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CONVOY ONS 18 / ON 202 REPORTS
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
Reports of Proceedings
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,
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.
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.
Night Screening Positions:
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.
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 hadnt 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 Screening Positions:
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.
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 Keppels 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.
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 Screening Positions:
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.
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.
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).
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 Screening Positions:
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 00.47, I warned escorts that it looked as if a further attack was developing from ahead.
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 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.
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.
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 Screening Positions:
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.
Night Screening Positions:
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:
Allied ships hit by U-boats - Enter the name of each ship sunk in this convoy for more details on their loss.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
"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 06.00 Gatineau, HMIS Godavari, HM Canadian Ships Drumheller and Kamloops and HMS Polyanthus weighed and proceeded from Lough Foyle to rendezvous.
17th September, 1943
18th September, 1943
19th September, 1943.
20th September, 1943
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.
Liberator aircraft from Iceland arrived at 08.50, and was given an area to search.
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.
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A miraculous landing
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".
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.
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