The Norman Monarch

Convoy HX-126 was keeping well to the North. As 19th May ended it reached 51.41N 40.52W, 1,200 nautical miles out from Halifax around 150 nautical miles south of the tip of Greenland.

The convoy was on course 320°, heading North but slanting 40° towards Canada; this seems to me to be going in the wrong direction. At this time the convoy was 278 Nautical miles from the rendezvous with the Icelandic escort which was due in 50 hours. Convoy are ordered not to arrive early (unless enemy action necessitates). In the right direction at 8 knots the convoy would be 15 hours early and I assume was cruising to delay its arrival.

The sailing orders for HX-126 warned that U-boats could operate as far as 30°W. To cover for this the Icelandic escort was to meet HX-126 at 33°W. However when HX-126 was leaving Canada OB-318 was being attacked by Wolfpack West. On May 10th U-556 sunk the Gand beyond 37°W. This wolfpack was already further West than the protection plan for HX-126 allowed. 

At 02:50 GMT (just before midnight ship's time(EAST)) on 20th May, HX-126 met Wolfpack West at 40°30'W. The Norman Monarch was leading the starboard column (position 91) and was hit on its starboard side by a torpedo from U-94. U-94 had sunk two ships from OB-318 and survived an attack with 89 depth charges on 7th May.

Fortunately the Norman Monarch foundered slowly. Three hours after the attack it was decided to abandon ship and all 48 crew were able to leave on two lifeboats. They were picked up by the Harpagus which had dropped out of the Convoy to rescue them and courageously waited for three hours.

I doubt the Harpagus was supposed to do this, though she was the tail of column 9 and so the potential rescue ship for that column only Ocean escort ships were present at the time of the attack and stopping near a know u-boat was an unacceptable risk.

When the Norman Monarch was torpedoed the convoy had not yet met the Icelandic escort and was only under the protection of its Ocean escort, HMS Aurania and HMS Tribune, a submarine. The Convoy Orders state that "if no local escort is present the risk of presenting another target to the submarine (u-boat) is unacceptable and the action taken must normally be confined to the immediate transmission ....... of distress messages". Harpagus clearly made her own call and did not consult the escort.

The ocean escort Aurania reported Harpagus as probably torpedoed because she was also missing from the convoy at dawn (around 06:20 GMT).

With the crew of the Norman Monarch safe its senior officers were returning to the ship to assess the damage, but she sank as they approached, about 4 hours 20 minutes after being hit. The Harpagus then steamed on to catch up with the convoy. Sadly the crew of the Norman Monarch were not as lucky as it seemed at this time.

The Convoy

Immediately the Norman Monarch was hit the Convoy began evasive action as a unit. The attack had come from the starboard side so they turned away to port dropping smoke buoys. By turning away the convoy was now going in completely the wrong direction and away from the Icelandic escort it needed to meet for protection. They had to loop round and turn back towards Iceland.

View HX-126 Norman Monarch in a larger map
  • The red track is the Norman Monarch in the hour before the attach
  • The brown track is the Aurania screening the starboard side of the convoy. U-556 probably got between this escort and the convoy.
  • The green track is my estimate of the evasive course of the convoy for about 10 hours after the attack.
  • You can see the position where the Gand had been sunk 10 days before, not too far away.

The Shipping Casualties Section of the UK Trade Division recorded interviews with the senior surviving officer of ships that were lost and the excellent www.warsailors.com has included transcripts of many of these documents which are held in the National Archive. The Norman Monarch's report is filed under ADM199/1708.

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