Site Map | Search |Merchant Fleet Main Page | Home 

Available Discussion Forums


Received from Olaf Evertse, Holland - His Source: National Archives and Records Administration, Washington.

ONS 18 departed Liverpool on Sept. 12-1943 and arrived Halifax on Sept. 29
(Arnold Hague's The Allied Convoy System" gives 27 ships in this convoy).

ON 202 left Liverpool on Sept. 15-1943 and arrived New York on Oct. 1.
(Arnold Hague gives 38 ships in this convoy - the Commodore says 42).

The 2 convoys joined up on Sept. 20 - made contact at 17:15 in 57 21N 31 05W
(according to
Commodore's report).

Scroll down to reports available on this page (in addition to what is visible below), or use these quick links:
Narrative of events | General conclusions | Appendix 1 & II | Remarks ON 202 | Narrative / ON 202 | Battle of Atlantic/7th Phase

Back to Page 1 - ships in convoys
Commodore's Report

Reports of Proceedings
from Admiral Sir Max K. Horton, K.C.B., D.S.O., Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches
to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, Dec. 31-1943

The Reports of Commodore (D), Western Approaches, dated 28th October, 1943, and Senior Officer, B.3 Groups, dated 29th September, 1943, on Convoys ONS 18 and ON 202 are forwarded herewith for the information of Their Lordships.

This operation was notable in that it marked the renewal of attacks on North Atlantic convoys, and disclosed the use by U-boats of a new anti-escort weapon, the acoustic homing torpedo ("Gnat").

The offensive action displayed throughout by the escorts of the combined convoys - B.3 Group (Commander M.J. Evans, O.B.E., R.N.), C.2 Group (Commander P.W. Burnett, R.N.) supported by the 9th Group (the late Commander C.E. Bridgeman, D.S.O., R.N.R.), prevented the enemy from gaining the initiative and resulted in comparatively light losses in the convoy. The loss of Commander Bridgeman in HMS Itchen is much to be regretted.

Many of the difficulties in effecting the junction and subsequent reorganisation of the two convoys can be attributed to the reception in HMCS Gatineau of the orders for the junction and new route in a very corrupt state, and to the low visibility which was experienced. The formation of one convoy astern of the other undoubtedly impeded the Senior Officer, Escort in organising his defence.

Commodore (D), Western Approaches report of 28th October is concurred in generally. With reference to the Senior Office, C.2 Escort Group's report, it is considered that the night attack exercised on 18th September should not have been carried out so far to the westward.

HMS Destiny, Lieutenant R.E. Saunders, R.N.R., performed her duties very well in the face of numerous difficulties.

The high standard of morale in HMS Lagan, Lieutenant-Commander A. Ayre, D.S.O., R.N.R., and the efficiency displayed in getting the damaged ship back to harbour, are noted with satisfaction.

(Signed) Max Horton,
Admiral, Commander-in-Chief.

HMS Towy - 29th September, 1943.

I have the honour to forward the following Report of Proceedings of B.3 Group, consisting of HM Ships Keppel (Senior Officer borne additional), Escapade, Towy, Narcissus, and Orchis, French Ships Roselys, Lobelia and Renoncule, and Rescue Trawler Northern Foam, whilst providing Ocean Escort for ONS 18 (Commodore H.C. Forsyth, R.D., R.N.R., in West Nilus), during the period 14th September to 25th September, 1943.

When ONS 18 was joined to Convoy ON 202 (Commodore Sir E.O. Cochrane, K.B.E. in Westland), on the 20th September, 1943, the following also came under my orders: C.2 Group consisting of HM Canadian Ships Gatineau (S.O.), Drumheller and Kamloops, and HM Ships Icarus and Polyanthus; and the 9th Escort Group, HMS Itchen (S.O.), and HM Canadian Ships St. Croix, Chambly, Morden and Sackville.

(Signed) M.J. Evans,
Commander, R.N.,
Senior Officer, B.3 Group.

ONS 18, a slow convoy, comprising 27 ships, sailed from Milford Haven, under Local Escort, on 12th September for U.S.A. Convoy ON-202, comprising 42 ships, sailed from Liverpool on 15th September for U.S.A.
The passage of this convoy gave the first indication of the use by U-boats of the “homing” torpedo, which was designed to be used primarily against escorting vessels with a view to the subsequent destruction of the unprotected convoy. It was an acoustic torpedo which, being fitted with a hydrophone for detecting the noise of ship’s propellers and a course-controlling device, searched out and hit its target, usually in the stern.

Narrative of Events

All times are G.M.T.

B.3 Group less HMS Towy and HMS Escapade arrived at Lough Foyle to oil p.m. 13th September 1943. Owing to a last minute defect, HMS Towy had been unable to sail from Greenock and I transferred to French ship Lobelia for passage to Lough Foyle, joining HMS Keppel on arrival.

In view of my experience on the last passage I had a good look round the anchorage on arrival to see if there were any likely looking trawlers present, and on signalling Northern Foam, I learned that she was joining the group for the passage. It would be a great convenience if Senior Officers could have earlier information of any additional escorts joining their group so that arrangements could be made for holding a conference.

A new arrangement seems to have come into force for the Ocean Escort to join north of Altacarry. In this case Commodore (D), Western Approaches altered the rendezvous to the usual one, but by the time his signal arrived I had already sailed. The early rendezvous has the great disadvantage that it usually excludes the possibility of holding a conference at Lough Foyle with any strangers that may be joining the group.

Convoy ONS 18 was met in position lat. 55° 35' N. long. 6° 33' W. at noon on the 14th. B.3 Group, as Ocean Escort, relieved the Local Escort which returned to base. Heavy weather during the 15th and 16th prevented flying by the MAC* ships but gave a very satisfactory impression of the station-keeping abilities of our small convoy.

On the 17th, HMS Keppel and HMS Escapade oiled from s.s. Beaconsteet who proved to be one of the most efficient and helpful oilers I have yet met.

During the afternoon of the 19th, H/F D/F bearings started to pour in and HMS Escapade was sent to investigate an apparently close bearing on the bow. Although some of the bearings did not seem applicable to the other convoys at sea, I was still of the opinion that ONS 18 had not been sighted and that the W/T traffic referred to Escort Group 9 who was coming up astern. In actual fact, it probably also referred to ON 202 who was a very long way from the position given in the situation report.

* MAC ships = tankers or grain ships fitted with a flight deck and accommodation for 3 or 4 aircraft. The MAC ship attached to Convoy ONS 18 was the Empire Macalpine.

Night 19th/20th:

Night Screening Positions:
Keppel - starboard quarter
Orchis - ahead
Renoncule - port quarter
Escapade - starboard beam
Roselys - ahead of port convoy column
Narcissus - ahead of starboard convoy column
Lobelia - port bow
Northern Foam - astern.

Weather: - Sea and swell decreasing rapidly. Wind southwesterly, force 3-4 (gentle to moderate breeze, 7-15 m.p.h.). Visibility moderate.

