Crest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationCrest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationHMS VELOX




HMS Woolston
                   photograph from Navyphotos.co.uk

Commanding Officers

Cdr John Egerton Broome, RN  (11 Oct 1939 – 4 Dec 1940)
Cdr Walter Thomas Couchman, RN (4 Dec 1940 – 6 Jul 1941)
Cdr William Edward James Eames, RN (6 Jul 1941 – 19 Aug 1942)
Lt.Cdr Trevor Henry Garwood, RN (19 Aug 1942 – 26 Sep 1942)

Officers




Convoy Maniac - RB 1
by James H. Reed

Conditions on V & W Class destroyers were so bad in rough weather that the men who served on them were paid hard-lying money. This story by James Reed was first published in Hard Lying, the magazine of the V & W Destroyer Association and republished in 2005 by the Chairman of the Association, Clifford ("Stormy") Fairweather, in the book of the same name which is now out of print. It is reproduced here by kind permission of Clifford Fairweather and his publisher, Avalon Associates, but copyright remains with the author.

This story covers just a few days, a little more than a week, but the events of that short period in late September 1942 at the start of an early winter in the North Atlantic will always be remembered by those who were lucky to survive the crossing. And we also remember those who paid the supreme price.  

As far as the escorts are concerned these events started at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Since very few of the escorts had the fuel capacity to round up stragglers, hunt for U-boats, dash to the rescue of those whose ships had been sunk and complete the crossing to Britain they
would escort the convoy to mid Atlantic where they would hand over responsibity to escorts from the U.K.

The Atlantic at this time of the year was subject to heavy gales, rough seas and fog and consequently all these ships wore the well worked look that comes only from days, and weeks of continual fighting against these elements. Their grey paint wore away and what remained was nearly white from the salt.  

Two such ships on that day were the old V&W class destroyers Vanoc and Veteran both about 25 years old, but still very sound and ideal ships for the job. The ship's crews were good comrades on shore leave or when lying alongside, sharing sessions of tombola or just a smoke and a yarn.

The crew of the Vanoc, cleaning up after a spell of convoying, watched as the 'Old Man', Commander Churchill crossed the decks of one or two ships to come aboard after a visit to Naval H.Q. ashore. Needless to say a few good natured remarks passed round the lads "What's he wants volunteers for now" and so on. These remarks were always made discreetly but were loud enough for the 'Old Man' to hear but he never let on, although he must have chuckled inwardly. Every man respected him. He was one of the old breed of no nonsense Naval Commanders and was old enough to be the father of most of us. Also he suffered sea sickness with the best of us.

Shortly after the Captain's arrival on board, the Bosun's mate piped 'clear lower deck, fall in aft', an order reserved for rare and special occasions.  The response was immediate, and in no time a tightly packed circle was formed around the Captain who was standing on a hatch. No dock workers were allowed on board, just the crew.  The Captain proceeded in as few words as possible to tell us that the Veteran and the Vanoc, were to go back home to the U.K., that a few hours shore leave would be taken in two watches for shopping purposes and above all, not to mention anything to anyone ashore. Secrecy was normal throughout the war but we were constrantly reminded that 'Careless Talk Costs Lives'.  

It was vital to carry as much oil fuel as possible. The water tank used for washing, cleaning, etc had to be sacrificed for fuel to increase the range. This left one small tank of about 1,500 gallons for drinking and cooking. No luxuries like washing and shaving or cleaning. The only access to this water was a small tank in the galley which was restricted to meal times, at other times the stop cock was locked. Needless to say the Veteran had the same rules. It must be remembered that the complement of these very overcrowded ships could be up to 170 officers and men, which gave no leeway in the efforts to conserve fresh water and indeed fuel oil, over several days of appalling weather.

