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Convoys SC 31 and HX 126
Orders for Local & Ocean Escorts
Dated May 7-1941
Received from Roger Griffiths - His source: Public Records Office, Kew
HX 126 departed Halifax on May 10-1941and arrived Liverpool on the 28th
All times in this memorandum are zone+3. The question marks are my own, and stem from the fact that some of the words are unclear.
Composition of escorts:
Convoy SC 31:
Convoy HX 126:
Disposition of escorts after convoys have formed:
Action if surface forces are reported
The convoy and escort will turn if evasion appears possible. If contact with the enemy cannot be avoided, the convoy will be turned away or ordered to scatter as circumstances may require and the ocean escort will dis-engage from the convoy so as to deal with the enemy. The safety of the convoy being the object of the escort, it does not necessarily follow that precipitate action with a superior enemy force is the best way of fulfilling this object. An escort of inferior strength should endeavour to draw an enemy from the convoy, bearing in mind that the longer the enemy's attention can be occupied, the greater is the chance of escape of the ships in convoy. The tactical advantage of a position in the rear of the raider should not be overlooked. The use of smoke for screening the convoy will naturally require immediate consideration.
Action in the event of air attack
If aircraft are sighted, the duty of identification rests with the escort, who will normally remain with the convoy. The Commodore will turn the convoy as necessary to bring the ships' A.A. guns to bear, but individual ships, unless obviously being attacked, should not open fire until the ocean escort does so, thereby indicating that the aircraft are hostile. Merchant ships in convoy have been instructed not to open fire on aircraft at night when to the Westward of 07° West unless they are attacked. With this exception, any aircraft not recognized as friendly approaching within range of merchant ships' guns may be engaged immediately by day or night when in Home Waters.
Action if submarine is reported
The Commodore will turn the convoy through the appropriate safety angle. Local escort, if present, will proceed to the reported position and are to hunt and attack relentlessly. If the presence of a submarine has been substantiated without doubt, the hunt should continue for at least 24 hours. If cdoubt exists as to whether the report is well founded, the escort should rejoin the convoy when the area has been searched.
Action if convoy is attacked by submarine
Decision whether the convoy should scatter if attacked by U-boat must rest with the Commodore. The convoy should not normally scatter:
Action if a ship of the convoy is torpedoed
The first duty of the local escort, if present, is the destruction of the submarine. When there is a local escort a ship of the convoy may be detailed to stand by to save life if necessary and circumstances at the time permit. If no local escort is present the risk of presenting another target to the submarine is unacceptable and the action taken must naturally be confined to the immediate transmission by the ocean escort of commercial distress messages on 500 kc/s H/F and 143 kc/s in accordane with the Defense of Merchant Shipping, Appendix B, paragraph 16, employing maximum power as if made by the casualty herself. It is important that W/T silence should then be resumed. If the casualty cannot be indentified as is probable at night or in low visibility, the callsign of a "token" ship in that part of the convoy must be used and the error corrected later.
Special instructions when a submarine forms part of the ocean escort and the convoy is attacked
a) U-boat attack when local surface escort or A/S air patrol is operating: Submarine is to remain with the convoy and is not to dive.
d) Attack by aircraft: The submarine may dive for her own safety.
Recognition of submerged submarines by escort (this paragraph is extremely blurry, so I'm not sure whether I've deciphered every word correctly):
Procedure for assisting stragglers
The ocean escort is not normally to leave the convoy unprotected in order to round up stragglers who she lost to sight. In the event of ships becoming separated from the convoy due to bad weather, low visibility etc., the ocean escort may break W/T silence and transmit certain specified signals on low power to enable stragglers to obtain bearings by D/F. Details of these signals are given below (under heading "D/F Procedure). This procedure is not to be used EAST of Longitude 3? 00West, and is to be used most sparingly. It is on no account to be used if an enemy raider is believed to be operating in the North Atlantic.
Darkenig of ships in convoy
Numerous reports have been received that Masters of vessels in convoy are not paying sufficient attention to this very important matter. Commanding Officers of escorts are to take the necessary steps to ensure that all ships in convoy are properly darkened. Bursts of machine gun fire have been found very effective.
Oscillation of receivers
In the event of receiver oscillations being heard on 500 kc/s of a strength considered dangerous to the safety of the convoy, the ocean escort is to endeavour to locate the offending ships by D/F and change of bearing and the names of such ships are to be reported subsequently by letter to the Rear Admiral, Third Battle Squadron and the Naval Control Service Officer, Halifax.
Period of local escort
HMC ships Cobalt and Collingwood, in the absence of other orders, will leave convoy SC 31 on Friday 9th May, half hour after sunset.
Period of ocean escort
HMS Wolfe should, in the absense of other orders, leave Convoy SC 31 when the Iceland local escort is met, and return to Halifax at the maximum speed which weather conditions and fuel remaining will allow. HMS Wolfe on the return route, if practicable, should pass between positions 40 40N 50 00W and 36 00N 46 30W in order to provide maximum cover for independently routed ships.
