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Report from The Flag Officer Newfoundland (ST. John's)
to The Commander-in-Chief, Canadian North West Atlantic, Halifax
dated Aug. 27-1943
Also on this page:
Report on possible enemy attack
Submitted with reference to my signals 231344/August and 251142/August, as thorough an investigation as possible has been carried out, of which the following is a brief summary. All times are GMT.
At 190200 (I believe this means at 02:00 on the 19th) the convoy was reported as attacked by one submarine in 43 56N 53 02W at 190116. Both corvettes carried out attacks, three of which were described as "promising" and thirty minutes later two ships were reported as having been torpedoed.
At 191215, Cobalt reported J. H. Senior salvageable, and at 191310 Lachine left the area with the Rescue Ship Bury to rejoin the convoy, but were subsequently ordered to St. John's. Lachine had one survivor from J. Pinckney Henderson, whilst Bury had six from J. H. Senior.
At 192015, Cobalt reported attacking a submarine "bearing 257° from 44 08N 52 58W (distance corrupt).
At 192035, W6 reported the convoy again attacked. The commanding officer, Montgomery later stated he considered this to have been a false alarm.
At 200745, Cobalt again reported he was attacking a U-boat with depth charges while it was "beneath wreck" of J. H. Senior in position 43 53N 53 12W.
At 201230, HMS Narcissus reported picking up 37 survivors ex Santos in position 47 10N 53 40W (Previously sighted and reported by aircraft. Follow link for more details on the loss of this Norwegian ship).
At 201500, Cobalt reported no further A/S contacts in vicinity of J. H. Senior; also that he had sent a party on board who had partly extinguished the fire by 201605.
At 201516, HMS Keppel reported he had two more survivors from J. Pinckney Henderson. Later he stated (211045) that she was in position 44 27N 53 08W, a red-hot gutted hulk, still floating and possibly salvageable after 48 hours.
HMCS St. Francis, on being detached for Pictou, reported (at 210530) that J. H. Senior was in tow of Adherent. The flag Officer Newfoundland ordered her to be towed to Bay Bulls as her cargo consisted of benzine which was reported to be still venting freely.
At 211045, J. H. Senior in tow, with Northern Sky and Hesperia standing by, were screened by HMS Towy, HMS Oronis, and HMS Grenadier. J. Pinckney Henderson was left burning and arrangements were made for the Royal Canadian Air Force to report her position and state at intervals. As she was practically red-hot and gutted (cargo of 20,000 bales of cotton), no doubt was felt as to the fate of her Confidential Books.
Searches and patrols were carried out by numerous aircraft during the whole operation.
Interrogation of survivors:
The Second Engineer (Danish - 28) was in the Engineroom, and felt a shock "not like a torpedo" but which corresponded to a collision. He heard the general fire alarm and on reaching the deck saw fire and smoke everywhere.
J. Pinckney Henderson (42): There were only three survivors from this ship. The Boatswain was in his cabin and felt a collision. He stated that it was very foggy, and that the ship which they rammed caught fire. He was very definite that his ship was not torpedoed.
An Ordinary Seaman was on lookout duty at the port midship gun and stated that he saw a blue light on the port side and reported it to the Mate. When back at his gun he saw that collision with another ship which was crossing the bows from port to starboard was unavoidable. This other ship was rammed starboard side "between bow and bridge". Henderson caught on fire almost at once - very probably electrical as this survivor stated he saw "blue flames" in the officers' quarters. This Ordinary Seaman and the Boatswain remained on the stern of the ship for almost two and a half days.
The only other survivor was the Carpenter, and Indian named Albert Cericeros. He stated that he heard an explosion which he believed to be a torpedo "in No. 3 Mess between midships and stern". The ship caught fire and he went over the side with life-jacket on, being picked up about six hours later. He further states that whilst in the water - he does not remember when - he found himself drifting towards a fully surfaced submarine. He saw one gun on deck and six or seven members of the crew, but does not remember seeing any number on the conning tower. He then drifted away from it. This witness was torpedoed in the Caribbean in March, 1943, in Tulsa which was subsequently beached. (Note that this submarine sighting was later deemed "open to grave doubts" - read on).
Santos (34): Two men only were lost from this ammunition ship. The 37 survivors included the Master and all Officers. The Master, a fine type of Norwegian seaman, and his first Officer were interviewed. Both spoke good English. The Master had previously interrogated the remaining survivors and stated that he was in possession of what little information there was to be had.
