Office of captain (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla H.M.S. Laforey 22nd December 1942 19th D.F. 0343
REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS – CONVOY K.M.F.5
I have the honour to forward the following report of proceedings for the period 12 December to 22 December 1942 while I was Senior Officer of the Escort of Convoy K.M.F.5, Clyde to Algiers.
- The convey and escort made rendezvous off OVERSAY without incident at 1500A on 12th. As LIGHTNING was detached to Liverpool for the DUCHESS OF RICHMOND, WAVENEY was ordered to cover both quarters in the night screening diagram.
- Shortly before dark WAVENEY was ordered to close ZOELLA LYKES, IRENE DUPONT and EMPIRE PRIDE with signals of alterations of course from the Commodore which they had failed to receive.
- At 0820 on the 13th the convoy had spread out and I redirected EXIRIA and IRENE DUPONT to the main body of the convoy.
- During the forenoon the wind increased from the Southwestwards, rain-squalls were frequent and visibility was down to three miles and less.
- At 1330 I received information that ZOELLA LYKES was missing from the convoy and I had seen IRENE DUPONT dropping astern. I detached WAVENEY astern to locate them with orders not to lose touch with the main convoy.
- At 1530 the wind increased very suddenly and was blowing Force 10 by 1630. I informed the Commodore that the maximum speed of the escorts without damage was 8 knots. No signal was received from the convoy to reduce but from the R.D.F. plot this was apparent.
- At 1850 WELLINGTON requested permission to return to harbour as her lower Central Store was flooded. As she could not pump it out this was approved.
- During the middle watch of 14 December three ships were located by R.D.F. straggling ahead of the convoy to starboard. The weather moderated about 0400 and LAFOREY proceeded to locate the stragglers. WAVENEY was met at 0421 and redirected to the convoy and EMPIRE PRIDE 16 miles 056 degrees from the convoy at 0601. This ship’s signalling was unusually bad and it required 45 minutes to pass instructions for her re-joining.
- I rejoined the convoy at daylight and found it somewhat scattered. As the escorts were also out of station I asked the Commodore to shorten the front. This was done by positioning ARGUS in the Commodore’s column.
- At 0928 I informed Admiralty of the convoy’s course and speed and 0800 position; that WELLINGTON was returning to Londonderry damaged and that EXIRIA, IRENE DUPONT and EMPIRE PRIDE were not in company.
- At this time WAVENEY reported that she was leaking forward, that her whaler had been lost and that her main W/T set was out of action. As her pumps were controlling the leaks I decided to keep her with the convoy.
- During the forenoon the wind changed and blew hard from the eastwards and at noon I had to reduce to 11 knots to avoid further damage to escorts, having tried 13 knots for an hour.
- At 1500 the wind dropped suddenly and with an exceptionally low barometer it was blowing force 10 from the West-South-West an hour later. This caused a very unpleasant cross-sea and speed again had to be reduced to 9 knots.
- At 1400 Admiralty asked me for noon rendezvous on 15th and 16th December. After consultation with the Commodore these were passed as 48 24’ N 18 00 W and 45 10’ N 17 54’ W respectively.
- At 1726 EMPIRE PRIDE was sighted broad on the starboard blow and rejoined the convoy before dark.
- The weather moderated a little during the first watch but it was again unpleasant, with no traffic possible on the upper deck.
- At daylight on the 15th the South-Westerly wind was blowing force 7 and the convoy and escort were in good formation.
- At 0830 the wind moderated to force 6 and speed was increased to 12 knots. The heavy sea was difficult for the convoy and at 0900 MANCHESTER TRADER reported she was rolling too heavily to zigzag, and an hour later ARUNDEL CASTLE stated she was steering with the aid of engines having sustained damage. At 1339 a LIBERATOR aircraft was sighted. She contacted LIGHTNING and DUCHESS OF RICHMOND ahead of the convoy which they joined at 1530.
- I had asked the Liberator to endeavour to locate the three American ships missing from the convoy but increasingly bad weather made this hopeless.
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- I had asked the Liberator to endeavour to locate the three American ships missing from the convoy but increasingly bad weather made this hopeless.
- At1600 the wind again increased and speed had to be reduced to 10 knots and later to 8 in a full westerly gale.
- At dawn on the 16th the convoy and escort were somewhat scattered by the gale, and it was not until 1000 that a reasonable formation had been gained: MANCHESTER TRADER was missing. I decided it was impossible to send an escort to look for her in the weather conditions prevailing.
