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Commodore's Narrative - Convoy ON 14

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A special report on the captain of King Stephen

Page 1 - Ships in Convoy ON 14

Passed Bar Light Vessel at Noon on 7th Sept. with 9 ships, being joined off Clyde by 7 ships from Bristol Channel and off Rathlin Island by 10 ships from Clyde and, finally, at Loch Ewe by a further 23 ships.

Having despatched Empire Simba to Oban when off the Mull of Kintyre we arrived at Loch Ewe on 9th Sept. Caledonia had lost the convoy during a fog which had persisted intermittently since leaving Liverpool. This vessel probably lost the convoy while in South Minch where there was a heavy fog. Thus, on leaving Loch Ewe there were 47 ships in convoy.

Passing the Cape Wrath R.V. to the westward, Position (A) was made early on 10th when orders were received (13:45 on 10th) to pass through Position 59N 12W where Iceland bound ships were to be detached. This Position was later changed to 58N 11W in order to avoid a U-boat reported by aeroplanes in 59 25N 10 15W. At 19:00 on 11th the 8 ships bound for Iceland were detached together with two trawlers under the command of Salisbury acting as Escort for this Portion in position 58N 11W. Convoy proceeded 270 degrees until ordered to steer to Position (S) to avoid HX 148.

On 12th Sept. the Route was again amended to pass through Position (V) and (W) in positions 56 20N 25W and 52N 35W respectively omitting Position (G).

Weather for the first three days had been clear and fine and occasion was taken to practise emergency turns, fog signals etc. During these practices it was again proved that all ships must sound the emergency 15-sec blast since many of them could not hear the leaders only. Similarly it was proved that when sounding blasts in a fog, the ships in rear did not hear the leaders only. Therefore, a signal was made ordering all odd-numbered ships to sound their own convoy distinguishing number after the leaders had sounded number of each column.

At 07:00 on 13th HMS Boadicea left, to join up with HX 148. A great loss since this destroyer is an energetic and efficient escort. HMS Heather took over S.O. of escort.

At daybreak on 13th S.S. Empire Porpoise was missing from convoy. Since she may have failed to receive the signal by sound to alter course during the fog at 03:40 I requested Heather to detail a corvette to "scout" for her to southward but she could not be located at the end of 3 hours' search. During forenoon of 13th the standard course was amended to comply with new route, but Empire Porpoise did not have this amendment, so is probably steering for her port of destination - Baltimore.

At 10:00 on 14th escort parted company. Previous to departure of Heather, Senior Officre of escort, I had asked whether any other ships would be joining me as escort, but S.O. did not think this probable as no such orders had been received and he therefore suggested that I should disperse the convoy. On this, it was decided that on his leaving the vicinity of ON 14 he should inform C-in-C W.A. that convoy would be passing through (V) steering for (W) at 15:30 GMT and that unless contrary orders were received, convoy would be dispersed at 19:30 GMT on 14th. This message should have been despatched by 11:30 GMT and, since nothing further was heard from C-in-C all arrangements were made to "scatter" and "disperse" at time suggested; but fog intervened and persisted in "patches", so the "dispersal" was postponed until weather should become clear. "Scattering" and "dispersing" was effected during forenoon of 15th in clear weather.

It is regretted that the S.O.S. of S.S. Newbury being torpedoed in a position 44' 223 degrees from Convoy (whose course was 234 degrees) was received at 06:00 GMT (see Page 1). From this position it would appear that Newbury had left convoy during the night and was steering for her port of destination, Buenos Aires, when torpedoed. Speed of convoy was 6.5 knots and maximum speed of Newbury is given as 9 knots. It is, however, considered that this was NOT a deliberate "break away" from the convoy. Newbury certainly received the following signal: "Possibility of convoy breaking up", "examine Plan 5 in article 29 Consigs" which signal was made by flags during breaks in fog. But, it is more than possible that Newbury did NOT receive the later signal "maintain present course for the night". This signal was made when it was decided to abandon all idea of "scattering" and "dispersing" until weather had cleared. The position of Newbury in convoy was No. 65, some distance from Commodore and visibility was very "tricky". An aeroplane was heard in the vicinity at time of this S.O.S. but could not be seen, as clouds were low and heavy. It is therefore doubtful if survivors were seen by this plane. S.O.S. from a boat's W/T set was plainly heard some minutes after main S.O.S. had been received.

An emergency turn was immediately made, 90? degrees to starboard, and held for ? (some words missing in margin of document, which is very blurry and hard to decipher) when original course was resumed and "dispersal" commenced. Vertical(?) lights were used and worked satisfactorily. Wind was strength ? (missing) direction into which convoy was turning. Very few ships would have heard the warning blast had not the odd-numbered ships repeated this.

On "dispersing" the course of King Stephen was laid due West for ? miles in order to get well clear of slower ships proceeding on southerly (southwesterly?) courses. It was at my suggestion that course was set for the Belle Isle Route (the ? [missing in margin] having this as an alternative route in his orders) since one ship less to be ? (missing, possibly "steering") for the direction of Halifax would relieve the pressure of ships converging towards? one area. (A second ship City of Lancaster had also requested permission to steer? by this alternative route).

Passing Straits of Belle Isle during night of 19th September, King Stephen arrived Montreal on 23rd September.

Signed, Rear Admiral A. C. Candy.

Special Report on the Master of King Stephen

Captain S. Metcalf commanding M.V. King Stephen is the type of Master whose name should be brought to the notice of Their Lordships for the information of the owners of this vessel.

Only 40 years of age, quick in the appreciation of a situation and, more so than any other master with whom I have sailed in convoys, Captain Metcalf grasps the "disposition of ships in a Convoy quickly and correctly after any alterations of front" etc. etc.

I understand that Captain Metcalf did, last July, actually take complete charge of a convoy from Sierra Leone (SL 82) when no Commodore R.N.R. was available. It would be of interest to know how this convoy was "handled" by this officer, since it is one thing to act simply as Vice Commodore under the orders of the Commodore and another to take the entire responsibility of (in that case) eleven ships and to bring them all safely home without any experience other than that gained from having sailed in convoys since the outbreak of war.

It is because my personal attention has been drawn to Captain Metcalf's capabilities that I have mentioned the above fact which, if this has not already been done, would be of considerable value to him if it were reported to his owners provided, of course, that Their Lordships are satisfied that he did carry out these duties as Commodore-in-charge in a satisfactory manner. From personal contact with Captain Metcalf onboard this vessel in ON 14 I should be very much surprised if this is not proved to have been the case.

Signed Rear Admiral A. C. Candy.

Related external link:
SL convoys - SL 82 is included

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