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World War 2 at Sea

 

ROUTE TO THE EAST - the WS (Winston’s Special) CONVOYS

by the late Arnold Hague, Lieutenant Commander, RNR (Rtd) (c) 2007

WS CONVOYS - 1940 SAILINGS, including three AP Convoys, WS 1 to 5A

MV Rangitiki (Ships Pictures, click to enlarge)

on to 1941 Sailings

 

 

1940 Sailings

 

 

 

THE AP CONVOYS

 

 

Four convoys to reinforce Egypt where there was only a much reduced garrison; these troops formed the Desert Army, later officially titled the 8th Army and were finally victorious in North Africa after many vicissitudes.

 

 

AP.1

 

Departed Liverpool 28.8.40 consisting of three ships:

 

DENBIGHSHIRE

DUCHESS OF BEDFORD (Commodore)

 

WAIOTIRA

 

Arrived Capetown 10.9, Aden 20.9 and Suez to disembark personnel 23.9.40. The convoy was escorted by the cruiser YORK to Aden, relieved by the Australian cruiser HOBART, the British AA cruiser COVENTRY and destroyers DIAMOND and KANDAHAR for the Red Sea passage.

 

 

 

AP.2

 

A single ship convoy principally loaded with equipment, sailing from Liverpool 22.8.40,

 

 SYDNEY STAR

 

Arrived Capetown 10.9 and Suez 26.9.40 to discharge. The transport AMRA joined off Aden. Escorted from Britain by the cruiser AJAX to Aden, where YORK from AP 1 relieved her to Suez. The AA cruiser COVENTRY and destroyers DAINTY and KINGSTON covered the Red Sea passage.

 

 

 

AP 3

 

 

The principal reinforcement convoy which sailed from Liverpool 10.9.40 as follows:

 

PRIVATE 11

BRISBANE STAR

21

ATHLONE CASTLE (Vice Commodore)

31

BRITANNIC (Commodore)

 

41

CLAN MACARTHUR

 

12

IMPERIAL STAR

22

DURBAN CASTLE

32

DOMINION MONARCH

 

 

42

CLAN CAMPBELL

 

23

HMS ULSTER PRINCE

 

33

GLAUCUS

 

 

 

 

Arriving at Freetown 23.9 without CLAN CAMPBELL which fell out with defects 13.9 and proceeded independently thereafter, the convoy sailed on 27.9 leaving GLAUCUS behind, and arrived at Capetown 4.10. At Capetown DURBAN CASTLE, still on liner service, remained behind while HMS ULSTER PRINCE and CLAN MACARTHUR were also detached as they could not make the desired convoy speed. The remaining ships sailed 6.10 and arrived at Suez 22.10.40.

 

Escort was a strong one in view of the high personnel content, the destroyers HARVESTER, HAVELOCK, HIGHLANDER, HURRICANE, VOLUNTEER and WOLVERINE provided A/S cover until 12.9; the Armed Merchant Cruisers CILICIA and WOLFE provided the ocean escort to Freetown. From Freetown to Capetown the AMC CANTON, joined later by CARNARVON CASTLE, was the escort, from Capetown CANTON again escorted until 9.10 when relieved by CARTHAGE. In turn, the cruiser SHROPSHIRE relieved CARTHAGE on 15.10 until 20.10 when the cruiser CARLISLE and destroyers KANDAHAR and KINGSTON and the sloop FLAMINGO took over for the Red Sea escort.

 

 

 

AP 3 ˝

 

The last convoy of this series consisted initially only of:

 

            COLUMBIA STAR carrying explosives and stores, which proceeded independently to Durban.

 

At Durban she was joined by:

 

CLAN MACARTHUR of convoy AP.3, which was escorted to join from Capetown by the AMC CARNARVON CASTLE.

 

Sailing from Durban 11.10, the two ships were escorted until 13.10 by the armed merchant cruiser KANIMBLA, and then steamed unescorted until joined by the cruisers CARLISLE and SHROPSHIRE and destroyer DEFENDER and Australian sloop PARRAMATTA on 22.10 for the final passage to Suez where they arrived 26.10.

