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Operations of the 1st Escort Group

The first operation of the group was a six week anti submarine (A/S) patrol well out into the Atlantic on the 25th February 1944. HMS Gore gained an Asdic (Sonar) contact, and made a depth charge attack without any result, she was then joined by the Senior Officer HMS Affleck who conned the Gore on to the U-Boats position in a creeping attack which also failed, they exchanged positions but failed once again and contact was lost then after a prolonged search Gore gained contact once again, and this time the creeping attack worked and U 91 was so badly damaged it had to surface, and made as if to ram Affleck who had no trouble avoiding the U-Boat, and Affleck's gunners made short work of the Germans who were attempting to reach their gun. The U-Boat was finished and slowly sank. 16 survivors were picked up and made prisoners, but 38 of the crew lost their lives. Affleck,Gore and Gould shared the credit for the sinking.

The group were next directed to a position some 400 miles away near to the Azores where on the 28th February HMS Garlies gained an Asdic contact and attacked with her Hedgehog but unfortunately her Hedgehog failed to fire, so Affleck come in also with a failed Hedgehog attack, the sea was beginning to become rough and all contact was lost, after an hour of searching with the Asdic conditions getting worse due to temperature layers at various depths the U-Boat was contacted again but had now gone deep, this time Affleck acted as control ship and Gould crept in to drop her pattern of depth charges, but after having only dropped a few charges her Electrical system broke down and she came to a stop, the U-Boat had escaped again. By the time the group had sorted themselves out the Asdic conditions had become very bad and the ships only managed to get a fleeting contact, not enough to make an attack. This went on all day and through the night until during the forenoon watch Affleck and Gould got a clear Asdic contact, both went in with large depth charge attacks but still no success, in the afternoon Garlies and Gould left the group for Gibraltar, when the afternoon watch passed to the first dog watch the U-Boat had been submerged for 36 hours, conditions in the boat must have been unbearable but the captain hung on until 1723 hours when he was forced to surface but fighting to the end he fired two T5 torpedoes one went astray but the other hit Gould and blew off her whole stern section, there followed a short exchange of gun fire which did not cause much damage to the U-Boat, so Affleck went close and dropped a pattern of shallow setting depth charges which blew U 358 in half of the 50 crew only one man survived. During all this time the weather was bad and the sea was very rough which did not help in the rescue of Gould's crew who had abandoned ship as she had caught fire midships but it was not possible to use the hoses to fight the fires as the ship had no power, and most of the Carley rafts were stowed aft so disappeared with the stern. Due to the bad sea conditions, 124 members of her crew lost their lives, So ended the longest U-Boat battle ever recorded.

The remainder of the group went into Gibraltar to re-stock with oil, food and depth charges, then deployed to support convoys in the Bay of Biscay and the Straits of Gibraltar where on the 16th March an American aircraft spotted a U-Boat and attacked it but missed, the old destroyer Vanoc was in the area and made a hedgehog attack but missed, Affleck then appeared on the scene and in the shallow waters about 20 miles off the African coast in ideal conditions Affleck launched a hedgehog attack with great accuracy it spelt the end of U392 whose crew of 50 were all lost.

While back in Belfast for a well earned rest HMS Bentley and HMSCapel joined the group which for the first time brought it up to full strength on 9th April 1944. For a period of approximately six weeks the group patrolled the area between the Scottish Isles and the Irish Sea then like most frigates anchored in Moelfre Bay in Anglesey to await D Day. The group sailed on 5th May 1944 to join the massive A/S screen at the approaches to the English Channel but after 13 days and no U-Boats having made an appearance in their area they were back in Belfast on 18th June.

