Allied Warships

HMS Caldwell (I 20)

Destroyer of the Town class

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeDestroyer
ClassTown 
PennantI 20 
Built byBath Iron Works (Bath, Maine, U.S.A.) 
Ordered 
Laid down7 Oct 1918 
Launched29 May 1919 
Commissioned9 Sep 1940 
End service1 Dec 1944 
History

USS Hale (DD 133) arrived Halifax 6 September 1940 and decommissioned 3 days later. Entering the Royal Navy, she became HMS Caldwell During her career in the British Navy, Caldwell was assigned to escort duty in the Atlantic and later in the Caribbean, as Britain tried desperately to cope with the German U-boat menace. She joined the Royal Canadian Navy in mid-1942, and while returning to St. John's, Newfoundland, 18 December 1942, was seriously damaged during a heavy gale. She became disabled, and was found drifting helplessly by Wanderer 21 December. Caldwell was then towed to St. John's and later to Boston. Ready for sea again in May 1943, the ship resumed convoy duty with the Royal Canadian Navy until 1 December, when she returned to Tyne and was placed in reserve. Caldwell was broken up for scrap in September 1944.

 
Former nameUSS Hale (DD 133)

Commands listed for HMS Caldwell (I 20)

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and that we only list Commanding Officers for the duration of the Second World War.

CommanderFromTo
1Lt.Cdr. Michael Wilfred Tomkinson, RN9 Sep 19401 Jan 1941
2Lt.Cdr. Eric Morrison Mackay, RNR1 Jan 194116 Jun 1943
3Lt.Cdr. Frank Douglas Stacpoole, RNR16 Jun 1943

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Notable events involving Caldwell include:


9 Feb 1941

Convoy SL 65.

The bulk of this convoy departed Freetown on 10 February 1941 and arrived in U.K. waters on 8 March 1941.

Part of this convoy departed Freetown on day earlier, on 9 February 1941 and joined up with the main part of the convoy on 14 February 1941. This part of the convoy was known as convoy SLS [SL Slow] 65.

Convoy SLS 65 was made up of the following merchant vessels; Agios Vlasios (Greek, 2974 GRT, built 1918), Batna (British, 4399 GRT, built 1928), Baxtergate (British, 5531 GRT, built 1925), Camerata (British, 4875 GRT, built 1931), Deido (British, 3894 GRT, built 1928), Glaisdale (British, 3777 GRT, built 1929), Harmonic (British, 4558 GRT, built 1930), Hollinside (British, 4172 GRT, built 1930), Michael L. Embiricos (Greek, 5202 GRT, built 1918), Nevada II (British, 5693 GRT, built 1918), Ocean Coast (British, 1173 GRT, built 1935), Senta (Norwegian, 3785 GRT, built 1917), Trongate (British, 3979 GRT, built 1924), Wearpool (British, 4982 GRT, built 1936) and Zeeland (Dutch, 2776 GRT, built 1930).

SLS 65 had no escort.

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Convoy SL 65 was made up of the following merchant vessels; Belinda (Norwegian (tanker), 8325 GRT, built 1939), Belita (Norwegian (tanker), 6323 GRT, built 1933), Bencruachan (British, 5920 GRT, built 1928), Benvrackie (British, 6434 GRT, built 1922), Blairclova (British, 5083 GRT, built 1938), British Confidence (British (tanker), 8494 GRT, built 1936), British Endurance (British (tanker), 8406 GRT, built 1936), British Engineer (British (tanker), 6993 GRT, built 1922), British Governor (British (tanker), 6840 GRT, built 1926), British Renown (British (tanker), 6997 GRT, built 1928), British Workman (British (tanker), 6994 GRT, built 1922), Bur (Norwegian, 4343 GRT, built 1917), Chile (British, 6956 GRT, built 1915), City of Adelaide (British, 6528 GRT, built 1920), City of Canton (British, 6692 GRT, built 1916), City of Evansville (British, 6528 GRT, built 1922), City of Exeter (British, 9654 GRT, built 1914), City of Khios (British, 5574 GRT, built 1925), City of Ripon (British, 6368 GRT, built 1915), City of Winchester (British, 7120 GRT, built 1917), City of Worcester (British, 5469 GRT, built 1927), Cliftonhall (British, 5063 GRT, built 1938), Cordillera (British, 6865 GRT, built 1920), David Livingstone (British, 5013 GRT, built 1930), Dunstan (British, 5149 GRT, built 1925), Eskbank (British, 5137 GRT, built 1937), Fernlane (Norwegian, 4310 GRT, built 1927), Glenfinlas (British, 7479 GRT, built 1917), John Holt (British, 4975 GRT, built 1938), Kalewa (British, 4389 GRT, built 1940), Kana (British, 2783 GRT, built 1929), Marquesa (British, 8979 GRT, built 1918), Matadian (British, 4275 GRT, built 1936), Medon (British, 5444 GRT, built 1923), Morgenen (Norwegian (tanker), 7093 GRT, built 1930), Nariva (British, 8714 GRT, built 1920), Nela (British, 7220 GRT, built 1916), Polartank (Norwegian (tanker), 6356 GRT, built 1930), Port Adelaide (British, 8422 GRT, built 1919), Southern Princess (British (tanker), 12156 GRT, built 1915), Strategist (British, 6255 GRT, built 1937), Tacoma Star (British, 7924 GRT, built 1919), Tactician (British, 5996 GRT, built 1928), Thistlegorm (British, 4898 GRT, built 1940), Thornliebank (British, 5569 GRT, built 1939), Tiba (Dutch, 5239 GRT, built 1938), Ville d'Amiens (British, 6975 GRT, built 1924), Wayfarer (British, 5068 GRT, built 1925) and Zamalek (British (rescue ship), 1567 GRT, built 1921).]

[It is possible some of these ships did not sail from Freetown but joined the convoy at sea.]

On departure from Freetown the convoy was escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Bulolo (Capt.(Retd.) R.L. Hamer, RN) and the sloop HMS Milford (Capt.(Retd.) S.K. Smyth, RN).

At 0900N/11, the corvettes HMS Asphodel (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) K.W. Stewart, RN) and HMS Calendula (Lt.Cdr. A.D. Bruford, RNVR).

On 13 February 1941, the light cruiser HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.M. Burrough, CB, RN) joined SLS 65 having departed Freetown on 11 February 1941.

Around 0900N/14, convoy SLS 65 merged with convoy SL 65.

At 1820N/14, HMS Milford, HMS Asphodel and HMS Calendula parted company with the convoy to return to Freetown.

At 1100D/20, the light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) joined the convoy escort. HMS Kenya then parted company to proceed to Gibraltar.

HMS Sheffield parted company with the convoy in the afternoon of 1 March 1941 and returned to Gibraltar.

At 1300D/2, the light cruiser HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN) joined the convoy escort. HMS Bulolo then parted company with the convoy to proceed to the Clyde.

Ships from the local A/S escort commenced to join on 4 March, these were the destroyers HMS Vanoc (Lt.Cdr. J.G.W. Deneys, RN), HMS Volunteer (Lt.Cdr. N. Lanyon, RN), HMS Walker (Cdr. D.G.F.W. MacIntyre, RN), HMS Brighton (Cdr. (Retd.) C.W.V.T.S. Lepper, RN), HMS Broadway (Lt.Cdr. T. Taylor, RN), HMS Caldwell (Lt.Cdr. E.M. Mackay, RNR), HMS Rockingham (Lt. A.H.T. Johns, RN), sloop HMS Fleetwood (Cdr. R.W. Moir, RN), corvettes HMS Dianella (T/Lt. J.G. Rankin, RNR), HMS Sunflower (Lt.Cdr. J.T. Jones, RNR), HMS Tulip (Lt.Cdr. A. Wilkinson, RNR), A/S yacht HMS Philante (Capt.(Retd.) H.S. Bowlby, RN) and the catapult ship HMS Pegasus (Capt.(Retd.) P.G. Wodehouse, DSO, RN). The destroyers HNoMS Mansfield (Cdr. F. Ulstrup, RNorN) and HMS Woolston (Lt.Cdr. W.J. Phipps, OBE, RN) joined on 5 March.