- At 1330 FOLKESTONE reported an hostile aircraft in sight and the fact that it spotted the convoy was confirmed in Admiralty’s 1650A/16th. At 1620 STRATHALLAN, the Commodore’s ship, broke down, and LIGHTNING was told to stand by her if she could manage to turn. Fortunately STRATHALLAN got under way after half an hour’s delay.
- At 1000 on 17th December an alteration of course to Southwards bought the sea on the beam, and escorts were able to increase to 12 knots.
- During the forenoon I received reports of damage in the escort. The most serious was WAVENEY who reported that both generators were out of action, that she was running on Diesels with water in the diesel tank, and that her fighting efficiency was reduced to 50%. TOTLAND had mild condenseritis and LIGHTNING had all boats smashed and her A/S set out of action.
- There was still a heavy sea running which was increasing, and I decided to order WAVENEY to proceed to LISBON for temporary repairs as I could not afford to have another escort standing by her if her one remaining source of power failed.
- Later signals from WAVENEY disclosed that the trouble had been caused by excessive quantities of water entering the ship. However she reported that the leak on the diesel tank had been sealed, so I decided that she should remain with the convoy astern for the night.
- At 1600, from H/F D/F log kept in GORLESTON it appeared probable that a U-boat had at least sighted and was shadowing the convoy from the port beam or quarter. I formed an all round screen and increased another knot.
- At 2200 I received a report from TOTLAND that she was investigating a contact, but no information was received. Next morning I learned that she had obtained a contact which she counter-attacked and regained astern at 2132 close to ARUNDEL CASTLE. In her second attack six charges were fired but the detonation of those from the throwers caused a temporary breakdown of her engines for 10 minutes. As her R/T also failed after the initial report I was unaware of the situation. I am convinced that TOTLAND did in fact encounter a U-boat trying to attack the convoy.
- In my signal 2018z/17th I informed the Admiralty of the convoy’s position course and speed and rendezvous for stragglers for noon 18th; also that U-boat shadowing was suspected, and that WAVENEY would need repairs at Gibraltar.
- At daylight on the 18th the wind had moderated to force 5 after 5 days of unceasing gales. As the convoy was already many hours late I decided to press on, and speed was increased to our maximum of 14 knots to Gibraltar irrespective of our time of arrival.
- The stragglers from the convoy were still a matter of concern but it was heartening to hear from the Admiralty that EXIRA was well ahead making for Gibraltar independently and that IRENE DUPONT though returning to the United Kingdom was at least safe.
- TOTLAND’S further reports on her condenseritis were encouraging but it was essential to provide her with a new fresh water filling valve before proceeding beyond Gibraltar.
- At 2155/18th H/F D/F bearings from GORLESTON and WESTON fixed a U-boat 4 ½ miles on the port beam of the convoy. Laforey left the screen and carried out a wide search to port. Nothing was seen and I rejoined at 2314. Subsequent examination of these reports leads me to believe that the convoy was not sighed at this time.
- The Vice-Admiral, Gibraltar, was informed in my 2037A/18th of the convoy’s position course and speed and rendezvous for stragglers for noon 19th and that TOTLAND and LIGHTNING needed repairs before proceeding beyond Gibraltar.
- At 2039A/19th LAFOREY obtained an echo 1600 yards on the port beam. No chances were taken and a full pattern was fired: but it was probably a fish.
- The convoy arrived off Gibraltar at 0730/20th without further incident. Before entering Gibraltar to refuel and land passengers and stores I turned over the escort to WESTON. At this time HUSSAR relieved WAVENEY and NASTURTIUM TOTLAND.
- At 1145A/20th LAFOREY sailed in company with LIGHTNING rejoining the convoy at 1614 when I again took charge of the screen.
- At 1720 LIGHTNING obtained a contact and the convoy carried out an emergency turn to port. The Oran destroyers under Captain (D) 3 were joining from ahead at this time and an extensive hunt by them did not confirm LIGHTNING’s contact which I believe to have been fish.
- Night screening diagram was formed as in diagram 1 with MILNE and METEOR acting as an independent striking force to starboard of the convoy.
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- Just before dark the Commodore’s night intentions were received stating that sound blasts would be used for alterations of course and green light signals for starting and stopping zigzags. This is undesirable on bright moonlight nights and the Commodore was informed in my 2000/21st that it was “essential that coloured lights be dimmed and only used when vital”.
- At 2015 Vice-Admiral, Gibraltar’s signal for VERITY to part company to arrive Gibraltar by 1200A/21st was received. VERITY’s position was on the port quarter of the screen and I decided not to make signals concerning this movement.