 

__________

 

 

THE WS ("Winston's Special") CONVOYS

 

 

 

WS 1

 

 

This first WS convoy was of three ships, AQUITANIA and MAURETANIA from Liverpool, and QUEEN MARY from the Clyde, all sailing on 29.6.40 with reinforcements for Egypt. It was not practicable to route such large vessels through the Red Sea, Italy having just entered the war, so the destination became Ceylon where the troops could be transferred to smaller vessels. Sailing order was:

 

PRIVATE 11

AQUITANIA

21

QUEEN MARY

(Commodore)

31

MAURETANIA

 

On passing the Cape of Good Hope, the cruising order became line ahead, the Commodore leading.

 

The destroyers HARVESTER, HIGHLANDER, VOLUNTEER and WHIRLWIND provided A/S escort until 30.6, thereafter the cruiser CUMBERLAND accompanied the convoy until relief by the cruiser KENT in 34.20S 33E on 21.7.

 

The convoy called at Freetown 8‑9.7 and Capetown 16‑18.7. As Colombo harbour could not accommodate three such large ships, QUEEN MARY was diverted to Trincomalee, all three ships arriving 29.7.40.

 

After transferring their troops, all three ships remained in Eastern waters to transport the ANZAC reinforcements to India and Egypt. AQUITANIA went to Sydney NSW to join convoy US 4, MAURETANIA to Wellington for New Zealand troops, also to join US 4, while QUEEN MARY went to Singapore to use the new dry dock at the naval base there prior to passage to Sydney NSW, there to load troops for convoy US 6 to Bombay.

 

 

 

WS 2

 

 

This convoy, of seventeen ships, sailed from Liverpool and the Clyde 5.8, ORION returning the following day with engine defects; she is not therefore allocated a place in the sailing plan below as, after repairs, she sailed as an independent to Capetown, then joining the Bombay section of the convoy WS 2B, at that port and sailing on 31.8.40.

 

PRIVATE 11

CLAN MACAULAY

 

21

STRATHEDEN

(Commodore)

31

EMPRESS OF CANADA

(Vice Commodore)

41

ORMONDE

 

51

EMPRESS OF BRITAIN

(Rear Commodore)

 

61

SUFFOLK

 

12

WAIWERA

 

22

OTRANTO

 

32

ANDES

 

42

MONARCH OF BERMUDA

 

52

STRATHAIRD

 

62

MEMNON

 

 

23

BATORY

 

33

FRANCONIA

 

43

ASKA

53

LANARKSHIRE

 

 

 

The destroyers HARVESTER, HAVELOCK, HIGHLANDER and HURRICANE escorted the Liverpool ships, while FORTUNE, FURY, VORTIGERN and WATCHMAN brought out the Clyde ships, all destroyers parting company 7.8. The cruisers EMERALD and SHROPSHIRE sailed from the Clyde and CORNWALL from Liverpool; EMERALD left with the destroyers on 7.8, the two remaining ships staying with the convoy into the Indian Ocean.

 

On 8.8, in 53.22N 21.40W the convoy divided into FAST and SLOW sections as shown below,

 

 

 

WS 2 FAST

 

 

PRIVATE 11

ANDES

21

STRATHEDEN

(Commodore)

31

EMPRESS OF BRITAIN

(Vice Commodore)

 

41

EMPRESS OF CANADA

 

12

BATORY

 

22

STRATHAIRD

 

32

MONARCH OF BERMUDA

 

 

 

This section, escorted by the cruiser CUMBERLAND, arrived at Freetown 15.8, and after a brief pause sailed again on 16.8 for Capetown, arriving there still escorted by CUMBERLAND on 25.8, leaving MONARCH OF BERMUDA at Freetown to return to the UK as an independent.

 

 

 

WS 2 SLOW

 

 

In the formation shown below,

 

PRIVATE 11

CLAN MACAULAY

 

12

WAIWERA

 

31

ORMONDE

 

41

SUFFOLK

 

12

(no ship)

21

OTRANTO

 

32

FRANCONIA

 

42

MEMNON

 

13 ASKA

 

 

 

43

LANARKSHIRE

 

 

and escorted by SHROPSHIRE arrived at Freetown on 16.8 after the FAST section had cleared the roadstead. At Freetown the ASKA remained behind, eventually to return to the UK as an independent and be lost by air attack on 17.9 en route.

