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HMS Leith's Report - Local Escort Convoy SC 7
Received from Roger Griffiths (his source: Public Records Office, Kew)

Page 1 - Ships in convoy

From the Commanding Officer of HMS Leith to the Flag Officer in charge, Liverpool
dated Oct. 25-1940

The following report is rendered in accordance with C.B. 04024, Article 146:-

(a) S.C. 7

(b) Friday 18th October
01:15 - In company with Heartsease. Course 129° Speed 14. Sighted S.C. 7 ahead in position 58 50N 14 12W. Wind SE, Force 2, moon behind cloud, visibility good, sea calm.
01:26 - Ordered Heartsease to position (a? e? hard to decipher) or if occupied (g) intending to take station (d) or (f) myself.
01:34 - Red Very's light observed in direction of convoy.
01:38 - An unknown ship astern of convoy signalled he was hit port side.
01:45 - Heard explosion to port of convoy. Altered 90° to port to search across convoy's wake. From the above it would appear that two ships had been torpedoed and two ships were certainly seen at this stage. Later however only one ship Carsbreck could be found and other ships of escort stated next day that only one ship was missing. The discrepancy cannot be explained.
01:55 - Sighted Bluebell and stationed her one mile port beam. Searched 3000 yards up port side of convoy wake. When estimated position was abeam convoy searched back.
02:45 - Sighted Fowey and Heartsease who had also searched port side.
03:50 - Ordered Fowey back to convoy. Stationed Heartsease.
04:15 - Turned back towards convoy.
05:20 - Reported attack on convoy (Signal 1). Sighted ship and closed.
05:50 - Sighted lifeboat near ship.
06:10 - Spoke ship Carsbreck who stated she could steam 6 knots and would probably stay afloat. Ordered Hearstease to pick up survivors from boat and escort Carsbreck.
06:25 - Stationed Bluebell one mile port beam and set course for convoy at 14 knots.
08:15 - Sighted convoy.
09:48 - Stationed escort - see para: (c).
09:58 - Spoke Commodore.
13:05 - Sighted two rafts ahead, searched in vicinity with Bluebell then picked up Master and crew (18) of Nora (Estonian) torpedoed on 13th October about 50' (30'?) west of Rockall. (Note: This ship was not part of Convoy SC 7 - she had been sunk by U-103 on Oct. 13. I have a note in my copy of Rohwer's book that she may originally have belonged to Convoy HX 77, but unfortunately, I can no longer remember why I made that note).
17:15 - Commodore signalled his intention to alter 40° to starboard at 20:00 and 40° to port at 23:30.
17:26 - During the day C-in-C W.A.'s (=Commander in Chief, Western Approaches) 1144/17 rev.....? A.W.C.B.'s having been received, I signalled my intention to escort (Signal 2).
18:00 - Ordered Fowey to search 5' astern of convoy at dusk.
19:25 - Observed very distant glare on horizon bearing 180°.
20:00 - Convoy altered course 40° to starboard.
20:20 - A ship torpedoed on port side of convoy in position 57 22N 11 11W. Altered course 120° to port, and increased to full speed firing star shell. Proceeded 10' and then turned towards convoy.
21:30 - Sighted Fowey who had been 5' astern of convoy when attack took place. Stationed Fowey abeam 3000 yards and searched up wake of convoy at 14 knots (Fowey's maximum).
22:05 - Sighted two horizontal red lights then some miles ahead. They burnt for about 15 seconds. Heard explosion ahead.
22:10 - Heard explosion ahead.
22:20 - Heard explosion ahead. Increased to 15 knots and sighted several ships.
22:37 - Heard two explosions ahead.
22:40 - Sighted a "U" boat on surface straight ahead steaming fast on the same course. Distance 3000-4000 yards. Opened fire with star shell. The "U" boat and her wake were clearly visible but not sufficiently for the Gunlayer of "A" gun to get his sights on before she submerged a few minutes later. Contact by echo was obtained at about 3000 yards range and was held on the run in up to 800 yards.
22:55 - Contact was then lost. Meantime Bluebell who was in the vicinity had been ordered to join the hunt which continued until 23:55. About the time "U" boat was sighted a sheet of flame was seen on the starboard bow. It was assumed to be a tanker exploding.
23:55 - Detached Bluebell to pick up survivors and stand by four torpedoed ships which were afloat in the immediate vicinity. These four ships were Empire Miniver, Gunborg, Niritos, Beatus. Set course to rejoin convoy, speed 16 knots. Made two signals to Admiralty and C-in-C W.A. (Signals 3 and 4 timed 23:26 and 23:58).

Saturday 19th October
00:09 - Sighted Fowey and ordered her to join me stationing her 1' on port beam, speed 14. She stated she had picked up survivors of Convallaria, Hurunui, Shekatika and Boekelo. (Note: The British Hurunui was from the westbound Convoy OB 227, sunk by U-93 Oct. 15)
00:28 - Saw flashes on starboard bow on horizon. Turned towards to investigate.
00:50 - Sighted ship which proved to be Blairspey.
01:00 - Master stated that ship had ben torpedoed but that he considered she would keep afloat and that he could steam 6 knots. Detailed Fowey to escort her and reported to C-in-C W.A. (Signal 5 timed 01:26/19).
01:16 - Set course to rejoin convoy, speed 16 knots.
01:45 - Sighted and closed ship on port bow in position 57 10N 10 38W. Found the Commodore's ship Assyrian slowly sinking, having been torpedoed at 00:30, with the wreckage and survivors of two other ships in her immediate neighbourhood.
02:15 - Picked up survivors from Assyrian, Empire Brigade, Soesterberg amongst whom was the Commodore (Vice Admiral L.D. I. Mackinnan).
04:00 - Proceeded on course of convoy route (130°), speed 16 knots, searching for ships.
09:30 - Reduced to 14 knots. Signalled noon position and reported to C-in-C W.A. (Signal six).
09:55 - Sighted tug.
14:30 - Sighted Heartsease escorting the damaged Carsbreck. Also sighted three other ships of convoy which I then proceeded to escort. The weather had been deteriorating all day and was now wind SE, force 8, overcast with rain squalls and low visibility.
16:10 (15:10?) - Distant rumbling explosion heard clearly between decks.
16:40 - Ditto
22:15 - Indian Star joined me.
04:00 - Lost touch with ships in company in low visibility to Eastward of altercarry.

