phone: +7(921) 952-07-77
address: Saint Petersburg,
15A Kosaya Line, Vasilyevsky Island
John Henry Vernon Webb
Convoys JW54B, JW56A, JW56B and RA56
John Henry Vernon Webb "Jack" was born on 15th April 1924 in Bristol, he joined the Navy as a volunteer on 8th November 1939 at the age of 15 and 7 months, his term was for 12 years (counted from his 18th birthday). He was attached to MTE Rosythas an ERA (engine room artificer) apprentice, based at what was to become HMS Caledonia shore base within Rosyth. His particular intake was designated "Hawke" Division and a photograph of 56 enthusiastic young men are shown on the photograph below taken presumably when they finished training in June 1943, the rear of the photograph has all their signatures.
On 26th June 1943 he was re-assigned to HMS Drake, officially becoming an Engine Room Artificer (5th class) 3 days later on 1st July 1943, here he remained for the next two months or so before being sent tojoin his firstship on 8th September, once it had been commissioned for service.
HMS HARDY (R08) BUILT 1943, Dad served 8/9/1943 till sunk 30 January 1944
U and V class destroyer, ordered 1 Sept 1941, laid down on 14 May 1942, launched on 18th March 1943 by John Brown & Co’s Clydebank shipyard, Commissioned 14th August 1943, pennant no R08, 363' x 35'8" and 1777 tons. Commanding officer was Captain WG Robson DSO DSC RN. Range of the ship was 4860 nautical miles at 29 knots, crew compliment was 180, and 225 when used as flotilla leader.
Armaments were 4 x quick firing 4.7"mk. 1X guns singly mounted, 2 x quick firing 40mm Bofors guns, 6 x quickfiring Oerlikon guns and 2 quad 21" diameter torpedo tubes (for mk. 1X torpedoes).
March 1943 Build completed except for the installation of a new design of Gunnery Fire Control Director, specific for Arctic service.
April to July Final completion delayed by arrival of Director and essential setting to work of gunnery fire control equipment.
August Carried out Acceptance Trials and commissioned for service around Scarpa Flow on 27th and 28th August.
September Joined Home Fleet and worked up for service at Scapa Flow with ships of Home Fleet. Dad listed as joined ship on 8th September.
October 14th Escorted HMS Anson with HM Destroyers Haida (RCN), Iroquois (RCN), Janusand Vigilant for passage to Spitsbergen with relief garrison.
November 23rd Part of destroyer escort for Russian Convoy JW54B with HM Destroyers Saumarez, Vigilant. Savage, Venus, Scorpion, Scourge, and Norwegian destroyer Stord.
The Arctic convoys were assembled to supply Russia with military aid from the UK, Canada and USA. Most started in the UK, travelled toward Iceland to Archangel or Murmansk in Russia. Some may have gone directly from USA to Russia and some Russian vessels travelled independently through the Arctic to pick up supplies also. Separate convoys travelled across the Atlantic from USA but these have no direct connection to the Arctic convoys except as a feed for goods from the USA and Canada to the UK.
The logistics were a nightmare, as well as battling German surface ships and aircraft operating out of occupied Norway, the convoys were at danger of attack from German U Boats, and if that was not bad enough there was the North Atlantic with its danger of storms, icebergs and rough seas. The German Air Force had bases in Trondheim, Narvik, Bardufoss, Tromso, Banak and Kirkenes in Norway and Petsamo in Finland. The German Navy had anchorages in Norway at Trondheim, Bodo, Narvik, and Altenfiord.
Many merchant ships took part in delivery of the military aid convoys, and these merchant vessels suffered the highest losses. The naval vessels that took part in protecting these convoys, included British and Norwegian vessels with Russia providing cover when approaching their shores, some only carrying out a limited number of trips before being relieved by other ships, a total of 16 Naval ships and some 98 merchant ships were lost during these convoys.
The winter convoys had to contend with worse weather but had the dubious advantage of longer nights and shorter days where harried by German aircraft during the daylight hours, but due to these weather conditions, the surface sea ice was further South, so the convoy also had to travel further South and therefore nearer to German occupied Norway. In Summer, with 24 hours of daylight, even travelling further North, there was more likelihood of being discovered and attacked. It was only when operating during the Summer months that the ships were far enough North to be outside the reach of German aircraft. The submarines were a different matter, they operated in any weather, day and night, but liked to attack in twilight or in darkness.
It must also be realised that at this time most of the escort vessels had open bridges, the captain had a raised wooden "chair" to control operations, just below he would have a day room torest. The bridge was completely open to the weather.
Both sides had continually improving weapons and aids that the other side found out to their cost. Asdic Sonar (radar) developed extensivelyin WW1 worked by bouncing a signal off an object (submarine) and reading the returning signal, unfortunately it didn’t work too well in the Arctic waters, due to separation of different layers of water, distorting or even blocking the signals. The escort ships also had to pass over the target submarine and fire off the depth charges from the rear of the ship.
