Convoy WS8B - Relevance to Bismarck

Discussions about the history of the ship, technical details, etc.
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paulcadogan
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Postby paulcadogan » Thu Jun 21, 2007 1:58 pm

Como,

Once again you've "blown me away"! But just a clarification.... The threat of Bismarck heading for the convoy would have been on the night of the 25th - 26th and her exact location was not certain at that time - only that she was heading in that general direction. The convoy seems to have crossed her projected path a little before midnight and by the time she was located by the Catalina at 10:30 on the 26th, was safely out of her way. (I found a map in Kennedy's "Pursuit" which shows WS8B from which I deduced this.)

The British once again have to be thankful for that hit scored by Prince of Wales in Bismarck's bow which (due to flooding at higher speeds and inaccessible fuel) restricted her speed to 20 knots or so. Had she been steaming at 28 knots she may well have run smack into WS8B and Captain Bell's expectations may have become reality! I have not seen this angle explored anywhere prior to this thread. Once again Como, thanks for sharing.

RF,

I don't think Victorious' flight deck armour would have offered any protection against 15-inch shells....it was designed for 500 lb bombs dropped from 7000 feet or 6-inch shells. But you're right - Bismarck and Prinz Eugen would have to deal with Repulse and Exeter first and one must not assume that, though possible, Repulse would succumb in the same way as Hood. The Victorious could make off at high speed, vanish over the horizon and still deploy her aircraft. The German priority would be the ships of the convoy rather than pursuing her.

I really don't think Lutjens would have risked attacking anyway, even if Lindemann and Brinkmann might have pressed for it. :think:

Regards,

Paul
Qui invidet minor est - He who envies is the lesser man

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Postby RF » Thu Jul 05, 2007 10:40 am

paulcadogan wrote:I really don't think Lutjens would have risked attacking anyway, even if Lindemann and Brinkmann might have pressed for it.

Hence the need for Rheinubung to be at full strength, with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in company.
''Give me a Ping and one Ping only'' - Sean Connery.

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Postby Como83 » Mon Jul 09, 2007 6:28 am

Interesting discussion fellahs; I think we were very lucky they did not get together as you hypothesise.

Resuming, what happened to our Convoy after Bismarck was sunk...

Strangely, after Bismarck was sunk, there was little jubilation; it was as though we suddenly had become very tired. Cannot remember seeing our Tribal class destroyers return to the convoy, maybe they had to leave, short of fuel. A day or so later, the other escorts, cruiser Cairo and the old carrier Argus, with several supply ships left us, heading for Gibraltar and the Med.
Exeter now became the sole escort of this important military convoy; the lookouts were lectured on how vital we had become. “Don’t worry about Aircraft, instead you must scan for Periscopes, or on the horizon for a possible Surface Raider.”
Image
Then one morning came a sea-change; the water was now longer gray and cold but instead a friendly cobalt blue; the sun was stronger and Exeter rode over the ocean swells with her easy flowing motion, like a queen in her own domain. As we looked out, we saw Flying fish skimming over the waves and the sails of Portugese men o` war - we‘d entered the Tropics
In the afternoons off watch we sun-baked on the Foc‘scle; one of us got burnt, but had to hide it since this was a ‘Crime‘ in the Royal Navy. While we sunned, I remember the ship‘s P.A. appropriately playing ‘Down where the Tradewinds Play‘.

Down below too, we had got used to the lifestyle....
To sharing our food from the mess ‘kettles‘ with the other members of the mess on the wooden table which was scrubbed snow white every day. ...
To hearing the ‘Old Salts‘, talk in their West Country accents with details how Exeter had fought in the Battle of the River Plate early in the war.
To slinging our hammocks at night, lying there swinging and listening to Vera Lynn over the ship‘s PA before we fell asleep, knowing we‘d be woken in a brief three hours or so. On watch we saw the four big ocean liners close by with their thousands of troops on board parading or exercising, also we saw a few nurses and other females occasionally sunbathing on deck.
If our binoculars strayed too close to them, we would be accused of ‘Perving‘; but we laughed knowing we had more important things to look for...U-boat periscopes for one. Suddenly we felt at home on the ship, and although we were tired we wished this life could go on forever.

Then we came to the Equator and King Neptune greeted our ship by staging a ‘Crossing the Line Ceremony‘ for all the Grubs on board. Along with others we were lathered and dumped in the Canvas Tub by Neptune‘s Bears, great fun for all those watching, but for those with a mouthful of ship‘s soap and salt water, well!
In future we could always swagger; as Les Botham did fifty years later at a reunion in the UK, when he mentioned – `That he had first Crossed the Line on the Cruiser Exeter `.
Unfortunately, several of us would later loose those prized Line Certificates; through Japanese action.

