Convoy ON 154
|Convoy ON 154|
|Part of Battle of the Atlantic|
HMCS St. Laurent
| United Kingdom
|Commanders and leaders|
|VADM W de M Egerton
LCDR Guy Windeyer RCN
|Admiral Karl Dönitz|
|Casualties and losses|
|13 freighters sunk (66,922 GRT)
1 Q-ship sunk
|1 submarine sunk
The ships departed Liverpool on 18 December 1942 and were met by the Royal Canadian Navy Mid-Ocean Escort Force Group C-1, consisting of the River-class destroyer HMCS St. Laurent with the Flower-class corvettes HMCS Battleford, Chilliwack, Kenogami, Napanee, and Shediac. ON-154 included the convoy rescue ship Toward, the oiler Scottish Heather and the French-crewed 2456-ton Special Service Vessel HMS Fidelity (D57). Fidelity was armed with four 4-inch (10 cm) guns, four torpedo tubes and a defensive torpedo net. She carried two landing craft (LCV-752 and LCV-754), two OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes and the Motor Torpedo Boat MTB 105.
The convoy sailed in twelve columns of three or four ships each. The convoy formation was five miles wide and 1.5 miles long.
As western Atlantic coastal convoys brought an end to the second happy time, Admiral Karl Dönitz, the Befehlshaber der U-Boote (BdU) or commander in chief of U-boats, shifted focus to the mid-Atlantic to avoid aircraft patrols. Although convoy routing was less predictable in the mid-ocean, Dönitz anticipated that the increased numbers of U-boats being produced would be able to effectively search for convoys with the advantage of intelligence gained through B-Dienst decryption of British Naval Cypher Number 3. However, only 20 percent of the 180 trans-Atlantic convoys sailing from the end of July 1942 until the end of April 1943 lost ships to U-boat attack.
Discovery on 26/27 December
ON-154 was routed south to avoid storms and remained distant from escort support groups and out of range of Allied patrol bombers for longer than most convoys. U-662 reported the convoy on 26 December. That night U-356 torpedoed the leading ships from two of the starboard columns. Empire Union was hit at 0140, Melrose Abbey was hit ten minutes later. Both British freighters sank at about 0230. Toward rescued 63 survivors from the first ship and 47 from the second.
In a second attack, U-356 torpedoed the Dutch freighter Soekaboemi at 0410, and the British freighter King Edward at 0415. King Edward sank within three minutes. U-356 was detected by the escorts and was sunk with no survivors following depth charge attacks by St. Laurent, Chilliwack, Battleford and Napanee. At dawn, Toward rescued 25 men from the King Edward and assisted Napanee, recovering all but one of Soekaboemi's crew. Soekaboemi remained afloat when abandoned at 0730.
Second attack on 27/28 December
U-225 began stalking Scottish Heather as she refuelled some of the escorts fifteen miles astern of the convoy on the afternoon of 27 December. U-225 was twice driven off by Chilliwack before hitting the oiler with a single torpedo in a third approach at 2040. The ship was temporarily abandoned, but the second mate re-boarded her with ten men and sailed the ship out of the danger zone. At dawn he returned and pattern-searched for lifeboats. The oiler returned to England independently after recovering all of her crew.
Main attack on 28/29 December
U-260 began shadowing the convoy on the morning of 28 December and directed 18 U-boats to the convoy. Fidelity attempted to launch a Kingfisher, but the plane capsized and sank at 1915. While St. Laurent rescued the Kingfisher crew, a coordinated night attack began with U-boats entering the starboard side of the convoy at 1958. U-591 torpedoed the Norwegian freighter Norse King at 2000. U-225 torpedoed the British freighters Melmore Head at 2003 and Ville de Rouen at 2005. U-260 torpedoed the British freighter Empire Wagtail at 2045. As Empire Wagtail disintegrated in an explosion that claimed all of her crew, Fidelity reported a main engine failure; Shediac was sent to assist her two miles astern of the convoy.
U-boats then entered the port side of the convoy. U-406 torpedoed the British freighters Lynton Grange at 2120, Zarian at 2123, and Baron Cochrane at 2124. U-662 hit the damaged Ville de Rouen again at 2210 and U-225 torpedoed the convoy commodore's freighter Empire Shackleton at 2215 and the Belgian freighter President Francoui at 2230.
Disabled ships were also being attacked astern of the convoy. Baron Cochrane was sunk at 2150 by U-123 and U-628 sank Lynton Grange a few minutes later. The crews had abandoned both ships when they were hit earlier. U-123 and U-435 sank Empire Shackleton at 2255. U-591 sank the abandoned Zarian just before midnight.
Shediac was ordered to leave Fidelity 30 miles astern and rejoin the convoy while searching for survivors. Shediac rescued 35 survivors from Melmore Head and 71 from Ville de Rouen between 0310 and 0330 and 24 from Empire Shackleton at 0530. Shediac rejoined the convoy at 1300 short of fuel and with inadequate provisions for the number of survivors aboard.