 

The remainder of WS 2 SLOW sailed on 18.8, retaining the original formation and still escorted by SHROPSHIRE, to arrive at Capetown 25.8. Off Capetown the FRANCONIA detached and, escorted by the armed merchant cruiser KANIMBLA, arrived at Durban 27.8. The remaining ships of the convoy berthed at Capetown.

 

A further division of the convoy took place at Capetown, with the detachment of the India bound vessels.

 

 

 

WS 2A

 

 

On 30.8, ten ships:

 

ANDES

CLAN MACAULAY

EMPRESS OF BRITAIN

EMPRESS OF CANADA

LANARKSHIRE

 

MEMNON

OTRANTO

STRATHAIRD

SUFFOLK

WAIWERA

 

 

sailed from Capetown escorted by the cruiser SHROPSHIRE, joined off Durban in 21.46S 37.55E by

 

FRANCONIA

 

LLANGIBBY CASTLE

 

which were escorted from Durban by the armed merchant cruiser KANIMBLA, SHROPSHIRE continuing as escort to Perim. Off Mombasa the cruiser CERES made a rendezvous on 7.9 and detached LLANGIBBY CASTLE to enter Mombasa.

 

Off Perim on 12.9 in 12.37N 43.22E, the Australian cruiser HOBART, AA cruiser COVENTRY and destroyers KANDAHAR and KINGSTON took over the ANDES, EMPRESS OF BRITAIN and EMPRESS OF CANADA as a FAST section for Suez, dispersing these ships as independents, when clear of Italian attack, in the early hours of 14.9.41 SHROPSHIRE, reinforced by the destroyer KIMBERLEY and the AA sloops AUCKLAND and FLAMINGO continued with the SLOW portion to Suez.

 

On completion of their passage and disembarkation of the troops, the EMPRESS OF BRITAIN and EMPRESS OF CANADA both returned to the UK as independents via Capetown and Freetown; the EMPRESS OF BRITAIN being bombed, set on fire and then torpedoed and sunk on passage. FRANCONIA, OTRANTO and STRATHAIRD formed part of convoy SW 1 to Durban with evacuees from the Middle East, and then returned as independents via the Cape and Freetown to Britain. ANDES was in convoy SW 2, also to Durban, and then as an independent via W Africa to Britain.

 

 

 

WS 2B

 

 

Three ships of the original convoy, plus ORION which had now arrived at Capetown as an independent, sailed from Capetown on 31.8 for Bombay.

 

PRIVATE 11

BATORY

 

21

STRATHEDEN

(Commodore)

31

ORION

 

41

ORMONDE

 

 

Escort from Capetown was provided by the cruiser CORNWALL, relieved on 3.9 by the armed merchant cruiser KANIMBLA who took the convoy through to Bombay, arriving there on 15.9.

 

The ships of WS 2B spent rather more time in the East than the Aden convoy: BATORY went on to Colombo, then to Singapore for dry docking, and then made passages to Suez, Durban and Australia during the rest of 1940. ORION made one passage to Suez from Bombay, then south to Durban and west to Australia, ORMONDE went to Suez, then Capetown and Freetown to spend some time on the West African coast, returning to Britain in 12.40 as an independent. STRATHEDEN also went to Singapore to dry dock, and then direct to Australia for troop convoys from the Commonwealth later in the year.

 

 

 

WS 3A SLOW

 

 

This convoy sailed from Liverpool 3.10.40 consisting of:

 

DORSET

ERINPURA

HIGHLAND BRIGADE

KHEDIVE ISMAIL

 

OROPESA

PERTHSHIRE

PORT CHALMERS

 

with troops and stores.

 

WOOLWICH (repair ship) was in company to Capetown.

 

Local A/S escort was provided by destroyers HARVESTER, HAVELOCK, HIGHLANDER, HURRICANE, VERSATILE, VISCOUNT and WITHERINGTON while the ocean escort was the cruiser SHEFFIELD until 13.10, being then relieved by the cruiser CUMBERLAND. The convoy arrived at Freetown 16.10.

 

The entire convoy, escorted by CUMBERLAND, sailed from Freetown 17.10 and arrived 27.10 at Capetown where HMS WOOLWICH remained.