The convoy was at first called 'Honeymoon'- a reference to the thousands of American couples who had sailed in these ships in peace time. It left Halifax at 1100 on Wednesday 16 September 1942 bound for St Johns, Newfoundland. The convoy consisted of eight ships; there were going to be eleven ships but one was totally destroyed by fire and the other two were found to be unsuitable for a deep sea crossing. At the given sailing time Vanoc and Veteran slipped their moorings and with screws turning we got under way with the usual good hearted remarks from our sister escort ringing in our ears. As we cleared harbour and approached the open sea we saw for the first time the convoy we were to escort home to the U.K.  

Prior to departure for St Johns, the escort commanders and ships captains attended a briefing at Naval H.Q. At this meeting the official name of the convoy became R.B.1. The code name 'Honeymoon' was replaced by  'Maniac'. Captain Beckett said that the code word was very appropriate but he considered it should be in the plural. One can only wonder who could sardonically and cynically suggest such a name.

The convoy left St Johns for the Atlantic crossing at 1400 on the 21st September with the eight ships and two escorts formed into three columns. The seasoned crews of the convoy escorts were
accustomed to all types of cargo and troop transports but the eight ships of RB1 were different from anything we had seen before. Unlike conventional cargo ships their superstructure was very high, two had twin funnels and the others high single funnels. From a distance, in haze or at night, or from a U-boats periscope they could quite easily be mistaken for large troopships, some resembling our more famous liners. As we came closer we could see that they were in fact coastal or river pleasure boats. By no stretch of the imagination would any seafarer consider them to be suitable for an Atlantic crossing as winter approached. All the ships had undergone considerable work to 'whaleback' them with heavy timbers to protect the most vulnerable parts of the superstructure.

They carried no cargo, no passengers, and were in ballast to reduce the top hamper and we learned later that they were manned entirely by volunteers from Coastlines Shipping, Liverpool, who had come over on the Queen Mary, 500 officers and men.  

Within 36 hours of sailing the convoy was in the area of operation of the German wolf packs. Between 22 - 26 September Vanoc received at least 29 U-boat sighting reports and there were 10 reports of U-boats making sighting reports of the convoy. RB1 was sighted and reported by U-404 which was was on patrol with U-380 and U-91. The report indicated that the convoy was a fast troop transport convoy.

The German U-boat Command instructed the Vorwarts group of 10 U-boats to close and engage, also group Pfiel of seven U-boats to proceed to the scene on completion of operations against convoy SC100.   The Germans were completely fooled by the ships' profiles and identified them
as ships of the Queen Mary Class and considered the convoy so important that the high command sent 17 U-boats to attack.

Vanoc's Commander Churchill sent the following signal to C in C Western Atlantic:

"RB1 was shadowed from ahead all last night and suspect shadowing continues today Thursday 24th. Escorts have in sufficient fuel to carry out putting down sweep. Evasive tactics proved useless in extreme visibility with full moon. Air cover would be appreciated as soon as possible".  

Friday 25th September

Fourteen U-boats had reported being in contact with the convoy and at 1337 local time U-216 attacked and sank the twin funnelled ship SS Boston, some of the survivors were picked up by Veteran, and others by the rescue ship New Bedford, an unconfirmed report gave the Veteran as having saved 48 survivors.  

The two escorts were kept busy trying to keep the U-boats at bay and the convoy together but this was not helped by one of the merchant ships breaking down and going round in circles when it eventually rejoined the convoy.

At about 1830, the convoy was reformed with seven ships in line abreast with Veteran to port and Vanoc to starboard. Later Veteran signalled to Vanoc. "Suggest we change stations, as you seem to be getting all the action and getting short of depth charges". Vanoc agreed, "I am short of fuel, I will take station ahead and you astern".  

The next attack came at 2057 when U-96 attacked the second of the two funnelled ships, SS New York, the torpedoes caused a heavy explosion which started fires, she remained afloat for some time, but was attacked again. The convoy became disorganised and scattered. The escorts fired flares to force the U-boats to submerge. Veteran again stood by to take on survivors, whilst Vanoc proceeded to attempt to reform the convoy in the darkness.

