The Hood and The Bismark

On the 20th May as HX-126 steamed towards the UK a German fleet including the battle ship Bismark was coming the other way.

Luckily for HX-126 the Bismark took a route round the North of Iceland to enter the North Atlantic through the Denmark Straight between Iceland and Greenland. The British were aware of the German battle ships and were hunting them.

On the 23rd May the reformed convoy HX-126 steamed across the bottom of the Denmark Straight. Around 19:30 that evening as HX-126 went East, about 100 miles to their North a British formation including the Hood and the Prince of Wales were hurtling West at three times the speed of the convoy, intending to intercept the Bismark.

HMS Hood carried 1,418 men. Ten and a half hours later 1,415 were killed when the Hood exploded and sank after being hit by a shell from the Bismark during the battle of the Denmark Straight. The H.M.S Hood Association have fantastic detail on these events at www.hmshood.com. Their site is a great reference for anyone wanting to research Naval history and they have gone to great trouble to remember all 1,414 men.

The Bismark was damaged in the encounter and was itself sunk on 27th May with the loss of around 2,131 crew. Another terrible loss of life and in this second instance largely unnecessary as the Bismark was clearly beaten but would not surrender.


The Cretin Connection

The attack on convoy HX-126 started at 02:50 GMT on 20th May 1941. As the light came up at 06:20 GMT, and the escort Aurania noticed that the Harpagus had dropped out of the convoy (to rescue the crew of the Norman Monach) 3,200 miles away German paratroops were dropping on Maleme airfield to start the battle of Crete.

The paratroops dropped all along the North coast but the defences of the Maleme airfield were not properly reinforced and the Germans eventually captured it, the decisive breakthrough that won the battle.

The Barnby

One other ship that started out with HX-126 was sunk. After scattering from HX-126 on 20th May 1941 the Barnby did not rejoin the convoy when it reformed later that day. Two days later at 08:40GMT on 22nd May the Barnby was torpedoed and sunk. Two crew member died after the attack.

I have not come across any original documents concerning the Barnby, possibly because there was quite a delay before the survivors reached dry land and so their report may be separated from the rest of the HX-126 reports and I have not read far enough. WarSailors.com reports that the survivors were adrift for 9 days before being rescued, possibly by HMS Aurora. However this destroyer was on a mission which it continued and it was another 9 days before they were landed at Reykjavik.


The Elusa

At 03:39 on 21st May Elusa was hit by a stray torpedo. The ship, a tanker carrying gasoline caught fire.

The crew abandoned ship. U-boat net has some narrative about the disembarkation but they do not give a source, it is not taken from any British reports, maybe it is Dutch.   The First Engineer was supposed caught by the fire and four other crew drowned attempting to get into the life boats.

The remaining 49 crew were picked up within half an hour by the Destroyer HMS Burham. The Captain had remained on the ship and was taken off with a line.

During the morning the fire burnt itself out and the senior officers were able to re-board the Elusa but could not power up the engines. The ship was left to drift and it sank some considerable time later.

The Elusa was a Dutch ship and so does not have an entry on the Tower Hill Memorial.

The Harpagas


The Harpagas had, in the early morning of 20 May 1941 dropped out of the convoy and successfully rescued all 48 of the crew of the Norman Monarch. She then chased to rejoin the convoy.

After the attacks of the late morning the Convoy had scattered and the Harpagas got ahead of the other ships and was first to meet the Icelandic escort and in fact was able to direct the escort to locate the bulk of the convoy.

At 20:20 GMT she was herself torpedoed. She listed immediately and because of this the crew were unable to lower life boats on the port side. One lifeboat rested on the ship’s side and turned over, all the men in this boat were lost. Because of the difficulty in launching the boats most people had to jump into the water. The ship carried three passengers, parents with one child, they were too terrified to jump and all three perished as the Harpagas sank within 10 minutes.

The Harpagas crew benefitted from their previous kindness. The life boats from the Norman Monarch had been lashed to its afterdeck, a quick thinking Bo’sun (Lawton) along with McPhee from the Norman Monarch cut these free and they floated clear as the ship went down; people in the water were able to get into the Norman Monarch boats’ and rescue others. These were the only life boats that got away.