6 May 1941

Convoy HX 125

This convoy departed Halifax on 6 May 1941 in two sections, convoy HX 125A and convoy HX 125B. They merged in the afternoon of May 16th.

Convoy HX 125A was made up of the following merchant vessels;
Abraham Lincoln (British, 5740 GRT, built 1929), Armadale (British, 5066 GRT, built 1929), Athelknight (British (tanker), 8940 GRT, built 1930), Atlantic (British, 5414 GRT, built 1939), Baron Dunmore (British, 3938 GRT, built 1933), Bic Island (British, 4000 GRT, built 1917), British Cinfidence (British (tanker), 8494 GRT, built 1936), British Fortitude (British (tanker), 8482 GRT, built 1937), British Sincerity (British (tanker), 8538 GRT, built 1939), Clausina (British (tanker), 8083 GRT, built 1938), Dallington Court (British, 6889 GRT, built 1929), El Aleto (British (tanker), 7203 GRT, built 1927), Empire Confidence (British, 5023 GRT, built 1935), Eskbank (British, 5137 GRT, built 1937), Fjordheim (British, 4115 GRT, built 1930), Garonne (Norwegian (tanker), 7113 GRT, built 1921), Glenwood (British, 4897 GRT, built 1940), Harmala (British, 5730 GRT, built 1935), Harpagon (British, 5719 GRT, built 1935), Ingerfem (British, 3987 GRT, built 1912), King Neptune (British, 5224 GRT, built 1928), King William (British, 5274 GRT, built 1928), Lancastrian Prince (British, 1914 GRT, built 1940), Lucellum (British (tanker), 9425 GRT, built 1938), Luminetta (British (tanker), 6159 GRT, built 1927), Luxor (British (tanker), 6554 GRT, built 1930), O.A. Knudsen (Norwegian (tanker), 11007 GRT, built 1938), Port Nicholson (British, 8402 GRT, built 1919), Ramsay (British, 4855 GRT, built 1930), Robert F. Hand (British (tanker), 12197 GRT, built 1933), San Amado (British (tanker), 7316 GRT, built 1935), San Cipriano (British, 7966 GRT, built 1937), Silverelm (British, 4351 GRT, built 1924), Taron (British (tanker), 8054 GRT, built 1936), Temple Arch (British, 5138 GRT, built 1940), Temple Inn (British, 5218 GRT, built 1940), Topdalsfjord (Norwegian, 4271 GRT, built 1921), Trevilley (British, 5296 GRT, built 1940), Troubadour (Norwegian, 5808 GRT, built 1920) and Vancouver (British (tanker), 5729 GRT, built 1928).

On departure from Halifax convoy HX 125A was escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Ascania (Capt.(Retd.) C.H. Ringrose-Wharton, RN) and the corvettes HMCS Cobalt (T/A/Lt.Cdr. R.B. Campbell, RCNR) and HMCS Wetaskiwin (Lt.Cdr. G.S. Windeyer, RCN). The corvettes however soon returned to Halifax.

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Convoy HX 125B was made up of the following merchant vessels;
Breedijk (Dutch, 6861 GRT, built 1922), Briarwood (British, 4019 GRT, built 1930), British Destiny (British (tanker), 8470 GRT, built 1937), British Governor (British (tanker), 6840 GRT, built 1926), British Prestige (British (tanker), 7106 GRT, built 1931), Christian Holm (British (tanker), 9119 GRT, built 1927), City of Adelaide (British, 6589 GRT, built 1920), Clearpool (British, 5404 GRT, built 1935), Cockaponset (British, 5995 GRT, built 1919), Corrales (British, 5363 GRT, built 1930), Diloma (British (tanker), 8146 GRT, built 1939), Egyptian Prince (British, 3490 GRT, built 1922), Empire Barracuda (British, 4972 GRT, built 1919), Empire Hail (British, 7005 GRT, built 1941), Evgenia Chandris (Greek, 5317 GRT, built 1920), Frontenac (Norwegian (tanker), 7350 GRT, built 1928), Gold Shell (British (tanker), 8208 GRT, built 1931), Hellen (Norwegian, 5289 GRT, built 1921), Ida Knudsen (Norwegian (tanker), 8913 GRT, built 1925), Invincible (British, 7592 GRT, built 1918), Kelso (British, 3956 GRT, built 1924), Kent (British, 8697 GRT, built 1918), Lodestone (British, 4877 GRT, built 1938), Manchester Exporter (British, 5277 GRT, built 1918), Masunda (British, 5250 GRT, built 1929), Modavia (British, 4858 GRT, built 1927), Norfolk (British, 10948 GRT, built 1918) and Nyanza (British, 4974 GRT, built 1928).

On departure from Halifax convoy HX 125B was escorted by the sloop HMS Aberdeen (Lt. S.G. Rivers-Smith, RN).

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On 7 May 1941, the battleship HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN) departed Halifax to provide cover for both sections of the convoy. She set course to return to Halifax around midnight during the night of 13/14 May 1941.

Four recently transferred US Coast Guard Cutters were also with the convoy, though these had not been rearmed and worked up. These were; HMS Banff (Lt.Cdr. P.S. Evans, RN), HMS Culver (Lt.Cdr. R.T. Gordon-Duff, RN), HMS Fishguard (Lt.Cdr. H.L. Pryse, RNR) and HMS Hartland ( A/Cdr. D.E.G. Wemyss, RN).

On the 16th the destroyers HMS Chelsea (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN), HMS Churchill (Cdr.(Retd.) G.R. Cousins, RN), HNoMS Mansfield (Cdr. F. Ulstrup, RNorN), HMS Verity (Cdr. R.H. Mills, RN), HMS Wolverine (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Rowland, RN) and the corvettes HMS Begonia (T/Lt. T.A.R. Muir, RNR), HMS Convolvulus (T/Lt. R.S. Connell, RNR) and HMS Larkspur (Lt. S.C.B. Hickman, RNR) joined the convoy coming from Iceland. They remained with the convoy until the 18th.

In the afternoon of the 16th, Convoys HX 125A and HX 125B merged into one big convoy.

Around 1330Z/18, HMS Ascania parted company with the convoy to proceed to Reykjavik.

On the 18th the destroyers HMS Ramsey (Lt.Cdr. R.B. Stannard, VC, RNR), HMS Ripley (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Agnew, RN), HMS Walker (Cdr. D.G.F.W. MacIntyre, DSO, RN), HMS Watchman (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Day, RN), sloop HMS Enchantress (Lt.Cdr. A.E.T. Christie, OBE, RN), corvettes HMS Bluebell (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Sherwood, RNR), HMS Candytuft (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) F.B. Collinson, RD, RNR), HMS Honeysuckle (Lt.Cdr. G.W. Gregorie, RNR), HMS Hydrangea (Lt. J.E. Woolfenden, RNR), HMS Tulip (Lt.Cdr. A. Wilkinson, RNR) and HMS Wallflower (Lt.Cdr. I.J. Tyson, RN), and the minesweeper HMS Salamander (Lt.Cdr. W.A. Cooke, RN) joined the convoy.

On the 19th the destroyer HMS Caldwell (Lt.Cdr. E.M. Mackay, RNR) joined on the 19th as did the minesweepers HMS Bramble (Capt. M.H. Evelegh, RN), HMS Gossamer (Lt.Cdr. A.D.H. Jay, RN), HMS Seagull ( Cdr.(Retd.) R.H.V. Sivewright, RN) and HMS Sharpshooter (Lt.Cdr. D. Lampen, RN) but apparently only for a short while.

The destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN) and HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN) joined the convoy on the 20th.

also on the 20th the corvettes HMS Tulip and HMS Wallflower were detached.

The destroyers HMS Inglefield and HMS Escapade were destached on the 21st as was the corvette HMS Honeysuckle.

The convoy arrived in British waters on 22 May 1941.

