Port Chalmers - Operation Pedestal - paravane and derrick

21st September 2012, 13:40
Given the wealth of expertise on this forum I'm sure someone will be able to help me with an incident involving the Port Chalmers during Operation Pedestal in August 1942.

Basically she 'catches' a tin fish in her starboard paravane, leaving her master, Captain Pinkey as Peter Scott puts it 'in an unenviable position with the live torpedo tied close to his side and threatening to swing in and detonate against her thin plates at any moment'.

The master seeks advice from his naval escorts and is told to cut the paravane wire and swing the helm hard over. In the end the clump chain for'ard is unshackled and let go and the derrick is let go.

Now I can look up a paravane and derrick on wikipedia but I'm still having difficulties in visualising what actually happened. Presumably they just cut everything loose whilst continuing at full speed to get clear? I'm assuming you wouldn't dare stop engines under these circumstances because of the risk of the torpedo swinging in as you slowed down? But wouldn't swinging the helm hard over be similarly hazardous?

Would anyone like to take on the challenge of explaining?

Thanks in advance.

Hugh Ferguson
21st September 2012, 17:34
See this for an explanation of what happened and how the dilemma was resolved.
In those days many ships were equipped with, what was called a paravane: this was deployed from an A frame attached to the bows which, when lowered into the sea, towed a paravane on both sides of the ship which, it was hoped, would cut the moorings of a mine.
In this instance the propellor of a torpedo got entangled in it thus presenting the urgent necessity of how to get rid of it, especially as torpedoes were so designed that they would automatically explode after an interval, whether or not they had struck a ship.
In this instance it involved stopping the ship's headway and going astern on the engines in order to take the weight off the paravane, then cut the wire and hope you were far enough away to suffer no damage during the inevitable explosion.
That's what happened to the Port Chalmers and, would you believe, somebody photographed it!! See HERE (https://www.shipsnostalgia.com/showthread.php?t=40220#6)

(I would not have liked being in the engine room of that ship whilst all that was going on.)

22nd September 2012, 12:01
Wow Hugh. I didn’t expect a photograph. Many thanks.

What an optimist thing to do, to take a photo. Wherever the photographer was he must have been confident that they would manage to disentangle themselves and that he’d live long enough to get the film developed.

I wouldn’t have wanted to be in the engine room either. They would have known presumably that they were going astern on account of a torpedo close to the ship’s side.

Hugh Ferguson
22nd September 2012, 14:07
Pedestal was probably the most photographed and filmed convoy ever!
Here's one of H.M.S. Eagle sinking after having been torpedoed on the very first day into the Mediterranian-not an auspicious start for what was to become a running battle all the way to Malta.
The photo was evidently taken by somebody aboard one of the escorts; the Glenorchy is the merchant ship in the foreground (I later sailed with her then Chief Officer, R.A. Hanney: Glenorchy had been lead ship in the starboard column but was one of those later sunk).

Click on this link for first of 12 clips of Pedestal Convoy:- http://www.shipsnostalgia.tv/members/action/viewvideo/1715/Pedestal_Convoy_1/

stan mayes
22nd September 2012, 14:31
Hello Hugh,
Thankyou for that extraordinary story and photo...It was a million to one
chance that a torpedo would be caught on a paravane cable.

Hugh Ferguson
22nd September 2012, 14:55
Yes indeed, Stan, a million to one chance, just a matter of feet and inches in depth, distance ahead, distance astern-all had to coincide precisely-amazing!

Regarding the photograph of the Eagle sinking, I would guess that it was taken by somebody in the Colony class cruiser H.M.S. Kenya; for t'was she, which in the commencing configuration of the convoy, was leading escort of the starboard 4th column where Glenorchy was lead ship.
You can just make out the tiniest bit of the ship astern of Glenorchy which was the American Santa Elisa.

(Mr Hanney survived the sinking of his ship and then had the misfortune, or good fortune, of being rescued by the Vichy French in Tunisia: he, and others, were then imprisoned in Italy).

22nd September 2012, 20:44
I was apprentice on Brocklebank's Maihar in 1943 and we had the A frame and paravanes. Enroute Loch Ewe to Gib (19 days) we deployed the paravanes but owing to the slow speed they would not go away from the ship's side. Eventually we gave up and never used them again.
Same ship - coal from Lorenco Marques - firts to Mombasa for orders - then aden, then Suez. At Port Said we were ordered to Catania in Sicily - Allies were then fighting higher up Italy. Our Captain was made Commodore of 9 ships and as we left PS barrage balloons were put aboard from naval launches - these were tied to the masthead. After a few days the air escaping from the balloons made them unstable and they started to dive and swing from side to side. It was a great sight on watch to see this aerial displlay. In the end they each broke loose and ascended higher and higher- expanding and the busting and tumbling down into the sea. Great fun.

Hugh Ferguson
22nd September 2012, 22:05
Worst of all of those Heath Robinson contraptions were the anti-torpedo nets. A ship I was in for all but 18 months had the lot, paravanes and nets-I can't recall us ever deploying any of it.
Regarding the paravane deployed by the Port Chalmers that could only have been on her approach to Malta and the possibility of running into a minefield: in that case I would imagine that the torpedo would have been dropped by an aircraft and not fired from a sub..

Those convoys to Malta had to contend with everything the Italian and German forces could throw at them-bombers, torpedo and other, submarines Italian and German and as if that wasn't enough, e.boats as well.
A Pyrrhic victory! No, never. That convoy maintained Malta as a base which enabled the Navy to destroy Rommel's Africa Corp's supply lines, and the huge build up of supplies to the British 8th Army-again thanks to the Merchant Navy's convoys around Africa to Alexandria.
The tide of war turned in that Summer of 1942.