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Commodore, Vice Admiral F. A. Marten's's Report
Convoy HX 248
Received from Roger Griffiths - His source: Public Records Office, Kew.

Page 1 - Ships in HX 248

Commodore's report on convoys of 75 ships and over
to Naval Control Service Officer, Mersey
Dated July 29-1943

This convoy comprised 90 ships in 15 columns. It is essential that in a convoy of this size there should be an efficient Repeating Ship with convoy signalmen stationed in each wing to repeat Commodore's signals and see that they are answered correctly.

The Vice Commodore, (Commodore Fremantle), in British Glenapp, was stationed in position 42 and was responsible for the 6 columns on port wing.

Application was made before leaving New York for convoy signalmen to be sent in Rear Commodore's ship, (British Kaipaki, stationed in position 122), but none were available, and the Master informed me that his officers were not capable of the work required. In consequence, it has been impossible, even in good visibility, for Commodore to know whether signals have gone out correctly and been received by rear ships of starboard wing columns, and it has taken up to 45 minutes for a signal to get round convoy.

Little assistance could be looked for from Escort, as for 9 days out of the 14 days at sea the escort consisted of only 4 vessels, and these were rightly employed doing their best to screen such a large convoy rather than act as repeating ships or sheepdogs.

As an example of this, when signal changing destination of 32 ships was received through escort, it took 9 hours to inform the ships concerned, and the next day it took 14 hours to change the position of these ships in convoy ready for dispersal.

In a convoy of 90 ships in 15 columns with 7 ships in some columns, it seems to be practically impossible to alter the course of the convoy in fog without it becoming disorganised, and grave risk of collision being incurred, or of rear ships losing touch.

Before leaving New York, Masters were informed at Conference that no alteration of more than 10° at a time would be ordered in fog, and that this might be made either by W/T or by sound. As usual at this time of year, the convoy was in thick fog for long periods in the Newfoundland Banks area, and alterations of course had to be made to comply with orders received altering the route to avoid west-bound convoy. The first alteration of 15° was made by W/T but apart from it being most difficult for the rear ship in a column of 7 to follow round correctly, two ships (Sinclair Opaline and Benjamin R. Milam) two hours later, asked by W/T in plain language, "What course of convoy?".

The next day it was again necessary to alter course, and weather being still, the sound method was tried. All leaders of columns appear to have got it correctly and to have altered but other ships in rear did not, and the columns in rear got thoroughly mixed up, and to attempt further alterations would have been courting disaster. As it was, there was only one collision, and this was due to a ship's helm jambing.

It is recommended that as far as is possible large convoys should be routed on a straight course through this area, where, at this time of year, there is over 60° of fog.

Inevitably in a convoy of 90 ships the stationkeeping is bound to deteriorate; as the general tendency of ships in column to lag astern of station is exaggerated in columns consisting of 7 ships. Also, owing to the great distance, the Commodore cannot see who the offenders are in the wing columns, and has the greatest difficulty in getting signals through to them to close up.

Owing to the very small escort screening the convoy, none could be detailed to whip up the offenders; though the S.O.E. in Gatineau was very helpful whenever he passed through the convoy and was able to.

Actual straggling was not so noticeable, though it is hard to differentiate in the early morning between straggling and bad stationkeeping, when all ships have dropped astern of their proper station during the night, the rear ship of column 7 probably being up to one mile outside his distance from leader.

Convoy Discipline
Owing to great distance of most ships from the Commodore, it is not possible for him to have V/S control of more than 4 columns wide and 5 ships deep, and without a deputy on each wing to correct bad stationkeeping, slow and inaccurate repetition of signals, (and, in fog, proper repetition of sound signals), the convoy is apt to develop into an uncontrolled mass of ships. W/T behaviour of many ships in convoy leaves a lot to be desired, and it should be stressed at Conferences the absolute necessity for setting watch during fog and keeping a good W/T watch.

Very varied weather was experienced, a great deal of fog especially in ice area off Newfoundland and in Irish Sea; two days' strong S.W. gale, with poor visibility.

During the two days' S.W. gale the convoy became very spread and disorganised; and I think it would be quite hopeless to try and control a convoy of this size during the short day and bad weather of the winter - the changes of destination and reorganising for dispersal would be impossible.

Signed, Vice Admiral F. A. Marten.

Page 1 - Ships in HX 248

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