The kindness of the Harpagas crew however was judged to have backfired horribly on the Norman Monarch crew. Having been rescued earlier, wet and cold their clothes had been taken to be dried. Their life jackets had also been taken so they were now pitched into the Atlantic without buoyancy. Twenty six crew of the Norman Monarch died including their Captain, 22 crew were rescued. However the casualty rate for the Harpagas was as high loosing 25 crew, four gunners and all three passengers.

The Convoy Reforms

While the Harpagas was being attacked the Icelandic Local Escort ships were rushing around gathering the convoy together again. H.M.S. Burwell had met the Commodore's ship Hindustan at 19:00 and the Commodore had ordered ship's in sight to set the same course. H.M.S. Burnham found Alister's ship, the Dorelian at 20:45 some way behind the reformed convoy, presumably having been delayed as a result of the fracas with its boats following the mystery explosion. Burnham set Dorelian on the correct course to rejoin the convoy. Burnham also found the tanker Elusa and then the reforming convoy under the protection of Burwell and had it slow down to allow the two stragglers to rejoin.


The survivors from the Harpagas were adrift in the Atlantic on two life boats and a raft.  They had managed to stay together and after five hours at 01:35 GMT were able to attract the attention of H.M.S. Burnham with a red flare. The Master and 17 of his crew were rescued along with the Norman Monarch survivors and taken to Reykjavik arriving on 25th May. They were "lucky", because they had been ahead of the other ships and the convoy with escort now reformed came by their boats.

From The Tower Hill Memorial


Changing The Guard

By 16:00 GMT on the 20/05/1941 six ships had been sunk from convoy HX-126. Five of the ships during daylight in good weather conditions (Force 3, slight swell, clear visibility). U-boats were being sighted on the surface. The ships were travelling at 9, 10 or even 12 knotts so the U-boats must be on the surface to chase them.

The first five ships were sunk when the convoy was together and only one (so far) after scattering. I have to conclude that the Ocean escort was insufficient protection for the convoy.

The escort submarine Tribune was not involved. It reported engine trouble around 06:40 GMT on 20/5 and was left behind by the convoy going out of sight by 11:40, just before the second attacks started. I cannot see that a submarine escort could do anything other than force a U-boat to dive assuming it carries no depth charges to carry through an attack. Maybe it could sneak up on and torpedoe a U-boat on the surface. Of the 89 U-boats destroyed up until 20/5/41 two U-36 and U-51 had been sunk by a submarine. U-63 was attacked and sunk by three destroyers and a submarine.

The escort Aurania was an armed merchant cruiser which in this case means a passener ship that has had some guns added. With a speed of 15 knots it was not going to chase any U-boat but it did have the range to come across from Canada with the convoy.

The convoy needed the protection of the Icelandic escort. This escort had been caught out by the westward progress of the U-boat pack operations and they did not join the convoy early enough.

As soon as they received news of the attack on the British Security two of the 8th Escort Group came rushing down to help. The Burnham and the Burwell were able to work up to 26 knots which gave them some advantage.

The Icelandic escort were not to reach the HX-126 until after 17:00. Strangely the Ocean escort Aurania left the area for Reykjavick at full speed at 16:00, before they Icelandic escort arrived. Aurania felt it could be of no further use. Of course HX-126 has scattered so could not be protected and the Aurania did not want to further endanger itself, particularly as it was carrying qualified pilots as passengers. The Convoy Orders acknowledge the importance of the passengers but does not give them priority over the safety of the convoy, only over other Ocean escort surface forces of which there were none.

Their first ship the Icelandic escort met (at 17:03 GMT) was the Harpagus (with the rescued Norman Monarch's on board). She was able to direct them to the bulk of the scattered convoy to the W. N. W. The strategy for the new escort was to reform the convoy so that they could protect them. Burwell went to round up the majority and Burnham went further South. At 18:50 GMT Burwell met the Convoy Commodore and ships in sight were ordered onto the same course.

Extract From Convoy Orders

27. Conveyance of Personnel To Iceland
H.M.S. Aurania will be carrying 40 Officers and 190 other ranks of the Royal Canadian Air Force, for onward passage to the United Kingdom from Iceland. Notwithstanding this, the object of the Armed Merchant Cruiser remains the safety of the convoy. If however, other SURFACE FORCES form part of the Ocean Escort, the actual employment of the Armed Merchant Cruiser in defence of the convoy must be at the discretion of the Senior Officer of the Escort. Personnel and stores are to be disembarked at REYKJAVICK.

