Convoy HG 76
Due to an inadvertent and unintended copyright transgression, not directly by me, I have had to rewrite this page as the owner/author of the information has complained to me. The author has proved "ownership". My apologies to everyone concerned but, as I only do this for a hobby and at my own expense, I cannot take on big companies who claim something that I know nothing about. When people contact me for information I tell them to help themselves, that what its there for, nothing more. I do not "charge". When I receive an item of information, from a survivor of such or family of, it is in good faith and use it with their consent. I am not to know that it was not "their property" in the first place. My original main source was an out of print book from the early 1950s and an email received from family of a sailor on that trip who, I believe, lives/lived overseas. Any inconvenience is regretted but I simply did not know. Here then, is my rewritten version of the events on convoy HG76.
It was December 1941, events in the Pacific overshadowed practically everything in the European theatre of war. The sneak attack on Pearl Harbour, by Japan, and the subsequent entry into the war of the United States. Then the declaration of war from Germany/Italy against the USA. Convoy HG76 was to sail from Gibraltar homeward bound to the UK with Captain FJ Walker RN in command of the 36th Escort Group on board HMS Stork. Walker had attended anti submarine warfare between the wars, when such was considered unfashionable, and this was to prove vital in the days ahead.
HG76 was the convoy which would mark the beginning of Captain Walker's anti submarine tactics. Tactics which would follow on with the famous 2nd Support Group and would be adopted by the Royal Navy world wide. German agents, based in pro Germany Spain, would certainly report the departure of the convoy from Gibraltar, secrecy was impossible. German aircraft operated long range patrols from newly acquired French airfields, namely the Focke Wolf 200 (Condor). Also German submarines were now operating from bases on the coast of the Bay of Biscay such as Lorient, the home base of Admiral Doenitz, the U Boats commander in chief. All these events were certain to come into play.
At this time the Royal Navy were losing ships and the Merchant Navy losses were reaching panic proportions. At this time there did not appear to be any light on the horizon to combat the U Boat menace. They roamed the seas at will, encountering little organised opposition. Escorting warships for convoys were spread extremely thinly and had to remain with the convoy, therefore could only counter an attack when it had already commenced. Convoys between Gibraltar and the UK were at particular peril due to the very proximity of enemy bases. Convoys in the middle of the Atlantic had a marginally better chance. Now that the United States was in the War, ship building would increase dramatically, in particular, the famous "Liberty Ships" which could be built in less than a week each, sometimes 3-4 days, in American shipyards, but this was still in the future. German surface attacks could also be possibly encountered, as the Germans had destroyers in French ports and capital ships could feasibly be moved. HG76 had one factor that narrowed the odds, slightly. Included in the escorts was the Escort Carrier Audacity. She was a converted captured German Merchant (Hannover) which had been captured by HMS Dunedin in the Caribbean. Audacity's commander was Cmdr DW McKendrick. However, few aircraft were available to operate from a small flight deck and Audacity sailed from the UK with 6 aircraft (Martlet Mk 1) split into three groups of two, red, yellow and black flights. Armament was meagre, more in line with a basic merchantman. On the outward trip Audacity had lost 2 aircraft in successful attacks on FW200's. On the homeward trip it was thought to supplement this with Ark Royal Swordfish but Audacity could not handle these types. The German agents were slightly misled as Swordfish escorted the convoy as it sailed, they were under the impression they were with the convoy.
Capt Walker is mentioned in great detail on his own pages on this site, so I will not dwell on his qualifications here, suffice to say he was more than able to deal with the situation. He did not sail during the war until March of 1941 after great persuasive methods had been employed. Due to his seniority, he was also the senior officer on the 36th Escort Group. The ships under his command were his own ship HMS Stork; a pre war sloop, HMS Depthford; and seven Flower class corvettes, Rhododendron, Marigold, Convolvulus, Pentstemon, Gardenia, Samphire and Vetch. When given the task, the Admiralty expected Walker to follow established doctrine - Walker had other ideas! At the rendezvous point, three destroyers, HMS Stanley, HMS Exmoor and HMS Blankney joined the force. Contained within the convoy was a ship, a catapult ship, HMS Darwin which had but one aircraft. The Stanley had been an American ship, the USS McCalla, and had meagre AA capability. Blankney & Exmoor were of the Hunt 2 class destroyers with excellent AA capacity. Stork too had decent AA, similar to the Hunt class.
