the south-eastward.
Destroyers shadowing, late on 26 May 1941.
At the time the Piorun reported being in contact with the Bismarck the destroyers were steering 120°. All were at once ordered to take up shadowing positions. Four minutes later the Bismarck opened a heavy fire with her main and secondary armaments on the Piorun and Maori. Two attempts were made by these ships to work round to the northward of the enemy but they were silhouetted against the north-western horizon making them easy to spot. The Bismarck's fire was unpleasantly accurate, through neither destroyer was actually hit. The Commanding Officer of the Maori then decided to work round to the southward and altered course accordingly.
The Piorun closed the range and herself opened fire from 13500 yards but after firing three salvoes, she was straddled by a salvo which fell about 20 yards from the ships side. She then ceased fire and turned away to port while making smoke. During this engagement she lost touch with the other destroyers and later also with the Bismarck. She remained under fire for about one hour but was not hit. She worked round to the north-east of the Bismarck but eventually lost touch with her prey at 2355/26.
The other destroyers, meanwhile, had been working round to the southward of the enemy to take up shadowing positions to the eastward of him. Soon after the initial contact it was evident the the Bismarck's speed had been so seriously reduced that interception by the battlefleet was certain, provided that contact could be held. In these circumstances Captain Vian defined his object at firstly, to deliver the enemy to the Commander-in-Chief at the time he desired, and secondly, to sink or immoblise her with torpedoes during the night but not with to great a risk for the destroyers. Accordingly at 2248/26 as signal was made to all ordering them to shadow and this operation was carried out through the night, though torpedo attacks were carried out later under the cover of darkness.
As darkness came on, the weather deteriorated and heavy rain squalls became frequent. Visibility varied between 2.5 nautical miles and half a mile but the Bismarck, presumably using radar, frequently opened up accurate fire outside these ranges.
About half an hour after sunset, the destroyers were ordered at 2324/26 to take up stations prepartory to carrying out a synchronised torpedo attack. This was subsequently cancelled on account of the adverse weather conditions and they were ordered to attack independently as opportunity offered. At about 2300 hours the Bismarck altered course to the north-westward.
At this time HMS Zulu was in touch with her and kept her under observation from the southward. At 2342 hours the Bismarck opened fire on HMS Cossack, then about 4 miles to the south-south-west and shot away her aerials. The Cossack turned away under the cover of smoke, shortly afterwards resuming her course to the eastward.
A few minutes later, at 2350 hours, HMS Zulu came under heavy fire from the Bismarck's 15" guns. The first three salvoes straddled wounding an officer and two ratings. Drastic avoiding action was taken as a result of which Zulu lost touch. HMS Sikh, however, who had lost sight of the enemy half an hour previously, had observed her firing at HMS Cossack and now succeeded in shadowing from astern until 0020/27 when the enemy made a large alteration to port and commenced firing at her. HMS Sikh altered course to port, intending to fire torpedoes, but the view of the Torpedo Control Officer was obscured by shell splashes and Sikh then withdrew to the southward.
Destroyer night torpedo attacks, 26/27 May 1941.
HMS Zulu, after her escape at 2345/26, had steered to the northward and at 0030/27 fell in with HMS Cossack. Shortly afterwards she sighted ORP Piorun. On receipt of a signal from Captain Vian, timed 0040/27, to take any opporunity to fire torpedoes, HMS Zulu altered course to the westward,and at 0100/27 sighted the Bismarck steering 340°.
Positions of the destroyers was now as follows; to the north-eastward of the enemy, HMS Cossack was working round to the north and west. HMS Maori, since losing touch, had been making to the westward. She was now to the south-west of the Bismarck. HMS Sikh was some distance to the southward, not having received any information regarding the position of the Bismarck since 0025/27. HMS Zulu was astern of the enemy and in contact. Range was only 5000 yards. Bismarck finally spotted Zulu and at once opened fire with her main and secondary armament and straddled Zulu. She fired four torpedoes at 0121/27 but no hits were observed and they are believed to have missed ahead. Zulu then ran out to the northward in order to be clear of the other destroyers. Shortly afterwards they widnessed a successful attack by HMS Maori.
HMS Maori had seen the Bismarck opening fire on the Zulu at 0107/27. Maori then closed to 4000 yards on Bismarck's port quarter apparently undetected. When abeam of the enemy, who then appeared to be altering course to starboard Maori fired a star shell to see what he was about. Two minutes later, at 0137/27, two torpedoes were fired and course was altered towards the Bismarck with the intention of attacking again from her starboard bow once the enemy had steadied on her new course. Whilst Maori was turning a torpedo hit was observed on the enemy. A bright glow illuminated the waterline of the enemy battleship from stem to stern. Shortly afterwards there appeared between the bridge and the stem a glare that might have been a second hit. The enemy immediately opened up a very heavy fire with both main and secondairy armaments and quick firing guns. As the Maori was being straddled, she turned away, and increased to full speed. Shots continued to fall on both sides of the ship until the range had been opened up to 10000 yards. Maori was not actually hit. Meanwhile HMS Cossack had been creeping up from the north-eastward and at 0140/27, only three minutes after Maori had fired two torpedoes, Cossack launched three torpedoes from 6000 yards. Bismarck stood out plainly, silhoutted by the broadsides she was firing at the Maori. One torpedo was seen to hit. Flames blazed on the forecastle of the Bismarck after this hit but they were quickly extinguished. Probably as a consequence of the torpedo hits the Bismarck stopped dead in the water, this was reported by HMS Zulu at 0148/27. After about one hour the Bismarck got underway again. On receipt of this report, HMS Sikh, who was closing the scene of the action from the southward, made an attack. Four torpedoes were fired at 0218/27 at the stopped battleship. It is believed that one hit was obtained. After this attack Sikh remained in radar contact with the enemy until 0359/27 when contact was lost.
Around 0240/27 the Bismarck was underway again, proceeding very slowly to the north-westward. At 0335/27, HMS Cossack made another attack firing her last remaining torpedo from a range of 4000 yards. It missed. HMS Cossack then came under a heavy fire. She withdrew to the northward under the cover of smoke, altering to a westerly course shortly afterwards.
At 0400/27 all destroyers had lost touch with the enemy. HMS Cossack was then to the north-west and HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and HMS Maori were between the south-west and south-east of the Bismarck. All destroyers now endeavoured to regain contact.
Touch with the enemy was not regained until shortly before 0600 hours. By that time ORP Piorun, which was running short of fuel, had been ordered to proceed to Plymouth.
Destroyers shadowing, morning twilight, 27 May 1941, final attack.
Touch was regained by HMS Maori at 0550/27 when she sighted the Bismarck zigzagging slowly on a base course of 340° at about 7 knots. Maori commenced shadowing until daylight. At 0625 hours, HMS Sikh was also in contact when the Bismarck emerged from a rain squal 7000 yards on her starboard bow. By then it was nearly full daylight but to the surprise of the crew of the Sikh she got away with it without being fired at.
Shortly before sunrise a final torpedo attack was carried out by HMS Maori, which fired two torpedoes at 0656/27 from 9000 yards. Both missed. The Bismarck opened fire and straddled Maori which escaped at 28 knots.
At daylight the destroyers were stationed in four sectors from which they were able to keep the enemy under continuous observation until the arrival of the Battle Fleet at 0845 hours.
Force H, 26/27 May 1941.
While the destroyers were shadowing the Bismarck, the pursuing forces were drawing steadily closer. To the north was the Commander-in-Chief with the King George V and the Rodney with the Norfolk closing on them. In the south HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was coming up, while Force H was waiting for the dawn. When Captain Vian's destroyers got in touch at 2251/26 the Renown and Ark Royal were north-west of the enemy. It was not possible to attack with aircraft during the night but all preparations were made to attack at dawn with 12 Swordfish. Course was shaped to the northward and then to the west for a time and at 0115/27 Force H turned south. Shortly afterwards instructions were received from the Commander-in-Chief to keep not less then 20 miles to the southward of the Bismarck so as to leave a clear approach for the Battle Fleet. Force H accordingly continued to the southward during the night. Bursts of starshell and gunfire could be seen during the night while the destroyers attacked. At 0509/27 an aircraft was flown off from HMS Ark Royal to act as a spotter for HMS King George V but it failed to find the Bismarck in the bad weather. The striking of force of 12 Swordfish was ready but due to the bad weather to strike was cancelled.
At 0810/27, HMS Maori was sighted. She reported the Bismarck 11 miles to the north of her. The made the enemy 17 miles to the north of HMS Renown so course was shaped to the south-west. At 0915/27 heavy gunfire could be heard and the striking force was flown off. They found the Bismarck at 1016/27. By then the battle was almost over, her guns were silenced and she was on fire. They saw her sink. At 1115/27 they had all landed back on HMS Ark Royal. A German Heinkel aircraft dropped a couple of bombs near HMS Ark Royal when they were landing on.
HMS Norfolk, 26/27 May 1941.
When the Catalina report (1030/26) came in, HMS Norfolk altered course to the south-west and increased speed to 27 knots. At 2130/26 the Bismarck was still some 160 nautical miles to the southward and speed was increased to 30 knots. At 2228/26 the report on the torpedo hit by the aircraft from Ark Royal came in and the Norfolk turned to the southward, continuing to close the enemy. At 0753/27 Norfolk sighted the Bismarck. She did not open fire and was lost to sight after ten minutes. At 0821/27, HMS King George V, was sighted to the westward, 12 nautical miles away. The position of the enemy was passed to the Commander-in-Chief. The action opened at 0847/27 at which time HMS Norfolk was then some 10 nautical miles from the Commander-in-Chief and due north of the Bismarck. HMS Norfolk had seen the beginning and was now to see the end.
HMS Dorsetshire, 26/27 May 1941.
On 26 May 1941, HMS Dorsetshire, was with convoy SL 74 proceeding from Freetown to the U.K. When she received the sighting report from the Catalina at 1056/26 she was some 360 nautical miles to the south of the Bismarck. She then left the protection of the convoy to the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Bulolo (Capt.(Retd.) R.L. Hamer, RN) and set course for the northward to take up the possible task of shadowing. By 2343/26 it became clear from reports that the Bismarck was making no ground to the eastward and that at 0230/27 she appeared to be laying stopped. Due to the heavy seas HMS Dorsetshire was forced to reduce speed to 25 knots and later even to 20 knots. At 0833/27 a destroyer was sighted ahead at a range of 8 nautical miles, it was HMS Cossack which reported the enemy at a range of 6 nautical miles. At 0850/27 the flashes of the Bismarck's guns could be seen to the westward. HMS Dorsetshire arrived at the scene of the action in the nick of time.
HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, 26/27 May 1941.
During 26 May 1941 the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V had been making hard to the south-east at 25 knots. He had been joined by HMS Rodney at 1806/26. They were then some 90 nautical miles north of the Bismarck. Fuel was a matter of grave anxiety. At noon on the 26th, HMS King George V, had only 32% remaining and HMS Rodney reported that she had to return at 0800/27. Speed had to be reduced on this account to 22 knots at 1705/26. In these circumstances it was no longer possible to hope to intercept the enemy, and the Commander-in-Chief decided that unless the enemy's speed had been reduced by 2400/26, he must turn at that hour. The only hope lay in the Bismarck being slowed up by the Swordfish attacking from HMS Ark Royal. A report came in that the striking force had left. Then at 2132/26, HMS Sheffield, reported that the enemy was steering 340° followed by 000° four minutes later. These reports indicated that the Bismarck was not able to hold her course and that her steering gear must have been damaged. It might still be possible to intercept her.
The Commander-in-Chief turned to the south at once hoping to make contact from the eastward in the failing light. Due to the bad weather conditions and visibility the Commander-in-Chief decided to haul off the the eastward and northward and then work round to engage from the westward at dawn. He turned eastward at 2306/26. During the night reports from Captain Vian's destroyers came in confirming the northerly course of the Bismarck. At 0236/27 the Commander-in-Chief ordered Captain Vian that the destroyers were to fire star-shell every half hour, but frequent rain squalls prevented these from being seen and they tended to attrack the enemy's fire. The Bismarck was still a formidable opponent for at 0353/27 Captain Vian reported that during the last hour she had done 8 nautical miles and that she was still capable of heavy and accurate fire. The Commander-in-Chief decided not to make a dawn approach but to wait until daylight while approaching from the west taking advantage of wind, sea and light. At 0529/27 HMS Rodney reported sighting HMS Norfolk to the eastward by DF. It was light at 0600 hours. At 0820 hours HMS Norfolk was sighted on the port bow of HMS King George V. She signalled 'enemy 130°, 16 nautical miles'. At 0843/27 looming on the starboard bow there emerges out of a rain squall the dark grey blot of a large ship. 'Enemy in sight'.
Bismarck 26/27 May 1941.
The Bismarck after altering course to the north-west had been labouring along with a jambed rudder, steering an erratic course at 8 knots. During the night the attacking destroyers were met with heavy and accurate salvoes. Sixteen torpedoes were fired at her. Early in the morning a glare of star-shell burst over her, lighting her up. Three torpedoes followed from a destroyer on the port bow (HMS Maori) of which one hit on the port side amidships. Three minutes later three more came from the starboard side (these were fired by HMS Cossack) of which one hit on the starboard bow. The damage that was sustained from these torpedo hits is not known. The Bismarck lay stopped for over one hour. At 0140/27 a message was received that a large number of Junkers bombers were coming to her aid as were U-boats but the Bismarck was beyond their help besides that the aircraft did not find her. One U-boat (U-556, which was out of torpedoes) on its way back from the Atlantic joined her and was within sight during the night. Another (U-74) arrived at 0600/27 but had been damaged in a depth charge attack and could do nothing as well. In the Bismarck the crew was exhausted and men were falling asleep at their posts. It was under these conditions that at 0840/27 two British battleships were seen to approach from the westward.
Situation before the action, 27 May 1941.
A north-westerly gale was blowing when dawn broke with a good light and clear horizon to the north-eastward. Reports received during the night indicated that, despite reduced speed and damaged rudders, Bismarck's armament was functioning effectively. Given the weather conditions the Commander-in-Chief decided to approach on a west-north-westerly bearing and, if the enemy continued his northerly course, to deploy to the southward on opposite course at a range of about 15000 yards. Further action was to be dictated by events.
Between 0600 and 0700 hours a series of enemy reports from HMS Maori which was herself located by DF bearings. This enabled HMS King George V to plot her position relatively to the Bismarck which had apparently settled down on a course of 330° at 10 knots. At 0708/27, HMS Rodney, was ordered to keep station 010° from the flagship. HMS Norfolk came in sight to the eastward at 0820/27 and provided a visual link between the Commander-in-Chief and the enemy. After the line of approach had been adjusted by two alterations of course, the Bismarck was sighted at 0843/27 bearing 118°, range about 25000 yards. Both British battleships was then steering 110° almost directly towards the enemy in line abreast formation, 8 cables apart.
Commencement of action 0847/27.
HMS Rodney opened fire at 0847/27, her first salvo sending a column of water 150 feet into the air. HMS King George V opened fire one minute later. Bismarck opened fire at 0850 hours after turning to open up A arcs. The first German salvo was short. The third and fourth salvoes straddled and nearly hit, but the Rodney manoeuvered succesfully to avoid them and the nearest fell 20 yards short. At 0854/27, HMS Norfolk joined in, but the target was not clearly visible and she opened fire without obtaining a range.
Observers state that the German gunnery was accurate at first, but commenced to deteriorate after 8 to 10 salvoes. The first hit on the Bismarck was believed to be scored by the Rodney at 0854 hours with her third salvo. Both British battleships made small alterations of course away from the enemy shortly after opening fire, the King George V to increase her distance from the Rodney and the latter to open her A arcs. From then onwards they manoeuvered independently although HMS Rodney conformed to the Flagship's general movements. The Bismarck's secondary armament came into action during this phase. HMS Rodney opened fire with her secondary armament at 0858 hours.
Run to the southward.
HMS King George V deployed to the southward at 0859/27 when the Bismarck was 16000 yards distant. HMS Rodney, 2.5 nautical miles to the northward, followed suit a minute or two later. Cordite smoke was hanging badly with the following wind and spotting was most difficult. Considerable smoke interference was therefore experienced on the southerly course which was partly overcome by radar. The Bismarck had transferred her fire to the King George V shortly after the turn but except for an occasional splash the latter hardly knew that she was under fire. At 0902/27, HMS Rodney saw a 16” shell hit the Bismarck on the upper deck forward, apparently putting the forward turrets out of action. At 0904 hours, HMS Dorsetshire joined in the firing from the eastwards from a range of 20000 yards but observation of the target was difficult and she had to check fire from 0913 to 0920 hours. Between 0910 and 0915 hours the range in King George V was more or less steady at 12000 yards.
The fate of the Bismarck was decided during this phase of the action although she did not sink until later. Around 0912 hours, the Bismarck was hit on her forward control position. During the run to the south HMS Rodney fired six torpedoes from 11000 yards and HMS Norfolk four from 16000 yards. No hits were obtained. The King George V’s secondary battery came into action at 0905 hours but this increased the smoke interference and was accordingly ordered to cease fire after two or three minutes.
Run to the northward.
At 0916/27 the Bismarck’s bearing was drawing rapidly aft and HMS Rodney turned 16 points to close and head her off. The King George V followed a minute or so later and both ships re-opened fire at ranges from 8600 and 12000 yards respectively. The Bismarck shifted her target to the Rodney about this time. A near miss damaged the sluice of her starboard torpedo tube. Most of the enemy’s guns had however been silenced at this time. Only one turret from her main armament was firing at this time as was part of her secondary armament. A fire was blazing amidships and she had a heavy list to port. During the run to the north HMS Rodney obtained a very favourable position on the Bismarck’s bow from which she poured in a heavy fire from close range. She also fired two torpedoes from 7500 yards but no hits were obtained.
HMS King George V’s position, further to leeward, was less favourable. Her view was obscured by smoke and splashes surrounding the target and her radar had temporarily broken down. Mechanical failures in the 14” turrets constituted, however, a more serious handicap at this stage. ‘A’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’ turrets were out of action for 30, 7 and a unspecified short period, respectively. This resulted in reduction of firepower of 80% for 7 minutes and 40% for 23 minutes which might have had serious effects under less favourable conditions. There were also several defects of individual guns in addition to those effecting the turrets.
At 0925/27, HMS King George V, altered outwards to 150° and reduced speed to avoid getting too far ahead of the Bismarck. She closed in again at 1005 hours, fired several salvoes from a range of only 3000 yards and then resumed her northerly course. Meanwhile HMS Rodney was zigzagging across the Bismarck’s line of advance at a range of about 4000 yards firing her main and secondary armaments. She also fired four torpedoes, one of which is thought to have hit. By 1015 hours the Bismarck was no more than a wreck. All her guns were silenced, her mast had been blown away, she was a black ruin, pouring high into the air a great cloud of smoke and flame. Men were seen jumping overboard at this time and the Captain of the King George V later remarked had he known it he would have ceased fire.
End of the action.
The Commander-in-Chief was confident that the enemy could never get back to harbour, and as both battleships were running short of fuel and as further gunfire was unlikely to hasten the Bismarck’s end, the Commander-in-Chief signalled the King George V and Rodney to steer 027° at 1015/27 in order to break off the action and return to base. At 1036/27 the Commander-in-Chief ordered HMS Dorsetshire to use her torpedoes, if she had any, on the enemy. In the meantime HMS Norfolk had been closing the target but due to the movements of the King George V and Rodney, had not fired her torpedoes until 1010 hours when she fired four torpedoes from 4000 yards and two possible hits were reported. The Dorsetshire was then approaching a mile or so to the southward, and anticipating the Commander-in-Chief’s signal at 1025 hours fired two torpedoes from 3600 yards into the enemy’s starboard side. She then steamed round the Bismarck’s bow and at 1036 hours fired another torpedo but now into her port side from 2600 yards. This was the final blow, the Bismarck heeled over quickly to port and commenced to sink by the stern. The hull turned over keel up and disappeared beneath the waves at 1040/27.