6 Sep 1941
HMS H 32 (Lt. J.W.D. Coombe, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Douglas (Cdr. W.E. Banks, DSC, RN), HMS Skate (Lt. F.P. Baker, DSC, RN), HMS Leamington (Lt.Cdr. H.G. Bowerman, RN), HMS Chelsea (Lt.Cdr. A.F.C. Layard, RN) and HMS Caldwell (Lt.Cdr. E.M. Mackay, RNR). (1)

7 Sep 1941
HMS H 32 (Lt. J.W.D. Coombe, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Chelsea (Lt.Cdr. A.F.C. Layard, RN) and HMS Caldwell (Lt.Cdr. E.M. Mackay, RNR) (1)

8 Sep 1941
HMS H 32 (Lt. J.W.D. Coombe, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Chelsea (Lt.Cdr. A.F.C. Layard, RN) and HMS Caldwell (Lt.Cdr. E.M. Mackay, RNR) (1)

19 Sep 1941
Around 0700N/19, the troopship Durban Castle (British, 17388 GRT, built 1938), with the Greek Royal family on board, and her escort, the armed merchant cruiser Queen of Bermuda (Capt. A.T.G.C. Peachey, RN) were joined by the destroyers HMS Caldwell (Lt.Cdr. E.M. Mackay, RNR) and HMS Volunteer (Lt.Cdr. N. Lanyon, RN) in position 51°20'N, 26°40'W.

Around 0930A/19, in position 51°37'N, 25°41'W, HMS Queen of Bermuda parted company to proceed to St. Johns, Newfoundland. It had been intended for her to proceed direct to Bermuda but this was not possible due to fuel shortage. (2)

14 Nov 1941
HMS H 50 (Lt. E.T. Stanley, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Broke (Cdr. W.T. Couchman, OBE, RN), HMS Wolverine (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Rowland, RN), HMS Caldwell (Lt.Cdr. E.M. Mackay, RD, RNR) and HMS Volunteer (Lt.Cdr. N. Lanyon, RN). (3)

18 Dec 1942
The Captain of HMS Caldwell, Lt. Cdr Eric Mackay D.S.C., R.D., RNR was not in his cabin when the forward bulkhead was stoved in by the wave that demolished the port wing of the bridge on the night of 16th December 1942. A signal was made to HMS Churchill for HMS Caldwell to return to St. John's. At 1400 on 18th December, the ship was engulfed by tons upon tons of seawater and lost main steering. The starboard wing of the bridge was folded up, the sea carrying away the whaler and davits. The secondary steering gear beyond the 12 pounder gun position was rendered useless. the scuttles in the Number One's cabin and the Wardroom were stoved in. The ship could not take another blow like the first two and was headed back into the Atlantic. On the morning of 19th the Chief Stoker was reported missing, presumed washed overboard. All through 19th & 20th HMS Caldwell steered 220. On 21st, still 400 miles out, fuel was critical. HMS Wanderer stood by until HMCS Skeena and an ocean tug arrived. Conditions deteriorated and fuel could not be passed and at 0800 the fires went out. On the night of 24th, the battered destroyer, frozen and lightless, secured to the dock at the end of a tow of 126 miles. By 27th December, the twin propellers were removed and at 1000 on 18th January the naval tug Foundation Franklin, took HMS Caldwell in tow for the 885 miles to Boston with HMCS Wasaga as escort. By noon the next day the weather changed and eventually the tow parted leaving HMS Caldell with 400 fathoms of 6" wire & 14" manila towline hanging from the bows. Heroic efforts to stream a sea anchor from the stern resulted in casualties. the seas became worse and by 1500 on 19th January, HMS Caldwell was alone. The 20th & 21st were nightmares. The tug St. Anne and HMS Salisbury had to turn back on the 20th due to heavy icing. On 21st, the tug William Moran and HMCS Columbia also could not help. Then 0900 on 22nd January HMCS Columbia found HMS Caldwell and tried to take the destroyer in tow using the 400 fathoms of existing towline. This not being possible, another towline was passed but it was fed out too fast and fouled HMCS Columbia's props. Then HMCS Wasaga returned on station and succeeded in passing a towline and with HMCS Columbia, props cleared, as escort. The new tow parted at 1500 and HMCS Wasaga was in trouble with the wire threatening to foul the props. HMSC Columbia passed another wire and Captain Mackay shackled the cable eye to the wire hanging over the bow. By this method 90 fathoms of 6" wire were brought into service with the remaining 330 fathoms acting as a spring. At 1300 on 24th January they all made Halifax. At 1300 on 27th January, the tug Black Chief took HMS Caldwell in tow. Again the weather turned bad and the pair of ships spent an awful night hove to off Shelburne on the SE coast of Nova Scotia. Reaching harbour the next day 24 hours rest passed and they set out again at snail's pace. The weather was so bad and cold the U-boats remained submerged. On the night of 31st Boston was reached and on 3rd February HMS Caldwell was secured by two tugs at the Atlantic shipyards of Bethlehem Steel. Lt Cdr Mackay was give a shore appointment in Boston and seven months later became Captain of HMS Braithwaite. (4)

23 Dec 1943

Attempted interception, as part of Operation Stonewall, of the German blockade breaker Osorno, interception of the German blockade breaker Alsterufer and subsequent action on 28 December 1943, between HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise and German destroyers and torpedo boats.

During the latter half of November and beginning December 1943, movements of vessels considered to be possible blockade breakers along the French coast of the Bay of Biscay, together with reports received that these ships were fully loaded and likely soon to start for the Far East, gave reason for intensifying operation Stonewall. The long winter nights also would probably be used by the enemy to bring back from the Far East some of the ships which had managed to evade the blockade at the end of 1942 beginning of 1943.

The surface forces available to the C-in-C, Plymouth for the operation were two light cruisers; HMS Glasgow (Capt. C.P. Clarke, RN) and HMNZS Gambia (Capt. N.J.W. William-Powlett, DSC, RN). These were reinforced by the arrival of HMS Enterprise (Capt. H.T.W. Grant, RCN) at Plymouth on 23 December 1943 on completion of her post refit working up period at Scapa Flow.

The initial dispositions for the upcoming period were basd on the following considerations;
A) It was desirable to locate inward bound blockade breakers as far west as possible and that main reliance on this must be based on air patrols.
B) The density of these air patrol, owing to various causes, were always somewhat uncertain.
C) It was anticipated that the presence of outward bound blockade runners would be revealed at the earliest possible moment due to the aircraft on anti-uboat patrol over the Bay of Biscay.
D) Cruiser patrols should be as close as possible to the air patrol line to ensure that the earliest possible use is made of air sightings, and to reduce the likelihood of contact being lost owing to the exhaustion of fuel in the aircraft (as had happened before).
E) It was not considered desirable to maintain constant cruiser patrol east of 25°W due to the presence of German HE 177 long range bombers in Bordeaux.
F) It was considered desirable that no cruiser should have less then 3-4 days endurance remaining when the enemy would be sighted.

Arising out of the above considerations great importance was attached to the air patrol to the northward of the Azores (patrol H, between positions NN (42.05'N, 31.18'W) and OO (48°58'N, 34°04'W), 50 nautical miles on either side of this line and later patrol L, between positions QQ (43.10'N, 30.00'W) and OO (49°50'N, 30°00'W), 50 nautical miles on either side of this line).

This was backed up by the cruiser patrol from the Azores. HMS Glasgow and HMNZS Gambia relieving one other at 3 to 4 day intervals.

The endurance of HMS Enterprise, on the other hand, made her unsuitable for operations from the Azores so she was kept at Plymouth where she could be dispatched immediately on receipt of definite information regarding the enemy.

Passage of the German blockade breaker Osorno.

On 23 December 1943, HMNZS Gambia was operating on patrol line G (between positions LL (42°15'N, 30°10'W) and MM (49°10'N, 35°52'W), 50 nautical miles on either side of this line) having relieved HMS Glasgow which had returned to Horta to fuel on 22 December 1943. At 1911A/23, HMS Glasgow was informed that she was to leave Horta at 1100 hours on the 24th to relieve HMNZS Gambia on patrol G and that HMNZS Gambia was to return to Horta to fuel at 1300 hours on the 26th.

