Tuesday, December 9, 2008

HMS Jervis Bay (F-40)

Figure 1: The ocean liner SS Jervis Bay as she appeared prior to World War II. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: HMS Jervis Bay (F-40) as she appeared after her conversion to an armed merchant cruiser. This photograph of HMS Jervis Bay was taken by Peter Tingey, an apprentice aboard the Canonesa. It was taken in September 1940 as Jervis Bay was escorting Convoy HX72. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: The officers from HMS Jervis Bay. This photo was published in November 1940 in the Telegraph-Journal, a local newspaper from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. Back row - left to right - Gunner E.R. Stannard, Lieut. Richard Shackleton, Surgeon-Lieut. H.St.J. Hiley, Paymaster Lieut. A.W. Stott, Lieut. Hugh Williamson (chief radio officer), Lieut. A.H.W. Bartle, Lieut. Norman E. Wood, Lieut. Walter Hill, Lieut.-Commdr. George L. Roe, Lieut. H.G.B. Moss, Paymaster Lieut. J.G. Sargeant. Middle row - left to right - Paymaster Commdr. E.W. White, Lieut. Commdr. K.M. Morrison, Commdr. J.A.P. Blackburn, D.S.C., Capt. E.S. Fogarty Fegen , V.C., Engineer Commdr. J.H.G. Chappell, Lieut. Commdr. A.W. Driscoll. Front row - left to right - Wireless Operator Donald Curry, Midshn. Owens, Midshn. Ronald A.G. Butler, Midshn. C.C.T. Latch, Midshn. W.B. Thistleton. Other senior officers of the vessel, including Surgeon Lieut. Commdr. T.G. Evans , Lieut. Dudlet J.H. Bigg, and Sub-Lt. Guy Byam-Corstiaens are not shown in the picture. Surgeon-Lieutenant Commander Evans, who rejoined the ship shortly before she sailed in her last convoy, relieved Surgeon-Lieutenant Hiley. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: Captain Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen, VC, Royal Navy, commanding officer of the HMS Jervis Bay. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: Painting of HMS Jervis Bay during her battle with the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer on 5 November 1940. Courtesy Michael W. Pocock, MaritimeQuest.com. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6: The next three photographs are movie frames from a film shot by a crewman on board the Admiral Scheer, who had a 16-mm movie camera equipped with a telephoto lens. These pictures were taken during the first fifteen minutes of the battle. This picture shows some 11-inch shells fired from Admiral Scheer straddling HMS Jervis Bay. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 7: This photograph shows HMS Jervis Bay being hit by one of Admiral Scheer’s shells. But Jervis Bay is still firing back at the German battleship. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 8: More shells hit HMS Jervis Bay, which was being blown to pieces by Admiral Scheer. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 9: Survivors from Jervis Bay on board the Swedish freighter Stureholm, under the command of Captain Sven Olander. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 10: The German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer in 1933. Admiral Scheer was named after Admiral Reinhard Scheer and it was designated a “Pocket” battleship by the British in 1939. Germany called it a Panzerschiff (armored ship) of the Deutschland class of battleships. Under Captain Theodor Krancke, Admiral Scheer was one of the most successful commerce raiders of World War II. Her longest raid took her as far as the Indian Ocean. She capsized and sank after being bombed by the Royal Air Force while docked at Kiel in 1945.

Figure 11: Captain Charles Woodward, Master of the modern 60,000-ton container ship M.V. Jervis Bay, standing by Montague Dawson's original painting "The Convoy That Got Through." The painting depicted HMS Jervis Bay’s battle with Admiral Scheer. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 12: The current MV Jervis Bay built in 1993, a 60,000-ton container ship. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after a bay in Australia, Jervis Bay was an ocean liner built in 1922 by Vickers Ltd., at Barrow in Furness, England. She was part of the Aberdeen & Commonwealth Line and was largely used to transport emigrants between Australia and England. Jervis Bay carried 732 third-class passengers but only 12 first-class passengers, and these were usually government officials. The 14,000-ton ocean liner was approximately 549 feet long and 68 feet wide and had a top speed of 15 knots.

