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Commodore's Narrative of Voyage
Convoy HX 217

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Friday, Nov. 27-1942
Left New York with HX 217 in fine weather.

Dec. 1 (dawn?)
Aircraft sighted submarine on port quarter, got out nets in four Net Defence ships.

Dec. 2
Very heavy south-easterly gale during night, and bad visibility. Convoy badly scattered.

Dec. 3
Ordered convoy to heave to by wireless.
P.M. - Asked Escort by radio telegraphy to broadcast through Washington for the rest of the convoy, at 16:00 on the 4th. This was not done by Washington or the shore authorities until a.m. on the 4th, with the result that eight of my ships returned to St. John's, but it is, of course, possible they returned there due to damage to deck cargo during the gale.

Dec. 4
16:00 - at R.V.
Escort joined me, and 25 ships, and I reformed convoy.

Dec. 6
Two submarines sighted by Escort on our port and starboard quarter. Escort hunting.

Dec. 7
Being shadowed by submarines, and at 06:00, two torpedoes exploded near my ship, probably a Browning shot. From now on convoy was constantly shadowed and attacked by a large force of submarines, and the Escort battled magnificently day and night in defence of the convoy. Bearings of submarines were being continually reported by S/S Perth, the H/F D/F ship, most accurately.

At 01:25 (zone), Empire Spenser, No. 101, full of gas, was torpedoed, and immediately the whole area near was a sea of flame and columns of dense black smoke went up to five hundred feet. The convoy proceeded straight on, in accordance with previous orders that if attacked they were to do so. They appeared quite unperturbed, and I noticed the ship astern of the torpedoed ship immediately closed up into her position. A great battle was going on all round the convoy and in easy sight of it. Escort hope they damaged several submarines. At daylight, aircraft attacked and sank one submarine astern of us.

At 16:00, torpedo running on the surface crossed my bow from port to starboard, probably a Browning shot.

Dec. 9
Battle going on, and S/S Charles L.D. torpedoed at 08:00 (zone). Weather was bad, a heavy gale and sea. The ship capsized, and I am afraid that only twelve out of forty-eight were saved.

Dec. 10
Fine weather, and air escort. I believe aircraft sank another submarine 30 miles astern of us and sighted others on the surface. Escort hunting.

Dec. 11
Twenty-three ships present. Speed 8 knots, due to having to reduce for number 82, with engine trouble.

S/S Perth, H/F D/F ship, wonderfully accurate and responsible for the good hunting by Escort, and to her the convoy's comparative safety is largely due, as every time she gave a bearing and the Escort or aircraft were able to go out on that bearing, a submarine was sighted on the surface.
A quiet night at last.

Dec. 12
3 p.m. - Formed 3 columns, Clyde, Milford and Belfast, approaching North Channel.

Dec. 13
Heavy gale.

Dec. 14
Arrived entrance to Swept Channel at 09:20.

Special Report to C. in C. W.A. and Admiralty - Convoy HX 217, 14/12/42

This has been a most interesting convoy and is the best example I have yet seen of good co-operation between Escort, Convoy and Aircraft and the proper use of those instruments, devices and weapons supplied to Escort, Convoy and Aircraft for the undoing of the enemy. I feel sure much may be learnt from the study of these particular attacks and counter attacks and convoy procedure.

Since all attacks took place within view of the convoy and as I had W/T? in my ship I was enabled to see nearly everything and hear all orders from S.O. Escort to his command. I was also enabled to intercept all the enemy submarine bearings given by R/T from S.S. Perth, the Rescue and HF DF ship. It seemed at one time that the endurance of the Escort could not outlast the repeatedly pressed home attacks of the many enemy submarines night after night and that eventually the convoy ships would be left completely uncovered and exposed to enemy action. The reverse however was the case and after 4 days and nights of attacks and counter attacks the enemy evidently gave up and retired to lick their wounds, I feel they were many and serious.

These actions can I feel be looked upon as a great victory for the Escort under the command of Commander Heathcat(?) of HMS Fame and for his splendidly trained Escort Group. Commander Heathcat pounced upon every opportunity of aggressive action, his orders were clear and concise, no words were wasted and so far as I can see no convoy ? was ever left uncovered though the temptation to persue the enemy submarine to a kill must have been at times very great. I noticed that all ships under his command exercised similar restraint and consequently the convoy was kept defended at all times. In my view Commander Heathcat has shown himself highly qualified for very early promotion.

The work of S.S. Perth, the HF DF ship and rescue ship was invaluable. She supplied all the H/F bearings of the enemy submarine on which the escort were able to act. These were always accurate and if aircraft or the escort were able to follow them up, a submarine was invariably found on the surface. S.S. Perth made no mistakes and her W/T personnel must have been very highly trained. Such a ship in every convoy, is now I consider a necessity.

The Master in his rescue work showed great gallantry and recourse, firstly in rescuing 57 out of 58 from S.S. Empire Spenser in a sea aflame and secondly rescuing 12 out of 48 from S.S. Charles L.D. in bad weather and heavy seas to say nothing of the dangers accepted from enemy action.

More info on Perth:
Perth (requisitioned Oct. 14-1940) was on her 17th voyage as rescue vessel, having started this voyage at Clyde with the westbound Convoy ON 144 on Nov. 7-1942 (to Halifax Nov. 25), returning with Convoy HX 217 from Halifax on Nov. 30, to Clyde Dec. 13-1942. She had had a trying westbound voyage as well, in that the convoy was attacked, and Perth rescued a total of 136 survivors (38 from the Greek Mount Taurus, 54 from the American Parismina, and 44 from the British President Sergent) whom she landed in Halifax on Nov. 25. ("Convoy Rescue Ships", Arnold Hague).

With regard to the rescue of survivors from Empire Spenser and Charles L-D, Arnold Hague says:
"The ship (Empire Spenser), loaded with aviation fuel, burst into flames and almost all the survivors were forced to abandon ship at once. They did so by leaping over the weather side to escape the flames, and were able to cling to the steel netting of the Admiralty Net Defence which had just been streamed at the time of the attack. All were recovered and it was found that only one man was missing, presumed killed in the explosion. Conditions of the sinking were such that the Convoy Commodore queried the Rescue Ship report of the numbers of survivors.

Shortly after this rescue, the ex French Charles L D was sunk by U-553 and capsized almost at once. Perth found a number of men in the water and two in a lifeboat. With difficulty those in the water were trawled by the boom nets and brought on board, then the two men in the lifeboat were attended to. By that stage, both were unconscious with cold and it was necessary for the crew of Perth to go down into the boat to recover them; both survived".

Finally my convoy behaved admirably and appeared to be quite unperturbed at events, and by their good station keeping and discipline must have made the work of the escort during attacks much easier.

The Master of the Commodore's ship (S.S. Diomed) Thomas Arthur Kent hardly left the bridge during the voyage and by his endurance and assistance in correctly navigating the convoy contributed to the safety of the convoy. This officer has had his ship sunk by bombs under him at Singapore and was torpedoed twice in the last war, recognition of his services on this occasion would I think be appreciated by the Merchant Service.

No snowflakes were used by convoy ships by order of S.O. Escort and agreement with me. I am of the opinion that our losses would have been much heavier if they had been used.

My signal and W/T staff as usual were perfectly cool under somewhat trying conditions and gave me most valuable help.

Raymond Fitzmaurice
14th December, 1942.

Page 1 - ships in HX 217

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