The Rothermere

At 15:30 GMT the Rothermere was hit by a torpedo on its port side blowing the bottom out of the port lifeboat.

The crew had difficulty lowering the other lifeboats but eventually got one in the water, this was initially swamped, the oars were lost and they had to bail out. Most of the crew started to leave the ship on rafts while the officers collected supplies to replace those washed out of the boats.

About 15 minutes after the first hit a second torpedo struck the Rothermere on the other side (starboard), this was where the crew were disembarking. The ship then sank within three minutes.

Luckily a second lifeboat floated free of the ship as it sank and men from the rafts were able to get into this boat. This second boat was able to give some oars to the first life boat. Twenty two men were killed including the Captain George McCartney who was still working on the ship after the second torpedo struck he was last seen jumping from the ship into the water.

The thirty four survivors spent three days in their lifeboats before being picked up by a small ship, the Icelandic vessel Brunafors; they were landed in Iceland on 27th May.

Tower Hill Memorial
The Tower Hill Memorial does not include the names of the Royal Navy personnel that were lost with the ship. ConvoyWeb has a full list.

The Dorelian And The Mystery Explosion

Around 14:00 there was a mysterious large underwater explosion that was noticed by and affected many ships. Four ships from the convoy had just been hit within a 20 minute period and so it is hardly surprising that a ship when shaken by a large explosion assumed that they themselves were now victims.


The escort Aurania reported the explosion, initially she thought that she had been torpedoed and then dropped two depth charges in case she had run over a submarine.


The Captain of the Cockaponset, now in a lifeboat also reported the explosion, saying that it brought a quantity of dead fish to the surface but that no water was thrown up.

Norman Monach / Harpegus

The crew of the Norman Monarch having been rescued were now on board the Harpegus trying to catch the convoy which was still 5 miles ahead. The chief officer of the Norman Monarch reported the explosion as a dull thud rather like a depth charge but saw nothing.


The Commadore reported that the Nicoya stopped and blew off steam. Ships stopped when hit so they could launch their boats more easily. I assume the Nicoya realised she was not damaged before she launched her boats.


The Commodore also reported that the Dorelian (Alister's ship) had some men at work on its boat deck blown into the water. The Dorelian stopped and lowered its lifeboats. The Commodore reports that the Dorelian told him that they lowered the boats to rescue the men but he is puzzled as to why all the boats were lowered.

The explanation in the Dorelian's own log seems more likely. Times are I assume EAST.

11:10 Felt two heavy explosions under bottom. Vessel shaken and violently jarred. Assessment ship torpedoed, stopped engines and cleared boats.
11:13 Vessel apparently unharmed and engine room reported in order. Found that no 1 boat was lowered too far at one end and two men, W Jenkins, 2nd Steward and J. Pool, F and T (fireman and trimmer) thrown into water. Men picked up by 2nd officer in no 3 boat. No 2 boat also found to be unhooked at one end.
11:39 All men on board. Boats abandoned for dispatch. Vessel proceeded full speed.

The Dorelian was now without life boats in a situation where she may well need them.

The Cause

The Director of Antisubmarine Warfare was interested in this event. (ADM 199/1708 A Report From Regent Panther 7th June 1941).

They postulate three causes.
  1. Darlington Court blew up
    • No because cargo 8,000 tons of wheat
  2. British Security blew up.
    • No because it was still on fire on the surface
  3. A U-boat blew up
    • No because the explosion was too big. (This seems an unsound assumption but regardless we now know there was no u-boat casualty at this time.)
  4. An earthquake
    • This is not dismissed in the report but also not accepted. As dead fish were reported following the explosion I think we can dismiss this on the assumption that the water was deep.
I have not found a subsequent report making any conclusion. However it seems likely to me that the explosion was caused by the Cockaponset that had just sunk containing burning paper, 320 tons of TNT and 340 tons of cannon powder. While the Cockaponset was not considered in the original report its captain B Green has made extensive notes on his questionnaire reporting to the Shipping Casualties section of the Trade Division. While he cannot see how the explosion occurred it seems to me to be the only possibility.

