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Convoy HX 208
Commodore M. Lennon Goldsmith's Report
(in Cairnvalona)

Page 1 - Ships in HX 208

Unfortunately, part of the dates disappears in the margin of this document, so that I'm unable to determine the exact date - some guessing has taken place.

17th September
02:00 - Sailed from New York
09:30 - Formed up at position "Y". There are 53 ships in this convoy. 10 knots. Air escort all day.

Escort: HNMS Lincoln (Commander A. A. Sørenssen), HMCS Algoma, Nanaimo, Kitchener, HMS Le Tigre.

18th? September
17:00 - Position "Z". No air escort.

19th? September
18:00 - In 42 42N 64 44W. HMS Ripley joined.
The speed of the convoy was reduced to 8 knots owing to Athelprincess which could not keep up. Am sending her into Halifax.
No air escort. Exercised turns by sound signal.

20th? September
07:00 - Position "A".
Sent Fort Amherst, Trontolite, Cyrus Field, Athelprincess, Ocean Vagabond, and Ocean Wayfarer into Halifax - their speed being below 10.5 knots (had last minute orders from Naval Control Service Officer, New York, to send all these ships into Halifax).
Air escort.
18:00 - The following ships joined the convoy from Halifax: Tucurinca, Stuart Prince, Kaia Knudsen, Herbrand, John (A.) Brown and Fort Chipewyan, with Escort: HMS Mansfield, HMCS Rimouski, HMCS Melville.
Escort from New York under HNMS Lincoln left for Halifax, leaving HMCS Nanaimo with convoy.
The convoy now consists of 53 ships in eleven columns and a front of about six miles.

22nd September
18:00 - Position "T"
Fog all day and thick all night.

23rd September
08:00 - GMT WEST OMP. Despatched Seminole and Parismina to join SC 101.
Escort HMCS Rimouski.
14:00 - In 48 58N 47 20W, the escort was relieved by HMS Hesperus, Campanula, Clematis, Gentian and Lobelia.
The speed of the convoy was reduced to 8 knots owing to a breakdown on board the tanker John Brown (the commodore calls John A. Brown by this name throughout his report).

24th September
Exercised Emergency Turns.
Reduced to 7 knots, John Brown being still 20' astern. In 50 05N 42 55W, HMS Whitehall joined the convoy.
18:15 - 50 13N 42 30W, the speed of the convoy having been reduced for 26 hours, it was reluctantly decided to leave HMS Clematis behind with John Brown and push on at 10 knots.

25th September
10:45 - Position "U".
16:00 - In position 51 40N 37 30W, received sudden orders to steer for a new position "K". This involved altering course 40° to starboard in two 20° turns by sound signal, there being thick fog. The result would have been laughable if it had not been so painful. All Masters of merchant ships sleep soundly every day after their lunch. Any sudden awakening brings them on deck almost blind and completely sodden. One blunderer is apt to disorganise the convoy entirely. When I counted the convoy at dawn next day there were 20 ships absent, but John Brown was lumbering up into station, miraculously restored to us.

26th September
Exercised macine guns, etc., firing a few rounds.

27th September
18:30 - in 52 05N 24 22W (near position "K"). Altered course for new position "Z".

28th September
Heavy N. W. gale.
17:00 - in 52 50N 20W, a signal was received from Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches, ordering convoy HX 208 to proceed 150 m dead to windward to a new position S. A strong N.W. gale was blowing with a high sea.
The speed of the convoy had to be 8 knots to get steerage way, though I should have preferred to go slower. Several ships had been forced to haul out of the line to re-adjust cargo. The convoy was greatly scattered; three ships beyond signalling distance. I knew that if the course of the convoy were altered to windward the result would merely be that the ships would be hove to and get nowhere, besides suffering damage to themselves and to their deck cargo. I therefore reluctantly made a signal to that effect to the Commander-in-Chief. The question of heaving to, even on our present course, had been discussed between the S.O. Escort and myself.

29th September
02:00 - The Commander-in-Chief's permission to resume our course for position "Z" was received to my enormous relief.
11:30 - In 53 32N 17 29W, the remaining 18 ships of the convoy joined up. This left 2 ships unaccounted for, Angelina and Contessa. The Angelina (American) can steam 13 1/2 knots and the Contessa (Honduras) 15 knots, so I presume that they are in port by now.

30th September
Flew kites. Air escort.

1st October
Flew kites. Air escort.
00:30 - Sent Dalhanna, Metapan and Ocean Vanquisher to Loch Ewe.
Position "Z".
11:39 - Proceeded to Glasgow with 8 ships, leaving Waterland and Kaikoura to conduct remainder of convoy to Liverpool and Belfast respectively.