During the night of the 19th and 20th, however, ONS 18 was very mildly attacked. HMS Escapade detected a pair of submarines approaching the convoy, neutralised the asdic contact with a quick counter-attack and then proceeded to put down and hunt, most efficiently, the second of the pair whom she had first detected on the radar. As I was still confident that this was only a chance encounter, and that mass attack was unlikely, I detached HMS Narcissus to join her, at the same time instructing HMS Escapade to send HMS Narcissus back if she was not needed. Escapade, meanwhile, carried out a number of attacks with depth charges and Hedgehog and was in firm contact with the submarine - which had gone deep hours after the initial attacks. With the 9th Escort Group coming up to take over, and hunt to exhaustion if necessary, I am confident that this would have been a sure "kill" had not Escapade experienced the most tragic accident* which necessitated her immediate return to Clyde.

* The accident referred to is the premature explosion of a salvo from HMS Escapade's hedgehog, as a result of which 3 officers and 16 ratings lost their lives, and 2 officers and 8 ratings were seriously injured. The ship's bridge and fore-castle were severely damaged.

Day 20th
During the forenoon of the 20th, I received a signal from the Senior Officer of C.2 Group informing me and the Senior Officer, E.G.9 of weakness of his escort, and I concurred with his proposal that the 9th Escort Group should be used to reinforce both convoys. At 12.00, however, the Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches' instructions were received for the two convoys to join. ONS 18 therefore, at 13.00, turned to the north-east to effect the junction, which it was expected would be made at about 16.00. During this period, HMCS St. Croix, HMCS Morden and HMCS Chambly of the 9th Escort Group joined and were topped up with oil.

From all indications of D/F bearings and surface sightings, ON 202 - which had had HMS Lagan torpedoed during the night and had lost two ships in a dawn submerged attack - was the centre of attraction round which the beasts of prey were gathering. I felt rather a brute in leading my poor little ONS 18 into the turmoil, although our delights at a chance of activity - with a handsome escort - after months of dreary ocean plodding was only tempered by regret at the absence of my (late) Polish destroyers.

The junction was not a success. Unfortunately the Senior Officer of C.2 Group had received the order affecting the junction and the new route in a very corrupt state and it had been passed to the Commodore completely omitting one position in the route, the course which ON 202 was to steer to effect the junction, and the fact that the Commodore of ON 202 was responsible for the combined convoy. This apparently minor and easily correctable mistake had the most far reaching results and affected the whole course of operations almost as far as WESTOMP. The fact that ON 202 was not steering the expected course was not at first appreciated, and even when the course, which it was steering, was ascertained, it was assumed that this could only be a temporary one. As a result, the two convoys gyrated majestically about the ocean, never appearing to get much closer and watched appreciatively by a growing swarm of U-boats.

To add the final complication, Keppel at this moment obtained asdic contact. The appearance of a yard and a half of periscope, five yards from the starboard beam, attempting to ram her amidships, prevented the veriest sceptic from considering this contact "non-sub". I hadn’t the heart - nor do I think that I should have been right - to order Keppel to abandon the hunt immediately to other escorts. It was not, therefore, until about 20.00 - after Keppel had attacked the submarine very satisfactorily several times, and HMS Itchen, HMS Narcissus and HMCS St. Croix had been left to finish it off - that I joined the combined convoys. (It is now known that this U-boat was not, in fact, sunk).

Night 20th/21st:

Night Screening Positions:
Keppel - starboard quarter
Lobelia - port bow
Gatineau - starboard quarter
Morden - ahead of starboard convoy column
Orchis - ahead of convoy
Renoncule - port quarter
Icarus - starboard beam of convoy front
Sackville - ahead of Orchis
Roselys - ahead of port convoy column
Northern Foam - astern
Drumheller - starboard bow
Chambly - starboard bow, further out than Drumheller.

Weather and Visibility: - O 7. Sea and swell 12. (O=overcast. Visibility 7=up to 10 miles. Sea and swell 12=smooth with long low swell).

On joining the convoys, I found that ONS 18 had been stationed astern of ON 202 and that the course still failed to coincide with our route instructions.

During the night I succeeded in persuading the Commodore that he was steering the wrong course and it was arranged to correct this mistake at daylight.

Although a number of submarines had been detected round the convoys at the meeting place, by air, surface craft or H/F D/F bearings, I did not anticipate a very heavy attack that night. I based my assumption on the probable disorganisation of any planned attack by constant air and surface cover, the unpredictable course of the convoys and the hunting group astern which focused attention away from the danger area. In fact only three light attacks took place, which were all detected and frustrated.

At 23.50, HMCS Sackville illuminated, chased and carried out several good attacks on a submarine.
At 01.22 Roselys was carrying out a depth charge attack and at 04.45 HMCS Morden was also in contact and attacking. It was satisfactory to find that the Hun had become no more enterprising during his summer vacation and that the old rule of "a submarine detected is an attack averted" still held good.

Astern of the convoy, however, at the original meeting place, a fierce battle was in progress. Narcissus and Itchen had been continuing the hunt of Keppel’s submarine whilst St. Croix had gone off on her own to investigate an aircraft report. Not long after dark, St. Croix was torpedoed and Itchen ordered HMS Polyanthus - who was coming up astern escorting Rescue Ship Rathlin* - to join her and provide A/S cover whilst she picked up survivors. Polyanthus joined Itchen but shortly afterwards was herself torpedoed whilst carrying out an attack. In accordance with my instructions Itchen had detached Narcissus to rejoin me, but I now ordered her to rejoin Itchen, as at least four offensive submarines were operating in the area. Itchen decided that it was impossible to rescue survivors during the dark and she and Narcissus continued their spirited action with a number of U-boats throughout the night.

* Rathlin was on her 15th voyage as rescue ship, having been requisitioned on July 28-1941. (She later returned to Clyde with Convoy HX 260).

Day 21st:
During the night ONS 18 had closed up well on ON 202 but before the alteration of course could be made at dawn, thick fog descended on the combined convoys. This fog persisted until 14.30 when it lifted for about an hour. Although my radar plot had indicated that something odd was going on with the convoys, it was with considerable surprise that I found ONS 18 almost in station on the starboard beam of ON 202. Feeling rather provoked at the Commodore for not informing me of his intention of carrying out this masterly manoeuvre, I started to make out a somewhat peevish signal but fortunately had the sense to ask, before I sent it, if he knew of the situation. I found that he was still under the impression that ONS 18 was astern of him and that this most desirable change in formation had been organised by a higher authority. The Commodore of ON 202 agreed to leave them in the broad front. There was a certain amount of telescoping of the columns which had to be cleared up before an alteration of course could be made and whilst this was being done the fog shut down thicker than ever, and effectually prevented any attempt to turn the convoys to the proper course.