The Dorsetshire then closed and signalled to one of HMS Ark Royal’s aircraft to carry out a close A/S patrol while she was to pick up survivors assisted by HMS Maori. After 110 men had been picked up by both ships from the water both ships got underway again as a submarine was suspected to be in the area.
Damage to the Bismarck.
Survivors have told the story of terrible damage inflicted on her. The fore turrets seem to have been knocked out at 0902 hours. The fore control position was knocked out around 0912 hours. The after control position followed about 0915 hours. The after turrets were at that moment still in action. Then the aftermost gun turret was disabled by a direct hit on the left gun which burst sending a flash right through the turret. ‘C’ turret was the last one in action.
One survivor stated that around 0930 hours a shell penetrated the turbine room and another one entered a boiler room. A hit in the after dressing station killed all the medical staff and wounded that were in there at that moment. The upper deck was crowded with killed and wounded men and the seas surging in washed them overboard. Conditions below were even more terrible. Hatches and doors were jammed by concussion and blocked with wreckage. The air was thick with smoke and even more smoke was coming in from great holes in the upper deck. By 1000 hours all heavy guns were out of action and 10 minutes later the all secondary guns were also silent.
As HMS King George V and HMS Rodney turned northwards they were joined by HMS Cossack, HMS Sikh and HMS Zulu at by 1600/28 more detroyers had joined the screen (HMS Maori, HMS Jupiter, HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo, HMS Punjabi, HMAS Nestor, HMS Inglefield, HMS Lance, HMS Vanquisher (Cdr. N.V. Dickinson, DSC, RN), HMCS St. Clair (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Wallace, RCNR), HMCS Columbia (Lt.Cdr. (Retd.) S.W. Davis, RN) and HMS Ripley (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Agnew, RN). Heavy air attacks were expected that day, but only four enemy aircraft appeared, one of which bombed the screen while another one jettisoned her bombs on being attacked by a Blenheim fighter. The destroyers HMS Mashona and HMS Tartar, 100 nautical miles to the southward, were not so furtunate. They were attacked in position 52°58’N, 11°36’W at 0955/28 by German aircraft. HMS Mashona was hit and sank at noon with the loss of 1 officer and 45 men. The Commander-in-Chief reached Loch Ewe at 1230/29. Vice-Admiral Somerville with Force H was on his way back to Gibraltar. HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield made rendezvous at 0800/29 with the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN). At 1605/29, HMS Forester and HMS Fury were detached to hunt a submarine further to the west. Force H, minus the two destroyers that had been detached, arrived at Gibraltar around 2030/29.
End of ‘Operation Rheinübung’.
The Bismarck’s consort, heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, was not heard off until 4 June 1941 when aircraft reported her having arrived at Brest. After leaving the Bismarck at 1914/24, the Prinz Eugen’s primary need was to replenish her fuel stock. She set course for a rendez-vous with two tankers, the Spichern (9323 GRT, built 1935, former Norwegian Krossfonn) and the Esso Hamburg (9849 GRT, built 1939) which were position to the north-west of the Azores. All next day the German cruiser made her way southwards, and at 0906/26 , some 600 nautical miles west-north-west of the Azores she sighted the Spichern and refuelled. Two reconnaissance ships had also been ordered into this area, the Gonzenheim and the Kota Pinang. On the 28th Prinz Eugen fuelled from the Esso Hamburg. She then proceeded southwards to carry out cruiser warfare against independently routed ships in the area to the north and west of the Cape Verde Islands but an inspection of her engines the next day showed that an extensive overhaul was needed. Her Commanding Officer then decided to break off the action and course was set for Brest, France where she arrived at 2030/1 June.
A German reconnaissance ship, a supply vessel and two tankers were intercepted by Royal Navy warships and sunk by their own crew or sunk with gunfire. Also two tankers were captured. These were in chronological order; tanker Belchen (6367 GRT, built 1932, former Norwegian Sysla) by gunfire from HMS Kenya and HMS Aurora on 3 June 1941 in the Greenland area in approximate position 59°00'N, 47°00'W. On 4 June the tanker Esso Hamburg by HMS London and HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN) in position 07°35'N, 31°25'W, tanker Gedania (8966 GRT, built 1920) was captured in the North Atlantic in position 43°38'N, 28°15'W by naval auxiliary (Ocean Boarding Vessel) HMS Marsdale (Lt.Cdr. D.H.F. Armstrong, RNR), she was put into service with the MOWT as Empire Garden, reconnaissance vessel Gonzenheim (4000 GRT, built 1937, former Norwegian Kongsfjord) was scuttled by her own crew after being sighted by HMS Esperance Bay ((Capt.(ret) G.S. Holden, RN) and intercepted by HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN) and finally ordered to be boarded by HMS Neptune in position 43°29'N, 24°04'W. The next day (5 June) supply vessel Egerland (10040 GRT, built 1940) was intercepted by HMS London and HMS Brilliant in approximate position 07°00'N, 31°00'W. On 12 June, HMS Sheffield, intercepted tanker Friedrich Breme (10397 GRT, built 1936) in position 49°48'N, 22°20'W and finally on 15 June, HMS Dunedin (Capt. R.S. Lovatt, RN), captured the tanker Lothringen (10746 GRT, built 1940, former Dutch Papendrecht) in position 19°49'N, 38°30'W which had first been sighted by an aircraft from HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN). The Lothringen was sent to Bermuda and was put into service by the MOWT as Empire Salvage. (11)
22 May 1941
At 0050 hours the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN) and the battleship Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) were ordered to proceed to Hvalfjord, Iceland as the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were spotted by air reconnaissance at Bergen, Norway. As there were indications that these two were going to 'set sail' for a raid on the ocean trade routes.
The two British capital ships were escorted by the destroyers HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) and HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN).
[For more info, see the events ' Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941, parts I and II ' for 18 May 1941.]
23 May 1941
The force comprising the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN), battleship Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) and their escorting destroyers HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) and HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN) continued towards Iceland at high speed.
At 1400 hours the destroyers HMS Anthony and Antelope were detached and ordered to proceed to Hvalfjord, Iceland to refuel.
[For more info see the events ' Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941, parts I and II ' for 18 May 1941.]
27 May 1941
Around 0900/27, Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral K.T.B. Curteis, CB, RN), HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) and HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) arrived at Hvalfjord, Iceland.
The light cruisers had joined the Prince of Wales around 0830/26 and the destroyers around 1540/26.
At Hvalfjord HMS Prince of Wales landed her wounded. (12)
28 May 1941
Around 1100 hours, HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), departed Hvalfjord, Iceland for the Rosyth Dockyard. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN) and HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN). (12)
8 Jun 1941
The British merchant Kingston Hill is torpedoed and sunk southwest of the Cape Verde Islands in position 09°35'N, 29°40'W by German U-boat U-38. HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) later picks up 16 survivors.
11 Jun 1941
HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN) arrived at Hvalfjord, Iceland and after fueling went out on patrol together with HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. the Viscount Jocelyn, RN). HMS Inglefield and HMS Icarus soon parted company to join HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN). HMS Achates was relieved by HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) at 0200/14. HMS Achestes then went to Hvalfjord to refuel and later took over from HMS Active again. (13)
21 Jun 1941
Convoy TC 11.
This troop convoy departed Halifax on 21 June 1941 and arrived in the Clyde on 30 June 1941.
Is was made up of the troopships Andes (British, 25689 GRT, built 1930), Britannic (British, 26943 GRT, built 1930), Indrapoera (Dutch, 10825 GRT, built 1925), Pasteur (British, 29253 GRT, built 1938), Stirling Castle (British, 25550 GRT, built 1936) and Windsor Castle (British, 19141 GRT, built 1922).
On departure from Halifax the convoy was escorted by the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN), battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN), HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMCS Assiniboine (A/Lt.Cdr. J.H. Stubbs, RCN), HMCS St. Laurent (Lt.Cdr. H.S. Rayner, RCN), HMCS Skeena (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Hibbard, RCN).
Shortly after noon on the 24th, HMCS St. Laurent and HMS Skeena parted company with the convoy and proceeded to St. John's.
Shortly after 1900/26 the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN) and HMS Sherwood (Lt.Cdr. S.W.F. Bennetts, RN) joined the convoy coming from Hvalfjord, Iceland.
Around noon on the 27th, HMS Ramillies, HMS Harvester, HMS Havelock and HMCS Assiniboine parted company with the convoy and proceeded to Reykjavik, Iceland.
At 0900/28 the Dutch AA cruiser HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Cdr. E.J. van Holthe, RNN) joined the convoy.
The convoy arrived in the Clyde in the morning of June, 30th.
3 Jul 1941
HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) departed Greenock for Scapa Flow. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN) and HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN). (14)
18 Jul 1941
Around 1930 hours, HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), departed Scapa Flow for Rosyth where she is to undergo a short refit and radar will be installed. During the passage to Rosyth she is escorted by the destroyers HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) and HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN). (14)
19 Jul 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. C.H.J. Harcourt, RN) shifted from Rosyth to Scapa Flow. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN). (15)
19 Jul 1941
Around 0730 hours HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) and HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN) arrived at Rosyth. (14)
21 Jul 1941
HrMs O 14 (Lt.Cdr. G. Quint, RNN(R)) conducted A/S exercises at / off Scapa Flow with HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Intrepid (Cdr. R.C. Gordon, DSO, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. the Viscount Jocelyn, RN) and HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN). (16)
23 Jul 1941
Air attacks by the F.A.A. on Kirkenes and Petsamo.
Timespan: 22 July 1941 to 7 August 1941.
Around 0300B/22, ' Force Q ', the refuelling force, made up of the RFA tanker Black Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941) and the destroyers HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Seidisfjord. On arrival at Seidisfjord the destroyers fuelled from the RFA tanker War Sudra (5599 GRT, built 1920). ' Force Q ' then departed for the rendezvous position in 70°28'N, 08°00'E.
Around 0100B/23, the minelayer HMS Adventure (Capt. N.V. Grace, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Seidisfjord where she arrived around 1800B/24.
Around 2345B/23, ' Force P ' made up of the aircraft carriers HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), heavy cruisers HMS Devonshire (Capt. R.D. Oliver, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker CB, OBE, RN), HMS Suffolk (Capt. R.M. Ellis, RN) and the destroyers HMS Intrepid (Cdr. R.C. Gordon, DSO, RN), HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. the Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Seidisfjord, Iceland where they arrived around 1530Z/25 (minus HMS Achates and HMS Anthony, see below).
At 0258Z/25, HMS Achates hit a mine in position 64°11'N, 13°00'W and was badly damaged forward. She had 65 casualties. She was towed to Seidisfjord by HMS Anthony. They arrived at Seidisfjord around midnight. When Achates hit a mine from the British Field SN 69, it became apparent that ' Force P ' was out of position. ' Force P ' therefore went to the south to get clear and later turned to the west to make landfall to get thier bearings before proceeding to Seidisfjord where they arrived much later then had been intended. The operation was therefore postponed 24 hours so as to keep to the orininally intended times during the upcoming operation. All ships were therefore able to complete with fuel.
Around 2330B/26, HMS Victorious, HMS Furious, HMS Devonshire, HMS Suffolk, Intrepid, Escapade, Active and Antelope departed Seidisfjord for the operation.
Around 0915B/28, HMS Adventure joined coming from Iceland. She had departed Seidisfjord around 1730B/26 for Archangelsk. The destroyer HMS Anthony sailed with her and remained with her until 1630B/27 when she parted company to return to Seidisfjord. It had originally been intended to sent Adventure out unescorted but as a German submarine was reported to have been in the area the destroyer had been ordered to accompany her for 24 hours.
Around 1515B/28, ' Force Q ' was sighted 20 miles ahead and course was set to make rendezvous. With ' Force Q ' were also the destroyers HMS Inglefield and HMS Icarus which had come directly from Scapa Flow (see above).
Oiling started around 1820B/28. HMS Eclipse and HMS Echo, which had recently oiled from the Black Ranger were topped of by HMS Devonshire with 60 tons each.
HMS Suffolk oiled HMS Intrepid and HMS Escapade with 150 tons each.
The Black Ranger oiled HMS Adventure.
At 0058B/29, thick for was encountered and oiling had to cease at once. HMS Adventure being still 130 tons short. Visibility remained bad and the force got scattered for some time and the whole force was only in company again late on the 29th. HMS Active and HMS Antelope had remained behind with the Black Ranger.
At 0300B/30, HMS Adventure parted company to proceed to Archangelsk where she arrived around 0845C/1.
Around 1400B/30, HMS Victorious and HMS Furious flew off aircraft to attack Kirkeness (HMS Victorious), Petsamo (HMS Furious) and figter cover for ' Force P '. Launching position was in approximately 70°40'N, 33°00'E. HMS Victorious launched 20 Albacores and 12 Fulmars while HMS Furious launched 18 Albacores, 6 Fulmars and 4 Hurricanes. The four Hurricanes from HMS Furious and three Fulmars from HMS Victorious were kept as Combat Air Patrol over ' Force P '.
The attack was considered a failure as the ships attacked at Kirkeness sustained only minor damage. At Petsamo there had been no enemy shipping at all and the aircraft attacked land targets and wooded quays instead. Own losses were heavy and a total of 11 Albarores and 2 Fulmars were lost and 8 Albacores were damaged. Around the time the aircraft had been flown off ' Force P ' was detected by the enemy and the aircraft received a warm reception as a result.
At 1900B/30, ' Force P ' retired to the northward. A fuel shortage had now arisen in HMS Furious and as a result she had to be detached to Seidisfjord where she arrived on the 3rd. HMS Suffolk, HMS Intrepid, HMS Echo and HMS Eclipse were sent with her to escort her.
On parting company with HMS Furious and her escorts, the remaining ships remained north-north-east of Bear Island and HMS Devonshire refuelled HMS Icarus between 0915B/1 and 1234B/1 (208 tons being supplied), HMS Inglefield between 1405B/1 and 1720B/1 (182 tons being supplied) and finally HMS Escapade between 1812B/1 and 2100B/1 (210 tons being supplied).
It had meanwhile been decided that an attack on Tromso was to be mounted by three Fulmar aircraft from HMS Victorious. They were flown off at 0106B/4 and they attacked two armed trawlers off Tromso. One of the Fulmars was shot down. The other two returned at 0303B/4 and 0325B/4. HMS Victorious, HMS Devonshire, HMS Inglefield, HMS Icarus and HMS Escapade then set course to return to Seidisfjord arriving around 1830B/5. (17)
25 Jul 1941
While taking position in the screen of the carriers preparing to launch an air strike against Kirkenes/Petsamo, HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) was mined and severely damaged off the Seidisfjord, Iceland in position 64°11'N, 13°00'W. Achates was under repair until mid-March 1942.
20 May 1942
Light cruiser HMS Nigeria (Capt. J.G.L. Dundas, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.M. Burrough, CB, RN) and the destroyers HMS Onslow (Capt. H.T. Armstong, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, RN), HMS Martin (Cdr. C.R.P. Thomson, RN), HMS Marne (Lt.Cdr. H.N.A. Richardson, DSC, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, DSO, RN), HMS Volunteer (Lt. A.S. Pomeroy, RN) and ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. H. Eibel, ORP) departed Hvalfjord for Seidisfjord. (18)
21 May 1942
Convoy operation to and from northern Russia, convoy's PQ 16 and QP 12.
Convoy PQ 16 from Reykjavik to the Kola Inlet and convoy QP 12 from the Kola Inlet to Reykjavik.
Timespan: 21 May 1942 to 1 June 1942.
21 May 1942.
On this day convoy PQ 16 of 35 merchant vessels departed Reykjavik for northern Russia. The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels. Alamar (American, 5689 GRT, built 1916), Alcoa Banner (American, 5035 GRT, built 1919), American Press (American, 5131 GRT, built 1920), American Robin (American, 5172 GRT, built 1919), Arcos (Russian, 2343 GRT, built 1918), Atlantic (British, 5414 GRT, built 1939), Carlton (American, 5127 GRT, built 1920), Chernyshevski (Russian, 3588 GRT, built 1919), City of Joliet (American, 6167 GRT, built 1920), City of Omaha (American, 6124 GRT, built 1920), Empire Baffin (British, 6978 GRT, built 1941), Empire Elgar (British, 2847 GRT, built 1942), Empire Lawrence (British, 7457 GRT, built 1941), Empire Purcell (British, 7049 GRT, built 1942), Empire Selwyn (British, 7167 GRT, built 1941), Exterminator (Panamanian, 6115 GRT, built 1924), Heffron (American, 7611 GRT, built 1919), Hybert (American, 6120 GRT, built 1920), John Randolph (American, 7191 GRT, built 1941), Lowther Castle (British, 5171 GRT, built 1937), Massmar (American, 5828 GRT, built 1920), Mauna Kea (American, 6064 GRT, built 1920), Michigan (Panamanian, 6419 GRT, built 1920), Minotaur (American, 4554 GRT, built 1918), Mormacsul (American, 5481 GRT, built 1920), Nemaha (American, 6501 GRT, built 1920), Ocean Voice (British, 7174 GRT, built 1941), Pieter de Hoogh (Dutch, 7168 GRT, built 1941), Revolutsioner (Russian, 2900 GRT, built 1936), Richard Henry Lee (American, 7191 GRT, built 1941), Shchors (Russian, 3770 GRT, built 1921), Stary Bolshevik (Russian, 3974 GRT, built 1933), Steel Worker (American, 5685 GRT, built 1920), Syros (American, 6191 GRT, built 1920) and West Nilus (American, 5495 GRT, built 1920).
Close escort was initially provided by the western escort which was made up of the British minesweeper HMS Hazard (Lt.Cdr. J.R.A. Seymour, RN) and the A/S trawlers St. Elstan (Lt. R.M. Roberts, RNR), Lady Madeleine (T/Lt. W.G.Ogden, RNVR), HMS Northern Spray (T/Lt. G.T. Gilbert, RNVR) and (until 23 May) Retriever (Free French).
Also on this day convoy QP 12 of 15 merchant vessels departed northern Russia for Reykjavik. The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels. Alcoa Rambler (American, 5500 GRT, built 1919), Bayou Chico (American, 5401 GRT, built 1920), Cape Race (British, 3807 GRT, built 1930), Empire Morn (British, 7092 GRT, built 1941), Expositor (American, 4959 GRT, built 1919), Francis Scott Key (American, 7191 GRT, built 1941), Hegira (American, 7588 GRT, built 1919), Ilmen (Russian, 2369 GRT, built 1923), Kuzbass (Russian, 3109 GRT, built 1914), Paul Luckenbach (American, 6606 GRT, built 1913), Scotish American (British, 6999 GRT, built 1920), Seattle Spirit (American, 5627 GRT, built 1919), Southgate (British, 4862 GRT, built 1926), Texas (American, 5638 GRT, built 1919) and Topa Topa (American, 5356 GRT, built 1920).
Close escort was provided by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN), HMS Boadicea (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN), HMS Venomous (Cdr. H.W. Falcon-Steward, RN), HNoMS St. Albans (Lt.Cdr. S.V. Storheill, RNorN), escort destroyer HMS Badsworth (Lt. G.T.S. Gray, DSC, RN), AA-ship HMS Ulster Queen (Capt.(Retd.) D.S. McGrath, RN), minesweeper HMS Harrier (Cdr. E.P. Hinton, DSO, RN) and the A/S trawlers HMS Cape Palliser (Lt. B.T. Wortley, RNR), HMS Northern Pride (T/Lt. A.R. Cornish, RNR), HMS Northern Wave (T/Lt. W.G. Pardoe-Matthews, RNR) and HMS Vizalma (T/Lt. J.R. Anglebeck, RNVR).
Furthermore a eastern local escort escorted the convoy as far as 30°E. This was made up of the Russian destroyers Grozniy, Sokrushitelny and the British minesweepers HMS Bramble (Capt. J.H.F. Crombie, RN), HMS Leda (Cdr. A.D.H. Jay, DSC, RN), HMS Seagull (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Pollock, RN), and HMS Gossamer (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Crease, RN).