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Postby paulcadogan » Mon Jul 09, 2007 2:17 pm

Hi Como,

I hate to have to say this, given your continuing great account, but the ship in the photo you posted is not the Exeter! That is a Colony-class light cruiser with X-turret removed giving her three triple 6-inch turrets. Note the large tower bridge and two slim funnels of similar size. Exeter had a much smaller bridge with a gap to her fore-funnel which was significantly larger than the second one. Note as well the row of Carley floats along the side below the bridge (a Colony feature), and the gap between the mainmast and Y-turret - in Exeter the mast sat atop the after control structure with Y-turret immediately behind.

The picture actually looks like it could be HMS Jamaica :cool: - which PLAYED Exeter in the movie "The Battle of the River Plate"! I wonder if that's the source of the picture (since it's in colour!) and, hence, the error... I'll have to have a look back at the movie to see.

In the movie, it was the Achilles that played herself (though by that time she was in the Indian Navy as the Delhi). Ajax was played by Sheffield.

Kind regards,

Paul
Qui invidet minor est - He who envies is the lesser man

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Postby iankw » Mon Jul 09, 2007 10:03 pm

Hi Como

Keep the story coming, it is fascinating reading. I have a question for you. My mum's next door neighbour (sadly deceased a few weeks ago), always said he was on Exeter at the River Plate action, later moving to HMS Kent. From your description it sounds like you weren't on board for that action, but maybe you overlapped service. His name was Geoff Wood. He also served on MTBs at some time during the war. I realise it is a long shot, but stranger things have happened.

regards

Ian

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Postby Como83 » Tue Jul 10, 2007 5:49 am

Paul - You are 100% correct re Ship's identity.
- Should have described it as such; possibly WW2 era Cruiser
Good for you mate, as we Aussies say.

Have been writing my WW2 Service for benefit of Grandkids. Photos were especially scarce (espec colour ones) so this one was extracted from 'Battle of River Plate'. The very next photo (of Lookouts) is taken from same source and already labelled as WW2 era Cruiser.
Cameras were tightly restricted on board ship, so photos of this time are rare for me. Situation did relax towards end of WW2.
- Photo of Exeter's Honour Roll was taken at Freetown, surreptitously by a daring member of our FAA bunch.

For iankw - Sorry , but I did not know him. Joined Exeter in May '41 when I was 17. Must now be last survivor of those who sailed on her when she left UK for the last time.
(I too would like to meet or know of anyone else still around).

Como

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Postby Como83 » Wed Jul 18, 2007 6:49 am

Resuming - after a break 'Up North' to warm up.
(Incidentally the previous episode had our 'Crossing the Line' out of sequence; this should have been after leaving Freetown).

Image

Our convoy was now off the West African coast; one afternoon we were on watch, looking East, when Harry noted a distant ‘small white cloud‘ that did not climb up the horizon like good clouds do. Instead, moving slightly up, then after a pause down level with the horizon; I confirmed it as suspicious so we reported it.
The officer got his telescope out, climbed up – Then quickly ordered Action Stations!
Our ship steamed towards the object and we saw it was a large French destroyer, which had been tracking our convoy; obviously trying to keep out of sight. We flashed signals at it, but she did not reply, instead turned and went fast over the horizon towards Dakar.

Then some hours later, at dusk, our Detector picked up a U-boat! Panic Panic...Our ship steamed around the convoy at high speed chucking depth charges off the back; it was thrilling while it lasted, to be on a cruiser `playing at destroyers`. The whole convoy increased speed as well, later when we got out of the danger area we went back to normal; but everyone was sure that those ‘Vichy Frogs‘ had brought the U-boat to us. Remember that at this time, some of them were working hand in glove with the Germans.
Next day we went into Freetown, with a short ‘run ashore‘ to see what Africa was like...Hot, humid, smelly, dirty and certainly different. While we were ashore a plane from the French base at Dakar flew over photographing the ships; Our friends again, keeping tabs on the convoy - for the benefit of their friends in Berlin.

