Early on the morning of 6th August 1941 the Vimiera was the rear escort for southbound convoy FS (5)59 from Rosyth. The leading escort and Senior Officer was HMS Wolsey and the remainder of the force comprised HMS Holderness (Hunt Class destroyer), HMS Puffin (Kingfisher Class sloop), and the trawlers Agate, Basset and Sword Dance. The weather was appalling, and had affected the formation of the convoy which was now strung out over six miles.
The convoy was due to alter course to starboard on reaching swept
channel buoy 8B, abeam the Haisbro Lightship, but the Convoy Commodore
onboard the Dutch merchant ship Kentar
selected the wrong course. The course should have been 140 degrees
true, but the ship steered 120 degrees true. At the Board of Inquiry
the Commodore maintained he had steered 160 degrees true to allow for
leeway but this was not accepted by the Board. It is possible that
there was a misunderstanding between the Commodore and the Dutch
helmsman of the magnetic course to be steered.
SS Kentar and the Wolsey
sighted breakers in time to avoid going ashore by altering course but
were not followed by the other ships, as the second ship had dropped so
far astern as to be out of sight, and seven ships of the convoy went
ashore on South Haisbro by blindly following the Commodore on the wrong course. HMT Agate,
on the starboard flank of the convoy crossed to the port side to try to
restore order but went aground herself. Fortunately the error in the
course was detected by several ships who avoided the Sands in
consequence. See map on left from Wikipedia.
Vimiera was the first on the
scene and in spite of the sea conditions was able to launch her whaler
with a volunteer crew, which rescued most of the seamen of the Estonian
ship Taara. Other merchant
seamen were rescued from the water by members of the ships company
jumping into the water tethered by heaving lines. Altogether Vimiera
saved 27. She was joined by three lifeboats, including Cromer Number
One commanded by the celebrated Coxswain Henry Blogg, which transferred
a further 30 survivors to Vimiera. Other lifeboats transferred survivors to the sloop HMS Puffin. Altogether 146 merchant seamen were rescued.
HMS Vimiera escorting an East Coast convoy in rough sea Courtesy of Paul Adams
The Coxswain of the Whaler was awarded the MBE, and the crew each received the British Empire Medal. The Captain of the Vimiera was Mentioned in Despatches and confirmed in the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
everything that the South East needed to keep going, particularly coal
and oil for the power stations had to come down the North Sea. By 1939
London alone needed a minimum of 40,000 tons of coal each week, a
quantity which road and rail could not deliver. The First World
War had shown the vulnerability of shipping along the East Coast route
and even before the Second World War began merchant shipping was placed
under Admiralty control which gave them the authority to require
merchant ships to travel in convoy.
The East Coast Convoys assembled at Methil in the Firth of Forth and
ran to Southend in the Thames estuary behind the East Coast Minefield.
They were escorted by two V & W Class destroyers from the Rosyth Escort Force and
armed trawlers commanded by a lieutenant. The 4.7 inch main guns on the
V & Ws had been replaced with 4-inch HA guns (known as a WAIR
conversion) to provide protection against enemy aircraft. When the
convoys entered "e-boat alley" which extended south from Crommer to the
Harwich area they were reinforced by escorts from the Harwich Fighting
Convoy FS 559
The convoys were designated FS (south bound) and FN (north bound) and
allocated sequential numbers from 1-99 at which point the numeric
sequence began again. This two digit number is used by the escort
commanders in their reports and in the Admiralty War Diaries. To avoid
confusion naval historians normally add an initial number to identify
which sequence the convoy falls within.
We are indebted to Mike Holdoway of Convoy web for providing a
spreadsheet of the merchant ships in Convoy 59 (which he designates as
Phase 6). The spreadsheet includes
details of flag, GRT, date of build and cargo and can be linked to from
this web page as a PDF of the merchant ships in Convoy FS (5)59.The table on the left showing where ships joined and left the convoy at ports along the east
coast has been extracted from the spreadsheet.