 

Still escorted by CUMBERLAND, the convoy sailed from Capetown on 29.10; on 1.11 the armed merchant cruiser CARTHAGE relieved as escort in position 32.30S 33E and took the convoy onward until 3.11 when a rendezvous was made with WS 3B Fast, both convoys thereafter proceeding as WS 3.

 

 

 

WS 3B FAST

 

 

This convoy sailed from Liverpool and the Clyde on 7.10.40, the latter section being attacked by aircraft shortly after sailing, with the result that ORONSAY received near miss damage which required her to return to the Clyde. The combined convoy thereafter comprised:

 

CAPETOWN CASTLE

DUCHESS OF YORK

GEORGIC

 

MONARCH OF BERMUDA

ORONTES

WINCHESTER CASTLE

 

Local A/S escort was provided by destroyers DOUGLAS and ST LAURENT from Liverpool and ACTIVE and OTTAWA from the Clyde. On 8.10 the destroyers ACHATES, ARROW, SABRE and VIMY joined from the Clyde with the cruiser KENYA as the ocean escort.

 

The Liverpool and Clyde sections made their rendezvous at noon on 12.10 when the destroyer escort departed leaving KENYA to take the convoy on to Freetown where it arrived safely on 18.10.

 

On 20.10 the convoy sailed from Freetown with the cruiser DORSETSHIRE as escort to Capetown, arriving there 28.10.

 

On 30.10, one day later than WS 3A Slow, DUCHESS OF YORK, GEORGIC, MONARCH OF BERMUDA and ORONTES sailed from Capetown escorted by DORSETSHIRE and made RV with the Slow convoy on 3.11 to form convoy WS 3.

 

 

 

WS 3

 

 

The combined convoy formed by the rendezvous was organised as follows:

 

PRIVATE 11

MONARCH OF BERMUDA

 

21

ORONTES

(Commodore)

 

31

GEORGIC

 

12

DORSET

 

22

PERTHSHIRE

 

32

DUCHESS OF YORK

13

HIGHLAND BRIGADE

 

23

PORT CHALMERS

 

33

OROPESA

(Vice Commodore)

 

14

KHEDIVE ISMAIL

 

24

ERINPURA

 

 

 

DORSETSHIRE and CARTHAGE formed the escort for the convoy.

 

On 7.11 ERINPURA and KHEDIVE ISMAIL detached, escorted by CARTHAGE, and proceeded to Mombasa.

 

On 12.11, off Aden, the cruiser CALEDON detached DUCHESS OF YORK and GEORGIC and escorted them into harbour where they landed some of their troops. On completion CALEDON and the destroyer KIMBERLEY escorted both ships to overtake and rejoin the convoy. Meanwhile, the cruiser CARLISLE had brought out the freighter CITY OF LILLE from Aden to join the convoy.

 

The sloops AUCKLAND and PARRAMATTA also joined the convoy 12.11 as AA escort for the Red Sea passage, on 14.11 CARLISLE and DORSETSHIRE detached to return to Aden, and the convoy arrived at Suez 16.11.

 

On completion of her passage and disembarkation, OROPESA started her return to the UK as an independent, but was lost on 16.1.41 when torpedoed by U 96. DUCHESS OF YORK and ORONTES went to Durban in convoy SW 3 carrying British civilian evacuees from Malta and Egypt, thence independent to the UK via Freetown. DORSET and ERINPURA went East to Ceylon for further service in those waters, PERTHSHIRE remained in the Middle East for further service, and PORT CHALMERS went via Ceylon and Australia to New Zealand to load cargo for Britain.

 

 

 

WS 3C

 

 

This convoy commenced at Capetown on 1.11.40 being made up of WOOLWICH, delayed from WS 3A SLOW, and the freighter CLAN CAMERON with the cruiser COLOMBO as escort. On 5.11 the ships made a rendezvous with convoy CM 5 and continued northward under the WS designation, being joined on 10.11 by KHEDIVE ISMAIL, late of WS 3, which was brought out from Mombasa by the armed merchant cruiser CARTHAGE which also joined the convoy as an escort. Later that day WOOLWICH, suffering from engine defects, detached from WS 3 with the CM 5 ships and proceeded to Mombasa, leaving CLAN CAMERON and KHEDIVE ISMAIL to continue to Aden where they joined the Red Sea convoy BN 8 1/2 for passage to Suez, arriving there on 23.11.40.

