HMT Bedfordshire

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Career (UK) RN Ensign
Name: HMT Bedfordshire
Namesake: Bedfordshire, England
Builder: Smith's Dock Co.
Launched: 17 July 1935
Completed: August 1935
Acquired: August 1939
Fate: Sunk by U-558 on 11 May 1942
General characteristics
Tonnage: 443 GRT
Length: 162.3 feet (49.5 m)
Beam: 26.7 feet (8.1 m)
Propulsion: 3-cylinder triple expansion engine
Sensors and
processing systems:
ASDIC
Armament: 1 × 4 inch gun;
1 × machine gun;
depth charges

HMT[1] Bedfordshire (FY141) was an armed naval trawler in the service of the Royal Naval Patrol Service during World War II. Transferred to the East Coast of the United States to assist the United States Navy with anti-submarine patrols, she was staffed by a British and Canadian crew. Bedfordshire was sunk by the German U-boat U-558 on 11 May 1942 off the coast of Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, with the loss of all hands.

Construction[edit]

Bedfordshire was built as a commercial fishing trawler by Smiths Dock Company of South Bank, Middlesbrough, England. Launched at Teesside on 17 July 1935, she was completed in August 1935 and turned over to her owners, Bedfordshire Fishing Company of Grimsby, managed by H. Markham Cook Ltd. Bedfordshire was 162.3 feet (49.5 m) long, with a 26.7-foot (8.1 m) beam.[2]

The Admiralty acquired Bedfordshire for anti-submarine duty in August 1939.[3] Converted for service as a naval trawler, she was armed with a 4-inch gun, machine guns, and depth charges.

Service in British waters[edit]

Following completion of her conversion in December 1940, HMT Bedfordshire undertook anti-submarine patrols and escort duty off the southwest coast of England and in the Bristol Channel. She served in this capacity throughout 1941 and early 1942.[4]

Situation in American waters deteriorates[edit]

After Germany declared war on the United States on 11 December 1941, German U-boats quickly became a deadly threat on the East Coast. The United States Navy was ill-prepared to defend against submarine warfare, and U-boats found it easy to pick off commercial shipping vessels, which traveled unescorted. The onslaught began with Operation Drumbeat when 35 Allied ships were sunk by U-boats off the American coast in January 1942.[5]

In March 1942, the Royal Navy sent 24 converted trawlers, including Bedfordshire, to assist the United States Navy with anti-submarine patrols along the East Coast.[6] Bedfordshire, commanded by Lieutenant Russell Bransby Davis, RNR, was assigned to the Fifth Naval District, headquartered at Naval Station Norfolk. She operated out of Morehead City, North Carolina, primarily in sectors two and three, where she patrolled the waters surrounding the Outer Banks[7] while U-boats continued to terrorize local shipping.[6]

Service on the American coast[edit]

On 16 April 1942, Bedfordshire along with HMT Lady Elsa, HMS Tourmaline, and USS Roper conducted patrols in sector two.[7] Bedfordshire and Tourmaline assisted USS Stringham in the search for survivors of a sunken tanker in sector two on 17 April.[7]

On 18 April, Bedfordshire searched for survivors of U-85,[8] the first U-boat sunk by the US Navy off the East Coast.[9] For the next several days Bedfordshire stood guard duty over a concerted attempt to salvage U-85. The effort was ultimately unsuccessful and the attempt was abandoned on 22 April.[7][10] The remains of U-85 lie at a depth of less than 100 feet (30 m) in the waters off Bodie Island Lighthouse; its Enigma machine was recovered in 2001.[11]

The remainder of April was spent patrolling in the vicinity of Currituck Island, Hatteras Island, and Lookout Shoals.[7]

On 1 May, a plane reported having spotted a lifeboat some 255 miles east of Cape Lookout, and Bedfordshire was sent on a search and rescue mission. She was back on patrol in sector three from 07-09 May, after which she returned to Morehead City.[12]

At noon on 10 May Bedfordshire and HMT St Zeno departed Morehead City to escort a convoy to Hatteras, arriving safely near midnight.[13]

Sinking[edit]

On 10 May 1942, Bedfordshire and HMT St Loman were dispatched from Morehead City to search for a U-boat believed to be in the vicinity of Ocracoke Island. The ships were spotted by U-558, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Günther Krech. Later in the evening Krech, believing his sub had been detected, fired on St Loman, which spotted the torpedoes and evaded them. The search continued throughout the night. At 5:40 am on 11 May 1942, U-558 fired a torpedo at Bedfordshire, missed, and fired a second, which scored a direct hit and sank her immediately. All 37 men aboard were killed.[14][15] A 38th crewman, a young stoker named Sam Nutt, had been detained at Morehead City by local police and narrowly missed boarding the ship for her last patrol.[16]

Commemorative plaque at British Cemetery, Ocracoke Island

On 14 May, the bodies of two seamen were discovered by a Coast Guardsman on the shores of Ocracoke Island. Their British uniforms offered the first indication that Bedfordshire may have met her end, and the U-boat menace was presumed to be responsible.[17] Her fate was confirmed the following year after U-558 was sunk, resulting in the capture of Kapitänleutnant Krech and his ship's diaries.[16]