A day or so later we left and entered the South Atlantic. Away from the dangerous area, Exeter now went to Cruising Stations, this meant we only worked one watch in every three. Lazy tropical days; not that we did laze. About then, I started working in my spare time with the Fleet Air Arm crew, on the Walrus flying boat. This sat on a catapult from which it was occasionally fired off to patrol around us, looking for raiders. I must have watched them, and then been allowed to give a hand, probably washing down the hull or something menial. From then on I was there every spare minute during the day. ...Watching the Walrus coming back from various patrols and how each time the sailors fended her off with long bamboo poles until the crane could be hooked on to lift her back inboard. Dangerous work for the plane’s Observer who did the hooking! Then we‘d wash her down, refuel her and check the systems. They needed a spare Engine Fitter and the pilot was willing to have me join his crew, so I applied. Later I fronted the First Lieutenant, who took one look at me and straightaway asked my Age.
“I`m eighteen now Sir.” I said boldly (Having just had my birthday).
He scowled, “Too young for my ship. Request denied.” That baby face had brought me down again! In reality the hand of fate had done me a good turn, since Exeter only had another eight months to live. She would be sunk in the Java Sea along with HMAS Perth. Her survivors would have a really rough time as Japanese prisoners.

On watch it seemed we‘d been looking at the big liners forever; through our binoculars we knew all the routines on board – when the troops paraded, when they had physical training, their P.A. announcements etc. Then one day we saw them dressed in long sleeves and their shorts had gone...the weather had cooled and the waves had become gigantic.
For some reason (Rumour of U-boats) they had routed our convoy far South of the Cape of Good Hope, into the edge of the ‘Roaring Forties‘, and it was Winter here. We lookouts were fascinated by the wandering Albatross as they skimmed over those big wave tops. Low on fuel, the ship rolled horribly at times but it didn’t bother us now; we‘d become real sailors.
Ashore in Durban. Early one morning Exeter led the fleet of ships into Durban; it was incredible the enthusiasm that our arrival generated. Flocks of people converged on the port area, waving and singing to us as Exeter steamed slowly past! Of course she was a famous ship but it certainly brought a lump to one‘s throat; even ‘Veterans‘ like us, as we kids now liked to think of ourselves. The ship secured alongside and heard we’d be here for several days, so everyone looked forward to going ashore. The kind citizens more than fulfilled our expectations; both Harry and I were picked up by a couple who took us to a nice house on the outskirts. I think they had two older daughters, who joined us when we went out for a meal at a Club that night. Afterwards we saw open-air movies. He was the manager of the British Airways Flying Boat depot and was very generous, insisting on treating us, then dropping us back at Camp and saying they‘d pick us up tomorrow.
Although we were ‘Supernumerary Crew’, we now thought of going onto Egypt with Exeter, could not imagine otherwise; but next morning we were told to collect our kit...we were leaving the ship!
That was a big letdown, but orders were orders; however, before leaving, the Ship’s commander told our Petty Officer what a good job we had all done as lookouts, especially spotting that Vichy Destroyer.

So we toddled off in a truck and arrived at a South African Army camp, on Snell Parade near Durban airfield. Here our reception was friendly and we were given a big hut to ourselves, then told we could go out on leave provided we were back at midnight. Off we went and joined our old shipmates in seeing Durban, also hearing they were sailing next day.
Next morning on parade at 0730, we met the Sergeant Major in charge of us. He was over 60 and an ex-Boer, but a thoroughly good fellow who told us stories of the Boer war, of riding the Veldt with the commando, and of `Stupid Pommie Officers‘ sending their men to certain death against the crack shot Boers. (First time I heard that word Pommie; it wouldn’t be the last) He gave us each a sack of Oranges, a big bag of Raisins and some Nuts ...all this to build us up! Thank you South Africa.

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Postby paulcadogan » Mon Jul 23, 2007 5:08 am

Thank YOU Como! :clap: :clap: :clap:

I hope you'll continue to give us your recollections of your wartime experiences, maybe in a new thread in the Naval History section....?

I for one am looking forward to hearing what happened next!

Paul
Qui invidet minor est - He who envies is the lesser man

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Postby Como83 » Fri Jul 27, 2007 5:58 am

To end this thread on convoy WS8B and the cruiser Exeter :-
The small group of Navy men spent 6 weeks in the Army Camp; very nice except that we received no pay - therefore were dependant upon the generosity of the citizens of Durban when we went out.
Harry and myself, the youngest pair, went around together. Youth and our 'baby faces' made us the target of matronly ladies, who wanted us to come home with them, and even stay there. Really, they were very kind.
Image
Members of our FAA group are named in the photo; one would rise to a very high position in Civil Aviation, another would become the father of a famous cricketer. All except one would survive the war.