The convoy sailed on December 14th, 7 days after the attack on Pearl Harbour. It was arranged that the ships sailed in five columns, totalling 32 ships. Against established routine, Walker arranged his ships in two screens, one of which stayed close to the convoy and the other much further out. This would have the effect that, for the first time, U boats would encounter, and have to deal with, two screens instead of being able to close the convoy before seeing the escorting warships. It was risky, but Walker was confident. Force H, based in Gibraltar, and famous for its interception in the Bismarck saga, sailed ahead. This consisted of the destroyers Croome; Gurkha; Foxhound; and the Australian Nestor. This paid dividends with Nestor sinking the U-127 and all crew 35 miles off Cape St Vincent on December 15th. Following this, Force H returned to rejoin the main force. Doenitz knew the convoy was approaching the Bay of Biscay.
In the late afternoon of December 16th, U-131 spotted the convoy. After reporting in, the sub dived to allow the convoy to pass by. however, the sub had a hydrophone fault and it came up in the midst of the convoy and had to dive quickly to avoid being rammed. The U boat was not spotted. The U-67 and the U-108 attempted to get in close but were beaten back by aircraft and did not actually see the convoy. As night approached, 2 FW200 Condor's out of Bordeaux spotted the ships and sent home a report. Stanley saw the aircraft, informed Audacity. But, for some reason, Audacity did not send fighters up to investigate. Approaching too now were the U-574 and the U-434. Astern, now dark, the U-131 had surfaced and sent in a location report. Walker knew he had been spotted and informed the Admiralty accordingly.
At 0900 hrs on the 17th, an aircraft from Audacity reported the U-131, 22 miles astern. He forced the sub to dive although he had no bombs. When the aircraft had climbed high enough over the U boat, he was seen on the Walker's radar and Walker decided to test his, up to now, theories of offensive escorts. Taking HMS Stork, along with, Exmoor, Stanley, Blankney and Pentstemon, he raced back along the convoy track towards the U-131. At this time the U-108 and the U-107 were also now in contact but had not yet been sighted by the escorting ships nor the merchants. The faulty hydrophones failed to inform the submarine of the approaching danger and Pentstemon and Stanley damaged the U-Boat with depth charges. The sub went down to approx 600 feet and moved away in an effort to avoid the ships. But gas was leaking from the batteries poisoning the air in the sub and soon they would be forced to surface.
Walker began his, as yet unproven, tactics which were to prove so devastating later on. He formed a search line and began to search. 2 hours or so later, the submarine surfaced and was spotted immediately by Stanley. Walker ordered the attack. Sub Lt Fletcher, in his Martlet Mk 1 dived on the U Boat but was shot down and was killed. His body was later recovered by Walker. 20 minutes of shellfire, ay closing range, forced the crew of the U-131 to abandon ship. After collecting survivors Walker had his first kill. The U-434 sighted the convoy not long after midnight and reported in. The U-131 was heard of no more. The U-434 was about 10 miles from the convoy, on the surface, and as dawn approached, fell foul of Walker's outer screen in the shape of HMS Stanley.
HMS Stanley warned Walker and he ordered Deptford, Exmoor & Blankney to assist. However, before the other reinforcements could arrive, Stanley & Blankney delivered some accurate depth charges and the U-434 quickly surfaced and the crew managed to bail out only just in time as the sub, within minutes, disappeared, this time forever. The crew were rescued and became prisoners of war. 2 subs sank and, thus far, no losses. Walker reported this to the Admiralty.
The same morning two FW200 Condors tried to approach the convoy but were chased off by Audacity's fighters. Strangely both sets of guns, on both fighters, jammed allowing the Condors to make good their escape. Later on, Blankney & Exmoor left the escort to return to Gibraltar having reached the end of outward fuel endurance. 45 prisoners returned to Gibraltar on board Blankney. As it was starting to darken, Pentstemon sighted the U-107. As it was getting dark, Walker decided against a large response and sent Convolvulus to join in the hunt. U-67 tried to torpedo Convolvulus but narrowly missed resulting in the ship retaliating, driving the U Boat away. U-107 was undetected. U-574 saw the destruction of U-131 and had fallen well astern of the convoy, later attempting to close up.
At 0400 hrs on December 19th; U-574 spotted Stanley, who was turning on the attack. Shortly afterwards Stanley was hit. Walker ordered his team to use a pre-arranged plan known as "Buttercup". As one they turned away from the convoy firing starshell. This forced the U-534 to dive and Stork collected an echo on Asdic. Using a ten charge pattern, Stork attacked, forcing the U Boat to the surface, after initial gunfire, Walker order Stork forward and rammed the submarine. Stork continued over the stricken U Boat followed by a shallow depth charge attack. Some of the u boat men had already abandoned their boat and were caught up in the blast and did not survive. 5 were rescued as well as 25 members of the Stanley crew.
