Convoy HX 79
|Part of World War II|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Admiral Karl Dönitz|
|5 U-boats||49 ships
|Casualties and losses|
|none||12 ships sunk
HX 79 was an east-bound convoy of 49 ships which sailed from Halifax on the 8 October 1940 making for Liverpool with war materials. On 19 October, 4 days from landfall, HX 79 was entering the Western Approaches, and had caught up with the position of SC 7, which was under attack.
The escort for the crossing had been meagre, being provided by two Armed Merchant Cruisers against the possibility of attack by a surface raider, but even these had departed when HX 79 was sighted by U-47, commanded by submarine ace KL Günther Prien.
At this point HX 79 was unescorted; Prien sent a sighting report and set to shadowing the convoy, while Dönitz ordered the pack to assemble. Those U-boats which had attacked SC 7 and were still able to fight (three had departed to re-arm, having spent all their torpedoes) were directed to the scene. Four did so, U-100 (Joachim Schepke), U-46 (Engelbert Endrass), U-48 (Heinrich Bleichrodt) and U-38 (Heinrich Liebe) joining U-47 during the day.
However the Admiralty, concerned by the fate of SC 7 and anticipating an attack, rushed reinforcements to the scene; throughout the day a large escort force of 11 warships also gathered to provide cover. This consisted of destroyers Whitehall, Sturdy; corvettes Hibiscus, Heliotrope, Coreopsis, and Arabis; also three armed naval trawlers, a minesweeper and a submarine.
Undeterred by their presence however, the pack attacked as night fell; using the darkness to cover an approach on the surface, Prien penetrated the escort screen from the south to attack from within the convoy, while Endrass (who had learned his trade as Prien’s 1st officer), did the same from the north.
Over the next six hours, 13 ships were torpedoed; 6 by U-47 alone (4 of which were sunk). 10 ships were sunk from the convoy, and 2 stragglers were lost later in the day. These were Shirak, which had been torpedoed in the night, and Loch Lomond, sailing with the convoy as a rescue ship. Another, Athelmonarch, was damaged but was able to make port.
HX 79 had lost 12 ships out of 49, a total tonnage of 75,069 gross register tons (GRT).
None of the attacking U-boats were damaged.
The blackest days 
Of the 63 ships (352,407 GRT) lost in October 1940, more than half (32 ships) were lost from SC 7 and HX 79; and most of those (28 ships) on just two days. Altogether, the 18th and 19 October 1940 constitute the worst days shipping losses of the war.
Despite the strength of the escort, it was ineffective; the ships were un-co-ordinated, being unused to working together, and having no common battle plan or tactics. The escorts had arrived singly, being dispatched as and when available, this being the common practice at the time. Command of the escort force fell to the senior officer present, and could change as each new ship arrived. Any tactical arrangements had to be made on the spot, and communicated by signal lamp to each ship in turn. Finally, the presence of an allied submarine was less than helpful; O-14 had no targets, and was twice attacked by mistake by other escorts.
The failure of such a substantial escort led to a number of changes in escort policy. The first to take effect was the formation of escort groups, collections of escort ships that would operate together, under defined leadership. This would allow the development of consistent tactics, and teamwork, and an increasing effectiveness.
- Paul Lund, Harry Ludlam : The Night of the U-Boats ( 1973). ISBN 0-572-00828-7
- Stephen Roskill : The War at Sea 1939-1945 Vol I (1954). ISBN (none)
- Dan van der Vat : The Atlantic Campaign (1988). ISBN 0-340-37751-8
- Arnold Hague : The Allied Convoy System 1939-1945 (2000). ISBN (Canada) 1 55125 033 0 . ISBN (UK) 1 86176 147 3