At 2035A/23, the C-in-C Plymouth, received a telephone call from the Admiralty that an aircraft from USS Card (T/Capt. A.J. Isbell, USN) had sighted an unknown vessel in position 47°45'N, 18°53'W at 1539 hours on the 23rd. This ship had been steering a course of 110° at 10 knots. This vessel could not be identified as being Allied and was therefore most probably a German blockade runner. This vessel must have passed patrol line H at some time on 21st December but had not been detected.

At the same time, reports were beginning to come in from aircraft flying patrols over the Bay of Biscay of A.S.V. (airborne surface vessel - radar) contact with surface vessels. The first of these indicated that some 12 ships were proceeding on a westerly course in position 45°38'N, 06°18'W and that their speed was 20 knots. Subsequent reports during the night gave various positions and composition of the enemy force, but all agreed that their course was westerly and that there were destroyers and also a merchant ship or ships present.

In fact there was no German outward blockade runner present. Six destroyers of the 8th German destroyer flotilla had left the Gironde around 0530B/23. These were the destroyers Z 27 (Senior Officer), Z 23, Z 24, Z 32, Z 37 and ZH 1. Half an hour before, at 0500B/23, the German 4th torpedo boat flotilla had left Brest. These were the torpedo boats T 22, T 23, T 24, T 25, T 26 and T 27. They were to join company around 1700B/23 in approximate position 45°33'N, 04°46'W (grid BF 8323) and then proceed to make rendezvous with the incoming blockade breaker.

At 2340A/23, HMS Enterprise was ordered to raise steam immediately and at the same time the Admiralty requisted the C-in-C Mediterranean to place one cruiser under the orders of the Vice-Admiral Gibraltar forthwith for anti-blockade runner duty. HMS Mauritius (Capt. W.W. Davis, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral C.H.J. Harcourt, CBE, RN) was selected for this duty and the C-in-C Mediterranean requested the Vice-Admiral Malta to sail her with all despatch. She departed Malta around 1715A/23, the Rear-Admiral having quickly stuck his flag and left the ship with his staff.

HMS Enterprise left Plymouth around 0200A/24 with orders to proceed through position 180° - Wolf Rock - 10 nautical miles and then on course 258° at 25 knots. Further instructions would be signalled later.

At 0240A/24, the Admiralty signalled to all ships and authorities in the area a resume of such information as was known at the time. It was obvious that the ship seen by the aircraft of USS Card, if she was indeed an enemy blockade breaker, had successfully eluded the Allied air and surface patrols, and no surface forces now could cut her off or overtake her before she was well under the protection of enemy shore base aircraft. There remained the possible outward bound vessel and any other inward bound ship which might be following the first one sighted. In order to catch these, and especially the former, new patrols J and K were instituted, J being longitude 24°30'W between 46°12'N and 47°50'N, and K being longitude 23°00'W between 48°12'N and 49°50'N and one more L, further out, on longitude 30°00'W between 43°10'N and 49°50'N.

At 0628A/24, orders were signalled to HMS Glasgow to establish patrol J by 1000 hours on the 25th and to HMNZS Gambia to establish patrol K at the same time. If nothing had been sighted by HMS Glasgow by 1900 hours on the 25th and by HMNZS Gambia by 2000 hours on the 25th they were to leave as to establish patrol L within 60 miles from 30°00'W by daylight on the 26th. HMNZS Gambia, who would be the first that needed to refuel at Horta, taking the part to the south of 46°30'N, and HMS Glasgow taking the part north of 46°30'N. Air patrol were ordered to cover the areas to the east of these patrols.

Reports from aircraft shadowing the enemy destroyer force in the Bay of Biscay continued to come in and at daylight a report by aircraft R of 105 group, a USN Liberator, gave the composition as 7 merchant ships and 4 destroyers still on a westerly course.

At 0852A/24, however, the situation was complicated by a report from Liberator H from 53 group that two destroyers some 60 miles to the southward of previous reports had been sighted. These were steering 138° at 18 knots. It was first thought these may be Spanish but as no destroyers of that nationality were known to be in that position it seems that that these must be part of the enemy force turned back for some reason and returning along the Spanish Coast.

During the forenoon, the positions reported by various aircraft which were shadowing varied considerably, but the latitudes were all between 45°N and 46°N, and the course given was west. The speed varied between 15 and 20 knots. The composition of the force was very difficult to assess but the majority of the reports indicated 10 or 11 units, of which one or two were merchant ships.

By 1100A/24 it was quite obvious that blockade running was in full swing, and the Admiralty ordered the destroyers HMS Caldwell (Lt.Cdr. F.D. Stacpoole, RD, RNR) and HMS Chelsea (Lt.Cdr. J.E.R. Wilford, RNR), which had been in position 42°30'N, 27°01'W around 0800 hours that morning, proceeding at 15 knots to the U.K. from Horta, to come under the orders of the C-in-C, Plymouth, but their state of efficiency and the amount of fuel on board was too low for them to be effective and the orders were subsequently cancelled. The Admiralty also requested the C-in-C, Mediterranean to sail HMS Mauritius to the Azores with despatch, and to replace her at Gibraltar with another cruiser so two cruisers were now requested from the Mediterranean.

At 1127A/24, the C-in-C, Plymouth promulgated to all ships and authorities concerned his estimate of the situation, giving 9 enemy destroyers with 2 merchant ships, possibly tankers in position 45°35'N, 10°56'W steering 270° at 15 knots and two destroyers in the vicinity of Cape Ortegal, eastbound, and the inward bound blockade breaker not yet located.

Air searches were meanwhile ongoing to locate the inward bound blockade breaker and at 1220A/24, a Beaufighter of 143 Squadron reported a large merchant ship of about 5000 tons with funnel amidships and a large superstructure round the funnel. She was sighed in position 46°00'N, 11°30'W proceeding on course 090°. The enemy force had meanwhile been reported as consisting of 5 destroyers and 4 merchant vessels.

By 1245A/24, the rendezvous had been made and the enemy had turned onto an easterly course, this being reported by Beaufighters of 235 Squadron. They reported the force as consisting of 2 merchant vessels, 5 destroyers and 3 torpedo boats.

According to German files the rendezvous with the incoming blockade breaker was made at 1246B/24 in approximate position 45°33'N, 12°15'W (grid BE 9322)

Up to this time it had seemed fairly certain that there was at least one outward bound blockade breaker and possibly two, in company with the enemy destroyer force. Now doubt began to arise.

However as the enemy force was now continuously being shadowed by British aircraft, it was appreciated that the enemy would be unlikely to detach an outward bound blockade runner alone and unescorted and it was also appreciated that the enemy would attach the greatest importance to the inward bound blockade breaker.

Consequently there remained two possibilities with regard to outward bound blockade breakers (if these were indeed present);
A) That the enemy had abandoned the attempt and were returning to France with the incoming blockade breaker and the escort.
B) That they would part company with the escort after dark then to proceede once more to the westward.

HMS Enterprise was therefore ordered after passing 09°30'W to steer for position 46°20'N, 15°40'W. She altered course to comply at at 1455A/24.

During the afternoon aircraft continued to shadow the enemy convoy on its easterly course but their signals on its composition failed to resolve the doubt about the presence of outward bound blockade breakers. It seemed that there were now 12 ships in all but the number of merchant ships reported varied from 2 to 7.

Around 1600A/24, 8 Halifax aircraft from 502 Squadron arrived near the enemy convoy and attacked it with 500 lb bombs. Few were able to report the results. Flak was heavy and evasive action by the enemy prevented any accurate observation. One however reported a hit on the larger merchantman who she assessed at 5000 tons. Another aircraft claimed a very near miss on another ship. Aircraft of 19 Group continued to shadow but any attack on the convoy, except by aircraft, was now out of the question.

