Source: ADM 199/721
I have the honour
to submit a report of the passage of the Convoy PQ15 from the time the
Rear Admiral Commanding the Tenth Cruiser Squadron in HMS Nigeria parted
company to the arrival at the Kola Inlet.
2. The Rear
Admiral Commanding the Tenth Cruiser Squadron parted company at 0745Z/2nd
May in position 071° 31’ North 013° 20’ East when the responsibility for
the safe conduct of the convoy devolved on me.
3. Just before
parting company the Rear Admiral Commanding the Tenth Cruiser Squadron had
given the Commodore of the Convoy a new route which made certain that the
ice to the southward of Bear Island would not be met.
4. Shortly after
HMS Nigeria had left R/T from Convoy QP11 was heard and the Convoy was
5. Captain (D) in
HMS Somali was detached to close HMS Bulldog (The Senior Officer of the
Escorts to QP!!), in order to discover what tactics were being employed by
German destroyers in their attacks and any other information of interest.
6. He returned
with little news that was not known before except that QP11 had been
attacked in daylight by four torpedo aircraft which had, however, carried
out a poor and completely ineffective attack.
7. The news of
this attack was passed to all escorts of PQ15 and the Commodore of the
8. Half an hour
after passing QP11 shadowing aircraft commenced shadowing and from this
moment until longitude 036° East was reached the Convoy was continuously
shadowed by one or more Blohm & Voss or Focke-Wolff aircraft and
9. At 2009B/2nd
May when in position 073° 01’ North 017° 32’ East St Albans on the port
bow of the convoy obtained a contact and carried out an attack. She was
joined by HMS Seagull from the port beam of the convoy, who also attacked.
The submarine attacked was forced to the surface and fire was opened on
her conning tower before it was discovered that she was the submarine
P551. The submarine was very badly damaged and quite unseaworthy. The crew
were transferred to St Albans and the submarine sunk by gunfire. Reports
from the Commanding Officers of Seagull and St Albans are forwarded
10. I consider
that they were in no way to blame for the action which was taken. They
were escorting a convoy through waters in which it was a certainty that
many enemy submarines were operating and they could afford no hesitation
in their attack. P551 appears to have been 100 miles out of position. I
have not had the opportunity of meeting either of the surviving officers
one of whom was badly wounded but information has reached me that he
stated he had had no sights for six days.
11. At 2327 Z/2nd
May in position 073° North 019° 40’ East an attack by torpedo aircraft
developed. Six aircraft came in low on the starboard bow of the convoy;
some torpedoes were seen to be dropped outside the Screen and some while
they were passing through the Screen. One machine was hit and crashed just
ahead of the convoy in flames. Another was apparently hit and passed down
the starboard column of the convoy and there is evidence now that what was
reported as a possibility in my 2300/5th May could now be
considered almost a certainty although this machine was not seen to crash.
12. SS Botavon, SS
Jutland and Cape Corso were hit by torpedoes. Cape Corso blew up and
Jutland sank very quickly. Botavon settled down by her bows and sank more
slowly and I ordered Badsworth to sink her by gunfire.
13. The Commodore
and one hundred and thirty seven survivors were picked up by HMS Badsworth,
trawlers and HMS Chiltern.
14. The visibility
at the time was a maximum of four miles, frequently closing down to very
much less. The half light of the Arctic night combined with haze made the
aircraft very difficult to see and they were undetected by HMS Ulster
Queen on Type 270.
15. The aircraft
attacked in formation and it was disappointing that in spite of the fact
that they came over and through the strongest part of the Screen HM Ships
Somali and Matchless it was not possible to break up the attack. It is
easy to be critical after events of this description when time plays so
important a part and when afterwards the speed at which everything
happened is forgotten. But the fact remains that HMS Bramble from the
central position of the screen opened fire with her Oerlikon guns first,
and that if HM Ships Somali and Matchless had been a few seconds
“quicker on the trigger” the attack might have been hampered a little and
perhaps another aircraft brought down. But with the visibility prevailing,
the lack of warning, the available gun power, and the resolution of the
attack, I very much doubt whether loss of ships in the convoy could have
16. It had been
suspected that the convoy was being shadowed from the starboard bow by a
submarine but doubt arose whether the signals received were not those of
aircraft who were shadowing on the reciprocal bearing on the port quarter,
HMS Badsworth, however, reported from the intercepted signals that the
submarine was surfacing and very shortly afterwards the aircraft attacked.
17. HMS Somali was
forced to alter course a little to starboard to comb tracks of torpedoes,
one passing very close down her starboard side and it is possible that
these torpedoes were fired by the submarine.
18. An Officer and
a lookout in HMS Leda saw a black shape disappearing and HMS Leda altered
course towards, obtained a good contact and dropped depth charges. Contact
was lost after the attack and nothing more was seen. It is possible that
this submarine may have been damaged or even sunk.
here for Report)
19. The next
attack on the convoy took place at 2030Z/3rd May in position
073° North, 031°15’East and resulted in only two Ju88 getting in an attack
and the trawler Cape Palliser suffered a cracked Plummer Block from a near
miss. It is difficult to assess the number of aircraft taking part. No
more than two were ever seen, but more were heard above the convoy in the
clouds while these two were in sight and I should estimate the number as
about four or six in all. Clouds were about 2000 feet and the aircraft
appeared frightened of coming through. One Ju88 was shot down. No further
air attacks took place.
