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Operations of the 5th Escort Group

Commander McIntyre chose the Buckley Class H.M.S.Bickerton as his SO ship,the rest of the group consisted of H.M.S.Bligh, H.M.S.Keats, H.M.S.Kempthorne, H.M.S.Balfour and H.M.S.Goodson.

Their first deployment on the 21st April was as support to an Atlantic convoy(ONS233), and they immediately ran into very bad weather which caused the crew quite a lot of discomfort, due to the antics of the ships which seemed to corkscrew and spend as much time under the sea as well as on it, by the time the crew had recovered from their mal de mer the group were clear of the area where the U-Boats usually operated.

U-Boat activity was reported in a totally different area and the 5th EG were directed to proceed to the designated area to search for the enemy, having arrived in the area specified they spent a whole day sweeping but there was no sign of any kind of submarine activity and on the following day 26th April they were directed to rendezvous with the Escort Aircraft Carrier H.M.S.Vindex. It was the 2nd May when they made the rendezvous with the Vindex and the Canadian group EGC9 and proceeded to the area where a U-Boat was reporting the weather back to U-Boat HQ, also by this time the Turbo division were getting low on fuel, Captain Bayliss of the Vindex reluctantly agreed to let the three turbos have some of his own, the Canadian group were also getting low on fuel and were ordered to return to base to refuel and investigate a new U-Boat report on their way back.

Bligh reported an HF/DF contact and Vindex flew off an aircraft to search along the bearing but nothing was found. The three turbo's now pressed on to the designated area and left the three diesel's to give close escort to Vindex. The three turbos searched the area for three days but no trace of the U-Boat was found, the Vindex was flying off aircraft as well in the search, and on 6th May one of her aircraft crashed in to the sea a fair distance from Vindex so some time elapsed before Goodson arrived to pull the unconscious airman out of the sea, but sadly he never recovered. Later in the day as it was getting dark the U-Boat surfaced, and an aircraft was able to get a radar fix on it, and managed to locate and mark the position with flares, the three turbo ships headed for the position at maximum speed and at about 0400 Keats obtained a radar contact,fired a starshell and almost immediately got an asdic contact, she proceeded to make a number of depth charge attacks and Bickerton also joined in, but the U-Boat had dived deep. Commander McIntyre decided to set up a creeping attack, and guided Bligh on to the bearing, it was now about 0600 when Bligh started to drop her charges,and with only four left to be dropped in the pattern, charges from her re-load racks broke loose due to the vibrations from her charges exploding, and rolled about causing a good degree of panic among the depth charge crew as they rolled about the quarter deck area,and damaged the flaps on the stern rails,and to add to the confusion one of the charges exploded at a very shallow depth and threw a column of water about a hundred feet into the air, the explosion threw the depth charge crew off their feet and they got drenched when the column of water descended on them, and also caused a cloud of soot to belch from the funnel.

As all the confusion subsided and everyone calmed down the U-Boat surfaced about half a mile astern of the two ships,which immediately opened fire with their main three inch guns, only to see their shells bouncing off the U-Boat, The Oerlikon gunners kept the U-Boat gunners away from their guns, but how could the ships sink a crippled U-Boat without the weapons to accomplish it, their dilemma was solved when a Swordfish from Vindex appeared and straddled the U-Boat with two depth charges which blew the U-Boat in two, honours for sinking U 765 were shared between Bentinck, Bligh, Aylmer and 825 Squadron.

It was learnt from the surviving U-Boat Captain Werner Wendt that his tour of duty was almost ended and he was to be replaced by another U-Boat at any time, this fact was passed to the Admiralty who ordered them to stay on the location and search for the relief U-Boat.

On the first day of the new search a very good HF/DF fix was obtained on the new arrival, and on the second day all three ships obtained good asdic contacts on the U-Boat which immediately dived deep, which meant a creeping attack was the order of the day.

Bickerton acted as control and guided Bligh to the target, she started her slow approach but due to the very heavy sea conditions Bligh found it difficult to maintain steerage way, she asked and received permission from Commander McIntyre to increase speed by a couple of knots, this extra noise from Bligh's propellers alerted the U-Boat skipper who altered course and so avoided the attack, asdic conditions were also getting very bad and all contact with the U-Boat was lost.

The 5th EG had now been at sea for three weeks and the turbo division were very low on fuel ,Vindex could not supply them with any more ,so the three ships were ordered back to Belfast to refuel, The three diesel ships had the capacity to stay at sea longer and as three ships were not enough to guard Vindex and search for the enemy, the famous 2nd EG were ordered to join in for the search, and after two days of searching with no sign of the U-Boat it was decided to call it a day.

After rest and replenishment the 5th EG sailed down to Moelfre Bay to join all the other ships there at the end of May to await D-Day.

