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CONVOY OB 290 REPORTS
Departed Liverpool on Febr. 23-1941, dispersed Febr. 27. (41 ships).
Abstract of Samuel Bakke's Log | Admiral R. A. Hornell's report | Ships sunk or damaged
Saturday 22nd February M/S Samuel Bakke lying at Broocklebank Dock at Liverpool is ready to sail. The vessel is well manned and has been supplied with 800 tons sand ballast in addition to her regular water ballast of 1400 tons. Draft forward is 11' 10" - aft 15' 09". At 07:45 shifted from Broocklebank Dock to river, assisted by two tugs and with pilot on board. At 10:45 anchored in the river off Canada Dock, with port anchor and 60 fathoms of chain, to await convoy sailing the following day. Pilot remains on board while at anchor in the river. The vessel has been chosen as Commodore ship. Saturday afternoon Admiral R. A. Hornell D. S. O. arrived on board with his crew of 6 men. Commander C. R. Alleyn R. C. N. and his crew also arrived. They are to follow the vessel to Halifax as passengers.
Sunday 23rd February at 08:15 hove up anchor and proceeded to sea steering out Princess Channel according to pilot's orders. At 10:25 dropped pilot at Bar Lightvessel. Proceeded with 5 knots and formed convoy in two columns.
Monday afternoon February 24th met vessels from Glasgow, Belfast and Oban. The convoy is now being formed and the voyage continues in accordance with route given. There is light westerly wind with smooth sea and visibility is very good.
Tuesday night one escort destroyer reported that there were indications that the convoy had been shadowed during the day. Due to darkness no orders were given to the convoy.
February 26th between midnight and 02:00 in latitude 55 36N and longitude 13 42W the convoy is attacked by submarine and 3 ships are for certain known to have been sunk. When the attack began Commodore Hornell gave orders for emergency turn to starboard, but no ships responded. To avoid collision orders to turn back to original course werre given. The first ship sunk was the rear ship in 3rd column on our port side. The two other ships were rear ships in the 4th column. At 09:00 same day in lat. 54 37 and long. 16 20 one enemy plane approached and made a low level attack on the port wing column. All ships within range opened fire with H. A. and machine guns, but with little effect. 3 ships were hit in this attack. One was set on fire amidships, one had her engine room flooded and the 3rd was disabled. The Swedish steamer Gdynia picked up 93 survivors from the stricken ships and returned to England escorted by one destroyer.
The same day at 18:45 the convoy is again attacked from the air, now by 3 enemy planes. The planes used the same low level attack method. The planes attacked from 3 directions and 3 ships were destroyed. The convoy put up a heavy barrage with their H. A. and machine guns but with very little effect. One plane approached us at low height from port side. Our 4" gun was manned and so were our machine guns. At reasonable distance 2 rounds were fired from our 4" gun and as the plane was about 50 yards away both machine guns opened up. Direct hits could be seen as the tracer bullets hit the plane, but had no effect. One bomb dropped on our after deck close to the foreward corner of Nr. 4 hatch on port side and caused a heavy dent, thereafter it hit the bulkhead at the galley and dented this heavily and also smashed the bench and other fittings in the galley, thereafter the bomb continued over the starboard side and exploded into the sea about 20 yards away.
The plane also opened heavy machine gun fire against our gun crew and caused considerable damage to deck house bulwalk and other materials. Ship's carpenter who manned our 4" gun reports that he is certain that our second round hit the plane, as he saw parts from the under carriage being thrown away, and parts from the plane was later found on deck. Further, the carpenter reports that he saw bombs fell from the plane on both sides of our ship. During these attacks we suffered no casualties. The 2nd engineer who was on watch in the engine room reports that he heard several bombs exploded on both sides of the vessel and that they appeared to be very close. Due to the explosions it is experienced that both stern glands are leaking badly.
When the attack was over, orders were given to disperse the convoy. The vessel is expected to arrive at Halifax March 7th 1941.
At Sea, March 5th 1941.
Signed by Captain J. Olsen
All times are BST (British Standard Time).