 

KHEDIVE ISMAIL went East to Ceylon and thereafter was employed as a personnel ship in Eastern waters until lost much later in the war with heavy loss of life.

 

 

 

WS 4

 

 

As the largest convoy of the series to date, some ships sailed from Avonmouth on 31.10.40 and joined the Liverpool section on 1.11 off the Mersey. Both sections then met the Clyde ships, which sailed 2.11, off Oversay on 2.11. Final convoy order was as follows:

 

PRIVATE 11

MALANCHA

 

21

CITY OF MANCHESTER

 

31

STIRLING CASTLE

(Commodore)

 

41

SCYTHIA

(Vice Commodore)

 

51

DUNEDIN STAR

 

12

CLAN LAMONT

 

22

HIGHLAND MONARCH

 

32

PORT WYNDHAM

 

42

MARTAND

 

52

DELIUS

 

13

HMS SALOPIAN

 

23

CLAN CHATTAN

 

33

ALMANZORA

 

43

WARWICK CASTLE

 

53

ABOSSO

 

 

24

AKAROA

 

 

44

DUCHESS OF RICHMOND

 

 

 

Of the original convoy, SALOPIAN was for passage to her patrol area in the Northern Atlantic; DUCHESS OF RICHMOND detached to Montreal, being on her normal UK/Canadian service.

 

The Polish destroyer GARLAND escorted from Avonmouth, destroyers HARVESTER and HURRICANE from Liverpool and from the Clyde the destroyers BEAGLE, BULLDOG, HESPERUS, OTTAWA, SAGUENAY and SKEENA. The AA cruiser CAIRO provided AA cover from the Clyde while the cruiser CORNWALL also sailed from there as the ocean escort.

 

CAIRO and the destroyers BEAGLE, GARLAND, HESPERUS and HURRICANE detached on 3.11, BULLDOG also detached that day to go to the assistance of the damaged WINDSOR CASTLE. On 4.11 SAGUENAY and SKEENA left to join convoy HX 83, and HARVESTER and OTTAWA likewise detached to join convoy SC 9.

 

DUCHESS OF RICHMOND detached as an independent on 5.11, while AKAROA did likewise on 9.11.

 

On 11.11 in position 23.47N 22.15W, after rendezvous with the armed merchant cruiser PRETORIA CASTLE, the convoy divided into FAST and SLOW sections for onward passage to Freetown.

 

 

 

WS 4 FAST

 

 

The FAST section comprised:

 

PRIVATE 11

(no ship)

21

WARWICK CASTLE

 

31

STIRLING CASTLE

(Commodore)

 

41

SCYTHIA

(Vice Commodore)

 

51

DUNEDIN STAR

 

12

(no ship)

22

HIGHLAND MONARCH

 

32

PORT WYNDHAM

 

42

CLAN LAMONT

 

52

CLAN CHATTAN

 

Escorted by CORNWALL, the convoy arrived at Freetown 14.11.

 

 

 

WS 4 SLOW

 

 

ABOSSO

ALMANZORA (Commodore)

CITY OF MANCHESTER (Vice Commodore)

 

DELIUS

MALANCHA

MARTAND

 

Escorted by PRETORIA CASTLE, the convoy arrived at Freetown on 15.11.

 

 

 

WS 4

 

 

At Freetown the two sections combined and sailed on 17.11 with the exception of ABOSSO; the order of sailing is unknown.

 

Escort was provided by CORNWALL and PRETORIA CASTLE to Durban.

 

On 26.11 PRETORIA CASTLE detached SCYTHIA and WARWICK CASTLE and took both ships in to Capetown, where SCYTHIA watered ship and then sailed with PRETORIA CASTLE to rejoin the main body on 29.11.

 

On 2.12, PRETORIA CASTLE took over ALMANZORA, CITY OF MANCHESTER, DELIUS, MALANCHA and MARTAND as a SLOW section while CORNWALL took the remaining ships. Both sections entered Durban on 3.12 at an interval of approximately twelve hours.