The Cockaponset

On 20th May 1941 immediately after the attacks on the Darlington Court and the British Security, convoy HX-126 was ordered to scatter by its commodore on the advice of its escort Aurania. The order was given about 12:50 GMT.

At 12:55 GMT the John P. Pedersen a Norwegian ship, was torpedoed and within five to ten minutes the Cockaponset was also hit by one torpedo.

The Cockaponset was carrying 320 tons of TNT, 340 tons of cannon powder and 2,700 tons of steel, oak and paper with some motor trucks. It seems the crew were lucky that their explosive cargo was not ignited by the torpedo. Paper in the hold under the TNT was however on fire. All the hatch covers were blown off and the ship started to founder. There was a peculiar noise coming from the hatches.

The Cockaponset sunk within 20 minutes of being hit. Luckily there was sufficient time for all 41 men on board to leave the ship using two lifeboats. They started with 29 men in one boat and 12 in the other so immediately went about balancing their load. Within about twenty minutes there was a loud explosion. This did them no harm but this mystery explosion did have some consequences.

The crew were picked up by the rescue ship Hontestroom the next morning (09:10 on 21/05) and taken to Iceland along with crew from the Darlington Court. They were all safe but complained about the comfort of the rescue ship. While not mentioning the lack of cigarettes the Captain of the Cockaponset was unhappy that there was no separate accommodation for officers and men.

The John P. Pedersen

On 20th May 1941 immediately after the attacks on the Darlington Court and the British Security,  convoy HX-126 was ordered to scatter by its commodore on the advice of its escort Aurania. The order was given about 12:50 GMT.

At 12:55 GMT the John P. Pedersen a Norwegian ship, was torpedoed (followed within five to ten minutes by the Cockaponset).

The John P. Pedersen was carrying fuel oil; luckily for the crew it did not explode and in fact the oil calmed the sea making it easier for the crew to abandon ship.

The ship's British gunner would not jump into the water and was still hanging on to the ship when it was hit by a further torpedo 20 minutes after the first strike. The body of the gunner was retrieved; sadly it appears that he choked on the oil in the water.

The rest of the crew, 37 men, were safe in two lifeboats which were roped together. The ship herself was still afloat but on fire two hours after the first hit.

Late on the afternoon of the next day the line between the boats had to be let go due to the danger from the worsening weather. One of these boats with 16 men was eventually picked up by a rescue vessel.

The other life boat contained 21 men boat drifted in the Atlantic and horribly was not rescued. It was seen by an aircraft 11 days later, on 1st June with 12 survivors and 5 dead. On the 21st June more than a month after the sinking, U-71 on its first mission encountered the boat with three survivors. They would not take them on board though it was clear that the boat and the men were not going to survive. U-71 claims to have given the survivors food. The men from John P. Pedersen were not seen again.

I suppose the U-boat captained by Walter Flachsenberg was following orders. Walter’s U-boat went on to sink 6 ships killing 118 more men. He himself died in 1996 aged 86 so he had plenty of time to consider his actions, maybe this was a regret but what could he have done.

As the John P Pedersen was a Norwegian Ship it is not included at Tower Hill but you can see crew list and far more detail on WarSailors.com.

View HX-126 Second Attack in a larger map

  • The map shows the sinking of the four ships in the second attack as the convoy scatters. 
  • I have also shown the sightings on the John P Pedersen's second life boat that was tragically never rescued.

Darlington Court and British Security

Ten hours after the attack on the Norman Monarch the convoy had turned towards Iceland, I would guess trying to connect with their Icelandic escort protection as soon as possible. They thought they were being chased and this became more certain as U-boat wireless signals were heard. At 11:40 GMT the escort Aurania saw a U-boat.

At 12:38 GMT Aurania signaled another U-boat in sight, immediately the Darlington Court was hit by two torpedoes. The second torpedo split the ship in half and she sank within 45 seconds.

The Darlington Court had a crew of 40 and those that were not killed immediately were left floating in the Atlantic clinging to wreckage.

Two minutes later a torpedo hit the tanker British Security which immediately caught fire killing all 52 men onboard. She was to burn for three days.