The depth charged are basically a drum of high explosives with a depth activated fuse, the depth being set to the depth estimated by asdic reading, they were rolled off the rear deck of the escort ship, later fired out clear of the ship to try and damage the submarine by concussion when the charge exploded near the submarine and splitting the hull. These were later replaced by the "hedgehog" a multi firing lightweight machine with some 24 projectiles fired in a scatter pattern, originally 30 lbs of TNT theylater were upgraded to 35 lbs of improved Torpex explosive.
Another way to detect an enemy submarine was using High Frequency Direction Finding (HF/DF or Huff duff). High frequency radio was extensively used to communicate between U boats and U boat Command in Norway. Detectors had been fitted previously to aircraft, they were starting to be fitted to UK Naval ships in the early 1940s, allowing ships to identify the origin of the signal and work out the source direction. This enabled them to locate the position of the U boat, also useful to be able to estimate the number of U boats in the area. Using HF/DF for enemy location accounted for 24% of the U boats sunk in WW2.
Once Bletchley park were able to decode the German's Enigma coded messages, a lot of the communication between the U boats and U boat command could be deciphered, enabling UK intelligence to know what the U boats were planning before it could be carried out, by informing the convoy escort commanders who could plan changes of direction to avoid the U boat line etc.
At the start of the Arctic convoys, the U boats had to surface to recharge their batteries, the diesel engines could not be used when submerged, so the U boats were more vulnerable on the surface, being picked up by ship's radar or our reconnaissance aircraft. In 1944 the new U boats were fitted with a Schnorchel (snorkel). Dutch submarines were fitted with a snorkel (they called it a "snuiver" or sniffer) and when Germany invaded and defeated Netherlands in 1940 they captured 2 Dutch submarines that were fitted with snorkels. It was not until early 1944 that operational use was made of the snorkel in new U boats, shortly followed by retrofitting in the older U boats. This allowed the running of diesel engines to recharge the batteries under water, they could also travel at up to 6 knots with the snorkel raised, any faster and it broke the tubes. Normally the U boats could travel at up to 12 knots on the surface under diesel power. In calm water, the snorkel gave a tell tale wash on the surface, but in the rough waters of the Arctic, it was not as noticeable, although a raised snorkel could sometimes be picked up by the latest radar sets (model 271) at the time, from up to ½ mile away.
Early German torpedoes worked as a "point and shoot", the accurate heading of the target was needed, otherwise a miss was more likely, particularly in the rough seas of the Arctic Ocean. By late 1943 and early 1944, the T5 "Zaunkonig" acoustic torpedo appeared on U boats in the Arctic. They had been used in the Atlantic con voys earlier. The UK referred to it as the "Gnat" (German Navy Acoustic Torpedo). It has a speed capability of 24 knots and an effective range of 3 miles (5 km). This allowing the T5 torpedo to be just fired in the general direction of the target, the acoustic sensor (hydrophones) in the nose of the new torpedoes detected the sound given off by a ship;s propellor and turned towards it, so even if the direction is a bit off, it adjusts itself to hit the target. The two possible ways to avoid being hit is either to speed up and outrun the torpedo or slow right down so that the torpedo sensor doesn't recognise the acoustic signal from the ship's propellor (risky as the torpedo may still be on a direct track towards the ship), later on ships towed a noise source on cables along behind to attract the torpedo away from the ship itself.
There was a number of long-range reconnaissance aircraft used by the German Luftwaffe, operating out of Northern Norwegian airfields, particularly the Blohm and Voss BV 138 and the Focke-Wulf 200C, able to keep watch on the position of the convoys, often for hours at a time, while keeping out of range of the ship's guns and radioing their position back to base who would inform the U boats. These aircraft could cover most of the sea area between Norway and Bear Island. Bombers could then be guided directly to the convoys to drop bombs or torpedoes without having to spend hours (and fuel) searching for the convoys.
These convoys transported much needed military aid to Russia, the biggest percentage actually getting there, material successfully delivered by Arctic convoy included 12,755 tanks, 25,206 aircraft, 12,150 anti-tank guns, 51,503 jeeps, 35,170 motorcycles, 8,701 tractors, 375,883 trucks and lorries, 1981 railway locomotives, 11,155 railway wagons, 540,000 tons of railway track, 131,633 rifles and machine guns, 3.786 million tyres, 15 million pairs of boots, 475 million bullets, projectiles etc, 345,375 tons of explosives, 2.64 million tons of petrol, 845,000 tons of chemicals and food, machinery, medical and other equipment totalling £120 million from the UK and $11,260 million from the USA. Also delivered were 9 Motor torpedo boats, 4 submarines and 14 minesweepers shipped out to Russia with UK crews, who returned to the UK travelling on the escort ships on the return convoys.