22 May 1942.
The British heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk (Capt. E.G.H. Bellars, RN), HMS Kent (Capt. A.E.M.B. Cunninghame-Graham, RN) and light cruiser HMS Liverpool (Capt. W.R. Slayter, DSC, RN) left Hvalfiord to make rendez-vous with Rear Admiral Commanding, Tenth Cruiser Squadron in position 66°00'N, 13°00'E the next day and then form the cruiser covering force for convoy's PQ 16 and QP 12.
The US destroyers USS Wainwright (Lt.Cdr. R.H. Gibbs, USN), USS Mayrant (Cdr. C.C. Hartman, USN), USS Rhind (Lt.Cdr. H.T. Read, USN), and USS Rowan (Lt.Cdr. B.R. Harrison, Jr., USN) left Hvalfiord for Seidisfiord to fuel before joining the battlefleet at sea.
Force Q; RFA tanker Black Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941) and her escort, the escort destroyer HMS Ledbury (Lt.Cdr. R.P. Hill, RN) as well as the close escort for convoy PQ 16 the AA ship HMS Alynbank (A/Capt.(rtd.) H.F. Nash, RN), corvettes HMS Honeysuckle (Lt. H.H.D. MacKillican, DSC, RNR), FFS Roselys, HMS Starwort (Lt.Cdr. N.W. Duck, RD, RNR), HMS Hyderabad (Lt. S.C.B. Hickman, RN)and the submarines HMS Seawolf (Lt. R.P. Raikes, RN)and HMS Trident (Lt. A.R. Hezlet, DSC, RN) left Seidisfiord to join convoy PQ 16 at sea.
23 May 1942.
The battlefleet, made up of the battleships HMS Duke of York (Capt. C.H.J. Harcourt, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.C. Tovey, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN, C-in-C Home Fleet), USS Washington (Capt. H.H.J. Benson, USN, with Rear-Admiral R.C. Griffen, USN on board), aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, CBE, RN), heavy cruiers USS Wichita (Capt. H.W. Hill, USN), HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN), destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, RN), HMS Intrepid (Cdr. C.A. de W. Kitcat, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. E. Mack, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC and Bar, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, RN), HMS Lamerton (Lt.Cdr. C.R. Purse, DSC, RN), HMS Middleton (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Kinloch, RN), and HMS Wheatland (Lt.Cdr. R.de.L Brooke, RN) left Hvalfiord to provide distant cover for convoy's PQ 16 and QP 12.
Light cruiser HMS Nigeria (Capt. J.G.L. Dundas, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.M. Burrough, CB, RN) and the destroyers HMS Onslow (Capt. H.T. Armstong, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, DSO, RN), HMS Martin (Cdr. C.R.P. Thomson, RN), HMS Marne (Lt.Cdr. H.N.A. Richardson, DSC, RN), HMS Volunteer (Lt. A.S. Pomeroy, RN), and ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. H. Eibel, ORP) left Seidisfiord and joined the escort of PQ 16 P.M. heaving made rendez-vous with HMS Norfolk, HMS Kent and HMS Liverpool before joining the convoy.
Force Q (RFA Black Ranger and HMS Ledbury and the close escort HMS Alynbank, HMS Honeysuckle, FFS Roselys, HMS Starwort, HMS Hyderabad, HMS Seawolf and HMS Trident also joined convoy PQ 16 P.M.
The US destroyers USS Wainwright, USS Mayrant, USS Rhind and USS Rowan arrived at Seidisfiord to fuel before joining the battlefleet at sea sailing P.M.
24 May 1942.
The US destroyers USS Wainwright, USS Mayrant, USS Rhind and USS Rowan joined the battlefleet in position 65°50'N, 13°01'E.
British destroyers HMS Faulknor, HMS Fury, HMS Eclipse, HMS Intrepid and HMS Icarus were detached from the battlefleet to fuel at Seidisfiord, arriving A.M. and rejoining the battlefleet at sea P.M. HMS Middleton, HMS Lamerton, HMS Wheatland and HMS Blankney were then detached from the Battlefleet to fuel at Seidisfiord, arriving P.M.
One merchant vessel of convoy QP 12 had to return with engine defects, this was the American Hegira.
25 May 1942.
Both convoy's were reported by enemy aircraft this day.
Also several German U-boats from the 'Greif-wolfpack' were able to make contact with convoy PQ 16 during the day.
First one was U-209 at 0620 hours (All times of the U-boats are Berlin time). She was however driven off with gunfire from HMS Martin a little over an hour later. She again made contact briefly around 1750 hours.
Then at 0645 hours, U-436 also made contact. She however lost contact around 0800 hours.
At 0655 hours, U-703 briefly made contact but was driven off.
At 0751 hours U-591 briefly made contact.
At 1200 hours U-703 again made contact but lost contact soon afterwards.
At 1500 hours U-591 was detected and engaged with gunfire by HMS Martin. She dived and was then depth charged but sustained no damage.
U-436 again made contact at 1522 hours but lost contact again soon afterwards.
At 1615 hours, U-586 made contact also to loose contact soon afterwards.
At 2005 hours U-591 briefly made contact with the convoy but lost it soon afterwards.
PQ 16 was also attacked by torpedo and dive bombers, many near misses were obtained, The American merchant ship Carlton had a fractured a steam pipe and proceeded to Seidisfiord in tow of the A/S trawler HMS Northern Spray.
26 May 1942.
Shortly before 0300 hours U-703 attacked convoy PQ 16 and managed to torpedo and sink the American merchant Syros in position 72°35'N, 05°30'E.
During the remainder of day enemy aircraft were in contact and were homing in U-boats.
At 0400 hours (All U-boat times are Berlin time) U-209 briefly made contact.
At the same time U-436 was also in contact and fired one torpedo which missed.
At 0427 hours U-436 fired two torpedoes at the A/S trawler HMS Lady Madeleine. Both missed and Lady Madeleine then counter attacked with depth charges causing damage to the German submarine forcing her to break off her patrol.
At 0846 hours U-591 attacked HMS Achates with three torpedoes which missed. Achates then counter attacked but the depth charges fell way off.
At 0930 hours U-586 was driven off with gunfire by HMS Martin.
At 1400 hours U-703 briefly made contact.
At 2212 hours U-703 was detected by HMS Martin and engaged with gunfire. On diving she was depth charged but sustained no damage.
27 May 1942.
During the day convoy PQ 16 was attacked many times by emeny aircraft. Three of the merchant vessels were sunk by bombs; Empire Lawrence, Empire Purcell and Mormacsul. The Alamar was heavily damaged by bombs and was scuttled by HMS Trident. Also the merchant vessel Lowther Castle was sunk by enemy torpedo aircraft.
The merchant vessels Stary Bolshevik, Ocean Voice (with the Convoi-Commodore Capt. Gale on board), Empire Baffin and City of Joliet were damaged during the air attacks.
The destroyer ORP Garland was also damaged and detached to Murmansk. It is possible the destroyer was damaged by her own depth charges while attacking U-703 shortly before noon.
The already damaged merchant vessel Carlton, in tow of HMS Northern Spray towards Seidisfiord is also attacked by enemy aircraft but no hits were obtained on her.
Also on this day Russian destroyers from the eastern local escort sailed from Murmansk to join convoy PQ 16. It was made up Grozniy, Sokrushitelny, Valerian Kyubishev. Also four British minesweepers sailed to join the escort as well, these were HMS Bramble, HMS Leda, HMS Seagull and HMS Gossamer. They all joined the convoy escort the next day.
Force Q (RFA tanker Black Ranger escorted by HMS Ledbury is detached to Scapa Flow.
HMS Middleton, HMS Lamerton, HMS Wheatland and HMS Blankney departed Seidisfiord to make rendez-vous with the battlefleet in position 66°50'N, 11°25'W.
The merchant vessels Cape Race, Empire Morn and Southgate split off from convoy QP 12 and set course for the Clyde escorted by HMS Ulster Queen, HMS Venomous and HMS Badsworth.
28 May 1942.
HMS Victorious was detached from the battlefleet to Hvalfiord escorted by HMS Faulknor, HMS Fury and HMS Eclipse.
HMS Middleton, HMS Lamerton, HMS Wheatland and HMS Blankney joined the battlefleet at sea.
HMS Kent detached from the cruiser cover force and set course for Hvalfiord.
The damaged American merchant vessel City of Joliet had to be abandoned and was scuttled.
29 May 1942.
HMS Intrepid and HMS Icarus left the battlefleet for Skaalefiord to fuel, arriving A.M. and after fuelling sailed independently for Scapa Flow.
HMS Victorious end her escort HMS Faulknor, HMS Fury and HMS Eclipse arrived at Hvalfiord.
Force Q (RFA Black Ranger and HMS Ledbury) was ordered to proceed to Sullom Voe instead of Scapa Flow.
The cruiser cover force HMS Nigeria, HMS Liverpool, HMS Norfolk, HMS Onslow, HMS Oribi and HMS Marne arrived at Scapa Flow.
The battlefleet, which at that time was made up of the battleships HMS Duke of York, USS Washington, heavy cruisers HMS London, USS Wichita, destroyers USS Wainwright, USS Mayrant, USS Rhind and USS Rowan and the escort destroyers HMS Middleton, HMS Lamerton, HMS Wheatland and HMS Blankney also arrived at Scapa Flow.
HMS Kent arrived at Hvalfiord.
Convoy QP 12 (minus the three merchants and their escort that had been detached on the 27th) arrived at Reykjavik, Iceland.
30 May 1942.
The merchant vessels Cape Race, Empire Morn and Southgate (Ex QP 12) escorted by HMS Venomous and HMS Badsworth arrived at the Clyde. Ulster Queen had been ordered to proceed to Belfast where she arrived also on this day.
Convoy PQ 16 arrived at Murmansk. Six merchant ships continued on to Archangel where they arrived on 1 June. (19)
21 May 1942
Light cruiser HMS Nigeria (Capt. J.G.L. Dundas, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.M. Burrough, CB, RN) and the destroyers HMS Onslow (Capt. H.T. Armstong, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, RN), HMS Martin (Cdr. C.R.P. Thomson, RN), HMS Marne (Lt.Cdr. H.N.A. Richardson, DSC, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, DSO, RN), HMS Volunteer (Lt. A.S. Pomeroy, RN) and ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. H. Eibel, ORP) arrived at Seidisfjord from Hvalfjord. (18)
23 May 1942
Light cruiser HMS Nigeria (Capt. J.G.L. Dundas, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.M. Burrough, CB, RN) and the destroyers HMS Onslow (Capt. H.T. Armstong, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, RN), HMS Martin (Cdr. C.R.P. Thomson, RN), HMS Marne (Lt.Cdr. H.N.A. Richardson, DSC, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, DSO, RN), HMS Volunteer (Lt. A.S. Pomeroy, RN) and ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. H. Eibel, ORP) departed Seidisfjord for convoy escort / cover duty with convoys PQ 16 and QP 12.
[For more info on these convoy see the event ' Convoy operation to and from northern Russia, convoy's PQ 16 and QP 12. ' for 21 May 1942.] (18)
27 Jun 1942
Convoy operations PQ 17 / QP 13
Convoys to and from Northern Russia
On 27 June 1942 Convoy PQ 17 departed Reykjavik Iceland bound for northern Russia. This convoy was made up of the following merchant ships;
American Alcoa Ranger (5116 GRT, built 1919), Bellingham (5345 GRT, built 1920), Benjamin Harrison (7191 GRT, built 1942), Carlton (5127 GRT, built 1920), Christopher Newport (7191 GRT, built 1942), Daniel Morgan (7177 GRT, built 1942), Exford (4969 GRT, built 1919), Fairfield City (5686 GRT, built 1920), Honomu (6977 GRT, built 1919), Hoosier (5060 GRT, built 1920), Ironclad (5685 GRT, built 1919), John Witherspoon (7191 GRT, built 1942), Olopana (6069 GRT, built 1920), Pan Atlantic (5411 GRT, built 1919), Pan Kraft (5644 GRT, built 1919), Peter Kerr (6476 GRT, built 1920), Richard Bland (7191 GRT, built 1942), Washington (5564 GRT, built 1919), West Gotomska (5728 GRT, built 1919), William Hooper (7177 GRT, built 1942), Winston-Salem (6223 GRT, built 1920),
British Bolton Castle (5203 GRT, built 1939), Earlston (7195 GRT, built 1941), Empire Byron (6645 GRT, built 1941), Empire Tide (6978 GRT, built 1941), Hartlebury (5082 GRT, built 1934), Navarino (4841 GRT, built 1937), Ocean Freedom (7173 GRT, built 1942), River Afton (5479 GRT, built 1935), Samuel Chase (7191 GRT, built 1942), Silver Sword (4937 GRT, built 1920),
Dutch Paulus Potter (7168 GRT, built 1942),
Panamanian El Capitan (5255 GRT, built 1917), Troubadour (6428 GRT, built 1920),
The Russian tankers Azerbaidjan (6114 GRT, built 1932), Donbass (7925 GRT, built 1935),
The British (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) tanker Grey Ranger (3313 GRT, built 1941).
Also with the convoy was a British rescue ship Zaafaran (1559 GRT, built 1921).
The US merchants Exford and West Gotomska had to return both arrived back damaged at Reykjavik on 30 June. The first one due to ice damage and the second one due to damaged engines.
Escort was provided by the minesweepers HMS Britomart (Lt.Cdr. S.S. Stammwitz, RN), HMS Halcyon (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Corbet-Singleton, DSC, RN), HMS Salamander (Lt. W.R. Muttram, RN), A/S trawlers HMS Ayrshire (T/Lt. L.J.A. Gradwell, RNVR), HMS Lord Austin (T/Lt. O.B. Egjar, RNR), HMS Lord Middleton (T/Lt. R.H. Jameson, RNR) and HMS Northern Gem (Skr.Lt. W.J.V. Mullender, DSC, RD, RNR) and the submarine HMS P 615 (Lt. P.E. Newstead, RN).
The convoy was joined at sea by a close escort force made up of the following warships; destroyers HMS Keppel (Cdr. J.E. Broome, RN / in command of the close escort of the convoy) , HMS Offa (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Ewing, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Leamington (Lt. B.M.D. L’Anson, RN), escort destroyers HMS Ledbury (Lt.Cdr. R.P. Hill, RN), HMS Wilton (Lt. A.P. Northey, DSC, RN), corvettes HMS Lotus (Lt. H.J. Hall, RNR), HMS Poppy (Lt. N.K. Boyd, RNR), HMS Dianella (T/Lt. J.G. Rankin, RNR), HMS La Malouine (T/Lt. V.D.H. Bidwell, RNR), Auxiliary AA ships HMS Palomares (A/Capt.(rtd.) J.H. Jauncey, RN) and HMS Pozarica (A/Capt.(rtd.) E.D.W. Lawford, RN) and submarine HMS P 614 (Lt. D.J. Beckley, RN). Also two more British rescue ships sailed with this force to join the convoy at sea; Rathlin (1600 GRT, built 1936) and Zamalek (1567 GRT, built 1921).
The RFA tanker Grey Ranger, which was to fuel the escorts, was now sailing independent from the convoy, she was escorted by the destroyer HMS Douglas (Lt.Cdr. R.B.S. Tennant, RN). Another RFA tanker, the Aldersdale, had now joined the convoy. It had originally been intended that the Aldersdale would take the role the Grey Ranger was now performing but Grey Ranger had been damaged by ice to the north of Iceland so both tankers swapped roles.
Meanwhile on June 26th the Archangel section of the return convoy QP 13 had departed that port. This section was made up of 22 merchant ships;
American American Press (5131 GRT, built 1920), American Robin (5172 GRT, built 1919), Hegira (7588 GRT, built 1919), Lancaster (7516 GRT, built 1918), Massmar (5828 GRT, built 1920), Mormacrey (5946 GRT, built 1919), Yaka (5432 GRT, built 1920),
British Chulmleigh (5445 GRT, built 1938), Empire Mavis (5704 GRT, built 1919), Empire Meteor (7457 GRT, built 1940), Empire Stevenson (6209 GRT, built 1941), St. Clears (4312 GRT, built 1936),
Dutch Pieter de Hoogh (7168 GRT, built 1941),
Panamanian Capira (5625 GRT, built 1920), Mount Evans (5598 GRT, built 1919),
Russian Alma Ata (3611 GRT, built 1920), Archangel (2480 GRT, built 1929), Budenni (2482 GRT, built 1923), Komiles (3962 GRT, built 1932), Kuzbass (3109 GRT, built 1914), Petrovski (3771 GRT, built 1921), Rodina (4441 GRT, built 1922), Stary Bolshevik (3794 GRT, built 1933)
They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Intrepid (Cdr. C.A. de W. Kitcat, RN), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. H. Eibel), the corvettes HMS Starwort (Lt.Cdr. N.W. Duck, RD, RNR), HMS Honeysuckle (Lt. H.H.D. MacKillican, DSC, RNR), the auxiliary AA ship HMS Alynbank (A/Capt.(rtd.) H.F. Nash, RN) and a local escort of four minesweepers; HMS Bramble (Capt. J.H.F. Crombie, DSO, RN), HMS Seagull (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Pollock, RN), HMS Leda (A/Cdr.(rtd.) A.H. Wynne-Edwards, RN) and HMS Hazard (Lt.Cdr. J.R.A. Seymour, RN).
the next day (27th) the Murmask section of convoy QP 13 also went to sea. This was made up of 12 merchant ships;
American City of Omaha (6124 GRT, built 1920), Heffron (7611 GRT, built 1919), Hybert (6120 GRT, built 1920), John Randolph (7191 GRT, built 1941), Mauna Kea (6064 GRT, built 1919), Nemaha (6501 GRT, built 1920), Richard Henry Lee (7191 GRT, built 1941),
British Atlantic (5414 GRT, built 1939), Empire Baffin (6978 GRT, built 1941), Empire Selwyn (7167 GRT, built 1941),
Panamanian Exterminator (6115 GRT, built 1924), Michigan (6419 GRT, built 1920),
They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Cdr. A.G. West, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, DSO, RN), HMS Volunteer (Lt. A.S. Pomeroy, RN), the minesweepers HMS Niger (Cdr.ret.) A.J. Cubison, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Hussar (Lt. R.C. Biggs, DSC, RN), the corvettes HMS Hyderabad (Lt. S.C.B. Hickman, RN), FFS Roselys and the A/S trawlers Lady Madeleine (T/Lt. W.G.Ogden, RNVR) and St. Elstan (Lt. R.M. Roberts, RNR). Also three Russian destroyers (Grozniy, Gremyashchiy and Valerian Kyubishev) joined the escort of convoy QP 13 as far as 30 degrees East.
To cover these convoy operations a close cover force departed Seidisfjord, Iceland around midnight during the night of 30 June / 1 July to take up a position to the north of convoy PQ 17. This force was made up of the British heavy cruisers HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral L.H.K. Hamilton, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Norfolk (Capt. E.G.H. Bellars, RN), as well as the American heavy cruisers USS Tuscaloosa (Capt. L.P. Johnson, USN) and USS Wichita (Capt. H.W. Hill, USN). They were escorted by the British destroyer HMS Somali (Capt. J.W.M. Eaton, DSO, DSC, RN) and the American destroyers USS Rowan (Lt.Cdr. B.R. Harrison, Jr., USN) and USS Wainwright (Lt.Cdr. R.H. Gibbs, USN).
A distant cover force had meanwhile sailed from Scapa Flow late on the 29th to take up a cover position north-east of Jan Mayen Island. This force was made up of battleships HMS Duke of York (Capt. C.H.J. Harcourt, CBE, RN, with the Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet, Admiral Sir J. Tovey, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN on board), USS Washington (Capt. H.H.J. Benson, USN, with Rear-Admiral R.C. Griffen, USN on board), aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, CBE, RN, with Vice-Admiral Sir B. Fraser, CB, KBE, RN, second in command Home Fleet on board), heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland (Capt. A.H. Maxwell-Hyslop, AM, RN), light cruiser HMS Nigeria (Capt. S.H. Paton, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.M. Burrough, CB, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, RN, Capt. 8th Destroyer Flotilla), HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN), HMS Martin (Cdr. C.R.P. Thomson, RN), HMS Marne (Lt.Cdr. H.N.A. Richardson, DSC, RN), HMS Onslaught (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN), HMS Middleton (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Kinloch, RN), HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, RN) and HMS Wheatland (Lt.Cdr. R.de.L Brooke, RN). The destroyers HMS Onslow (Capt. H.T. Armstong, DSC and Bar, RN, Capt. 17th Destroyer Flotilla), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, RN), USS Mayrant (Cdr. C.C. Hartman, USN) and USS Rhind (Lt.Cdr. H.T. Read, USN) meanwhile arrived at Seidisfiord, Iceland from Scapa Flow to fuel before joining the Battlefleet at sea later.