The Commanding Officer of the Aurania says the following in his report:
"There were several tremendous explosions, sheets of flame and black smoke, which went up at least 500 feet. She was about 2 cables on my port beam when struck. The men on the wreckage from the Darlington Court floated into this burning hell, their cries were ghastly and now I wish I had put my machine gun on them".

Some of the crew of the Darlington Court did survive, drifting in the Atlantic hanging on to life rafts. After an estimated, three hours in the water, so around 16:00, the Chief Engineer and the Captain of the Darlington Court managed to climb aboard a lifeboat that had been thrown clear. The Chief Engineer credited the Captain for the lives of those that survived. The Captain had cut this boat free in the short time before the sinking rather than putting on his own life belt. They were able to pick up five of their crew but could not reach more because of the fire.

They sailed away from the fire and eventually met five more crew on another raft. These twelve men were the survivors, 28 men were killed. They were eventually picked up by the rescue ship Hontestroom which was very uncomfortable as it was overloaded though the rescued sailors were equally unhappy that they were unable to buy cigarrettes.

After this second attack on the convoy the escort Aurania advised the Commadore to scatter and this order was given within 10 minutes.
From the Tower Hill War Memorial

The Tower Hill Memorial does not include the names of the Royal Navy personnel that were lost with the ship. ConvoyWeb has a full list.

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.


Time In The Atlantic

When a convoy was attacked in the North Atlantic the events were reviewed by:
  • The Anti Submarine Warfare Division, Whitehall
  • Shipping Casualties Section, Trade Division
  • The Admiralty
Despite their experience the Anti Submarine Warfare Division were confused as to which time zone was being used in certain reports. They did not know what East Atlantic Summer Time was and had to write to the Commodore of HX-126 Admiral F B Watson asking for clarification. Admiral Watson wrote back: his hand written explanation is on embossed headed note paper from his yacht Fortis in Bosham, Hampshire.

Atlantic Summer Time is Halifax time +1 or GMT -3. The ships kept AST all the way across "it is what we lived by". 

Further confusion arises because signal times were recorded in the time zone of the local escorts and so EAST in Canada, GMT for Iceland and BMT for the home escort.

I cannot be sure what BMT is. Clearly it is not GMT so it seems likely to be the time zone of Britain in Summer, not British Summer Time, because during World War II Britain stayed on BST through the winter and still advanced an hour in the Summer. So it seems likely that BMT is GMT +2 (and so EAST +5) and probably stands for British Mean Time.

    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.


    Fritz Lemp Really Fouls It Up This Time

    As Alister lay in bed off Halifax with HX-126, about to sail one of the most significant events of World War II was occurring 1,400 Nautical miles to his East in the middle of the Atlantic. It was so important few would know about it till 1975.

    Convoy OB-318 was steaming West towards Halifax. On 7-10 May it was badly attacked loosing seven ships with two more damaged. (Three more OB-318 ships were sunk much later on 23-27 May off West Africa.) On 9th May 1941 U-110 was one of the successful attackers sinking the Bengore Head and the Esmond.

    U-110 was itself attacked initially by HMS Aubretia and then by HMS Bulldog and HMS Broadway. Damage from depth charges forced U-110 to surface and the crew abandoned the ship as HMS Bulldog approached to ram. The Bulldog captain Joe Baker-Cresswell realised they had a capture and turned aside largely missing U-110.

    U-110's Captain Fritz-Julius Lemp had assumed his boat was going down with its secrets, something he should have ensured. However the Bulldog was able to board U-110 with 20 year old Sub-lieutenant David Balme leading the party and was able to retrieve much of the contents. This included code books and an Enigma machine, a fantastically valuable capture as these were of great use to the Bletchley Park code breakers in providing the Ultra intelligence source.

    Many sources indicate that this one event was responsible for shortening the war by at least a year and it may have even changed the victor in the Atlantic and hence the war overall.

    It was vital that the capture was kept secret. U-110 was taken in tow but conveniently sunk within a day. Its Captain, Lemp had not survived the original capture. The story is that when he realised his boat was not actually going to sink he tried to swim back with the intention of ensuring that it did. He may have been shot while trying to do this but he certainly perished somehow, the British say that he must have committed suicide by drowning because they fired no shots.