During the day HMS Towy joined and Itchen and Narcissus having left their battlefield, started to overtake us. On their journey up they were engaged in several battles with submarines and Narcissus probably damaged one submarine. Empire Macalpine having flown off an aircraft as soon as visibility permitted, suddenly found herself completely enshrouded in fog. Her aircraft made one of the most amazing landings I have ever heard of, getting on to her tiny deck in absolutely dense fog. A laconic signal of "All aircraft serviceable" was my first intimation that this miracle had been achieved.

Night 21st/22nd:

Night Screening Positions:
Keppel - starboard quarter
Lobelia - port beam
Gatineau - ahead of starboard wing convoy column
Kamloops - ahead of port wing convoy column
Sackville - ahead of Kamloops
Orchis - ahead of convoy centre
Renoncule - port quarter
Icarus - starboard beam
Chambly - ahead of Gatineau
Towy - starboard bow
Roselys - port bow
Northern Foam - astern
Drumheller - starboard bow
Morden - ahead of Orchis.

Weather and Visibility: - F 2. Sea and swell 12. (F=foggy. Visibility 2=under 2 cables, i.e. 400 yards).

H/F D/F bearings had been pouring in and a good appreciation of submarines' dispositions were obtained. It appeared that attack might come from any direction with a slight bias towards the starboard bow. In the dense fog and calm sea there were no factors of sea or light to influence the positioning of the screen. Nevertheless, I was very confident about the situation. Although the convoys had opened apart and were extending over a front of about 9.5 miles, they were now on a broad front with a fairly adequate close and extended screen.

Attacks started to develop at 21.00 and continued intermittently until 05.00. Attacks appeared mainly to be by single submarines and were all intercepted by either the extended or inner screen. The first attacks developed on the port bow, when Roselys reported two submarines on the surface and one submerged. This may have been an exaggeration but two depth charge attacks were carried out and the submarines made no further effort to force their way in.
At 23.36, HMS Icarus detected a submarine and chased it to the westward until it dived, resuming station at 23.49.
At 00.39, HMCS Chambly was in surface action with a submarine and probably obtained one hit with gunfire before the submarine dived and was suitably depth-charged. The submarines did not appear to be enjoying the party as at this time my H/F D/F Officer reported to me that they were getting into a panic, all trying to talk at once and jamming each other most effectively.
At 01.54, French Ship Renoncule was in radar contact and chasing a submarine towards the van where it was taken over by Roselys, engaged with gunfire and forced to dive.

By 03.30, a lull had set in and all escorts were back on station. Although no one had claimed a "kill", I felt that things were going well and that we were definitely on top of the submarines. Nor was I really expecting further attack to be resumed that night, owing to the late hour. However, at 04.40, an unsuspecting U-boat closing up from astern narrowly escaped being rammed by Northern Foam. The U-boat immediately dived but not before Northern Foam had obtained a hit abaft the conning tower with a 4-inch H.E.D.A. (H.E.D.A.=high explosive with direct action fuse). It is probable that the submarine had developed leaks as a result of this hit by gunfire, as she had not been under water five minutes before she surfaced and made off to the south at high speed. Unfortunately, she evaded my attempt to put Renoncule on her tracks.

At 05.42, our efficient but talkative contact keeping U-boat was on the air again and I instructed Keppel to have a look for him. After a 30-minute run, radar contact was picked up at 6,000 yards and Keppel swung round to intercept. My murmured request that ramming should be avoided if possible was acknowledged by Lieutenant-Commander Byron and thereafter treated with the respect it deserved! At a range of only 800 yards, the U-boat seemed to have become aware of our presence and turned abruptly away - but by then it was too late. A few seconds afterwards she was sighted fine on the port bow, her creaming wash against a setting of dense fog and heaving swell making a picture that will not easily be forgotten. Handling the ship with great skill, Lieutenant-Commander Byron fired a couple of rounds into the submarine and then drove Keppel's forefoot into her pressure hull just abaft the conning tower. Although the U-boat was trying to dive, the conning tower, up to the last minute, showed as a black pit surrounded by the white froth of her wash. As we passed over, a ten-charge pattern set at 50 feet added insult to injury. A large patch of oil was soon spreading over the water but little time was spent in searching for survivors owing to my insistence on returning to the convoy. A most satisfactory episode, in which H/F D/F, radar, plotting, asdic, depth charges and ship handling all worked faultlessly to the required conclusion*. It was also highly satisfactory that after the shuddering crash, everything in the ship including asdic and log were still working and leaks were reported to be easily controllable. It must be admitted that asdics were never quite themselves again for the rest of the trip but this was attributable more to strange water noises than to damage.

I consider that the success of the night's counter-measure owed a lot to the H/F D/F fixes which Towy's position on the extended screen enabled me to obtain and which allowed me to give warning of the threatened area in plenty of time before the attacks developed. The Hun is a most peculiar animal and still likes to make a signal before he starts in to attack.

* The sinking of this submarine, U-229, by Keppel, has since been confirmed. ( has more about this destroyer - external link).

Day 22nd:
This was the end of the encounters with U-boats for the night and dawn came with the fog as thick as ever. Sackville, Chambly and Morden were ordered to leave their night stations just before dawn and sweep to the quarters of the convoys and then patrol the area astern. Throughout the forenoon H/F D/F bearings poured in, mainly from the stern and on the quarters and ships were continuously sent out to chase up "hot" bearings. For some reason no sightings resulted.
At 10.35, Rescue Ship Rathlin - who had actually got into the wrong convoy - sighted a submarine on the surface at the visibility range of about 100 yards. Whether the submarine had come from ahead or astern I don't know and I am not sure the submarine did either. Rathlin turned to ram. This was quite sufficient for the submarine whose nerves do not appear to have been very good as she immediately dived and was no more seen. This was most fortunate as the whereabouts of Rathlin was very uncertain and the chance of getting an escort to the vicinity correspondingly poor: Gatineau, sent to investigate, steamed repeatedly through the invisible columns at high speed, and in hand steering in a most gallant manner which made my hair stand on end.

At 11.50, Sackville was firing at a submarine astern which she forced to dive and then repeatedly attacked. The last pattern provided a phenomenal explosion followed by a large quantity of oil. It is considered that the submarine was certainly damaged and possibly sunk. (It is now known that this submarine was not, in fact, sunk).
At 15.08, Roselys was apparently in radar contact with a submarine, which she forced to dive.
At 15.20, the fog cleared and disclosed the two convoys spread out with a gap of 4 miles between them and covering an area of some 30 square miles of sea. The first thing to do before attempting to alter to the westward was to try to get the convoy closed in.

After living under a blanket for so long, it was very nice to come into the open air and find it filled with Liberators. I expected a crop of sightings but this expectation was not fulfilled either due to the good sea-air visibility or to the fact that the U-boats had made good use of the fog and were already in position on the bows without the necessity for further passage on the surface.