Earlier on the 29th Force X, which was to act as a decoy convoy to fool the Germans, had departed Scapa Flow. This force was made up of; the auxiliary minelayers Southern Prince (A/Capt. J. Cresswell, RN), Agamemnon (Capt.(rtd.) F. Ratsey, RN) , Port Quebec (A/Capt.(rtd.) V. Hammersley-Heenan, RN) , Menestheus (Capt.(rtd.) R.H.F. de Salis, DSC and Bar, OBE, RN) and four merchant vessels (colliers ?). They were escorted by the light cruisers Sirius (Capt. P.W.B. Brooking, RN), Curacoa (Capt. J.W. Boutwood, RN), minelayer Adventure (Capt. N.V. Grace, RN), destroyers Brighton (Cdr.(rtd). C.W.V.T.S. Lepper, RN), St. Marys (Lt.Cdr. K.H.J.L. Phibbs, RN), HMAS Nepal (Cdr. F.B. Morris, RAN), HrMs Tjerk Hiddes (Lt.Cdr. W.J. Kruys. RNethN), the escort destroyers Oakley (Lt.Cdr. T.A. Pack-Beresford, RN), Catterick (Lt. A. Tyson, RN), and 4 A/S trawlers. This force sailed eastward twice, on 30 June and 2 July, to about position 61°30’N, 01°30’E but was not spotted by the Germans.
First contact with the enemy occurred on 1 July 1942 when escorts from convoy PQ 17 twice attacked German submarines that were spotted on the surface several miles from the convoy. These were U-456 that was depth charged by HMS Ledbury and sustained light damage and U-657 that was depth charged by HMS Ledbury and HMS Leamington, she sustained no damage. That evening convoy PQ 17 also suffered its first attack from the air. Nine torpedo aircraft approached the convoy at about 1800 hours in position 73°30’N, 04°00’E. Some dropped torpedoes but they exploded wide of the convoy. One aircraft was shot down, most likely by the destroyer USS Rowan which was en-route from the cruiser force to the convoy to fuel from the Aldersdale.
The next night the convoy ran into for which persisted until the forenoon of the 3rd. In the afternoon of 2 July, U-255 made a torpedo attack on one of the escorts, HMS Fury, two torpedoes were fire but both missed. Fury then counter attacked with depth charges but U-255 sustained no damage. At more or less the same time U-376 was also depth charged by two or three escorts, she was not damaged. Shortly afterwards U-334 was also depth charged but she also escaped without damage.
On the 3rd several U-Boats were in contact for short periods but three were driven off by the escorts in the afternoon. When the mist cleared shadowing aircraft soon regained contact on the convoy.
By the early morning of the 4th convoy PQ 17 was about 60 nautical miles north of Bear Island where it sustained its first loss. Just before 0500 hours the new American merchant vessel Christopher Newport was torpedoed by a single aircraft. Damage was serious and the ship was finished off by the British submarine HMS P 614 which was part of the convoys escort while the rescue ship Zamalek took off the crew. The ship however remained afloat and was finally finished off by U-457.
In the evening of the 4th German aircraft made a successful attack on the convoy hitting the British merchant vessel Navarino, the American merchant William Hooper and the Russian tanker Azerbaidjan. The Azerbaidjan was able to proceed at 9 knots and in the end reached port. The other two ships had to be sunk, most of their crews were picked up by the rescue vessels. William Hooper in fact remained afloat and was finally finished off by U-334.
The situation was now as follows. Convoy PQ 17 was now about 130 nautical miles north-east of Bear Island and had just come through the heavy air attack remarkably well. The convoy discipline and shooting had been admirable and a substantial toll had been taken on the enemy. Rear-Admiral Hamilton was still covering the convoy with his cruiser force some ten miles to the north-eastward, with orders by the Admiralty to do so until ordered otherwise. Some 350 miles to the westward the main cover force was cruising in the area south-west of Spitzbergen.
Now turning to the Germans. The approval of the Führer to sail the heavy ships to attack the convoy had still not been obtained. The Tirpitz and Admiral Hipper meanwhile had joined the Admiral Scheer at the Alternfjord but noting further could be done without the Führer’s approval.
Meanwhile at the Admiralty it was known that German heavy surface units had gone to sea from Trondheim (battleships Tirpitz and heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper) and Narvik (pocket battleships Lützow and Admiral Scheer) but they had not been detected at sea. Fearing an attack on the convoy by these ships was imminent the convoy was ordered to scatter at 2123/4. Shortly before that the close cover force had been ordered to withdraw to the west as it was obviously no match for the German heavy ships.
The Admiralty decision was conveyed to Rear-Admiral Hamilton in the following three signals; Most immediate. Cruiser force withdraw to the west at high speed. (2111B/4) Most immediate. Owning to threat of surface ships, convoy is to disperse and to proceed to Russian ports. (2123B/4) Most immediate. My 2323B/4. Convoy is to scatter. (2136B/4) To Rear-Admiral Hamilton these signals could only mean that further information the admiralty had been hoping for had indeed come in and was of such a nature as to render imperative the drastic measures now ordered. Actually the reason for use of high speed by the cruisers was due to the massing of enemy submarines between 11°E and 20°E and the order to scatter was intended merely as a technical amendment of the term disperse that was used in the previous signal. This could not be known by the recipients, and the cumulative effect of these three signals – especially as the last one had a more important marking as the middle one – was to imply that pressing danger was actually upon them. As Commander Broome put it he expected to see the cruisers open fire and the enemy’s mast appear on the horizon at any moment. In this belief he decided to take the destroyers of his escort group to reinforce the cruiser force, and ordered the two submarines to stay near the convoy when it scattered and to try to attack the enemy, while the rest of the escorting ships were to proceed independently to Archangel.
At 2215/4 Commander Broome passed the signal to scatter to Commodore Dowding. The convoy was then in position 75°55’N, 27°52’E. Commander Broome then departed with the destroyers of the close screen to join the cruiser force of Rear-Admiral Hamilton.
Rear-Admiral Hamilton received the Admiralty orders at 2200/4. HMS Norfolk had just flown off her aircraft on an ice patrol. He therefore stood to the eastward for half an hour while attemps were made to recall it but these were without success and at 2230 hours the force turned to a westerly course at 25 knots steering to pass to the southward of the convoy so as to be between it and the probable direction of the enemy. An hour later they passed the merchant vessels which were now on widely divergent courses.
Rear-Admiral Hamilton was much concerned at the effect of the apparent desertion of the merchant ships had on morale. Had he been aware that the Admiralty had no further information of the enemy heavy units then he himself possessed he would have remained in a covering position until the convoy was widely dispersed.
As time went on without further developments Rear-Admiral Hamilton became more and more puzzled as to what have led to the sudden scattering of the convoy. But whatever the reason, the orders for his own force were clear, so he remained his westerly course at 25 knots. Thick fog was encountered soon after midnight, which persisted with brief intervals till 0630/5. Commander Broome, equally mystified by the course of events, soon began to feel that his place was with the merchant ships but he thought Rear-Admiral Hamilton was acting on fuller information then himself. As soon as the fog lifted sufficiently for visual signalling he informed the Rear-Admiral of his last hurried instructions to PQ 17 and requested that they should be amplified or amended as nessesary.
Actually Rear-Admiral Hamilton, who was still under the impression that enemy surface forces were in close proximity, argued that once the convoy had been scattered the enemy would leave it to their air forces and submarines to deal with it (and this was exactly what the Germans did). He feared the enemy surface forces would be ordered to deal with his force and reinforced by Commander Broome’s destroyers he felt that he could fight a delaying action, and had a good chance of leading the enemy within reach of the aircraft of HMS Victorious and possibly the heavy ships of the force of the Commander-in-Chief.
At 0700/5, while in position 75°40’N, 16°00’E, Rear-Admiral Hamilton reduced to 20 knots and at 0930 hours set course for Jan Mayen Island. It was not until that forenoon that the situation as regards the enemy heavy ships was made clear to him. Meanwhile he had to decide what to do with Commander Broome’s destroyers. Accordingly he ordered them to fuel from HMS London and HMS Norfolk. By 1630 hours the fueling of HMS Ledbury, HMS Wilton, USS Rowan and HMS Keppel had been completed. At 1740 hours a German Focke Wulf aircraft made contact and correctly reported the force in position 74°30’N, 07°40’E. Having been located, Rear-Admiral Hamilton broke wireless silence and at 1830/5 informed the Commander-in-Chief of his position, course, speed and the composition of his force. This was the first time the Commander-in-Chief was informed of the fact the Commander Broome’s destroyers with with the force of Rear-Admiral Hamilton, a fact which he regretted.
The Commander-in-Chief, having spent 4 July cruising about 150 nautical miles north-west of Bear Island, had turned to the south-westward in the early morning of the 5th, and was then on his way back to Scapa Flow some 120 nautical miles south-west of the force of Rear-Admiral Hamilton. Shortly afterwards there came news at last of the German heavy ships. The Russian submarine K-21 reported at 1700/5 the Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer and eight destroyers in position 71°25’N, 23°40’E, steering course 045°. She claimed to have hit the Tirpitz with two torpedoes. An hour or so later, at 1816 hours, a reconnoitring aircraft reported eleven strange ships in position 71°31’N, 27°10’E steering 065°, speed 10 knots. And finally HMS P 54 (Lt. C.E. Oxborrow, DSC, RN), at 2029/5 reported the Tirpitz and Admiral Hipper escorted by at least six destroyers and eight aircraft in position 71°30’N, 28°40’E steering a course of 060° at a speed of 22 knots.
Actually the cruise of the German ships was of short duration. Hitler’s permission to lauch the operation had only been obtained in the forenoon of the 5th and the executive order was given at 1137 hours. Rear-Admiral Hamilton’s cruisers were then known to be moving to the westward and Admiral Tovey’s covering force was some 450 miles away from the convoy. It seemed there would be no immediate danger for the German heavy ships provided they could approach the merchant ships unseen and engage them for a time as short as possible. But the Allied sighting reports were intercepted and the Naval Staff calculated that Admiral Tovey would be able to close sufficiently to launch an air attack before they would be able to return to port I they continued operations against the merchant ships after 0100/6. Air and U-boat attacks were meanwhile taking a heavy toll on the convoy and it did not seem that it was worth the risk. At 2132/5 orders were given to abandon the operation. At 2152 hours, while in position 71°38’N, 31°05’E the German ships reversed course and returned to Altafjord.
During the night of 5/6 July the Admiralty made three signals to the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet suggesting that the Tirpitz might be ‘reluctant to go as far as the convoy’ if the battlefleet was sighted steering to the eastward, and that aircraft from HMS Victorious might be able to attack her if she had ben damaged by the Russian submarines. The latter appeared to Admiral Tovey unlikely, for as it seemed certain that the Tirpitz, especially if damaged, would not be sailed down the Norwegian coast until adequate fighter cover and seaward reconnaissance were available. However, arrangements were made for the fleet to reverse its course if the approach of enemy aircraft was detected and at 0645/6 course was altered back to the north-eastward. An hour later an enemy aircraft passed over the fleet above the clouds but endeavours to attract its attention by gunfire and fighters were unsuccessful. That forenoon Rear-Admiral Hamilton’s force joined the fleet at 1040/6. Weather was unsuitable for air reconnaissance and Admiral Tovey felt that nothing was to be gained by continuing to the north-eastward. Rear-Admiral Hamilton’s cruisers and eight destroyers were detached to Seidisfjord at 1230 hours and the battlefleet turned to the southward again shortly afterwards. All ships reached harbour on the 8th.
The last news of the enemy ships came on 7 July, when a British aircraft working from Vaenga, near Murmansk, reported the Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer and Admiral Hipper and some destroyers followed by an oiler from a neighbouring fjord turning out of Lang Fjord in Arnoy (70°N, 20°30’E). By this time the Allied ships were well on their way home but an attempt to attack the enemy was once again made by submarines. Anticipating their return to Narvik, HMS Sturgeon (Lt. M.R.G. Wingfield, RN) and FFS Minerve (Lt. P.M. Sonneville) had been ordered on 6 July to leave the main patrol line and to patrol to the mouth of the Vest Fjord on the 7th and the 8th, one at a time, in case the Tirpitz should pass on the outside of the Lofoten Islands, owning to her heavy draught due to possible damage. Nothing came of this, however, nor of a further patrol carried out by HMS Sturgeon on the night of 9/10 July close inshore some 70 nautical miles north of Trondheim in case of any German ships going to that port.
Now back to the ships of convoy PQ 17. The sudden order to scatter came to Commodore Dowding as an unpleasant surprise. Like Rear-Admiral Hamilton and Commander Broome he did not doubt that it heralded the immediate appearance of enemy heavy ships, and as the escorting destroyers parted company to join the cruisers, he signalled to HMS Keppel ‘Many thanks, goodbye and good hunting’ to which Commander Broome replied ‘It’s a grim business leaving you here’. It was indeed a grim business and the gravity of the situation was clear to all. Weather attack by surface craft developed in a few minutes or by aircraft and submarines during the next few days, the plight of the individual merchant ships – deprived of mutual support of their escort - was parlous in the extreme.
The convoy scattered as laid down in the instructions, in perfect order, though it must have been apparent to the ships that had to turn to the south-west that they were heading towards where the most trouble might be expected. The merchant ships proceeded mostly alone, or in groups of two or three. The anti-aircraft ships HMS Palomares and HMS Pozarica each took charge of a group, each collecting also two or three minesweepers or corvettes to act as a screen. They joined company the next day and proceeded towards Novaya Zemlya. HMS Salamander accompanied two merchantmen and a rescue ship. HMS Daniella was escorting the submarines, HMS P 614 and HMS P 615. She stood them clear of the convoy, when they separated to patrol in its wake, while the corvette went on by itself. At first the different groups spread on courses ranging from north to east, a few steering afterwards for Archangel, most seeking shelter in Novaya Zemlya. But less than half the merchant ships reached even ‘horrid Zembla’s frozen realms’, for 17 in addition to the oiler Aldersdale and the rescue ship Zaafaran were sunk during the next three days by bombing aircraft and U-boats. The bulk of the losses took place on the 5th while the ships were still far to the north, six being sunk by bombs and six were torpedoed by submarines. One ship was bombed on the 6th. Four were torpedoed by U-boats off the south-west coast of Novaya Zemlya between the evening of the 6th and the early morning of the 8th.
By the 7th of July, most of the escort, the rescue ship Zamalek and five merchant ships, the Ocean Freedom, Hoosier, Benjamin Harrison, El Capitan and Samual Chase, had reached Matochkin Strait. Commodore Dowding, whose ship the River Afton had been sunk by a U-boat on the 5th, arrived in HMS Lotus, which had rescued him and 36 survivors, including the Master after 3.5 hours on rafts and floats. After a conference on board HMS Palomares, these merchantmen were formed into a convoy into a convoy and sailed that evening, escorted by the two AA ships, HMS Halcyon, HMS Salamander, HMS Britomart, HMS Poppy, HMS Lotus and HMS La Malouine and three A/S trawlers. The Benjamin Harrison soon got separated in fog and returned to the Matochkin Strait but the remainder were still in company when the fog temporarily cleared during the forenoon of the 8th, and course was shaped to pass east and south of Kolguyev Island. It was an anxious passage, much fog and ice was encountered and U-boats were known to be about. From time to time boatloads of survivors from other ships already sunk were encountered and picked up. A remainder of the fate that might be in store for any of them. During the night of 9-10 July some 40 bombers carried out high level attacks on this small convoy. The attacks lasted for four hours, the Hoosier and El Capitan were sunk by near misses some 60 nautical miles north of Cape Kanin. Four aircraft are believed to have been shot down. The attacks ended at 0230/10 and half an hour later two Russian flying boats appeared. The surviving ships arrived at Archangel the next day, 11 July. Three ships out of thirty-seven were now in port, not a very successful convoy so far. Things were however not that bad as Commodore Dowding thought at that moment. The rescue ship Rathlin with two merchant ships, the Donbass and the Bellingham had arrived on the 9th, having shot down an aircraft the day before, and before long the news of other ships sheltering in Novaya Zemlya came in.
At his special request, Commodore Dowding, despite all he had been through, left Archangel in HMS Poppy on 16 July, in company with HMS Lotus and HMS La Malouine, to form these merchant ships into a convoy and bring them to Archangel. After a stormy passage they arrived at Byelushya Bay on the 19th. There 12 survivors from the merchant Olopana were found. During the day the coast was searched and in the evening the Winston Salem was found agound and later the Empire Tide was found at anchor. The next morning Motochkin Strait was entered and five merchant ships were found at anchor, the Benjamin Harrison, Silver Sword, Troubadour, Ironclad and the Azerbaidjan. A Russian icebreaker (the Murman) was also there as was a Russian trawler (the Kerov). Also, one of the escorts of convoy PQ 17 was found there, the British A/S trawler Ayrshire.
Commodore Dowding wasted no time. A conference was held that forenoon and in the evening all ships sailed, the Commodore leading in the Russian icebreaker Murman. The Empire Tide, which had a lot of survivors from sunken ships aboard joined the convoy early the next day. The Winston Salem was however still aground with two Russian tugs standing by. Much fog was encountered during the passage which was uneventful except for two U-boat alarms. The escort was reinforced by HMS Pozarica, HMS Bramble, HMS Hazard, HMS Leda, HMS Dianella and two Russian destroyers on the 22th. The convoy arrived safe at Archangel on the 24th.
Four days later (on the 28th) the Winston Salem was finally refloated. She managed reached harbour as the last ship of the ill-fated PQ 17 convoy making a total of 11 survivors out of a total of 35 ships. It was realised afterwards by the Admiralty that the decision to scatter the convoy had been premature.
The disastrous passage of convoy PQ 17 tended to throw into the background the fortunes of the westbound convoy, QP 13. This convoy of 35 ships sailed in two parts from Archangel and Murmansk and joined at sea on 28 June under Commodore N.H. Gale. Thick weather prevailed during most of the passage, but the convoy was reported by enemy aircraft on 30 June while still east of Bear Island and again on 2 July. No attacks developed, the enemy focus was on the eastbound convoy. That afternoon the ill-fated convoy PQ 17 was passed.
After an uneventful passage, convoy QP 13 divided off the north-east coast of Iceland on 4 July. Commodore Gale with 16 merchant ships turned south for Loch Ewe while the remaining 9 merchant ships continued round the north coast of Iceland for Reykjavik. At 1900/5 these ships formed into a five column convoy. They were escorted by HMS Niger (SO), HMS Hussar, FFL Roselys, HMS Lady Madeleine and HMS St. Elstan. They were now approaching the north-west corner of Iceland. The weather was overcast, visibility about one mile, wind north-east, force 8, sea rough. No sights had been obtained since 1800/2 and the convoys position was considerably in doubt. At 1910/5 Commander Cubison (C.O. HMS Niger) suggested that the front of the convoy should be reduced to two columns in order to pass between Straumnes and the minefield off the north-west coast of Iceland. This was the first the convoy Commodore had heard of the existence of this minefield. Soon afterwards, Commander Cubison gave his estimated position at 2000/5 as 66°45’N, 22°22’W and suggested altering course 222° for Straumnes Point at that time. This was done. About two hours later, at 2200 hours, HMS Niger which had gone ahead to try to make landfall leaving HMS Hussar as a visual link with the convoy, sighted what she took to be North Cape bearing 150° at a range of one mile and ordered the course of the convoy to be altered to 270°. Actually what HMS Niger sighted was a large iceberg but this was not realised for some time. At 2240/5 HMS Niger blew up and sank with heavy loss of life, including Commander Cubison. Five minutes later a last signal from her, explaining her mistaken landfall and recommending a return to course 222° was handed to the convoy Commodore. But it was too late, already explosions were occurring amongst the merchant ships. The westerly course had led the convoy straight into the minefield. Considerable confusion prevailed, some thinking that a U-boat attack was in progress, other imagining a surface raider. Four ships were sunk, the Heffron, Hybert, Massmar and the Rodina and two were seriously damaged, the John Randolph and the Exterminator. Good rescue work was carried out by the escorts, especially the FFL Roselys which picked up 179 survivors from various ships. Meanwhile HMS Hussar had obtained a shore fix, led out the remaining merchant ships, which reformed on a southerly course for Reykjavik where they arrived without further misadventure.