The following ships are noted for good station keeping:
Dalhanna, Waterland, Inverilen, Kaikoura, Kaimata, Egyptian Prince, Le Meraire (this should probably be Temeraire), Vorcasia (this should probably be Dorcasia), Norsol.

The following are noted for good signalling:
Tucurinca, Hilary, Norsol, Egyptian Prince, Kaikoura, Vestfold.

The only ship in the convoy which smoked badly was the Cairnvalona. The coal shipped was obtained from the Throckly, Townley & Montague collieries. One thousand tons of this filthy stuff was taken on board at North Shields on the 4th August 1942. It is disgraceful that such coal should have come on board without a protest from the Engineer Officer and Master.

I arranged before leaving New York that the spare coloured light groups:

Red, Green, Green, should mean - "reduce speed one knot"
Green, Red, Red, should mean - "increase one knot".

This was very useful and I recommend its general introduction.

The problem of suddenly altering the course of a large convoy in fog is a very difficult one. Sound signals work well in theory (in clear weather). I suggest that the question of sound repeating ships needs very careful going into when Form A1 is made out. I lost none of the Leaders of Columns, but the repeating ships in no single case repeated the signals. The young mates on watch may not have heard - they may well have been far astern of station. There were eleven columns of 5 ships, with a front of about 6 1/2 miles.

Now that winter is setting in the qusetion of deck cargoes becomes acute. Many ships in this convoy had to haul out and restow cargo. In a real winter gale the convoy would have been badly scattered owing to the necessity of heaving to, to save the cargoes of a few badly stowed or over burdened ships. This is dangerous and gives submarines the chance they need.

I am as usual deeply in debt to the Senior Officers of my Escort:

Commander A. A. Sørenssen, HNMS Lincoln
Lieut. Commander Casten, HMS Ripley
Commander D. MacIntyre, HMS Hesperus.

Their willing and often unasked co-operation pulled me out of many an awkward fix and their advice was always sound and sensible. It is a pleasure to work with these young Destroyer Officers. One feels that there is still some hope for the British Race while we can still produce seamen of their type.

I am especially anxious that Commander MacIntyre, whose help was so invaluable during the heavy weather of our voyage, should be noted as an officer with a brilliant (I trust) future before him. The orders which he issues to his flotilla are a model of excellence. He sent me a copy.

Commander Sørenssen is a Norwegian. It would be politic to send him my report on his conduct. But Lieut. Commander Castens deserves my commendation no less.

The average speed of the convoy was 9 knots.

Signed M. Lennon Goldsmith.

Vice Admiral Goldsmith adds:

I enclose part of a letter from an American friend of mine. He is a celebrated yacht designer and like so very many Americans of his type, a very good fellow. His letter tends to disabuse those who may think all Americans self-satisfied and bombastic.

Here's the section of the letter mentioned above:
".....You mention that you have had 27 convoys since the war started and so far not lost a single ship. Well, Sir, if you are curious about such sights, come right down to Florida and adjacent waters, and we can guarantee to show you whole fleets of them. Raeder casts that he has the majority of his fleet operating hereabouts, and I don't doubt it. They have sunk a shocking total of over 433 ships this year, as you of course know if you read your newspapers. They work practically unrestrained, since we have no navy at all in these waters, practically speaking. All we have, save for a few old teakettles with which we are bluffing the Japs in the Pacific, is in European waters. Our very inexperienced staff has been trying to check these submarines with motor boats, blimps and such toys. Might as well use bow and arrows. The problem is tenfold more difficult here than it could be anywhere else in the world because all the South and Central American countries are as full of Nazi spies as France was, entirely unhindered by local authorities, if not actually helped in some places, and with plenty of radio stations to communicate full information about every ship sailing to the submarines. So it is only necessary for the sub to take station and wait for the victim to bump into the torpedo. It's such a bloody farce that one sub commander actually scolded the captain of a ship he had just sunk for being two hours late for his rendezvous with death - and it happened that captain had been unexpectedly delayed in sailing exactly two hours beyond his expected time.

Ah well, the British have been guilty of plenty of follies and blunders in this war, and you can ask no better proof of our brotherhood than our earnest determination to keep the score even with just as many follies and blunders of our own, rivalling your best. God only knows how two such nitwit nations manage to keep on fighting in spite of all - and will ultimately win. I share your hope for a better understanding between our nations, and closer bonds after the war, and if it was left to the military men or the common people, that would be easy, but as long as we both leave our national leadership so largely to lawyers and business men, I'm afraid we'll always be plagued by petty bickering over trifles. I have quite a few friends in England, and have kept up correspondence with them for many years, including the war period. We find ourselves in agreement on almost everything except that the Britons maintain they have the damnedest fools in the world for leaders, and my own national pride will not let me concede them one iota of superiority on this point."

Page 1 - Ships in HX 208

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