Besides the possibility of an outward bound blockade breaker turning to the westward after dark there was the further possibility of a second inward bound blockade breaker closely following the first.

In order to guard against these contingencies, the C-in-C, Plymouth, requested at 1624A/24, the Senior British Naval Officer, Azores to arrange for an air search at maximum density, to be carried out during daylight on the 25th in the area between longitudes 18°45'W and 22°55'W, south of latitude 50'N as far towards latitude 42°N as resources would permit, the northern part of the area being the most important. This was to be instead of patrol H. HMS Glasgow and HMNZS Gambia had been ordered to patrol on J and K to the west of this area. Subsequently to commence on the 26th December, air patrol L was instituted between (QQ) 43°10'N, 30°00'W and (RR) 49°50'N, 30°00'W and was to be maintained daily.

At 1837A/24, a further situation report was issued, informing all forces and authorities that it was estimated that an inward bound blockade breaker had joined the enemy force at 1225A/24, in position 45°42'N, 11°45'W, and that the whole force of enemy vessels had turned to the westward at about 1300A/24 in position 45°35'N, 12°08'W and that it was considered all the enemy vessels were now eastbound, though it was possible that any outward bound blockade breaker might turn to the westward after dark.

HMS Enterprise was ordered, at 2012A/24, to establish a patrol on longitude 15°W between 46°50'N and 46°01'N until 0630A/25, when she was to proceed to take up patrol in the vicinity of position 47°50'N, 19°01'W until last light on the 25th after which she is to return to Plymouth. She reached the north end of the patrol line at 0023A/25.

during the night of the 24/25 December aircraft of 19 Group maintained contact with the enemy convoy, the reports of which continued to vary on it's composition but agreed on it's easterly course. At 0255A/25 an aircraft reported that two destroyers were 15 miles astern of the main convoy. Bombs were dropped by 9 aircraft between 0100 and 0500 hours, but no apparent result was achieved.

The weather on the morning of the 25th was unfavourable for flying and shadowing of the enemy convoy could no be kept up after 1140A/25. A striking force of 14 torpedo carrying Beaufighers and two special cannon Mosquitoes, escorted by 29 Beaufighters and 12 Mosquitoes was organised, but their departure had to be delayed owing to the unfavourable weather forecast. They did however, leave in time to arrive in the area around 1530A/25 but were unable to find the enemy.

By 1200A/25, it seemed certain that the enemy had not sent out any ship, and that the inward bound vessel would reach the Gironde, unless stopped by Beaufighters. HMS Enterprise was therefore ordered to return to Plymouth forthwith so that she might be refuelled as soon as possible to be ready for the next incoming blockade breaker. At 1255A/25, HMNZS Gambia was ordered to return to Horta to arrive before dark on the 26th and fuel with despatch. HMS Glasgow was also ordered to leave the northern end of patrol J at 2000A/25 and proceed to patrol L north of 46°50'N.

The Osorno and her escorts arrived in the Gironde in the early hours of the 26th where the blockade breaker hit the wreck of the sunken Sperrbrecher 21 and started to sink. To prevent this the ship was beached. The cargo was successfully salvaged though.

During the passage, at 1850B/24, T 27 suffered a rudder failure and dropped behind for some time before she was able to rejoin. She had to be steered on the engines.

At 0927B/25, ZH 1, which was suffering from engine trouble, requested to be taken in tow for which purpose T 25 was detached. She towed the damaged destroyer to the Gironde where they arrived late in the afternoon of the 26th.

Also, around 1945B/25, T 22, T 23, T 24 and T 26 were detached to proceed to Brest where they arrived around 1015B/26.

Interception of the German blockade breaker Alsterufer.

Attention was now very much directed to the possibility, and indeed the probability, that there was a second inward bound blockade breaker in the offing. It was appreciated that the Germans would wish to meet her and escort her in as much as they had done with the Osorno, and that the rendezvous might well be in much the same vicinity. This could be achieved by the German destroyers in a minimum time of 3 days, but this would involve a very quick turn around after reaching harbour with Osorno. 4 days was considered more likely and proved in the end to be correct. A still stronger interval was by no means out of the question. On the 3 day cycle the inward bound blockade breaker might be expected to have passed patrol line H on 24 December when patrol H was not flown and on the 25th for the 4 day cycle. Also on the 25th the patrol could not be flown due to other the commitments that had been made.

A gap had thus been left in the outer reconnaissance areas, through which a blockade runner might have passed on the 25th. To guard against this, the C-in-C, Plymouth asked Headquarters Coastal Command for an air search on 26 December, in the area between 50°N and 46°N, and 19°W and 22°W, adding that he attached the greatest importance to this. He also asked that patrol L should be flown on the 26th and daily thereafter, so as to ensure early air sighting if the enemy had not passed 30°W longitude on the 25th and to allow for interception by surface vessels as far to the westward as possible, the portion of the patrol line north of 46°30'N, being considered the more important.

Headquarters Coastal Command replied at 1640A/25, that 2 Liberators and 2 Sunderlands of 15 Group would patrol the area asked for from dawn on the 26th and that aircraft from 247 Group in the Azores would fly L patrol.

The general situation was further cleared up by photographic reconnaissance of La Pallice and the Gironde on the 25th which established that none of the possible outward bound blockade breakers had moved with the possible exception of the Himalaya whose berth at Brest had not been covered.

On the 28th photographic reconnaissance showed that the Osorno was at Le Verdon, apparently aground, but being unloaded. The identity of the ship was thus established without a doubt as the Osorno.

An alteration to the patrol ordered for HMS Glasgow was made at 1732A/25 when she was ordered to leave patrol J at dark on the 25th and establish patrol M between 47°25'N, and 48°05'N, and between 20°W and 22°30'W. She was ordered to be at eastern end of this patrol at about 1400A/26 and to leave the western end at dark on that day so as to commence patrol L north of 46°31'N, at daylight on th 27th. This patrol had to be given a general east/west line on account of the U-boat situation.

On the 26th, HMS Enterprise arrived at Plymouth at 1330A/26 and immediately fuelled. The fast minelayer HMS Ariadne (Capt. Lord Ashbourne, RN) left Gibraltar at 0930A/26 for passage to the U.K. HMNZS Gambia arrived at Horta at 1830A/26. HMS Mauritius, on arrival at Gibraltar, was found to have boiler defects. Therefore at 1952A/26, HMS Penelope (Capt. G.D. Belben, DSC, AM, RN) departed Gibraltar for Horta, Azores in her place.

During the afternoon of the 26th, further modifications were made to the patrol arrangements for the following and subsequent days. HMNZS Gambia was to leave Horta as soon as she had completed fuelling and then proceed at 22 knots to patrol L north of 46°31'N. HMS Glasgow was, at dusk onn the 26th, to search westward along 47°30'N and then to establish patrol N between 46°40'N and 47°20'N and between 23°04'W and 26°02'W at daylight on the 27th. The presence of U-boats in the area made it necessary again to establish patrol in an east/west line and further west then desired. HMS Enterprise was to leave Plymouth at 2200A/26 and proceed towards position EB which was in 48°26'N, 15°01'W at speed of advance of 21 knots.

In the evening news was received from the Senior British Naval Officer, Azores that the French large destroyer Le Malin (Cdr. J.E.C. Hourcade) had arrived at Horta on that day from Bermuda and that the French Naval authorities had placed her under British command. Her sister ship, Le Fantasque (Capt. C.Y.F.M. Perzo), currently at Algiers had also been ordered to proceed to Horta via Gibraltar.

Headquarters 19 Group arranged for 8 Liberators to carry out a search in an area bounded by the following points;
49°17'N, 20°26'W,
48°35'N, 17°40'W,
46°05'N, 19°03'W,
46°50'N, 21°50'W.

This area was based on the assumption that the next rendezvous with the destroyer escort and the inward bound blockade breaker would be in roughly the same position as that which had taken place on the 24th and be timed for noon on the 28th which, was now estimated to be the earliest possible date which the enemy destroyers could keep. In case the aircraft of 19 Group would be grounded on account of the weather aircraft from 15 Group were arranged as backup.