20. From about
noon on 2nd May to p.m. 4th May the Convoy was
constantly shadowed by submarines abaft either beam and there were seldom
less than two at a time.
21. The visibility
was chiefly very good and these submarines were prevented from working up
to a good position to attack from, by the vigilance of the Escort who
chased them off dropping depth charges in the vicinity of where they had
dived. I also adopted the policy of sending a unit of the Screen out to
visibility distance and dropping two depth charges occasionally even if
nothing had been sighted.
22. The only
submarine which appeared before the beam was one which St Albans chased
and forced to dive and the one which shadowed the convoy from the bow on
the night of the torpedo aircraft attack. It is of interest to note that
the speed of these submarines on the surface is greater than the maximum
speed of half the escorts.
23. On one of
these sorties HMS Badsworth dropped depth charges where the submarines
dived and shortly afterwards saw a periscope; she counter attacked on a
good contact and dropped two Patterns. She states that she heard the
submarine blowing tanks but nothing appeared and she was unable to further
the hunt as her A/S broke down. It is possible that this submarine was
sunk or damaged.
24. Ice was met in
positions 073° North 035° East, to 072° 20’ North 036° 30’ East to 071°
35’ North 036° 30’East.
25. The Convoy was
kept to the edge of the ice as although there were frequent lanes, running
roughly north-east to south-west and the ice was not thick, there were
some small ‘bergy bits’ which were dangerous for the escort.
26. The two
Russian destroyers were met at 1024Z on 4th May and they were
placed 5 miles on the starboard and port beam of the convoy respectively.
started to deteriorate on the evening of 4th May and a south
east gale sprang up bringing heavy snow. This provided excellent cover for
the remainder of the passage and the convoy entered Kola Inlet at 2200C on
28. The aircraft
on the CAM ship were not flown off as no suitable opportunity appeared to
present itself since the convoy was seldom being shadowed by less than two
aircraft and since it was desired to keep it in reserve for the final
attack before entering the Kola Inlet where it could have landed.
29. The feeling of
being shadowed day and night with such efficiency is uncomfortable and
considering the efficiency of the shadowing I am surprised that more air
attacks did not take place. It is possible that although the weather was
fine at sea (except for the last day) the weather at the aerodromes may
have been different. It is surprising also that there is only evidence
that one submarine attack took place – that on the night of the torpedo
submarines must have homes submarines ahead onto our track and I was
always expecting a bow or beam attack. Perhaps the Commanding Officers of
the submarines are inexperienced in attacking through a screen.
31. There can be
no question that the passage from 12° East, when forced by ice to keep
south of bear Island, is dangerous and eight knots seems to be very slow
indeed. On the other hand with a large escort, an Anti Aircraft ship and a
well armed convoy the Anti Aircraft fire is formidable and seems adequate
to deal with the scale of bombing attack as yet produced.
32. The very long
hours of daylight make the task of the submarines difficult provided the
screen is active and offensive and a successful attack should only be
possible by an experienced and resolute submarine. I am strongly opposed
to allowing the screen to stop and hunt. With so many submarines in a
small area it is necessary to have all the escorts in their station as
long as possible. There is also the AA and surface defence of the convoy
to be considered.
33. Both bombing
aircraft and submarine attacks will have their successes but it should be
possible to keep them low.
34. The defence of
a large convoy against torpedo attack is, however, a different problem and
constitutes a serious menace.
35. With regard to
this problem the Anti Aircraft ship was placed in the centre of the convoy
by the Rear Admiral Commanding the Tenth Cruiser Squadron – presumably for
her own safety. On hearing that attack from torpedo aircraft was a
probability I considered shifting her to a position from which her gun
fire could be effective against low flying aircraft. I decided, however,
to keep her where she was. To take her out of the convoy was to expose her
to unnecessary risk and wherever she was she was bound to be blanked from
some quarters. If she had been ahead of the convoy and inside the screen,
she could have assisted in warding off the attack; on the other hand she
would probably have been torpedoed and without HM Ships Nigeria or Ulster
Queen the H.A. defence against the second air attack (and the final attack
expected off Murmansk) would have been weak.
instructions in the Western Approaches Convoy Instructions seem generally
suitable, although the conditions are different from those experienced in
the Atlantic, but I recommend for consideration that the use of R/T should
be forbidden unless it is required for the actual hunt of a certain
37. I should like
to record the excellent conduct of the convoy, the majority of which were
American ships unused to convoy work. Their steadiness when the torpedo
attack took place and leading ships, including the Commodore and Rear
Commodore’s ships were sunk, their speed of opening fire and their
excellent station keeping made the task of the escorts very much easier.
It was largely due to the good conduct and discipline of the convoy that
twenty two ships out of twenty five arrived at Murmansk undamaged.
I have the honour