We would leave on battleship Barham, repaired after bomb damage at Crete and now returning for the Med. Morale on board was not high, it was as though the ship sensed it's disastrous end, coming in just a few months.

At a reunion in the early 90's, we all agreed that Bismarck came out for our convoy, also that the enemy tracked that convoy through to Suez.

To Paul and the others - appreciate your interest.
Como

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Re: Convoy WS8B - Relevance to Bismarck

Postby Antonio Bonomi » Sat Feb 04, 2017 4:42 pm

Hello everybody,

lets restart this very interesting argument.

How important became the Bismarck position on May 25th and 26th in relation to the convoy WS8B for both the Royal Navy Admiralty war room and for Sir Winston Churchill at Chequers ?

We are talking a 40.000 British soldiers ( fully equipped ) convoy coming very close, ... as far as 85 sea miles ( Adm Tovey on ADM 199/1188 page 133 ) ... to the Bismarck course in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Bismarck on that moment was not having any Royal Navy unit in direct contact anymore.


NOTE :

Re: Convoys SL-74 & WS-8-B - Post by Mark E Horan » Fri Nov 24, 2006 2:38 am

British convoy WS-8-B departed the Clyde with steamers Christiaan Huygens (16,287 tons), Abosso (11,030 tons), Georgic (27,759 tons), Martand (8,000 tons), Duchess of Richmond (20,022 tons), Almanzora (15,551 tons), and Orduna (15,507 tons). It was joined by the carrier Argus transporting aircraft to Gibraltar for “Operation Rocket”. It was to have included carrier Victorious as well, but she went elsewhere :). The convoy was escorted by heavy cruiser Exeter, antiaircraft cruiser Cairo, and destroyers Cossack, Sikh, Maori, Zulu, Piorun, Ottawa, Restigouche, and Eridge. All but Exeter were detached on 26 May.

You are correct that Bulolo was the only remaining escort for Convoy SL-74 after Dorsetshire departed (without permission).

Mark


Bye Antonio :D
In order to honor a soldier, we have to tell the truth about what happened over there. The whole, hard, cold truth. And until we do that, we dishonor her and every soldier who died, who gave their life for their country. ( Courage Under Fire )

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Re: Convoy WS8B - Relevance to Bismarck

Postby alecsandros » Sat Feb 04, 2017 5:30 pm

Hello Antonio !
Very interesting story about the convoy due south, didn't know that.

However, given the state of affairs on board BIsmarck on May 25th, don't you think it was unlikely for Luetjens to willfully engage enemy escorting ships ? Wouldn't it have been more likely for him to alter course and keep the cruiser and destroyers at arms length with his heavy batteries ?

On the other hand, convoy HX-127 (with HMS Ramillies and DD HMS Eskimo as only noteworthy escorts) was directly on Bismarck attack path of May 24th/25th, IF he had escaped Denmark Strait battle (or if no battle occured at all) ,
http://www.warsailors.com/convoys/hx127.html
Best,

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Re: Convoy WS8B - Relevance to Bismarck

Postby Antonio Bonomi » Sat Feb 04, 2017 5:59 pm

Hello everybody,

@ Alecsandros,

even looking a bit more carefully at the very old movie " Sink the Bismarck " I always had the clear impression that from the Admiralty War Room they were close monitoring several aspects of the area where Bismarck was moving and with it the many convoy in there.

Among them the convoy W.S. 8B ( Winston Special 8B ) was a very carefully evaluated one, since as you have read it was carrying 40.000 British soldiers fully equipped.

Probably the Germans did not know anything at all about it.

Bismarck probably would have avoided heavily escorted convoys given her status being also damaged and with a reduced speed too, ... short of fuel, ... but a 7 steamers and a carrier convoy, only escorted by 7 destroyers and a couple of cuisers probably was going to be very attractive if on her way.

We will never know the response here.

Surely on the opposite, ... the Admiralty and Chequers-Churchill probably was a lot concerned about this possibility to potentially occur.

Much better when Bismarck was found again and closely monitored and controlled.

It could have been very interesting to know the occurred communications between Chequers-Churchill and the Admiralty between May 25th, at 03.06 am when Bismarck disappeared, ...

WS8B_WC_map_03.jpg
WS8B_WC_map_03.jpg (83.53 KiB) Viewed 249 times


... and 10.30 am on May 26th when the Catalina found again the Bismarck.