Although 44 ships were in the convoy for part of the journey south
there were never more than 39 ships in the convoy and these must all
have been heading for the Thames as there were no official joiners or
leavers south of the Humber. Bad weather kept the e-boats away but increased the problems of
navigating the narrow offshore channels. The convoys was formed into
and starboard columns a quarter of a mile apart and if the distance
between ships in each column was 400 yards convoys would often exceed
four miles in length. It is easy to see how accidents might
happen as they threaded their way through the narrow channels
along the east coast in bad weather.
Convoy FS.559 departed Methil on the FIrth of Forth at 1941 on 4 August with the Escort Leader, HMS Wolsey (Lt Cdr Colin H. Campbell DSC, RN) heading the two columns and HMS Vimiera (Lt.Cdr. Angus A. Mackenzie, RNR) taking up the rear. The Commodore, Lt Cdr R.J. Stephens, was in SS Kentar which led the port column and the VIce Commodore, was in SS Durham Coast which led the starboard column.
The Convoy plan below shows the position after HMS Holderness (Cdr F.J.C. Halshan DSC, RN), Leader of the additional escort from Harwich, reinforced the convoy on 5 August for the passage through E-Boat Alley. The additional escort consisted of HMS Holderness with HMS Cattistock and the A/S trawlers, HMT Bassett and HMT Agate. Holderness and Catisttock were Hunt Class destroyers with similar armament to the WAIR V&Ws of the Rosyth Escort Force. They joined at No 3 Buoy off Flamborough Head andthe Kingfisher Class patrol vessels, HMS Mallard and HMS Puffin, and the trawler, HMT Sword Dance, joined the convoy that night at 2000 off the Humber estuary.
The three Anti-submarine Trawlers (HMT Agate, Basset and Sword Dance) were crewed by fishermen but had Royal Navy officers and were based at Harwich.
The destroyers of the Harwich force and the trawlers usually reinforced
the convoys from the Sunk Lightship (south-east of Harwich) to the
Humber (in both directions) which included E-Boat Alley where the
convoy was most vulnerable to attack by e-boats and bombers.
Sketch map showing the swept
channel followed by the convoy and the positions of the ships which ran
aground on Haisborough Sands The positions of Aberhill and Deerwood have been reversed and the position of Afon Towy and HMS Agate at the tip of South Haisbro are very faint Taken from the Report of the Board of Enquiry
The Report of the Commanding Officer of HMS Vimiera
The most detailed account of the contribution made by the officers and crew of HMS Vimiera
to the rescue of the men from the merchant ships which ran aground on
Haisborough Sands is the typescript report by Lt Cdr Angus Mackenzie
RN, the CO of HMS Vimiera (on right), which is in the National Archives (ADM 1/11367) at Kew and is transcribed below by Frank Donald exactly as written.
From: The Commanding Officer HMS VIMIERA
To: The Commander in Chief, The Nore Copy to:
The Commander in Chief, Rosyth FO i/c Harwich Commanding Officer HMS WOLSEY
Subject: Report on loss of HMT AGATE and stranding of Merchant Ships in Convoy FS.59
Vimiera was proceeding South as
rear escort with Convoy FS.59 under orders of HMS WOLSEY and was
stationed in position “T” on the night of 5th August 1941.
2 Throughout the
day and evening the weather had been threatening with strengthening NNW
wind, rising sea, thunder, lightning and torrential rain squalls.
3 After darkness
fell visibility, although variable, never really became low, because of
the favourable moon shining through the cloud.
4 During the
Middle Watch SS GLYNN in starboard column being near the rear, had a
steering gear breakdown which jammed her rudder hard over and put her
across the bows of the following ships causing considerable confusion.
5 By the time
these ships had reformed it was realised that there would be a gap
between them and the rest of the convoy. HMT SWORD DANCE was detailed
to bring on GLYNN when repairs had been effected and VIMIERA to
continue with the other ships, taking up a station between the columns.
6. By 0430 No. 8
Buoy was in sight when a signal was made by R/T from Wolsey that HMT
AGATE was ashore and in need of assistance, ordering VIMIERA to stand
position was never given and as she had been stationed on the Starboard
beam of the convoy, speed was increased to search towards the South
Western side of the swept channel. AGATE was called on R/T and asked to
fire a rocket and VIMIERA switched on dim navigation lights. A rocket
was observed to port and in direction of Haisboro and then course was
altered in that direction.
