Convoy Commodores ww2

sidsal
15th May 2009, 11:12
How's this for a name -
Admiral The Honourable Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett Ernle Earl Drax KCB, DSO etc.
He was the Commodore of a convoy from New Yok to the UK in !944 (arrived Liverpool on D-day). The convoy was reputed to be the largest to cross the Atlantic and consisted of 110 ships. It included three "Woolworth" aircraft carriers, tankers , tugs, tramps and rescue ships which hovered near the carriers.
The carriers launched planes for dawn and dusk patrols and there were spectacular accidents where planes landed too far along and went over the bows. Others went off sideways. On the Grand Banks we ran into dense fog with some aircraft airbourne and their ships fired tracer bullets skywards to indicate where they were. One carrier's planes never made it back.
On watch one day we were amazed to pass a chap in a little dinghy- a dory from a schoner fishing the Banks apparently. I imagine he would be taken aback at the ships looming out of the fog on both sides and disappearing into the fog.
When convoys approached the UK the Commodore would hoist a flag signal
indicating that , for instance, ships for the East coast leave the convoy and form up a separate group to be escorted away from the main convoy. Then after 3 or 4 hours or more he would hoist another signal instructing ships for, say, Belfast to separate themselves from the convoy to proceed separately.
Unfortunately, Admiral Drax gave too short a period between signals resulting in chaos with ships going hither and thither, until the whole ocean was an unruly mass of ships. He hoisted a recall signal but most ships ignored it and the faster ships just went Full Ahead and made for home. If there had been U-boats about it would have been carnage.

Billy1963
15th May 2009, 17:05
Arnold Hagues Convoy data has the largest Convoy ever as HX-300, which had one hundred and sixty six ships sailing in nineteen columns, departing New York on the 17th July 1944.

sidsal
15th May 2009, 17:14
Billy: Quite likely - ours arrived L'pool D-day which was June 44 if I remember rightly.
Where can one access Arnold Hagues Convoy ? I have no idea of the convoy numbers in which I sailed. I would like to know of another convoy we were in - Sicily to USA completely light ship - hairy voyage !
Sid

stan mayes
15th May 2009, 17:17
Thankyou Billy,
What an amazing sight that must have been.
A convoy with that many ships would have covered more than ten square miles!!
It must have taken a long time for the Commodore to contact all ships for a change of course etc.
Regards
Stan

Billy1963
15th May 2009, 17:56
Billy: Quite likely - ours arrived L'pool D-day which was June 44 if I remember rightly.
Where can one access Arnold Hagues Convoy ? I have no idea of the convoy numbers in which I sailed. I would like to know of another convoy we were in - Sicily to USA completely light ship - hairy voyage !
Sid

Hello Sid,

http://www.convoyweb.org.uk/index.html

Rgds Billy

sidsal
15th May 2009, 19:20
Billy. Thanks for info !
Stan/Billy
re amazing sights. We sailed from Taranto in Sicily in 1944 for the US ( we were supposed to go to Casablanca for sand ballast but this did not happen so we were flying light). We joined up with a westbound convoy somewhere around the Malta Channel. As we needed to go thru the Gib Straits at night the speed of the convoy was adjusted and the convoy formed 2 columns by means of the outer columns dropping astern and then the next and the next again. Eventually these 2 columns stretched from one horizin to the other - an amazing sight. As we passed thru the Straits in the pitch black a searchlight suddenly came on from Tarifa and shone up and down the ships.
A cruiser sped into the beam of light and its guns , as one elevated upwards, swivelled towards the light and then lowered so that they pointed at it.
Suddenly the light went out.
I have often wondered whether they would have blasted it to smithereens - I firmly believe they would as the Spaniards were very pro German,

sidsal
15th May 2009, 19:39
Billy/Stan
On looking up the Hague records the number of ships in the convoy was 132 and there were 27 escorts, so I understated the ships ! It was convoy HX 292.

Hugh Ferguson
14th May 2010, 20:53
Billy: Quite likely - ours arrived L'pool D-day which was June 44 if I remember rightly.
Where can one access Arnold Hagues Convoy ? I have no idea of the convoy numbers in which I sailed. I would like to know of another convoy we were in - Sicily to USA completely light ship - hairy voyage !
Sid

I too was in a ship-the Glaucus-arriving back in Liverpool after a 4 month voyage to Bombay, on this very same day, 6th June 1944. There seemed to be a kind of hush hanging over the city despite the intense activity going on all around. The dockers cleared our fully loaded ship in just 4 days: a phenominal rate considering the state of the docks at that time.
Next voyage I found myself in a coal-burning Empire boat with a cargo of the usual nasties, loaded in St John, N.B., and destined for Ancona, which port at that stage was closest to the front line in North Eastern Italy.
The cargo was discharged by British soldiers (Pioneer Corp?) and whilst that was going on the Navy escorted in a German hospital ship for examination.
She lay on the other side of the jetty we were on-it was a strange experience and made me think of what a bloody stupid way it is, to have to resort to a terrible war to settle our differences.

(Did you find the convoy information you were looking for, Sid?)

