HMS Jervis Bay

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The Basket

Senior Master Sergeant
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Jun 27, 2007
I am interested in navel history.
And Jervis Bay is in my view is the greatest of stories.
On Nov 5 1940 the Jervis Bay was an armed merchant cruiser guarding an Atlantic convoy when it meant the Admiral Scheer. In one of the great one sided battles of history, the Jervis Bay attacked the Scheer to save the convoy and was sunk. The attack bought time for the convoy to scatter.
186 men were killed in action or reported missing
The acting captain Edward Fegen was awarded the VC for his actions posthumously.

This remembrance day is for me about the Jervis Bay. The sacrifice and courage shown was beyond the call of duty.
 
The decision to attack the Admiral Scheer was utterly suicide.
Like Mike Tyson in his prime versus a toddler.
I take great pride that such men lived and that I wore a similar uniform.
Today is the 76th Anniversary of the Jervis Bay sinking. I will remember them
 
This reminds me of Ludovic Kennedy who was a British Broadcaster, he was very emotional when decribing how his father lost his life.

Kennedy's father, by then a 60-year-old retired captain, returned to the navy and was given command of HMS Rawalpindi,[2] a hastily militarised P&O steamship, known as an Armed Merchant Cruiser. On 23 November 1939, while on patrol southeast of Iceland the Rawalpindi encountered two of the most powerful German warships, the small battleships (or battlecruisers) Scharnhorst and Gneisenau trying to break out through the GIUK gap into the Atlantic. The Rawalpindi was able to signal the German ships' location back to base. Despite being hopelessly outgunned, Captain Edward Coverley Kennedy of the Rawalpindi decided to fight, rather than surrender as demanded by the Germans. Scharnhorst sank Rawalpindi; of her 312 crew 275 (including her captain) were killed. His son Ludovic was twenty years old. Captain Kennedy was posthumously mentioned in dispatches and his decision to fight against overwhelming odds entered the folklore of the Royal Navy.[3]

Ludovic Kennedy - Wikipedia
 
Was that a foolish decision in his case? After reporting their position, what more could reasonably be asked of him? Was honor and bravery more important than the lives of his crew?
 
There is a character in the Joseph Heller book "Catch 22" who explains that when the fascists came he was the most ardent fascist, when the Communists came he was the most ardent communist and when the Americans came he was the most ardent for their cause. Basically underlining that he did what he did to survive. Some may call him a coward, but st least they can do it to his face!

Certainly something to consider.
 
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Was that a foolish decision in his case? After reporting their position, what more could reasonably be asked of him? Was honor and bravery more important than the lives of his crew?


I was thinking the same thing, duty played a major part in Navy service and there was no guarantee they would be treated humanely. A lucky hit to a battleship could cause a lot of damage especially to RADAR etc and any delay to their progress is a positive.
 
It was a pretty desperate time for Britain in the fall of 1940. They survived the Battle of Britain but the convoys from North America was an essential lifeline for them to survive since France had fallen and Britain was essentially alone. I'm sure Fegen felt this and did what was the only thing he could do to try and protect is convoy charges. After all that's what his mission was.

I have the Heller kit of the Admiral Scheer (Germany's most successful surface naval ship) and have pondered ways to get a Jervis Bay to display along with her.
 
Further to the OP the Jervis Bay was the sole escort of 37 ships of which only 5 were lost, a heroic action buying time to allow the convoy to scatter.


from wiki
When the convoy encountered the German warship Admiral Scheer about 755 nautical miles (1,398 km) south-southwest of Reykjavík, the Captain of Jervis Bay, Edward Fegen, ordered the convoy to scatter, and set his own ship on a course towards the German warship to draw its fire. Jervis Bay was hopelessly outgunned and outranged by the 28 cm (11 inch) guns of the German ship, but it attacked the larger ship with its guns, firing more to distract the German ship from the merchantmen than with hopes of doing any damage.[2] Although the German's shells ravaged the Jervis Bay, and Fegen was wounded and many crew killed, Fegen and the surviving crew fought on until their ship was sunk. Captain Fegen, and many of the crew, went down with the ship.[3]

Jervis Bay's sacrifice bought enough time for the convoy to begin to scatter. Further time was bought by the freighter SS Beaverford which engaged Admiral Scheer for over four hours. In the end the German cruiser was only able to sink five merchant ships and the remainder of the convoy escaped.[4]

Sixty-eight survivors of Jervis Bay's crew of 254 were picked up by the neutral Swedish ship Stureholm (three later died of their injuries).[5] Guy Byam was one of the survivors of the sinking, he was later killed while covering an air raid over Germany for the BBC.[6]
 
Further to the actions of the Jervis Bay I looked up the actions of the SS Beaverford, whose actions were truly heroic and I always bear in mind many of the seamen on these ships were not armed servicemen but merchant seamen, civilians in real terms.