22 Aug 1942
HMS H 43 (Lt. J.C.Y. Roxburgh, DSC, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Yestor (Lt. R.C. Holt, RNVR), HMS Bulldog (Cdr. M. Richmond, OBE, DSO, RN) and HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.H.T. Johns, RN). (20)
23 Aug 1942
HMS H 43 (Lt. J.C.Y. Roxburgh, DSC, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Bulldog (Cdr. M. Richmond, OBE, DSO, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.H.T. Johns, RN), HMS Hurricane (Cdr. E.C. Bayldon, DSC, RN) and HMS Watchman (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Rodgers, RN). (20)
2 Sep 1942
Convoy operations to and from northern Russia, convoy's PQ 18 and QP 14.
Convoy PQ 18 from Loch Ewe to the Kola Inlet and convoy QP 14 from the Kola Inlet to Loch Ewe.
Convoy PQ 18 departed Loch Ewe on 2 September 1942 and arrived in the Kola Inlet on 21 September 1942.
On departure from Loch Ewe it was made up of the following merchant vessels; Africander (Panamanian, 5441 GRT, built 1921), Atheltemplar (British (tanker), 8992 GRT, built 1930), Campfire (American, 5671 GRT, built 1919), Charles R. McCormick (American, 6027 GRT, built 1920), Dan-Y-Bryn (British, 5117 GRT, built 1940), Empire Baffin (British, 6978 GRT, built 1941), Empire Beaumont (British, 7044 GRT, built 1942), Empire Morn (British, 7092 GRT, built 1941), Empire Snow (British, 6327 GRT, built 1941), Empire Stevenson (British, 6209 GRT, built 1941), Empire Trinstram (British, 7167 GRT, built 1942), Esek Hopkins (American, 7191 GRT, built 1942), Gateway City (American, 5432 GRT, built 1920), Goolistan (British, 5851 GRT, built 1929), Hollywood (American, 5498 GRT, built 1920), John Penn II (American, 7177 GRT, built 1942), Kentucky (American, 5446 GRT, built 1921), Lafayette (Russian, 5887 GRT, built 1919), Macbeth (Panamanian, 4941 GRT, built 1920), Mary Luckenbach (American, 5049 GRT, built 1919), Meanticut (American, 6061 GRT, built 1921), Nathaniel Greene (American, 7177 GRT, built 1942), Ocean Faith (British, 7174 GRT, built 1942), Oliver Ellsworth (American, 7191 GRT, built 1942), Oregonian (American, 4862 GRT, built 1917), Oremar (American, 6854 GRT, built 1919), Patrick Henry (American, 7191 GRT, built 1941), Sahale (American, 5028 GRT, built 1919), San Zotico (British (tanker), 5582 GRT, built 1919), Schoharie (American, 4971 GRT, built 1919), St. Olaf (American, 7191 GRT, built 1942), Temple Arch (British, 5138 GRT, built 1940), Virginia Dare (American, 7177 GRT, built 1942), Wacosta (American, 5432 GRT, built 1920), White Clover (Panamanian, 5462 GRT, built 1920) and William Moultrie (American, 7177 GRT, built 1942).
The RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) tankers Black Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941) and Grey Ranger (3313 GRT, built 1941) were also part of the convoy. These ships were known as ' Force Q '.
As was the rescue ship Copeland (British, 1526 GRT, built 1923).
The merchant vessel Beauregard (American, 5976 GRT, built 1920) had also sailed with the convoy but soon returned to Loch Ewe with engine trouble.
On departure from Loch Ewe the convoy was escorted by the destroyers HMS Campbell (A/Cdr. E.C. Coats, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Mackay ( Lt. J.B. Marjoribanks, RN), escort destroyers HNoMS Eskdale (Lt.Cdr. S. Storheill), HMS Farndale (Cdr. D.P. Trentham, RN) and the A/S trawlers HMS Arab (T/Lt. F.M. Procter, RCNVR), HMS Duncton (T/Lt. J.P. Kilbee, RNR), HMS Hugh Walpole (T/Lt. J. Mackenzie, RNR), HMS King Sol (Lt. P.A. Read, RNR) and HMS Paynter (Lt. R.H. Nossiter, RANVR).
On 6 September 1942 the escort was reinforced by the destroyers HMS Montrose (Lt.Cdr. W.J. Phipps, OBE, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. N. Lanyon, RN) and HMS Walpole (Lt. A.S. Pomeroy, RN) which came from Hvalfjord.
On 7 September 1942 three ships which had taken passage in this convoy arrived at Reykjavik, Iceland, these were the Gateway City, Oremar and San Zotico. Also the five A/S trawlers had parted company with the convoy.
Also on this day eight more merchant vessels joined the convoy coming from Reykjavik, these were the; Andre Marti (Russian, 2352 GRT, built 1918), Exford (American, 4969 GRT, built 1919), Komiles (Russian, 3962 GRT, built 1932), Petrovski (Russian, 3771 GRT, built 1921), Richard Bassett (American, 7191 GRT, built 1942), Stalingrad (Russian, 3559 GRT, built 1931), Sukhona (Russian, 3124 GRT, built 1918) and Tblisi (Russian, 7169 GRT, built 1912).
The Richard Bassett however soon returned to Reykjavik.
Also with this section were three motor minesweepers which were to be transferred to the Russian Navy, these were MMS 90 (Skr. J. Dinwoodie, RNR), MMS 203 ( Skr. J.H. Petherbridge, DSC, RNR) and MMS 212 ( T/Lt. W.J. Walker, RNVR).
These ships were escorted by the destroyers HMS Malcolm (A/Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN), HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy) Lord Teynham, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.H.T. Johns, RN), minesweepers HMS Gleaner (Lt.Cdr. F.J.G. Hewitt, DSC, RN), HMS Harrier (Cdr. A.D.H. Jay, DSC, RN), corvettes HMS Bergamot (Lt. R.T. Horan, RNR), HMS Bluebell (Lt. G.H. Walker, RNVR), HMS Bryony (Lt.Cdr. J.P. Stewart, DSC, RNR), HMS Camellia (T/Lt. R.F.J. Maberley, RNVR), A/S trawlers HMS Cape Argona (T/A/Lt.Cdr. E.R. Pate, RNR), HMS Cape Mariato (T/Lt. H.T.S. Clouston, RNVR), HMS Daneman (T/Lt. G.O.T.D. Henderson, RNVR), HMS St. Kenan (Lt. J. Mackay, RNR) and the AA ships HMS Alynbank (A/Capt.(Retd.) H.F. Nash, RN) and HMS Ulster Queen (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.K. Adam, RN).
When the Reykjavik section joined the convoy the escort destroyers HNoMS Eskdale and HMS Farndale parted company and proceeded to Hvalfjord. HMS Walpole also returned to Hvalfjord with defects as did HMS Amazon. After repairs, HMS Amazon proceeded to Akureyri.
HMS Campbell and HMS Mackay arrived at Hvalfjord on the 9th, having been detached from the convoy escort. They later went on to Akureyri.
Around 0615A/8 the minesweepers HMS Sharpshooter (Lt.Cdr. W.L. O'Mara, RN) departed Seidisfjord escorting the submarines HMS P 614 (Lt. D.J. Beckley, RN) and HMS P 615 (Lt. P.E. Newstead, RN). All three ships joined the convoy shortly after noon on the 9th.
Around 2100A/8, ' Force A ', made up of the destroyers HMS Onslow (Capt H.T. Armstrong, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Offa (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Ewing, RN), HMS Onslaught (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN), HMS Opportune (Cdr. M.L. Power, OBE, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, DSO, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Somali (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Tartar (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN) departed Akureyri for Spitsbergen where they were to refuel from ' Force P ' (see below).
Around 2145A/8, ' Force B ', made up of the AA cruiser HMS Scylla (Capt. I.A.P. Macintyre, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral R.L. Burnett, OBE, RN) and the destroyers HMS Milne (Capt. I.M.R. Campbell, RN), HMS Marne (Lt.Cdr. H.N.A. Richardson, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Martin (Cdr. C.R.P. Thomson, DSO, RN), HMS Meteor (Lt.Cdr. D.J.B. Jewitt, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Impulsive (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN), HMS Intrepid (Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN) and the ' Carrier Force ' made up of the escort carrier HMS Avenger (Cdr. A.P. Colthurst, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Wheatland (Lt.Cdr. R.de.L Brooke, RN) and HMS Wilton (Lt. A.P. Northey, DSC, RN) departed Seidisfjord to join the convoy which they did around 2200A/9.
Around 2230A/9, HMS Echo parted company with the convoy to return to Hvalfjord as did HMS Montrose which proceeded to Akureyri. Both destroyers arrived at their destinations on the 10th.
' Force A ', made up of the destroyers HMS Onslow, HMS Offa, HMS Onslaught, HMS Opportune, HMS Ashanti, HMS Eskimo, HMS Somali and HMS Tartar, arrived at Spitsbergen on the 11th, fuelled from ' Force P ' and departed P.M. to join convoy PQ 18 which they did in the morning of the 13th.
Meanwhile HMS Scylla, HMS Milne, HMS Marne, HMS Martin, HMS Meteor and HMS Intrepid parted company with the convoy at 1130A/11 to proceed to Spitsbergen to fuel from ' Force P '. The other destroyers / escort destroyers with the convoy fuelled from ' Force Q '.
HMS Scylla, HMS Milne, HMS Marne, HMS Martin, HMS Meteor and HMS Intrepid completed fuelling in the morning of the 13th and they rejoined the convoy around 1400A/13. The escort was complete then.
Meanwhile the convoy, had been picked up again by German aircraft on the 12th. Also at 2109A/12, the destroyer HMS Faulknor attacked a contact ahead of the convoy with depth charges in position 75°04'N, 04°49'E, this meant the end of the German submarine U-88.
On 13 September the convoy was heavily attacked by the enemy resulting in the loss of ten of the merchant vessels; by U-boat (U-408) Stalingrad and the Oliver Ellsworth and by German aircraft the Wacosta, Oregonian, Macbeth, Africander, Empire Stevenson, Empire Beaumont, John Penn and Sukhona.
On 14 September the German submarine U-457 hit the tanker Atheltemplar. The tanker burst into flames and was abandoned by her crew. HMS Harrier tried to scuttle the tanker with gunfire but failed to do so and she was last seen heavily on fire but still afloat. The capsized wreck was sunk by the German submarine U-408 in the afternoon.
Early in the afternoon the German submarine U-589 was hunted by Swordfish aircraft from HMS Avenger and she was sunk in position 75°40'N, 20°32'E with depth charges by HMS Onslow.
The German airforce also attacked the convoy on this day but concentrated initially on attacking the escort instead of the merchant ships. The HMS Avenger was heavily attacked but she was not hit though she had a lucky escape during a dive bomb attack. Torpedoes fired at her were dropped from long range due to effecive fire from her close escort, the escort destroyers HMS Wheatland and HMS Wilton and the AA ship HMS Ulster Queen which had also come to her aid.
In the afternoon the merchant vessel Mary Luckenbach was torpedoed. She exploded and completely vaporised due to her cargo of 1000 tons of TNT. There were no survivors.
On September 15th, German aircraft could not inflict damage to the convoy though some ships had narrow escapes. The U-boats could be kept at bay by the escorts.
In the early hours of the 16th, the German submarine U-457 tried to attack the convoy but she was depth charged and sunk by HMS Impulsive in position 75°05'N, 43°15'E.
Around 1530A/16, HMS Scylla, HMS Avenger, Milne, Marne, Martin, Meteor, Faulknor, Fury, Impulsive, Intrepid, HMS Onslow, HMS Offa, HMS Onslaught, HMS Opportune, HMS Ashanti, HMS Eskimo, HMS Somali, HMS Tartar, HMS Wheatland, HMS Wilton, HMS Alynbank, HMS P 614 and HMS P 615 parted company with PQ 18 to join the westbound convoy QP 14 (see below) which they did the following morning. The two RFA tankers from ' Force Q ' were also with them.
On September 18th, the Russian destroyers Valerian Kyubishev and Uritsky joined the convoy as did the British minesweepers HMS Britomart (Lt.Cdr. S.S. Stammwitz, RN), HMS Halcyon (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Corbet-Singleton, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Hazard (Lt.(Retd.) G.C. Hocart, RNR), HMS Salamander (Lt. W.R. Muttram, RN) joined the convoy escort. Also on this day the merchant vessel Kentucky was lost due to a German air attack.
The convoy arrived at Archangelsk on 21 September 1941. Some delay having been experienced due to heavy weather on the 19th.
Convoy QP 14 departed Archangelsk on 13 September 1942 and arrived at Loch Ewe on 26 September 1942.
On departure from Archangelsk it was made up of the following merchant vessels; Alcoa Banner (American, 5035 GRT, built 1919), Bellingham (American, 5345 GRT, built 1920), Benjamin Harrison (American, 2191 GRT, built 1942), Deer Lodge (American, 6187 GRT, built 1919), Empire Tide (British, 6978 GRT, built 1941), Harmatris (British, 5395 GRT, built 1932), Minotaur (American, 4554 GRT, built 1918), Ocean Freedom (British, 7173 GRT, built 1942), Ocean Voice (British, 7174 GRT, built 1941), Samuel Chase (American, 7191 GRT, built 1942), Silver Sword (British, 4937 GRT, built 1919), Tobruk (Polish, 7048 GRT, built 1942), Troubadour (Panamanian, 6428 GRT, built 1920), West Nilus (American, 5495 GRT, built 1920) and Winston Salem (American, 6223 GRT, built 1920).
The rescue vessels Rathlin (British, 1600 GRT, built 1936) and Zamalek (British, 1567 GRT, built 1921) were also part of the convoy.
On departure from Archangelsk the convoy was escorted by the (Russian) destroyer Kuibyshev, Uritski, escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Middleton (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Kinloch, RN), minesweepers Britomart, HMS Bramble (Capt. J.H.F. Crombie, DSO, RN), Halcyon, Hazard, HMS Leda (A/Cdr.(Retd.) A.H. Wynne-Edwards, RN), Salamander, HMS Seagull (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Pollock, RN), corvettes HMS Dianella (T/Lt. J.G. Rankin, RNR), HMS La Malouine (T/Lt. V.D.H. Bidwell, RNR), HMS Lotus (Lt. H.J. Hall, RNR), HMS Poppy (Lt. N.K. Boyd, RNR), A/S trawlers HMS Ayrshire (T/Lt. L.J.A. Gradwell, RNVR), HMS Lord Austin (T/Lt. O.B. Egjar, RNR), HMS Lord Middleton (T/Lt. R.H. Jameson, RNR), HMS Northern Gem (Skr.Lt. W.J.V. Mullender, DSC, RD, RNR), and the AA ships HMS Palomares (A/Capt.(rtd.) J.H. Jauncey, RN) and HMS Pozarica (A/Capt.(rtd.) E.D.W. Lawford, RN).
In the morning of the 17th, HMS Scylla, HMS Avenger, Milne, Marne, Martin, Meteor, Faulknor, Fury, Impulsive, Intrepid, HMS Onslow, HMS Offa, HMS Onslaught, HMS Opportune, HMS Ashanti, HMS Eskimo, HMS Somali, HMS Tartar, HMS Wheatland, HMS Wilton, HMS Alynbank, HMS P 614 and HMS P 615 joined the convoy. The two RFA tankers from ' Force Q ' were also with them.
Also on the 17th, the Kuibyshev, Uritski, Britomart, Halcyon, Hazard and Salamander parted company with the convoy to join the escort of convoy PQ 18 (see above).
On the 18th (or early on the 19th ?) the destroyers HMS Fury and HMS Impulsive were detached from the convoy for Spitsbergen. They rejoined the convoy around 1700A/19 having escorted the RFA tanker Oligarch from Spitsbergen to the convoy. The destroyer HMS Worcester was also with them.
On 20 September U-boats began to attack the convoy and the minesweeper HMS Leda was torpedoed and sunk around 0530A/20 by U-435 in position 76°30'N, 05°00'E. She sank around 0700A/20.
Shortly after noon, the submarines HMS P 614 and HMS P 615 also parted company with the convoy to proceed to Lerwick but they first swept astern of the convoy to try to attack shadowing enemy submarines. HMS P 614 attacked U-408 with four torpedoes thinking to have sunk the enemy but this was not the case.
And finally on the 20th, the destroyer HMS Somali was torpedoed and damaged around 1850A/20 by the U-703. The ship was taken in tow towards Akureyri or Seidisfjord by her sistership HMS Ashanti and screened by HMS Opportune, HMS Eskimo and HMS Intrepid but HMS Somali finally breaking in two around 0230A/24 when the weather conditions had worsened. Both halves sank quickly.
Also on this day, Rear-Admiral Burnett transferred his flag from HMS Scylla to HMS Milne. HMS Scylla, HMS Avenger, HMS Fury, HMS Wheatland and HMS Wilton then parted company to proceed to Seidisfjord where they arrived on 22 September. The destroyer HMS Onslaught was detached to escort the staggler Troubadour. They later joined the remainder of ' Force P ' (RFA tanker Blue Ranger, destroyer HMS Windsor and the escort destroyers HMS Cowdray and HMS Oakley) which had departed Spitsbergen. On 22 September they joined HMS Somali under tow by HMS Ashanti and the escorting destroyers HMS Opportune, HMS Eskimo and HMS Intrepid.
Three German submarines were attacked by the A/S escort on 20 September, these were U-378 by a Swordfish aircraft from HMS Avenger, U-212 by HMS Ashanti and finally U-255 by HMS Eskimo. All submarines managed to escape without damage.
On 21 September a Catalina (RAF(Norwegian) 330Sq./Z) attacked the German submarine U-606 but the aircraft is shot down by the enemy.
Early on 22 September, HMS Milne detached from the convoy to proceed to Seidisfjord where she arrived in the evening.
On 23 September, HMS Onslow, HMS Offa, HMS Worcester and the two rescue ships, were detached to Seidisfjord arriving there later on the same day.
Also on 23 September, HMS Scylla, HMS Avenger, HMS Milne, HMS Wheatland and HMS Wilton departed Seidisfjord for Scapa Flow where they arrived on the 24th.
The staggler Troubadour was detached from ' Force P ' on the 24th to proceed to Akureyri.
On 24 September, HMS Marne was detached to proceed to Seidisfjord to land the survivors that she had picked up from the Catalina aircraft that had been shot down on 21 September by U-606. She rejoined the convoy later the same day. HMS Onslow, HMS Offa, HMS Worcester and the two rescue ship left Seidisfjord to rejoin the convoy which they did on the 25th.
On the 25th, HMS Martin was detached to escort the staggler Winston Salem while HMS Ayrshire was detached to Seidisfjord with defects.
Around 2115A/25, HMS Ashanti, HMS Intrepid, HMS Onslaught and HMS Opportune arrived at Scapa Flow. HMS Eskimo arrived around 0700A/26. Following the sinking of Somali they had detached from ' Force P ' on the 24th.
On the 26th, HMS Faulknor, HMS Onslow, HMS Offa, HMS Marne, HMS Meteor, HMS Tartar, HMS Impulsive, HMS Worcester, HMS Blankney, HMS Middleton, HMS Bramble, HMS Seagull and the tankers Oligarch and Black Ranger were detached to Scapa Flow where they arrived on the same day.
