You are here...

Operations of the 4th Escort Group

Commander Chavasse chose HMS Blackwood as his first command as none of the Buckley Class had so far emerged from initial work up routine.

The 4th EG's first trip was with an incomplete group being made up of Blackwood, Byard, Bazely, Drury and co-opted Burgess which was unattached, and a Free Dutch Sloop and set off in August 1943 to escort a convoy to the Gibraltar area where more ships would join the convoy, then to Casablanca where the 38th EG would take over, everything went smoothly to plan until they were about 150 miles north west of Lisbon when the German Focke-Wulf aircraft appeared overhead with full bomb racks and proceeded to attack the convoy, the anti aircraft cruiser HMS Scylla which was covering the convoy along with four sloops put up a very effective A/D screen, but despite this the bombers were able to hit two of the merchant ships, one of which was an ammunition ship which after a while when the convoy were well away blew up, the other managed to limp into Lisbon, as they proceeded further south and better weather conditions were encountered the other ships joined them in the appointed area and the enlarged convoy sailed on due south to where the 38th EG were to relieve the 4th EG, but there was no one there so they carried on and on and eventually when the 4th EG were getting low on fuel on the 17th day of their voyage the 38th EG finally arrived to take over the convoy. The 4th EG's only option was to make for the Free French port of Dakar some 1500 miles further than their original fuelling port, fortunately there was the correct type of fuel available and after a three day stay they left Dakar on the 26th August 1943 and on their way back picked up two ships one of which left them to go into Casablanca, the other stayed with them to the UK nothing of note happened on the return journey.

Commander Chavasse still not having his Turbo Class HMS Bentinck available due to her extended work up being first of class, for the next trip chose HMS Byard as his SO ship in September as support to two Atlantic convoys and apart from the weather which did its best to pound the frigates to destruction but the crew had a few days rest at the US base at Argentia before their return in support of a convoy with the weather just as bad, fortunately the U-Boats did not put in an appearance on either voyage and back in Belfast some of the frigates reported gyro failure as they still had the Arma gyros which had not yet been refurbished by the workforce at Pollock Dock.

Commander Chavasse at long last embarked on Bentinck so now the 4th was up to full strength with Bazely, Byard, Blackwood, Calder and Drury, and Burgess was retained until her permanent allocation was decided.

The next deployment started on 10th October 1943 when they were escort to a westbound convoy whose route took it 300 miles south of Iceland and there was a faster convoy on a parallel route 60 miles to the north, neither convoy had any interruption from the enemy for about sixteen days when several U-Boats were detected by HF/DF operators close to their convoy, and there was also evidence the faster convoy was being shadowed, which brought extra air cover from Iceland and aircraft soon reported U-Boat sightings. The U-Boats were now armed with the new T5 torpedo which was designed to home on to the propeller noise of an escort travelling at more than six knots. The aircraft immediately sank two U-Boats and forced several others to dive out of sight, as night fell the U-Boats started their attacks when one of them torpedoed SS Essex Lance which broke up, but her crew were picked up by the rescue ship, she was a straggler from the slow convoy ONS20, Bentinck contacted a U-Boat with her radar and ordered Drury to accompany her they set off at high speed but when they were in sight of the U-Boat it dived and fired a T5 which both ships avoided by the use of the step aside procedure, which gave the U-Boat the time to dive deep and contact was lost Drury was ordered to sit over the spot and Bentinct went back to her position in the convoy screen. During the rest of the night several U-Boats were located on radar scans but the Escorts could only chase them and force them to dive thus keeping the convoy safe.

It was learned later that there were 12 U-Boats of the Schlieffen group attacking this convoy. The convoy escort was reinforced by the B7 Support group from the fast convoy ON20 and on their transition the Corvette HMS Sunflower sank U631. The next day kept all the escorts busy as they were contacting U-Boats on their radar scans, chasing after the U-Boats and forcing them to dive. The covering aircraft also were kept busy and sank one U-Boat and inflicted several casualties on the gun crews of two others, Byard was close to one that sank and asked permission to pick up survivors but was refused by Commander Chavasse as the convoy was still under attack, and on her way back to the convoy Byard made a very good asdic contact and ran in to deliver a perfect depth charge attack which forced the U-Boat to the surface, the crew attempted to man their gun, but many were killed by Byards oerlikon guns, and the Germans abandoned ship and several were picked up. Byard fired several shots with her 3inch guns but they caused little harm to the U-Boat which some little time later slid stern first down to the depths. That was the end of U841, so Byard had the distinction of being the first of the Captain Class Frigates to sink a U-Boat and hoist her "Jolly Roger".