During this, the U-108 had successfully sneaked into the convoy and hit the Ruckinge, a 2869 ton ship. For the loss of 3 U Boats, the Germans had successfully sunk Stanley & Ruckinge. Storks' asdic had been damaged in the attack. Also a torpedo had narrowly missed the Audacity. The following day the Luftwaffe sent over 2 FW200's. One of Audacity's Martlet's shot down one in a head on attack (Sub Lt Brown); the other was chased and was lost in cloud. Later another FW200 approached Stork, Walker informed audacity and Sub Lt Sleigh took on the plane. After several attempts he took the condor on, head on, and shot it down. When he landed on Audacity, part of the Condor's aerial was wrapped around his tail wheel!
As the sky was darkening, an aircraft reported a U boat 15 miles to the port (left) side of the convoy. It was the U-107, although hunted, it could not be found. This U Boat was bringing in others, namely, the U-108; U-71; U-751 and U-567. In spite of an accident involving the illumination of the convoy by starshell, when the escorts were returning, no attack actually materialised and the 20th December 1941 passed without incident. During that afternoon, two patrolling Martlett's had spotted 2 U Boats ahead, and this enabled the convoy to steer around them. During the 21st, several U Boats were sighted, 2 of which were 25 miles astern. Sub Lt Brown spotted them, side by side, with a plank across the gap. He strafed the boats with gunfire. Walker sent back 4 ships, but they escaped. At 1130 hrs 2 more were sighted to port to which Marigold and Convolvulus investigated. Not long afterwards another was spotted 10 miles to port and at 1500 hrs another was sighted. Walker surmised that the following night would be rather interesting.
The convoy sailed into the night, Audacity moving to her normal night place away from the convoy. Walker recommended that she went to port side of the convoy, but McKendrick preferred starboard (landside) and he sailed off without an escort as 2 had departed, damaged. Walker moved away from the convoy to "fake" an attack but the convoy decided it was real and threw up snowflake in abundance thus revealing their true position and thwarting Walkers attempt at fooling the U Boats. As Walker raced back he was in time to see a norwegian tanker, Annavore, some 3324 tons, explode in flames at the rear of the convoy. Walker mistakenly ordered a "buttercup" attack and the convoy again fired off illumination, showing up the Audacity. U-751 could not believe their luck, striking the carrier aft, going out of control. Audacity stopped engines and, as escorts hurried toward her, the U-751 came in as close as to be opened up on by an oerlikon gun. Two more torpedoes and the Audacity sank in 10 minutes.
Deptford sighted a U boat on the surface and, with Stork assisting, attacked with a series of heavy depth charge attacks, the U-567 was lost with all hands and a U-Boat ace (Endrass) met his end. Just after this Deptford accidentally rammed Stork, damage was not severe but the brig was hit, killing 2 of the prisoners. U-67 was attacked, damaged and had to fall away from the attack, well astern. The following morning (22nd December) the situation was as follows:
HG76 had lost 2 merchants; escort carrier; and HMS Stanley. Stork was damaged as was Deptford, the escorts were low on depth charges and of course, no aircraft cover.
Germans: 4 U boats sunk; 1 badly damaged. Plus the U-127 sunk by Nestor at the beginning of the run home.
The same morning the U-71 and the U-125 arrived near the scene having been diverted from operations across the other side of the Atlantic. HQ Western Approaches, based in Liverpool, was also sending help in the shape of 2 destroyers; the Vanquisher and the Witch. At home, the Admiralty was delighted that, in these days of doom and gloom and increasing losses, the convoy, in particular Capt Walker had taken on the U Boats in a scrap and come out on top. Walkers' tactics were showing results. The Admiralty admitted that, due to Walkers tactics, they would have to have a major rethink in the Atlantic.
The convoy was by now approaching UK waters and they were being overflown by a Liberator for most of the day. At 1600 hrs the Liberator reported 2 U Boats, on the surface, stopped, 25 miles astern. During the night the crew of SS Ogmore Castle, hit by a fluke wave, abandoned ship. It was only after Convolvulus checked did an embarrassed crew returned to ship and continued their voyage, taking its place just before dawn.