8 It is not
certain whether this rocket was fired by AGATE as communication was
never established with her, and HMT BASSETT who is believed to have
rescued AGATE’S survivors, failed to make any informatory signals,
although WOLSEY had ordered her to stand by to assist VIMIERA.
9 Middle Haisboro
Buoy was closed very cautiously and a ship was seen on the sands, which
was taken to be AGATE although no reply could be had by V/S. About this
time two heavy bumps were felt as if the ship had touched a wreck or
hard object and afterwards inspection revealed damage to A/S dome.
10 The wind was
still NNW increased to Force 6-7 with phenomenal thunder, lightning and
rain squalls. A very high, dangerous sea was breaking over the sands,
and it was therefore decided to stand by to the NW to await daylight.
activity had been taking place in the vicinity of the ships of friendly
aircraft bombers, returning, and as one of them flew low over Haisboro
sands considerable H.A. fire was observed in the direction of NW and S
Haisboro and investigation showed several other ships hard on the
sands, and three more following them. Two of these were merchant ships
and the other HMT BASSETT. They were diverted by flashing “U”s on
the 10 inch signal projector, BASSETT switching on her steaming lights
and passing to Port. In passing she signalled “Where is AGATE?” and
although called repeatedly by light and R/T was not seen again until
12 An attempt was
made to identify the various ships by V/S. VIMIERA 0508B to Commmander
in Chief, The Nore, was made still believing AGATE to be amongst these
ships, but she was never actually sighted by VIMIERA. By 0640 six ships
could be seen and were identified as:
83 (not 21)
all being in a bad way and requesting assistance from me.
Note: Mackenzie fails to mention the Afon Towy which
lost nine crew members including the ship's master a Mr. Strunks, whose
family were from Liverpool but is recorded as having been buried in the
Sage War Cemetery in Bremen, Germany. Perhaps his body was washed up
13 As the wind
had now reached gale force and seas were breaking over them
continuously it seemed impossible for VIMIERA to assist and a signal
was made for the lifeboat [VIMIERA’S 0715 to Commander in Chief, The
Nore]. An attempt was made to veer a Carley Float by means of a grass
line to GALLOIS the most Weatherly ship, and VIMIERA went well inside
Haisboro Middle Buoy – tho three fathoms by echo sounder – but owing to
the wind, sea and tide the raft was swept in the wrong direction and
the grass parted. At 0730 it was decided to try the East side of the
14 From East
Haisboro Buoy the situation appeared critical, SS TAARA had broken in
two and men could be seen in the water with others clinging to masts
and derricks. It was obvious that the only way to reach them would be
by boat, but it seemed impossible to even launch the whaler in such a
sea. However a call for a volunteer crew produced three times the
number of hands required.
15 In order to
get some sort of lee and to launch the whaler to windward of SS
TAARA it was necessary to steam slowly into East Haisboro Gut
where four fathoms of water were found.
16 The whaler was
successfully launched and did magnificent work all morning and at one
time was flung onto the sands themselves, with the loss of two oars and
the boat’s compass. In order to get to some men who had been swept
across the sands and down the west side it was necessary to take
VIMIERA through the Gut and down to SW Haisboro buoy.
17 Ratings with
heaving lines jumped into the water to catch exhausted men who were
floating past wearing life jackets – two of these died almost at once.
A dog was picked up swimming strongly. By 1100 lifeboats had arrived
and even they found difficulty in getting to the wrecks. The Cromer
boat having her bows stove in, but they quickly filled up with
survivors and ferried them to HMS PUFFIN [HMS PUFFIN was a KINGFISHER class sloop commissioned 1936] who was now standing by at
East Haisboro Buoy. Tugs arrived at the same time but were ordered to
return to harbour.
18 The whaler was hoisted at 1200 and PUFFIN with 48 Survivors was ordered to Harwich at 1350.
19 Meanwhile the
Cromer Lifeboat made a last search of all the wrecks and eventually
came alongside VIMIERA in the lee of the sands and transferred thirty
surviviors – several in need of artificial respiration. At 1350 the
lifeboat Coxswain reported that wrecks were clear of possible survivors
and it was decided to proceed, having 57 survivors all told onboard.
