Vivid narratives showing the odds against which our warships have had to fight while escorting convoys to Russia were given
in special Admiralty announcements last night.
One described how four British destroyers attacked and drove off faster and more heavily armed German destroyers five times in three hours. By their gallantry in this engagement, which was fought in heavy pack-ice, the escorting ships saved a convoy which, it is stated, would have been “a rich prize for the enemy”.
Another special announcement described a two-day struggle to save the 10,000-ton cruiser Edinburgh when she was attacked by a U-boat pack.
The ships engaged in the destroyer battle were Bulldog (Cmdr. Maxwell Richmond, RN), Beagle (CMDR. R.C. Medley, RN) both 1360 tons, Amazon (Lt. Cmdr. N.E.G. Roper, RN), 1350 tons, and Beverley (Lt. Cmdr. John Grant, RN), 1990 tons.
Early on the afternoon of May 1 states the Admiralty, when the convoy these destroyers were escorting was skirted a great patch of drift ice, a force of three large destroyers was sighted.
These were identified as enemy destroyers of the powerful Hans Lody or Narvik class [1625 tons]. These destroyers are large modern vessels, armed with four or five 5-inch guns.
Despite this disparity in size, speed and weight of broadside, Bulldog at once led round to attack.
Fire was opened at a range of about 10,000 yards, although visibility was poor, because of frequent snow squalls.
The enemy appeared to concentrate fire on Amazon which was hit and suffered some casualties and damage; but she was kept in action and remained in the line. The enemy were prevented from reaching a position to attack the convoy and forced to retire.
About half an hour later the enemy were sighted again and once more the British destroyers opened fire. They altered course directly towards the enemy, who turned away and disengaged. The enemy made a third attempt to reach the convoy about an hour later, but again the escorting destroyers immediately engaged and the enemy retired after a brief exchange of shots, in which none of the British ships was hit.
When the enemy destroyers made their fourth attack, approximately an hour later it was noticed that their fire was far less accurate and intense,
indicating that they had received some damage. Only one of the enemy continued to fire full salvoes.
As before, the German destroyers retired after a brief exchange.
The fifth and last attack followed half an hour later. Action was immediately joined, and British destroyers endeavoured to engage at close range. The enemy destroyers at once broke off the action, and in less than 10 minutes had disappeared in the thick weather. Further damage is thought to have been inflicted on the enemy in this final encounter.
These engagements were fought in conditions of extreme cold and poor visibility, which imposed a huge strain on all concerned. Though only light forces stood between him and the rich prize of the convoy, the enemy on each occasion failed to press his advantage, and when our forces endeavoured to close to decisive gun range he used his speed to break off the fight and to retire. Throughout this series of actions, the behaviour of the ships in convoy was exemplary, all ships keeping station perfectly.
The loss of Edinburgh, while escorting a convoy to Russia was announced on May 7. She was torpedoed by a U-boat on April 30 and hit again on May 2.
Finally, when all attempts to get her into harbour failed, she was sunk by our own forces.
Meanwhile she had been hunted by a U-boat pack, and on the morning of May 2 three enemy destroyers attempted to attack her. They were at once engaged by the destroyers Foresight (Cmdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) and Forester (Lt. Cmdr G.P.Huddart, RN). A battle which lasted many hours followed. Both the British destroyers were hit, but each time the enemy appeared out of the snowdrifts he was attacked.
When the commanding officer of the Forester was hit the First Lieutentnat, Lt. J. Bitmead, RN assumed command. The Edinburgh was hit by a second torpedo. At once, despite the heavy weather, the minelayers Harrier (Cmdr. E.P. Hinton, RN) and Gossamer (Lt. Cmdr T.C. Crease, RN) went alongside to take off the crews. Meanwhile an enemy destroyer had been hit. When the smoke from this salvo cleared only two of the enemy could be seen. Shortly afterwards there was a tremendous explosion in another of the enemy. There was no further contact after this.