Veteran reported that she was proceeding to rejoin the convoy and that she had 28 survivors aboard. The lookouts on both of the escorts were continuously searching for the tell tale signs of periscopes. The U-boats were blatantly signalling to each other information to attack, four more attacks were made but all were unsuccessful.  

Saturday 26 September

At 0736 the next morning U-404 (Von Bulow) fired a spread of three torpedoes. Two found their target. Veteran blew up and must have sunk within seconds for there were no survivors. Vanoc was at this time over the horizon, trying to reform the convoy. Lieutenant Commander T.H. Garwood had a complement of Nine officers and 150 men in HMS Veteran and was believed to be carrying 28 survivors from the New York and 48 from the Boston.

C in C Western Atlantic has sent a signal to HMS Sabre, HMS Scimitar and HMS Saladin which read "If you have completed refuelling, proceed to reinforce convoy RB1, giving the position of the now depleted convoy.  

On 1000 hours Vanoc sighted a single ship ahead and identified her as the President Warfield and at the same Saladin and Scimitar were sighted and proceeded to escort her and were joined by the Vanoc. A coastal command aircraft came into sight and was asked to carry out a search for the Veteran without success. All W/T signals to the stricken ship also failed.

After the night action all the crew of the Vanoc could see of the convoy was this single funnel ship and many thought that the two ships were the only survivors. Although many of the U-boats had been outpaced and left behind
the Germans had not given up their attacks yet. The Yorktown had decided to leave the convoy and sail independently. At 2025 on September 26th she was sighted by U-619. The U-boat attacked, hitting her on the port side immediately beneath the bridge. This caused a complete collapse of the superstructure of the wooden bridge and everything forward. The engines stopped and the ship was torn apart and sank within three minutes.

The survivors in the water manned four rafts and a waterlogged boat they had managed to right and bale out. They were picked up by the destroyer Sardonix after being sighted by what is thought to have been a Very Long Range (VLR) B-24 Liberator. Eighteen men lost their lives out of
the ship's complement of 62

Although unknown at the time the remaining ships of Convoy 'Maniac' on the night of Saturday September 26th were:  one destroyer HMS Vanoc, five river boats, Northland, Southland, President Warfield, New Bedford and Naushan. The losses were HMS Veteran, SS Boston, New York, and Yorktown. With the loss of life of 302 souls.

Jim Reeds opinion of the 'Maniac' convoy:

"I was there at the time on the only surviving escort, HMS Vanoc. I have always had misgivings about the true reason for this convoy and am in disagreement with what has been accepted of its story. The year was 1942 and September was the start of the season of equinoctial gales. The North Atlantic convoy system
was at grave risk in the later months of 1942 and only a whisker away from total collapse. More than a thousand merchant ships had been sunk and the German U-boat command had withdrawn U-boats from other areas to concentrate on the destruction of the North Atlantic convoy system. Over 160 U-boats were operating in the Atlantic.

Two other major problems must also be considered. The "Black Hole", an area of over 300 square miles along the convoy routes had no air cover allowing the U-boats to press home their attacks. The other major problem was that in about April 1942 the first German milch-cows entered the Atlantic. These oil tanker U-boats lying some 500 miles north-west of Bermuda, could refuel the U-boats without them returning to their bases in France or Germany.

Convoy 'Maniac' was indeed a decoy convoy which invited destruction in the Atlantic to safeguard another great convoy of vessels laden with munitions of war which were desperately wanted during World War Two. The eight ships engaged in trading on the Great Lakes sailed in convoy intended to decoy enemy U-boats away from another great munitions and troop convoy which set sail from America at the same time. The plan succeeded and the latter got through without loss."



If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Velox you should first obtain a copy of their service record
To find out how follow this link: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/servicerecords.html


If you have stories or photographs of HMS Velox you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Bill Forster



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