The convoy arrived at Loch Ewe on the 26th.
The staggler Winston Salem arrived at Loch Ewe the following day after which HMS Martin proceeded to Scapa Flow arriving around 1930A/27.
' Force P ', Blue Ranger escorted by HMS Windsor, HMS Cowdray and HMS Oakley arrived at Scapa Flow on the 27th.
To provide cover and support for this convoy four forces were deployed.
' Force P ' was the Spitsbergen refueling force. It was made up of the RFA tankers Blue Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941) and Oligarch (6894 GRT, built 1918) and departed Scapa Flow on 3 September escorted by the destroyer HMS Windsor (Lt.Cdr. D.H.F. Hetherington, DSC, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Bramham (Lt. E.F. Baines, RN), HMS Cowdray (Lt.Cdr. C.W. North, RN), and Oakley (Lt.Cdr. T.A. Pack-Beresford, RN).
On 4 September the destroyer HMS Worcester (Lt.Cdr. W.A. Juniper, RN), coming from Seidisfjord, Iceland, relieved HMS Bramham which then proceeded to Seidisfjord. She later went on to Akureyri.
' Force P ' arrived at Spitsbergen (Lowe Sound) on 10 September. [For futher movements of ' Force P ' see the text above and below.]
There was also the ' Cruiser Force ' was was to provide close cover for the convoys during their passage through the most dangerous area. Also two ships of the force were to land stores, personnel and dogs on Spitsbergen (Operation Gearbox II). It was made up of the heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk (Capt. E.G.H. Bellars, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral S.S. Bonham-Carter, CB, CVO, DSO, RN), HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN), HMS Cumberland (Capt. A.H. Maxwell-Hyslop, AM, RN), HMS Suffolk (Capt. R. Shelley, CBE, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN) and the destroyers HMS Echo, HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. E. Mack, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Bulldog (Cdr. M. Richmond, OBE, DSO, RN). They departed Hvalfjord around 1145Z/14.
Around 1330A/15, they were joined in position 67°40'N, 19°55'W by HMS Amazon coming from Akureyri.
Around 1200A/16, HMS Cumberland and HMS Eclipse were detached for operation Gearbox II.
In the evening of the 16th the destroyers were fuelled by the cruisers. Due to these ships having to be available to intercept and engage German surface forces in case these would come out to attack the convoys the fuel levels in the destroyers were kept as high as possible. HMS Bulldog was fuelled by HMS Norfolk, HMS Echo was fuelled by HMS London, HMS Amazon was fuelled by HMS Suffolk.
At 0600A/17, HMS Eclipse was detached by HMS Cumberland to patrol to seaward while HMS Cumberland went on to Barentsburg. She anchored there around 1420A/17 and the first boat with stores was underway at 1445A/17. At 1900A/17, HMS Eclipse came alongside to fuel. This was completed at 2110A/17 and she got underway. At 2145A/17 weighted and departed Barentsburg to rejoin the other cruisers which she did around 0600A/18.
At 2200A/17, HMS Sheffield parted company with the other cruisers for her part in Operation Gearbox II. She anchored off Barentsburg around 1530A/18 and commenced disembarking. At 1930A/18, HMS Eclipse went alongside to fuel which was completed at 2105A/18. HMS Sheffield and HMS Eclipse departed the fjord around 2130A/18. They rejoined the other ships around 1050A/19.
Meanwhile in the late afternoon / early evening of the 17th, HMS Amazon, HMS Bulldog and HMS Echo were fuelled by ' Force P ' which had come out of the fjords. The destroyers were again topped off by ' Force P ' in the later morning / afternoon of the 18th.
The ' Cruiser Force ' returned to Hvalfjord around 1730Z/22.
And finally there was the ' Distant Cover / Battlefleet Force '. This force was made up of the battleships HMS Anson (Capt. H.R.G. Kinahan, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral B.A. Fraser, CB, KBE, RN, 2nd in Command, Home Fleet), HMS Duke of York (Capt. G.E. Creasy, DSO, RN), light cruiser HMS Jamaica (Capt. J.L. Storey, RN), destroyers HMS Keppel (Cdr. J.E. Broome, RN), HMS Campbell, HMS Mackay, HMS Montrose and the escort destroyer HMS Bramham. They departed from Akureyri around 1700Z/11 to provide cover for convoy PQ 18. The destroyers had sailed a little earlier presumably to conduct an A/S sweep off the fjord first.
They returned to Akureyri around 0900Z/14 except for HMS Bramham which had been detached to proceed to Hvalfjord.
HMS Anson, HMS Duke of York, HMS Jamaica, HMS Keppel, HMS Campbell, HMS Mackay and HMS Montrose departed again around 0630Z/19 to provide cover for convoy QP 14. The destroyer HMS Broke (Lt.Cdr. A.F.C. Layard, RN) had meanwhile joined them at Akureyri and sailed with them. Once again the destroyers joined off the fjord presumable having conducted an A/S sweep of the fjord first.
The ' Battlefleet Force ' arrived at Hvalfjord around 2100Z/22.
22 Oct 1942
Convoys KMS 1, KMF 1 for the landings at Algiers and Oran during Operation Torch.
Convoy KMS 1.
This convoy was assembled off Oversay on 23 October 1942.
It was made up of the following transports; Alcinous (Dutch, 6189 GRT, built 1925), Alphard (British, 5483 GRT, built 1937), Ardeola (British, 2609 GRT, built 1912), Benalbanach (British, 7153 GRT, built 1940), Charles H. Cramp (American, 6220 GRT, built 1920), Chattanooga City (American, 5687 GRT, built 1921), City of Worcester (British, 5469 GRT, built 1927), Clan MacTaggart (British, 7622 GRT, built 1920), Delilian (British, 6423 GRT, built 1923), Edward Ruthledge (American, 7177 GRT, built 1942), Empire Confidence (British, 5023 GRT, built 1925), Empire Mordred (British, 7024 GRT, built 1942), Fort McLoughlin (British, 7129 GRT, built 1942), Glenfinlas (British, 7479 GRT, built 1917), Havildar (British, 5401 GRT, built 1940), Hopecrown (British, 5180 GRT, built 1937), Jean Jadot (Belgian, 5859 GRT, built 1929), Lalande (British, 7453 GRT, built 1920), Lochmonar (British, 9412 GRT, built 1924), Lycaon (British, 7350 GRT, built 1913), Macharda (British, 7998 GRT, built 1938), Manchester Port (British, 7071 GRT, built 1935), Mark Twain (American, 7176 GRT, built 1942), Maron (British, 6487 GRT, built 1930), Mary Slessor (British, 5027 GRT, built 1930), Ocean Rider (British, 7178 GRT, built 1942), Ocean Viceroy (British, 7174 GRT, built 1942), Ocean Volga (British, 7174 GRT, built 1942), Ocean Wanderer (British, 7178 GRT, built 1942), Pacific Exporter (British, 6734 GRT, built 1928), Recorder (British, 5981 GRT, built 1930), Salacia (British, 5495 GRT, built 1937), Sobo (British, 5353 GRT, built 1937), St. Essylt (British, 5634 GRT, built 1941), Stanhill (British, 5969 GRT, built 1942), Tadorna (British, 1947 GRT, built 1928), Theseus (British, 6527 GRT, built 1908), Tiba (Dutch, 5239 GRT, built 1942), Urlana (British, 6852 GRT, built 1941), Walt Whitman (American, 7176 GRT, built 1942), William M. Floyd (American, 7176 GRT, built 1942), William M. Wirt (American, 7191 GRT, built 1942) and Zebulon B. Vance (American, 7176 GRT, built 1942).
Also part of the convoy were the landing ships Derwentdale (8390 GRT, built 1941), Dewdale (8265 GRT, built 1941) and Ennerdale (8280 GRT, built 1941).
On assembly the convoy was escorted by the escort carrier HMS Avenger (Cdr. A.P. Colthurst, RN), AA ship HMS Alynbank (A/Capt.(Retd.) H.F. Nash, RN), destroyer HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN), sloops HMS Deptford (Lt.Cdr. H.R. White, RN), HMS Stork (Cdr. G.N. Brewer, RN), corvettes HMS Convolvulus (A/Lt.Cdr. R.F.R. Yarde-Buller, RNVR), HMS Gardenia (T/Lt. M.M. Firth, RNVR), HMS Marigold (Lt. J.A.S. Halcrow, RD, RNR), HMS Pentstemon (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) J. Byron, DSC, RNR), HMS Rhododendron (Lt.Cdr. L.A. Sayers, RNR), HMS Samphire (Lt.Cdr. F.T. Renny, DSC, RNR), HMS Vetch (T/A/Lt.Cdr. H.J. Beverley, DSO, DSC, RNR), HMS Violet (Lt. C.N. Stewart, RNR) and the minesweepers HMS Acute (Lt.Cdr. D. Lampen, DSO, RN), HMS Alarm (T/Lt.Cdr. R. Patterson, SANF(V)), HMS Albacore (Lt.Cdr. J.D.L. Williams, RN) and HMS Cadmus (Lt.Cdr. J.B.G. Temple, DSC, RN).
Around 1000A/4, the convoy was split up into two sections KMS A1 and KMS O1. KMS A1 was destined for Algiers and KMS O1 was destined for Oran. KMS O1 then proceeded to the westwards so as to pass the Straits of Gibraltar later.
Convoy KMS A 1.
Convoy KMS A 1 was to pass the Strait of Gibraltar around 2345A/5; it was made up of the transports; City of Worcester, Glenfinlas, Jean Jadot, Lalande, Lochmonar, Macharda, Manchester Port, Maron, Ocean Rider, Ocean Viceroy, Ocean Volga, Ocean Wanderer, Sobo, Stanhill, Tiba and Urlana.
The landing ships Dewdale and Ennerdale were also part of the convoy.
The convoy was escorted by the sloop HMS Stork, corvettes HMS Convolvulus, HMS Marigold, HMS Pentstemon, HMS Samphire [this corvette might have already parted company though, see below] and the minesweepers HMS Acute, HMS Alarm, HMS Albacore and HMS Cadmus.
Around 0700A/5, the corvette HMS Samphire arrived at Gibraltar with defects from convoy KMS A1.
Around 0800A/5, the minesweepers HMS Algerine (Lt.Cdr. W.A. Cooke, RN), HMS Hussar (Lt. R.C. Biggs, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Speedwell (Lt.Cdr. T.E. Williams, RNR) departed Gibraltar to join convoy KMS A1.
Around 1830A/5, the M/S trawlers HMS Cava (T/Lt. R.L. Petty-Major, RNVR), HMS Juliet (Lt. L.B. Moffatt, RNR), HMS Othello (T/Lt. S.C. Dickinson, RNVR), HMS Stroma (Skr. J.S. Harper, RNR), HMS Hoy (T/Lt. G.H. McNair, MBE, RNVR), HMS Inchcolm (Skr. A.C. Whitcombe, RNR), HMS Mull (Lt. J. Plomer, RCNVR), HMS Rysa (T/Lt. J.H. Cooper, RNVR) and the motor launches ML 238, ML 273, ML 283, ML 295, ML 307, ML 336, ML 338, ML 444 departed Gibraltar to join convoy KMS A1.
Around 2230A/5, the monitor HMS Roberts (Capt. J.G.Y. Loveband, RN), escort destroyers HMS Bicester (Lt.Cdr. S.W.F. Bennetts, RN), HMS Bramham (Lt. E.F. Baines, DSO, RN), HMS Cowdray (Lt.Cdr. C.W. North, RN), HMS Zetland (Lt. J.V. Wilkinson, RN) and the corvette HMS Samphire (with her repairs completed) departed Gibraltar to join convoy KMS A1.
Convoy KMS O 1.
Convoy KMS O 1 was to pass the Strait of Gibraltar around 1630A/6; it was made up of the transports; Alcinous, Alphard, Benalbanach, Charles H. Cramp, Chattanooga City, Clan Mactaggart, Delinlian, Edward Rutledge, Empire Confidence, Empire Mordred, Havildar, Lycaon, Mark Twain, Mary Slessor, Pacific Exporter, Recorder, Salacia, St. Essylt, Thesues, Walt Whitman, William Floyd, William Wirt and Zebulon B. Vance.
The landing ship Derwentdale was also part of this convoy.
The convoy was escorted by the AA ship HMS Alynbank, sloop HMS Deptford, corvettes HMS Gardenia, HMS Rhododendron, HMS Vetch and HMS Violet.
Around 1500A/6, the minesweepers HMS Brixham (Lt. G.A. Simmers, RNR), HMS Bude (Lt. F.A.J. Andrew, RN), HMS Clacton (A/Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) L.S. Shaw, RNR) and HMS Felixstowe (T/Lt. C.G. Powney, RNVR) departed Gibraltar to join the convoy KMS O1.
After dark on the 6th, the M/S trawlers HMS Coriolanus (T/Lt. N. Hunt, RNVR), HMS Eday (T/Lt. W.Y. Surtees, RNR), HMS Inchmarnock (T/Lt. C.G.V. Corneby, RNR), HMS Kerrera (Skr. R.W. Slater, RNR) and the motor launches ML 280, ML 458, ML 463, ML 469, ML 471, ML 480, ML 483 and HDML 1127, HDML 1128 and HDML 1139 departed Gibraltar to join convoy KMS O1.
Two ships from Convoy KMS 1, the Ardeola and Tadorna formed part of Convoy KMS 1A after the convoy had split up. They were to proceed to Malta unescorted. The Admiralty had decided to make use of the expected confusion of the landings in North Africa to run two 'small' merchant ships with important cargo to Malta. These ships were considered expendable. They parted company with convoy KMS 1A on 8 November. They did not reach Malta however. When off Cape Bon on 9 November, they were taken under fire by Vichy French coastal batteries, despite the darkness, and then captured by motor torpedo boats. They were brought into Bizerta where their cargo was unloaded. The ships were later taken over by the Italians.
Convoy KMF 1.
This convoy was assembled off Oversay on 26 October 1942.
It was made up of the following (troop) transports; Awatea (British, 13482 GRT, built 1936), Batory (Polish, 14287 GRT, built 1936), Cathay (British, 15225 GRT, built 1925), Dempo (Dutch, 17024 GRT, built 1931), Derbyshire (British, 11660 GRT, built 1935), Duchess of Bedford (British, 20123 GRT, built 1928), Durban Castle (British, 17388 GRT, built 1938), Ettrick (British, 11279 GRT, built 1938), Exceller (American, 6597 GRT, built 1941), Leinster (British, 4302 GRT, built 1937) Letitia (British, 13595 GRT, built 1925), Llangibby Castle (British, 11951 GRT, built 1929), Marnix van St. Aldegonde (Dutch, 19355 GRT, built 1930), Monarch of Bermuda (British, 22424 GRT, built 1931), Mooltan (British, 20952 GRT, built 1923), Nieuw Zeeland (British, 11069 GRT, built 1928), Orbita (British, 15495 GRT, built 1915), Otranto (British, 20026 GRT, built 1925), Reina del Pacifico (British, 17702 GRT, built 1931), Sobieski (British, 11030 GRT, built 1939), Strathnaver (British, 22283 GRT, built 1931), Tegelberg (British, 1415 GRT, built 1937), Viceroy of India (British, 19627 GRT, built 1929), Warwick Castle (British, 20107 GRT, built 1930) and Winchester Castle (British, 20012 GRT, built 1930).
The headquarters ships HMS Bulolo (Capt.(Retd.) R.L. Hamer, RN), HMS Largs (Cdr. E.A. Divers, RNR), the landing ships HMS Glengyle (Capt.(Retd.) D.S. McGrath, RN), HMS Karanja (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy.) D.S. Hore-Lacy, RN), HMS Keren (A/Cdr. S.E. Crewe-Read, RN), HMS Princess Beatrix (Cdr.(Retd.) T.B. Brunton, DSC, RN), HMS Queen Emma (Capt.(Retd.) G.L.D. Gibbs, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Royal Scotsman (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Armstrong, DSC, RD, RNR), HMS Royal Ulsterman (A/Lt.Cdr. W.R.K. Clark, DSC, RD RNR) and HMS Ulster Monarch (Lt.Cdr. N.A.F. Kingscote, RNR) and the attack transports USS Almaack (T/Capt. C.L. Nichols, USN), USS Leedstown (Cdr. D. Cook, USNR), USS Samuel Chase (Capt. R.C. Heimer, USCG) and USS Thomas Stone (Capt. O.R. Bennehoff, USN) were also part of the convoy.
On assembly off Oversay on the 27th the convoy was escorted by the light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral C.H.J. Harcourt, CBE, RN), escort carrier HMS Biter (Capt. E.M.C. Abel Smith, RN), destroyer HMS Clare (Lt.Cdr. L.H. Landman, RN), sloops HMS Aberdeen (Lt.Cdr. H. Day, RN), HMS Enchantress (Lt.Cdr. A.E.T. Christie, OBE, RN), HMS Ibis (Lt.Cdr. H.M. Darell-Brown, RN), cutters HMS Hartland (Lt.Cdr. G.P. Billot, RNR), HMS Walney (Lt.Cdr. P.C. Meyrick, RN), frigates HMS Exe (A/Cdr. M.A.O. Biddulph, DSC, RN), HMS Rother (Lt.Cdr. R.V.E. Case, DSC and Bar, RD, RNR), HMS Spey (Cdr. H.G. Boys-Smith, DSO and Bar, RD, RNR), HMS Swale (Lt.Cdr. J. Jackson, RNR) and HMS Tay (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Sherwood, RNR).
Around 0200A/3, the AA ships HMS Palomares (A/Capt.(Retd.) J.H. Jauncey, RN), HMS Pozarica (Capt.(Retd.) L.B. Hill, DSO, OBE, RN) and the destroyers HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.H.T. Johns, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy.) Lord Teynham, RN), HMS Velox (Lt. G.B. Barstow, RN), HMS Verity, (Lt.Cdr. R. Horncastle, RN), HMS Westcott (Cdr. I.H. Bockett-Pugh, DSO, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN) departed Gibraltar to join the convoy. At 1045A/3, the destroyer HMS Wivern (Cdr. M.D.C. Meyrick, RN) also departed to join the convoy. She had been unable to depart earlier due to defects.
Around 0800A/3, the destroyer HMS Marne (Lt.Cdr. H.N.A. Richardson, DSO, DSC, RN) joined the convoy coming from the Azores.
Around 1300A/3, the light cruiser HMS Jamaica (Capt. J.L. Storey, RN) also departed Gibraltar to join the convoy.
Around 1830Z/3, HMS Sheffield parted company with the convoy to proceed to Gibraltar where she arrived at 0815A/3, she was to fuel and then join ' Force O '.
Around noon on 4 November 1942, the convoy was split up into two sections KMF A1 and KMF O1. KMF A1 was destined for Algiers and KMF O1 was destined for Oran. KMF O1 then proceeded to the westwards so as to pass the Straits of Gibraltar later.
Convoy KMF A 1.
Convoy KMF A 1 was to pass the Strait of Gibraltar around 0100A/6; it was made up of the (troop) transports; Almaack, Awatea, Cathay, Dempo, Ettrick, Exceller, Leedstown, Marnix van St. Aldegonde, Otranto, Sobieski, Strathnaver, Viceroy of India and Winchester Castle.
The headquarters ship HMS Bulolo and the landing ships HMS Karanja, HMS Keren, HMS Royal Scotsman, HMS Royal Ulsterman and Ulster Monarch and the attack transports USS Samuel Chase and USS Thomas Stone were also part of the convoy.
[exactly which ships of the escort went on with this part of the convoy will have to be researched further.]
In the morning of 5 November, HrMs Isaac Sweers parted company with the convoy to join ' Force H '. HMS Escapade and HMS Marne were apparently detached to Gibraltar on the convoy passing the Strait of Gibraltar.