The first intimation that the movements of the convoy were under enemy observation was received from the S/O escort at 13:00/25/2/41, reporting "Blue" on convoy. This warning was conveyed to the convoy at 13:14. Nothing further was received either from the air or local escort and convoy continued on its course, 258°, at 8 knots. Convoy was in reasonably good formation although rear ships were astern of station, and one straggler in particular was noted on the port quarter - S/S Swinburne. At 16:15/25 course was altered by wheeling to 234°. Nothing further transpired until at 16:46/25 signal was made by flags directing convoy to alter course 20 degrees to starboard at 21:00 and to resume mean course at 23:00. In throwing off only 20 degrees I was guided by the fact that station is always lost during the night, and that straggling already in evidence before dark, was likely to increase, and that considerably, if a larger throwoff during dark hours was attempted. Also I would like to point out that I had no information as to the nature or direction of a possible attack, and every effort was directed to keeping the convoy in as close formation as possible.
After these arrangements had been received by the whole convoy, and with darkness rapidly approaching, making further signals by flags impossible, a signal was received from S/O escort as follows: "There are indications that OB 290 has been shadowed. This was received from Admiralty". Time of receipt of this message was 2-11/25. By this time it was impossible to make any further alter course signals to the convoy, and I decided to rely on emergency turns, when as I had hoped, some indication of approaching attack would be received from local escort. It should here be noted that these emergency turns had been carefully practiced during the forenoon of the 25th.
About 00:26/26, white rocket on port quarter followed apparently by second rocket from another ship. At 00:30 convoy turned 40 degrees to starboard by emergency turn. Star shells were observed on both sides of the convoy. Ships on starboard side of guide, instead of turning to starboard maintained course, and wing ships apparently turned to port. This necessitated an emergency turn to port at 00:40 in order to avoid collision and dangerous congestion. My opinion is that the turn to port was most unfortunate in that numbers 44 and 45 were torpedoed one hour later. Commodore had no real opportunity to keep in touch with the situation because of widespread use of star shells and the fact that no indication as to the direction of attack was possible. Also a very careful lookout all round had to be kept to avoid collision, and the ever present fear of submarine attack on head of convoy.
There is now little doubt that attack was delivered from the port side and that the attacking submarine, having carried out the German instructions to penetrate the lines of the convoy, boldly and skillfully proceeded through the lines from the rear, and when advantageously placed, taking advantage of the brilliantly lit up convoy, successfully attacked and torpedoed numbers 44 and 45, the two rear ships of my column, nearly 60 minutes after first attack. The escorting vessels were apparently searching U-boat on both flanks, and on enquiries being made I was informed by S/O escort that only one U-boat had attacked and that the counter measures taken by escort had not been successful. Without any desire to criticise, and with full appreciation of the difficulties confronting the escorting light craft, but in order to present as accurate a picture as possible, I am of the opinion that the attacking submarine took advantage of the fact that the wing ships of the convoy were well lit up by the star shells, while the center of the convoy, i.e. my own line, was in comparative darkness. Only thus can I account for the fact that nearly an hour lapsed before the first and second successful attack, though the necessity of turning to port after only ten minutes on the starboard leg undoubtably facilitated the attacks. With difficulty but with as much dispatch as possible the convoy was reformed and continued on its voyage.
Nothing occurred until at 09:05/26 course was altered to 213°, and at 09:06 a friendly aircraft was reported. At 09:20 in answer to my enquiry, S/O escort reported that three ships had been torpedoed, namely numbers 44, 45 and 35, and that he - the S/O escort - was now mustering convoy. At 10:00 I reported by general signal that enemy aircraft was in sight. This aircraft delivered a well planned and well executed attack by low level bombing, and suceeded in hitting numbers 12 and 15 and one other ship, all of which were bombed and probably machine gunned. This attack lasted for a quarter of an hour, and the convoy closed its ranks and proceeded. At 10:50 friendly aircraft was sighted, this proved to be a Sunderland flying boat. The following ships were reported to me by S/O escort, Solferino abandoned and on fire, Melmore Head abandoned, engine room flooded, possible to salve (this ship was sunk in Dec-1942, Convoy ONS 154, so she must have been saved), Greek ship Riaoula, (misspelling of Kyriakoula?) number 12, abandoned by crew who stated engines out of action and would not return to ship. Suspect little the matter with her. Gdynia number 24 rejoined. S/O escort also suggested carrying out evasive steering during the dark hours. In accordance with my orders for the night already prepared, I suggested at 14:05 the following courses:
at 21:00 alter course to 230 degrees,
At 16:25 signal was received from escort as follows: "From C. in C W.A: OB 290 disperse in 52 00N 19 00W. No ship to go north of 52 00N until west of 22 30W". To compy with C. IN CS orders it was necessary to cancel the alter course instructions, and S/O escort requested me to resume the mean line of advance when the situation permitted. In accordance with these instructions I informed the S/O escort that I should alter 30 degrees to port at 20:00, and resume mean line of advance at 22:00. This signal was passed at 17:30. At 18:22 I ordered convoy to take up night cruising order, i.e. columns to be 5 cables apart. At 18:37 I reported a formation of enemy aircraft in sight, followed almost immediately by concentrated attack on both wing and centre columns. Fire was immediately opened by everybody but was very ineffective. A carefully planned and well executed low level bombing attack developed at a height of about 150 to 200 feet. Several ships were hit, a plane attacking from port to starboard across the front line of the convoy attacked the Vice Commodore in number 21, registering a near miss, and then proceeded to attack Commodore ship. All these planes were Focke Wulf types.
