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U-BOAT SINKING / NAVAL OPERATIONS / CONVOYS

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A Second War ‘Gibraltar Convoy Escort’ D.S.M., For Actions Against U-boats, Group of Nine to Chief Yeoman of Signals A.H. McEwen, Royal Navy

Distinguished Service Medal G.VI.R. (JX.130654 A.H. McEwen. Y.S.); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star, with North Africa 1942-43 Bar; Italy Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; Naval General Service 1915-62,

G.VI.R., one clasp, Palestine 1945-48 (D/JX,130654 A.H. McEwen. D.S.M. C.Y.S. R.N.); Royal Naval Long Service & G.C., G.VI.R., 1st ‘Ind: Imp:’ type (JX130654 A.H. McEwen. Y.S. H.M.S. Hesperus.), nearly extremely fine, mounted as originally worn, with portrait photograph, original

Certificate of Service and newspaper cutting (9). D.S.M. London Gazette 24.3.1942 Yeoman of Signals Alexander Henry McEwen, D/JX.130654 ‘For skill and enterprise in action against Enemy Submarines while serving in H.M. Ships Exmoor(1), Blankney(2), Stanley(3), Mallow(3), and Marigold.’(5) Convoy H.G. 76 On the 14th December 1941 Convoy H.G. 76 set sail from Gibraltar homeward bound, under the command of Commander F.J. Walker. The convoy, comprising of 32 ships, was provided with an escort of: two sloops; three destroyers (one of which being H.M.S. Stanley, the ship which McEwen was aboard); seven corvettes and the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Audacity. The convoy merited a strong escort given the concentration of U-boats strategically placed off the Straits of Gibraltar. Within hours of departing the convoy came across two U-boats attempting the passage of the Straits. With their ultimate objective elsewhere the enemy vessels where seen off after a brief skirmish, with the Australian destroyer Nestor sinking U.127 off Cape St. Vincent (15th December). The next day a Focke-Wulf reported sighting the convoy, and a force of nine U-boats were despatched to intercept. From the 17th-21st December the battle raged day-and-night between the escort and the enemy force, with both sides inflicting heavy casualties. U.131 was sunk on the first day by a combination of the surface escort and the Audacity’s Martlets, and the same fate was shared by U.434 during the next day. H.M.S. Stanley, which had contributed so much to the previous two days action, was herself torpedoed and sunk on the 19th. Walker took the tally up to four, also on the 19th, by sinking U. 567 from his sloop H.M.S. Stork. His vessel was later damaged trying to ram U. 574. The final British casualty during the battle was the Audacity, who fell victim to a U-boat five hundred miles west of Finisterre, on the 21st December. The German attack was called off on the 23rd; the convoy had come within range of air protection from the home bases and the enemies loses had been considered high enough. Five U-boats had been sunk, whilst only two merchant ships had been lost. (The Warat Sea, Volume I, S.W. Roskill refers) Chief Yeoman of Signals Alexander Henry McEwen, D.S.M., born 1912 in Shoreditch, London; joined as Boy Royal Navy, 1927; Leading Signaller 1938; Yeoman of Signals 1941; served in H.M.S. Stanley 26.7.1941-19.12.1941; Chief Yeoman of Signals 1945; served the latter part of the war in H.M.S. Hesperus, including when she sank U.325(6), north of Anglesey (30.4.1945).

(1) HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. R.T. Lampard, RN) was sunk off Lowesoft in position 52.32N 02.05E while escorting convoy FN 417. She was hit aft by a torpedo fired by the German motor torpedo boat S-30, she caught fire and sank quickly. 4 officers, including her Commanding Officer and 100 men were lost with the ship.

(2) In 1942 Blankney participated in the escorting of Arctic convoys.

(3) On 10 July 1943 she took part in the Allied landings on Sicily. The initial force of Allied troops numbering 160,000 men with 14,000 vehicles and hundreds of guns were safely put ashore. In the following days thousands more troops were safely transported across the narrows to the Sicilian ports now in Allied hands. In most trying weather conditions the Navy was well to the fore in this operation, officially named “Huskey. Despite the rough seas and enemy air attacks the “hunt” class escort destoryers, including Blankney, were well represented and proved their worth in these narrow waters.
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(4) 19 Oct, 1941The German submarine U204 was sunk near Tangier, in position 35.46N, 06.02W, by depth charges from the British corvette HMS Mallow (Cdr. W.B. Piggot, OBE, RNR) and the British sloop HMS Rochester (Cdr. C.B. Allen, RN). Note the red dot on the map.