Taking on a pocket battleship in an freighter loaded with with guns but no armour to buy time for your friends is true heroism, only one ship from the convoy was lost after Beaverford engaged. It is easy to view these actions as almost Kamikazi suicide actions when in another light they show great seamanship and control in adversity by Captain Pettigrew of the Beaverford and great application and courage by Captain Fegan, he had no chance of sinking The Admiral Scheer but did radio position delay and damage the RADAR, in my previous post I was unaware of this but I did remember it was one of the first effects of combat on the Graf Spee in the Battle of the River Plate.



from wiki

Convoy HX-84 was half way across the Atlantic when it was located and attacked by the German heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer on November 5. The attack began at 17:15. The convoy's only escort, the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Jervis Bay ordered the convoy to scatter. In an engagement that won the commander of Jervis Bay a posthumous Victoria Cross, the escort steered directly towards Admiral Scheer. Hopelessly outgunned, Jervis Bay was set afire and sank 22 minutes later.[8] Admiral Scheer now began to attack the convoy, first sinking the SS Maidan with all hands. The tanker San Demetrio was set on fire, but did not sink. ''Admiral Scheer'' next sank the freighters Trewllard and Kenbane Head.

Captain Pettigrew aboard Beaverford had begun to scatter but as he watched Admiral Scheer close on Kenbane Head, he ordered Beaverford to turn and engage the German heavy cruiser. Beaverford opened fire with her 3-inch bow gun. The first shot landed unexpectedly close to the German heavy cruiser. Admiral Scheer turned all its attention to this unexpected challenge firing star shells to illuminate Beaverford as darkness had now fallen. Beaverford turned to bring both of its two small guns to bear and fire at the German cruiser although neither gun was in range. Beaverford sent out a wireless message as it engaged the German cruiser, "It is our turn now. So long. The captain and crew of SS Beaverford".

Admiral Scheer opened fire on Beaverford with its 11-inch guns. However Beaverford used the reserve power of its turbine engines to quickly turn and evade the fire as the shots landed in the water, missing Beaverford although the shrapnel started small fires on amidst her deck cargo. The ships of the dispersing convoy had laid a thick smoke screen from floating smoke floats and Beaverford was able to disappear into the smoke screen. Admiral Scheer, its radar broken from the prolonged bombardment of Jervis Bay had difficulty in locating the new challenger in the smoke and darkness. Beaverford, one of the faster ships in the convoy, had a chance to escape in the darkness, but for reasons unknown, Captain Pettigrew stayed to fight it out with Admiral Scheer. For the next four hours, Beaverford played a cat-and-mouse game, emerging from the smokescreen to fire at Admiral Scheer and then seeking cover into the smoke. Captain Theodor Krancke in command of Admiral Scheer had identified Beaverford as "Target No. 9" and thought he had destroyed the freighter, only to find it the ship reappearing to confront him again.[9]

However every time Beaverford emerged from cover, the ship was hit by Admiral Scheer's firepower. In all Admiral Scheer fired 83 shells at Beaverford, 71 from its 5.9-inch guns with 16 hitting the unarmoured freighter, and 12 from the cruisers massive 11-inch guns with three making hits. Beaverford began to take on water and slow. Fires spread on the freighter making it easier for the enemy guns to find their mark. Finally at 22:45, Admiral Scheer was able to destroy Beaverford with a torpedo. The torpedo hit the fore part of Beaverford, lifting the bow and detonating the ammunition in her hold. The ship blew apart and the stern was last seen sliding into the ocean. All aboard were killed in the sinking. Beaverford had taken up the fight with Admiral Scheer for almost five hours.[10] Delayed by Beaverford, the German cruiser was only able to find and sink one more ship from the convoy, SS Fresno City.[11] Of the 38 ships in the convoy, Admiral Scheer had only succeeded in sinking six.
 
A captain of a naval vessel who surrender his vessel without a fight is going to be court martialed for cowardice..

"in this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others" (Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres)

It is wrong that Fegen got a VC and Kennedy didn't for the same actions.

I don't know about the SS Beaverford. Oh my god! What amazing story and all the men were killed. The Jervis Bay was technically a warship so had to fight. The Beaverford could have run but stayed and fought. Courage beyond as they had no duty to fight.But knowing fought. Fighting a ship like the Admiral Scheer in a merchant vessel is crazy.
The loss of the Graf Spee was interested from a point of view as the captain Langsdorff probably expected a firing squad if he ever got back to Germany.
 
A captain of a naval vessel who surrender his vessel without a fight is going to be court martialed for cowardice..

