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Convoy HX 126
Norman Monarch & Harpagus Reports

Harpagus' Report

Received from Roger Griffiths (his source: Public Records Office, Kew)

HX 126 departed Halifax on May 10-1941and arrived Liverpool on the 28th

Page 1 - Ships in HX 126
Orders for ocean and local escorts (SC 31 & HX 126)
Commodore's Narrative of Events (& Tongariro's Report)
General Report / Misc. Escort Signals
HMS Aurania's Report
HMS Burnham's, HMS Burwell's & HMS Malcolm's Reports

(Norman Monarch had originally been scheduled for the previous convoy, HX 125).

Report of an Interview with the Chief Officer of Norman Monarch
Shipping Casualties Section - Trade Division
Dated June 7(?)-1941

The question marks are my own, and stem from the fact that the text in this document is vary vague, and hard to decipher in places, especially the first page (the 1st 4 paragraphs below).

We were bound from Halifax to Barry Roads with a cargo of 8378 tons of wheat. The ship was armed with a 4" gun, a Bofors, 2 Lewis guns, a stripped Lewis gun, a Holman Projector and 2 P.A.C. rockets. We were also fitted with 4 kites. The crew, which included 5 soldiers and 2 naval ratings, with myself comprised 48, and there were no casualties when my ship was torpedoed. Afterwards, whilst in the rescue ship Harpagus, she was torpedoed and 26 of our crew were lost, including the Master. The ship was degaussed but the apparatus was switched off.

We sailed from Halifax at 13:00 local time on the 10th May in Convoy HX 126 and proceeded without incident until the night of the 19th/20th May. It was a very dark night with no moon, the weather was fine with good visibility, North-Westerly wind force 3 and a slight swell. We steamed at 9 knots, our course being 350°. I was asleep in my room when at 04:57 on the 20th May in position 56 41N 40 52W I was awakened by an explosion. We had been struck by a torpedo on the starboard side about 60 feet from the bow in No. 1 hold. I understand there was no flame, smoke or smell, but a column of water was thrown up on the starboard side. The rafts were blown out of the rigging, the hatch covers of No. 1 were blown off and the starboard derrick completely unshipped(?) and thrown diagonally across the deck.

I at once went down into the 'tween? decks(?) to see what damage had been done. I found that No. 1 hold was not quite full but was rapidly making water. In the meantime the engines had been stopped. I ordered the tanks to be sounded and found No. 1 tank and No. 1 bilge? were rapidly filling, then filled the after tanks and after peak tank to try and prevent the ship from going so quickly by the head, but the water continued to rise in spite of pumping, until it reached the 'tween decks, and as we were an open shelter deck vessel the water gradually worked towards No. 2 hold.

I looked over the starboard side and noticed that the plates were buckled inwards. We sent out a W/T message on our emergency set, as the main set had been ? by the explosion and also fired white rockets. Whilst we were stopped the rescue ship from the convoy, S.S. Harpagus, circled us.

At 08:15 on the 20th we were compelled to abandon ship. We got away in two lifeboats, everybody leaving the ship safely, and rowed towards the Harpagus. She took the crew of one boat on board and picked up the lifeboat, then with a scratch? crew in the remaining lifeboat, the Master, myself, and the Chief Engineer, returned towards the Norman Monarch, being towed by the Harpagus, with the intention of re-boarding to ascertain how things were going. As we approached her, however, at 09:17 the Norman Monarch sank, about 4 1/2 hours after being torpedoed. We returned to the Hapragus and the rest of us got on board, after which we shipped this lifeboat also. All our crew had been saved and were uninjured.

We proceeded in the Harpagus to rejoin the convoy. At about 11:00 on the 20th there was an explosion from the direction of the convoy which was some 5 miles ahead. This explosion was a dull thud, rather like a depth charge, but nothing was seen. At 23:20 on the 20th May we had almost reached the convoy when the Harpagus was torpedoed. She was struck on the starboard side by two torpedoes, almost simultaneously, one in No. 3 hold which I believe was a deep tank, and the other just abaft the engine room in No. 4 hold. The explosions were loud, there was no smoke, but the deck was wet as if water had been thrown up. I think there must have been a flash as the starboard boat was blackened and scorched an there was a strong smell of cordite.

The ship at once listed heavily to starboard and sank in about 3 minutes. The only two lifeboats that were got away were those from the Norman Monarch, as the starboard lifeboat was damaged by the explosion and the port boat capsized with the immediate heavy list of the vessel. This boat was full of the crew of the Harpagus and they were thrown into the water. As the ship immediately sank, the remaining members on board were compelled to jump over the side. One of our boats was badly damaged, and the other slightly, but 5 people were eventually saved from the most badly damaged boat.

At about 23:40, some 20 minutes after the Harpagus sank, a submarine surfaced about 1/4 mile to the Northward and steamed towards the small boats to within about 1/2 mile. She appeared to resemble the Batiray type of U-boat, but her gun was further forward than in the picture in "Jane's".

The two boats kept together during the night until 06:00 on the 21st May when a convoy was sighted right in our track. We sent up flares and attracted attention, when H.M. Destroyer Burnham, H 82, immediately closed with us and picked up survivors from both lifeboats. We were taken by the Burnham to Reykjavik where we landed on Sunday evening, 25th May.

I should particularly like to mention two men, one of our crew, A.B. D. McPhee, and the Bo'sun of the Harpagus, Mr. Laughton (possibly spelt Lawton), who I consider were the means of there being any survivors at all. As the Harpagus turned over so quickly, these two men were thrown to the lower side. As the ship dived, with great presence of mind, they managed to get the starboard boat over the side, in less than 3 minutes; they not only cut it adrift but got it over the rail in that short time with very little damage indeed, and by this means many people were saved who would otherwise have been lost.

