All times are GMT.
The convoy consisted of 30 ships, 29 of which left Halifax on May 10. Westpool, having straggled from Convoy SC 31, joined at 14:50 (zone+3) on May 18. Hindustan was the Commodore's ship, HMS Aurania and HMS Tribune escorts.
The convoy had 9 columns sailing 4 cables apart, with 6 cables between coulums 4 and 5. Aurania had position between columns 4 and 5. Tribune sailed ahead during the day, and on one flank during the night.
00:01 - 56 28N 40 28W, course 320°, speed 8, Tribune on the port flank.
02:50 - Sighted big flash and heard a report similar to the firing of a 6" gun bearing Green 095 which was followed by in intermittent bright white light like a big flame. This light gradually drew astern.
03:16 - Commodore ordered 90° emergency turn to port and "drop smoke float". This latter, in my opinion, was a mistake. The first one was dropped by a ship on my port quarter and at first I thought she had been torpedoed. There was a very bright flash when the flare was ignited, and when the float reached the water there was a bright white light for over half a minute. This happened in every case and must have given away the numbers and formation of the whole convoy. I did not drop a float.
06:20 - Emergency turn 90° to starboard. It was now daylight but misty, visibility averaging about 1 mile. Norman Monarch (91), and Harpagus (93) were missing. After enquiries from other ships, it became known for certain that Norman Monarch had been torpedoed and probably Harpagus. I then made my signal reporting this. I was unable to carry out procedure laid down for the transmission of distress signals in your 0920/133 of 7th May 1941, paragraph 20, as I did not know what had happened until sometime afterwards.
06:40 - Signalled Tribune, who was then on the port quarter of the convoy, to sweep astern in case convoy was being followed. Tribune replied she was having trouble with her starboard engine and could not go any faster. He proposed to drop back and search the area astern, but informed Aurania that he might return to Halifax without again rejoining the convoy.
09:00 - Altered course to 035°.
11:40 - Sighted a U-boat on surface bearing Green 90, 8 miles. Sent enemy report, Tribune just going out of sight astern.
12:13 - U-boat dived.
12:40 - Sighted a second U-boat bearing Green 045, 10 miles. Sent a further enemy report.
12:50 - Darlington Court (41), torpedoed from port side and a few seconds later struck again on same side. She completely crumpled up and sank in 46 seconds. I saw a few men on floating wreckage. She was about 4 cables on my port bow when struck. About one minute later British Security (42), full of gasoline received two torpedoes also from port. There were several tremendous explosions, sheets of flame and black smoke, which went up at least 500 feet. She was about 2 cables on my port beam when struck. The men on the wreckage from the Darlington Court floated into this burning hell, their cries were ghastly and now I wish I had put my machine gun on them. I had to alter to starboard to keep clear of the flames on the water.
12:55 - The Commodore ordered a turn of 90° to port, a correct move in my opinion, and then "full ahead" and "drop smoke floats".
13:00 - At my suggestion, Commodore ordered convoy to scatter. I went on to full speed and edged my way out trying to get to the Westwards as quickly as possible.
13:40 - *The ship received a very severe shock from apparently under the funnel and a few seconds later another similar one further aft. I looked aft expecting to see the result of the explosion as I thought we had been torpedoed and a man near me exclaimed "They have got us", but nothing happened except that the ship sheered off about 30° to starboard. I immediately dropped two depth charges. It might have been a submarine I had run over. I was very afraid my rudder had been damaged but she soon answered the wheel again. Engine room and boiler room were reported all correct and no water coming in anywhere. I proceeded at different courses which I considered safest.
15:15 - Closed the Commodore, gave him the signals I had made and received since the Darlington Court was hit. Previously to that I had passed him everything I had received and made.
15:45 - Rothermere torpedoed bearing 260° and 2 miles from me.
16:00 - Set a mean course 032° full ahead and reported my position, course and speed 57 57N 41 10W. I considered that I was of no further use to the Convoy and to turn back would unnecessarily endanger my ship and my very valuable qualified pilot passengers and I therefore proceeded to Reykjavik on what I thought to be the safest course. (HMS Aurania's original orders was to leave with the Iceland local escort - see the link to "Orders for local and ocean escorts" below, under the heading "Period of ocean escort". Also, further down on that page it states: "Notwithstanding this (referring to her "valuable" passengers), the object of the Armed Merchant Cruiser remains the safety of the convoy. If however other surface forces form part of the ocean escort, the actual employment of the Armed Merchant Cruiser in defence of the convoy must be at the discretion of the Senior Officer of the escort".).
