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CONVOY HG 53 Reports
Departed Gibraltar on Febr. 6-1941 and arrived Liverpool on the 24th.

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Summary of Report of Ocean Escort - Convoy HG 53
from the Commanding Officer, HMS Deptford to Captain "D", Liverpool
Dated Febr. 16-1941
Received from Tony Cooper - His source: Public Records Office, Kew.

Further details have been added with the help of:
"Axis Submarine Successes of World War Two", Jürgen Rohwer
"The Allied Convoy System" Arnold Hague
"Convoy Rescue Ships 1940-1945", Arnold Hague
"The World's Merchant Fleets", R. W. Jordan.
"Lloyd's War Losses", Vol I.

All times are BST.

Febr. 6-1941:
The convoy departed Gibraltar at 14:00 on Febr. 6-1941, escorted by HMS Deptford and HMS Velox. Empire Lough and Disa sailed late, but caught up with the convoy before dark. The convoy as a whole formed up very quickly and was in good station, with the escorts on either bow during the day, while during the night Velox dropped astern, sweeping across the track of the convoy, Deptford zig-zagging across the front.

Febr. 7:
16:00 - HMS Leith and HMS Marsdale (with U.K.-Gibraltar Convoy OG 51, which had left Liverpool on Jan. 26), passed close to the northward, and Deptford embarked mails in Marsdale's cutter.
19:30 - In contact with the British tanker Capulet, which reported having sighted a periscope 3 times at 17:25 the day before (Febr. 6), in 34 30N 13 30W. This ship may also have been in the OG convoy, because she was instructed to report this sighting on arrival Gibraltar (it was not considered justifiable for escorts to break W/T silence to report it, since the info was already 24 hours old).
01:00 - The Panamanian Norvinn was encountered (Norwegian managers, and therefore included on this website). Velox was ordered to board, and she was allowed to proceed after having reported that she held orders from Naval Control Senior Officer, Trinidad and was routed to Gibraltar.
09:00 - The Portuguese trawler Albatross was identified by Velox, proceeding to the southward.
(As can be seen the times in this paragraph for Febr. 7 are a bit helter skelter - To avoid possible misinterpretations, I've decided to record the info with the times as given in the report, rather than chronologically).

Febr. 8:
13:00 - The Brazilian Cuyabá was closed and boarded by Velox. This ship, bound for Lisbon, was also allowed to proceed, her cargo and passengers being covered by Navicerts.
Before dark, the escorts carried out A/S sweeps to an all round depth of about 7 miles, and the convoy's course was altered about one hour after dark.

Febr. 9:
04:40 - The Convoy was attacked by a U-boat in 35 53N 13 13W, and Estrellano* and Courland** were sunk. A search by starshell and A/S by both escorts failed to locate the culprit. "S.S. Brandenburg gallantly stopped at once to pick up (27) survivors of S.S. Courland, without a thought of her own danger". Survivors from Estrellano were picked up by Deptford following the A/S search, and enemy report was signalled.

* The British Estrellano, on a voyage from Leixoes to Liverpool with 2000 tons of general cargo, including 1110 tons of canned fish, was torpedoed and sunk by U-37. She had a crew of 26 and 1 gunner - 6 crew died altogether, 1 of whom died on Deptford and was buried on the forenoon of Febr. 10.

** The British Courland, on a voyage from Lisbon to London with 1395 tons of general cargo, was also torpedoed and sunk by U-37. She had a crew of 28 and 2 gunners, all except one died, 3 in the attack itself, 26 when Brandenburg was sunk the following day. ("Lloyd's War Losses" states that all 30 died).

It was suspected that an air striking force had been sent out to search for HG 53 during that afternoon (in fact, thanks to reports from the U-boat, 5 Focke Wulf 200 bombers under Hauptmann Fliegel were sent out from Bordeaux - this according to "Nortraships flåte", but according to Deptford's report there were 6). A signal from the Admiralty sent at 14:22 that day had just been received by Deptford, when at 16:00 in 35 54N 14 41W, six 4-engined aircraft made a low level bombing attack on HG 53. An enemy report was made, and both escorts "engaged with any gun that would bear, whether H.A. or L.A. Gun fire in some cases seemed to put them off their aim considerably, and the reports since heard on the B.B.C. that a four-engined German aircraft came down in Portugal gives rise to hope that it may have been one of the attackers hit by gun-fire"*. However, Britannic(1) was hit and sank at once, while Jura(2) and the Norwegian Tejo sank soon afterwards (follow the link for details), and Dagmar I(3), which acted as the Commodore's ship, was stopped and abandoned, the Commodore being transferred to Coxwold. Varna was also hit (amongst the pit props), but reported she could carry on (later sank - see text for Febr. 15 below).