There were 40 outward and 37 return convoys, 811 outward cargo ships of which successfully 715 returned after delivering their loads, 40 ships turned back due to damage caused by bad weather and ice, 41 were sunk by U Boats, 37 sunk by aircraft, 3 sunk by surface ships, 12 sunk by straying into minefields, 5 actually sunk while in Kola inlet by either enemy action or local mines.
Convoy JW 54B
It was the first convoy that HMS Hardy took part in with Dad as part of the crew. The convoy was made up of 14 merchant ships and 27 escorts vessels (some only going part way). This convoy left Loch Ewe in Scotland on 22nd November 1943.
The merchant ships were in alphabetical order:
The Liberty ships were a standard design built in America, they had a length of 441’6” (134.57 m) they displaced 14,474 tons and had a draft of 27’9” (8.50 m) speed was only 11 -111/2 knots. Maximum capacity 10,856 tons (9000 tons in the hold and the rest on deck although due to the expected rough seas, were carrying a reduced weight so as not to compromise stability) and had a range of 17,000 miles. Cost for building were in the region of $2m each, building was carried out by 18 shipyards across America. They were “utility” ships built to a price designed by the US Maritime Commission and nicknamed the “Ugly Ducklings”. Power was provided by oil powered triple expansion steam engines. The first liberty took 230 days to build, but once the shipyards got into building them, the average dropped to only 42 days, they were prefabricated and used welded construction. The record building time for one ship as an advertising one off was 41/2 days (without fitting out). Most were built as standard merchant men, but others bu ilt as oil tankers. They provided service between the USA and UK, and the rest of the Allied World.
A liberty ship typically could carry 2840 jeeps or 440 tanks or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition. Crew was 15 deckhands, 13 engineers, 11 stewards, a radio operator, purser and between 12 and 25 Naval armed guards
Canadian ship-building companies also bulk built a particular type of ship, built which all had the prefix 'Fort' in their names along with their sister ships the 'Parks' and the U.S. built 'Oceans'. They also built sixteen Royal Navy Maintenance Ships which were commissioned from Canadian West Coast shipyards.
Overall Officer in charge of the convoy was Commander In Chief Home Fleet between May 1943 and June 1944 was Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser. Second in command Home Fleet between June 1943 and Jun 1944 was Vice Admiral Sir Henry R Moore.
The Naval escort fleet was made up as follows:
Local escort - HMS Middleton L74 Hunt class destroyer, HMS Saladin H54 S class destroyer, HMS Skate H39 R class destroyer, HMS Speedwell J87 Halcyon class minesweeper, left with the convoy between 22/11/43 to 25/11/43, and HMS Wrestler 22/11/43 to 26/11/43. The local escort only accompanied the convoy until the Ocean escort joined it in the vicinity of Iceland. The local escort worked on the start and finish of the convoy, made up of minesweepers based in Shetland or Orkneys at the Western end and in the White sea ports or Kola inlet at the Eastern end. They were not armed for aerial attack and were designed to carry out the monotonous task of sweeping for mines..
Close escort - HMS Beagle H30 B class destroyer, HMS Poppy K213 Flower class corvette, HMS Rhododendron K78 Flower class corvette, HMS Halcyon J42 Halcyon class minesweeper, travelled with and provided protection for the whole of the journey 22/11/43 to 3/12/1943. HMS Dianella K07, Flower class corvette, joined 23/11/43 to 3/12/43. The close or through escort force was older destroyers and corvettes with the occasional armed trawler and minesweeper.
Ocean escort - HMS Hardy R08 (flotilla leader) V class destroyer, HMS Saumarez G12 S class destroyer, HMS Savage G20 S class destroyer, HMS Scorpion G72 S class destroyer, HMS Scourge G01 S class destroyer, HNoMS Stord [Norwegian Navy] G26 S class destroyer, HMS Venus R50 V class destroyer, HMS Vigilant R93 V class destroyer. Joined 25/11/43 off Langanaes taking over from the Western local escort force and left 2/12/43 as the Russian navy provided Eastern local cover approaching Murmansk and Archangel. The Ocean escort left the convoy and returned to Scapa Flow independently and re-joined Home Fleet.
Cruiser escort - HMS Kent [flagship] 54 County class heavy cruiser, HMS Jamaica 44 Crown Colony class cruiser, HMS Bermuda 52 Fiji class light cruiser, joined 27/11/43 to 3/12/43. Providing cover when in danger from German battleships based in Norwegian fjords and were covering this convoy and the return convoy RA54B simultaneously.
Distant escort - HMS Anson [flag] 79 King George V Class battleship, HMS Belfast C35 town class cruiser, HMS Ashanti F51 Tribal class destroyer, HMS Matchless G52 M class destroyer, HMS Musketeer G86 M class destroyer, HMS Obdurate G39 O class destroyer, joined 28/11/43 to 2/12/43.
The merchant fleet plunged though mountainous grey seas, the spray building up as ice on anything it touched. The smaller Naval escort ships bounced over the waves instead of diving into or through them like the bigger ships. Work parties frantically chipped away to remove the ice before it became a danger, they sometimes used steam hoses in the brief twilight hours that counted as daylight in the winter months.
