Harry Charles Birnie

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Harry Charles Birnie
Born (1882-10-01)1 October 1882
New Aberdour, Aberdeenshire
Died 9 March 1943(1943-03-09) (aged 60)
North Atlantic
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Naval Reserve
Years of service 1904–1919
1940–1943
Rank Commodore
Commands held
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Distinguished Service Order
Other work Sea captain

Captain Harry Charles Birnie, DSO RD (1 October 1882 – 9 March 1943) was a Scottish sea captain and naval officer. His peace-time seafaring career was spent with the Cunard Line. He also served in the Royal Navy in both World Wars, being killed in action while in command of a merchant convoy in the North Atlantic in 1943.

Early life[edit]

Birnie was the son of Reverend C. Birnie, MA, and Katherine Birnie,[1] of New Aberdour, in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Cunard service[edit]

Birnie served as a junior officer on Campania, under Sir Arthur Henry Rostron. On 26 April 1907, Rostron and Birnie are said to have observed a sea monster. Rostron wrote about the episode in his autobiography,[2] while Birnie confirmed the account several years later.[3]

During the inter-war years, Birnie returned to the Cunard Line, eventually reaching the rank of captain at a young age. He made numerous Atlantic crossings in command of the Mauretania, Berengaria and Aquitania.[4]

Naval service[edit]

World War I[edit]

While employed by the Cunard Line, Birnie was also a member of the Royal Naval Reserve, having been commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in 1904,[5] and promoted to lieutenant on 12 December 1907.[6]

During World War I, Birnie served in the Royal Navy, commanding HM Torpedo Boat 82 in 1915, and the destroyer Fairy in the North Sea in 1916–1917.[7]

On 18 November 1917, while in command of the patrol boat HMS P-57, Lieutenant-Commander Birnie sank a German submarine, UC-47, off Flamborough Head, Yorkshire, initially by ramming it at near full-speed, then dropping depth charges. He received the Distinguished Service Order for this exploit in February 1918, while the Admiralty awarded a "kill" bonus of £1,000 to be shared by the crew of HMS P-57.[3][8][9]

World War II[edit]

During World War II, Birnie served from 1940 onwards, holding the rank of acting-commodore (2nd class) and attached to HMS Eaglet.[1] He commanded several convoys, carrying men and materiel across the Atlantic; including Convoys ON 50,[10] UR 32,[11] ON 162,[12] and SC 121.[13] In December 1942, Birnie was mentioned in despatches: "For outstanding devotion to duty during two years' arduous service as [a] commodore of convoys."[14]

Death[edit]

In February and March 1943, Birnie was in command of Convoy SC 121 from New York to Liverpool, sailing in the Norwegian merchant ship Bonneville. On 9 March 1943, the Bonneville was struck by a torpedo, apparently fired by the German submarine U-405. Birnie was amongst those lost. He initially stayed on Bonneville after she was hit, but eventually he and one of his staff jumped overboard from the after end of the ship. Some other survivors on a raft saw them in the water but were unable to maneuver the raft to them.[15] It was reported that this convoy was to be his last.[4]

He is memorialised on the Liverpool Naval Memorial[16] for sailors of the Royal Navy Reserve who were lost at sea during World War II. There is also a headstone commemorating him at the New Aberdour Old Churchyard.[17]

Trinity House[edit]

Birnie was an Elder Brother of Trinity House,[1] a non-departmental public body of the United Kingdom responsible for maritime safety. As part of his functions, he served as a nautical assessor in the British courts, including in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Casualty Details - Birnie, Harry Charles". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
  2. ^ Rostron, Arthur (1931). Home from the Sea. Macmillan. pp. 45–47. 
  3. ^ a b Molony, Senan. "Rostron's Monster". Encyclopedia Titanica. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Cunard Captain Missing". The Examiner (Launceston, Tasmania: National Library of Australia). 25 March 1943. p. 1. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  5. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27689. p. 4036. 24 June 1904.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 28090. p. 8777. 17 December 1907.
  7. ^ Houterman, Hans; Koppes, Jeroen (2010). "Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) Officers 1939–1945 (Baber to Byron)". unithistories.com. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  8. ^ McDonald, Kendall. "Rammed!". Diver Magazine Online. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
  9. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30536. p. 2301. 19 February 1918.
  10. ^ "Convoy ON 50, December 24, 1941 - 3 January 1942". convoyweb.org.uk. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  11. ^ "Convoy UR 32, United Kingdom to Reykjavik, Iceland, July 11–16, 1942". warsailors.com. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  12. ^ "Convoy ON 162, Liverpool to New York, January–February 1943". warsailors.com. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  13. ^ "Convoy SC 121, New York to Liverpool, February 23 - March 14, 1943". warsailors.com. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  14. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35823. p. 5462. 15 December 1942.
  15. ^ "M/S Bonneville". warsailors.com. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  16. ^ "Liverpool Naval Memorial". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  17. ^ "New Aberdour Old Churchyard". twgpp.org. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  18. ^ "The Steamer Phillip T. Dodge v. Dominion Bridge Company, Limited (1935 UKPC 55)". bailii.org. Retrieved 15 April 2014.