* The captain of Vanellus later stated that it was as a result of joint fire by Deptford and by the Hotchkiss guns of his own ship that one of the Focke Wulfs was damaged and later crashed in Portugal.

1 Britannic, on a voyage from Almeria for Barrow with 3300 tons of iron ore, had a crew of 37, 1 was killed.

2 Jura, on a voyage from Huelva for Aberdeen with about 2800 tons of pyrites, had a crew of 23 and 2 gunners - 15 crew and the 2 gunners died.

3 Dagmar I, on a voyage from Malaga for Clyde with 1100 tons of oranges and oxide, had a crew of 26 and 4 gunners - 4 crew and 1 gunner died. "Tugs failed to locate vessel, which is presumed sunk".

After these attacks the convoy became somewhat disorganized. Coxwold, Empire Warrior and Iceland stood by the ships that had been hit and Velox was ordered to remain with them until the rescue work was completed, then bring them back to the convoy. She subsequently reported that "the fine work of the boats' crews of these three ships contributed greatly to the fact that many lives were rescued".

Deptford now ordered Egyptian Prince to take over Commodore's duties and the remainder of the convoy was re-formed as well as possible before dark. Deptford carried out an A/S search around the convoy at dusk, but not to a great depth due to lack of time and speed. Course was altered 30° after dark.

Febr. 10:
05:00 - Velox and the 3 rescue ships rejoined the convoy in bright moonlight, and the escorts took up station on either side of the convoy.
07:35 - When in position 36 10N 16 31W, the convoy was again attacked by U-boat, probably from the port quarter. The escorts searched both sides of the convoy by starshell without results. Deptford subsequently found and attacked a very good contact with 3 patterns (meaning patterns of depth charges). This contact was believed to be the U-boat as "many submarine properties" were observed. Velox also joined in, dropping 1 pattern, but contact was then lost. A search was made, at which time Velox found wreckage and only 1 survivor from Brandenburg*. It was thought that she had been hit by 2 torpedoes on the port side, and being a very small ship, disintegrated and sank at once. "The tragic loss of this ship, with more than double her own complement on board, after her gallant work on the previous day, is one more page on the Roll of Honour of the men of the Merchant Navy, who died doing even more than their duty".

*The British Brandenburg, on a voyage from Villa Real for Oban and Leith with 1800 tons sulphur and pyrites, was also sunk by U-37. She had a crew of 23, all of whom died. Additionally, 26 of the 27 picked up from Courland the previous day lost their lives in this attack.

W/T silence having been broken to report the U-boat attack, a further signal was made amplifying the report on the air attack the previous day. Velox reported that there might be a chance of salving Dagmar I. The signalled report detailing the U-boat attack was given to Velox to transmit after leaving the convoy.

15:15 - Iceland* hoisted "Not Under Control" balls and dropped out of the convoy in 36 10N 17 25W. Before dark, both escorts carried out A/S searches to the greatest depth possible, and as they had been warned twice by the Admiralty that a U-boat was still in the vicinity, the greatest possible vigilance was excercised during the night, which was clear and bright with a full moon. Escorts were placed on either side with orders to make periodic sweeps on each quarter, and after dark, course was altered. The short period between the setting of the moon and the rising of the sun was considered the most dangerous, judging from the experiences of the 2 previous nights, so it was decided to carry out an emergency turn to starboard when the moon set, and for both escorts to lay a smoke screen over the convoy from the most likely direction of attack. This was done, and no attacks took place.

* The British Iceland, on a voyage from Seville and Gibraltar for Bristol with 962 tons of oranges, was later sunk by Admiral Hipper on Febr. 11, and her crew taken prisoners, but did not reveal which convoy they had come from, according to "Nortraships flåte". "Lloyd's War Losses" says she had a crew of 23, all of whom were taken prisoners after she had been shelled and then sunk by a torpedo from Admiral Hipper. Position is given as 37 3N 19 50 W, and about 500 miles from the Portuguese coast. Please see my page about M/S Borgestad as well as Convoy SLS 64 for further developments.

Febr. 11:
12:00 - Velox parted company, taking with her official correspondence, including full reports on the 3 attacks sustained. "During the whole of this period, the co-operation and initiative displayed by HMS Velox was of the greatest value, and her efforts deserved greater success". She was instructed to make weather report of conditions as she left the convoy, when she next broke W/T silence. Meanwhile, every precaution was taken to shake off a possible shadowing U-boat after dark, Deptford having again been warned by the Admiralty that there was a U-boat in the vicinity of HG 53.