The merchant fleet were under the command of Commodore Captain E C Dennison, who kept watch on his merchant fleet travelling in six neat columns from the bridge of Daldorch, bitterly cold with snow drifting on the decks.
The opposing U boat force that was waiting for this convoy were 5 vessels (U277, U307, U354, U360 and U387), code name Eisenbart and a surface force of Scharnhorst and 5 German destroyers (Z29, Z30, Z33, Z34 and Z38) based at Altenfjord, Norway. The British Admiralty had thought that the Germans were more advanced with their radar, it was coming but not developed enough to affect convoy JW54B.
The 15 merchant ships of the convoy made good time and fortunately were not sighted by any of the U boats or the German reconnaissance aircraft looking for them and reached Kola inlet 2nd December and the White sea on 4th December. The Ocean escort made independent passage back to the UK
January 1944 – Meanwhile, in the North Atlantic the New Year also brought about a dramatic increase in German U boat activity in the Barents Sea. The German battleship Scharnhorst had just been sunk so would no longer be in a position to harry the convoys, Tirpitz was still under repair, so the only thing to stop the convoys was the weather, and the U boats. The U boat "wolfpack" was waiting.
Convoy JW56A was the second convoy that HMS Hardy took part in. The convoy was made up of 20 merchant ships and 23 escorts vessels (some again only going part way). The convoy left Loch Ewe 12/1/1944 arriving at Kola inlet on 28/1/1944.
Following on from the Liberty ships, USA started building “Victory” ships, slightly bigger and faster than Liberty ships Victory ships were powered by steam turbines and were 455’ long x 62’ beam, capable of 15 - 17 knots. They had 5 cargo holds with carry 4555 net tons with a deadweight of 10850 tons. Crew was 62 civilians and 28 Naval personnel. In the last 18 months of the war US shipyards built 414 Victory cargo ships and 117 Victory attack transport ships, the shipyards had certainly got into the swing of rapidly putting these ships together for the war effort. Though not used in these particular convoys, they were being built while the 2 convoys were being escorted by HMS Hardy with Dad as one of the crew.
The Naval escort fleet for JW56A was made up as follows:
Local escort - HMS Wallflower K44 Flower class corvette, HMS Borage K120 Flower class corvette, left with the convoy on 12/1/1944 until the 18/1/1944, when the Ocean escort joined it in the vicinity of Iceland and HMS Cygnet H83 C Class destroyer stayed until 15th January.
Close escort - HMS Dianella K07 Flower class corvette, HMS Inconstant H49 I class destroyer, HMS Poppy K213 Flower class corvette all stayed for the whole of the journey 12/1/44 to 27/1/1944 till Kola inlet. HMS Orestes J277 Algerine class minesweeper and HMS Ready J223 Algerine class minesweeper both joined 12/1/44 to 22/1/44 until the Ocean escort arrived.
Ocean escort – HMS Savage G20 S class destroyer and HNoMS Stord [Norwegian Navy] G26 S class destroyer joined in the Iceland area 16/1/1944 and stayed until 27/1/1944 until the convoy reached Kola,
Distant escort - HMS Hardy R08 V class destroyer, HMS Venus R50 V class destroyer, HMS Vigilant R93 V class destroyer, HMS Virago R75 V class destroyer, HMS Offa G29 O class destroyer and HMS Obdurate G39, O class destroyer joined the convoy 21/1/44 off Langanaes as the convoy was approaching the “danger area” and left 27/1/44 as the convoy was approaching Kola inlet and returned to meet convoy JW56B which was perceived to be in danger due to increased U boat activity.
Cruiser escort - HMS Kent [flagship Pallister] 54 County class heavy cruiser, HMS Berwick 65 County class heavy cruiser, HMS Bermuda 52 Fiji class light cruiser. There cruiser escort crews assisted in repairs in Akureuri then Cruiser escort caught up with and joined the convoy two days after it left on 22/1/44 to 27/1/44. Providing cover to this convoy and rather than covering the return convoy were also diverted to assist the next outbound convoy JW56B.
Eastern close convoy included Russian ships Gremyaschi (meaning "Thunderous") Gnevny class destroyer commissioned 30/8/1938, Grozni (meaning “Terrible”) Gnevny class destroyer competed 9/12/1938 and Razumny (meaning "Sensible") Gnevny class destroyer commissioned 7/11/1941, all 3 came out to escort the convoy ships until they arrived safely into Russian waters and Kola inlet on 27th and 28th January.