The stage was now set for the final act and the hoped for victim made his entry on the morning of the 27th. At 1015A/27, Sunderland T of 201 Squadron, attached to 15 Group, reported a medium seized merchant vessel in position 46°40'N, 19°30'W, steering a course of 120°. HMS Glasgow was thus to the west and HMS Enterprise to the east of the enemy. At 1036A/27, they were both ordered to steer towards position 45°00'N, 15°00'W at best speed. At 1000A/27, the estimated position of HMS Glasgow was 46°59'N, 26.35'W and that she would be on course 090° at 18 knots. On receipt of the signal at 1130 hours she altered course to 100° and increased speed to 27 knots and ten minutes afterwards speed was increased to 30 knots and course was adjusted as necessary to intercept the blockade runner.

Meanwhile Sunderland V of 201 Squadron went to the position given by T/201 and from then on contact was maintained and positions, courses and speed of the enemy were sent in by shadowing aircraft. As usual positions varied considerably, but the course of the enemy was consistently reported as a little south of east, and her speed was apparently high. At 1140A/27, a description of the ship was received from T/201 which fitted rather well with Alsterufer, an expected inward bound ship of about 2730 tons and 15 knots speed.

Shadowing aircraft were ordered not to attack until they had reached their prudent limit of endurance and at 1230A/27 the first attack was made, but it was not successful. After this several more attacks were carried out as aircraft reached their endurance limit but no hits were scored. Homing procedure for aircraft worked well and the enemy was kept under constant observation.

At 1124A/27, HMNZS Gambia who had left Horta at 2344O/26 and HMS Penelope who was on her way to Horta were ordered to steer at best possible speed towards position 45°00'N, 15°00'W. HMNZS Gambia was ordered to keep south of 42°N until west of 20°W, to avoid U-boats. They were also ordered to report their position, course and speed.

The weather over the English Channel and most of France was poor with light winds, drizzle, low cloud and fog patches. Some bases in the south were available for flying but it was probable that by nightfall all the British southern bases would be out of action due to weather. The Admiralty therefore requested the help of USS Block Island (T/Capt. L.C. Ramsey, USN) with her aircraft and her escorting destroyers (USS Paul Jones (T/Lt.Cdr. G.P. Unmacht, USN, with COMDESDIV 58, T/Capt. R.B. Ellis, USN, on board), USS Barker (T/Lt.Cdr. R.G. Colbert, USN), USS Bulmer (T/Lt.Cdr. G.T. Baker, USN) and USS Parrott (T/Cdr. J.N. Hughes, USN)) which were operating in the vicinity of 45°01'N, 22°00'W on anti-submarine work, to co-operate in shadowing and attack if opportunity offered.

At 1241A/27, the C-in-C, Plymouth ordered HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise to intercept and sink the enemy blockade breaker and gave her position as reported by aircraft as 46°50'N, 19°25'W at 1030A/27 steering 090° at 15 knots. The cruisers were to act on aircraft reports and were told that aircraft would be homing on 385 kc/s.

Le Malin was ordered to fill, the gap left by the chase of this blockade breaker, in the outer reconnaissance area, and to leave Horta forthwith to establish patrol L north of 46°30'N.

At 1254A/27, HMS Ariadne, on passage from Gibraltar (which she had left around 1815A/26) to the U.K., was placed under the command of the C-in-C, Plymouth. She was at that time in position 36°30'N, 16°00'W and she had to reduced her speed to 15 knots owing to the weather conditions.

At 1300A/27, HMNZS Gambia had been in position 41°50'N, 29°25'W, steering 090° at 27 knots.

At 1317A/27, the C-in-C, Plymouth organised the cruisers HMNZS Gambia, HMS Glasgow, HMS Penelope and HMS Enterprise into 'Force 3', under command of the Commanding Officer of HMNZS Gambia which was the most senior.

In the meantime, a striking force of 8 Halifaxes of 502 Squadron carrying bombs, was organised by Headquarters 19 Group and took off between 1300A/27 and 1330A/27, expecting to arrive over the enemy blockade breaker at about 1800A/27, being homed to her by the shadowing aircraft.

As a result of the shadowing reports, an estimate of the enemy's position at 1500A/27, was signalled by the C-in-C, Plymouth at 1554A/27 to the cruisers of Force 3, giving the position as 46°40'N, 18°14'W, mean course 115° with a speed of 15.5 knots maximum. Shortly afterwards Force 3 was told that it was estimated, from previous experience, that the enemy might have sailed 5 or 6 destroyers and about 6 torpedo boats to rendezvous, possibly before daylight on the 28th, with the incoming blockade breaker. Ships were also given the position of the previous rendezvous on the 24th which was estimated as being 45°40'N, 12°00'W.

At 1615A/27, Liberator H of 311 Squadron, manned by Czechs, arrived over the enemy to take over shadowing and at once attacked with bombs scoring a direct hit on the target on her after part. A heavy explosion occurred, the ship caught fire, and on the arrival of the striking force of 502 Squadron around 1800A/27, she was seen to be abandoned, heavily on fire and sinking. Excellent photographs were obtained of the attack by H of 311 Squadron which left no doubt that the ship sunk was the Alsterufer.

Action against the enemy destroyers and torpedo boats.

With the incoming blockade runner now satisfactory being dispatched there remained the possibility, if the enemy were not forewarned, of bringing the action to the escort force who would almost certainly be on their way to the rendezvous with her.

The enemy were indeed en-route in the same composition that had brought in the Osorno (see above) except for ZH 1 which was out of action due the engine trouble she had suffered.

HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise were therefore ordered at 1817A/27, to continue their present sweep, reducing speed at their discretion in order to save fuel. An hour later, at 1926A/27, further orders were sent to these two ships to rendezvous in position (SS) 45°14'N, 15°23'W at approximately 0200A/28. They were then to leave this position at 0300A/28 and to sweep on a course of 105° to latitude 45°N and then on a course of 090° so as to reach the meridian of 12°W at 0900A/28. If no information had been received by then, they were to sweep north as far as 45°30'N, and thence on a course of 270°. This approach was designed to bring the cruisers in south of, and out of radar touch of the westbound enemy destroyers / torpedo boats, and then to move them north between the enemy and his base.

It now seemed probable that HMNZS Gambia was too far to the west to be able to make a rendezvous on the next day with HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise so she was therefore told, at 1945A/27, to reduce speed to 23 knots. This was done with the object of saving fuel in case an outward bound enemy blockade runner accompanied the expected escort force coming from the French coast, and evaded HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise while they were dealing with the escort. In such an event, HMS Gambia would be well placed to intercept, but might have to do some hours of high speed steaming.

At this time also there arose some question as to HMS Penelope's state of repair, however, in reply to a signal asking her what maximum speed she could attain, and whether she had still normal endurance, a reassuring answer was received that she could steam 30 knots, her endurance was normal, and that she had 76% of fuel remaining. She took the opportunity to give her position, course and speed as 38°50'N, 13°32'W, 350° at 19 knots. The weather being cloudy with an easterly wind force 5. She was, therefore, likely to be out of the hunt.

In order to locate the enemy force as soon as possible, Headquarters 19 Group intended to send off 2 Liberators of 224 Squadron at 2145A/27, to carry out a modified patrol on the longitude of 10°W, and the cruisers were informed of this at 2300A/27. In the event, this patrol could not leave, due to weather, and it was not until 0630A/28 that the first two Liberators of USN Squadron 105 left to patrol between latitudes 45°N and 47°N and longitudes 12°W and 13°W. the second followed at 0830A/28.

Owing to the suspected presence of U-boats ahead of her, HMNZS Gambia at 2326A/26, was ordered to pass through position 41°20'N, 20°59'W, and then as previously ordered.