"in this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others" (Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres)

It is wrong that Fegen got a VC and Kennedy didn't for the same actions.

I don't know about the SS Beaverford. Oh my god! What amazing story and all the men were killed. The Jervis Bay was technically a warship so had to fight. The Beaverford could have run but stayed and fought. Courage beyond as they had no duty to fight.But knowing fought. Fighting a ship like the Admiral Scheer in a merchant vessel is crazy.
The loss of the Graf Spee was interested from a point of view as the captain Langsdorff probably expected a firing squad if he ever got back to Germany.
My father was a sailor in the RN, he and many other Navy men admired Langsdorf greatly. He made a success of being a surface raider, caused minimum loss of life and treated prisoners exceptionally well being held in the safest part of the ship. He took his own life to spare his crew as it was clear the Graf Spee would never sink another merchant ship.
 
A captain of a naval vessel who surrender his vessel without a fight is going to be court martialed for cowardice..

"in this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others" (Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres)

It is wrong that Fegen got a VC and Kennedy didn't for the same actions.

I don't know about the SS Beaverford. Oh my god! What amazing story and all the men were killed. The Jervis Bay was technically a warship so had to fight. The Beaverford could have run but stayed and fought. Courage beyond as they had no duty to fight.But knowing fought. Fighting a ship like the Admiral Scheer in a merchant vessel is crazy.
The loss of the Graf Spee was interested from a point of view as the captain Langsdorff probably expected a firing squad if he ever got back to Germany.
It was common for surface raiders to radio and demand surrender, this is how Langsdorf sank a lot of ships without killing anyone, however since Jervis Bay was an armed merchantman it would look like a civilian not a military vessel.

The Beaverford was an extraordinary action it, was armed for self defense as it carried valuable cargo, to keep a pocket battleship occupied for 4 hours was a feat of arms, it ensured all the convoy were well scattered.

The problem with giving one man a V.C. is it asks why others equally brave didnt get one. The war was won by people doing their bit, losses of merchant seamen were second only to Bomber Command during the war. The V.C. is for valour, I would say anyone getting on a petrol tanker in the presence of icebergs, a battleship and U Boats has shown valour. The Beaverford was lost with all hands and from what I have read had a merchant seaman crew, there was therefore no one to make a citation or report about the captain to allow a VC to be awarded, and VCs are for the military, this is also the reason why few RAF fighter pilots received VCs compared to bomber command.

from wiki
The office of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen calculated that 144,000 merchant seamen were serving aboard British registered merchant ships at the outbreak of World War II and that up to 185,000 men and women served in the Merchant Navy during the wartime.[2][3] 36,749 seamen and women were lost by enemy action, 5,720 were taken prisoner and 4,707 were wounded, totaling 47,176 casualties, a minimum casualty rate of over 25 percent. Mr Gabe Thomas, the former Registrar General of Shipping and Seaman (Great Britain) stated that "27 percent of merchant seamen died through enemy action".[4]
 
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Another interesting action in this attack.

Admiral Scheer moved in among the fleeing ships. Another remarkable action was her attack on the San Demetrio. This ship was a tanker carrying 12,000 tons of aviation gasoline. She was set ablaze and the crew took to the boats. One of the lifeboats was rescued. The other wasn't. The men of that boat returned to the still burning vessel after two days in the water. It was a miracle that the San Demetrio didn't explode. The crew put out the fire and sailed their ship back to England through U-Boat infested waters. A movie was made about their exploits. In the battle for convoy HX84 legends were made.


Getting onto a burning tanker after two days in a lifeboat is a real frying pan or fire dilemma.

from this site

FABERGE GOOGLE DOODLE: CAPTAIN PETTIGREW, SS BEAVERFORD AND THE BATTLE FOR CONVOY HX84
 
The film battle of the river plate was about the Graf Spee and for what was a post war film was very complementary about Langsdorff. Considering the general feeling in 1950s uk towards Germans, Langsdorff was portrayed very much against stereotype. Only Rommel got such a nice time of it
Admiral Scheer was the longest lived and most successful of the big gun ships. Top of my head only Prinz Eugen survived the war.
The most successful surface ships were the German Auxillary cruisers like the Atlantis and Pinguin. It's a must read for any Kriegsmarine fans and for the most part the Auxillary Cruisers fought a very honourable war. Considering the Tirpitz did zip and cost a kings ransom the Komet and the Kormoran were bargains.

Based on my rough calculation the loss of life by the attack on the hx-84 was 361. Based on Wikipedia. That was just one small convoy in a big war.
 
The film battle of the river plate was about the Graf Spee and for what was a post war film was very complementary about Langsdorff. Considering the general feeling in 1950s uk towards Germans, Langsdorff was portrayed very much against stereotype. Only Rommel got such a nice time of it.