Febr. 12:
09:30 - In approximate position 37 36N 20 51W, Egyptian Prince reported receipt of RRR signals in the vicinity. Deptford immediately set watch on 500 kcs, and picked up from H.G.S. 2 (Commodore's Call Sign presumably Warlaby) repitition of the message received by Egyptian Prince, while a 3rd broadcast of this message was heard to be jammed by enemy interference. This left little doubt that Convoy SLS 64 had been attacked by a raider and that this convoy would have scattered. (Warlaby was one of several ships sunk - again, please refer to the links above to Borgestad and details on the attacks by Admiral Hipper on Convoy SLS 64). It also indicated that the position of the raider was at least 35 and probably 60 miles in a direction about 220° from HG 53, but having had no sights for 36 hours, HG 53's position was very doubtful at that time, as was probably that of the reporting ship. It was now belived that point X and possibly the entire route was compromised, judging by the U-boat finding HG 53 earlier, as well as by the fact that the raider had turned up at the junction point. The possibility of a U-boat still being in the vicinity of HG 53 could not be ruled out, and it was believed that the raider, having given away his position, would probably retire into the Atlantic. It was assumed that shore authorities would realize that Convoys HG 53 and SLS 64 had not joined up before the attack, since Deptford had not originated an enemy report (this statement would seem to indicate that the plan had been for these 2 convoys to join up at some point, possibly at point X?).

Taking the above facts into consideration, it was now decided that HG 53 "should evade forthwith" and that Deptford should remain with HG 53, as she could not help the already scattered SLS 64, nor did she have the speed to locate the raider. Therefore, course was altered to 040° and speed increased to 8 knots, Deptford remaining on the weather side (port beam) so that she could be in the best position to engage the raider if necessary, and cover the convoy with smoke.

By 11:00, no re-broadcast of the distress message had been made on 107 kcs by any naval station, so it was now imperative that this vital news should be passed. Therefore, Deptford cyphered up a message giving the situation to all authorities, then started to leave the convoy in order that its position should not be accurately D/F'd.
At 11:50, Whitehall and at 12:14, Gibraltar re-broadcast the distress call originated by MOPN so Deptford did not actually break W/T silence. Deptford was later re-assured that the course selected was the right one, when a message was received from the Admiralty (sent at 13:02 that same day) agreeing with this course. The state of the sea was gradually deteriorating at this time, so it was considered unlikely that the enemy would use any float-plane reconnaissance.

22:00 - Course was altered to 350° and speed reduced to 7 knots, and stragglers caught up.

Febr. 13:
04:30 - When in position 39 07N 19 48W, a ship answering exactly to the description of Cold Harbor was sighted, proceeding on a normal course, but weather conditions made it impossible to board her. (It appears Deptford had previously received a message regarding this vessel, but a copy is not available).

That day Convoy HG 53 was practically hove to all day and night due to a north/northwesterly gale. Course was shaped 320° and at daylight on

Febr. 14:
course was altered to 300° in order to avoid a U-boat shown in U-boat disposition as being in position 40 30N 21 30W.
Dago had shown a bright light twice during the night leading up to the 14th, reporting that this was due to an electric defect.

With the food situation in Coxvold being the cause of some anxiety (this ship having several survivors on board), Deptford dropped a Carley Float full of provisions as soon as the weather moderated, and Coxwold was able to pick it up on her boat's davit. There was still a considerable swell running, and a suspected U-boat in the vicinity, so it was not considered safe to transfer the Commodore or any of Dagmar I's crew at this time. During the night leading up to the 15th, little more than 4 1/2 knots was logged, the northwesterly squalls and the swell holding the convoy back considerably.

Febr. 15:
08:30 - Varna* sank. This was reported by Empire Tern, who had stood by her during the night and was able to rescue her entire crew. "This was a most notable feat of seamanship, considering the mountainous seas prevailing at the time".
Vanellus dropped out during the gale (she proceeded independently round the south of Ireland).

* Varna, on a voyage from Leixoes for Swansea Bay with 2000 tons of pitwood, had a crew off 22, all of whom survived. According to "Lloyd's War Losses" she sank in 44 15N 22 30W (having intitally been attacked in 35 42N 14 38W on the 9th - this is the position given for all the other ships attacked by aircraft that day as well).

The weather deteriorated all day, and during the following night a northwesterly gale of great violence blew up, so that the convoy had to heave to on a course about 330°.

Febr. 16:
Deptford was well ahead of the convoy that morning, having had to steam more than the convoy speed in order to keep steerage way.

The weather moderated and it became possible to turn back to 020°, putting the wind nearer the beam and some headway could be made.

