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Operations of the 3rd Escort Group

The newly formed 3rd Escort Group (EG) consisting of HMS Duckworth Senior Officer (SO) HMS Cooke, HMS Berry, HMS Domett, plus two corvettes, these were to make up for the incomplete group which began its first assignment as escort to a convoy to Gibraltar at the beginning of December 1943, this convoy arrived on 10th December without mishap. This is where the group met up with HMS Blackwood which was making its way back from Horta where she was reported on in the Operations of the 4th E.G. she returned back to the UK with the 3rd EG, and after repairs she became part of the 3rd EG.

HMS Berry was another of the early frigates to be completed, and after her working up at Tobermory she formed part of the close escort to a convoy to Freetown, after this she had a spell with some corvettes in the Bay of Biscay, then she had short spell with the 4th EG before finally joining the 3rd EG.

Shortly after arriving back from Gibraltar the group were instructed to proceed to Scapa Flow to provide the anti submarine (A/S) screen for five capital ships, part of the new East Indies Fleet (EIF) as far as Port Said, these were HMS Renown, HMS Valiant, HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Illustrious, and HMS Unicorn. On Christmas Day HMS Essington joined them which completed the group, and on the 5th January they sailed from Scapa Flow and soon found themselves in very heavy weather,which made rough going trying to keep up with the big ships, and despite Commander Mills asking if the whole group could slow down his pleas were ignored. The seas did calm down as they headed southward and arrived at Gibraltar on the 7th January and had a brief stop for refuelling before pushing on and arrived at Port Said on the 12th January 1944. They started out on their return trip on 14th January as escort to HMS Ramillies returning to the U.K. from the Eastern Fleet, which turned out to be another high speed affair with one oiling stop at Algiers and arrived back at Belfast on 27th January 1944.

In the first part of February they had a patrol out into the Atlantic and Duckworth reported that she had been missed by a torpedo on the 13th February during the counter attack Duckworth damaged U 445 with a Hedgehog attack,which forced the U-Boat to return to base for repairs. The group next had a short sweep into the Atlantic from 21st to 27th February. Their next patrol started on 9th March when they were on support duty to various convoys deep into the Atlantic continuously until arriving back at Belfast on 5th April, after what seemed at the time to be a very boring trip hardly any incidents at all.

Shortly after arriving back at Belfast through a misunderstanding Cooke had her engine room flooded during maintenance and was out of action for about six weeks while everything was dried out, in the meantime the rest of the group carried out various A/S sweeps in the Western Approaches and the southern area of St George's Channel which proved fruitless with the usual spurious contacts, and so it was back to Belfast on 15th May 1944 where the group enjoyed a ten day period preparing everything for the approaching invasion of Europe. It was now that HMS Braithwaite joined the 3rd EG where along with very many other ships they assembled at Milford Haven all except Berry which was under a maintenance period at Belfast from 2nd to 18th June.

The 3rd EG did not sail until the 7th June when it escorted a convoy down to the English Channel and took up its patrol area which was from Portland to Cherbourg, where for the first eight days when many non sub contacts were made, but everything changed on the 14th June the Blackwood was detached to Portland to oil and store ship and to return early on the 15th June 1944. She set off to join the group which was patrolling off the Cherbourg peninsula. At about 1500 hrs Cooke detached from the group for her turn at Portland. The Blackwood arrived back with the group which was in a position north west of Cap de la Hague at approximately 1900 Hrs and had just manoeuvred into position on the screen when she was hit at 1911 Hrs by a torpedo which exploded just forward of the bridge superstructure in the hedgehog bomb magazine, which caused a huge explosion and the forward part of the ship was blown off and sank, the mast collapsed and the bridge structure was flattened aback, in position 50.07N - 02.15W the remaining part of the ship remained afloat, two Air Sea Rescue launches were nearby and were soon on the scene, where they took off all the survivors, including the wounded. Essington was detailed to standby Blackwood, while Duckworth and Domett commenced a sweep in the direction from which the attack came, Duckworth obtained a strong asdic contact and made a Hedgehog attack which was thought to be successful, after which all contact was lost and asdic conditions deteriorated which allowed U 764 to drift away on a strong tide at about two knots and finally limp back to Brest to have the damage caused by Duckworth's attack on her stern repaired . The hulk of the Blackwood finally sank at 0410 on the 16th June 44 in position 50.13N - 02.15W. 57 Members of her crew lost their lives, and a similar number were wounded.