By the early 1930s, Jervis Bay had been taken over by the P&O Line. Jervis Bay continued functioning as an ocean liner until August 1939, when she was acquired by the Royal Navy and converted into an armed merchant cruiser. Also known as “auxiliary cruisers,” armed merchant cruisers were basically ocean liners with guns bolted on to their decks. At the start of World War II, the Royal Navy was so short of convoy escorts that it converted ocean liners into armed merchant cruisers, hoping that these ships could buy some time until more appropriate escorts could be built. In the case of the SS Jervis Bay, now HMS Jervis Bay (F-40), the elderly ocean liner was armed with seven World War I-vintage 6-inch guns and two 3-inch guns. The ship had no armor protection and had a crew of 255 officers and men. In command of Jervis Bay was 49-year-old Captain Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen, RN, a tough career officer with a large amount of seagoing experience.

On 28 October 1940, a convoy of 38 merchant ships formed into nine columns at the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The convoy, code-named HX 84, was under the protection of HMS Jervis Bay. The convoy was bound for Britain and the Jervis Bay was the only escort for all 38 merchant ships, which shows how short the British were of suitable escorts. A meeting was held in Halifax prior to the convoy’s departure and it was attended by all of the merchant ship captains in the convoy as well as Captain Fegen. At the end of the meeting, Captain Fegen said, "Should we have the unlikely bad luck to cross the path of a pocket battleship, I can only promise to do my best." Little did he know how prophetic those words would be.

Late in the afternoon of 5 November 1940, while steaming in the middle of the Atlantic, convoy HX 84 had the unfortunate bad luck to run straight into one of Germany’s modern pocket battleships, Admiral Scheer. Under the command of Captain Theodor Krancke, Admiral Scheer was heavily armed with six 11-inch guns, eight 5.9-inch guns, six 4.1-inch guns, eight 37-mm guns, ten 20-mm guns, and eight 21-inch torpedo tubes. Captain Fegen understood immediately that the convoy was in deep trouble. Armed only with his seven antiquated 6-inch guns, Fegen knew he was no match for Admiral Scheer. But Captain Fegen, the son of Vice Admiral Frederick Fogarty Fegen, came from a long and illustrious line of Royal Navy officers. Retreat, let alone surrender, was simply not an option. So, while looking certain death straight in the eyes, Captain Fegen did not flinch and turned his ship directly towards Admiral Scheer. He was going to attack the German battleship, hoping that this would allow the unarmed merchant ships enough time to scatter and get away. Night was fast approaching and, with a little luck, the dispersed merchant ships would be hard for Admiral Scheer to locate in the dark.

The entire battle lasted only about 24 minutes. Captain Fegen signaled the other ships in the convoy to scatter and then ordered Jervis Bay to fire all of its guns, even though she was hopelessly out of range from Admiral Scheer. But the German battleship had no problems hitting Jervis Bay with her 11-inch guns. Armor-piercing shells began pounding Jervis Bay, with one of the shells hitting the bridge. The resulting explosion tore off one of Captain Fegen’s arms, but he was still alive and managed to stay in command of the ship. Unfortunately, he was killed a few minutes later after several more shells slammed into his ship. By now Jervis Bay was a blazing wreck and the command was given to abandon ship. She sank a few minutes later and only a handful of survivors managed to make it into the water. Admiral Scheer destroyed five merchant ships after the loss of Jervis Bay, but the rest of the convoy, 33 ships, managed to get away. Later that evening, Captain Sven Olander of the Swedish freighter Stureholm made the bold decision to go back and search for survivors from Jervis Bay, even though Admiral Scheer was still lurking around in the area looking for more targets. Stureholm managed to rescue 65 men, but the rest of the crew (190 men including Captain Fegen) went down with the ship. After making this daring rescue, Stureholm slipped away and returned to Halifax.

Jervis Bay bought the precious time that it took for most of the ships in the convoy to get away from Admiral Scheer. Many more merchant ships would have been lost had the armed merchant cruiser not attacked the German battleship. For his sacrifice during the battle, Captain Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, England’s highest award for valor. Was the amazing sacrifice of Jervis Bay worth the cost? The crewmen on board the 33 merchant ships who survived the confrontation with the German battleship certainly agreed with Captain Fegen’s decision.