A message received from C. in C. W.A. indicated that HMS Londonderry would be searching for HG 53 in a position about 150 miles to the north/eastward. As there was no chance of her joining up during daylight on the 16th, it was decided not to break W/T silence until after dark, and at 20:03 a message was made with the object of enabling Londonderry to join the following morning (Febr. 17), while also showing C. in C. W.A. that HG 53 would be late, thereby giving them an opportunity of arranging a new meeting point.

Febr. 17:
The situation report for p.m. that day showed Deptford with Londonderry in 50°N. A report was made on the night leading up to the 18th forecasting that HG 53 would be 27 hours late at the rendezvous at 7 knots.

Febr. 18:
07:10 - HMS Crocus was encountered on opposite course, escorting 2 un-named ships. The moon was shining bright at this time (not sure if this piece of info belongs to Febr. 17 or 18).

15:30 - When in position 48 23N 22 36W, HMS Londonderry joined and disposed escorts, the distance being shortened to 1000x by day to enable escorts to bring better A.A. fire to bear.
Empire Warrior dropped out with engine trouble during the day.

Febr. 20:
13:00 - Convoy HG 53 arrived at the rendezvous and met the local escorts, which were disposed by HMS Leamington. HMS Londonderry was detached to her base.

The rescue vessel Toward joined that day. She was on her second voyage as such (her 1st voyage having been with HG 51), and had started this voyage from Clyde with Convoy OG 53 on Febr. 15-1941, detached Febr. 20, then joined HG 53 that same day to return to Clyde (Febr. 24).

Febr. 22:
15:00 - When in position 55 33N 12 46W, Sally Mærsk dropped out with engine trouble, HMS Sabre standing by her.

Febr. 23:
14:30 - Local escorts parted company.
Ships for Clyde, Belfast and Barrow broke off as planned during the night leading up to the 24th. Sally Mærsk should have gone to Belfast, but it appears she did not receive the Commodore's order to do so. She was found south of the Isle of Man in the morning of the 24th and ordered to go to Belfast with HMS Anemone as escort.

"In conclusion, this was a very well disciplined convoy and none of the losses concerned were due to the fault of the Masters. S.S. Egyptian Prince was oustanding in signalling".

Lieutenant Commander in Command, but no name given
(according to, his name was G. A. Thring).

There's also another document, which appears to have been written for the benefit of The Commander in Chief - Western Approaches. The report covers the eventful passage of Convoy HG 53, with a "U-boat attack, an attack by six Focke Wulf aircraft, a second U-boat attack, the presence of a raider within 40 miles and finally a devastating storm". Unfortunately, it's incomplete, so I'll just extract some bits and pieces from the single page available to me:

It was believed at the time that the intitial discovery of the convoy was made by a shadowing aircraft, "though it is possible that the encouter with the first U-boat may have been fortuitous". The convoy was then shadowed by an aircraft, and this lead to the Focke Wulf attack and a further U-boat attack the following morning.

There was reason to hope that the U-boat attacked by Deptford after the attack at 07:35 on Febr. 10 was at least damaged, as it did not return to attack again, but it is not known whether the same U-boat was responsible on both days (Febr. 9 and 10), or whether there were two different ones. It's also suggested that, if it was indeed the same U-boat, it may have run out of torpedoes and did not attack again for that reason.

It's considered essential that the Ocean Escort be given an adequate anti-aircraft armament to deal with attacking aircraft, as "it is reasonable to assume that such assaults [as the massed Focke Wulf attack] will be repeated".

If sloops (like Deptford) "are being retained for this duty, it is highly desirable for them to be provided with the modernised equipment at the earliest possible moment, even if this involves extending their refits".

The decisions taken by Deptford to deal with the raider situation are concurred in, and it's considered that Deptford and Velox did all that was possible under the most trying conditions to ensure the safe arrival of their convoy.

There's an indication that Page 2 deals with Vanellus and her independent voyage south of Ireland after having lost touch with the convoy, but as mentioned, the rest of this report is missing.

Back to Page 1 / Ships in the convoy

Related external links:
HG (& SL) Convoys - In chronological order.

See also Mike Holdoway's website about the
SL convoys - SLS 64 is included (again, see also my own page about this convoy). He also has a section on the OS convoys, going in the other direction. They can be reached via the main page.

The attack on Courland
The attack on Estrellano
The attack on Brandenburg

HMS Firedrake - This site mentions Firedrake as being part of the escort for HG 53, but I'm not entirely sure this is strictly correct. See what has to say on this page (scroll down on the page to 6 Feb. 9141).

Empire Ships - More information on the Emprie Ships sailing in this convoy.

Back to Convoy Index

To the next HG convoy in my list HG 54


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