WS8B_WC_map_04.jpg
WS8B_WC_map_04.jpg (63.44 KiB) Viewed 249 times


An interesting set of links ... read careflly ...

http://www.qaranc.co.uk/africa-second-world-war.php

http://ww2talk.com/index.php?threads/ta ... 015/page-2

Bye Antonio :D
In order to honor a soldier, we have to tell the truth about what happened over there. The whole, hard, cold truth. And until we do that, we dishonor her and every soldier who died, who gave their life for their country. ( Courage Under Fire )

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Re: Convoy WS8B - Relevance to Bismarck

Postby alecsandros » Sat Feb 04, 2017 7:13 pm

Most interesting,
Certainly the Admiralty was very concerned after losing Bismarck on the night of May 24/25th, especialy as there were no certain informations about her amount of damage and fighting efficiency. Also, they couldn't have known the intentions and potential actions that even a gravely wounded battleship (which wasn't the case) could have taken if an opportunity for serious destruction of enemy commerce presented itself... Tensions were undeoubtedly high, stress was huge, Bismarck had just sank the Flagship, damaged a new battleship and escaped tracking of Wake-Walkers cruisers. Prinz Eugen could be around as well, the Admiralty did not have info on her.

WS 8D seems a large convoy , and she did have serious escort for a 1941 convoy (when most sailed with 2 - 3 corvettes and alot of prayers !). My opinion is that Bismarck wouldn't have risked another torpedo hit, especialy being deprived of the extra eyes (and GHG as early warning system) from Prinz Eugen, as well as all aerial surveillance (as her own catapult was damaged, and Prinz Eugen was far away).

But, as you said, the British couldn't have known this , and were rightfully troubled...

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Re: Convoy WS8B - Relevance to Bismarck

Postby Antonio Bonomi » Sat Feb 04, 2017 8:48 pm

Hello everybody,

it could be very helpful if anybody can find and post here the key pages regarding this situation from Sir Philip Vian book :

Action this day : A war memoir - Hardcover – 1 January 1960 - by Philip Vian (Author)



Bye Antonio :D
In order to honor a soldier, we have to tell the truth about what happened over there. The whole, hard, cold truth. And until we do that, we dishonor her and every soldier who died, who gave their life for their country. ( Courage Under Fire )

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Re: Convoy WS8B - Relevance to Bismarck

Postby dunmunro » Sat Feb 04, 2017 11:30 pm

Antonio Bonomi wrote:Hello everybody,

it could be very helpful if anybody can find and post here the key pages regarding this situation from Sir Philip Vian book :

Action this day : A war memoir - Hardcover – 1 January 1960 - by Philip Vian (Author)



Bye Antonio :D


This is the total text from pages 56-57, that deals with WS8B:

On the 21st May, 1941, Cossack, with Maori, Sikh and Zulu of the 4th Flotilla, together with the Polish destroyer Piorun, and the cruiser Cairo, sailed from the Clyde with a troop convoy, southbound. On the morning of the 23rd at dawn, the convoy was attacked by a lone Focke Wulf, operating from France. One liner was hit and stopped, and then arose one of those situations to which there seemed no adequate solution. We could not leave her unless we left at least two destroyers with her, and if we did this there would be too few remaining to afford adequate protection to the other troopships. After what seemed an endless period of waiting, while engineers worked with supreme effort to repair the damage to the diesel engines, the vessel got going at reduced. speed, and we thankfully proceeded, keeping an ever sharper look-out against air attack.
The new German battleship Bismarck, in company with the cruiser Prince Eugen, had been sighted west-bound in the Denmark Strait on the 23rd by our patrolling cruisers, and was brought to action at dawn on the 24th by Hood and Prince of Wales. Shortly afterwards the latter reported that Hood had been sunk. I believe I felt no stronger emotion at any time in the war than at the moment when I read this signal.
The events which followed are well known. So far as was of direct concern to us, the last reported course and speed of Bismarck would bring her into contact with our convoy. Cairo was thrown out thirty miles in the direction of the enemy's approach, to give us early wanting: and I reported the situation as it developed to the Commander-in-chief designate, East Indies Sir G. Arbuthnot, in a code of my own devising. He was taking passage in Georgic, one of the troopships As the senior officer present he had evidently to be informed: at the same time it seemed important to avoid giving what might well prove needless alarm to the convoy. We then saw nothing of Bismarck, however; nor did anyone else; she had been lost.

At 3.30 a.m. on the morning of the 26th I received orders to leave the convoy and, with the five destroyers in company, to join the King George V...


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