Convoy JW56A left Loch Ewe in Scotland at 15:00 on 12th January 1944, unfortunately they met a gale near the Faroe Isles and due to storm damage and shifting loads, Nathanial Alexander,Jefferson Davis, Charles Bullfinch and John B Quillman left the convoy to return to Britain on 15th January. The rest of the convoy also suffered heavy damage and were diverted to Iceland and took shelter in the deep water port of Akureyri, working parties from HMS Kent carried out what repairs they could and repacked and resecured deck loads, the cargo ships that could continue with the convoy left Akureyri on 21st January, there was now little threat of attack from German surface ships and although the air force provided reconnaissance aircraft, the chances of attack aircraft being active was weak. Of the 30 or so available U boats based in Norway, only 8-10 were operating in the area, as it turned out only a small group of U boats were waiting to "meet and greet" the convoy; the code name they operated under was Isegrimm (U 957, U 956, U 178, U 739, U 601 and U 360) and they were operating 80 miles South West of Bear Island.
German air force reconnaissance flights took place on 22, 23 and 24/1/1944 but failed to find any sight of the convoy, although they were looking for a return convoy but not an outward convoy. They had anticipated an outward convoy passing Bear Island passage on or about 25/1/1944 estimated on the frequency of the convoys and the normal course, speed etc. and like the Allies, they too were listening to radio communications between ships and between ships and base.
On 23 and 24/1/1944 the convoy was proceeding in a north easterly direction toward Bear Island passage, the escort ships were picking up a number of high frequency direction finding readings (HF/DF see later) from the radio transmissions from the U boats and were able to get bearings on the U boats from these messages and deduced that they were too far away to form a threat.
02:31 on 25/1/1944, U boat command in Norway had also be listening to radio communications and warned the Isegrimm group to expect a convoy, but a returning convoy going through the Bear Island narrows rather than an outward convoy.
09:58 U 956 sighted the convoy and at 10:20 reported by radio that it had seen a destroyer. By 10:46 more of the convoy had been sighted and on receiving the report, the German U boat commander in Norway ordered U 314 and U 716 from their base in Hammerfest to join the Isegrimm group.
12:57 U 472 was also ordered to join the other U boats and to operate on the earlier sightings and positions of the convoy.
With all the radio messages from the U boats, Captain Robson, escort commander in HMS Hardy believed there was a U boat off the starboard quarter, and by 13:00 thought there were at least 4 U boats in contact with the convoy and the U boat off the starboard quarter was acting as controller, keeping watch and contact with the other U boats.
HMS Offa and Inconstant were sent to investigate, U 956 was submerged and fired an acoustic homing torpedo which fortunately missed both destroyers.
13:40 HMS Venus and HMNoS Stord were sent to hunt down a HF/GF bearing to the starboard beam of the convoy. 14:00 HMS Venus sighted a U boat, probably U 601 which fired a torpedo and submerged, the two ships could not get a sonar contact so returned to their position in the convoy escort.
Later in that afternoon the escort ships made offensive sweeps to drive away any U boats. 18:30 HMS Obdurate obtained a radar contact from an estimated only 3000 yards away, travelling along the bearing also picked up a sonar contact, confirmed as a U boat, but lost contact 4 minutes later. A submarine was still there though, because at 18:36 an acoustic homing torpedo (fired by U 360) exploded 20 feet away from HMS Obdurate, damaging the destroyer’s starboard engine and propellor shaft. Usually capable of 37 knots, her speed was now reduced to 10 knots. 19:15 Robson ordered Obdurate to re-join the convoy and take up position on the starboard quarter of the convoy.
18:33 German U boat command in Norway ordered U 313 to detach and serve as a weather reporter and at 19:41 informed Isegrimm that the convoy was heading for Murmansk and to keep in contact and make full use of the weather, and that there would be German reconnaissance aircraft due on the 26th January. Later that evening HMS Savage heard an explosion which they thought was another depth change attack, but it turned out to be merchant ship Penelope Barker which had been torpedoed by U 278.
20:23 HMS Savage obtained another sonar contact and attacked with depth charges until it was realised that the sonar contact was probably the sinking wreck of Penelope Barker causing the sonar reading, the attack being called off also allowed the survivors to be rescued, Savage picked up 54 survivors and re-joined the convoy.
Just after midnight on 26th January U360 torpedoed Fort Bellingham, a British freighter, hit on the port side, she did not immediately sink but settled in the water. Shortly after at 00:22, U 716 torpedoed Andrew G Curtin an American freighter which quickly sank, (at 73o 22’N 24o 15’W) survivors being picked up by HMS Offa and HMS Savage. Before re-joining the convoy Savage attempted to sink the ship Fort Bellingham, but despite their best efforts, they failed to sink it and it drifted abandoned to the rear of the convoy and was later sunk by torpedoes fired from U 957 (according to a deciphered message from that submarine) (at 73° 25′N 25° 10′E).
During the morning of 26th January, U boats kept in contact with the convoy (reported by messages picked up from U 717, U 314 and U 360).
9:10 a lone German aircraft was spotted shadowing the convoy followed by another two at 11:20 and from the amount of German radio communication, Robson thought a full-scale air attack was imminent, but this didn’t happen, although a German air force spotter at 11:34 reported the location of JW56A as 73o 03’N 28o 05’W, also that there were 12 merchant ships steering 50o at 10 knots. This route was also confirmed by 2 surviving merchant seamen picked up by U 957.