Charlie_Wood
14th May 2010, 22:26
I take my hat off to you chaps, there must be plenty more tales to tell...keep 'em coming.

PS I bet the Admiral was just called Ernie at home!

Hugh Ferguson
15th May 2010, 11:20
Harking back to those long ago days in the once beautiful port of Ancona a couple more events come to mind. I can recall only two forays ashore during the week we were there-just to stretch the legs a bit on dry land more than anything else.
The port had been badly knocked about on account of having been taken by the British and Canadians, I believe, retaken by the Germans, and then again retaken by the British and Canadians.
So, you can imagine that one needed to be a bit cautious walking those streets as, due to the wintry weather, it was not unusual for another bit of ruin to come crashing down. The civilian population appeared to be virtually non-existant, having, no doubt, sought sanctuary elsewhere.
It was a very strange experience on my first venture ashore to suddenly hear the sound of marching boots: not entirely unexpected in the circumstances but, would you believe, around the corner came a platoon of armed Italian soldiers! They had changed sides! They had not suddenly become a part of the Allied forces, but had been re-organised and armed in order to control the civilian population in the chaotic conditions prevailing. Well, that is what we assumed.

Probably the same evening of that day, me and my 3 fellow middies had an invite to go to a Garrison Theatre performance. That was a very welcome bit of light, very light, entertainment, and it has left me with a mystery that I will never be able to know the answer to.
It was very bawdy, unscripted, chaotic and everything else you might expect in the circumstances prevailing. The mystery is, were we watching a performance by the self-same quartet who later created the Goon Show, namely Harry Secombe, Peter Sellars, Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine; for that is how they began, by entertaining the troops; first in N. Africa and then in Italy.
The Goon Show reflected everything about the crazy world we live in, especially then, and more than a little, now!

Binnacle
15th May 2010, 20:59
On a lighter but true note -
Three ships were ready to depart from a West African port, the masters attended a Convoy Conference. An American master was appointed Commodore , the master of a Ben boat was appointed Vice Commodore, at which the remaining master, a Dutchman, piped up " I suppose then I'm the bl**dy convoy.

Klaatu83
16th May 2010, 14:38
Today's bunch could use a few of you old timers to teach them how it should be done. I once had the opportunity to participate in a practice "convoy", made up of eight or ten of the "Pre-Position" ships based out of Diego Garcia. It struck me as a pretty sorry affair.

The "Commodore" was the Navy C.O. of the pre-position squadron, who was based, along with his staff, on board one of the Maersk Ro-Ros. All his orders were passed to the other ships over an open VHF channel, so it wasn't exactly what you'd call a secret move. If there'd been any hostile ships, subs or aircraft around they'd have had no trouble locating us.

In addition, we were ordered to maintain our respective positions in the "convoy" by radar distances and bearings, which also struck me as a bad idea. I couldn't help reflecting on the fact that modern anti-ship missiles (such as Exocet) are designed to home in on the target ship's radar transmissions.

Oddly enough, our ship was supplied with an old WW-II vintage stadimeter, an optical instrument used for determining distance off neighboring ships in a convoy. However, I was the only who had any idea what it was for, let alone how to use it. In any case, nobody had bothered to make up a table of the masthead heights of the other ships in the convoy, a necessary factor to be dialed into the stadimeter in order to determine accurate distances off, so the instrument probably wouldn't have been of much use anyway.

Hugh Ferguson
16th May 2010, 17:32
"Today's bunch could use a few of you old timers to teach them how it should be done"

Hardly! All of those who actually bore the responsibilities are all gone. We were the youngsters then and had little concept of the enormous burden it placed on the shoulders of often quite middle aged, and elderly men. Thinking of it now, I just marvel at how they coped.
For instance, one ship I was in had the engine telegraph chains boxed in and running right through the master's bed-room! So every time the officer on watch rang down, "up two revs" or "down two revs", the captain had to try and get some sleep through that racket and that was the very least of his hardships.

Regarding the size of convoys, they occurred around the D.Day build up. The largest one I was ever in was 122 ships (incl. 16 escorts, ONS 248S) So vast in fact that, before it had settled down into a more closed up situation, the ships on the other flank, to the one we were on, were partially hull down!
The ship I was in was the Empire Capulet, which invariably was hailed by naval escorting vessels as, Empire Copulate!

sidsal
17th May 2010, 15:40
In 1944 I was on Brocklebank's ancient MAIHAR - cargo of coal from Lorenco Marques to Aden, then Suez - then final orders for Catania in Sicily. At Port Said the RN put a barrage balloon on board - tied to the mainmast and six other ships likewise. Our master was made the Commodore and off we went. It was quite windy and it took several days. In the meantime the balloons lost air and sarted doing aerobatics until eventually they were diving down - hitting the water and then shooting up and then down the other side. All the ships were providing a highly entertaining show. The end result was the balloons broke free one by one and ascended up into the clouds where they expanded and burst and came bundling down into the sea. The captain sent a signal to urge all ships to observe a strict blackout. He was on the bridge on the 12 to 4 - I was there too . One of the DEMS gunners walking alomg the cluttered boat deck tripped over a wire and set off a rocket with a parachute flare on it. It descended slowly lighting up the whole scene whilst the captain jut buried his head in his hands.
Fortunatley it was OK.
Happy days