A Sunderland flying boat had straddled two U-Boats but their AD Fire brought down the aircraft not far from Drury and she was despatched to pick up its survivors , the two U-Boats still on the surface dived as soon they saw Drury approaching, she rescued the eight surviving airmen , and the two U-Boats made their escape. The night brought further action for the escorts, and in the following forenoon but the U-Boats signals became weaker which meant they had given up the attack having lost two of their number to the convoy escorts. On their return from Argentia with the convoy HX263 there was no evidence of any U-Boat activity and the journey home was very peaceful.

On the 19th November the 4th EG set sail as support to a Sierra Leone convoy SL139, they reached the Bay of Biscay on the 21st but by this time the close escort of the convoy had fought off the U-Boats which had withdrawn to regroup. They were ordered to sweep the reciprocal course of the convoy and break up any U-Boat concentrations they may find.

They found trouble, but not from U-Boats, this time it was from a squadron of Heinkel 177's using the latest "glider bombs" fortunately it must have been the first time they were using these new secret weapons and had not mastered the technique for guiding them, and only achieved near misses, the only casualty was a man on Drury's quarterdeck who was wounded by splinters.

During the night of the 22nd asdic contact was gained by Blackwood, Bazeley and Drury and after making 22 attacks between the three ships all contact was lost, they put in a claim for a kill but the Admiralty would only grant a ´possible´ kill, Germen records after the war proved they had destroyed U 648, unfortunately the members of the Blackwood crew who lost their lives never knew of their success.

During the 23rd the torbo division Bentinck, Calder and Byard were detached to cover another convoy OS59 but the turbos were running low on fuel, so Commander Chavasse decided they should make for Horta in the Azores to refuel and top up with depth charges, so the diesel division were left to get on with the job.

Drury made a long range radar contact during the night of 23rd - 24th and passed the bearing to Bazely which was closer, but she was unable to make either radar or asdic contact, then fired a series of star shells but nothing was seen and the search was abandoned, when a little time later the order to fire the loaded B gun (as it was not the custom for this gun to remain loaded) the gun was fired in what ever direction it was trained at the time and when the star shell illuminated the scene a U-Boat was seen on the surface which dived immediately, Bazely made a hedgehog attack and followed with three more attacks when the noise of an underwater explosion was heard followed by an even larger explosion, then Blackwood rushed in and saturated the area with depth charges, and as there was no evidence of a sinking the powers that be again only awarded a probable. Once again after the war it was revealed that their victory had been over U 600.

The diesel division were now running low on fuel and depth charges and were ordered to put into Horta to remedy this condition, Blackwood having more fuel left of the three was directed to go to the aid of a crashed aircraft, and the turbo division were ordered to the south west to support another Sierra Leone bound convoy SL 140 and not long after the diesel division reported contact with U-Boats on their way to Horta.

Commander Chavasse immediately turned with his Turbos, and headed at speed towards the reported position, on arrival the two diesel's were sent on their way and the three turbo's took up the search when after some time an asdic contact was made with one of the two U-Boats, Bentinck and Calder each made six depth charge attacks, and Byard made five but after three hours of the battle all contact was lost and the three ships resumed their course to join SL140 convoy.

Later in the day as they neared the convoy radar contact was made on a U-Boat on the surface and the three ships set off at full speed on a long stern chase, and by the time they had it in sight darkness was swiftly falling, so Bentinck illuminated the target with star shell stern on, the U-Boat commander waited until the ships were only two miles from him before he dived his boat, Calder immediately gained asdic contact and made the first attack, and Bentinck was closing in with her attack when there was a huge explosion under Bentinck's stern. Apparently the U-Boat had fired a T5 as it dived which had exploded prematurely, eye witness said they saw Bentinck's stern jump out of the water. In the meantime Calder made two further attacks and heard an underwater explosion but contact was regained and shortly after the trail went cold. Reports after the war revealed that two boats of the Weddingen Group had been damaged in the positions of these two attacks, so no kills could be claimed.