During the afternoon of 26th January, the U boats lost contact with the convoy, partly due to bad visibility and in an attempt to find it again and knowing the convoy was heading toward Kola, U boat command tried to get the U boats ahead of the convoy forming a new patrol line. At 20:56 U 737 reported a hydrophone reading that confirmed contact with several destroyers and merchant ships but lost that contact at 22:41. The Isegrimm group was then sent further to the South.
At 00:45 27th January, U 360 reported that she had collided with U 601, causing U 360 to return damaged to Norway. 06:52 U957 reported sighting of a single ship but soon lost contact. German aircraft reported the position of the convoy, which confirmed that the convoy had sailed right through the line of U boats. The U boats were again ordered to reform even further South, only 90 miles off the Russian coast and across the entrance to Murmansk. This order was rescinded at 10:41 and the group were to head North West as another convoy was approaching from the west (this of course would have been JW56B).
Distant escort left JW56A to reinforce the support for the next convoy JW56B, as the JW56A escort was supplemented by the Russian destroyers Gremyaschi, Grozni and Razumny.
Convoy JW56A arrived at Kola inlet on 28th January 1944 without any further inconvenience.
JW56B was the third convoy that HMS Hardy and Dad in took part in. The convoy was made up of 20 merchant ships and around 25 escorts vessels. The convoy left Loch Ewe 22/1/1944 arriving at Kola inlet on 1/2/1944.
The UK ships listed in convoy JW56B were:
The Naval escort fleet was made up as follows:
The local escort - HMS Honeysuckle K27 (Flower class), HMS Hydra J275 (Algarine class minesweeper), HMS Onyx J221 (Algarine class minesweeper), HMS Wrestler D35 (W class destroyer) left with the convoy between 22/1/44 to 26/1/44, The local escort again only accompanied the convoy until the Ocean escort joined it.
Close escort - HMS Cygnet H83 C class destroyer, HMS Oxlip K123 Flower class corvette, HMS Seagull J85 Halcyon class minesweeper, HMS Wescott D47 V/W class destroyer, HMS Whitehall D94 modified W class destroyer, stayed for the whole of the journey 22/1/44 to 3/2/1944. HMS Rhododendron K78 Flower class destroyer had mechanical problems and returned to Scotland for repairs 25/1/1044.
Ocean escort - HMCS Huron G24 (Canadian) Tribal class destroyer, HMS Mahratta G23 M class destroyer, HMS Milne G14 M class destroyer (Capt. I M R Campbell), HMS Musketeer G86 M class destroyer. HMS Opportune G80 O class destroyer, HMS Scourge G01 S class destroyer Joined 26/1/44 and stayed with the convoy the whole way. (the Russian eastern close escort was not used this time)
Cruiser escort - HMS Kent [flagship R. Admiral A F E Pallister] 54 County class heavy cruiser, HMS Berwick 65 County class heavy cruiser, HMS Bermuda 62 Fiji class light cruiser joined 23/1/44 to 26/1/44.
Knowing the situation with the U boat threat, the distant escort from JW56A also came to strengthen this convoy, HMS Hardy R08 V class destroyer, HMS Inconstant H49 I class destroyer, HMS Offa G29 O class destroyer, HMS Savage G20 S class destroyer, HNoMS Stord G26 S class destroyer, HMS Venus R50 V class destroyer, HMS Vigilant R93 V class destroyer. HMS Virago R75 V class destroyer.
HMS Meteor G73 M class destroyer travelled from Scarpa Flow to also join the extra destroyer escort on 28th January and stayed until the convoy arrived at Kola.
The convoy left Loch Ewe on 22nd January 1944 protected by local escort and the close escort and passed the Faroe islands and Iceland without incident heading in the same direction as the previous convoy, North then North East. On 23rd January Charles Bulfinch returned to Scotland as the engine was suffering from hot bearings.
25th January HMS Rhododendron was also having engine trouble so was detached and returned to Scotland for repairs.
On the 26th January, when the convoy reached the danger area near Bear Island in the Barents sea, the local escort left and the ocean escort replaced it.
The opposing U boat threat included not only the U boats from the previous Isegrimm wolfpack, but it was reinforced with other U boats, this new group was code named Werewolf. U boats, U 957, U 425 and U 965 were sent back to Hammerfast for re-fuelling and replenishing torpedoes. The 7 other U boats making up the new Werewolf group were U 956, U 472, U 716, U 314, U 601, U 737 and U 739 (confirmed by intercepted and decoded message 28th Jan at 02:50) were ordered to form a line by 06:00 on 29th January to intercept the convoy, the line to run from 71o 15’N 12o 30’ E to 73o 09’N 09o 10’ E.
27th January the German air force located and reported the position of and shadowed the convoy.