About midnight, the Admiralty broadcast a signal to all forces in the area that a suspicious merchant ships, probably an inward bound blockade runner, had been sighted by aircraft in position 47°20'N, 30°15'W at 1030Z/27, on a course of 135°. This ship was subsequently identified as a straggler from an Allied convoy, but this fact was not known for several hours.

At 0022A/28, HMS Ariadne was ordered to proceed so as to reach position 45°00'N, 15°00'W at 0900A/28 if practicable, and to patrol in that area until 1200A/28, when she was to leave and steer towards position 49°00'N, 17°00'W. She should thus have been in a good position to shadow and land what assistance she could to HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise, though to arrange a definite rendezvous with them was impossible without impending their freedom of action on the 28th.

The movements of HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise on the 28th would certainly take them within easy range of enemy shore based aircraft and though the weather forecast, which indicated probable easterly winds force 4 and low cloud over north-west France and the northern half of the Bay of Biscay, was favourable for the Allies, it was considered advisable to inform the cruisers of the C-in-C, Plymouth's intentions, and to arrange to withdraw them if necessary before the danger of concentrated air attack should be accepted subject to the following factors;
A) If no news had been received by the enemy by 1200A/28, the cruisers were to withdraw to withdraw to the westward without further orders, and ... B) If in contact with the enemy, the decision whether and then to break off action would rest with the Senior Officer present, taking into consideration the hours of daylight remaining, conditions for aircraft and the prospects of achieving decisive results.

The news mentioned above of another possible blockade runner approaching made necessary some provision to deal with her, if she evaded the outer patrols. After the expected movements on the 28th, it was certain that HMS Glasgow, HMS Enterprise and HMNZS Gambia would need refuelling and it was by now means certain here they might be. It was decided, therefore, to order HMS Penelope to proceed to Plymouth at best speed so as to be ready fur future commitments, and a signal was made to her to inform her of this. The Vice-Admiral, Gibraltar was also requested to sail HMS Mauritius, whose defect was now repaired, forthwith to reach position (NN) 46°01'N, 25°30'W by 1200 hours on the 30th December.

At 0317A/28, HMNZS Gambia was ordered to proceed at best speed. She increased to 28 knots for about an hour, but the state of the sea forced her to reduce to 27 knots, which speed she was able to maintain without sustaining damage. Meanwhile HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise had affected their rendezvous at about 0300A/28, by the help of radar, and were continuing their sweep, as ordered.

In order to clarify the position to Force 3, the C-in-C, Plymouth gave them his estimate of their positions at 0900A/28. They were HMS Penelope in position 42°28'N, 14°14'W, course 353° at 22 knots. HMS Ariadne patrolling near position 45°00'N, 15°00'W until 1200A/28 and then proceeding on course 342° at 20 knots. HMNZS Gambia in position 42°32'N, 18°45'E, course 050° at 20 knots. Of these positions, Ariadne's was the only oone to be considerably in error. She had been on position 40°01'N, 17°30'W at 0100A/28, thence steering north at 17.5 knots, her speed being necessitated by the adverse weather. Her Commanding Officer, states that although it was impracticable to carry out the instructions to reach 45°N, 15°W at 0900A/28, he did not break W/T silence to say so, since he had intercepted a signal sent by HMS Penelope which mentioned the weather in the area HMS Ariadne was also in. HMS Mauritius departed Gibraltar at 0938A/28 to take up the position as ordered (see above).

The first definite news of the hoped for quarry arrived at 0927A/28, when Liberator V of 105 Squadron (USN) sighted and reported 4 destroyers on a course of 270° at 14 knots. This seemed to indicate the Germans were still unaware of the sinking of the Alsterufer. A further signal from the same aircraft at 0940A/28 gave the position and course of three enemy ships as 46°48'N, 11°57'W, 270°. This appeared to be the most promising at Area Combined Headquarters at Plymouth. HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise were to the southward of the enemy and HMNZS Gambia was approaching from the south-west. Unless the enemy retired to the east again at high speed almost at once, the chances of contact appeared good. It was thought, moreover, that HMS Ariadne and HMS Penelope were nearer than, in fact, they were.

To facilitate enemy reports, two reference positions XX (45°00'N, 15°00'W) and YY (45°00'N, 10°00'W) were established and promulgated to Force 3 and HMS Ariadne. HMS Glasgow was ordered to take HMS Ariadne under her orders when action was joined. HMS Ariadne at 1031A/28, was ordered to proceed to patrol in the vicinity of position 45°12'N, 13°20'W her primary object being reconnaissance and shadowing.

Headquarters 19 Group at once arranged for shadowing to continue throughout the day, detailing for this purpose two Sunderlands and two Liberators. A striking force of 6 Liberators of 105 Squadron (USN) was also get ready.

HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise, who had turned north around 0900A/28, had meanwhile received the enemy report and at 0952A/28, increased speed to 28.5 knots and altered course to 010° to make further ground to the east of the enemy. The wind in the area of the cruisers was south-east force 5.

Further enemy reports from aircraft V/105 came in, indicating that there were probably at least 8 enemy destroyers / torpedo boats in the force sighted. This aircraft was ordered by 19 Group at 1031A/28 to carry out homing procedure, and aircraft X of 105 Squadron was ordered to listen for the homing signals.

In order to provided cover for the cruisers against enemy aircraft a force of 29 Beaufighters and 8 Mosquitoes were ordered to take off as soon as possible so as to rendezvous with with HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise in the vicinity of 46°32'N, 10°28'W. The cruisers were informed of this force by signal and the aircraft actually left between 1330 and 1530 hours.

At 1100A/28, V/105 reported that the enemy had reversed course and were proceeding to the eastward. Their position was 46°48'N, 11°47'W and the number of destroyers / torpedo boats was 10.

At 1130A/28, HMS Glasgow estimated the enemy's furthest on and furthest north probable position was that based on this report, which placed the enemy 45 nautical miles the the north of him, and steering east at 15 knots. This was not too good, as it meant that contact could only just be made. HMS Glasgow therefore altered course to 030°. However at 1120A/28, Sunderland Q of 10 Squadron obtained contact and made the enemy position 46°33'N, 12°30'W. This placed the enemy some 35 miles to the westward of the estimate previous given by V/105. Both shadowing aircraft were attacked by enemy aircraft but managed to beat off the attacks and were able to continue to shadow.

The situation was appreciated by the C-in-C, Plymouth and a signal made at 1155A/28, informing HMS Glasgow that it was estimated the position of 10 enemy destroyers at 1120A/28 was 46°33'N, 12°30'W, steering 090° at 20 knots. More weight was given to the report of the Sunderland owing to the greater expercience of the crew and the fact that she had not been in the air so long as the other aircraft.

It now appeared probable that an action would take place in the afternoon, HMNZS Gambia and HMS Penelope were therefore ordered, at 1215A/28, to proceed to position 46°N, 13°W and it was now intended to sent HMS Penelope back to Gibraltar for fuel on completion of the operation.

By 1230A/28, another Liberator, X of 105 Squadron, was in contact with the enemy force. It reported 11 destroyers in position 47°05'N, 12°40'W, steering 140° at 14 knots, indicating that the enemy had turned onto a new course to the south of east.

HMS Glasgow's movement during the forenoon were unknown at Area Combined Headquarters, Plymouth, but it had been assumed that she had been making ground to the eastward on the strength of the enemy reports received. HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise were therefore told at 1244A/28, that if no further information had been received and if nothing had been sighted by 1430A/28, they should then sweep to the north-west, their estimated position at that time being signalled as 46°31'N, 10°38'W. Before receipt of this signal, however, HMS Glasgow at 1309A/28, had decided that they had passed within radar range of any enemy to the north and decided to turn south-east to intercept the enemy. The enemy's movements were based on the estimate given by the C-in-C, Plymouth corrected for subsequent alterations of course as reported by shadowing aircraft.

HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise had been sighted by enemy aircraft at 1224 hours and again at 1330 hours, so it can be assumed that the enemy were aware of their presence. This was not known at Plymouth at the time.

