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ANTI U-BOAT DUTIES / H.M.S. ECLIPSE

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Lieutenant Commander H. Flavell on the right.

A Very Early Second War ‘Anti-Submarine Duties’ D.S.M. Group of Nine to Lieutenant Commander H. Flavell, Royal Navy Distinguished Service Medal G.VI.R. (H. Flavell P.O. R.N.), officially engraved (it is not unusual for early D.S.M.s of this period to be engraved, e.g. some Graf Spee awards were issued unnamed and some with year of issue only); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals; Naval General Service 1915-62 G.VI.R., one clasp, Malaya (Lt. Cdr. H. Flavell. R.N.); Korea 1950-53, 1st type (Lt. Cdr. H. Flavell D.S.M. R.N.); United Nations Korea Medal, nearly extremely fine, mounted court style as originally worn, with (9) associated miniature awards, ribands and recipient’s No. 1A Dress reefer in fine blue cloth, with four gilt QEC buttons in each row in front, and gold lace rank insignia of a Lieutenant Commander on sleeves, with matching pair of trousers (9) D.S.M. London Gazette 1.1.1940 Harry Flavell, Petty Officer, H.M.S. Eclipse "For outstanding zeal, proficiency, skill and energy in successfully combating enemy submarines". Lieutenant Commander Harry Flavell, D.S.M., (1913-1991); Boatswain (Anti-Submarine Duties) Royal Navy, 7.12.1940; served in the Second War at H.M.S. Osprey, Anti-Submarine Establishment (Ayr, Scotland); Lieutenant Commander 3.2.1952; retired 8.5.1958 after 29 years service in the Royal Navy.

H.M.S. Eclipse

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Navy: The Royal Navy
Type: Destroyer
Class: E
Pennant: H 08
Built by: William Denny & Brothers (Dumbarton, Scotland)
Ordered:
Laid down: 22 Mar, 1933
Launched: 12 Apr, 1934
Commissioned: 29 Nov, 1934
Lost: 24 Oct, 1943

History: On 24 October 1943 HMS Eclipse (Cdr. E. Mack, DSO, DSC, RN) was mined and sunk off Kalymnos, Greece.

Notable events involving Eclipse include:

23 Jul, 1943
The Italian submarine Ascianghi was sunk off Augusta, Sicily by the British destroyers H.M.S. Eclipse and H.M.S. Laforey.

22 Aug, 1943
The German torpedo boat TA 12 (970 tons, former French Baliste) is heavily damaged by the British destroyer HMS Eclipse. The TA 12 is beached off Cape Prasonesi, Rhodos, Greece and finally destroyed on 24 November by US Bombers.

23 Sep, 1943
On this day HMS Eclipse damaged the the German torpedo boat TA 10 (Oberleutnant Jobst Hahndorff) (former French torpedo boat La Pomone and later Italian FR 42) and sank the merchant Gaetano Donizetti, carrying Italian POWs, south west of Rhodes. The Gaetano Donizetti went down with her entire crew and at least 1.576 Italian POWs. (Italian sources speak of 1.835 POWs on board the Gaetano Donizetti) The POW's were mostly sailors and airmen from the Garrison of Rhodes. The heavily damaged TA 10 is towed back to Rhodes but is scuttled a few days later.

The text below tells the story of Convoy ON14 and the participation of H.M.S. Eclipse.

According to a document listing all the ON convoys, Convoy ON 14 consisted of 10 British, 7 Norwegian, 1 Swedish, 5 Finnish, and 1 Estonian ship (1 was detached - not bound for Norway). Unfortunately, their names are not available to me, except for the few that are mentioned in the report below (Fairweather, Fintra, Delfinus, Kirnwood).

HMS Escapade left Rosyth at 14:00 on Febr. 17-1940, accompanied by HMS Escort and HMS Eclipse, joined by HMS Electra and the sub Narwhal on arrival off Methil at 15:30. The convoy weighed at 16:00 and the ships were all in station before dark, with Escapade on the starboard bow and Narwhal 2 cables on the starboard beam of the starboard wing ship.