On 28th January two JU88 aircraft were sent to search for and shadow the convoy until 15:00, reporting it travelling on a course of 70o. Just after the aircraft departed HMS Meteor arrived. Meanwhile U 313 and U636 arrived to operate in the same area as the Werewolf pack.
17:00 the convoy altered course Northward as convoy control had received deciphered intelligence of the location of the Werewolf pack and the intention was now for the convoy to pass some 40 miles further North than the waiting line of U boats. This would have worked except for an error in navigation of the Northernmost U boat, that put it 30 miles further to the North and annoyingly close to the convoy’s actual course.
09:34 29th January, U 956 spotted the convoy and reported it to U boat command in Norway, so the Werewolf pack were ordered to operate further North. While U 956 was on the surface using its radio to report, it was spotted by HMS Mahratta who attacked the U boat with gunfire, forcing it to submerge. Now HMS Mahratta and Whitehall searched for the submarine with sonar in depth charges for several hours. Having submerged and tried to avoid destruction, not unsurprisingly U 956 lost contact with the convoy in this time.
Meanwhile at 10:04, one of the German reconnaissance aircraft also spotted the convoy reporting its position and heading.
12:00 the convoy again changed course to the Eastward. During the afternoon and evening, repeated sweeps were made by the escorts, running down HF/DF bearings and carrying out several attacks with depth charges.
15:31 U 956 again regained contact with the convoy and was ordered by U boat command in Norway at 16:18 to maintain contact and send radio beacon signals for the other U boats to locate the convoy also. Throughout the evening the U boats maintained contact with the convoy.
16:47 U 427 reported a hydrophone bearing of the convoy as 70o. U 956 fired a torpedo into the convoy but it exploded prematurely. U 601 reported sighting a destroyer on an Easterly course.
21:14 escort commander was of the opinion that there were at least 3 U boats immediately around the convoy, one off each beam and another off the starboard quarter.
21:37 on 28th January U boats received orders (which were intercepted and deciphered) that German aircraft would be shadowing the convoy and transmitting a beacon signal to enable the U boats to home in on the convoy at 09:00 on the following morning.
Just after midnight on 29th January 1944 the extra destroyer escort arrived and formed a defensive screen 15 miles ahead of the convoy. At the same time 4 U boats arrived from the German submarine base in Hammerfest having been re-fuelled and re-armed, they were U 425, U 957, U 278 and U 360 and were ordered to gather South of Bear Island, reinforcing the Werewolf pack. If these extra submarines had been able to travel at a speed of 12 knots, by 09:00 on the 30th January they would have been in an attacking position by this time.
Just after midnight on 30th January, escort command knew that there were at least 6 U boats in the area, but by 03:00 the main threat seemed to be off the Starboard bow and beam of the convoy. 6 destroyers were sent to sweep along the starboard side of the convoy, HMS Inconstant spotted a U boat on the surface, which dived and was attacked with depth charges.
At about 03:47, a U boat transmission allowed a bearing to be taken and a U boat was located on the port quarter, 4 destroyers were dispatched to hunt down the U boats on that bearing.
04:04 HMS Hardy was hit by a GNAT T5 acoustic torpedo fired by U278 under the command of Kapitanlutenant Jochim Franze. This happened in the Barents Sea, South of Bear island 73o 40’ N 18o 56’ E, there were 40 casualties. HMS Hardy was described by an eye witness as having its “stern blown off” some survivors jumped into the water (including Dad who broke both bones in his left elbow). As far as I can ascertain from the differing reports, HNoMS Stord attempted to evacuate the crew but due to being an S class destroyer and Hardy being a V class destroyer, the decks were at different heights, so Stord pulled away to carry out a search for the submarine whilst HMS Vigilant and Venus came in to evacuate the sinking Hardy.
04:15 Stord picked up a sonar contact and attacked the U boat with depth charges, after several depth charge drops, a U boat was briefly blown to the surface, but immediately submerged again, sonar contact could not then be re-established.
Both HMS Virago and Venus were of the same class of destroyer as Hardy, they both assisted in removing the survivors from the ship and sea, Virago took of the first 78 crewmen and after Virago’s bows clashed with and was damaged by Hardy, Virago disengaged from Hardy and Venus came in to remove the officers and rest of the crew. All survivors had been rescued from the sea or evacuated from the deck of the Hardy by 05:25. Some reports also mention Vigilant as taking part in the rescue of the crew.
HMS Venus then destroyed Hardy with a torpedo as there was no way the ship could be saved and would be a shipping hazard if left floating, the position that Hardy was sunk was 73 o 37’N 18o 56’E.
07:00 HF/DF bearings indicated several U boats ahead of the convoy, HMS Vigilant and Savage carried out sweeps but failed to locate anything.
08:17 HMS Meteor was patrolling the starboard bow of the convoy and while the sonar officer was listening for the pings, he thought he heard the sound of a torpedo being fired by a submarine, but nothing else.