Sunday 20th October
12:16 - Made my E.T.A. Liverpool and informed C-in-C W.A. that no ships were in company.
17:00 - Buried Yeoman of Signals Parke and A.B. Price-Rees (Merchant Navy) who had died shortly after rescued from Assyrian.

Monday 21st October
08:30 - Berthed alongside Princess Pier and disembarked survivors.

(c) Escort Dispositions
W.A.C.I. Section G.VI. Diagram III.
Leith (a), Bluebell (b), Fowey (c) and searching 5' astern at dusk.

(d) Accounts of attacks on the convoy form the major portion of this report. A track chart is attached.

Click in picture to enlarge

(e) Remarks
1 - The first attack at 01:45/18 when Carsbreck was damaged occurred almost at the exact moment when I reached the rear of the convoy.
2 - With regard to the series of attacks that commenced at 20:20/18 events moved so rapidly and over such a large area that the above report must only be a portion of this unfortunate night's action. The reports of Fowey and Bluebell will no doubt complete the picture. I am however convinced that the convoy was the victim of a well organized attack.
3 - It is noteworthy that at 20:20 only one ship was struck. This ship was on the up moon side of the convoy but the moon did not rise till some twenty minutes later. It may well have been a feint to draw off the escort and to draw them off the up moon side. It was an unfortunate coincidence that at that moment Leith happened to be at the extreme starboard limit of her station ahead and that Fowey was away searching astern.
4 - Further when once Leith and Fowey had been drawn away they never again caught up with the convoy in spite of every effort.
5 - Loosing contact with the submarine sighted by me at 22:40/18 was a bitter disappointment. A possible explanation is that the "U" boat made a large alteration of course at a speed considerably higher than is at present believed possible. This latter fact is substantiated by a report from Assyrian that he chased a submerged "U" boat at 10 knots and failed to gain. Alternatively, that the contact obtained was an echo off the submarine's wake.
6 - Judging from the number of ships that were struck but took a long time to sink it is possible that some of the torpedoes had reduced heads.
7 - With the present means available the difficulties of communications between the S.O. and the other escorts in such circumstances cannot be too highly stressed. And as a corollary the necessity for team work.
8 - From vague impressions I formed at the time, coupled with the positions of the various groups of stricken ships and the times they were attacked, and the number of torpedoes fired allowing for misses I am of the opinion that at least three "U" boats took part in the attack.
9 - Submarine reports made by C-in-C W.A. and Assyrian's report of a submarine on surface were received too late for any useful action to be taken.
10 - Many of the rescued Masters have valuable observations to make. It is understood that their narratives have been obtained.
11 - Many responsible survivors report seeing visual signal such as flares and lights which, they state, emanated neither from convoy nor escort.
12 - Survivors also state that torpedo tracks were often clearly visible.
13 - Assyrian chased a "U" boat for forty minutes without gaining.
14 - At least two ships of the convoy opened fire.
15 - At least one "U" boat was seen in amongst convoy.
16 - My decision to pick up survivors at 02:00 was based on the fact that all torpedoes must have been expended by now and that in any case remainder of the convoy must have been so scattered that the chances of immediately finding any of them were remote.

Roland C. Allen.

Signals referred to in above Report

Signal 1
To C-in-C W.A. F.O.I.C. Greenock, (R) Heartsease - From Leith:
One ship of S.C. 7 torpedoed in position 58 45N 14 07W at 01:45. No further information is at present available. Have detailed Heartsease to look for her.
T.O.O. 05:20.

Signal 2
To Fowey, Bluebell - From Leith:
C-in-C W.A 11:44/17 Intend to act as follows in case of attack. By day I will pass through convoy on reciprocal course. Escort on engaged side take station ahead escort on disengaged side astern and then look out for signal to turn 90 degrees. By night ship on disengaged side take station ahead and remain with convoy. If side of attack is unknown both wing ships turn outward.
T.O.O. 17:26

Signal 3
To Admiralty C-in-C W.A. - From Leith (Immediate):
Have not been in contact for an hour. Have detached Bluebell to pick up survivors and stand by ships. Am rejoining convoy with all dispatch.
T.O.O. 23:58/18.

Signal 4
To Admiralty C-in-C W.A. - From Leith (Immediate):
Convoy again attacked at 22:20. At least 4 ships torpedoed two or more "U" boats suspected. Chased submarine on surface for 15 minutes put(?) her down.
T.O.O. 23:26/18.

Signal 5
To Admiralty C-in-C W.A. - From Leith (Immediate):
Blairspey torpedoed at 00:30 in position 56 58N 11 04W. Capable of 6 knots. Have detailed Fowey to escort her.
T.O.O. 01:26.

Signal 6
To Admiralty C-in-C W.A., (R) Fowey - From Leith:
At 03:00 picked up survivors of Assyrian, Empire Brigade and Soesterberg in position 57 12N 10 43W. Commodore is on board in a critical condition. Have not found any other ships of convoy. Am joining Fowey. Noon position course and speed 56 36N 08 52W 147° 14 knots.
T.O.O. 12:34.

To the next available SC convoy in my list SC 8


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