Hugh Ferguson
17th May 2010, 19:07
On departure Ancona-5th Nov.1944-we went lone ship, and somewhere along the way we began using navigation lights at night. This consisted of dimmed side lights alone, no stern light and no mast lights!
(The threat, I seem to recall, was from E.boats operating out of Yugoslav ports but we saw nothing of them and nothing whilst at sea in the Adriatic: just a couple of action stations whilst alongside in Ancona).
We dodged down the Italian coast calling at Brindisi and Augusta in Sicily, for what reason, I know not. On one of those legs the ship, bung light, was rolling quite heavily and I, as usual, was consigned to the weather side, the port side, in the chief officer's 4 to 8 am morning watch.
Nasty shocks were not unusual in those days but the one I got then was completely unanticipated. On one of the heavy rolls there was an almighty bang and the bridge wing was bathed in a red glow!
I thought the inevitable, we've been torpedoed. Soon realised that was not the case, somebody had not secured the bolts on the side-light casing. We had been away for just 4 months; it was going to be more than a year before the end of that particular voyage. Perhaps it was just as well we did not know that at the time.

stan mayes
17th May 2010, 22:09
Amusing anecdotes Sid and Hugh,
Keep them coming we like to hear of them.
Regards
Stan

Hugh Ferguson
21st May 2010, 21:22
I think the thing, which latter day seamen would have found to be the most disconcerting, was actually joining a ship and still not know where the bloody thing was bound! This was more likely to be the case if you were sailing light ship. Rumours abounded, as you might imagine and youthful minds had plenty of that.
Given a bit more in the way of experience many rumours would have been shot down immediately: for instance on joining one ship in my home-town, Newport the rumour had got around that this was going to be a mere six weeks trip, to Montreal for grain and back to U.K..
Not giving a thought to the fact that this ship had not been built for the carriage of bulk grain, and also that she had just come damaged from the Normandy beaches, and had about 20 DEMS gunners still on board to serve the ten Oerlikons, a 12 pounder, a Bofors and a 4" gun: we must have been pretty naive to have swallowed that one!
We were there to serve the front line troops with all the things they needed from Bangalore torpedoes, tanks, bombs and lots of other nasties. The only bit of light relief in all of those cargoes we were to load during 18 months for us apprentices (2 years for some who even went out of "articles") was a 100 tons of Christmas goodies for the D.Day "dodgers" in Italy.
Whatever, we came through it all with just the loss of one man, and he was only wounded (probably survived): he was a petty officer gunlayer R.N., and he had been accidentally shot in the leg by one of his mates!
I personally look back on it all as my miss-spent youth.

stan mayes
21st May 2010, 23:02
Thankyou for that Hugh -
As regards not knowing where a ship was going when you joined it?
I always went straight to the galley and got the information from the galley wireless -
99 per cent correct most times!
Stan

peter3807
25th May 2010, 08:20
I too was in a ship-the Glaucus-arriving back in Liverpool after a 4 month voyage to Bombay, on this very same day, 6th June 1944. There seemed to be a kind of hush hanging over the city despite the intense activity going on all around. The dockers cleared our fully loaded ship in just 4 days: a phenominal rate considering the state of the docks at that time.
Next voyage I found myself in a coal-burning Empire boat with a cargo of the usual nasties, loaded in St John, N.B., and destined for Ancona, which port at that stage was closest to the front line in North Eastern Italy.
The cargo was discharged by British soldiers (Pioneer Corp?) and whilst that was going on the Navy escorted in a German hospital ship for examination.
She lay on the other side of the jetty we were on-it was a strange experience and made me think of what a bloody stupid way it is, to have to resort to a terrible war to settle our differences.

(Did you find the convoy information you were looking for, Sid?)

Hugh,

Interesting comments about Ancona. I have been researching my wifes family and found that her paternal grandfather is buried in Ancona war cemetery. He was in the Royal Engineers Port Battalion. It may well have been that unit which worked the docks. Interesting point is that he was a sapper aged 37 and an Irish citizen, although he lived in Glasgow, so I assume he enlisted.
He was killed 17.10.1944, family sources indicate as a result of a traffic accident in Ancona.

Peter.


peter

Hugh Ferguson
25th May 2010, 11:11
Your post, Peter, reminded me of a long forgotten additional hazard in those days (as if there weren't enough to be going on with) and that was the huge increase in the rate of traffic accidents due to the strictly adhered to "blackout" regulations.
All vehicles went around with blanked head-lights which allowed just about enough light for a pedestrian to see an approaching vehicle, but not enough for the driver to see any obstacle in his path.
If you have never lived in such circumstances it would be impossible for you to imagine what it was actually like. At sea, for instance, you would not dream of going around on deck with a lighted torch, or even smoke a cigarette when on deck!
I would have little doubt that this was how your relative lost his life, and that is indeed a bitter irony when you think of all of the other dangers he must have endured in that hard fought slog up the length of Italy.