By 18.00, the combined convoy was fairly well together on a course of 210° and at this time I received a report of an enemy submarine 45 miles, 250° from us - just the course we were hoping to turn to. I therefore asked the Commodore to hold the southerly course until dark and then turn to 260° in order to side step this submarine. He agreed to do this, but then asked me to pass a message to ONS 18 to form his convoy astern of ON 202. I immediately protested. The Commodore quite rightly pointed out that it was asking too much to expect a convoy of 18 columns to carry out a 50° turn in the dark. Instead of cancelling my request to make the turn after dark, I made the very grave mistake of agreeing to the convoys being formed astern of each other. In this, I was influenced by the desire not to cause confusion by requiring an alteration of plans which had already been set going, and by the extreme difficulty of interchanging information or carrying on discussions with two convoys who were still being controlled by their own Commodores, and whose source of intercommunication was mainly provided by Keppel acting as messenger boy across the six or seven miles of water which separated them from each other.

At 19.30, Lobelia was in contact with a submarine and carried out a number of depth charge attacks which produced a rather inexplicable explosion well away from the site of any depth charge attack, accompanied by weird but static noises and a liberal supply of wreckage far too large in size to have been ejected voluntarily by the submarine. In fact, though the attacks do not appear to have been too good, the result may well have been successful. (It is now known that no submarine was sunk in this counter-attack).

At 20.15, one of Empire Macalpine's Swordfish aircraft reported that she had sighted a submarine on the surface 15 miles on the port bow of the convoy. Keppel was much the nearest destroyer and was therefore ordered out to counter-attack. Narcissus was ordered to join Keppel and the screen reorganised accordingly. At the same time the rocket-projector Swordfish aircraft was flown off from the MAC ship to attack. Visibility was fading fast and a search was started several times, on the false assumption that the submarine had dived. Before Keppel reached the diving position, the MAC ship's aircraft had been recalled owing to fading light. "Observant" was carried out and whilst this was in progress, flak was seen in the air apparently coming from a submarine some 4 or 5 miles further on. The exact object or origin of this flak is not known but may have been decoy tactics by the second of the pair of submarines, as, to the best of my belief, there was no aircraft in the vicinity. After carrying out "Observant" and dropping a few scare charges, Keppel returned to take up her night screen leaving Narcissus to keep the submarine down and then drop into her position as the convoy passed.

Night 22nd/23rd:

Night Screening Positions:
Keppel - starboard quarter
Roselys - port beam
Northern Foam - between the centre and starboard wing of the rear of the convoy
Drumheller - starboard bow
Sackville - port bow
Towy - abreast convoy front to starboard
Narcissus - ahead of port wing convoy column
Lobelia - port quarter
Gatineau - ahead of convoy centre
Kamloops - ahead of starboard convoy column
Chambly - abreast of convoy front to port
Orchis - port bow
Renoncule - between the centre and port wing of the rear of the convoy
Icarus - starboard beam
Itchen - ahead of Gatineau
Morden - starboard bow.

Weather and Visibility: - O 6. Sea and swell 12. (Visibility 6=up to 5 miles).

The passage to the rear of the convoy was depressing in the extreme. After their manoeuvres, there was a gap of some 3 miles between the convoys, and ships in column in ONS 18 had opened out alarmingly so that the combined convoy had a depth of something like 6 or 7 miles. This was a most unsatisfactory start to a night when a heavy attack was expected.

H/F D/F bearings led me to anticipate attack mainly from ahead and on the port side with a less well-defined danger area on the starboard bow. I felt sure that although sightings had been few there were a number of U-boats - which I estimated at about 12 - in attacking positions.

The attacks started almost too punctually for me when Northern Foam sighted a submarine at 1,500 yards and illuminated him. Owing to the low ceiling I considered starshell was of little assistance in sighting U-boats although its short period of illumination would be sufficient to silhouette the convoy nicely. I therefore ordered her to cease starshell fire. Northern Foam carried out two excellent attacks which produced prolonged bubbling noises and plenty of oil so that it seems at least probable that the U-boat was sunk. (It is now known that no U-boat was sunk in this counter-attack). The next contact was by Itchen and the U-boat was attacked and put deep, Itchen resuming her station at 22.00.

At 22.38, Itchen obtained another contact and at 23.37, Itchen and Morden were both in contact with several submarines coming in from the starboard bow.
At 23.55, Gatineau obtained a radar contact and sighted a submarine coming in towards the centre of the convoy from ahead. Then ensued a mêlée ahead of the centre of the convoy with a number of escorts firing at the submarine and attempting to illuminate her by searchlight. Suddenly there was a tremendous explosion, which was thought by many ships - including Gatineau - to be the submarine blowing up. "Pineapple"* was ordered with ships in the van illuminating but no further submarines were sighted. In the firework display, which was going on in the van, it was not possible for me to distinguish whether a merchant ship had been torpedoed. At the time I thought one probably had been and was later confirmed - wrongly - in this belief by a report from Renoncule that she was in company with a stopped ship 4 miles astern of the port columns. This ship was in fact the s.s. Wisla who had courageously stopped and picked up three survivors from Itchen**. Shortly afterwards Morden reported that it was an escort that had blown up astern of her. As Morden should have been in position on the starboard bow, I at first thought that she must have been referring to Towy although this did not at all fit in with the picture as I had seen it. When operational signals allowed I called all escorts on R/T and established the fact that only Itchen was not answering. Commander P.W. Burnett of HMCS Gatineau has carried out an investigation to find out what occurred in this mêlée. His conclusion is that "it appears that HMS Itchen was torpedoed in her foremost magazine just after she had sighted and engaged, and just before she rammed the U-boat. The latter was probably considerably shaken by the explosion and dived: its attack was frustrated and no ships of the convoy were torpedoed."

* "Pineapple"=a pre-arranged operation for searching for a U-boat which had torpedoed a ship in convoy.

** Please see these notes on Page 1, as well as analysis on Page 4.

At 00.47, I warned escorts that it looked as if a further attack was developing from ahead.
At 01.05, Gatineau was again in contact on the starboard bow and at 01.15 Lobelia was also in contact and Northern Foam was ordered to assist her.

At 02.15, a fresh attack developed on the starboard side and Icarus reported torpedoes passing down her side. Icarus obtained radar contact at 5,000 yards and chased the submarine.
The attack by this submarine appears to have been delivered at long range - probably 7 or 8 thousand yards - from outside the screen and scored hits on s.s. Skjelbred, s.s. Oregon Express* and s.s. Fort Jemseg.
The higher percentage of hits and the fact that both s.s. Skjelbred and s.s. Fort Jemseg were hit right aft suggests the use of an acoustic torpedo, but this is not altogether supported by the report from Icarus that the torpedo H.E. heard by him was entirely normal.

* Please note that my text for Oregon Express has more details on this convoy battle, ships sunk etc. etc. See also the external links provided below.

The only ship which, at the time, I knew had been torpedoed was Skjelbred and this ship was reported as being in good trim and likely to rejoin the convoy shortly. I therefore ordered the rescue ship to resume her station.