On the 26th June the 3rd and the 2nd EG's sailed into Cherbuorg whilst the US Army was fighting for control of the port and offered their help by shelling the German positions, but the US Commander declined the offer as the two sides were too close together, and he could not take the risk of his own men being hit by our guns.

On the 29th June an aircraft of 224 Squadron Coastal Command, attacked a U-Boat but did not sink it, so called up the 3rd EG who soon arrived at the indicated area when Duckworth, Cooke, Domett and Essington all made positive asdic contact and made quite a number of depth charge attacks, but no positive sign of a destruction was evident. Duckworth carried out an echo sound scan of the sea bed which clearly showed a submarine lying there in two distinct halves, this turned out to be U 988 all 50 of her crew were lost, at 600feet the only part of the English Channel which is so deep. After a month away on Channel patrols the group returned to Belfast for a lay over from 6th to 11th July to carry out maintenance etc; then it was back to the English Channel again to hunt for U-Boats, nothing of any interest happened for a couple of weeks then on the 26th July Cooke obtained an asdic contact and made a perfect depth charge attack which sunk U 214 at the first attack south of the Eddistone Light, all 48 of the U-Boat crew perished.

After another two weeks when the group had been sent into the Bay of Biscay an aircraft of 53 Squadron led the group to the area where a U-Boat had been sighted, Duckworth and Essington were successful in sinking U 618 on the 14th August 1944 west of St Nazaire, all 61 on board the U-Boat were killed. On the 22nd August the 3rd EG were back at Belfast after a successful month at sea until the end of August.

Now refreshed the 3rdEG were relieved of Channel duties and had a three week stint as support for Atlantic convoys, again very boring, but were back in Belfast on 20th September. After a single day in harbour it was out on a five day A/S sweep off Northern Island. On the 1st October HMS Braithwaite was detached and sent to join the newly forming 10th Escort Group, and her place was taken by HMS Rowley which had been serving with the Portsmouth Command, her early life will be seen in the episode of the Portsmouth and Devonport Command.

During the 10 day stay at Belfast it was noted that stocks of Warm Clothing were coming aboard which meant only one thing a Russian convoy!

The 3rd EG sailed from Belfast to Loch EWE where we picked up the convoy JW61on 19th October 1944 along with the 8th EG which was a mixed group of a destroyer two sloops and three corvettes, and proceeded northward until the convoy reached well to the north of Scotland where we were joined by the 15th and 21st Escort Groups, the Escort Aircraft Carriers HMS Vindex, HMS Niarana and HMS Tracker, the Cruiser HMS Dido, the 17th Destroyer Flotilla, and six US built submarine chasers for the Soviet Navy.

Very heavy weather almost stopped the convoy in the first two days, but the weather calmed down and good progress was made and on reaching the 73 parallel the 3rd EG and the Vindex commenced operating 30 miles ahead of the convoy, after they had rounded Bear Island HF/DF started picking up U-Boats chattering to each other, this was the 19 strong Panther Group which was eventually contacted but, due to the layering of different water temperatures meeting gave the asdic operators a hard time, the U-Boats fired quite a few T5 torpedoes at the ships, non were successful due to the step aside procedures carried out by the ships and also towing Foxer equipment, the efforts of the escorts however kept the U-Boats down and the convoy sailed into the Kola Inlet on the 28th October.

The 3rd, 15th and 21st EG,s sailed from the Kola Inlet on 31st October to clear the U-Boats from the return convoy's route, but during this operation HMS Mounsey of the 15th EG was hit with a torpedo from U295, on an after empty fuel tank which unfortunately resulted in 11 members of her crew losing their lives. The Mounsey was able to return to Polyarno with the help of HMS Narborough for repairs.