The first book I ever read on military history was titled "The battle of the river plate" it was my fathers book and I presume was where he formed his opinion. Post war UK was keen in all movies to emphasise the positives in the German character and the negatives of the Nazi regime. Langsdorf was portrayed as what he was, a German naval commander doing his job, from what I remember about the book he hated the Nazis and had nothing to do with them but he did do his duty.


Great Britain is or was a maritime nation, the treatment of Langsdorf in popular media follows exactly the treatment of Captain De Winter of the Dutch royal Navy after the battle of Camperdown, after capture he was court martialled and the outcome was that he was found "to have nobly maintained the honour of the Dutch flag", At the time of his surrender De Winter offered his sword to Admiral Duncan who refused to accept it and shook the mans hand instead.

Jan Willem de Winter - Wikipedia
Battle of Camperdown - Wikipedia


As an exercise go through all of Churchills speeches and pick out negative comments about Germans (there are very few) and compare to the comments about the Nazi regime and its axis(there are many). Langsdorf represented the civilized Germany that had been hijacked by a regime.
 
MDV550 Heft 7 (aka GKdos 1390/41) contains the German primary documentation on this battle. It clarifies some of the statements listed in the wiki narrative posted above. It contains detailed battle maps, and charts of what type and how much ammo was expended on which targets, how long it took to score the first hit, and how many hits were confirmed by observation. There is also a detailed timeline on the battle map down to the seconds from when the first shots were fired.


Scheer spent 22 minutes and 22 seconds on the Jervis Bay, expending 119 11-inch rounds, and 68 6-inch rounds. All HE. The sun set 7 minutes after the battle commenced, so by the time it was finished with the Jervis Bay it was getting pretty dark and the smoke screen was also well developed. From the Wiki narrative quoted above:

Admiral Scheernow began to attack the convoy, first sinking the SSMaidan with all hands. The tankerSan Demetriowas set on fire, but did not sink. ''Admiral Scheer'' next sank the freightersTrewllard andKenbane Head.

It's difficult to piece together which ships were next and how the secondary accounts correlate to the official primary account, but the wiki account contains errors. Target designated number 2 (which was actually the closest), a tanker, was taken under fire by a portion of the middle artillery (6-inch) at the same time as the Jervis Bay. It was fired at for 10 minutes, scoring the first hit after 3 minutes, and scoring 10 observed hits. This target was not later claimed as sunk.


Target designated number 3 was also taken under fire while the Scheer was still dealing with the Jervis Bay. This target was also fired at only by the middle artillery from a range of 15,400 meters. The duration of firing was only 3 minutes and 50 seconds, expending only 18 rounds. No hits were observed. It was probably too dark by then to spot the fall of shot, being about 15 minutes after sunset, and 15km is beyond the practical range of star shell, thus explaining the truncated fire on this target.


From the wiki narrative quoted:

Admiral Scheer, its radar broken from the prolonged bombardment ofJervis Bay had difficulty in locating the new challenger in the smoke and darkness.


This statement is not quite correct. The primary document reports that the radar set was affected by the "shock of its own guns firing, but could be reset and used again for further shooting." This is very instructive information. It tells us that the radar was used for fire control and then reused for fire control additional times. It was not knocked out.


Indeed, the next target (number 4) was taken under fire and hit with the second salvo (48 seconds from opening fire on this target), despite that it was now dark and the target was hiding behind the smoke screen, by the 11 -inch battery from a range of 19,850 meters (almost 22,000 yards)! This is probably the first time in history that a target was hit at night at relatively long range by radar directed fire, and this was Nov, 1940. Quite an historic milestone in naval warfare that has gone unnoticed.


After only 3 minutes 23 seconds, the 11-inch guns were shifted to another target that crossed in front of target number 4 at a range 17,900 meters. Three hits were observed on this target during the next 8 minutes and 47 seconds. At the same time the 6-inch guns took another target under fire at short range using the night optics.


By this time some 40 minutes after the battle had commenced the convoy was well scattered, forcing Krancke to change his tactics to hunting down individual victims one at a time over great distances at night, although a ½ moon would not set until 2229 hours. During these next combats at intervals, Krancke employed star shell and/or search light illumination at short range to preserve ammunition supplies.


Obviously in the darkness, the Germans attacked some of the same ships more than once. As far as they could ascertain, they had attacked 13 targets, sinking nine totaling 86,600 tons, and damaging three. The Germans over claimed, but it was actually a pretty good awareness of the battle situations given a night battle. Compare to the massive over claiming and utter confusion by both the Japanese and the US navies during the Solomon Islands night actions two years later.
 

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