At 02.26, Chambly was again in contact with a submarine on the surface, which she forced to dive at 02.31 and attacked with depth charges. This submarine was first detected visually, a faint red light being sighted just before radar contact was gained. During the counter-attack a torpedo was fired at Chambly which gave unusual H.E. and appeared to linger on her port quarter finally exploding astern. After Chambly's attacks which were considered good - but put her asdic out of action - a strong smell of oil was noticed which gives a possibility that the U-boat was damaged.

At 02.50, Icarus was again in contact on the starboard side and firing starshell. She chased the U-boat out towards the starboard side of the convoy and I ordered Towy to assist her. Unfortunately Towy's radar was temporarily broken down and she could not help. Icarus forced the submarine to dive and attacked her with depth charges, and then resumed station.

My information regarding torpedoed ships at this time was that Renoncule had been in the vicinity of a ship astern of the port column but that this ship was regaining station. Northern Foam and Rathlin were standing by Skjelbred and I now learned that another ship, Fort Jemseg, was also disabled in the same vicinity, and was informed that neither ship could be navigated. I therefore ordered them to be abandoned. I still had no idea that Oregon Express had been sunk.

At 04.45, I instructed Sackville to investigate whether Itchen was still present, and if not, to carry out a search.

At 06.50, another attack developed, this time on the port side, and the leading ship of the port column of ONS 18 (Steel Voyager) was torpedoed. "Pineapple" was ordered port side and Chambly obtained radar contact, again sighting a submarine showing a red light and attacking with gunfire till it dived, and then with depth charges. On completion of "Pineapple", Renoncule and Rathlin joined the Steel Voyager. As there appeared to be little wrong with the Steel Voyager*, the crew had been induced to return on board but after a great deal of time had been wasted, the Captain stated that he did not consider that the bulkhead would hold and I therefore gave orders that she was to be abandoned. I have since been informed that this statement was incorrect and that the ship should never have been left.

* Arnold Hague says in his "Convoy Rescue Ships 1940-1945" states that Rathlin took on board the 66 crew of Steel Voyager (hit by U-952), and adds "There is some dispute between reports as to the outcome of this rescue. PSTO narrative states that the crew were returned to Steel Voyager which remained afloat and returned to Halifax NS. In fact the vessel did sink but it is unclear as to where her crew, who all survived, went". Note that according to's narrative (external link), the crew was later picked up by Renoncule and Morden.

This was the end of the night's attack and I ordered Sackville to search back as far as the position where the heavy explosion had taken place. The first Liberator who joined in the morning was also ordered to carry out search astern for derelicts and survivors. Both sea and air search reported only debris and empty rafts and lifeboats in addition to the three derelicts astern of the convoy.

Just before dawn, Chambly and Morden left their extended screen positions and carried out a sweep down the port side and astern.

Day 23rd:
On regaining my day station I asked the Commodore to take the earliest possible steps to get the convoy back onto a broad front as I felt strongly that our failure to give adequate protection to the convoy during the night was, to a very large extent, due to its formation. The day of the 23rd was fully occupied in reforming the convoy in the broad front, replenishing escorts with fuel and depth charges and trying to obtain information as to what had occurred the previous night.

During the day H/F D/F bearings showed a small number of submarines moving up into position but there was a general tendency for the bearings to drop astern. The air cover, which was in great force, on the whole, made few sightings and owing to other commitments I was unable to spare many escorts to search along D/F bearings. I was therefore a little anxious in case - as the evening closed in - I should find indications of a strong force working up on the bows.

Night 23rd/24th:

Night Screening Positions:
Keppel - between starboard quarter and rear of convoy
Roselys - port quarter
Gatineau - between centre and port side of convoy front
Kamloops - between centre and starboard side of convoy front
Morden - ahead of port convoy column
Narcissus - port bow
Lobelia - starboard quarter
Icarus - starboard bow
Chambly - ahead of starboard convoy column
Renoncule - to port of convoy front
Orchis - between Renoncule and the convoy
Northern Foam - between port quarter and rear of convoy
Drumheller - to starboard of convoy front
Sackville - port bow, outside Narcissus
Towy - starboard side, outside Drumheller

Weather and Visibility: - OC 7. Sea and swell 12. (OC=overcast and cloudy, 7/10ths covered).

By nightfall the situation was far more satisfactory. The convoy was on a broad front and in close formation. All escorts had rejoined and we had a strong inner and outer screen, and finally there was no indication of strong enemy concentration in any attacking position. During the night fog again closed down.

At 23.31, Renoncule obtained a radar contact and at 23.45 Kamloops obtained A/S contact and attacked. Kamloops lost contact three minutes later and did not regain it. Renoncule sighted her submarine, forced her to dive and carried out a number of attacks, which seemed quite promising and resumed station at 01.05. There were a number of further reports throughout the night from Roselys, but it is very doubtful whether submarines were actually present.

Day 24th
The 24th was a quiet day, Renoncule refuelling and replenishing with depth charges.

Night 24th/25th:

Night Screening Positions:
Keppel - between centre and starboard side of convoy front
Lobelia - between centre and starboard side of rear of convoy
Icarus - starboard bow
Kamloops - ahead of starboard convoy column
Sackville - ahead of port convoy column
Narcissus - between centre and port side of convoy front
Renoncule - port quarter
Morden - port bow
Towy - port beam
Chambly - ahead of Kamloops
Orchis - between Sackville and port convoy column
Northern Foam - between centre and port side of the rear of the convoy
Drumheller - starboard quarter
Gatineau - port bow.

Weather and Visibility: - F 2. Sea and swell 21. (Sea and swell 21=slight with short low swell).

Thick fog still persisted, and in the evening, a Liberator reported two contacts 20 miles to the south. They were classified as possible submarines and I therefore sent out Gatineau to put them down as it was appreciated that if they could be made to dive they would be so far off track as to constitute no menace to the convoy. Gatineau sighted nothing and a completely peaceful night was enjoyed.

The combined convoy was turned over to HMCS Richmond, Senior Officer of Groups WI and W6 at WESTOMP at 11.00 on the 25th September, 1943.

I would like to express my regret at the loss of HMCS St. Croix and HM Ships Itchen and Polyanthus.

Finally I would like to give my most sincere thanks to Commander Burnett, Senior Officer, C.2 Group for his unfailing assistance at all times, and to C.2 Group and the Ninth Escort Group for their unflagging spirit and the way in which they played up under a strange Commander.

External links related to the above text:
Convoys ONS-18/ON-202 - article (a section of Rob Fisher's Home Page).

Allied ships hit by U-boats - Enter the name of each ship sunk in this convoy for more details on their loss.

Casualties of St. Croix - From Ships of the Canadian Royal Navy lost in WW II, which also has the casualty lists of other vessels.

