To carry on.  The ship right alongside of us and carrying an ore cargo similar to ours went down in a few seconds and only five of her crew were saved. The two ships left in the outside column, were moved to other positions and this brought us on the outside column.  We were far from happy, as with our cargo – well we shouldn’t have much time, if any, should we get pipped.  For many nights after that I sat out with other members of the crew in the saloon until we became so dead tired we fell asleep towards midnight.  We used to pray for dawn.  During daytime it didn’t seem too bad.  Later of course with no more attacks we became easier and went to bed, but with our clothes on.

One afternoon we saw the Malaya leave the centre of the convoy and in company with two destroyers disappear over the horizon.  We though she was leaving or just having exercises.  About an hour or so they all came back and resumed their stations.  Talk about ignorance being bliss, I got the actual story about a year later from one of the torpedoed crew, picked up by the destroyers and aboard her at the time.  The destroyers sighted the Sharnhoist and Greisanan making for the convoy and were ordered to make a torpedo attack.  Liable to be suicide for the destroyers.  Out went the Malaya and as soon as the Jerries sighted the Malaya, they beat it as fast as they could.  I should imagine the Malaya is a much more heavy armed vessel than those two We knew nothing of all this and it was only by luck I heard of this later. A Clan Line ship was amongst the torpedoed ships and one of the survivors was later relieving in the UK on the Macbean and he gave me this information.

Later the Malaya left us and I suppose went back to Freetown and we were joined by the Battleship Renown and the aircraft carrier Ark Royal from Gibraltar.  This was an improvement as the planes could keep the subs under the surface during the day and prevent them getting together for a general attack.  But the protection at night was still as weak as before.  Still there it was, escorts were few and the Navy was fully stretched.  It was lovely during the day watching planes going out, having mock battles and dive-bombing the Renown.  All the times the planes were out on sub patrol.  During the day the Ark Royal would be manoeuvring astern her planes landing and leaving all day.  At night she came inside the convoy with the Renown.  Then we protected her from subs.  There was one plane, I’m sure it was the same one each day, use to give us a cheery wave as he passed, flying close.  We got right abeam of Brest (Map 6) with no further actual attacks, although the planes may have driven the subs away.  We wouldn’t know. Abeam of Brest the Renown and Ark Royal left us, with two destroyers and a small cruiser took over.  The danger of surface attack was now getting less and less.  We had only one sub escort though.  Had we known our local escort, a fairly powerful sub escort, was due that night.  Before they arrived, or perhaps when they were arriving, trouble started over on the far side of the convoy.  There was a pile of depth charging going on. It was misty and the far side of the convoy was quite a distance away.  Later we heard a sub had been sunk.  We commenced making emergency turns and in the mist a number of the orders to turn, made by special lights from the Commodore, were missed and the convoy became scattered.  There were 17 emergency turns given.  How many we saw I don’t know.  I know we found ourselves miles out of position, right over the far side of the convoy and later lost contact altogether.  Later convoys had better organisation.  A number of ships in various positions were detailed as repeating ships and repeated all coloured light signals from the Commodore.

At dawn it was still misty and no sign of the convoy; but a couple of other ships about.  We thought, this is a nice how do you do.  Subs around, protection somewhere close but where?  A plane suddenly swept over us out of the mist, but it was one of ours.  The ships in sight now spread out, keeping each other just in sight and we went forward together, thus covering a wide front.  The convoy was sighted and we turned towards it.  It seemed hours before we got into position and the protection of the escort, of which there were quite a number now.  A large part of the convoy was still missing and it was fully two days before all rejoined except one.  We heard no wireless report from this one and she never rejoined our convoy.  We thought she had been sunk, but about three years later I saw her in Suez.  I supposed she couldn’t find the convoy, so had gone home on her own.

Love Jimmy

XXX

 

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