At daybreak on the 2nd November the return convoy RA61 sailed out of the Kola Inlet and headed for home. At 1400Hrs on the 4th November the 3rd EG was detached from the convoy to rendezvous with a fast convoy JW61A heading for Russia, which consisted of two liners the SS Empress of Australia and the SS Scythia escorted by the cruiser HMS Berwick , the Escort Carrier HMS Campania and the 23rd Destroyer Flotilla, during this transition the 3rd EG encountered very heavy weather. The two liners were carrying 11,000 ex soviet men who had been captured in France fighting for the Germans(under duress) and were being repatriated on the insistence of Stalin, what happened to those poor souls is anybodies guess, the passage back to Russia was free of any incident, and arrived in Vaenga Bay on the 6th November.

On the 10th November the 3rd EG sailed out of the Kola Inlet four hours ahead of the return Convoy RA61A to sweep the area ready for the convoy to proceed at a fast speed as the weather had settled down.

On the afternoon of the 13th November two fighters from the Campania took off and shot down a shadowing aircraft. On the 14th November the Cruiser, carrier and the 23rd Destroyer Flotilla left the convoy to return to Scapa Flow and the 3rd EG took over close escort of the two liners. At about 0100 on the 15th November during the middle watch Duckworth asked Cooke what the radar echo was showing close to her, Cooke's radar operator could not see anything due to the fuzz around the central dot on the radar screen, caused by her bow wave, and almost immediately the HF/DF operator heard a U-Boat starting to transmit which within a few seconds ceased and the U-Boat commander realising his mistake dived his boat very quickly, Cooke dropped one depth charge in case it fired a T5 Torpedo and the convoy carried on at about 16 knots, as it was the only escort to the convoy, finally after passing through the Minches and down the Irish Sea RA61A veered off to enter the Clyde and 3rd EG returned back to Belfast on 16th November 1944.

The 3rd EG after a ten day rest and maintenance period was employed in the Irish sea as were most of the Escort groups as the U-Boats started to penetrate the West Coast of the UK, sinking a few ships and started to become quite a nuisance, the 3rd EG would wait in places like Holyhead, Milford Haven, and Douglas Isle of Man and when a ship had been torpedoed or an aircraft spotted a U-Boat off they would go to search for it. No success was gained, except Duckworth which claimed a probable kill which was not granted, Asdic conditions were not good in the shallow waters near the coast due to the tidal noise. Duckworth and Cooke spent a two week spell early in January escorting the Larne N,Ireland to Stranraer ferry twice daily and in between times sweeping the area(Rather embarrassing)

At the end of January the group had a ten day maintenance period and on the 11th February 1945 sailed for the western end of the English Channel once again covering the area from the Scillies to Lands end, and on the 27th February 1945 Duckworth and Essington put paid to U 1208 south east of the Isles of Scilly, all 48 of its crew were killed.

It was back to Belfast on the 5th March. The next trip was up to the Minches on the 16th March for a short patrol and back in Belfast on the 20th March. The day after 21st March it was back to the old stamping ground the western end of the Channel and on the 26th March 1945 Duckworth claimed a solo kill of U 399 close inshore in Mounts Bay, but most of the Group members thought they deserved a share in the kill, 46 of the U-Boats crew lost their lives, but there was one survivor. Then three days later the Canadian frigate TEME was hit by a U-Boat off Lizard point, the 3rd EG headed for the same position as the previous sinking of U399 and Duckworth and Rowley put paid to U1169, on the 29th March 1945, all 49 of her crew were killed.

The group were back in Belfast on the 10th April, and sailed again on the 22nd April this time to the Eastern end of the English Channel where it patrolled in case any U-Boats tried to enter the Channel from the North Sea and finally into Portsmouth on the 8th May 1945 "VE DAY" The Group returned to Belfast for the last time on the 18th May 1945. The diesel division Cooke, Berry and Domett left Belfast on 29th May 1945 and sailed around the north of Scotland down to Hull where they entered the dock on the 1st June 1945 the ships were put into the reserve fleet and the crews were paid off on 20th June 1945. Of theTurbo division Duckworth and Essington were earmarked for refits for service in the Pacific but the war ended there before this happened. Essington was put into reserve and was returned to the US Navy in October 1945, Duckworth remained under care and maintenance until she was returned to the US Navy on 17th December. Rowley was being modified as a floating power station for foreign ports but this was never completed and she returned to America on 12th November 1945. Berry was returned to the US Navy on 15th February 1946. Cooke and Domett were returned to the US Navy on 5th March 1946.

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