 

SCYTHIA and ALMANZORA remained at Durban when the convoy sailed on 5.12, with the transport DUNERA joining and assuming the duty of Vice Commodore; the escort was provided by CORNWALL and the armed merchant cruiser KANIMBLA, both of which detached off Aden on 18.12.

 

The Red Sea escort consisted of the cruiser CARLISLE from 18 to 20.12, the Australian cruiser PERTH 18 to 23.12, destroyer KINGSTON 18 to 22.12, Indian sloop INDUS and Australian sloop YARRA 18 to 20.12.

 

The CITY OF AGRA and MELBOURNE STAR joined the convoy from Aden on 18.12, while DELIUS and PORT WYNDHAM detached to Port Sudan on 20.12.

 

DUNEDIN STAR, MELBOURNE STAR and STIRLING CASTLE proceeded as a FAST section escorted by KINGSTON, to arrive at Suez 22.12 the remaining ships arrived on 23.12.40.

 

 

 

WS 4B

 

 

The ships of this convoy sailed from Liverpool 17.11.40 and the Clyde 18.11 to combine on that day in the following order:

 

PRIVATE 11

STRATHNAVER

 

21

STRATHAIRD

 

31

DUCHESS OF ATHOLL

(Commodore)

 

41

ORCADES

 

51

REINA DEL PACIFICO

 

12

STRATHALLAN

 

22

VICEROY OF INDIA

 

32

EMPRESS OF CANADA

(Vice Commodore)

 

42

ANDES

 

52

OTRANTO

 

 

A/S escort was provided by the destroyers BATH, ST ALBANS, and ST MARY'S from 18 to 19.11 and by HIGHLANDER, OTTAWA, SAGUENAY, SKEENA and ST LAURENT from 18 to 20.11; the escort from Liverpool is not known. The AA cruiser CAIRO  provided cover from 18 to 19.11, while the ocean escort consisted of the cruiser EDINBURGH from Liverpool to Freetown, and NORFOLK from the Clyde until 23.11 when she was relieved by DEVONSHIRE for the passage to Freetown where the convoy arrived on 29.11.

 

The convoy sailed from Freetown on 1.12 in the same formation, escorted by the cruisers CUMBERLAND for 4 days and DEVONSHIRE from Freetown to Durban where the convoy arrived on 12.12. CUMBERLAND's relief was the old cruiser HAWKINS which joined 4.12 although she was absent 8 to 10.12 fuelling.

 

When the convoy sailed from Durban on 16.12, the cruising order was altered as shown below:

 

PRIVATE 11

ANDES

 

21

VICEROY OF INDIA

 

31

DUCHESS OF ATHOLL

(Commodore)

 

41

ORCADES

 

51

OTRANTO

 

12

STRATHALLAN

 

22

STRATHAIRD

 

32

EMPRESS OF CANADA

(Vice Commodore)

 

42

REINA DEL PACIFICO

 

52

STRATHNAVER

 

 

The convoy was escorted from Durban by the cruisers DEVONSHIRE until 18.12, SHROPSHIRE until 25.12 and SOUTHAMPTON until 28.12 on which date the ships arrived at Suez. SOUTHAMPTON was on passage to join the Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria.

 

From the Aden area the cruiser CARLISLE and destroyers KANDAHAR and KIMBERLEY joined on 25.12, detaching on 27.12 except KANDAHAR which stayed until 28.12.40.

 

 

 

WS 5A

 

 

This convoy is, perversely, one of the most interesting of the entire series and the poorest documented. Sailing in two separate sections on different dates from varying ports, it is the only WS convoy ever to be located and attacked by a large warship, fortunately with only minimal damage. The report rendered by the Commodore is laconic in the extreme, "25 Dec, convoy dispersed. 28 Dec convoy re‑assembled" being his sole comment on an attack by a heavy cruiser and the subsequent action!