    Thirty two U-110 crew did survive as prisoners but the secret was kept. Only one Axis POW ever escaped and he had already gone by May 1941. It is interesting however that the story of the Enigma's capture did not come out until 1975, maybe the surviving crew were unaware of the events of did not want to highlight their part in such a national calamity after the war.

    Captain Fritz-Julius Lemp was something of a liability to his country. On 3rd September 1940 he Captained the U-boat that sank the first ship of the war. This might have been to his credit however U-30 had mistakenly sunk the unarmed and unescorted Athenia.

    The Athenia carried 1103 passengers and 315 crew. Nineteen crew members and 93 passengers (28 of them US-citizens) were killed. Germany was frightened that this incident would bring the USA into the war and they denied involvement. They suggested that Great Britain had sunk the Athenia to turn the USA against Germany.

    It is surprising that Lemp though that capture would have been a good option for him given his history but he had good reason to suppose that his involvement in the Athenia was a secret unknown to the Allies as the German involvement had been suppressed.

      Montreal and HX-126 Outbound


      Alister arrived in Montreal on 28th April. He did not have the good time he was hinting at in the letter to his sister but he maybe knew that and just did not want to worry his family back home.

      On the 29th he was taken into Montreal General Hospital with an acute appendix. According to the Ship's log he was discharged without any explanation on the 2nd May. Alister says that "the Old Man had me out, knowing it was no appendix". Of course the Dorelian was off, it sailed on the 3rd May and the Captain clearly thought it best to take Alister with him.


      The Dorelian left Montreal on 3rd May joining convoy HX-126 and leaving Halifax on 9th May 1941 for Glasgow. The captain of the Dorelian Duncan Macqueen, was also the vice Commodore of the convoy.

      Alister had returned to duty but he was still ill. On 4th May when they reached Three Rivers he was again taken off duty and treated for cystitis. He spent the next 13 days of the voyage in bed and resumed normal duties on the 17th May, working four hours on and four hours off, this is descibed in the Ship's Log as "light duties".


      Quebec in Sight - Alister’s Letter 28th April 1941

      Hullo Connie,
      In just about half an hour we will be opposite a bronze plate welded into the side of a hill; this plate, is supposed to mark the place Wolf was mortally wounded storming the Heights of Abraham.

      Yes! We have been fifteen days at sea and will be up at Montreal in about 12 hours, after a passage of snow, fog and heavy seas, but with little or no action from Gerry.

      Well Connie this letter is partly about the car and I’ill let you know the position. We are going to get some more of that stuff so I don’t think you should bring it up till we reach Argyllshire as from there I can let you know when we will arrive. I don’t know anything about a garage, but you can find some place; but if its expensive your going to bail it out.

      By the way the car could be parked outside Uncle Sandy’s garage and the green tarpaulin thrown over it; however I will leave the subject.

      Tomorrow we will drop into Montreal for a few days, this time not all alone in a foreign land, but with the knowledge of a friend I can see – however I was taking mother home some stores.

      I hope George got my Camera and Provisional liscence which I left up in his office. You see I bought a camera the night before we sailed and I was told I could not carry it so I dashed up town, the following morning, and left it there.

      Well, Connie the tea-bell has just gone so I will have to stop, but before I do so convey my wishes to all at ‘86’ and may all be in the best of health.
      Your loving brother

      The letter itself shows no indication of being screened by a censor. Alister has not said anything about his health on the voyage, just a mild complaint about the weather and an observation that Gerry gave no trouble.

      The problem with the car is on his mind. Clearly the car needs repair and he thinks his sister has to take any major cost. Is this because she is the main user or because he thinks she was responsible for the damage, he does sound tetchy, but then he is writing to his sister. As Alister turned 17 on the voyage and has just received a provisional license you would not expect him to be driving the car, but he was driving it in 1939 and obviously he will want to drive it now he has the license. In 1941 it was not necessary to pass a test to get a full license.

      What is the ‘stuff’ he obtusely refers to? Probably he means the weather will make his arrival date uncertain.

      Strange paragraph about the “foreign land”, sounds like he is looking forward to his visit, he expects Connie to understand his comment but skips away onto another subject without even starting a new sentence. He may be hinting at romance.