During the following day, Febr. 18, the convoy proceeded at 7 1/2 knots in good weather. At 14:00 Eclipse received a signal from an aircraft reporting survivors on a raft bearing 180° 8 miles, and she was ordered to pick them up, then rejoin the convoy at full speed, doing so before 17:00. It turned out the raft had contained 2 dead men, who were buried at sea. That afternoon, the Admiralty ordered the Convoy and HMS Escort to proceed to Kirkwall, and course was altered at once for that destination (considerable enemy activity was reported following the Cossack-Altmark affair. Convoy ON 14 was ordered into Kirkwall until a heavy covering force - Rodney, Hood, and Warspite - arrived in the area). HMS Electra was sent 30 miles to the south with orders to make the expected time of arrival of ON 14 at Kirkwall and rejoin at full speed. Electra rejoined at 21:00; the convoy arrived in Shapinsay Sound at midnight. The night (Febr. 19) was clear and calm, with a bright moon. N.O.I.C. Kirkwall had 7 drifters waiting in the entrance which led the convoy into the anchorage, while 2 A/S trawlers assisted the destroyers to patrol to seaward of the convoy. The entire convoy was in the harbour by 02:00, followed by Escapade, which anchored at 02:20.

During the following night (leading up to Febr. 20) Escapade was informed that Fairweather had arrived and was to join the convoy. Escapade left harbour at 14:00 with the escort and sub, in a full southwesterly gale, with heavy rain and a visibility of 1 mile. The convoy ships were very slow in coming out, and the British Fintra, 1st ship in the starboard column, did not show up, so the Norwegian Delfinus was ordered to take her place. "This ship can read and send morse and repeats all flag signals, she made a better convoy leader that S.S. Fintra". The leading ships were allowed to proceed at 6 knots, as they could not steer at less speed, being in ballast, and as a result the convoy was rather strung out as darkness set in. By 22:00 the convoy was on course 035° for the night and had closed up well.

The gale began to ease up by 01:00 (Febr. 21), but at 06:00 fog was encountered. This cleared for half an hour at about 09:00 and 12:00 to visibility 1/2 mile, and each time the ships closed up well. At 15:50 that afternoon, 2 explosions were felt (the convoy was just running out of the fog at that time), and Escapade turned and went to the rear, but regained her station having found all the ships and escorts in their places. At 17:00 HMS Edinburgh and HMS Arethusa were sighted on the starboard bow (Edinburgh had fired 2 charges at 15:50), then at 17:20 HMS Cairo joined, taking station ahead. The convoy ran into fog again soon afterwards and Cairo, which had informed Escapade that she would go ahead during the night to make a landfall, was not seen again that night.

By 01:00, Febr. 22, the wind was freshening from the southwest, but visibility remained under 5 cables. A full gale was blowing by 06:00, and it was raining hard, with visibility under 1 mile. Course at that time was 120°, running down towards Holmengrå Light. The weather had cleared somewhat by 07:00, and Escapade decided to go in, altering course to 090°. Edinburgh and Arethusa were sighted ahead at 07:45. Escapade received a signal that her position at 07:30 had been 225° Holmengrå Light 12 miles by soundings and D/F fix and immediate action was necessary, so the convoy leaders were ordered to alter course to 050°, then to 010°, and as the visibility was closing down, Escapade went back to pass the signal to the near ships, and to collect Eclipse and Narwhal. She got back to the head of the convoy just before 09:00 to sight an island 1/2 mile on the starboard bow. The island had a beacon on it, but the Commanding Officer of Escapade could not recognize it, nor could Delfinus. Convoy course was now altered to 335°, then as more rocks and islands were appearing close ahead, to 270°, which proved to be just in time as the visibility closed down to 2 cables immediately afterwards. The ships all altered course to the west and went slow. Escapade collected Narwhal and the escort, having decided to remain in the present position to wait for better visibility. Shortly after 10:00 Cairo was sighted, giving her estimated position as 255° Utvær Light 4 miles, which fit in well with the islands that had been seen, the first island being Storsvala on the north side of the fjord. Cairo suggested that the ships should be led in, and Escapade and Electra proceeded to do so, while Cairo, Narwhal, Escort and Eclipse patrolled off the entrance. There was still a full gale, with heavy rain and a rough sea, visibility 1/2 mile. Escapade collected 2 ships, Electra 3, leading them to the entrace, but visibility decreased as the shore was approached and the ships would not go in. Escapade then rejoined Cairo, and soon afterwards Electra rejoined, with S.S. Kirnwood following her. Cairo ordered Electra to have another try at getting Kirnwood in. She proceeded and did not regain contact.

Escorts:

It can only be assumed here, that the escort duty for ON 14 was now completed, and that the same escort vessels were to rendezvous with Convoy HN 14 in order to escort it to the U.K., because the rest of the report appears to be for that convoy. A document listing all the HN convoys states that 22 of 37 ships returned to Bergen, 15 sailed, 5 were bound for the west coast. The early diversion of ON 14 to Kirkwall had enabled the N.C.S.O. at Bergen to receive a message in time to postpone the departure of HN 14, but heavy fog prevented them from seeing the escort at the appointed rendezvous on Febr. 22. A sweep carried out by the escort to find the convoy was unsuccessful, and in the end 22 out of the 37 ships returned to Bergen, as mentioned. HMS Electra eventually met up with the majority of the remaining ships and the escort was reformed. (HN 14 left Norway on Febr. 22-1940 and arrived Methil on the 26th).