General Conclusions:

In a series of attacks spread over nearly five days, only three submarines succeeded in firing torpedoes at the convoys. If, as might be expected, this was indeed their first team coming out to renew the battle after months of earnest thought and training and fitted with the latest weapons, it can hardly have been a very encouraging result.

Of the three attacks in which torpedoes were fired at the convoy, one was a dawn submerged attack on ON 202, one was a night attack at long range, and the third was a night attack probably - but not definitely - also at long range which only obtained a near miss.

The night tactics used against the convoy possibly showed some increase in pair ship co-operation but generally speaking were stereotyped and entirely in accordance with the teaching of W.A.T.U.*; except that Captain Roberts would never have the face to break off his submarine's attacks on - at times - such flimsy pretexts. The statement in one of my signals that the enemy was showing greater determination in pressing home his attacks was due to the mistaken impression that a ship had been torpedoed at the same time as HMS Itchen was sunk. I wish to withdraw that opinion entirely.

* W.A.T.U.=Western Approaches Tactical Unit at Liverpool (directed by Captain G.H. Roberts, RN), where escort tactics were taught and developed in battles between model ships and U-boats.

There is little doubt that the U-boat which HMS Keppel depth-charged at the junction of the two convoys was watching with amusement - and sublime carelessness - the efforts of HMS Itchen and HMCS. St. Croix to find him in the wrong place, and this shows a tendency to remain at periscope depth when being searched for.

The result of the attack on the starboard side of the convoy at 02.15 on the 23rd gives strong suggestions of long range attack with acoustic torpedoes, whilst the attack on Steel Voyager gives almost conclusive proof of a non contact pistol.

The number of U-boats, which were surprised in the fog, suggests that they are either not fitted with radar or else are suffering from severe teething troubles. Apart from this it seems confirmed that they are using an acoustic torpedo and the volume of their flak appears to have considerably increased.

The only new tactical feature met was the strong indication of carefully rehearsed offensive tactics by U-boats against escorts, which are hunting them.

There was some indication of one U-boat of a pair acting as a decoy in order to give his confederate an easy shot, but I don't think that this was by any means proved conclusively. Considering, however, the number of hunts, which were carried out in the course of these five days, it cannot be said that these new tactics were overwhelmingly successful. It is my very strong personal opinion, and that of the Commanding Officers in the party, that the best way to defeat these tactics is to sink or at least thoroughly incommode the U-boat. Further, that whilst any reasonable safety precautions should be borne in mind, we shall only give the initiative to the enemy - probably without saving ourselves - if we do not press home our attacks with the utmost vigour.

I am convinced that my mistake in allowing the convoys to be formed astern of one another was a fatal one; and that had the combined convoy been in decent shape we should probably not have lost a single ship after the junction of the two convoys.

Appendix I to Report of Senior Officer, B.3 Group.
Remarks on Air Cover provided by Royal Canadian Air Force.

Very powerful air cover was provided over the combined convoys, first from Iceland, and then from Newfoundland.

The dense fog which prevailed for such a large part of the passage made flying near the convoy very unpleasant, and at times I wondered if the aircraft were serving any really useful purpose in risking their lives to come so far, only to find nil visibility on arrival. I think this doubt was well answered when the instant the fog lifted three Liberators were not "on the way" or "expected in two hours", but actually flying around the convoy and giving it invaluable protection.

I felt very ignorant of the capabilities of aircraft under these conditions of nil visibility, and I think it would be a great help to Senior Officer Escort in deciding how to make the best use of his aircraft if more information was available to him concerning the latest fittings with which these aircraft are provided.

On reaching St. John's I learned that aircraft had been taking off in dense fog at very great risk in order to provide us with full cover all the time. I can only say "Thank you", and assure them that their work is appreciated to the full, and their mere presence has an effect on the morale of both convoy and escorts, which is invaluable.

Appendix II to Report of Senior Officer, B.3 Group.
Remarks on Convoys ONS 18 and Combined Convoys ONS 18 and ON 202:

Convoy discipline of ONS 18 was excellent, and there was no stragglers or rompers, with the exception of s.s. Floridian, who was forced to stop for eight hours on 16th September due to defective steering gear, but who overtook the convoy and joined up again by 04.00/18th September.

The combined convoys had no chance until the 24th of settling down together, and tended, at first, to drift apart. Almost continuous dense fog made the task of close station keeping impossible, and it is to their credit that they kept together as well as they did.

I consider that s.s. Wisla showed a fine spirit in stopping to pick up three survivors from HMS Itchen during the night of the heaviest attack on the convoy.

The Masters and crew of the Skjelbred and Fort Jemseg both abandoned their ships only on my direct orders, and showed great coolness and determination and a fine disregard for the dangers to which they were exposed.

Office of Commodore (D), Western Approaches, 28th October 1943.
The Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches.

Remarks By Commodore (D), Western Approaches - Convoy ON 202

Submitted the attached Report of Proceedings from HMCS Gatineau, Commander P.W. Burnett, R.N., Senior Officer, C.2 Escort Group, covers the passage of Convoy ON 202 from 16th September, 1943, to 20th September, 1943.

This eventful operation, where C.2 Group, B.3 and E.G.9 bore the brunt of the U-boats' return to the Atlantic with the new anti-escort acoustic torpedo, has been analysed and remarked on both by Canadian authorities and Captain (d), Greenock. Some few remarks are submitted to cover the early portion of ON 202's passage and some general observations on the battle.

Notes on specific incidents
With reference to the Narrative of Events, it is not considered that Icarus should have been detached at 10.00/19th September to search for a U-boat reported by aircraft as being 120 miles from the convoy, since the enemy was not a threat and also Icarus had just failed to refuel.

I concur in the Senior Officers' appreciation of the day attack and consider the correct counter-measures were taken after the attack.

General remarks on the whole operation.
Senior Officer, C.2 Escort Group was emphatic upon the difficulties, which accrued on the occasions when the two convoys happened to get one astern of the other after uniting forces. Straggling and lack of control and difficulty in giving adequate cover were all apparent.

The fact that the four successful enemy attacks on escorts, using acoustic torpedoes, all occurred in good night visibility, and the two U-boats sighted at long range by Drumheller which were burning and all-round red light, points to the limitations of this weapon and the probability that it is only employed in good visibility and by U-boats operating singly.

The fine offensive spirit maintained by all escorts throughout the attack resulted in comparatively slight losses to the convoy and prevented the enemy from ever seizing the initiative. It is felt that this point must be carefully watched in the adoption of counter-measures, either tactical or material, so that the escorts' offensive and determination are not restricted by an undue burden of precautions.

(Signed) G.W.G. Simpson, Commodore (D).

Enclosure to Commodore (D), Western Approaches' covering letter.
HMCS Gatineau, 28th September, 1943.

"I have the honour to submit the enclosed Report of Proceedings of C.2 Group from 16th September to 20th September, while escorting Convoy ON 202, up to the time when ONS 18 joined and Senior Officer B.3 Group became Senior Officer of the combined escorts".