On the 5th May almost all the Western Approaches Escort Groups headed south to take up their appointed anti submarine patrol areas, the 5th EG's area was from Ushant to the Cornish coast, which they patrolled for two weeks without once obtaining a solid asdic contact.

On the 15th June on a beautiful summers day when the sea surface was like a sheet of glass, the group were on patrol in the usual line abreast formation with the River class frigate H.M.S.Mourne in company a mile on Bickertons port side, when a bridge lookout spotted a wisp of smoke rising from the sea surface some distance ahead, which was a U-Boat using its schnorkell and all ships went to action stations immediately, Mourne was first to make asdic contact, but no sooner had she reported when she disappeared in a massive explosion which left nothing but floating wreckage, human remains and a few survivors.

Commander McIntyre having in mind that there may be other torpedoes heading in their direction, ordered a change of course, then turned to sweep down on the last known U-Boat position, the six frigates of the 5th EG searched the whole area but no contact was made with the U-Boat, Which no doubt escaped when the group turned to avoid any possible torpedoes. The U 767 which sank H.M.S.Mourne was sunk three days later by the destroyers H.M.S. Fame, Inconstant and Havelock, west of the Channel Isles.

Things were quiet after the sinking of Mourne for a period until the 25th June 44 when the 5th EG were patrolling about thirtyfive miles south of Start Point, Bickerton asdic operator picked up a strong echo among the many spurious ones, Commander McIntyre having just decided to take a rest, was called to the bridge and pronounced it a non-sub, but he changed his mind when after passing over the contact the echo reappeared on a different course, the ship was immediately turned and rushed in at speed to drop a full pattern of depth charges, and to everyones surprise shortly after the U-Boat broke surface. Once again it was proved that the main armament of 3 inch guns were useless their shells once again bounced off the U-Boat, but the close range guns were picking off the crew of the U-Boat as they scrambled out of the conning tower, its survivors were picked up with the help of the ships searchlight, and within minutes the U 269 slid stern first to the bottom of the channel.

Despite the efforts of the Medical Officer some of the U-Boats crew died, Bickerton left for Plymouth leaving Goodson in charge of the group while she took in the prisioners who had survived and buried the dead on the way. The following afternoon the rest of the group now under the command of Goodson were sweeping in the usual line abreast formation, the sun was shining on a glass calm sea close to where U 269 had been sunk, when one of Goodson's Oerlikon gunners spotted a periscope about a 1000 yards off the starboard quarter, all the ships were alerted and most opened fire on the periscope,the U-Boat dived immediately and fired a T5 torpedo which exploded under Goodson's stern, Bligh immediately carried out a counter attack which failed and contact was lost as the U-Boat made its escape.

By some miracle non of Goodson's crew were killed, the torpedo had exploded prematurely, but her damage was quite severe and she was taking water faster than she could pump it out, the CO asked for volunteers to dive into the filthy water to access the damage, E.R.A.Simpson and A/B Cribb volunteered, and dived down into the oily depths and managed to plug the worst of the holes which enabled the pumps to cope with in inflow of water.

Bligh then took Goodson in tow to the dockyard at Portland, where the staff did little in the way of providing Light, Heating or Hot Food for the crew except issue basic clothing for those who had lost everything. One rating found he had a few shillings in his money belt, and a few set off to visit the base canteen to get a hot meal dressed only in overalls and sea boots when a car load of base officers who were on their way to see the damage to Goodson, spotted the hungry few and lined them up and admonished them for their scruffy dress, and when they could not provide proof of identity they were arrested and imprisoned. They were released only when one of Goodson's officers came and identified them, they were told they were in serious trouble, the base commander made it clear to Goodson's CO that he expected a full report on the punishment which he had given to the men by the next day.

In the meantime Goodson was patched up good enough for a tug to tow her to Belfast, while this was being carried out all the rest of the crew were sent home on the usual survivors leave, but the few who had transgressed for not being in the rig of the day, were kept on board to act as towing party while the Goodsson was towed to Belfast where, after inspection it was decided she was too badly damaged to be repaired, and was written off CTL(Constructive Total Loss) and when her crew returned from leave they were paid off.The only good thing that came out of the sorry mess was that no one was killed. The rest of the 5th EG's time in the Channel proved to be a blank and they returned to Belfast in July 1944.

The 5th EG's strength was brought up to normal when H.M.S.Grindall joined them in Belfast, who after arriving from the USA spent some time with the B7 EG a mixed group on convoy escort duties, this was followed in April 44 by being sent on a solo and very monotonous but very essential job of weather observation ship way out in the Atlantic, this lasted right up to D-Day then into Belfast for her conversation refit and working up exercises and pronounced fully operational, after which she joined the 5th EG.

