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Operations of the 21st Escort Group

As we saw that the 15th Escort Group consisted of all Evarts Class, the 21st Escort Group consisted of all Buckley Class, two groups that went completely against the make up of all other Escort Groups comprising of Captain Class Frigates.

All the ships in this group commissioned in the last quarter of 1943 and progressed through their early working up with no problems, the only one to be held up was HMS Fitzroy, which was kept at Casco Bay as Base Training Officers Ship, she was kept in that dreary place from November 1943 to 7th January 1944, when her place was taken by HMS Riou.

The frigates all underwent their Pollock Dock refits in January and early February 1944, and the Conn, Deane and Redmill were shown an Admiralty Pink List as being part of the 11th Escort Group on the 28th February along with Cranstoun, Dakins and Halstead, it is thought that they may have participated in one convoy escort together, but the group was almost immediately disbanded.

Byron spent some time with B1 Escort Group and was part of the support to the Russian Convoy JW57 and the Return Convoy RA57, it was on this convoy that the Fleet Destroyer HMS Mahratta was hit by two torpedoes and sunk by U990.

These six ships were sent on loan to the Nore Command where they spent the next six months, mainly escorting east coast convoys, on occasions escorting convoys along the channel to part way across the Atlantic.

When Operation Neptune started on the 6th June all the ships were given escort work , one worth retelling is when Redmill escorted the monitor HMS Roberts to her bombardment position, and continued to circle the Roberts as A/S screen, she was the only Captain Class Frigate given permission to fire her main armament of 3 inch guns at the enemy positions, which were like pea shooters compared with the Roberts 15 inch guns, so as Rupert circled the monitor she would fire a couple of broadsides as she passed the beach, she must have dislodged a couple of bricks!

The job became rather routine as time wore on, as happened to most of the ships carrying out this type of work during the first four months after the start of the invasion, but there was nearly always some incident which would occur which kept everyone on their toes.

Early in October 1944 Byron, Conn, Deane, Fitzroy and Redmill arrived in Belfast, where they were joined by Rupert from the Devonport Command, their work up did not present any problems, and their first deployment was as part of the Ocean escort to the Russian Convoy JW61. The group sailed from Bangor Bay on the 14th October and rendezvoused with the Escort Aircraft Carriers HMS's Vindex, Nairana and Tracker two miles off Mull of Kintyre and proceeded as close escort to Scapa Flow where they arrived on 15th October to await the convoy. The 21st EG sailed along with the three carriers, the cruiser HMS Dido and the 17th Destroyer Flotilla, and rendezvous with the Convoy was made at 0900 Hrs on the 23rd October, when the 21st EG took up her position on the outer screen.The rest of the trip was as detailed under the 3rd Escort Group.

The return Convoy RA61 was the same as reported in the 3rd EG's report up until the 4th November when the 3rd EG detached from RA61. During the search just outside the Kola Inlet Fitzroy developed engine trouble and returned to harbour to carry out repairs, but unfortunately it was found to be trouble with a propeller shaft, so she had to return in the convoy on one engine, the rest of the group formed an A/S screen ahead of the convoy.

As the convoy proceeded the weather began to deteriorate and for one of the frigates trouble seamed to grow with the bad weather, at 1730 Hrs on the 6th November the captain of Byron Lt Cdr K G L Southcombe RN developed chronic appendicitis, and the First Lieutenant, Lt J.D.L.Repard RN took over command of the Byron, her whaler was sent to Redmill to bring the group's doctor to Byron and whilst attempting to hoist the whaler inboard the blocks jammed, causing the whaler to capsize throwing all nine men into the sea, the ship was rolling gunwales under which did not help, all the boats crew managed to scramble back on the ship except the doctor, who was rescued after half an hour unconscious, but recovered later. Byron was detached from the 21st EG and joined the 15th EG who were acting as support to the convoy in the early hours of the 7th November, she then parted company with the 15th EG at about midday on the 8th November and proceeded independently to Belfast, where she docked at 0930 Hrs on the 9th November, when the Commanding Officer was discharged to hospital.

The convoy proceeded on its homeward journey, the 21st EG detached from the convoy on the 9th November and proceeded to Belfast where they arrived at 0930 Hrs on 10th November.

The groups next deployment was not until the 14th December, when they were sent to argument the escort of an incoming Atlantic convoy, Byron was in trouble again, when on the 16th December the destroyer Tanatside mistook Byron for a U-Boat on the surface in the dark and set off to ram, Byron switched on her riding lights and took evasive action, but unfortunately hit Tanatside's stern killing one of her depth charge party, damage was not very bad, but Byron had a spell in dry dock at Glasgow.