20 The majority
of the Ship’s Company were thoroughly exhausted, Mess Decks were awash,
W/T Aerial parted and deck fittings smashed but all survivors were
21 BASSETT was
once again met with about this time off SW Haisboro Buoy but was still
rather noncooperative and was ordered to proceed to Harwich [Commander
in Chief, Nore’s 1415 was not received until 1445] by which time
BASSETT was out of V/S touch.
22 Throughout the
operation Fighter protection was continuous from daylight, which proved
a great comfort. At one time four Hurricanes, two Lysanders, a Walrus
and a Beaufort were operating simultaneously. They swooped over the
wrecks and the pilots gave the thumbs up to the men in the merchant
ships. The survivors said that the sight of the aircraft, and of H M
Ship’s standing by, gave them the courage to hang on for the seven
23 It would be hard to state the reason for six ships running ashore under conditions already described.
24 All masters
and Officers stated that the red light on No. 8 Buoy was never sighted
and they believed that it was not burning – this was entirely wrong.
Others blamed other ships for forcing them out of the Channel and onto
25 It would be
interesting to find out in how many ships the Officer of the Watch had
also been doing Helmsman. In the Merchant Service it is generally
considered that the navigation in Coasters is often casual and no doubt
there is often a tendency to follow the ship ahead. It seems that AGATE
must have been somewhere near these ships and if keeping an independent
reckoning could have turned them to their correct course but she too
was unable to give a position in her distress message.
26 When the
surviviors were landed at Harwich, very few of them thanked the ship
and several had quite a lot of money in their possession but they did
not even offer a contribution the Canteen Fund, although VIMIERA’S
Ship’s Company treated them from their own pockets.
27 A letter is
attached submitting names of Officers, Petty Officers and Men who are
considered to have displayed outstanding courage, seamanship and
fortitude. It is submitted that although the list may appear somewhat
long, the operation involved six ships, and with reference to the
Engine Room personnel, the third boiler was connected at 0427 and from
then until 1324 all hands in the Engine Room and Stokehold were
continuously on their feet. From 0430 to 1324 a total of 481 engine
movements were called for, an immediate response being given in each
A A Mackenzie Lieutenant Commander RNR In Command
HM Trawler Agate This 627 ton trawler was purchased by the Admiralty in 1935 and converted for anti-submarine duties Eight crew members were saved and the names of sixteen of the nineteen lost are recorded on the Royal Navy Patrol Service (RNPS) Memorial at Lowestoft All three officers were killed: Lt Leonard Harry Cline RNR, her CO (posthumously MID), Sub Lt Peter G. Beard RNVR and Sub Lt Arthur George Tree RNVR.
Board of Enquiry into grounding and loss of convoy on Haisborough Sands:
loss of HMT Agate, SS Deerwood, Aberhill, Gallois, Betty Hindley, Afon Tawy, Taara and Oxshot(ADM 178/271)
The conclusions of the Board of Enquiry dated 30 September 1941 are signed by the Presiding Officer, Vice-Admiral O.E. Leggett RN,
and an Elder Brother of Trinity House and a Captain in the RNR (whose
signatures are illegible).
Leggett's conclusions and Findings are unusually blunt but must have
met with approval as they led to his appointment as Chairman of the
Committee into Collisions in Convoys (1941) which became known as the
Lggett Committee and was only dissolved after the war ended in 1945.
Leggett died in 1946 and an obituary was published in The Times.
was near the South Middle Buoy close to the southern tip of South
Haisborough and was not immediately aware of the scale of the disaster.
She only saw the Agate, on her beam ends, close to the Afon Towy. Basset dropped down to leeward as dawn was breaking to
pick up the men being washed away from these small craft. About two
miles to leeward she picked up a Carley Raft with four men from the Agate. Then she came across a lifeboat half submerged with seven or eight men
in it, and nearby a hatch with three men, all from the Afon Towy.