(5) 16 Nov, 1941The German submarine U-433 was sunk at 2155hrs on 16 November 1941 in the Mediterranean south of Malaga, Spain, in position 36.13N, 04.42W, after being damaged by depth charges and gunfire 25nm east of Gibraltar by the British corvette HMS Marigold (Lt. J. Renwick, RNR).



(6) Reported for the last time on 7 April, 1945 from approximate position 56N, 20W. One report, not yet confirmed, claims that a wreck of a German U-boat has been found in position 50.31,4N, 05.22,9W. This location is within U-325's operational area.
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The battle that developed around the convoy HG76 from Gibraltar to the UK in the middle of December 1941 has been overshadowed in most histories of WW2 by the momentous events taking place in the Pacific and Asia. For that reason, although the lessons were understood in Britain and Germany at that time, it has often been overlooked more recently. HG76 can be clearly seen as marking the beginning of tactics and measures that would lead to the decisive convoy battles of early 1943 and the ultimate defeat of the U Boats.

Convoy battle

HG-76

Gibraltar - UK
16 Dec, 1941 - 23 Dec, 1941

The Convoy:

32 ships

First sighting:

On 16 Dec, 1941

Escorts:

The 36th Escort Group (Cdr Walker ) consisting of the 2 sloops Depthford and Stork, and 7 corvettes : Rhododendron, Marigold, Convolvulvus, Penstemon, Gardenia, Samphire and Vetch.
A support group consisting of the escort carrier Audacity (Cdr MacKendrick) and the escort destroyers Blankney, Exmoor and Stanley.

In the convoy there is a merchant catapult ship (CAM).

U-boats:

The wolfpack Seerauber of 5 boats U-67 (Korvkpt Müller-Stöckheim) *, U-107(Kptlt Gelhaus), U-108 (Korvkpt Scholtz) *, U-131 (Korvkpt Baumann ), U-434 (Kptlt Heyda )
Reinforcements:
U-71 (Korvkpt Flachsenberg), U-125 (Kptlt Folkers), U-567(Kptlt Endrass) *, U-574 (Oblt Gengelbach ) *, U-751 (Kptlt Bigalk)

* U-boats that fired torpedo or used the deck gun.
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The battle:

The departure of the convoy on the 14th is reported by agents. Air reconnaissance and the patrol line Seerauber is deployed accordingly. The convoy evades detection by going south, along the Moroccan coast. U-108 sinks an independent Portuguese ship.
In the night of Dec 14th U-74, who is on the way to the Mediterranean, sights a small convoy of 4 ships with 4 escorts, from which U-77 sinks and damages one ship.

On the 15th the convoy is too far away to be spotted by the Fw 200's Only on midday of the 16th contact is established. But U-67, U-108 and U-131 who are trying to approach, are driven off. Also during next day U-107, U-108 and U-131 get no chance to launch an attack.U-131 is repeatedly attacked herself by the aircraft of the Audacity, shoots down one aircraft but suffers a lot of damage and is unable to dive when the escort approaches. The boat scuttles herself and the crew is taken prisoner.

U-434 keeps contact during the night of the 17th but in the morning of the 18th she is detected by the escort and sunk. Also 2 Fw 200 planes keeping contact with the convoy are shot down by Martlets of the Audacity. During the day, attacks by U-107 and U-67 are again repulsed by the escorts.

Only towards the morning of the 19th, U-574 has finally success and sinks the HMS Stanley. Cdr Walker orders at once 'Operation Buttercup ': the ships near the site of the torpedoed ship fire snowflakes forcing the U-boat visible on the surface to dive. Once the U-boat is 'in the cellar' it is easier to chase it at night. The Stork damages with depth charges U-574, forcing it make surface. There it is rammed and sunk by the Stork. The Stork and Stanley were the only ships at the rear of the convoy and with the former chasing U-574 and the latter sunk.

U-108 takes the opportunity to attack from the rear and sinks one ship.

In the next days U-107 keeps contact and brings up the other boats, but all approaches are frustrated by the escort and aircraft from the Audacity. But in the night of 21 Dec the boats who have been reinforced by U-71, U-567 and U-751 press home their attacks.

Cdr Walker is informed by the Submarine Tracking Group that at least 6 U-boats are concentrated around the convoy. He orders a diversification act: 4 escorts simulate a battle involving snowflakes and depth charges. In the meantime the convoy will alter sharply course and hopefully the boats will loose track. Unfortunately one of the merchant ships fires in the heat of the act some snowflakes and the whole operation fails.