 

The SLOW section sailed from Liverpool and the Clyde on 18.12.40 consisting of:

 

ANSELM

ARABISTAN

HMS ATREUS (Vice Commodore)

BHUTAN

CITY OF CANTERBURY

CITY OF DERBY

CITY OF LONDON

COSTA RICA

DELANE

ELISABETHVILLE

 

EMPIRE TROOPER

ERNEBANK

LEOPOLDVILLE

MENELAUS

NEURALIA

RANGITIKI

SETTLER

STENTOR

TAMAROA (Commodore)

 

Escort was provided by the corvettes CLEMATIS, CYCLAMEN, GERANIUM and JONQUIL which were on passage to Freetown themselves, and by the destroyers BATH and ST ALBANS from 18 to 20.12 and HARVESTER, HIGHLANDER and VESPER from 19 to 21.12. The cruiser BONAVENTURE was attached as ocean escort.

 

The FAST section of the convoy sailed from Liverpool and the Clyde on 19.12 and consisted of:

 

BARRISTER

CLAN CUMMING

CLAN MACDONALD

EMPIRE SONG

 

ESSEX

NORTHERN PRINCE

ORBITA

 

These were joined after sailing by the aircraft carriers ARGUS and FURIOUS that were currently employed as ferries loaded with crated aircraft for Egypt via West Africa.

 

The destroyers KELVIN and KIPLING, the Canadian OTTAWA and ST LAURENT, Polish PIORUN and Free French LE TRIOMPHANT provided A/S cover from 19 to 22.12 while the cruiser NAIAD was attached as heavy escort.

 

The two convoys made their rendezvous on 23.12 and on 24.12 NAIAD left and the cruisers BERWICK and DUNEDIN joined; the convoy was then escorted by these ships plus BONAVENTURE and the four corvettes.

 

During the night of 24‑25.12 the convoy was located by the German heavy cruiser ADMIRAL HIPPER which, thinking that it was a normal trade convoy and not wishing to attack in the dark when torpedo armed destroyers might be present, lay off and tracked by radar. Closing from the west at dawn on Christmas Day, ADMIRAL HIPPER was dismayed to make her first sighting by approaching the heavy cruiser BERWICK. Realising that the convoy must be more important, she at once engaged. BERWICK, which had closed up to pre‑dawn action stations, replied immediately and summoned the other two cruisers to assist.

 

Meanwhile, ADMIRAL HIPPER, which had been sighted and reported by the corvette CLEMATIS, shifted fire to the convoy generally which was in the course of scattering as ordered by the Commodore. She hit the personnel ship EMPIRE TROOPER (an ex-German liner) heavily and caused minor damage to one other ship. Then, sighting the elderly cruiser DUNEDIN and, mistaking her for a destroyer, and rightly fearing a torpedo attack in the poor visibility, ADMIRAL HIPPER broke off the action and retired into the Atlantic gloom.

 

There followed a period of near farce, although not in the slightest degree amusing. ADMIRAL HIPPER had first engaged and damaged her largest opponent, BERWICK, and had been unaware of the presence of the corvette CLEMATIS who raised the alarm and steamed to intercept! The enemy had mistaken the small cruiser DUNEDIN for a destroyer, and was apparently quite unaware of the presence of BONAVENTURE despite the latter firing a prodigious amount of 5.25in shell at her opponent during the action.

 

The convoy having scattered, the two carriers turned their whole attention to locating and attacking the enemy; unfortunately their resources were minimal and the weather atrocious. The carriers were cluttered with cased aircraft with only three Skua dive bombers in FURIOUS and two Swordfish torpedo aircraft in ARGUS; worse still, FURIOUS had no bombs, only torpedoes, while the ARGUS had bombs but no torpedoes!

 

While frantic efforts were made to clear the respective flight decks to cross deck the Swordfish for arming, the carriers searched in the gloom for the cruiser, fortunately not finding her, while the Skuas were flown off unarmed as reconnaissance aircraft. By the time the Swordfish had been flown over to the FURIOUS, armed and readied to fly off, there was no trace of ADMIRAL HIPPER and a thoroughly alarmed Admiralty ordered the carriers to cease their suicidal search. The only beneficiaries of the affair were the Swordfish aircrew, who were provided with an early Christmas lunch in BOTH carriers prior to their expected sortie!