Continuing HMS Escapade's report:
The Commanding Officer of Escapade did not consider it likely that the ships in Convoy HN 14 for England would come out, and felt that they (the escorts) should remain off the entrance until dark, proceed to the west for the night, then return at daylight, and Cairo agreed to this plan. One of the ships from Convoy HN 14, the Estonian Peet, was spotted at 16:20, signalling that the others were to the west of her. Cairo was turning 180° at that time, and the destroyers were regaining their stations ahead of her, Escort having lost contact. Escapade had to turn in order to inform Cairo and the destroyers, and in doing so, she lost contact with Peet. They searched for the convoy until dark, then proceeded to the west. At around 19:00 a signal was received saying several ships of HN 14 had been sighted steering to the southwest, making it clear that this convoy had indeed come out.

At 06:00, Febr. 23, Cairo and the destroyers spread to visibility distance (1 mile) and swept back towards Holmengrå Light on the line the ships would have taken to reach point 61 00N 00 15W, but no ships were seen. Later that morning, at 11:00, Escapade was ordered by Cairo to proceed to this position at full speed with Eclipse, in the hopes of intercepting the ships there. At 15:00 that afternoon, Escapade encountered the Danish Ringhorn and Inga (I believe the wrong nationality is given for Ringhorn. Norway had a ship by this name - in fact, she's listed in Convoy HN 15, so might have been among the ships that returned to Bergen when in HN 14), then searched at 25 knots on course 190° from the turning point, finding no more ships. She then turned at 19:30 to meet HMS Electra and the convoy.

Early in the morning of Febr. 24, Escapade sighted Electra and 4 ships ahead. The wind had altered to north/northwest by then, blowing a gale force, with extreme visibility between snow storms. Edinburgh, Arethusa, Escort and Escapade proceeded east to locate stragglers, finding 7 ships astern, which hove to the minute they saw the escorts, but eventually 6 of them were persuaded to come on, and a convoy of 10 ships was formed.

Electra and Eclipse were detached to the westward at about 04:00, Febr. 25, together with the British Baron Kelvin and Norw. Tora Elise. Later that morning approximately 07:36 HMS Inglefield and Imogen were sighted on the starboard beam. At this time Escapade was on the port bow of the convoy, with Escort on the starboard bow and Narwhal abreast the leading ship of the port column. At 07:55 Narwhal signalled a "suspicious object", and Escapade immediately turned to port and increased to full speed, sighting a U-boat on the surface a few moments later (bearing and distance are given, but not legible). At that time, the weather was calm with a swell from the north. The U-boat disappeared in the trough of the swell but was plainly visible on the crest. In the hopes of getting closer, Escapade did not open fire, as the U-boat was attempting to signal her using what appeared to be an Aldis lamp. When within 5000-6000 yards, the U-boat submerged, while Escapade ran on for another three minutes, then commenced transmitting. Almost at once contact was obtained bearing 335° distance 900 yards and she turned to attack, but contact was lost during this turn, the ship still having considerable way on her. She dropped a calcium flare by plot, ran on and turned at 1200 yards in order to attack again. Contact was regained at 1000 yards, and a second attack was commenced on course 130°.

Meanwhile, Inglefield, Escort and Imogen had followed at high speed and were within a mile and a half of Escapade when her first attack was started. Seeing these ships coming up astern so fast caused her to run on too long at high speed, hoping to be the ship to deliver the first successful attack, and contact was lost. She hauled down her contact and attacking flags, but hoisted them again when on course 130°. Inglefield then steered to pass under her stern, but when she (Escapade) turned 180° it brough her (Inglefield) right ahead, passing over Escapade's contact. The interference from Inglefield's transmissions and wake made Escapade's second attack impossible. All 4 destroyers were then within 1000 yards of the calcium flare. At about 08:30 Escort obtained contact and went straight in to attack. Inglefield and Imogen also obtained contacts near the position of the calcium flare. Inglefield then formed the 4 destroyers in line abreast and commenced a sweep. The U-boat surfaced again at around 09:50, and this time Escapade was the furthest away. Inglefield, Imogen and Escort had boats down picking up survivors* while Escapade was ordered to rejoin the convoy, being in station ahead of the convoy by 11:45. (Escapade was under the orders of Inglefield between 12:30 on Febr. 25 and 10:00 on the 26th).