U-567 locates the convoy and attacks sinking one ship. U-751 attacks at the same time on the other side of the convoy and finds there the lonely Audacity who is operating independently outside the convoy. In 2 approaches the Audacity is sunk by the U-751. U-67 misses the catapult ship U-567 is sunk with depth charges by the Deptford.

The attacks continue the next day , but the escort is reinforced with the destroyers Vanquisher and Witch and on the 22nd U-71 and U-125 are driven of. U-751 on the 23ed is the last boat to have contact.

The severe losses sustained in this convoy battle discourage the BdU from organizing any other battle until the boats can outnumber the escorts. On the other hand, the very strong escort provided by the British Navy, is only made possible by the Americans, who have taken over escort duties on the North Atlantic routes. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, most of the American ships are withdrawn into the Pacific. The situation improves even more when the British have to send one of their own escort groups into the Caribbean in order to help the Americans to establish



IN THE EARLY YEARS OF THE WAR CORVETTES WERE DESIGNED FOR COASTAL CONVOY DUTY BUT WERE USED FOR NORTH ATLANTIC CONVOYS FOR WHICH THEY WERE UNSUITED. AS SUCH CREWS RECEIVED DOUBLE "HARD LYING MONET.

" BECAUSE OF THE DISCOMFORT DURING 1941 I SERVED IN HMCS SNOWBERRY AS A SUBMARINE DETECTOR OPERATOR, SNOWBERRY ONE OF TH ORIGINAL FLOWER CLASS CORVETTES. SNOWBERRY ESCORTED SEVERAL CONVOYS FROM THE CLYDE AND LONDONDERRY TO ICELAND NEWFOUNDLAND AND NOVA SCOTIA OFTEN IN. APPALLING WEATHER. CONVOYS OFTEN TOOK WEEKS BECAUSE ZIG-ZAGS AND THE SPEED WAS THAT OF THE SLOWEST SHIP SUCH AS A WHALING FACTORY. OFTEN ONLY 3 KNOTS .
IT WAS NOT UNCOMMON TO BE HOVE TO FOR DAYS IN HURRICANE FORCE WINDS AND 40 FOOT WAVES ROLLING 45 DEGREES .AND SLOWED DOWN BY THICK FOG.

EVERY FOG SIGNAL USED A BUCKET OF PRECIOUS WATER AS STEAM. APART FROM U-BOATS WHERE WAS ALWAYS THE THREAT OF ICEBERGS AND BEING RUN DOWN BY SHIPS OF THE CONVOY IN FOG SNOWBERRY HAD ONLY A MAGNETIC COMPASS AND NO RADAR, NAERLY ALWAYS IT WAS TOO CLOUDY TO FIX A POSITION BY SEXTANT THE ONLY ARMAMENT WAS A 12 POUNDER GUN ON THE FORECASTLE FOR SURFACE ACTION FOR ANTI AIRCRAFT DEFENCE THERE WAS A LEWIS GUN AND A TOMMY GUN FOR USE AT THE WINGS OF THE BRIDGE THERE WAS NO REFRIGERATION ONLY A MEATSAFE AND VEGETABLE LOCKER ON THE WELLDECK AT THE BREAK OF THE FORECASTLE. MEAT WENT OFF AFTER 24 HOURS AT SEA. BREAD WENT MOLDY SOON AFTER (AT THAT TIME "SEABREAD " LONG KEEPING BREAD HAD NOT BEEN INVENTED.

FOR COOKING THERE WAS A COAL FIRED ARMY TYPE RANGE IN TH GALLEY ON THE POOPDECK ABAFT THE ENGINE ROOM CASING .IN HEAVY WEATHER THE FIRE WAS OFTEN SWAMPED ,SO A LOT OF THE TIME WE LIVED ON SHIPS BISCUITS AND TINNED MEAT
SNOWBERRY WAS BUILT ON THE CLYDE AT GREENOCK/GOUROCK WHERE SHE WAS COMMISSIONED.


THE TOMMY GUN WAS HANDED IN BY THE PUBLIC BECAUSE OF SHORTAGES. LIKWISE SOME OF THE BINOCULARS WERE OPERA GLASSES HANDED IN BY THE PUBLICON THE FIRST CONVOY DUTY SNOWBERRY SAILED WITHOUT DEPTH CHARGE RAILS OR THROWERS BECAUSE THEY HAD BEEN DESTROYED BY ENEMY ACTION AT THE SHIPBUILDERS OR IN TRANSIT BEFORE THE COULD BE FITTED. THE DEPTH CHARGES WERE CHOCKED UP AND LASHED ON DECK AND HAD TO BE HURLED MANUALLY OVER THE BULLWARKS."