 

Meanwhile, EMPIRE TROOPER was escorted to neutral Ponta Delgada by the corvette CYCLAMEN where they arrived on 28.12, the other three corvettes concentrated on re‑ assembling the convoy and BONAVENTURE, while going to the aid of the damaged ARABISTAN, located and sank the blockade runner BADEN. The cruiser KENYA was also ordered to the area as a reinforcement.

 

Eventually, CLAN CUMMING, CLAN MACDONALD, ESSEX, NORTHERN PRINCE and EMPIRE SONG made their way to Gibraltar, their initial destination; EMPIRE TROOPER, escorted by the four corvettes and KENYA also went to Gibraltar to disembark her troops, effect temporary repairs and retire to the UK for a long refit; LEOPOLDVILLE proceeded independently and the remainder of the convoy re‑assembled and made its way to Freetown where it arrived 6.1.41.

 

The loss of the JUMNA to ADMIRAL HIPPER is frequently quoted as a loss from WS 5A; she was in fact an independent having dispersed from convoy OB 260, and was located and sunk during ADMIRAL HIPPER's return to Brest.

 

The reconstituted convoy sailed from Freetown 8.1.41 consisting of:

 

ADVISER

ANSELM

ARABISTAN

HMS ATREUS

BARRISTER

BENRINNES

BHUTAN

CITY OF CANTERBURY

CITY OF DERBY

CITY OF LONDON

COSTA RICA

 

DELANE

ELISABETHVILLE

EMPIRE ABILITY

MENELAUS

NEURALIA

ORBITA

RANGITIKI

SETTLER

STENTOR

TAMAROA

 

Local A/S escort was provided by the sloops MILFORD and BRIDGEWATER, destroyers VELOX and VIDETTE and corvettes ASPHODEL and CALENDULA, with an ocean escort of the aircraft carrier FORMIDABLE (on passage to the Mediterranean) and cruisers HAWKINS and NORFOLK; the cruiser DEVONSHIRE joined 9.1 when FORMIDABLE and NORFOLK detached.

 

The convoy arrived off Capetown 21.1 where the cruiser SHROPSHIRE relieved DEVONSHIRE, and HAWKINS took in ANSELM and CITY OF CANTERBURY to Capetown where they berthed 22.1. SHROPSHIRE went on to Durban, arriving there with the remaining ships 26.1, except ORBITA which had detached 23.1 as an independent, rejoining the convoy later in Durban.

 

CITY OF CANTERBURY sailed from Capetown 25.1 arriving Durban 29.1, while ANSELM sailed 27.1 escorted by the cruiser HAWKINS to Durban where the Durban ships sailed 29.1 and formed the full convoy for Aden. The sailing order differed, and two ships had been added (NIEUW HOLLAND and TALAMBA) and was now:

 

11

SETTLER

 

21

HMS ATREUS

 

31

CITY OF LONDON

 

41

TAMAROA

 

51

CITY OF CANTERBURY

 

61

MENELAUS

 

12

BHUTAN

 

22

ORBITA

 

32

ELISABETHVILLE

 

42

COSTA RICA

 

52

ANSELM

 

62

CITY OF DERBY

 

13

DELANE

 

23

RANGITIKI

 

33

NIEUW HOLLAND

 

43

NEURALIA

 

53

TALAMBA

 

63

ARABISTAN

 

14

EMPIRE ABILITY

 

 

34

ADVISER

 

44

BARRISTER

 

54

STENTOR

 

64

BENRINNES

 

 

The cruisers CERES and SHROPSHIRE relieved HAWKINS off Durban and took the convoy on until 30.1 when SHROPSHIRE detached and was replaced by the cruiser ENTERPRISE until 1.2, when CERES proceeded as sole escort until relieved in turn by the armed merchant cruiser HECTOR on 4.2. DELANE fell out with defects 31.1.41. CERES proceeded to Mombasa escorting NIEUW HOLLAND and ORBITA to that port, while the convoy went on with HECTOR.

 

The cruiser CALEDON and the sloops FLAMINGO, GRIMSBY and INDUS relieved HECTOR on 11.2 and took the convoy into the Red Sea, leaving it when clear of the Italian threat on 13.2.41, the ships then continuing to Suez and arriving 16.2.41. NEURALIA detached to Port Sudan during the passage. 

 
 

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revised 4/12/10


 

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