The next deployment for the group was Operation Goodwood, a diversionary air raid on the German Battleship Tirpitz hiding in a fiord in Northern Norway as cover for a Russian convoy, the group sailed from Belfast on 12 August 44 to join up with the rest of the ships involved at Scapa Flow.

When the operation began the 5th EG were to act as A/S screen to the two Escort Carriers H.M.S.Nabob and Trumpeter, a Cruiser and a flotilla of Fleet Destroyers, tension rose as they entered the Barents Sea, the hunting ground of the U-Boats and of course they found that the asdic operators were having difficulty due to the layering of the different water temperatures, which led to the sad ending to the operation.

Just after the aircraft returned from their operation, the force was due to turn west for a refuelling rendzvous when a torpedo hit the carrier Nabob and was settling by the stern, Commander McIntyre ordered the diesel division to screen Trumpeter and the cruiser H.M.S.Kent and ordered all ships to stream Foxers, but at that moment Bickerton was hit in the stern by a torpedo which destroyed the whole after part of the ship.

Commander McIntyre at first thought Bickerton could be saved after Stoker Petty Officer Taylor, Ordnance Mechanic Chapman and Able Seaman Steele reported that the aft engine room bulkheads were holding, Kempthorne was brought alongside to take off the casualties and non essential personnel. Nabob now reported that she should be able to get under way again in two hours, Commander McIntyre realised his main duty was to screen the ships and realised that Bentinck would have to be abandoned as no ship could be spared to tow her, so Bickerton met her end with a torpedo from a fleet destroyer, before which Commander McIntyre transferred himself and his staff to H.M.S.Aylmer, the saddest part of the whole action was that 37 of H.M.S.Bickertons crew lost their lives. The rest of the 5th EG formed a solid screen around Nabob which prevented the U-Boat (U 354) from having another go at Nabob, the U-Boat was never picked up on any of the ships asdics and so it got away, only to be sunk three days later by aircraft from the escort carrier H.M.S.Vindex. After the return of the whole force to the Clyde Commander McIntyre was relieved from sea duties by the Admiralty who thought that two years of U-Boat hunting plus the loss of his ship was enough for any man and he was given a shore posting.

Commander B.W.Taylor was appointed in command of the 5th EG on the 30th August 1944, and with the group being short of one ship H.M.S.Tyler a Captain Class Frigate (Buckley Class) joined the group, she had arrived from the USA late in February and after the usual refit and working up at Tobermory she went on temporary loan to the Nore Command.

At first she was employed on costal convoy work in the North Sea up until D-Day, when like most of the Nore Command ships was employed escorting convoys from Southend to Arromanches, until she was released from Nore Command and was able to return to Belfast to join the 5th EG.

The groups next deployment was more like a rest cure as they took a KMF convoy to sunny Naples and back during September, but there was no more leisure cruises, instead it was back to the grind of anti submarine (A/S) patrols in the area around Northern Ireland and the Scottish Isles, which saw them battling the rough weather in that area right through to the end of 1944, with no successes to show for it.

On the 26th January 1945 whilst patrolling in the Irish Sea a report came through that H.M.S.Manners of B2 EG had been torpedoed east of Dublin Bay, Calder and Bentinck of the 4th EG arrived on the scene first and brought the U-Boat to the surface with a Hedgehog attack and gun fire was in progress when Aylmer arrived on the scene, rushed in and rammed the U-Boat which immediately sank. A fuller description can be seen in the operations of the 4Th EG. Honours were awarded to Bentinck, Calder, Aylmer and Manners who though crippled held contact on the U 1051 until help arrived. Aylmer limped into Liverpool to have her bows rebuilt, which kept her out of action for three months.

Commander Taylor transferred himself to Grindall, and the group whilst sweeping the next day 27th January 1945 close to where U 1051 was sunk when contact was made with a U-Boat, Keats,Bligh and Tyler took part in a combined attack which spelt the end of U 1172.

While Aylmer was being repaired the group carried out A/S patrols off the coasts of Ireland and Scotland, but once again had no success.

Aylmers repairs were completed in early April 1945 and she resumed leadership of the group, when they embarked on their next operation which took them on an A/S patrol into the Atlantic south west of Ireland when on the 15th April about 125 miles south west of Ireland contact was made on U 285 and was despatched to the depths by Grindall and Keats.

That was the last operation of the war of the 5th Escort Group.

Aylmer spent a period escorting surrendered U-Boats into captivity and after a short period attached to the Rosyth flotilla she went back to the US Navy on 5th November 1945. Grindall also took part in taking surrendered U-Boats to Various ports, and paid off at Chatham in July, and along with Kempthorne was on their way back to the USA on 20th August 1945. Tyler was put into dock to be transformed into a floating power station, but the work was not completed and she went back to the USA on 12th November 1945, along with Bligh. Keats was put into the reserve fleet at Hull and went back to America on 27th February 1946.

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