Unknown Sailor.
SINKING OF "U 434"

British Interrogation Reports of U-Boat Survivors

"Stork" reported that at 0906 (0806 German Summer time) "Stanley" sighted a U-Boat ("U 434") 225°, six miles (port quarter), and "Blankney", "Deptford" and "Exmoor" were ordered to attack, the latter wisely anticipating orders. The convoy was brought back to a course of 350° since an alteration to the west has just been made. Of the ensuing battle, surviving officers of "Stanley", who joined the attack, reported that: "Stanley's" asdics had been out of action for the whole trip as far as transmitting was concerned. She closed the U-Boat at 24 knots, which dived at an estimated range of three miles. At a range of about one mile, oil and wake effects were observed to starboard and "Stanley" reduced to 12 knots and commenced to drop single charges in the form of a square around the position. Three sides of the square were completed (19 depth charges) when "Blankney" came on the scene (some 20 minutes later) and dropped a five-charge pattern with depth settings of 150 and 250 ft. "Blankney" then gave "Stanley" the bearing and ranges of the U-Boat on which information the latter fired a fourteen-charge (one misfired) deep pattern, using the same settings as before. In order to give the U-Boat no time to recover, "Blankney" again attacked immediately after "Stanley"; in fact, there was barely a period of three minutes between the attacks. A pattern of six depth charges was dropped, using the same depth settings as before and the U-Boat surfaced. "Blankney" opened fire and increased speed to ram, but the U-Boat was seen to be abandoning ship. One officer remained on the conning tower firing a gun. It is thought that this was the First Lieutenant, who was the only officer who did not survive. "Blankney" decided too late not to ram, but to attempt to board, and struck the U-Boat a glancing blow, causing slight damage to herself. "Blankney" lowered a whaler, intending to board, but the U-Boat soon blew up and sank in position 36° 08'N., 16°.02' W.; time 0958, 18th December, 1941.

Prisoners from "U 434" stated that, on sighting the British warships approaching, "U 434" submerged to periscope depth and fired one torpedo which missed. "U 434" then dived further, but scarcely had she started to do so when the ticking of asdics was heard and the first depth charges exploded, damaging the conning tower hatch and causing water to stream into the control room. Depth charge after depth charge then exploded around the U-Boat and damage rapidly increased. The lights failed, the hydrophones went "dead", the wheel jamming so that it could not be trained. The steering gear became useless and water was entering forward, making the U-Boat bow heavy. One prisoner stated that the shaking the U-Boat received was so prodigious that it caused the stern torpedo to fire itself of its own accord. Gauges were shattered with the exception of one depth gauge aft which, the Engineer Officer reported, showed that the U-Boat was sinking rapidly.

None too soon, according to the feelings of the majority of survivors, Heyda gave the order to blow the tanks. Prisoners were convinced that had he delayed another few seconds they would have been lost, the boat, which was scarcely manageable, having already sunk to a depth of over 300 feet. "U 434" reached the surface with the motors still running. The destroyers closed in, firing at a range which reduced to 500 yards. Heyda lost no time in ordering his men overboard, after ascertaining that the time fuses to the scuttling charges had been ignited. Prisoners alleged that they did not wait to send a report of sinking to the Vice-Admiral, U-Boats.

One prisoner swimming near Heyda stated that he heard his Commander say: "Let's hope the damned boat soon blows up!" There was, however, an interval of nine minutes before the charges, which were fixed beside the air bottles, exploded, and "U 434" sank.
Forty-two survivors were picked up by "Blankney". Two other members of the crew, Oberleutnant zur See Frank and Maschinengefreiter (Stoker, 2nd Class) Brandes, are believed by prisoners to have been run down by "Blankney" and killed by her propellers.



CREW OF "U 434"

The complement of "U 434" at the time of her sinking totaled 44. Of these, four were officers, three chief petty officers, 10 petty officers and 27 men. Survivors numbered 42, one officer and one man being missing.

The commanding officer was Kapitänleutnant (Lieutenant-Commander) Wolfgang Heyda, of the 1932 term. Born on 14th November, 1913, he was 28 years of age. He might be described as almost fanatically Nazi in his outlook. He gave frequent instructions to his crew on all security matters, but in contra-distinction to the lectures given by Korvettenkapitän (Commander) Baumann of "U 131", sunk the day previously, which were given for genuine reasons of security, those handed out by Heyda were based almost solely on hatred of the British as frustrators of Nazi progress. When first interrogated this officer did not prove to be amenable to ordinary methods, but his attitude became more friendly with the passage of time.