The whole group now joined the convoy and had to repel several attacks from the U-Boat pack, by nightfall they were joined by the 2nd EG of the famous Captain Walker who took over the starboard flank while the 4th EG took station on the port flank and though repeated attacks by the enemy during the night they could not penetrate the tight screen. Calder suffered with engine trouble but was able to play her part, this state of affairs continued until the 30th November when the U-Boat signals began to fade, they had been beaten off. It was then that Blackwood finally got her turn to go into Horta for fuel, depth charges and special lubricating oil which was not available, so had to wait for a week before the special oil arrived much to the delight of her crew who had a rest from sea duty. But this one weeks wait decided her fate, for she met up with the 3rd EG for her journey back to Belfast and remained with them until she was lost nine days after D-Day (All for the want of some Special Oil). The spare ship HMS Burges now became a permanent part of the 4th EG.

The group now took on a totally different roll, fighting the U-Boats which they were built for went out of the window, and their new role was to act as A/S screen to the KMF convoys, these were composed of fast liners carrying troops to Italy, as these ships could easily maintain 15 knots there was little chance of U-Boats catching them at night and during the day they were not able to travel on the surface due to the air cover provided for these convoys.

So it was Belfast a short break for maintenance and off to Naples with not much shore time as space was needed in the harbour, and despite repeated requests by Commander Chavasse they did not loose their TRAMLINE JOURNEYS to Naples. Commander Chavasse finally got his wish when he left Bentinck in July 1944. Their new commanding officer was Commander Garwood who took over as SO of the 4th EG. Burgess developed engine trouble on the 12th June 1944 and had to be docked for repairs, and the newcomer HMS Pasley an Evarts Class now joined the 4th EG and remained with them until the end of the war, Burgess after repairs was sent to join the mixed 17th EG. But their trips to Naples continued right through until it finally finished in October 1944.

Their new assignment was to patrol the waters around Northern Ireland and the Scottish Isles to counter the U-Boats that were beginning to operate in the coastal waters around the western coast of the UK, but all they encountered was really bad weather.

The groups first action did not come until the 26th January 1945 when they were east of Cork, news came through that HMS Manners of the B2 EG had been torpedoed east of Dublin Bay and was still in asdic contact with the U-Boat, the group plus HMS Aylmer of the 5th EG all being the closest to the area set off at full speed and on arrival found Manners still afloat but her stern had been blown off. Her wounded were attended to and she was towed away, her captain passed over the position of the U-Boat now sat on the sea bed, hoping they would not find him, and it did turn out difficult due to the number of wrecks in the area but Calder eventually obtained a good asdic contact, but to be sure Bentinck made a number of runs with her echo sounder, which showed the clear outline of a submarine.

Calder carried out a hedgehog attack and scored a hit which forced the U-Boat to the surface, at which juncture Aylmer appeared on the scene, rushed in and rammed the U-Boat which immediately sank. The Admiralty awarded equal shares of the kill to Calder, Bentinck, Aylmer and Manners for her part in holding on to the U-Boat asdic contact even though she had been hit with two torpedoes and there were many killed and wounded aboard. That was the end of U 1051.

Life became hum drum once again for quite a period, then near the end of the war, on the 8th April 1945 south west of Ireland after a long search, Bentinck and Calder shared the destruction of U 774.

Their next trip was north of Ireland when on the 21st April Bentinck, Bazely and Calder caught up with U 636 and shared the honours for its destruction.

After VE Day their last trip was as a convoy escort to Russia on the 12th May which was of course in peacetime, but due to all the U-Boats which were still at large chances could not be taken. The voyage was without incident and they returned to the UK their last deployment completed.

Bazley was the first to be returned to the US Navy on 10th August 1945, followed by Calder and Drury on the 19th October 1945, Byard on the 12th December 1945. Bentinck on the 5th January 1946. Burges on the 17th February 1946. And finally Pasley on the 20th May 1946.

Click here to return to the top of the page.

Valid XHTML1.1 : Valid CSS : ICRA labelled : WAI-A WCAG 1.0

Author: Roy Tynan © 2003
Designer: Peter R Tynan