While turning to the south-east at 1338A/28, HMS Enterprise reported that she had heard homing signals bearing 243° and 146° or reciprocal. HMS Glasgow therefore steadied on a course of 220° in the hope of hearing more and getting a plot, but no further D/F bearings were obtained or received.

At 1306A/28, the C-in-C, Plymouth, ordered HMS Ariadne to shift her patrol to the vicinity of 46°15'N, 12°15'W. On receipt of this signal, Ariadne appreciated that the fact that she was not in a position being unknown, might effect the tactics of HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise, who were obviously about to engage the enemy, and decided to break wireless silence and give her position, course and speed. There was also now no need to fear that her signal might give away to the enemy that fact that cruisers were to the south-west of them, as this fact must be already known. Her signal was timed 1400A/28, and gave her position as 43°30'N, 16°34'W, course 282°. Owing to a beakdown in her W/T transmitter her speed was not signalled.

At 1332A/28, HMS Glasgow sighted the masts of two vessels bearing 238° and simultaneously obtained radar contact on the same bearing at a range of 16 nautical miles. Three minutes later she made her first enemy report ' Enemy in sight, bearing 240°, range 12.5 nautical miles, 325° - Point YY - 118 nautical miles.

It was the Commanding Officer of HMS Glasgow's intention to fight the action from outside the enemy's effective range, which he took to be 13000 yards, and to engage any destroyer / torpedo boat which looked like reaching it. If more then one attained this range he proposed to turn away to reduce the closing rate.

HMS Glasgow opened fire at 1346A/28 with 8 enemy ships in sight at a range of 18500 yards. At 1350A/28, HMS Enterprise joined in. The enemy returned fire at 1358A/28.

HMS Enterprise acted under the following general instructions which had been passed when she joined company;
A) Keep on a line of bearing approximately at right angles to the enemy.
B) Keep within supporting distance of Glasgow.
C) Act independently to avoid possible torpedo fire from the enemy.

The action commenced with HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise on a southerly course, the enemy bearing 234° from them. The details of the action are best read in the action report of HMS Glasgow which we will put online on her page as well as on the page of HMS Enterprise. During the action it appeared that the enemy made much use of smoke floats, retiring behind the screen as fire upon them became effective, and in consequence the movements of the enemy are impossible to follow in detail.

In broad outline, the enemy appeared to have kept together on a south-south-easterly course for about three quarteers of an hour, during which time HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise engaged various ships among them as smoke allowed at long range. The cruisers fire appears to have been effective, and probably damaged several of the enemy during this time.

At 1400A/28, a Focke Wolf 200 aircraft released a glider bomb but effective AA fire from HMS Glasgow caused the enemy aircraft to take evasive action and the bomb fell harmlessly into the sea.

The enemy fired torpedoes with considerable accuracy at about 1420A/28, but their tracks were successfully evaded.

At 1428A/28, the enemy divided his force, four ships turning to the north-west. This was noticed by both cruisers, and though it seems that HMS Glasgow, who was forced to turn away at 1435A/28 to avoid torpedoes, fell out of the action for a few minutes. HMS Enterprise turned away to the westward after the northbound enemy, with whom she maintained contact.

HMS Glasgow soon came in touch again with the same force, the southern remnant of the enemy by now having turned away under smoke and disappeared before 1500A/28. The four remaining enemy ships which were now engaged appeared to be heavily hit and by 1515A/28, of the four one was damaged and stopped, one was damaged and retiring under smoke, one was being engaged by HMS Enterprise and one by HMS Glasgow from a range of 10000 yards.

These last two (T 25 and T 26) were sunk around 1540A/28 and as soon as the third (Z 27, stopped and damaged since around 1430A/28) had been sunk, the Commanding Officer of HMS Glasgow reviewed the situation. HMS Glasgow had fired most of her ammunition, and HMS Enterprise, whose electric gun firing circuits were out of action, was making repairs to these. Under these conditions it was not considered justified in chasing an enemy already out of sight. So therefore line ahead formation was formed and course was altered on 275°, speed 25 knots.

Meanwhile, at Area Combined Headquarters, Plymouth, the C-in-C, Plymouth had, at 1341A/28, ordered Force 3 and HMS Ariadne to close the enemy and at 1400A/28, 4 Halifaxes of 58 Squadron and 15 Liberators of the (USN) Squadrons at Dunkeswell (5 of 110 Squadron, 4 of 103 Squadron and 6 of 105 Squadron) had been despatched to the scene of the action, the cruisers being warned to expect them around 1630A/28.

At 1500A/28, the escort destroyers HMS Tanatside (Cdr. B.J. de St. Croix, RN), HMS Wensleydale (A/Lt.Cdr. W.P. Goodfellow, RNVR) and HMS Brissenden (Lt. D.D.E. Vivian, RN), were ordered to anchor in the Plymouth Sound and remain at 1/2 hour notice. Also 5 MTB's of the 23rd Flotilla from Dartmouth left at 1700A/28, to lie in wait of Brest for the returning enemy force. The rescue tug HMRT Dexterous (?), at Falmouth, was also brought to immediate notice and the M/S trawler HMS Lindisfarne (Skr. S.G. Jinks, RNR) proceeded from Plymouth to Falmouth to escort the tug if required.

The shadowing aircraft, X/105, had reported the six enemy destroyers who had escaped to the south-eastwards, and continued to shadow until reaching prudent limit of endurance at 1610A/28. Although she carried out homing procedure, no other aircraft appear to have received her homing signals.

In the dusk, several of the USN Liberators of the striking force made contact with HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise, and of these, one, P of 105 Squadron attacked Glasgow at 1933A/28. The ships, unable in the half light to distinguish friend from foe, were putting up a heavy barrage of AA fire, but this did not deter the USN, who happily scored a miss about 100 yards of Glasgow's port bow. Four others of the same squadron located and attacked an enemy squadron of destroyers on an easterly course at about 1800A/28, but no hits were claimed. The remainder of the striking force failed to find the target.

Shadowing aircraft re-gained touch after dark, and the movements of the enemy forces (it was not clear how many were together) were reported on an easterly course until midnight, when touch was finally lost.

HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise were ordered to return to Plymouth by the C-in-C, Plymouth signal timed 1825A/28. HMS Ariadne was also ordered to resume her passage home and HMS Penelope was ordered to proceed to Gibraltar to fuel.

HMS Glasgow reported the general result of the action as two destroyers sunk as well as a torpedo boat. Glasgow's casualties were 2 killed and 6 slightly injured, with some minor damage to the ship. HMS Enterprise had no casualties and minor damage to the ship. The losses of the enemy were later ascertained to be 1 destroyer and 2 torpedo boats and not as initially reported by Glasgow. The remainder of the cruisers passage to Plymouth was uneventful and on arrival they were taken in hand at the Devonport Dockyard for action repairs.

On the 29th a lone German destroyer was sighted off the north coast of Spain, proceeding towards Bordeaux at 25 knots. She was shadowed for a short time, but bad weather conditions prevented a striking force from being sent to deal with her. Subsequent photographic reconnaissance of Brest and the Gironde established that four torpedo boats and four destroyers had returned to those ports respectively. One destroyer was subsequently seen in dock in La Pallice.

The outer cruiser patrol was maintained by HMNZS Gambia and HMNZS Mauritius, and the outer and inner air patrols maintained by aircraft of 247 Group in the Azores and 19 Group, until news was received on the th January that all the remaining inbound blockade breakers had been sunk in the South Atlantic by forces of the United States Navy. HMNZS Gambia and HMS Mauritius were then recalled to Plymouth.

Following the battle, Z 24, T 23, T 24 and T 27 proceeded to Brest. Z 32 and Z 37 proceeded to the Gironde and Z 23 and T 22 proceeded to St. Jean de Luz. (5)

Media links


British destroyers & frigates

Norman Friedman


Destroyers of World War Two

Whitley, M. J.

Sources

  1. ADM 173/16742
  2. ADM 53/114922
  3. ADM 173/16795
  4. Personal communication
  5. ADM 199/1038

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.


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