(Signed) P.W. Burnett, Commander, R.N., Senior Officer, C.2 Group.

Narrative of Events

(All times G.M.T.)

16th September, 1943.
At 01.00 Lagan arrived in Lough Foyle from Belfast, where she had been docked for repairs to her rudder.
At 02.00 Icarus left to escort Loch Ewe section of Convoy ON 202.

At 06.00 Gatineau, HMIS Godavari, HM Canadian Ships Drumheller and Kamloops and HMS Polyanthus weighed and proceeded from Lough Foyle to rendezvous.
At 07.00 Trawler Lancer and Rescue Tug Destiny proceeded from Lough Foyle escorting the Londonderry section, consisting of one merchant ship. Rendezvous was effected at 10.00, Lancer having already joined. Icarus joined with Loch Ewe section at 13.30. Late portion of Loch Ewe section, unescorted, joined at 18.30.
At 16.00 a mine was sighted by Drumheller and sunk.
At 23.59 HMIS Godavari was detached for Londonderry.

17th September, 1943
At 17.00 Lagan joined, having escorted Elizabeth Bakke from the Clyde.
At 17.15 Clam was ordered to return to the Clyde, being unable to maintain convoy speed.

18th September, 1943
At 05.00, a night attack on the convoy was exercised, convoy and escorts taking part. Convoy course was altered to 287° at 19.10, in accordance with C. -in-C., W.A.'s signal timed 17.38.

19th September, 1943.
Polyanthus oiled from Thorhild during the morning. Icarus attempted to oil from San Adolfo but after parting two steadying lines, ceased operations.
At 11.00 Icarus was detached to search for a U-boat which had been sighted by aircraft 120 miles to the north. Icarus rejoined at 02.00 without having reached this position.

20th September, 1943
At 02.23 Lagan was ordered to investigate a near H/F D/F report on a bearing of 210°.
At 02.45 radar contact was gained bearing 220°, 4,100 yards.
At 03.00, when approximately 9 miles on the port beam of the convoy, Lagan reported submarine had dived, and a few seconds later reported herself torpedoed. Her stern and screws were blown off, but she was in no immediate danger. Gatineau was meanwhile closing at 28 knots, and on arrival in the area swept around the wreck, dropping a 10-charge pattern of depth charges on one doubtful contact. Lancer and Destiny had been told to close the wreck and when Lancer arrived, at 05.00, Gatineau returned to the convoy.
By 08.10, Destiny had Lagan in tow, screened by Lancer. (HMS Lagan arrived at Liverpool in tow of Destiny on 24th September, having lost 1 officer and 28 ratings in the explosion).

At 04.09 Polyanthus obtained a radar contact bearing 282°, 3,400 yards, while ahead of the convoy. The contact was chased, starshell fired, and the contact disappeared at 04.29. Two 10-charge patterns of depth charges were dropped.

At 07.31 Frederick Douglass and Theodore Dwight Weld were torpedoed from port side. The Frederick Douglass was lead ship in the port column when a torpedo exploded in number five hold and the Frederick Douglass began to settle by the stern. Seconds later, a torpedo struck the Theodore Dwight Weld, exploded the boilers, blew the lifeboats overboard, and broke the ship in two. Survivors jumped overboard; the good swimmers found rafts to cling to. The stern section sank within a few seconds.
The rescue ship Rathlin*, hurrying up to help, reached the Frederick Douglass first, but seeing that she was in no immediate danger of sinking, sped on. From the floating bow section of the Theodore Dwight Weld, she rescued 38 men, choking and half-blinded by fuel oil from ruptured tanks.
Next the Rathlin picked up all hands from the Frederick Douglass, who carried a part Negro crew and - unknown until then - a Negro woman stowaway. Then she went back to check the bow section of the Theodore Dwight Weld to determine whether a destroyer escort should be called up to sink it with gunfire. There one more man was seen waving from the hulk; Rathlin launched a boat and picked him up. In the meanwhile Gatineau and Polyanthus swept the area, Gatineau dropping two 10-charge patterns on doubtful contacts. Gatineau then rejoined convoy, leaving Polyanthus to screen Rathlin.

* Theodore Dwight Weld (Am) was sunk by U-238 on Sept. 20. With regard to this rescue, Arnold Hague says in his "Convoy Rescue Ships 1940-1945" that this ship "sank almost at once and 26 of her survivors were trawled by Rathlin using her boom nets. Her motor lifeboat was hampered by large amounts of oil in the sea, which at one stage caused engine failure. The engine was stripped, cleaned and re-assembled, the boat finally recovering 12 men. 26 other survivors were recovered by other ships and a final inspection of the wreck yielded a further survivor recovered by motor boat".
Frederick Douglass (Am) - torpedoed by U-238, sunk by U-645. 70 survivors rescued from lifeboats by Rathlin. Arnold Hague adds: "Amongst the survivors was one woman, a negress stowaway, who emerged from hiding when the ship was torpedoed. The ship's dog was also rescued".
He continues: "Rathlin also stood by the American James Gordon Bennett, damaged by U-952 but not sunk.

Liberator aircraft from Iceland arrived at 08.50, and was given an area to search.
At 09.40, aircraft reported submarine on surface on starboard quarter, five miles from Icarus. The latter gave chase, sighted the U-boat, forced it to dive and attacked it, but without positive results. (A subsequent attack was carried out at 10.48 by Liberator “F” of No 120 Squadron, R.A.F. and resulted in the sinking of U 338).

The Battle of the Atlantic, the 7th Phase
September, 1943 - April, 1944

Acoustic torpedoes:
We had been expecting a resumption of heavy attacks on the convoys in the North Atlantic. The enemy had little choice in the matter, since it was only here that his U-boats could materially affect the development of Allied plans and build-up in the United Kingdom for a subsequent invasion of the Continent. The Germans had begun to try out new tactics of attack with new weapons. These latter were acoustic torpedoes homed on to their targets by the noise of the propellers and primarily intended for use against the escort vessels. All U-boats operating against convoys were normally provided with three or four of these weapons, the idea being to destroy a fair number of the escorts and then to use ordinary torpedoes for sinking the unprotected merchant ships.

On September 19th two outward-bound convoys, one of 27 ships and the other of 41 ships, both with their usual complements of escorts, were within about 90 miles of each other some 650 miles out in the North Atlantic. Aircraft cover was being provided by long-range Liberators of No 120 Squadron from Iceland, and that afternoon and evening there were ample indications that U-boats were in touch with both convoys and were concentrating. A support group operating further to the southward was called in to reinforce. The rest of the voyage gives such a good idea of a convoy battle in the North Atlantic that it is worth describing in more detail than usual.

