Convoy HG72 had left Gibraltar on the 2nd September bound for Liverpool. HMS Maplin a ‘CAM ship’ – Catapult Armed Merchantman – was among the escorts. She was fitted with a rocket launched Hurricane that could be launched when the convoy came under air attack. All was uneventful until the 14th. The report of Maplin’s Captain illustrates the hazards involved in this method of convoy protection:
Sept. 14 1941:
11:45 – Lookouts reported an aircraft flying at sea level, bearing 360°. At the time the visibility was about 7 miles and identification was not possible.
11:55 – The aircraft was again seen, bearing 045°. HMS Vanoc opened fire and reported a Focke Wolfe, at a distance of about 7 miles from the convoy.
11:58 – In 51 08N 11 53W, when at a distance of about 7 miles and on the same bearing, the aircraft was seen in silouhette, and Maplin identified it as a Focke Wolfe.
12:00 – The aircraft turned towards the convoy and appeared to be coming in for attack, so a Hurricane was flown off. The pilot, Sub Lt. C. Walker, R.N.V.R. saw the enemy immediately as he left the ship and went straight to meet it, carrying out a head-on attack until at point blank range. He saw that his ammunition entered the nose of the German aircraft.
He then turned and carried out an attack from astern, reporting that his ammunition again hit the enemy, which subsequently entered a cloud, with the Hurricane close on its tail. This part of the encounter was witnessed from Maplin, and her commander was “very disappointed” to see that the Focke Wolfe was able to continue flying.
Knowing the difficult conditions in which the Hurricane’s pilot had to operate he was ordered back to the ship and was directed to intercept. He was able to do so, but due to cloud, he could not fire anything other than short bursts, after the last of which the enemy jettisoned his bomb load from above cloud before taking off towards his base.
This was plotted out by RD/F to 40 miles on a course of 120°. As the bombs hit the water, the Hurricane came into view below cloud, and was again ordered to follow the Focke Wolfe, but as R/T failed at this point, it continued to orbit the convoy, and R/T contact was not regained while it was in the air.
13:54 – The pilot baled out and was picked up by HMS Rochester, then returned to Maplin at 14:17.
The full report and masses of other information on wartime convoys can be found at Warsailors.