Throughout the rest of the 30th January, the escorts picked up various intermittent contact with the U boats. Even though the German air force had reconnaissance planes shadowing the convoy, the U boats were still having trouble locating the convoy.
12:10 U 737 reported that it had been damaged while trying to escape the destroyers and had rammed an iceberg.
The weather started to worsen forcing the German air force to return to base.
19:40 the convoy changed course, turning Southeast at 73o 42’ N 26o 34’E, this was unusual in that they normally changed course later, and further to the East. This was done to confuse the U boats, by the convoy not turning when and where they normally did, it would be in a different position to where the U boats would be expecting it. 4 destroyers continued along the original course to force any waiting submarines to “put down”. Meanwhile some other escort ships swept ahead and along the flanks of the (now non-existant) convoy position to throw any U boats off the track.
This odd change of course worked in that it completely misled U boat command in Norway; because at 20:00 they ordered the Werewolf pack to form a line from 73o 30’N 35o 10’E to 72o 35’N 30o 30’E, by 06:00 the following morning, expecting the convoy erroneously, to pass straight though where that line would be.
Depending on which particular ship picked Dad up, either Venus or Virago he would have received initial medical treatment. It is unlikely that Dad received treatment at the very limited medical centre at Murmansk. He was brought back to the UK on HMS Venus, travelling with the returning Convoy RA56, (the destroyer escort left the convoy on 7th February and returned to the UK).
Convoy RA56 consisted of 37 merchant ships and 23 escort ships and sailed from Murmansk on 3rd February 1944. The first part of the convoy was accompanied by Russian aircraft and it was one of these that spotted U 278 on the surface and attacked, forcing it to submerge, this resulted in German orders for the 10 U boats to stay submerged during the daylight hours. The 10 U boats opposing this returning convoy were U 956, U 957, U 425, U 427, U 313, U 716, U 314, U 737, U
278 and U 990.
The escort ships with the convoy were:
East close (USSR) escort HMS Gleaner J83 built as a survey vessel converted to a minesweeper, HMS Seagull J85 Halcyon class minesweeper 3rd – 5th February.
Close escort HMS Wescott, HMS Whitehall, HMS Cygnet, HMS Dianella, HMS Oxlip, HMS Poppy, HMS Rhododendron, HMS Halcyon, HMS Hussar, 3rd – 11th February, with HMS Speedwell leaving 10th.
Destroyer escort HMS Offa, HMS Opportune, HMS Savage, HMS Venus, HMS Vigilant, HMS Virago 3rd – 7th February
Extra destroyer escort HMS Inconstant, HMS Mahratta, HMS Meteor, HMS Milne, HMS Musketeer, HMS Scourge, HNoMS Stord and HMCS Huron G24 Canadian Tribal class destroyer 3rd – 9th February
Western local escort Obedient, HMS Swift, HMS Verulam 6th - 9th February, HMS
HMS Wrestler, HMS Borage, HMS Honeysuckle, HMS Wallflower, HMS Cockatrice J229 Algerine class minesweeper, HMS Loyalty J217 Algerine class minesweeper, HMS Rattlesnake J297 Algerine class minesweeper and HMS Ready J223 Algerine class minesweeper 6th – 10th or 11th.
The merchant ships that made up the convoy are as follows, also listed is the destination after reaching UK and lastly the convoy number with which they sailed out:
Empire Pickwick (UK) and Philip Livingston (USA) left with the convoy but had to return to Murmansk for repairs. As can be seen from the above list, some of the ships had been in Murmansk for up to 2 months after their outward convoy, waiting to be unloaded, refuelled and ready to return to the UK.
Due to strong Easterly gales the convoy made very good time and due also to bad weather, the convoy had little contact with the U boats, only the occasional distant HF/DF bearing. The convoy arrived safely back at Loch Ewe on 11th February 1944 and the merchant ships prepared for their various onward journeys.
Ship No 2
HMS Tavy (River class frigate) Dad served 10 June 1944 to 10 July 1944 whilst attached to HMS Ferret, Londonderry.
Ship No 3
HMS Devonshire (Cruiser, 1929-1954) Dad served 20 September 1945 to 25 October 1945 probably transferred from UK to Australia
Ship No 4
HMS Camperdown (pennant number D32) Dad served 8 December 1945 to 15 October 1946
Ship No 5
HMS Venerable (R63) Dad served 23 – 28 October 1946 (out of Singapore)
Ship No 6
HMS Bonaventure Dad served 1 – 3 november 1946 passage Singapore to Hong Kong
Ship No 7
HMS Adamant Dad served 4 November 1946 to 28 September 1947
Ship No 8
HMS Opossum (U 33) Dad served 29 September 1947 to 12 April 1948
Ship no 9
MTB /MPB 1032 HMS Hornet Coastal Forces Base at Gosport
Ship No 10
HMS Vanguard (Battleship, 1946-1960) dad served 31 August 1950 to 12 May 1951
Ship No 11
MTB /MPB 8102 Dad served 5 May 1952 – 11 March 1954