Convoy Protection Inbound Through The North Atlantic

Canada To Iceland

On departing Halifax a convoy was initially protected by local escort ships (two for HX-126, Chambly and Orillia), these are sent ahead of the convoy to make safe the assembly area. This area is also protected by aircraft. The Ocean escort ships (also two, Auriana and Tribune) follow the merchant ships out to the assembly area. So the convoy is top and tailed by the escort vessels.

As the convoy steams away the Local escort ships guard the front and the Ocean escort ships guard the rear. The local escort ships only stay with the convoy until darkness on the first day. Air cover is maintained for as long as possible. The air cover is land based and with the range of the aircraft used in 1941 this means that they have air cover from Canada into the second day of their journey.

Convoy ships should be blacked out. The escorts are advised that machine gun fire is effective in encouraging compliance with this rule, they really said that! The use of radio is severely limited as this may give away the convoy’s position. This makes it far more difficult to controle the convoy and to rescue any stragglers.

For convoy HX-126 the plan was that, for the next 11 days till 21st May the convoy will be escorted towards Iceland by the two Ocean escorts. Around 35° West one escort will then turn back and the day after on 22nd at 33° West the convoy will be met by a local escort from Iceland and the remaining Ocean escort will leave. At that time the plan only expected U-boats to operate as far as 30° West so 33° West includes a good contingency.


When WW2 started Iceland was a Sovereign state under the Danish king. It joined Denmark in asserting neutrality; however the Germans occupied Denmark in April 1940. The British countered immediately by occupying Iceland the following month. They needed it as a base from which to protect the North Atlantic. A look at a map shows just how stratigic a position this was.

In May 1941, 204 squadron with eight Sunderland aircraft had been based in Iceland for a month; 269 squadron, with Hudson aircraft had been there since March 41. The convoys however would meet a local escort from the Royal Navy well before they came close enough to Reykjavik to be in range of air cover.

If the U-Boats could find the convoy beyond 33° West  it would only have the Ocean escort of two ships for protection and this did not worry a U-boat pack too much. Unfortunately for the ships in HX-126 a Wolfe Pack had got out as far as 41° West, far further than expected and far beyond any air protection from Iceland.

The local escort from Iceland rushed down to help hoping to meet the convoy earlier than planned.

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