E-Boat Alley March, 1942
The loss of HMS Vortigern
was escorting a South bound convoy, when she developed an 'echo' and
attacked with depth charges. Unfortunately one of the depth charges
malfunctioned and exploded on making contact with the water instead of
the depth setting. The damage caused entailed the Wolsey being towed back to Leith Dockyard for repairs. HMS Vortigern
was sent to take over the Wolsey's duties. During the night whilst the
convoy was off the coast of Great Yarmouth it was attacked by a number
of E-boats. During the scrap that ensued the Vortigern
was torpedoed with the loss of 110 men. Because of the action that was
going on the other escorts were unable to go to her assistance. It was
not until daybreak that the "Guillemot" returned to the scene and found
that the stern of the Vortigern
was protruding above the water with two seamen clinging to it. She
proceeded to pick up 14 of the crew and returned them to
Harwich. The R.N.L.I lifeboat "H.F. Bailey", skippered by
the renowned Joe Bloggs, was also in attendance recovering bodies.
Another body, that of Petty Officer George Blundell was washed up on to
the beach at Cromer.
I joined the Vortigern
at Rosyth in early '41 after passing out as S/T at Vernon and Roedean
college Brighton. We did a lot of convoy duties and at one time we were
escorting a cruiser from Dundee, going South. We picked up a young
drafter there, the weather was terrible, no one was allowed fore or aft
unless absolutely necessary, but this young lad, on his very first trip
was washed overboard and was lost. I never even got to know him.
Whilst proceeding South we received
a signal to proceed to the Channel. Three German battleships were
trying to break out. Our sister ship Worcester was hit and one of my shipmates, Jim Adams was injured.
At the time of our sinking, we had
left Portsmouth on Sunday 13th March to meet up with the convoy. The
weather was again bad, corned beef sandwiches was all we could have. On
the night we were torpedoed, we were at action stations, I was on duty
middle watch, luckily. I had just switched on the degaussing motor
forward for we knew there was trouble in store because merchant ships
were being blown up. My duty was right aft with the depth charge party,
keeping in touch with the bridge by manning the telephone. The night
was pitch black, all we could see was the silouhettes of the merchant
ships. At about 0200 we were hit forward. I always thought that it was
two torpedoes, because the ship went down so very quickly.
I managed to free a carley raft
which was lashed around upright by a thick sling. I had to punch the
wood toggle out with my fist. I damaged my hand but did not notice it.
These rafts had a lamp aboard which was activated on contact with the
sea, so we had a light. I remember the officers steward who
had his quarters aft came up to me on the deck and I told him to jump
overboard, we had no order to abandon ship because all those forward
had been killed. He said to me "I've got to go back to retrieve
something". I never saw him again. I took my duffle coat off, all I had
on was a boiler suit and my rubber safety ring. I jumped in and managed
to swim to the raft. I helped some of the others to get on. The oil
fuel and the sea were so very cold. Quite a few died and slipped away.
Our First Lieutenant was hanging on, but he too died and drifted away.
Two others died on the raft, one named 'Sharky' Ward our L/S LTO also a
three badge A.B. Sharky had only got married on his last leave. He came
We must have been adrift for about
eight hours, after a lot of singing and talking about different things
just to keep ourselves awake. We were of course overjoyed to see
a corvette, HMS Guillemotte
on the horizon, they had been searching for survivors. I tried climbing
the scrambling nets, but I was too cold, however I was hauled aboard,
put in the shower room and scrubbed down with hard brushes to bring
back the circulation. The M.O. refused us rum because we had swallowed
oil fuel. We were then taken to Lowestoft hospital. I was there for
three days, my feet and legs were very bad. Luckily I got over it and
was allowed home on leave. I received a telegram to go to Lowestoft to
help identify the shipmates that are now buried there. I was met at the
station by two Nuns, and taken to a 'mock up mortuary' a tin hut. It
really upset me to see the lads laid out there. Then I was
called to the Admiralty, and before Admirals and other high ranking
officers had to answer questions about the sinking.
I finished my Naval career as a L/S LTO on two carriers, the Argus on the North African landings and the HMS Indefatigable out in the Pacific.
of the Vortigern and the loss of life, was the biggest loss on the East
Coast Convoys. Those who are buried in the Lowestoft cemetery
Comdr., R.S. Howlett D.S.C. Lt, P.A.B. Powell Sub Lt, J.
Gilmour A/B J Muir A/B D. McLeod Wierman R.C.
Nutt A/B L.W. Grace. A/B J Flynn A/B J.H. Jones
A/B H. Smith A/B J.R. Leigh
A/B J.L. Stewart , A/B D. Mcleod H. Farrow.
Petty Officer George Blundell's body was washed up at Cromer one month later. He is buried in Cromer cemetery.