Around 0200A/6, the destroyers HMS Broke (Lt.Cdr. A.F.C. Layard, RN), HMS Malcolm (A/Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN), HMS Vanoc ( A/Cdr. C.F.H. Churchill, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt. R.W.B. Lacon, DSC, RN) departed Gibraltar to join convoy KMF A1 and relieve HMS Achates, HMS Antelope, HMS Amazon and HMS Wivern. After having been relieved these destroyers arrived at Gibraltar around 0545A/6. Also arriving at Gibraltar were the Leinster, HMS Royal Scotsman, HMS Royal Ulsterman and Ulster Monarch.
Around 1000A/6, HMS Broke, HMS Malcolm, HMS Vanoc and HMS Wrestler joined ' Force O ' while the screen on ' Force O ' joined the convoy, the destroyers / escort destroyers involved were ORP Blyskawica (Lt.Cdr. L. Lichodziejewski, ORP), HMS Lamerton (Lt.Cdr. C.R. Purse, DSC, RN), HMS Wheatland (Lt.Cdr. R. de L. Brooke, DSC, RN) and HMS Wilton (Lt. A.P. Northey, DSC, RN). The AA ship HMS Tynwald (Capt.(Retd.) P.G. Wodehouse, DSO, RN) also joined the convoy from ' Force O ' at the same time.
Around 0535A/7, in position 37°34'N, 00°01'W, the attack transport USS Thomas Stone was torpedoed and damaged by an enemy aircraft. HMS Spey remained with the damaged ship. At 2040A/7, the destroyers HMS Wishart and HMS Velox joined and the ship was taken in tow by HMS Wishart. HMS Spey by that time had departed with the ships 24 landing craft in which the ships troops had embarked. She was to escort them to Algiers but all had to be scuttled and the troops were taken on board HMS Spey. At 0535A/8 the tug St. Day joined which also passed a tow. The damaged ship anchored off Algiers around 1030A/11 being towed there by HMS Wishart and HMS St. Day.
Around 0725Z/7, HMS Clare parted company to join ' Force O ' which she did around 0913Z/7.
Around 1815A/7, the section destined for ' C Sector ' (Charlie Sector) parted company with the convoy. It was made up of the USS Almaack, USS Leedstown, USS Samuel Chase, Exceller and Dempo. With them were also transports from convoy KMS A1. They were escorted by the AA ship HMS Tynwald, escort destroyers HMS Cowdray, HMS Zetland, sloop HMS Enchantress, minesweepers HMS Algerine, HMS Hussar, HMS Speedwell, corvettes HMS Pentstemon, HMS Samphire, MS trawlers HMS Cava, HMS Othello and the motor launches HMS ML 273 and HMS ML 295. At 2135A/7, the beacon submarine HMS P 45 (Lt. H.B. Turner, RN) made contact with the force and the ships were guided to their positions for the landings. From convoy KMS A1 the transports Macharda and Maron were destined for Charlie sector. They were escorted by the sloop HMS Stork and the corvettes HMS Pentstemon and HMS Samphire.
Around 1900A/7, The remainder of convoy KMF A1 split into two sections, one for ' A Sector ' (Apple Sector) and one for ' B Sector ' (Beer Sector).
The force for ' A Sector ' was made up of HMS Karanja and the Marnix van St. Aldegonde and Viceroy of India. With them were also transports from convoy KMS A1. They were escorted by the AA ship HMS Pozarica, escort destroyers HMS Bicester, HMS Bramham, frigate HMS Rother, minesweeper HMS Cadmus, MS trawlers HMS Juliet, HMS Rysa, HMS Stroma and the motor launches HMS ML 283, HMS ML 336 and HMS ML 338. At 2214A/7, the made contact with their beacon submarine HMS P 221 (Lt. M.F.R. Ainslie, DSC, RN). A few minutes later they stopped and the landings commenced. From convoy KMS A1 the following ships were assigned to ' A Sector '; Dewdale, Lalande, Manchester Port, Ocean Viceroy and Ocean Wanderer. They were escorted by the corvettes HMS Convolvulus and HMS Marigold.
The force for ' B Sector ' was made up of HMS Bulolo, HMS Keren and the Awatea, Cathay, Otranto, Sobieski, Strathnaver and Winchester Castle. With them were also transports from convoy KMS A1. They were escorted by the AA ship HMS Palomeres, destroyer ORP Blyskawica, escort destroyers HMS Lamerton, HMS Wheatland, HMS Wilton, minesweepers HMS Acute, HMS Alarm, HMS Albacore, MS trawlers HMS Hoy, HMS Incholm, HMS Mull and the motor launches HMS ML 238, HMS ML 307 and HMS ML 444. They made contact with their beacon submarine HMS P 48 (Lt. M.E. Faber, RN) around 2220A/7 hours and landing operation commenced shortly afterwards. From convoy KMS A1 the following ships were assigned to ' A Sector '; City of Worcester, Ennerdale, Glenfinlas, Jean Jadot, Lochmonar, Ocean Rider, Ocean Volga, Sobo, Stanhill, Tiba and Urlana. They were escorted by the sloop HMS Stork and the corvettes HMS Pentstemon and HMS Samphire which then went on with the ships for the ' Charlie sector '.
On 9 November the ships involved in the landings anchored in Algiers Bay.
Convoy KMF O 1.
Convoy KMF O 1 was to pass the Strait of Gibraltar around 2230A/6; it was made up of the (troop) transports; Batory, Duchess of Bedford, Durban Castle, Letitia, Llangibby Castle, Monarch of Bermuda, Mooltan, Nieuw Zeeland, Orbita, Reina del Pacifico, Tegelberg and Warwick Castle.
The headquarters ship HMS Largs and the landing ships HMS Glengyle, HMS Princess Beatrix and HMS Queen Emma were also part of the convoy.
Around 1950A/4, the light cruiser HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, CB, RN) departed Gibraltar to join convoy KMF O1.
For the landings at Oran three main beaches were selected. ' X ', ' Y ' and ' Z ' beach. There was also one subsidiary beach, ' R '.
The fast convoy, KMF O1, would, after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar make rendezvous with the slow convoy, KMS O1 in position 36°26'N, 01°15'W.
The convoys would then be diverted into nine groups, these were; For ' X ' beach Group I, 1st Division; Batory, HMS Princess Beatrix, Queen Emma, 2nd Division; Benalbenach, Mark Twain, Mary Slessor and Walt Whitman. They were escorted by the light cruiser HMS Aurora, destroyer HMS Wivern, corvettes HMS Gardenia, HMS Vetch and the motor launch HMS HDML 1139. Group VIII, LST HMS Bachaquero (A/Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) A.W. McMullan, RNR) escorted by the M/S trawler HMS Horatio (T/Lt. C.A. Lemkey, RNR).
For ' Y ' beach Group II; HMS Glengyle, Monarch of Bermuda, Llangibby Castle, Clan Mactaggart and Salacia. They were escorted by the destroyers Brilliant, HMS Verity, M/S trawlers HMS Coriolanus, HMS Eday, HMS Inchmarnock, HMS Kerrera and the motor launches HMS ML 458, HMS ML 463, HMS ML 469, HMS ML 471 and HMS HDML 1128.
For ' Z ' beach Group III, 1st Division; Duchess of Bedford, Durban Castle, Ettrick, Warwick Castle. 2nd Division; Derwentdale, Reina del Pacifico and Tegelberg. They were escorted by the light cruiser HMS Jamaica, escort destroyers HMS Calpe (Lt.Cdr. H. Kirkwood, DSC, RN), HMS Farndale (Cdr. D.P. Trentham, RN), minesweepers HMS Brixham, HMS Bude, HMS Clacton, HMS Felixtowe, HMS Polruan (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) J.S. Landers, RNR), HMS Rothesay (Cdr. A.A. Martin, DSC, RD, RNR), HMS Rhyl (Cdr. L.J.S. Ede, DSO, RN), HMS Stornoway (T/A/Lt.Cdr. C.R. Fraser, RNR) and the motor launches HMS ML 280, HMS HDML 1127.
Group V; Alcinous, Alphard, Charles H. Cramp, Chatanooga City, Delilian, Recorder and Zebulon B. Vance. They were escorted by the sloop HMS Deptford, cutters HMS Hartland, HMS Walney, corvettes HMS Rhododendron, HMS Violet and the motor launches HMS ML 480 and HMS ML 483.
Group VI, 1st division; Derbyshire, Letitia, Mooltan and Nieuw Zeeland. 2nd division, Empire Confidence, Lycaon and Theseus.
Group VII, 1st division, Empire Mordred, Havildar, Pacific Exporter and St. Essylt. 2nd division; Edward Rutledge, William Floyd and William Wirt. Groups VI and VII were escorted by the light (AA) cruiser HMS Delhi (Capt. A.T.G.C. Peachey, RN), destroyer HMS Vansittart, sloop HMS Aberdeen and the frigates HMS Exe and HMS Swale.
Group IX; LST's HMS Misoa (T/Lt. K.G. Graham, RNR) and HMS Tasajera (Lt.Cdr. W.E. Gelling, DSC, RD, RNR). They were escorted by the M/S trawlers HMS Fluellen (T/Lt. B.J. Hampson, RNR), HMS Ronaldsay (T/Lt. A. Stirling, RNR) and HMS Shiant (T/Lt. A.C. Elton, RNR).
For ' R ' beach Group IV; HMS Royal Scotsman, HMS Royal Ulsterman and HMS Ulster Monarch. They had the same escort as Group III.
28 Oct 1942
Aircraft to be flown to Malta.
Around 0830A/28, the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. T.O. Bulteel, RN), light cruiser HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, CB, RN), AA cruiser HMS Charybdis (Capt. G.A.W. Voelcker, RN), destroyers HMS Westcott (Cdr. I.H. Bockett-Pugh, DSO, RN), HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN), HMS Verity, (Lt.Cdr. R. Horncastle, RN), HMS Vanoc (A/Cdr. C.F.H. Churchill, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.H.T. Johns, RN), ORP Blyskawica (Lt.Cdr. L. Lichodziejewski, ORP) and the escort destroyers HMS Bramham (Lt. E.F. Baines, RN), HMS Cowdray (Lt.Cdr. C.W. North, RN) departed Gibraltar and proceeded eastwards.
Between roughly 0730A/28 and 0930A/28, 29 Spitfires were flown off by HMS Furious.
The Force arrived back at Gibraltar around 1500A/30. (22)
8 Nov 1942
Deployed off Oran for operation "Torch". With HMS Westcott detected, attacked and sank the Vichy French submarine Argonaute, which had sortied to contest the Allied landings in the area.
22 Dec 1942
Convoy JW 51B and the Battle of the Barents Sea.
This convoy departed Loch Ewe on 22 December 1942 and arrived in the Kola Inlet on 3 January 1943.
The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Ballot (Panamanian, 6131 GRT, built 1922), Calobre (Panamanian, 6891 GRT, built 1919), Chester Valley (American, 5078 GRT, built 1919), Daldorch (British, 5571 GRT, built 1930), Dover Hill (British, 5815 GRT, built 1918), Empire Archer (British, 7031 GRT, built 1942), Empire Emerald (British (tanker), 8032 GRT, built 1941), Executive (American, 4978 GRT, built 1920), Jefferson Meyers (American, 7582 GRT, built 1920), John H.B. Latrobe (American, 7191 GRT, built 1942), Pontfield (British (tanker), 8319 GRT, built 1940), Puerto Rican (American, 6076 GRT, built 1919), Ralph Waldo Emerson (American, 7176 GRT, built 1942), Vermont (American, 5670 GRT, built 1919) and Yorkmar (American, 5612 GRT, built 1919).
On departure from Loch Ewe the convoy was escorted by the escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Chiddingfold (Lt.Cdr. L.W.L. Argles, RN), HMS Ledbury (Lt. D.R.N. Murdoch, RN), corvettes HMS Hyderabad (Lt. S.C.B. Hickman, DSC, RNR), HMS Rhododendron (Lt. L.A. Sayers, RNR), minesweeper HMS Bramble (Cdr. H.T. Rust, DSO, RN) and the A/S trawlers HMS Northern Gem (Skr. H.C. Aisthorpe, RNR) and HMS Vizalma ( T/Lt. J.R. Anglebeck, RNVR).
On 21 December the destroyers HMS Bulldog (Cdr. M. Richmond, OBE, DSO, RN) and HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.H.T. Johns, RN) departed the Clyde to fuel at Seidisfjord and then join the close convoy escort. However on 22 December they ran into a Force 12 gale near Stokksnes Light, Iceland and both sustained weather damage. Damage to HMS Bulldog, whose Commanding Officer was to become the Senior Officer of the close escort, was of such nature that she was unable to join the convoy and she returned to the Clyde for repairs. HMS Achates was able to continue to Seidisfjord.
The convoy was most likely detected by a German Focke Wolf reconnaissance aircraft on the 24th.
Late on the 24th the destroyers HMS Onslow (Capt. R.St.V. Sherbrooke, DSO, RN), HMS Oribi (Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Obdurate (Lt.Cdr. C.E.L. Sclater, DSO, RN), HMS Obedient (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Kinloch, RN), HMS Orwell ( Lt.Cdr. N.H.G. Austen, DSO, RN) and HMS Achates departed Seidisfjord and joined the convoy the following day.
During the night of 28/29 December 1942, five merchant vessels, HMS Oribi and HMS Vizalma separated from the convoy during a gale about half way between Jan Mayen and Bear Islands.
In the afternoon of the 29th, HMS Bramble was detached to search for the missing merchantmen.
On 30 December 1942, three of the merchantmen managed to find and rejoin the convoy.
HMS Oribi reached the Kola Inlet alone on 31 December 1942 having searched for the convoy but having failed to do so.
HMS Bramble was sunk on 31 December 1942 before she was able to rejoin the convoy.
HMS Vizalma and one of the merchantmen rejoined the convoy on 1 January 1943.
The last merchantmen that had separated from the convoy was unable to find it and arrived in the Kola Inlet on 5 January 1943, two days after the main body of the convoy had arrived.
Meanwhile in the afternoon of 27 December 1941, ' Force R ' had departed the Kola Inlet to support the convoy. ' Force R ' was made up of the light cruisers HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral R.L. Burnett, CB, DSO, OBE, RN), HMS Jamaica (Capt. J.L. Storey, RN) and the destroyers HMS Opportune (Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMS Matchless (Lt.Cdr. J. Mowlam, RN). They were to provide cover of the convoy going as far west as 11°00'E.
On the 29th he turned back and the destroyers were then detached to proceed to Scapa Flow where they arrived early in the afternoon of 1 January 1943.
As the cruisers went east again they kept well south of the expected convoy route and on reaching the meridian of the Kola Inlet on the 30th, they turned north-west to cross the expected convoy route early the next day with the intention to then steer a parallel course a few miles north of the route and to cover the convoy from 40 to 50 miles astern. This was the direction from which an attack was most likely to develop. The intention by Rear-Admiral Burnett to keep to the North of the convoy route was to gain the advantage of the light over any enemy that might appear and also to avoid detection by enemy air reconnaissance and leading enemy aircraft to the convoy.
Nothing however came of this plan as the convoy was further to the south and much further to the west than had been anticipated. The result was that Rear-Admiral Burnett did not cross the route behind the convoy but well ahead of it and by 0830 hours on 31 December 1942 was nearly 30 miles due north of it. This ignorance of the relative position of the convoy exercised great influence on the Rear-Admiral's decisions throughout the action that ensued.
Up to that morning, the 31st, there had been little sign that the Germans knew of the convoy's progress since the 24th.
Actually the convoy had been sighted by a German submarine (this was U-354) around noon on the 30th. The U-boat reported it was 'weakly protected'. A German squadron, made up of the heavy cruisers Admiral Hipper (Kpt.z.S.(Capt.) H. Hartmann, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral O. Kummetz), Lützow (Kpt.z.S.(Capt.) R. Stange) and the destroyers of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla (Kpt.z.S.(Capt.) A. Schemmel), Z 16 / Friedrich Eckhold (K.Kpt.(Lt.Cdr.) H. Bachmann, with Capt. Schemmel on board), Z 4 / Richard Beitzen (K.Kpt.(Lt.Cdr.) H. von Davidson), Z 6 / Theodor Riedel (K.Kpt.(Lt.Cdr.) W. Riede), Z 29 (F.Kpt.(Cdr.) K. Rechel), Z 30 (F.Kpt.(Cdr.) H. Kaiser) and Z 31 (K.Kpt.(Lt.Cdr.) H. Alberts) then wasted no time in putting to sea. Vice Admiral Kummetz was not aware of the cruisers of Rear Admiral Burnett. He was also hampered by the orders not to risk an action with equal or superior enemy forces. Also night attack was ruled out. Also the Lützow showed a bit timid action in the engagement that was to follow, this was she was to avoid damage as she was to break out into the Atlantic immediately following the attack on the convoy.
Vice-Admiral Kummetz decided to approach from astern of the convoy thereby obtaining advantage of light, and to attack it from both sides, anticipating that the escort would be drawn off towards the first contact and that the convoy would turn away from it, thereby falling an easy prey to the other force. To give effect to this plan he devided his squadron into two forces. The Admiral Hipper, Z 16 / Friedrich Eckholdt, Z 4 / Richard Beitzen and Z 29 were to attack from the north-west and the Lützow, Z 6 / Theodor Riedel, Z 30 and Z 31 were to operate from the southward. During the night the Lützow-group was detached with orders to be 75 miles 180° from the Admiral Hipper-group at 0800/31. The Hipper-group would be in position 73°40'N, 28°00'E. On arriving in their positions a sweep to the eastward was to commence with the destroyers spread 15 miles apart on a line 15 miles ahead of the heavy ships.
Admiral Kummentz was later criticised for adopting a plan which split his force and introduced complications such timing difficulties, identification of own forces in the Arctic dusk and qualls, etc., but it is worth noting that his tactical dispositions did in fact work out exactly as he intended. The Lützow and her destroyers passed two or three miles south of the convoy while practically all its escorts were attending to the Hipper-group in the north, and but for the extreme caution of Capt. Strange of the Lützow there seems no reason why he should not have virtually annihilated the convoy.
To return to convoy JW 51B, the situation at 0830/31 was thus approximately as follows. The convoy, temporarily reduced to 12 ships, with five destroyers, two corvettes and a trawler still in company, was on an easterly course in position 73°15'N, 29°00'E. This was about 220 miles north-west of the Kola Inlet. Some 45 miles to the northward was the trawler HMS Vizalma with one merchant vessel in company. About 15 miles to the north-eastward was HMS Bramble. Rear-Admiral Burnett in HMS Sheffield and with HMS Jamaica was about 30 miles north of the convoy and 15 miles south of the Vizalma. None of these four groups knew each other's relative positions and there was also another straggler somewhere in the neighbourhood. Quite unknown to the British, for there had been no sign of the enemy being aware of their progress, still less that he was at sea in force, the Admiral Hipper had just crossed the wake of the convoy and was then within 20 miles to the north-westward, while the Lützow, still some 50 miles off, was closing in from the southward.
The weather was generally clear, the twilight visibility being about seven miles to the northward and ten miles to the southward, but at intervals much reduced by snow squalls. The sky was mostly covered with low cloud. The wind came from the west-north-west, force 3, the sea slight with no swell. There were 16 degrees of frost and there was ice on all ships.
At 0830/31, HMS Obdurate, on the starboard beam of the convoy, reported two destroyers to the south-west. Actually, they had been sighted ten minutes previously by HMS Hyderabad (on the starboard quarter of the convoy) but she had taken them for Russians coming to reinforece the escort and made no report. Captain Sherbrooke sent HMS Obdurate to investigate. A third destroyer soon came into sight. These were the Z 16 / Friedrich Eckholdt, Z 4 / Richard Beitzen and Z 29 gradually opening from the Admiral Hipper in anticipation of the order to turn and sweep to the eastward. They altered course away from the Obdurate to the north-west. At 0930 hours - an hour after she had first sighted them - the Obdurate had closed them to 8000 yards, and they opened fire on her, so she turned away and steered to rejoin the convoy. The enemy made no attempt to follow and disappeared to the north-westward. This was the beginning of a series of disconnected skirmishes fought in the gloom of the Arctic twilight, in which smoke screens and snowstorms made it often impossible for ships of either side to identify their opponents with certainty, or indeed even to be sure of their numbers.