The three men on the hatch were picked up and one of them, the Chief Mate, who
could not swim, attributed his rescue to the help and support of AB Chattaway RN, one of the Afon Towy’s gunners. The lifeboat capsized under the Basset’s
quarter – one man only was got onboard at that time, but another, AB
Strudwick RN was picked up much later. Two officers including the
Commanding Officer and several of the Basset’s men jumped into the water to assist the occupants of this boat, but only one or two were saved. Basset
continued to look for survivors to leeward until 11.00 am by which time
she had picked up about fifteen in all. These included three Estonians from the Taara, who gave Basset her first intimation of the other six ships on the sands. Basset then returned to the Sands and was ordered by Vimiera to Harwich.
Puffin received instructions from the Senior Officer of the Escort to assist Vimiera, and arrived at the Middle Buoy about 6.45 a.m. She made several attempts to float Carley Rafts on a line to the Oxshott and Gallois, but none of these quite succeeded. On the arrival of the Cromer No 1 Lifeboat, Puffin was ordered to lie by the East Buoy to receive survivors. After the Lifeboat had transferred 48 survivors to her, Puffin was ordered to Harwich.
The Scene was described by the Commanding Officer, HMS Puffin, in his report:
ships stranded on the Sands were the most grim sight I have ever seen.
Five of them were awash to the level of the boat deck and terrific seas
were breaking over the ships every few moments. The centre
superstructure of each ship was the survivors island and they were
being buffeted with every wave. Practically the only part of the Oxshott visible was the boat deck with funnel and stays, to which about 20 survivors were clinging.”
Vimiera’s contribution has been described in the CO’s report. However this extract from Inquiry’s report is of note:
whaler was in the water from 8.30 am to Noon, in a sea described by the
witnesses from the other ships as making boat work suicidal. She picked
up about 20 survivors out of the water, Vimiera
at intervals making a lee for her to get them onboard , and then towing
the boat to windward again. The work of this boat is described by all
witnesses as magnificent, and has been made the subject of a special
report by the Commanding Officer. Vimiera
took the risk of passing through the Gut to get to leeward to pick up
the whaler’s survivors, and she also got some on her own account,
ratings jumping overboard with heaving lines to catch men as they
The Cromer No. 1 Lifeboat (Coxswain Henry Blogg) was first on the scene at 10.30 am, and made for the Gallois. Here she was directed to the Oxshott
as being more in need, only her funnel casing remaining above water,
with men hanging onto the funnel guys. The lifeboat was nosed in for
the men to jump one by one, but every time she crashed her bows on
submerged wreckage, and her stem was badly damaged. Sixteen men were
recovered from Oxshott, and then another 31 from the Gallois, who were put onboard Puffin by the East Buoy. The lifeboat then went to Deerwood where 19 men were rescued and then crossed to the Taara where she found the Cromer No. 2 lifeboat had taken off 8 men. She then went to Betty Hindley
and took off another 22 (making a total of 88 rescued). In this case
the water was so shallow and the swell so heavy that the boat was
hitting the ground all the time. After leaving Betty Hindley the lifeboat grounded but was fortunate to get off again and then took the survivors to Vimiera. The Gorleston Lifeboat in the meantime had arrived and took off 23 men from the Aberhill.
Cromer Lifeboat No 1, HF Bailey, and 65 year old Henry Blogg, her Coxwain for 38 years To find out more about Henry Blogg and the Cromer lifeboat visit the Henry Blogg Museum at Cromer Courtesy of Steve Snelling
3 Two of the seamen rescued by Vimiera’s swimmers died almost immediately. We do not know whether they have been included in the 27.
4 We do not know who rescued 3 of the Agate ship’s company.
5 We do not know which ship two of Basset’s survivors were from.
Recommendations for Awards to Officers and Ratings in HMS Vimiera National Archives ADM 1/11367
submitted no fewer than eighteen forms of Recommendation for a
Decoration or Mention in Despatches to Captain (D) Rosyth, all of which
were forwarded to CinC Rosyth on 29th August arranged in recommended
priority order. They covered the Whaler’s Crew, ratings who jumped into
the water to rescue floating survivors, Midshipman Lacy, two signals
ratings and two senior ratings from the Engineering Department.