Some fifteen U-boats were in the area, and their attacks on one of the convoys began before dawn next morning, September 20th, when one of the escorts, which had been ordered to make a search, was torpedoed with the loss of her stern and propellers. She later reached the United Kingdom in tow. Soon after daylight two merchant ships were torpedoed, nearly all of their crews being saved by the rescue ship Rathlin. Thereafter, sightings of U-boats and attacks upon them by aircraft and surface vessels followed thick and fast. At about noon the two convoys were to join company and to pool their escorts. The junction was not easy. In words of the senior officer of the combined escort in HMS Keppel, Commander M.J. Evans, "the two convoys gyrated majestically round the ocean, never appearing to get much closer and watched appreciatively by a growing swarm of U-boats." The onerous task of re-marshalling two large convoys and their escorts in mid-ocean, with U-boats still trying to attack and being counter-attacked in the immediate vicinity, must ever give cause for anxiety. To add to the complication, the Keppel herself obtained an asdic contact while the manoeuvre was in progress, which was conferred by the sighting of a periscope very close to starboard. She made four depth-charge attacks before detaching other ships to continue the hunt. However, the junction between the two convoys was safely effected before dark, there now being about 66 merchant ships in company with some 17 escorts, including those of the support group. Astern, after nightfall, a fierce battle was soon raging in the area where the convoys had met. The support group was in action with various U-boats, in the course of which the Canadian destroyer HMCS St. Croix and the corvette Polyanthus were torpedoed and sunk with heavy loss of life.

Related external link:
Torpedoes - Describes the Zaunkönig torpedo and others.

A miraculous landing
The night of the 20th-21st passed quietly so far as the convoy was concerned, the U-boats probably being disorganised by the constant air cover and strength of the escort. Only three light attacks were made, and all were detected and beaten off. By dawn on September 21st there was thick fog. It persisted until early afternoon, when the visibility lifted to between one and three miles. It was about now that the mercantile aircraft carrier Empire Macalpine flew off one of her aircraft in a clear patch. In the words of an official report, "she suddenly found herself completely surrounded in fog. This, however, did not prevent her aircraft from making a miraculous landing on the tiny deck".

Towards evening the convoy had opened out and was spread over a front of 9.5 miles. During the day shore-based air escort had been provided. There was also a fairly adequate screen of surface escorts, and in spite of the indications that the U-boats were again massing, the senior officer felt confident that they could be dealt with. He was right. The night's activities started soon after 09.00 p.m. and continued until after 06.00 a.m. on September 22nd. All the U-boats were beaten off, with damage to at least two by depth charges or gunfire and the sinking of a third by the Keppel. To quote her report: "Only when the range had closed to 800 yards did the U-boat become aware of the presence of Keppel and turn abruptly away. Keppel fired a couple of rounds and then rammed just abaft the conning tower. As she passed over...ten depth charges were dropped... A large patch of oil was soon spreading over the water, but little time was spent in searching for souvenirs owing to the necessity of returning to the convoy. Although HMS Keeper suffered a certain amount of damage through ramming, she still retained full efficiency."

With the dawn of September 22nd the fog had come down as thick as ever. The U-boats were still in touch astern, and all through the morning were being hunted, located and attacked. One, forced to dive, was heavily depth-charged and probably destroyed. The weather cleared at 03.20 p.m., and within a few minutes the convoy had welcome company of Liberators of No 10 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force from Newfoundland. During the period of their escort, two U-boats were attacked in the face of heavy flak, and one sustained severe damage. Numerous radar contacts were obtained, but the low clouds and occasional fog patches, which still remained, prevented the aircraft from investigating them. Before dark more U-boats were being attacked by the surface escorts, while a Swordfish aircraft from the Empire Macalpine was in action with another. The convoy, however, had straggled to a depth of six or seven miles. There were 16 escorts present. Nevertheless it was not a very pleasing prospect with which to start of probably heavy attacks.

From about 09.30 p.m. until 02.30 a.m. on the 23rd, U-boats or in pairs were attacking practically continuously and from all directions. Most of the escorts were in action, and the enemy's attempts were successfully beaten off. At about midnight, however, the frigate HMS Itchen, ahead of the convoy, detected a surfaced U-boat a short distance ahead. The frigate turned on a small searchlight and opened fire. About fifteen seconds later she was torpedoed, to blow up with a blinding flash. Nearby observers saw a brilliant tongue of flame shooting up from amidships as she broke in two and foundered. It was a tragedy. She carried all the survivors from the St. Croix and Polyanthus. Of the combined ships companied only three men were rescued by one of the ships in the convoy, the James Smith (I believe this should be Wisla), whose master had seen men in the water and courageously stopped to save their lives. More attacks were made and driven off, one pattern of depth charges bringing a dark irregular patch to the surface with a slight smell of oil. Then, at 02.20 a.m. on the 23rd, three merchant ships were torpedoed, two being sunk. While this was happening a destroyer engaged a surfaced U-boat and forced her to dive.

"The enemy was easily discouraged".
The next four hours passed quietly until, at 06.48 a.m. on September 23rd, another merchant ship was torpedoed and damaged. She had to be abandoned, the U-boat being attacked by gunfire until she dived. Daylight brought the arrival of more Liberators from Newfoundland. Their reports and other indications showed that U-boats were still in contact, two attacks being carried out on them in the vicinity of the convoy. By nightfall a few submarines seemed to have worked ahead of the convoy, two being attacked by the escorts shortly before midnight, and another soon afterwards. The fog had set in again, and to quote the report - "the enemy seems to have been easily discouraged from pressing home his attacks".

Thick fog still persisted throughout September 24th, though it did not prevent five Liberators from Newfoundland providing air escort. The U-boats, however, had been shaken off, and at 11.00 a.m. next day two fresh escort groups arrived and took over the convoy. That evening the merchant ships split into their original convoys, which reached their receptive destinations without further incident.

In all we lost six merchant ships, with three escorts sunk and another damaged, the four latter by the new acoustic torpedoes. The enemy's exaggerated claim included twelve escorts sunk and three damaged. Three U-boats were destroyed and several others damaged by air and surface attacks.

In peacetime the task of conducting some eighty ships in company through thick fog is hazardous and nerve-racking enough. But in fog and clear weather, by night and by day, that pack of fifteen submarines was able to keep contact and to attack over a period of more than 100 hours, during which they trailed the convoy for nearly 900 miles. The experiences of this convoy were not exceptional. Words cannot convey any real idea of the heavy load of care and anxious responsibility borne by the senior officers of the convoy Commodores, no less than by the officers of the escorts and the convoy Commodores, no less than by the captains and masters and all the officers and men of the warships and merchantmen comprising the convoys crossing the Atlantic, month in and month out, in the sort of conditions just described. The debt owed to thousands of anonymous seamen of all ranks and grades, and to the airmen as well, is immeasurable.

Back to Page 1 - ships in convoys
Commodore's Report

Back to Convoy Index

To the next ON convoy in my list ON 203
will be added, as will ON 204 through ON 211
In the meantime, see Ships sailing in all ON convoys
The next available ON convoy is ON 212


 Site Map | Search |Merchant Fleet Main Page | Home