Captain Sherbrooke had already turned HMS Onslow towards the gun flashes and he signalled HMS Orwell, HMS Obedient and HMS Obdurate to join him, leaving HMS Achates and the three smaller warships with the convoy to cover it with smoke.
A more formidable opponent, however, diverted Captain Sherbooke's attention from the three destroyers. At 0939 hours, he sighted a large ship eight miles to the north-westward, a little on his starboard bow standing towards him. With HMS Onslow at this moment was only HMS Orwell as HMS Obedient had to come from the far side of the convoy. At 0941 hours, the big German turned away to port to open fire on HMS Achates, then showing clearly to windward of her smoke, and thus disclosing herself to be the Admiral Hipper, as her four gun turrets proved. HMS Onslow and HMS Orwell returned the fire, at a range of about 11000 yards, and followed round to a similar course. Captain Sherbrooke soon formed the opinion that the enemy was unwilling to face the risk of torpedo attack by the destroyers and made good use of the fact. For half an hour they skirmished fitfully, the British ships firing by radar, the Admiral Hipper sometimes hiding in the smoke and sometimes firing towards the convoy and all the time edging towards the north-east.
Meanwhile, the convoy had turned from east to south-east at 0945/31ç and was going off at nearly 9 knots, screened by smoke from HMS Achates, HMS Rhododendron and HMS Northern Gem. By 0955 hours, HMS Obedient had joined Captain Sherbrooke, and HMS Obdurate was in sight returning from the south-west He ordered these two ships to join the convoy, anxious lest it should be attacked by the three German destroyers, which he had never seen himself and whose movements he could not trace. Actually they had been ordered to join the Hipper at 0933 hours (just after opening fire on HMS Obdurate). HMS Obedient steered away to the southward at 1008 hours, and signalled to HMS Obdurate to join her, turning eastward later to lay a smokescreen across the wake of the convoy before joining it. A signal from HMS Sheffield that she was approaching on course 170° had been received ' with acclamation ' a few minutes previously.
At the same time HMS Obedient turned south the Admiral Hipper hauled right up to the northward out of action and it was thought that she had received three hits [this was not the case though]. Her firing had been ' aimless and erratic ' and whenever the range came within 11000 yards she had turned away. This was partly in pursuance of the plan to lure the escort away to the northward and so leave the field clear for the Lützow, and partly because Admiral Kummetz could form no clear picture of the situation owing to the smoke and poor visibility.
However, a few minutes later she ' suddenly pulled herself together ' and turned back to fight to two remaining destroyers. After a few inaccurate salvos she found the Onslow's range and at 1020 hours scored four hits in rapid succession inflicting considerable damage. 'A' and 'B' guns were put out of action, the aft superstructure and mess deck were set on fire, the main aerials and both W/T sets were destroyed, the engine room holed, and Captain Sherbrooke severely wounded in the face, so that he could not see. Despite his wounds he continued to direct the flotilla and his ship till a further hit compelled him to disengange the Onslow, only then, after receiving reports as to her condition and assuring himself that the order to Lt.Cdr. Kinloch of HMS Obedient to take charge of the destroyers was being acted on, did he leave the bridge. By the time Lt.Cdr. Kinloch learnt that he was in command (1035 hours), a snowstorm had reduced the visibility to about two miles and the Admiral Hipper had disappeared. This was the end of the first action.
By this time Rear-Admiral Burnett with HMS Sheffield and HMS Jamaica was coming into the picture. Unfortunately he had been delayed from steering for the gunfire as early as he might have done by a radar contact picked up at 0858/31 of a ship some 15000 yards ahead while he was still steering to the north-west. As the plot developed, at 0905 hourss the stranger seemed to be doing at least 25 knots, though it subsequently appeared that her speed had been greatly over estimated. Just before this ' a ship was dimly in sight ' for a moment on the correct bearing and Rear-Admiral Burnett ' hauled away ' to the south-east and then closed at 0930 hours, in order to ' track and establish touch '. It was in fact, a merchant vessel, wihch had parted company with the convoy earlier and was now with the trawler HMS Vizalma. These were shortly yo see the two British cruisers stretching away to the southward ten miles on their starboard bow, without knowing whether they were friend or foe. Two minutes later, at 0932 hours, gun flashes were seen over the southern horizon and were taken for anti-aircraft fire. It must have been the skirmish between HMS Obdurate and the German destroyers that opened the day's fighting.
Rear-Admiral Burnett was in a perplexing position. He had no idea of the actual position of the convoy, whose safety was his prime objective, and which he supposed to be well to the eastward of him. Past experience had taught him that stragglers were to be expected after the heavy gales. The brief exchange of gunfire seen at 0932 hours had soon died down and might well have come from one or a detached escort vessel. On the whole it seemed likely hat the convoy was somewhere ahead of the Vizalma and her straggler and with this in mind he continued to track them by radar steering to the east and north-east.
Then, at 0946/31, heavy gunfire was observed to the southward and very shortly afterwards an enemy report of three destroyers was received from Capt. Sherbrooke. Though by then suspecting that the convoy was considerably further south than anticipated, the Rear-Admiral held on for some minutes and it was not until 0955 hours that he altered course and increasing to 25 knots and ' steamed towards the sight of the guns '.
In hindsight, it is clear that the cruisers could have intervened in the action earlier, had Rear-Admiral Burnett at once applied the two fundamental principles of British fighting policy, viz ' when in doubt, steer for the sound of the guns ' and ' the unfailing support given in battle by one British unit to another '. On the other hand the ' safe and timely arrival ' of the still unlocated convoy was his object, and human reactions are known to be slow when subjected to the rigours of the bitter Arctic climate.
As the cruisers ran south they worked up to 31 knots, and the could see through the smoke the later stages of the destroyers first fight with the Admiral Hipper, though the could not distinguish the ships engaged. At about 1030 hours, they had radar contacts of ships bearing 180° and 140°, at ranges of about 24000 and 30000 yards respectively, both ships apparently standing to the eastward at high speed. As the situation was not yet clear Rear-Admiral Burnett turned eastward himself at 1035 hours. A minute later there was a burst of firing on his starboard bow. He continued to the eastward to close this while taking care to preserve the light in his favour. At 1045/31 the nearer and western ship of the two radar contacts came in sight for a moment, she was ' larger then a destroyer, therefore necessarily an enemy' but that was all that could be said of her. The ships of the other contact, further east, altered course to the southward at 1054 hours and at 1055 hours the British cruisers turned to the southward in chase.
Ten minutes later they had a contact a little on the starboard bow at 19000 yards, and this was the ship they subsequently engaged. At 1112 hours she was seen to be firing to the eastward. Rear-Admiral Burnett then altered course towards her.
Now lets return to the convoy. The situation that Lt.Cdr. Kinloch had to cope with on taking over command of the escort at 1035 hours was by no means clear. The convoy, by this time steering 180°, was some three miles to the southward of HMS Obedient and HMS Obdurate, which were closing it. HMS Orwell, somewhat to the north-east, was steering to join them. HMS Achates a little to the westward was continuing to lay smoke, and the damaged HMS Onslow was taking station ahead of the convoy from whence she could home ' Force R '. Just about this time, HMS Rhododendron from the port quarter of the convoy reported smoke to the south-west, followed ten minutes later by a report of a large vessel bearing 160° only two miles off, steering to the north-east. These reports necessarily engaged the attention of Lt.Cdr. Kinloch, but he did not accept them for want of corroboration by ships nearer to the strangers, and continued to follow the convoy to the southward, keeping between it and the direction in which the Admiral Hipper had disappeared. For some reason HMS Hyderabad, stationed on the starboard side of the convoy, which just previously had seen two destroyers and a large ship cross ahead from west to east, made no report. This was the Lützow's force, but provindentially a heavy snow-squall just then partially blotted out the convoy, and her Captain, though aware of its presence, considered it too risky to attack and decided to stand off to the eastward till the weather should be clear.
Meanwhile the Admiral Hipper, after disabling HMS Onslow had stood on the east-north-east at 31 knots. At 1036 hours, she fell in with HMS Bramble, which no doubt had altered course towards the gunfire of the previous engagements, and damaged her with a few salvoes at short range. At 1047 hours, she altered course to the southward, detaching Z 16 / Friedrich Eckholdt a few minutes later to finish off HMS Bramble.
Lt.Cdr. Kinloch with his three destroyers continued to the southward, gradually overhauling the convoy and passing down its port side. His last news of the Hipper had been a report from the Orwell placing her 038° eight miles from her at 1040 hours. The weather cleared somewhat at about 1100 hours and HMS Obedient then sighted a cruiser and two destroyers bearing 060°. This was the Lützow waiting for the weather to clear. Lt.Cdr. Kinloch led round towards her mad made smoke. She seemed to be steering about 150°, and the British destroyers soon conformed, keeping between her and the convoy. At 1106 hours the enemy opened fire, but no fall of shot could be seen from HMS Obedient. Actually, the ship firing was the Admiral Hipper, which was approaching at 31 knots on course 190° on a bearing nearly the same as the Lützow's. The Admiral Hipper at that time was firing on destroyers to the eastward, which she claimed to have set on fire. No British destroyers were in this position at the time. A possible explanation is that this was the unfortunate Bramble again, which in the murk and gloom had limped off to the southward. Be that as it may, the Admiral Hipper continued at high speed on course 220°, and at 1115 hours engaged HMS Achates, then just clearing her smoke screen in response to orders from Lt.Cdr. Kinloch to join HMS Onslow ahead of the convoy. After three minutes, HMS Achates received a hit which crippled her, killing her Commanding Officer, Lt.Cdr. A.H.T. Johns, and some 40 others. Lt. Peyton-Jones, who then took command, found he could only overtake the convoy very slowly, so he disregarded orders and continued to lay smoke as before.
The Admiral Hipper then shifted her fire to HMS Obedient, which had led her destroyers to the northward again to keep between her and the convoy, and had opened fire on her at a range of 8500 yards at 1120/31. At 1125 hours the Admiral Hipper hauled up o the north-westward (310°), and having straddled HMS Obedient and put her wireless out of action at 1128 hours, altered course to 360° at 1130 hours in order to clear the torpedo menace. At the same time Lt.Cdr. Kinloch, as the range was rapidly opening, altered course to port again to close the convoy.
At this moment the Admiral Hipper received an unpleasant shock. Firing broke out from the northward, and before it was realised what was happening she received a hit which reduced her speed to 28 knots. ' Force R ' had arrived. Her turn to the north-westward at 1125 houres had revealed her broadside to the approaching cruisers, then some sever or eight miles off. Rear-Admiral Burnett led round a roughly parallel course and at 1130 hours, HMS Sheffield opened fire under helm at about 13000 yards, HMS Jamaica firing directly afterwards from her forward turrects. Taken completely by surprise, the Admiral Hipper failed to reply till after the fourth salvo had arrived. She made smoke and altered course towards them, swinging through east to 240°, and receiving two more hits before she was round. This was too much for Vice-Admiral Kimmetz, who thus found himself between Lt.Cdr. Kinloch's destroyers to the southward and an unknown force engaging him from the northward, and at 1137 hours he made a general signal ordering all ships to break off action and retire to the west.
The British ships conformed with her turn and the range at one stage fell as low as 8000 yards, unluckily the Admiral Hipper then became obscured, and HMS Sheffield had to cease fire from 1136 to 1139 hours, losing three precious minutes at short range. At 1143, when both sides were pointing southward again, two German destroyers appeared in an ideal position to attack with torpedoes at 4000 yards range. HMS Sheffield reversed her helm and headed for one destroyer. This was the Z 16 / Friedrich Eckholdt, which had mistaken the British cruisers for the Admiral Hipper and Lützow, which she was trying to rejoin. HMS Sheffield engaged her with all guns down to pompoms, passing within half a mile of her and reducing her to a shambles in ten minutes. HMS Jamaica astern fired first at the other destroyer, which was further off and which turned away seemingly unharmed [This was the Z 4 / Richard Beitzen]. Then she shifted her aim to the Sheffield's target, but refrained from firing on the blazing wreck, which the enemy subsequently admitted had been sunk. Meanwhile the Admiral Hipper having completed the full circle of her turn passed out of sight to the westward. She had suffered three hits in the brief action. Her no.3 boiler room was flooded and her hangar on fire. They only salvo she got off at her opponents had fallen harmlessly in the sea.
Before the British cruiser found the enemy again, HMS Obedient and her consorts had one more fight. After disengaging from the Admiral Hipper at 1130 hours, they stood to the southward to close the convoy. The flashes of Rear-Admiral Burnett's guns to the north-eastward had been a welcome sight. Though they had known he was on his way, they could not know when he would arrive. They also saw another engagement further east at 1138 hours, apparently between a large ship and a much smaller one, the latter firing a single gun. This may have been the Z 16 / Friedrich Eckholdt sinking HMS Bramble. Then, some three minutes later, a large ship began shelling the convoy from the north-east at a distance of about nine miles. Some of the merchant ships were not yet screened by the smoke the destroyers had been laying, and one of them, the Calobre, was damaged. This was the Lützow, which seeing no possibility of attacking the convoy from the east, had altered course at 1126 to the north-westward, in order to maintain contact with the Admiral Hipper, which she had seen firing and identified by exchange of recognition signals ten minutes previously.
The convoy made an emergency turn to 225°, while Lt.Cdr. Kinloch hauled round to the eastward to cover it with smoke, and opened fire. According to the Lützow all shots fell short. One of the German destroyers following the Lützow fired a few ineffective rounds. After about five minutes, the smoke screen became effective and the Lützow ceased fire. Immediately afterwards Lt.Cdr. Kinloch sighted the Admiral Hipper and her two destroyers on a south-westerly course four to five miles to the northward. The three British destroyers turned together to the north-west which put HMS Obdurate, to whom Lt.Cdr. Kinloch had turned over the direction of the destroyer when his own wireless was disabled, at the head of the line and steered between the convoy and the new enemy. The Germans altered away to a similar course, but by this time the Lützow was steaming to join the Admiral Hipper at 24 knots and she opened an accurate fire on HMS Obdurate at 1155/31, to which the British destroyers replied. At 1202 hours, after the Obdurate had been damaged by a near miss, they turned away to keep between the convoy and the most likely direction of attack if the enemy should close again, while the Lützow continued to the westward. But this was the last attempt the Germans made. Vice-Admiral Kummetz had repeated his signal to withdraw at 1149 hours, and no more was seen of them by the destroyers. At 1240 hours, with no enemy in sighted and night drawing on, the steered south to overtake the convoy.
All this time the crippled HMS Achates, her bows deep in the water and listing ominously, had continued to screen the convoy with smoke. By 1300 hours the list had increased to about 60°, and a quarter of an hour later she lost steam. Lt. Peyton-Jones then signalled for assistance, and HMS Northern Gem closed her at once. She capsized suddenly and sank at 1330 hours. HMS Northern Gem picked up 81 survivors.
Meanwhile HMS Sheffield and HMS Jamaica had ceased fire at 1154 ad alter to the westward. At 1215 hours, they sighted the Admiral Hipper for a moment 12 miles away on the port bow going also to the westward. Then at 1223 hours two destroyers came in sight four or five miles to the southward in a good position for firing torpedoes. Rear-Admiral Burnett turned towards them to engage. As the guns were training on the target, however, HMS Sheffield sighted a larger ship, the Lützow, further away on the same bearing. At 1229 hours, the British cruisers opened fire on her from 14000 yards. She replied at once and the Admiral Hipper joined in the fight two or three minutes later from further ahead. The Lützow's shots fell consistently short, but the Hipper's fire was dangerously accurate, so Rear-Admiral Burnett hauled up to the northward to avoid being engaged ' from both sides at once ' and to lessen the risk from torpedoes fired gt the destroyers, which were not being engaged. By 1236 hours the fight was over, HMS Jamaica claiming one hit on the Lützow [this was not the case]. The Germans continued to the westward, and the British ships soon turned west also, tracking the enemy by radar till at 1400 hours they lost contact. By this time the radar operators in HMS Sheffield, who had been operating their apparatus in an exposed position in a temperature well below freezing point for hours, were completely exhausted. HMS Jamaica's radar had been out of action due to her own salvo firing. Rear-Admiral Burnett also did not want to get too far from the convoy, of whose position he was still very uncertain. The big German ships had been driven off, but it was known that the light cruiser Nürnberg had been with them at Altenfjord. It was though that she was also at sea nearby. Rear-Admiral Burnett to the southward, between the convoy and the big German ships still with the advantage of what little light remained.
So the fighting ended. The British forces had lost the Achates and Bramble but the convoy was intact and the had sunk the Friedrich Eckholdt and seriously damaged the Admiral Hipper. As a result of these actions, too, the Germans abandoned the plan for the Lützow to break out onto the Atlantic which was deemed impossible of fulfulment, and thouroughly discouraged they steered for the Altenfjord.
Convoy JW 51B had no more encounters with the enemy after the action on 31 December. In the afternoon of January 2nd, the minesweepers HMS Harrier (Cdr. A.D.H. Jay, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Seagull (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Pollock, RN) as well as two Russian destroyers joined. The Russians taking charge of ships bound for Archangelsk, which then parted company. The main body of the convoy entered the Kola Inlet on the 3rd and the Archangelsk detachment arrived there on the 6th.
Rear-Admiral Burnett had patrolled with HMS Sheffield and HMS Jamaica to the westward of convoy JW 51B up to 1830/31 when he followed it to the south-east and finally turned north early on 1 January to give protection to westbound convoy RA 51. These two cruiser eventually arrived at Seidisfjord on 4 January 1943.
A distant cover force had also been deployed. It was made up of the battleship the battleship HMS Anson (Capt. H.R.G. Kinahan, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral B.A. Fraser, CB, KBE, RN, 2nd in Command, Home Fleet), heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland (Capt. A.H. Maxwell-Hyslop, AM, RN) and the destroyers HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Burnett, DSC, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, DSC, RN) and HMS Impulsive (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN) and had left Akureyri, Iceland on shortly after noon on 26 December. At 0400/29 they had arrived in position 72°36'N, 13°07'E after which they turned back for Iceland.
In the early evening of 30 December HMS Cumberland was detached to Hvalfjord where she arrived very late in the evening of 31 December.
HMS Anson and the three destroyers then proceeded to Seidisfjord where they arrived early in the afternoon of 31 December but not before they had been joined by the escort destroyers HMS Blankney, HMS Chiddingfold and HMS Ledbury earlier in the day. (23)
30 Dec 1942
On 30 December 1942 the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper attacked convoy JW.51B and was held at bay by the British destroyers HMS Onslow, HMS Obedient, HMS Obdurate and HMS Orwell. When renewing her attack she was engaged by the British cruisers HMS Sheffield and HMS Jamaica and was badly damaged them. The only success of the operation was the sinking of the destroyer HMS Achates and the minesweeper HMS Bramble, the destroyers HMS Onslow, HMS Obedient, HMS Obdurate and HMS Orwell were damaged in the action.
- ADM 173/15687
- ADM 53/107306 + ADM 53/107535 + ADM 53/109169
- ADM 53/113145
- ADM 53/112666 + ADM 53/112886 + ADM 53/113213 + ADM 199/385
- ADM 199/372 + ADM 199/1136
- ADM 53/114887
- ADM 199/396
- ADM 199/396 + ADM 199/399 + ADM 199/411 + ADM 234/650 + ADM 234/651
- ADM 53/114437
- ADM 53/114774 + ADM 53/114888
- ADM 234/322
- ADM 53/114888
- ADM 53/114625 + ADM 199/399
- ADM 53/114980
- ADM 53/114890
- File 2.12.03.6387 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
- ADM 199/396 + ADM 199/399 + ADM 199/447
- ADM 53/116367 + ADM 199/427 + ADM 199/429
- ADM 199/427 + ADM 234/369
- ADM 173/17252
- ADM 173/17216
- ADM 53/115408 + ADM 53/115579 + ADM 53/115967 + ADM 199/662
- ADM 234/369
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.
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