About this attack on the Commodore Ship Samuel Bakke, Admiral Hornell says:
It is also confirmed that the port Hotchkiss gunner succeeded in hitting the undercarriage, and three bombs were seen to drop into the water on the port side. Although the ship was riddled with machine gun bullets no one was hit, though some glass was broken and serious dents in various bulkheads. I attach drawing of what is evidently a portion of bomb rack which was found after attack. The interior of the galley was wrecked, and it is remarkable that the 2nd officer who was in the galley escaped with his life. He received a shock and bruises, being hit by some of the galley fittings. The attacking plane was undoubtably hit, and after leaving us lost height, but whether it was mortally damaged or not it is impossible to say. At 18:47 I informed S/O escort that I was dispersing the convoy. From this ship four planes were observed, but a signal from the S/S Sovac said six. Personally I observed one ship sink almost immediately, two others on fire, and one other presumably damaged.
In making this report I desire to bring to the notice of their Lordships the fine conduct and attention to duty of the master, Captain Olsen, his officers, and the entire ships company. I have already mentioned the conduct of the carpenter, gunner Barman, while the chief officer Julleiksen (should this be Gulliksen?), and A.B. Bruhn, with their crews were conspicuous by their gallantry. During this trying time I was greatly assisted by my colleague Com. Alleyn, R.C.N., while all my staff including the W/T ratings carried out their duties with calm and commendable zeal.
In conclusion, I have a report as follows:
A - The Submarine Attack: - This was anticipated, and before making my dispositions for the night, I carefully considered in collaboration with Com. Alleyn, R.C.N, the question of evasive steering, but in view of the fact that some neutrals were in the convoy, and were unlikely to have the diagrams, and the all important fact that a large portion of the convoy was not present at the conference, coupled with the great difficulty of making signals already mentioned, convinced me that it was undesirable to attempt it. I relied on the presence of well stationed local escort and the fact that my flanks and rear were well protected. Also, the night was clear, sea calm, and the visibility was good.
B - The Air Attack: - again this was anticipated, though certainly not in such force as was experienced in the 2nd attack. Against such attacks as these, it is impossible for the Commodore to take any precautionary or safeguarding measures.
On my last return voyage, Convoy under my command was accompanied through the danger area by H.M.S. Crispin. I mention this because on that occasion the presence of approaching aircraft was reported several minutes before planes were actually sighted. The regretted loss of this valuable vessel on a subsequent occasion has proved a serious handicap to Commodores, and I submit for favourable consideration that similar vessels may be placed in service for convoy protection against air attack. Their powerful armament, and their powers of detection give a sense of security greatly appreciated by all. May I further submit that as many ships as possible be immediately equipped with A.A. guns. As to the protection which may be afforded by our own aircraft, I hesitate to put forward any suggestions, knowing full well that this matter is engaging the most earnest attention of the Government and the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, but it would appear that if German machines can and do attack our convoys at ever increasing distances from their bases, that we too must bring into service aircraft operating in sufficient numbers to bring into action the attacking enemy formations before they get within striking distance of our convoys.
(Both the above reports were kindly sent to me by Ron Granath, Canada).
It appears Admiral Hornell later wrote to the Norwegian Consul suggesting the Royal Norwegian Government be informed of the devotion to duty of the Master and several of the crew of Samuel Bakke.
The Dutch Amstelland (1died)
Ships sunk or damaged by U-47, Febr. 26:
D/S Borgland in convoy station 35 (survivors picked up by HMS Pimpernell - follow link for more information)
Rohwer also lists the British Baltistan from this convoy as lost, sunk by the Italian submarine Bianchi on Febr. 27.
Other ships mentioned by Hornell as being in this convoy were the British Melmore Head, the British Sovac and the Swedish Gdynia. Unfortunately, I do not have a complete list of ships taking part.
To the next available OB convoy in my list OB 318
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