Early on the 23rd, the U-751, U-125 and U-71 all tried, and failed, to penetrate the screening warships. Heavy air patrols were now provided by RAF Coastal Command. All U boats were redirected elsewhere as a direct consequence of this and the U-67 was ordered home. That afternoon, within the control area of HQ Western Approaches, Stork received a signal from the convoy commodore stating, "Despite the loss of Audacity and Stanley, you have won a great victory. On behalf of the convoy, deepest congratulations and many thanks". The Admiralty eagerly awaited the report from Capt Walker and, on 6th January 1942, he duly delivered his report at a special meeting with the Dir of Anti Submarine Warfare, at the Admiralty, during which his ideas were put forward and discussed with great interest. Walker had proved his theories worked in practise, at sea, at war.
U Boats that took part in the attacks on HG76:
U-67 - Launched 30 Oct 1940 Bremen. Damaged, returned to base. Captain:
U Boat information can be found on all Boats at
Mal Wright wrote a very good
and well researched article on HG 76 which appears in Against The Odds magazine
Vol 1 Issue 2.
Email: May 2013:
My father was Wilfred Edward Green who as an Asdic operator served with Captain Walker and was awarded the DSM for his part in the historic action escorting convoy HG76 into Gibraltar.
D.S.M. London Gazette 7 April 1942.
‘For bravery in action against enemy submarines while serving in H.M. Ships Stork, Pentstemon, Deptford and Samphire.’
M.I.D. London Gazette 16 August 1940.
‘For good services in the withdrawal of the Allied Armies from the beaches of Dunkirk.’
Wilfred Edward Green’s first distinction, a mention in despatches for “Operation Dynamo”, was won for services as a member of the boats’ crews drawn from the destroyer flotilla leader H.M.S. Codrington. During the period 28 May to 3 June 1940, the Codrington made no less than seven trips to Dunkirk, five of them directly to the beaches, and was several times attacked by enemy aircraft and shore batteries. Her beach parties and boats’ crews, Green among them, especially distinguished themselves, performing arduous work under trying physical conditions, and constant enemy attention, exertions that resulted in some 6175 troops being brought off the beaches.
Green’s subsequent award of the D.S.M. was for services aboard the corvette Pentstemon during the hard fought convoy H.G. 76, bound from Gibraltar, in December 1941. As part of Commander Walker’s escort group - that is the legendary Walker, winner of four D.S.Os and a C.B. - Pentstemon was directly involved in the destruction of the U-131, one of five U-Boats sunk over a ferocious four day battle:
‘On the 16th, nine U-Boats closed in on the convoy but they were to meet tough opposition. The “Woolworth” carrier Audacity accompanied the convoy to give air support to the operation. The close escort was one of Captain Walker’s famous groups. Commander Walker (his rank then) was all-time ace of U-Boat killers; his exploits have been recorded admirably in a number of books. His group on this occasion comprised the sloops Stork and Deptford, plus seven corvettes. In addition to these tough little fighters there were three destroyers to reinforce the group. They were Exmoor, Blankney and Stanley. All these escort vessels came in for some harrowing times in the four days of continuous battle which followed.
The real battle started on the morning of 17 December, when one of Audacity’s aircraft reported a U-Boat on the surface twenty odd miles from the convoy. Commander Walker in Stork led off to investigate, ordering the three destroyers with their greater speed to join him. The corvette Pentstemon [with Green aboard] followed up these pursuing ships. When they were all concentrated, attacks were carried out but without apparent results. In fact we know now that U-131 was badly damaged by the corvettes’ attack and all but finished. Emergency measures eventually brought her to the surface, by which time the searchers were out of sight, hunting elsewhere. Stanley then spotted her about ten miles away. In the general chase which followed, Exmoor and Blankney with their extra turn of speed forged ahead to get in to gun range. While this chase was going on, U-131 did some accurate shooting; an Audacity fighter was shot down as it gunned the fleeing U-Boat. Exmoor’s gunnery was almost as accurate. As soon as she was in range her shots were falling all around the target. U-131 gave up the chase, scuttled herself and was abandoned. Her first and only war patrol was over.’
Regards John Edward Green
Nov 05: I am at present researching family history. In particular
the life of an uncle who lost his life on HMS Audacity. (Sergeant 536881 John
Leslie Newell ).
I would just like to forward my appreciation for your obvious hard work etc in producing such an informative web site. It makes you realise how lucky we are and the depth of gratitude owed. Thanks again. Phil Roberts.