      A source of ‘stores’ must have been a great luxury for a sailor’s family during the war and for some time afterwards until rationing ended. He told me that once he brought home some bananas and gave them to the local shop; they displayed them in the window as a curiosity so everyone could see them. Bet they ate them in the end though.

      I wonder why he thought he could take a camera? Did he see anyone else with one?

      OB-309 To Montreal - Not So Good

      The Sixth Voyage

      We have said a lot about the Dorelean and speculated about what it may have been like for Alister but not heard from him directly. He is still 16 and has crossed the Atlantic and returned five times while under frequent threat of attack. This, Alister’s sixth voyage was really unpleasant for him for a number of reasons and we will hear from him for a change. He left Glasgow on 12th April 1941 joining convoy OB-309 which dispersed on 19th April about 500 nautical miles out from Ireland. This is further south than usual presumably for the benefit of a number of ships in the convoy that were heading South for places such as Durban.

      Assuming 9 knots I estimate that Alister spend his 17th birthday in the Atlantic 1,500 nautical miles out from Scotland with 600 miles still to reach the safety of the Gulf of St Laurence. Away from the U-boat threat so it could have been a good birthday if he had been well, unfortunately he was not. The Dorelian's log has an entry about him on his birthday "~, apprentice: complaining of pain in lower part of abdomen. Placed off duty and treated as per medical guide."

      The Dorelian reached Montreal on 28th April. It had last been there in October so I assume that in 1941 Montreal was closed because of ice in the winter.

      Though the Dorelian reach Montreal safely as did all the West bound ships two of the Southbound ships starting with it in OB-309 were sunk by U-boats; both South of Cape Verde Islands, the Lassel on 30th April with the loss of one life and the Queen Maud on 5th May loosing two lives.

      View Convoy OB-309 in a larger map


      HX-113 Back To The Clyde

      Regardless the Dorelean joined convoy HX-113 leaving Halifax on 5th March 1940. The Dorelian had been promoted and carried the Convoy Commodore W MacKenzie. Part of the Dorelian’s cargo was explosives so it sounds to me that the Commodore did not choose his flag ship wisely. However the Dorelian returned safely to the Clyde on 21st March and the convoy suffered no loss.


      OB-280 To Halifax

      The Fifth Voyage

      After arriving in Glasgow on 16th January 1941 the Dorelean was again in for repairs, these were completed on 24th January.

      On 30th January Alister and the Dorelean left Glasgow for St John’s joining convoy OB-280 outbound which left Liverpool on 31st. Duncan Macqueen was again captain, I assume he had been allowed one voyage off.

      The convoy dispersed on 3rd February maybe 500 nautical miles out. That evening HMS Crispan, an Ocean Boarding Vessel was sunk, 20 men died but 121 survived. The next day, 4th February Ringhorn which had straggled from OB-280 on 2nd February was torpedoed, 14 men drowned and only 5 survived, the ship having rolled over onto the lifeboat as it was leaving the ship.

      The Ringhorn had used all its luck in November 1940. She had been attacked by U-95 and abandoned by its crew after shell fire, but after the U-boat missed with three torpedoes, it left the area thinking that the ship was sinking but the Ringhorn was reoccupied and saved.

      The Dorelian arrived at St John’s on 14th February and then went on to Halifax arriving on 16th.

      View Convoy OB-280 in a larger map


      HX-98 To Glasgow

      The Dorelian had arrived in Halifax on 20th December but she did not hang around. On 22nd the Dorelian joined convoy HX-98 and moved round to Sydney arriving 29th December.

      So Alister spent New Year 1941 in Sydney Nova Scotia. The Scotts love New Year so the venue sounds promising. He was still only 16 but maybe it was a good party, but I cannot imagine anyone though 1941 would be a good year.

      HX-98 sailed on 2nd January 1941 and the Dorelian reached the Clyde on 16th January. No ships in the convoy were attacked.

      In fact January 1941 was good for the HX convoys. After HX-98 the next seven HX convoys got through safely until HX-106 was hit on 13th February. Maybe the weather was helping.  But the U-boats were not the only hazard. During January two HX ships sunk due to weather and one struck a British mine. A number of ships were allocated to slow convoys and six ships were sunk in SC-19 on 29/30th January 1941.

      View Convoy HX-98 in a larger map