I have one suggestion to put forward. When crews are rescued by another ship of the convoy it is the practice of her crew, in all good faith, to take away the clothing of the rescued men to dry it; they also often take the men's lifejackets. The survivors are not familiar with the vessel, and when the rescue ship is herself torpedoed, as happened in this case, I know that a great many of my crew were hopelessly lost looking for their lifejackets. Fortunately for myself I had just recovered mine when we were struck, but a great number of men were thrown into the water without their lifejackets, and they might otherwise have been saved. I therefore think one should retain one's lifejacket at all times.

(In a "Questionaire for Ships Attacked by U-boat" in connection with Harpagus' attack, the time for Norman Monarch's attack is given as 00:00 May 19/20, adding that she sank at 04:20. Norman Monarch's Chief Mate's report above gives the time of explosion as 04:57, saying that she sank about 09:17. Nicoya's report gives yet another time, namely 11.55 p.m., May 19, but there's no mention in any of these reports of what time zone is being used).

See Page 1 for a list of ships sunk, and the U-boats that sank them, as well as Commodore's notes and names of escorts etc.

Report of an Interview with Harpagus' Captain J. V. Steward
Shipping Casualties Section - Trade Division
Dated June 20-1941

We were bound from Halifax to the United Kingdon with a cargo of 8350 tons of wheat. We were armed with a 4" gun, 12 pdr, 2 Lewis guns, 2 Hotchkiss, 2 P.A.C.R. rockets and a kite. The confidential books went down with the ship. The number of crew, including 2 soldiers, 2 Naval gunners and myself, was 47; we also had on board 48 survivors from the Norman Monarch and 3 passengers. 26 of my crew, 3 passengers and 26 of the survivors from the Norman Monarch are missing. The ship was degaussed and the apparatus was working.

We left Halifax on 10th May bound for the United Kingdon and proceeded without incident until midnigth on 19th May when the Norman Monarch was torpedoed. I was on the bridge at the time, when suddenly I heard a loud explosion and saw a flash and saw the Norman Monarch drop out of line. I was the last ship of the column in which she was sailing (Harpagus was in station 93, Norman Monarch in 91). I stopped alongside and the Master of the Norman Monarch asked me to stand by. At the time she was showing no signs of sinking and the Captain would not leave her until he was sure that she was going to sink. When it became apparent that the Norman Monarch was going to sink the crew came aboard; we also took 2 of her boats on board which we stowed on the after deck. I then set a course for the next rendezvous, but throughout the day we were picking up wireless messages that the convoy was being attacked and I understand that they received the order to scatter. We then received messages that several ships had been torpedoed. About 3 o'clock in the afternoon 2 of our destroyers came along and asked me if I knew the position of the convoy. I said I did not know the position of the convoy at that time, and I gave him its position at midnight the day before. The destroyers then went off saying that they would come back.

Nothing further occurred until 20:20* on 20th May when in position 56 47N 40 55W (steaming at 10 knots, course 035°, wind E. force 3, visibility good), about 200 miles South of Greenland we were struck by a torpedo on the starboard side under the bridge and about 5 seconds later by another torpedo, which struck the ship just abaft the engine room, also on the starboard side, about 360 feet from the bow. The starboard boat was blown away and the ship immediately listed heavily to starboard.

* Norman Monarch's 1st mate gives time as 23:20 in the above report, but there is not mention of what time zone they are using.

I was in my room at the time of the attack and immediately came up on deck. When I arrived on deck some of the crew were already getting the port boat away, but the degree of list of the ship was so great, that by the time the boat was half way down it rested on the side of the ship and turned over, and all the men in this boat were lost.

I then came off the bridge and tried to get the passengers who were on the lower bridge to jump over the side as this was our only means of escape. They were so terrified that they would not do so, and I am afraid that all 3 passengers, a husband, wife and child perished. I went aft to speak to the men there and told them to go over the side and then followed them as the ship was on the point of going down. We pulled away from the ship and when we were about 30 feet off we turned round and the ship's stern was just disappearing (time of sinking is given as 20:30).

There was a large number of people in the water, and I could see heads all over the place. I managed to swim to a boat from the Norman Monarch which had floated off the after deck. There were 4 men in it at the time and I managed to get aboard. One of the rafts floated close to us with 7 men on it. We threw a rope and kept them fast to us. Another boat had got away with the rest of the crew in it and that reported they had seen the submarine surface after the ship had sunk and it had just steamed away. We were picked up just after midnight by HMS Burnham and landed at Reykjavik.

I would like to recommend Bo'sun Lawton, who was responsible for releasing the Norman Monarch's boats which were lashed to the after deck of my ship.

I think there should be some definite ruling as to whether we should stand by or not when another ship of the convoy is attacked. In this case we stopped to assist the crew of the Norman Monarch, but in doing so we dropped astern of the convoy and had not caught it up at the time we ourselves were torpedoed.

(In a "Questionaire for Ships Attacked by U-boat" in connection with Harpagus' attack, the time for Norman Monarch's attack is given as 00:00 May 19/20, adding that she sank at 04:20. Norman Monarch's Chief Mate's report above gives the time of explosion as 04:57, saying that she sank about 09:17. Nicoya's report (link below) gives yet another time, namely 11.55 p.m., May 19, but there's no mention in any of these reports of what time zone is being used).

See Page 1 for a list of ships sunk, and the U-boats that sank them, as well as Commodore's notes and names of escorts etc.

Related external links (
Norman Monarch | Harpagus

Back to Convoy Index

To the next HX convoy in my list HX 127


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