* This U-boat would have been U-63, which was sunk Febr. 25-1940, 1 casualty, 24 survivors. Please note the red dot for the sight of the sinking of U-63.



At 10:00 on Febr. 26 Escapade was ordered to proceed to Rosyth, in a full gale from the south causing a short, steep sea. She had under 20% of oil remaining and bumped badly at speeds exceeding 15 knots. After passing Buchan Ness the wind and sea eased, enabling her to do 18 knots, and she anchored in E 2 berth below the bridge at 23:15.

Able Seaman C G Humphreys, DEMS Gunlayer CJX336950

"In 1942 at the age of 18 I had to register for war service and I chose to go in the Navy. Waiting for call-up I went back to work to continue with my apprenticeship in the printing trade. Soon after I became 19 the call came and I had to report to a training camp in Pwllheli, North Wales, where the new intake had square-bashing, a bit of seamanship and training for being a member of a gun crew. It appeared that we were to be in the DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships) designated to be gunners on merchant ships.
After six weeks followed by some leave I was drafted to Cardiff to be put on a ship. We were billeted in an infants’ school and while waiting to be drafted we did duty fire watching at Cardiff docks.
Eventually I was told to pack my kit and report to SS Barrwhin, a coal-fired merchant ship of pre-1914-18 vintage it seemed to me. In our quarters there were eight of us. Five other naval ratings and two army fellows from an artillery unit I got to know, all under the charge of a Leading Seaman. Mounted aft there was a 4-inch gun for shooting at U-boats. On the bridge was a Lewis machine gun and on one side of the ship was a piece of armament for fending off attacking aircraft. A rocket was fired up trailing a cable with a parachute on the end. Fortunately we never had to use it.


Eventually we set off up the coast and joined a convoy collected off the Scottish coast to sail across the Atlantic. As the ship was empty, apart from some ballast, it was a rough journey that my stomach didn’t like and I ate ships’ biscuits mainly during the two weeks that it took to get to our destination, which was Halifax, Nova Scotia. We used to go on watch, two at a time, for four hours throughout the voyage. It was now about October/November time and bitterly cold in the North Atlantic.
In Halifax the ship was loaded with vehicles in the bottom of the holds, tanks I think they were, all cocooned with some sort of sealant as grain was then poured on top of them. Finally loaded we set sail and formed up with the rest of the convoy for the voyage back home. My stomach didn’t appreciate going to sea again and it was back to ships’ biscuits. The convoy consisted of all manner of ships; I particularly remember we had a Norwegian whaler as it had a distinctive shape. There was also an escort of Navy vessels.
We had been sailing for about a week, chugging along at about 7 knots, when one night things started to happen. Ships were being torpedoed. Tankers carrying fuel sending flames up into the sky. The Navy ships chased around dropping depth charges but whether they sunk any U-boats I don’t know. There were 30 or 40 ships in the convoy and quite a few were sunk that first night. So we plodded on during the day, apprehensive as to what the night would bring. Then we knew. More sinking's, including the Norwegian whaler. We managed to pick up some survivors from one of the ships.


The next night the convoy was in disarray and the ships were ordered to scatter and the following morning we were on our own. I heard afterwards that a U-boat had been sighted not far from our ship during the day. That night the inevitable happened and the ship was torpedoed on the port side and started to go down. Fortunately, my boat station was on the starboard side with the lifeboat operational. The merchant seamen started to lower the boat. It was a metal one fortunately, as it crashed against the ship’s side on its way down. I had managed to get into the boat and as other men crowded in I found myself lying on my back in the bottom. Eventually we got ourselves sorted out and I was able to get onto an oar with some other fellow helping to keep the boat head-on to the waves. Others were not so lucky, having to make do with life-rafts, after perhaps being in the water. One thing I did find though, my stomach like the motion of the boat more than on the ship and I felt fine in that respect.


It was a moonlight night and there we were in the middle of the Atlantic, just keeping the boat head-on to the waves with the oars with the life-rafts around. So what did we thank about at that time? I can’t really remember how I felt. Being only 19 I just left it to the experienced merchant seamen.
As it was wintertime the nights were long. I am not sure how long we were in that situation but it was still dark when out of the night two grey shapes appeared. They were Canadian Corvettes on their way across the Atlantic to Ireland and completely unaware of our plight but an eagle-eyed lookout had spotted us.
Rope ladders were let down and we were soon aboard and in two or three days we landed in Londonderry. We were kitted out and sent on our way to our respective bases, mine being Chatham. After booking in I was given travelling warrants and food coupons and I was on my way home for two weeks survivors’ leave."