HMS Tribune (HX 126) is to leave the convoy half an hour after sunset on 21st May, or in 35 00W, whichever is the earlier. After leaving, a sweep is to be carried out astern of the convoy. If, due to stress of weather, engine breakdown, or other cause, the submarine is unable to maintain the speed of the convoy, she is to carry out the following procedure:
HMS Aurania is to leave her convoy (HX 126) with the Iceland local escort who will escort her to Reykjavik, Iceland (as will be seen by going to "HMS Aurania's report" below, she left much earlier). When well clear of the convoy, a report of the expected time of arrival at Reykjavik should be made to the Flag Officer-in-Charge, Iceland, and repeated to Flag Officer Commanding, Northern Patrol, and the Rear Admiral, Third Battle Squadron. HMS Aurania is subsequently to fuel and water at Hvalfjordur, and proceed on patrol in the Denmark Strait as directed by Flag Officer Commanding, Northern Patrol. HMS Aurana should leave Denmark Strait patrol on Thursday, 5th June 1941, so as to return to Halifax by Wednesday, 11th June 1941. Flag Officer Commanding, Northern Patrol may amend these date, if necessary.
On passage to Halifax, the area bounded by the following positions is normally prohibited to Westbound shipping:
A) 42 00N 60 00W
Provided information concerning outgoing convoys has been received, and that due caution is exercised, there is no objection to the return route infringing on this area.
Conveyance of personnel to Iceland
HMS Aurania will be carrying 40 officers and 190 other ranks of the Royal Canadian Air Force, for onward passage to the United Kingdon from Iceland (the C.O. of HMS Aurania says she had 250 passengers - again, see link to the report below). Notwithstanding this, 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. Personnel and stores are to be disembarked at Reykjavik.
Arrival at the rendezvous in home waters
The Senior Officer of the escort is to ensure that the convoy does not arrive early at the rendezvous with the inward escort, unless enemy activity necessitates it. Early arrival at the rendezvous causes dislocation of organisation of local escorts, and also the breaking of W/T silence.
The rendezvous with the escort from Iceland is as follows:
SC 31 - 58 35N 33 30W at 06:00 GMT on 22nd May 1941
If not met by local escort, the convoys are to proceed towards:
SC 31 - 60 30N 25 00W
If either convoy expects to be more than six hours late or more than three hours early at the rendezvous, the fact is to be reported by the Senior Officer of the escort. This report should be made at least 24 hours before the convoy is due to reach the rendezvous, and consideration should be given to getting clear of the convoy before breaking W/T silence. Provided the convoy is on its correct route, no position or course is required, and the report should be made in the form - Reference number of the convoy, number of hours early or late, number of ships present, and names of stragglers, if known. If the convoy is not on its correct route, the approach course towards the rendezvous is to be included. The report is to be prefixed "Important", and is to be made in Area Cypher, Small Ship Cypher or Naval Code, addressed to the Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches, and repeated to the Admiralty, the Rear Admiral, Third Battle Squadron, and the Senior Officer of the inward local escort, if known.
Orders for steam
HM ships Wolfe and Aurania are to have steam for not less that 14 knots, and for full speed at dawn and at 30 minutes notice at other times. HMC corvettes are to have steam for maximum speed possible.
Information of own forces which may be met
The following sips on passage to Halifax should pass the convoys on or about the days shown:
Ranpura - 10th May / 11th May
HX 126 should pass through position 44 18N 44 51W at 15:00 GMT on the 15th May thence HX 126 is to take station 20 miles ahead of SC 31 by night and close distance by day if desired until rendezvous position is reached (see "Arrival at the rendezvous" above).
Information of enemy forces
Several enemy Armed Raiders are know to be operating. German Battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenhau are reported to be at Brest. Italy possesses some submarines of large endurance which might be met in the West Atlantic. There is also a possibility that HMS Seal, now in German hands, may be operating in these waters A list of German and Italaian Merchant Ships in the West Atlantic, which might be met, if attempting to break out, has been supplied to the ocean escort. U-boats have recently been operating as far West as 30°W.
Watch is to be kept from zero-2 hours as follows:
HM ships Wolfe and Aurania - In accordance with Admralty Fleet Order S.1-2/41. Listening watch on 5525 kc/s is to be kept during hours of watch of Dartmouth P.C.A.F. Station by HMS Wolfe during daylight on 9th and 10th May, and by HMS Aurania during daylight on 10th and 11th May, 1941.
HMS Tribune - In accordance with Admiralty's 1635, 17th February, except that, on the America and West Indies Station and escorting convoy, normal watch is to be shifted to 500? kc/s when in fog or out of V/S touch with Aurania.
Outwards local escort - Constant watch on 500 kc/s.
Particular care is to be taken that these signals resemble as nearly as possible those made by an automatically controlled transmitter. Test transmissions are to be carried out by HMS Wolfe at 19:14 and 19:20 GMT on Friday 9th May 9141, and by HMS Aurania at 18:53 and 19:00 GMT on Saturady 10th May 1941. Transmissions are to be made twice through at each of these times.
a) - Enemy reports made in self evident code are not to be recoded.
Signed Rear Admiral, Third Battle Squadron (name illegible).
Continue to Commodore's Narrative of Events (& Tongariro's Report)
To the next HX convoy in my list HX 127
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