At about 00:48Z/19 he saw a "glow in the fog" ahead and slightly to starboard. Two minutes later a Liberty Ship appeared in the fog off his starboard bow and apparently circling towards him. Collision appeared inevitable, and as the explosives were stowed forward, Santos went hard-a-port and full ahead. The unknown vessel struck the starboard quarter of the Santos, jammed his port anchor in her side and dropped astern, paying out the port chain as he did so. The Liberty Ship swung over to the port quarter of Santos, thus towing her stern to port, and turning her bows to starboard towards a burning ship which had now appeared close by. In order to avoid this new peril, Santos rung down full ahead on his starboard screw (though he thought at the time the dragging anchor-chain might be foul of it) and managed to swing clear of the burning vessel. He asked the Liberty Ship by signal to slip her chain and this was done, the Liberty Ship disappearing astern. Santos then lay stopped whilst the damage was investigated. At 01:45Z/19, fifty-five minutes after the first collision, and while the ship was still stopped, another (or possibly the same) Liberty Ship suddenly appeared out of the darkness and rammed Santos on the port side abreast No. 4 hold. It is not clear what happened to the Liberty Ship, but presumably she continued on her way. Santos sank thirty-five minutes later, at 02:20Z/19. (Again, more details on he loss of this ship, including crew list, are available on my page about Santos).
Attacks by Escorts:
In crossing the stern of the convoy to join Cobalt, Lachine detected good H.E. and carried out attacks. Her A/S was also broken down and she was unable to transmit.
The following morning at 07:45Z/20 Cobalt reported a submarine below the wreck of J. H. Senior and attacked with depth charges until 09:09Z when she stated it had gone deep, and by which time she had only ten charges left.
In view of the respective positions of J. H. Senior (32) and J. Pinckney Henderson (42); the fact that J. H. Senior, a tanker, was rammed on the starboard side forward, abreast the well-deck where the freeboard is small; and the fact that J. Pinckney Henderson has a damaged bow from the waterline to a point about half-way up the stem corresponding to this freeboard; it appears a reasonable assumption that J. Pinckney Henderson collided with J. H. Senior. As both these ships apparently caught on fire almost at once, it does not appear possible that either of them was involved with Santos.
The fact that the convoy had been in fog for about two days must be taken into account, though the general impression of the Escorts and of the Master of Santos was that fairly good station was being maintained. Montgomery signalled that Fort St. Regis (125) straggling at 190200Z, but this is the only case reported. It is not known what happened to Grace Abbott (22) reported missing from the convoy on the 15th August. It may be noted that Santos (34) stated he was following 33* whose sternlight he could see, and had also been in signal communication with 32 (J. H. Senior) earlier on the evening of the 18th. This line was therefore apparently in good formation.
The principal evidence in favour of a submarine being present is the torpedo heard by Cobalt and his subsequent unrecorded contacts, the H.E. heard by Lachine and attacked, and the statement of J.H. Senior's carpenter. It is thought reasonable to assume that the evidence of this witness, considering all the circumstances, is open to grave doubts.
An interrogation of Cobalt's A/S operators by the Tactical Training Centre at St. John's was held on the ship's arrival in harbour. The report stated that from such verbal evidence as could be gathered, it is quite possible that Torpedo H.E. was heard, also that the subsequent contacts seemed fairly certain. However, the Senior Officer of B3 Group (Towy) later stated that fish echoes were prevalent, the majority of which gave good recorder-traces.
Lachine's attacks on H.E. only cannot be assessed with any degree of certainty whatever.
It might be assumed that a submarine was present, fired one or more torpedoes all of which missed their mark, and then disappeared. Since, however, there has been no H/F D/F indication of a U-boat within several hundred miles of this position for some weeks, this seems unlikely.
On the whole, it is felt the evidence points to the fact that no submarine was in the vicinity, and the whole occurrence was the unfortunate result of a series of collisions in very low visibility at night.
Remarks and recommendations:
The matter of A/S fighting efficiency of the two corvettes is being dealt with by separate submission.
Signed H. E Reid
21:45 August 18th, 1943 (00:45 GMT) during a dense fog there occurred a muffled explosion abaft our starboard beam followed by a fire. The fire was of a nature to lead me to believe that it came from burning gasoline.
The gasoline tanker J. H. Senior, convoy No. 32 was last heard to sound his number before the fire occurred. The fire lasted about fifteen minutes, during this time we were proceeding at full speed on the course. Numerous explosions were heard including depth charges.
On the night of August 19th-1943, during a dense fog, our Radio Operator intercepted a message from the S.S. Montgomery (he probably means Richard Montgomery) to the Commodore who reported seeing the wake of a torpedo cross his bow. This vessel failed to rejoin the convoy when the fog lifted.
(Signed Captain E. Pryne, S.S. Thomas Lynch).
To the next HX convoy in my list HX 253
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