- At 0200/21 the Oran portion of the convoy parted company to the Southward. Escorts remaining to starboard of the Algiers section of the convoy closed in after the split by previous order.
- During the evening the welcome news was received that the two missing ships of the convoy, ZOELLA LYKES and MANCHESTER TRADER, had arrived safely in Gibraltar.
- As the remainder of this report is concerned with the loss of the STRATHALLAN I should like to stress now the efficiency of the 42nd Escort Group under Commander L.F. Durnford-Slater, Royal Navy, H.M.S. WESTON. They had experienced five days of unusually bad gales even for the Atlantic and had always been in the right place. I was particularly impressed by the H/F D/F plot kept in GORLESTON, (Commander R.W. Keymer, Royal Navy Retired), and the tenacity of H.M.S. WAVENEY (Lieutenant-Commander A.E. Willmott, D.S.C., R.D., Royal Naval Reserve) in overcoming difficulties in damage by gales. He showed great determination in sticking to his job.
46. LOSS OF S.S. STRATHALLAN
- At 0231 an underwater explosion was heard on the asdics and bride personnel saw a column of water by STRATHALLAN. No U-boat report had been received and I ordered WESTON to take charge of the convoy with the intention of turning back to investigate. I ordered Operation “RASPBERRY” by R/T but am very doubtful if any ship received this except FOLKESTONE. Further underwater explosions were heard at about 0340. About this time STRATHALLAN fired two white rockets and was dropping out of line with a list to port. On clearing the convoy LIGHTNING and FOLKESTONE were seen in the vicinity searching for the U-boat but no contacts were obtained. At 0242 the Commodore informed me that STRATHALLAN had been torpedoed on the port side and that her engine room was flooded. My first alarm report was sent at 0246 informing Naval Commander Expeditionary Force of the position, that STRATHALLAN was unable to steam, that LAFOREY and LIGHTNING were standing by leaving WESTON in charge of the convoy. At 0310 I recalled VERITY and asked Oran for tugs. The lettered coordinates used in my 0246 to N.C.X.F. and 0310 to VERITY appear to have been incorrectly decoded as the positions in N.C.X.F’s 0409 and 0410, Oran W/T’s 0421 and message 0347, thought to be from WESTON, were wrong. At the time of my alarm report STRATHALLAN was listing to port and lowering boats and I ordered LIGHTNING and FOLKESTONE to drop depth charges occasionally to keep the U-boat down as the preliminary search had failed. At 0310 I closed STRATHALLAN and told him that I intended to take him in tow with his hawsers as soon as he was ready
- There was some delay in providing hawsers as STRATHALLAN had them stowed below and most of their upper deck crew was away in lifeboats. The problem of boatloads of survivors now arose. As the sea was calm I decided to leave them until daylight as it was essential to keep LIGHTNING and FOLKESTONE whiles I picked up the tow. In addition our position was blatantly obvious due to the number of boats’ lights and in STRATHALLAN. I circled the boats informing them that5 that they were safe and would be picked up later. At 0356 all was ready and I went alongside STRATHALLAN close to her starboard side passing a grass line for their tow. This was quickly hove in but at 0410 the grass parted as it had been bent to the eye of the hawser which had got jammed in the fairlead. By 0435 the tow had been repassed and a 9 inch manilla was secured to the towing ship. STRATHALLAN was difficult to turn and it was not until 0450 that she was going ahead on course 180 at 2 knots for Oran. During the operation of turning I was embarrassed by boats attempting to return to STRATHALLAN; LAFOREY was often barely manageable and I had to clear the boats away to avoid the risk of crushing them between the two ships. Speed was increased to 8 knots by revolutions by 0615; speed through the water 4 knots.
- At 0538 I ordered LIGHTNING and FOLKESTONE to join me with despatch to form screen as they were some three miles away astern. I received a reply from LIGHTNING that they were picking up men in the water. I had to make the unpleasant decision that they were to join me forthwith and to leave their own boats behind. Signalling at this range was not easy.
- At 0640 the tow had settled down and I reported my position course and speed to Naval Commander Expeditionary Force.
- At 0723 QUIBERON was sighted and told to join the circular screen with all despatch and organise the conduct of the screen as Senior Officer. At 0735 VERITY was sighted and was directed to proceed astern to pick up all survivors from the boats.