The basic citation read “For
volunteering and successfully manning and taking away the whaler to
rescue the crews of stranded merchant ships during phenomenal
conditions of wind and sea, with the almost certain risk of being
capsized and drowned. Other H.M. Ships in Company judged the weather
conditions would not admit the launching of a boat, and VIMIERA’s
whaler was the only one launched. The majority of the crew of the
Estonian ship “Taara” were rescued by the whaler.”
Special additions were:
Lieutenant David Dennis O’Sullivan carried out the duties of Coxswain
of the whaler and his exemplary conduct greatly encouraged the crew.”
“Petty Officer James Errington was
senior P.O. in the whaler and it is considered that his conduct when
the whaler was washed across the sands, and in imminent danger of
capsizing, was largely responsible for keeping the whaler’s crew
carrying out the task of plotting the Ship’s position under
exceptionally difficult conditions for 14 hours without respite,
thereby allowing the Commanding Officer to concentrate on handling the
ship. Due to his organisation of the Echo Sounder and hand lead the
Ship was able to be brought sufficiently close to render assistance to
the stranded Merchant Seamen on the Haisboro Sands.”
being at his station below without respite from 0430 until 1400.
The engines were in constant use throughout this time and although out
of sight it was in no small way due to his efforts that the rescue was
When forwarding the recommendation forms Captain (D) added
recognition of the fine seamanship, efficiency and judgement displayed
by Acting Lieutenant Commander Angus Alexander Mackenzie RNR in Command
of HMS Vimiera, it is
strongly recommended that he should be granted fourteen months
additional seniority ..... so as to confirm him in his present rank.”
On 1st August the CinC forwarded the list and forms to the Secretary to
the Admiralty, and on the 18th September the Honours and Awards
Committee submitted their recommendations for approval by the First
Lord of the Admiralty and His Majesty the King. They recommended the
award of Member of the Order of the British Empire (Military) to Sub
Lieutenant O’Sullivan, and the British Empire Medal (Military) to the
other members of the whaler’s crew. They further awarded a Mention in
Despatches to Lieutenant Commander Mackenzie but ruled that the award
of extra seniority was a separate issue.
In respect of the other recommendations the Committee proposed asking the Commanding Officer of the Vimiera to send forms for submission to the Royal Humane Society, but it is not known if this was ever done.
The Legend of the East Coast Convoys
The convoys which crept back and
forth along the east coast seem dull compared with the Atlantic convoys
which kept Britain from starvation and the Arctic Convoys which
supplied Russia with the arms to fight and win the war on the Easten
The V & W destroyers with
their dual purpose High Altitude 4-inch guns to fight off attacking
aircraft and German E-Boats had a less glamorous war than the escorts
for Atlantic Convoys to North America and Arctic Convoys to Northern
Russia but their contribution was just as important to London and the
South East as the fighter planes and their pilots which won the Battle
The East Coast Convoys have not been forgotten in the ports on the east coast where
the fishermen lived who manned the Anti-submarine Trawlers of
"Harry Tate's Navy, the RNPS (Royal Navy Patrol Service). The legend of these ships and of lifeboatmen like Henry Blogg, the Coxwain of the Cromer 1 Lifeboat, HF Bailey,
are remembered and celebrated from Methil where the convoys assembled on the FIrth of Forth to where they
ended at Southend on the Thames estuary.
The rescue of 162 men from the eight ships which ran aground on
Haisborough Sands on the 6 August 1941 is one of the most dramatic
events in the story of the East Coast Convoys. It was celebrated at the
time in the papers published in the small ports where the ships joined
and left the convoys and where the lifeboats were based and later in
the pages of comics like the Hornet read by the children of the men who served in them.
The dramatic story was retold by journalist and naval historian, Steve Snelling, in two weekend issues of the Eastern Daily Press in August 2016 See page one and page two of part one in the Eastern Daily Press, 6 August
See page one and page two of part two, Eastern Daily Press, 13 August
To find out more about what it was like to escort east coast convoys readthe journal kept by Derek Tolfree,
a Midshipman on HMS Westminster, while escorting east coast convoys between December 1942 and March 1944.
And read Julian Foynes masterly book Battle of the East Coast (1994)