Two lifeboats abandoned the damaged President Francoui, but the remainder of the crew attempted to sail independently to the Azores. U-225 torpedoed the ship again at 0630 and it was sunk at 0930 by U-336. The damaged Norse King was similarly attempting to reach the Azores when she was sunk by U-435 at 1507. There were no survivors.
The convoy escort was reinforced by the M-class destroyers HMS Milne and Meteor at 1400 on 29 December after the arriving destroyers rescued 42 survivors from Baron Cochrane at 0700, 52 survivors from Lynton Grange at 0720 and 49 survivors from Zarian at 0815.
HMS Fidelity 29/30 December
Fidelity restarted main engines at 0500 and declined the offer to dispatch a tug from Gibraltar. Speed was limited to two knots while streaming anti-torpedo nets when observed by Meteor and Milne at 0530. U-615 found Fidelity while her main engines were again stopped for repairs between 1015 and 1100. U-615 identified Fidelity as a Q-ship and shadowed her cautiously. A reconnaissance flight by Fidelity's remaining Kingfisher observed two shadowing submarines and two of Empire Shackleton's lifeboats. Fidelity launched LCV-752 and LCV-754 to tow-in the lifeboats. Fidelity recovered the Kingfisher and the two landing craft with Empire Shackleton's survivors that afternoon and launched MTB-105 to conduct anti-submarine patrols through the night. U-615 launched four torpedoes at Fidelity at about 2000, but the anti-torpedo net protected the ship from damage. MTB-105 experienced engine problems and lost contact with Fidelity at about 2300. MTB-105 heard radio calls from Fidelity shortly after dawn, but had inadequate battery power to respond. U-435 torpedoed Fidelity at 1630 and was surprised by the size of the resulting explosion and by the large number of men subsequently seen floating in the water where the ship had sunk. MTB-105 rigged a makeshift sail to try and reach land.
Battleford, Shediac, Milne and Meteor were released on 30 December to refuel in the Azores. With only four escorts remaining and as many as twelve U-boats in contact with the convoy, St. Laurent's captain, as commander of Escort Group C-1, suffered a nervous breakdown at the scale of the losses. Following the loss of the convoy commodore, he invited two fast ships with large passenger complements (Calgary and Advastun), to escape if they found an opportunity. HMCS St. Francis and the V-class destroyer HMS Viceroy reinforced the convoy escort before nightfall on 30 December, the U-boats were ordered to disengage.
Shediac and Meteor ran out of fuel before reaching the Azores. Battleford towed Shediac the last 40 miles and Meteor was towed the last five miles. All four refuelled and joined the search for survivors. HMCS Prescott found and rescued the eight men aboard MTB-105 on 1 January; but, aside from the 2-man Kingfisher crew rescued earlier by St. Laurent, there were no other survivors from Fidelity's crew of 325 and the men rescued from Empire Shackleton. Prescott also saved 26 crewmen from President Francoui, but the recovery effort found no other convoy survivors. The remainder of the convoy reached New York City on 12 January 1943.
Ships in the convoy
|Aldrastus (1923)||United Kingdom||7,905|
|Algorab (1921)||Netherlands||4,938||Destination Cape Town|
|Baron Cochrane (1927)||United Kingdom||2||3,385||4,376 tons coal||Sunk by U-406 and U-123|
|Baron Elgin (1933)||United Kingdom||3,942||Veteran of convoy SL 125; destination Halifax; survived this convoy, convoy SC 122 & convoy ONS 5|
|Baron Inchcape (1917)||United Kingdom||7,005|
|Belle Isle (1932)||United States||1,960|
|Berkel (1930)||Netherlands||2,130||Veteran of convoy SC 107; survived this convoy and convoy ONS 5|
|Bonita (1918)||Panama||4,929||Survived this convoy and convoy SC 122|
|Bornholm (1930)||United Kingdom||3,177||Veteran of convoy SL 125; survived this convoy and convoy ONS 5|
|Calgary (1921)||United Kingdom||7,206||Veteran of convoy SL 125|
|Dundrum Castle (1919)||United Kingdom||5,259||Veteran of convoy SC 42 and convoy SL 125|
|E G Seubert (1918)||United States||9,181||Survived this convoy and convoy SC 130|
|Empire Cougar (1919)||United Kingdom||5,758||Veteran of convoy SL 125|
|Empire Geraint (1942)||United Kingdom||6,991|