- It was now daylight and I wish to secure a second hawser to increase the speed of towing. Some difficulty arose over passing this. The normal method of veering a grass line with a buoy on the end failed as the buoy could not be persuaded to float, and all attempts with various types of throwing guns could not cover the distance. The difficulty was finally overcome by steaming a grass line with a T.S.D.S. float on the end and this was grappled by STRATHALLAN at 0847. The second tow was passed and middled by 0920. I worked up to 100 revolutions giving a speed through the water of 6 knots.
- At 1027 STRATHALLAN informed me that her bulkheads between engine room and boiler room were bulging badly and might not hold. I reduced one knot and decided at her suggestion to start removing troops. I also advised hi to jettison any top weight he could equally both sides. By this time PANTHER and PATHFINDER had joined the screen and ships went alongside in the order PANTHER (1059 to 1234), PATHFINDER (1252 to 1342) and LIGHTNING (1359 to 1425). These three destroyers between them took off well over 3000 men were most efficiently handled by their Commanding Officers.
- At 1100 H.M.S. VERITY, Lieutenant-Commanding R Honcastle, Royal Navy, rejoined with 1179 survivors, and was ordered to Oran, and to make the following signal on arrival, “My position 36 35’ N 00 35’ W 184 5 knots. Towing with two 9-inch hawsers. Bulkhead between engine room and boiler room shaky. Am taking off troops in destroyers. Following in company QUIBERON FOLKSTONE PATHFINDER PANTHER LIGHTING and 2 trawlers. No tug yet. Expected time of arrival 2100A/21st”. VERITY had done well to collect so many survivors.
- At 1308 heavy clouds of smoke and flame were seen coming out of STRATHALLAN’s funnel; this was the first intimation I received that there was a fire below. The need for salvage tugs was now great. RESTIVE had been approaching since 1228 and I ordered him to go alongside port side as destroyers were disembarking troops to starboard. I regret to report that my efforts to make RESTIVE get a move on were not successful. It took her over 50 minutes to secure when every minute was vital. By the time the tug berthed the dimensions of the fire were serious and the upper deck was beginning to catch alight. This situation was reported to Naval Commander Expeditionary Force at 1335.
- By 1430 the fire was completely out of control and the ship had to be abandoned by her crew. With no steering she became unmanageable and was soon broadside on to LAFOREY. Reluctantly I slipped the tow.
- At 1436 RESTIVE slipped with the remainder of STRATHALLAN’s crew on board and transferred them to me. Happily the loss of life and been very small. I then ordered all destroyers with survivors to return to Oran.
- I discussed the situation with Commodore Denison and Captain Stewart, who felt that there was now small hope of saving the ship. The situation at 1600 was reported to all authorities.
- I still hoped something might yet be done when the salvage tug KING SALVOR arrived. On her arrival at 1600 the Chief Salvage Officer informed me that he thought the ship could still be salved. At this time ammunition was exploding frequently and the ship temporarily unapproachable. Information was passed to the rescue tugs of the positions of the magazine.
- At 1656 RESTIVE was able to pick up the tow while KING SAVOR secured to STRATHALLAN’s port quarter for firefighting. The ship was turned and again proceeded towards Oran. An hour later KING SALVOR asked for a working party to assist in fighting fires, and three Officers and forty men were sent. They did good work in throwing 6-inch ammunition overboard as well as attempting to deal with the fires. It was, however, a losing battle and at 1930 I decided to withdraw them as the risks involved were no longer justified. Tug RESTIVE continued to tow being circled by three trawlers and two M.M/S until 0404 on the 22nd when STRATHALLAN sank 12 miles from Oran.
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- I should like to mention the good judgment and willingness of Captain Stewart to do anything he could to help me. The loss of his ship was a great blow to him as he had built her and commanded her since she first flew the Red Ensign.
- LAFOREY and LIGHTNING left the position where STRATHALLAN sank after ordering the minor war vessels to return to Oran. Destroyers arrived at Algiers at 1230/22nd without further incident.
- Recommendations for decorations or mentions in despatches are being forwarded separately.
I have the honour to be Sir, Your obedient Servant,
Captain Royal Navy
Diagram showing Night Screen as formed at 1820/20th December.
REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS –CONVOY K.M.F.5
(19th D.F.0343 of 22nd December 1942
NIGHT SCREEN AS FORMED AT 1820a ON 20TH DECEMBER 1942
FORCE ) METEOR
At 0200A/21st December 1942, the two starboard columns of the convoy escorted by Destroyers of the striking force and in positions D and N broke off and proceeded to Oran.