* A subsequent letter to The Director of Anti-submarine Warfare, dated June 7-1941 states the following (having quoted this paragraph in Aurania's report, as well as the Commodore's referral to the same severe shock - see May 20 in the Commodore's narrative, which gives the time as 10:50 E. Atlantic Summer Time):
"No satisfactory explanation of this explosion has yet been deduced, though three possible causes occur to D. A/S W.:
a) Darlington Court or British Security, which had been torpedoed at 09:38/20, blew up. - Unlikely, as the former's cargo consisted of 8000 tons of wheat, and the latter, a tanker, is reported to have still been blazing on the surface some hours later.
b) A U-boat blew up. - D. A/S W. doubts whether the simultaneous explosion of all the torpedoes in a U-boat could produce an explosion of the magnitude here reported.
c) That the shock was due to a subterranean earthquake.
The shock of the explosion and lack of any visible effect supports the view that the explosion occurred below the surface.
These reports appear sufficiently remarkable to warrant further investigation. It is therefore suggested that the Masters of all ships of this convoy be asked to describe their experiences at this time, and whether any eruption of the surface of the water was seen. It is requested that D. A/S W. may be informed of any facts which throw any light on the origin of this unexplained explosion".
Also, the captain of Cockaponset says the following: "About 20 minutes later (meaning, after all survivors of that ship had gone in the lifeboats) there was a loud explosion which shook the boat considerably and brought a quantity of dead fish to the surface. There was no water thrown up, but just before the explosion it felt just as if something was tapping under the boat". (I haven't been able to coordinate the times for all these reports to determine whether they are all tallking about the same explosion, as I don't know which time zones were used in each of them).
03:40 - A big explosion about 15 miles astern of me. A few hours later I heard the Elusa (52) was torpedoed there.
15:57 - Received Admiralty message 1341/20, the most astounding one I have ever had*. If I had received it in time and obeyed it the disaster would still have occurred. The Rothermere being torpedoed where she was shows that at least four U-boats were present. Two we had sighted on the surface to starboard, one that sank the Darlington Court and the British Security and the Rothermere one. At least three more ships were sunk, but owing to smoke etc. I could not see who they were. When the attack began fog buoys were streamed, as there had been patches of thick fog about. They were an infernal nuisance and I had well over a hundred periscopes reported to me.
* This message was sent from the Admiralty to Aurania, Tribune, Malcolm, Burnham and Wolfe (the latter escorted SC 31) and said:
"Enemy submarine has made a first sighting report on a convoy or important unit possibly HX 126 or SC 31. Convoys are not repetition not to alter course."
I do not think I have ever felt as helpless as when the submarine on the starboard beam dived and another one appeared on the starboard bow. They may have showed themselves on purpose in order to make the convoy alter to port, thus running into the one, or possibly two that were on the port of us. I was out of touch with the Tribune and do not know what her movements were.
My officers, men and 250 passengers behaved splendidly during the rather trying experience. If we ever have any U-boat prisoners on board I do not think they will be offered any luxuries like cigarettes etc.
Extracts from I.D. from A.C.:
56 47N 40 55W, 03:30 GMT May 20
Convoy course 320°, 8 knots
Light airs - 1, overcast, visibility 1 mile, sea 22.
Norman Monarch torpedoed.
03:16 - Convoy a/c 90° to port and dropped smoke floats.
57 28N 41 07W, 12:50 GMT May 20
Tribune almost out of sight astern. Convoy course 035°, 8 knots.
Calm overcast, visibility 15 miles, sea 12.
11:40 GMT - U-boat on surface bearing 123°, 8 miles.
12:40 GMT - Second U-boat bearing 080°, 10 miles.
12:55 - Convoy a/c 90° to port, full speed, dropped smoke floats.
13:00 - Convoy ordered to scatter.
16:00 - In position 57 57N 41 10W, Aurania set course 032° for Iceland and commenced No. 27 zig-zag.
10:46/20 - Tongariro (71) intercepted U-boat W/T signals.
I. W. Whiteharn(?)
Page 1 has a list of ships sunk, and the U-boats that sank them, as well as Commodore's notes and names of escorts etc.