Burials[edit]

The bodies found on 14 May were identified as Sub-Lieutenant Thomas Cunningham and Ordinary Telegraphist Stanley Craig of the Bedfordshire, and their remains were buried in a small plot next to a cemetery in Ocracoke Village. The Royal Navy flag draped over Cunningham's coffin was one of several that he himself had given to a local man less than a month earlier for the funeral ceremonies of British seamen.[18][19] Shortly thereafter, two additional bodies from the ship washed ashore on Ocracoke. Unidentified, they were also buried in what became known as the Ocracoke Island British Cemetery.[20]

On nearby Hatteras Island, the body of a fifth British seaman, unidentifiable but presumed to be from Bedfordshire, washed ashore on 21 May. The month prior, a British sailor from the sunken merchant ship San Delfino had been buried on Hatteras; the Bedfordshire seaman was interred in an adjacent plot, resulting in a second British Cemetery, formally known as Cape Hatteras Coast Guard Burial Ground.[21]

In late May or early June, a sixth body, that of Seaman Alfred Dryden, washed ashore at Swan Quarter, North Carolina. Dryden was buried in Oak Grove Baptist Cemetery at Creeds, Virginia, with three of the dead from HMT Kingston Ceylonite, sunk by a mine on 15 June 1942, whose bodies washed ashore nearby.[4][22]

Commemoration[edit]

The British Cemeteries on Ocracoke and Hatteras were leased in 1976 in perpetuity to the British government for as long as the interred men rest there.[20] Formal custody is handled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which provided the protocol headstones. Regular maintenance is handled by the US Coast Guard and local residents as a gesture of gratitude and respect to the fallen men and an act of comity to the British government. A Royal Navy flag flies over the cemeteries, and a ceremony is held there each year on 11 May to honor the men of the Bedfordshire.[23] The Commonwealth War Graves Commission also provided headstones for the four British servicemen interred in Creeds, Virginia, including Alfred Dryden of the Bedfordshire.[22]

The crewmen whose bodies were not recovered are honored by name on the Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial at Lowestoft.[24]

The wreck of the Bedfordshire was located in 1980 at 34°10′N 76°41′W / 34.167°N 76.683°W / 34.167; -76.683Coordinates: 34°10′N 76°41′W / 34.167°N 76.683°W / 34.167; -76.683 at a depth of 100 feet (30 m).[3] The site is considered a protected war grave under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. In 2008 and 2009 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration led an expedition to document the condition of ships sunk during the Battle of the Atlantic. At the request of the British government, the Bedfordshire wreck site was surveyed by the expedition in 2009.[4] [25]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ HMT (His Majesty's Trawler) is a variation on the more commonly used British ship prefix HMS (His Majesty's Ship).
  2. ^ "Bedfordshire". Smiths Dock Company Yard List for vessels completed between 1930 and 1944. teesbuiltships.co.uk. Retrieved 26 October 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "HMS Bedfordshire (FY 141)". uboat.net. Retrieved 25 Oct 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c "HMT Bedfordshire". Battle of the Atlantic Expedition. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 19 April 2010. Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  5. ^ Hancock, p. 414.
  6. ^ a b Conn, p. 96.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Eastern Sea Patrol Log". uboatarchive.net. April 1942. Retrieved 26 October 2012. 
  8. ^ Gannon, Michael (2011). Operation Drumbeat: Germany's U-Boat Attacks Along the American Coast in World War II. HarperCollins. Retrieved 26 October 2012. "By 0830 seven aircraft, including a blimp, were overhead and a British trawler, HMS Bedfordshire, arrived to assist in recovering bodies." 
  9. ^ Conn, p. 97.
  10. ^ Blair 1996, p. 543.
  11. ^ Hadley, Miles (5 April 2003). "Home Found for "Enigmatic" WW II U-boat Relic". Naval Historical Center. Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  12. ^ "Eastern Sea Patrol Log". May 1942. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
  13. ^ Naisawald, L. VanLoan (1972). In Some Foreign Field: The story of four British graves on the Outer Banks. J.F. Blair. ISBN 0910244650. 
  14. ^ Blair 1996, p. 574.
  15. ^ Hickam, p. 205.
  16. ^ a b "HMS Bedfordshire one of the 24 British trawlers sent to help the United States". Harry Tate's Navy. Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  17. ^ Hickam, p. 207.
  18. ^ Hickam, p. 207.
  19. ^ Runyan, p. 163.
  20. ^ a b "Ocracoke Island (British) Cemetery". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  21. ^ "Cape Hatteras (U.S. Coast Guard) Burial Ground". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  22. ^ a b "Casualty details: Alfred Dryden". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  23. ^ Offbeat travel:British Cemetery at Ocracoke, North Carolina
  24. ^ "Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial by Vessel". Royal Naval Patrol Service. Retrieved 26 October 2012. 
  25. ^ Wagner, John (January 2010). "Preserving the Memory of the Battle of the Atlantic through Maritime Archaeology" (PDF). Stem to Stern (East Carolina University) (volume 26): 19. 

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]