|Empire Shackleton (1941)||United Kingdom||37||7,068||2,000 tons ammunition, aircraft & general cargo||Veteran of convoy SC 107, carried convoy commodore VADM W de M Egerton DSO; sunk by U-225, U-123 & U-435|
|Empire Simba (1919)||United Kingdom||5,691||Veteran of convoy SL 125|
|Empire Union (1921)||United Kingdom||6||5,952||940 tons general cargo||Veteran of convoy SC 107; sunk by U-356|
|Empire Wagtail (1919)||United Kingdom||43||4,893||Sunk by U-260|
|Esturia (1914)||United Kingdom||6,968|
|Fana (1939)||Norway||1,375||Survived this convoy and convoy ONS 5|
|Fort Lamy (1919)||United Kingdom||5,242||Ship's Master was convoy vice-commodore; survived to be sunk 2 months later in convoy SC 121|
|Henry R Mallory (1916)||United States||6,063||Survived to be sunk a month later in convoy SC 118|
|James Hawson (1930)||Norway||6,074|
|Janeta (1929)||United Kingdom||4,312||Veteran of convoy SC 107|
|Jasper Park (1942)||United Kingdom||7,129|
|King Edward (1919)||United Kingdom||23||5,224||In Ballast||Veteran of convoy SL 125; sunk by U-356|
|Kiruna (1921)||Sweden||5,484||Veteran of convoy HX 79; survived this convoy and convoy SC 118|
|Lynton Grange (1937)||United Kingdom||0||5,029||5,997 tons general cargo||Veteran of convoy SL 125; sunk by U-628 and U-406|
|Melmore Head (1918)||United Kingdom||14||5,273||In Ballast||Veteran of convoy SC 7 and convoy SC 94; sunk by U-225|
|Melrose Abbey II (1936)||United Kingdom||7||2,473||3,403 tons coal||Sunk by U-356|
|Norse King (1920)||Norway||35||5,701||5,453 tons coal||Sunk by U-435 and U-591|
|Northmoor (1928)||United Kingdom||4,392||Destination Cape Town|
|Olney (1920)||United States||7,294||Veteran of convoy SC 107|
|President Francqui (1928)||Belgium||5||4,919||In Ballast||Sunk by U-225 and U-336|
|Ravnefjell (1938)||Norway||1,339||Veteran of convoy HX 79; survived this convoy, convoy SC 121 and convoy SC 130|
|Runswick (1930)||United Kingdom||3,970||Returned to England|
|Scottish Heather (1928)||United Kingdom||7,087||Escort oiler, damaged by U-225 and returned to England|
|Soekaboemi (1923)||Netherlands||1||7,051||5,000 tons general cargo||Sunk by U-441 as a coup de grace, after having sustained damage from an earlier attack by U-356|
|Toward (1923)||United Kingdom||1,571||convoy rescue ship|
|Tynemouth (1940)||United Kingdom||3,168||Veteran of convoy SC 94 and convoy SL 125|
|Umgeni (1938)||United Kingdom||8,149||Detached 1 January|
|Veni (1901)||Norway||2,982||Veteran of convoy SC 94|
|Vest (1920)||Norway||5,074||Veteran of convoy SC 107|
|Ville de Rouen (1919)||United Kingdom||0||5,083||5,500 tons general cargo||Veteran of convoy SL 125; sunk by U-591 and U-662|
|Vistula (1920)||United States||8,537||Survived this convoy and convoy SC 122|
|Wisla (1928)||Poland||3,106||Veteran of convoy SC 42|
|Zarian (1938)||United Kingdom||4||4,871||7,500 tons general cargo||Veteran of convoy SL 125; sunk by U-406 and U-591|
- Milner pp. 206–209
- Hague 2000 p. 158
- Milner 1985 p. 287
- Rohwer & Hummelchen 1992 p. 183
- Lenton & Colledge 1968 p. 279
- "Convoy ONS 154". J. Gordon Mumford. Retrieved 2010-12-02.
- Tarrant p. 108
- Hague pp. 132, 137–138, 161–162, 164 & 181
- Milner 1985 p. 3
- Hague 2000 p. 161
- Milner 1985 pp. 4 & 209
- "ON convoys". Andrew Hague Convoy Database. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
- Hague 2000 p. 146
- "Soekaboemi – Dutch steam merchant". www.uboat.net. Retrieved 14 November 2013.
- Hague, Arnold (2000). The Allied Convoy System 1939–1945. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-019-3.
- Lenton, H.T.; Colledge, J.J. (1968). British and Dominion Warships of World War Two. Doubleday and Company.
- Milner, Marc (1985). North Atlantic Run. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-450-0.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot (1975). History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume I The Battle of the Atlantic 1939–1943. Little, Brown and Company.
- Rohwer, J.; Hummelchen, G. (1992). Chronology of the War at Sea 1939–1945. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-105-X.
- Tarrant, V.E. (1989). The U-Boat Offensive 1914–1945. Arms and Armour. ISBN 1-85409-520-X.
- Gordon Mumford's account of Convoy ONS-154