After its rest period the group were back in the English Channel where on the 25th June 1944 Affleck and Balfour got a good Asdic contact, and between them accounted for U1191 in mid Channel south of Lyme Bay, all 50 of the U-Boats crew were killed. The group were on endless A/S patrols with no success, relieved only by the odd visit to Plymouth to re-stock ship. On the 18th July 1944 Balfour got a good contact and ran in to attack with a pattern of depth charges with great accuracy which gave her a solo kill of U672 in mid channel south of Portland. All 52 of the U-Boat crew were killed. After Cherbourg was captured and the port cleared the 1st Escort Group spent most of their time escorting convoys to and from Cherbourg with rest periods spent at Plymouth, the group kept hoping they would be allocated to A/S sweeps as there were quite a few U-Boats in the Channel, but they were kept on their boring convoy work.

At the end of September 1944 HMS Balfour was detached to join the 18th Escort Group along with HMS Hoste and HMS Stockham and a mix of other classes of Frigates. HMS Whitaker was now allocated to the 1st EG as replacement for Balfour. Whitaker was one of the last of the Captains to leave the USA and spent most of her time unattached working with various mixed groups on Atlantic convoy escort work, then on D-Day she took two troop ships down to the beaches at Normandy and remained in the Channel on escort and A/S sweeps, then went into Pollock Dock, Belfast for an overdue refit, after which she joined the 1st EG in October 1944.

The groups next deployment was to carry out support duties to convoys sailing through the North Channel, when on 1st November at approximately 0015 just after the middle watchmen had taken over Whitaker was hit by a torpedo from U483 which caused a massive explosion which blew off all the forward part of the ship including the bridge. All the officers were killed in the blast,the full total of the Whitaker's losses was 79. Gore went alongside to take off wounded and to make sure all watertight doors were secure to enable her to be towed back to Belfast, a hospital ship was sent out to take the casualties on board.

The groups next assignment was back to the Channel but this time to the Eastern end where they patrolled the convoy route to Antwerp which had been liberated, they used Portsmouth as their base when needed, then it was back to Belfast on the 1st December 1944 and much to every bodies disappointment it was back to the Channel before Christmas where they were found patrolling off Cherbourg on Christmas day, on Boxing day U486 sighted part of the group and fired two T5 torpedoes one of which hit Capel and the other hit Affleck, Capel sank. A total of 80 of her crew lost their lives. Affleck was fortunate that she lost only one of her crew, she was towed back to Portsmouth and written off as a CTL. U486 had also fired a salvo of G7 torpedoes at Gore, but due to the good seamanship of her Captain who turned the ship to comb the salvo of torpedoes the ship was unharmed. Commander Gwinner moved to HMS Balfour and she became SO of the 1st Escort Group, which was now short of two ships, so ex members Balfour and Hoste of the 17th EG were transferred back to bring the group up to strength again.

The group did very little during the latter stages of its existence, more patrols in the eastern end of the Channel patrolling out of Portsmouth and Dover, the only moment of concern was while they were on patrol off the Isle of Wight and the group were all streaming their Foxer equipment when a T5 torpedo was attracted to the Foxer being towed by the SO's ship Balfour and exploded harmlessly (For once the noise making Foxer worked). The 1st EG then split up to do various duties. Balfour was like many other ships picking up U-Boats as they surrendered and escorted them into Rosyth, and when all of them had been rounded up into Loch Ryan and Scapa Flow, she spent a short period as a target towing ship for the Fleet Air Arm at Invergordon . In September she was in Hartlepool, where her crew paid off and she went back to the US Navy on 25th October 1945. Garlies was also employed escorting the U-Boats, and at the end of hostilities in the Pacific she was soon on her way back to the USA on the 20th August 1945. Gore was on patrol in the Bay of Biscay and did not arrive back at Belfast until mid May, by September she was put into the reserve fleet at Hartlepool and did not return to the USA until May 1946. Bentley soon after VE Day was in dock at Cardiff for a refit and conversation to a fighter direction ship but when the Pacific war finished all work stopped and she was sent back to the USA on 5th November 1945. Hoste after her very brief career with the 1st EG was one of the first Evarts to go back to the USA in August 1945. This was the end of the unluckiest group having lost four of their ships.

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Author: Roy Tynan © 2003
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