Off Portland the group handed the convoy over to another escort, and as they moved off two of the transports were sunk in quick succession, the 21st EG returned to the scene to search for some considerable time, but no contact was ever made with a U-Boat, the group finally left the scene and called in to Devonport to replenish ship with food and fuel, when this was completed they set sail for their rendezvous with an incoming convoy at 10 degrees West, and ran into a horrendous gale, and most of the frigates received some damage, but Deane had most of her upper deck fittings swept away by the very heavy seas and some of her depth charges broke loose on the quarter deck and caused quite a lot of damage.

When the Group got back to Devonport , Deane had to be left behind to have her quite major damage repaired, which meant she was the only one of the group not at sea during Christmas. With her repairs completed Deane set sail from Devonport and within two hours had made a solid asdic contact, she made a perfect Hedgehog attack, and after an underwater explosion a submarine soon surfaced, and to everyone's dismay it turned out to be British, the CO of the submarine sent an enraged signal to his Flag Officer, and Deane was ordered back to Plymouth for a Board of Enquiry. Deane's CO was found to be blameless, the board accepting that he had not received any warning that submarine exercises were taking place in the area,and that the escort vessel which should have warned off any approaching vessels was not on station.

Having been completely cleared Deane at long last was able to join the rest of her group which was engaged in A/S patrols in the entrance to the English Channel, there was no incident of note during this deployment, except Redmill had on one occasion got a bit too close to the Channel Islands and was fired at by the German shore batteries, but as usual missed.

In the early part of 1945 the German U-Boat command sent quite a number of boats into the Irish sea, they operated from the north of Scotland down to the Bristol Channel area, so the Admiralty set up Operation "CE" to hunt for these U-Boats, and several of the Belfast Escort Groups were involved.

The 21st EG was operating off Liverpool when two ships of an incoming convoy (HX322) were torpedoed almost under their very noses, but despite the six frigates and the convoy escorts, not a trace of the U-Boat was found, the 21st EG went right through the CE Operation without any success, and went on to work in the waters between the North of Ireland and the Scottish Isles, again without success. Redmill got a very welcome break when she was given the job of escorting a large Floating Dock bound for India, she went with it as far as Gibraltar, and rejoined the group on the 9th February 1945.

U-Boat activity was reported further north and the 21st EG was directed to search through the Minches area, and at long last success came to the group when on the 27th March U 965 was destroyed by Conn, Deane and Rupert, midway between The Butte of Lewis and Cape Wrath, and later on the same day U 722 was sent to its doom, honours this time being shared between Fitzroy, Redmill and Byron, between Eriskay and Skye. The Conn, Deane and Rupert on the 30th March were certain that they had a good contact and had sunk U 1021 between them, 10 miles north west of Enard Bay, but latest records show that U 1021 went missing on the same day in the Atlantic south west of Bristol Channel.

After rest and replenishment the group next were sent to the area south of Ireland, and on the 8th April 1945 asdic contact was made by Fitzroy and Byron 50 miles south west of the Fastnet Rock, both ships were credited equally with the destruction of U 1001.

The group after a short break at Belfast were sent on their last patrol of the war, which saw them over to the north west of Ireland and on the 27th April 1945 HMS Redmill was torpedoed by U 1105 off Sligo Bay. 24 of HMS Redmill's crewe lost their lives, and many more were injured. Redmill's hulk was towed back to Belfast where she was written off as CTL.

The group were split up into various areas to receive U-Boats which were surrendering, and escorting them to Loch Ryan and Loch Eriboll, and some time as guard ships over their former enemy. The group was back at Belfast before VJ Day and was disbanded.

Fitzroy was to be fitted out as a fighter direction ship for the Pacific but with the end of the war in that theatre, work was reversed and she waited at Hartlepools until her return to the USA in January 1946.

Conn was sent to the Rosyth flotilla where she did not have much to do, except for a spell when she took part in the Norwegian Mail Service. She was sent back to the US Navy in November 1945.

Rupert also went to Rosyth where she was involved with the boring Operation Deadlight, this involved towing U-Boats out into the Atlantic where they were sunk. At the end of her task she went back to the US Navy in March 1946.

Byron like Conn did the mail run to various Norwegian ports, after which she was sent to Dundee where she was employed towing target ship for the Fleet Air Arm, and then was sent ro Portsmouth where her crew was reduced ready for her return to the USA in November 1945.

Deane also went to Norway taking a peacetime convoy of merchant ships to Christiansands, and was employed on various tasks including acting as a guard ship when the King and Queen flew to Northern Ireland. Another job was guiding the fishing fleet through the minefields outside Milford Haven. She ended her useful service as tender to the U-Boats at Loch Ryan, when they were all gone she went to Glasgow to land her British equipment and sailed back to the USA in March 1946.

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Author: Roy Tynan © 2003
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