Tramp steamer ‘Kensington Court’ sunk by gunfire

The crew of 'Kensington Court' about to be rescued

At 12.38 hours on 18 Sep, 1939, the unescorted Kensington Court (Master Joseph Schofield) was stopped by U-32 with 13 shots of gunfire about 120 miles west of Lands End. The ship was sunk by a coup de grâce at 14.00 hours. The master and 34 crew members were rescued by a Sunderland aircraft (228 Sqdn RAF, pilot F/Lt Thurston M.W. Smith) and the Sunderland L5802 (204 Sqdn RAF/E, pilot F/Lt John Barrett). On 2 November, each pilot was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for their feat.

Details courtesy uboat.net

HMS Courageous torpedoed

The aircraft carrier HMS Courageous was on anti submarine patrol south of Ireland. She had despatched 4 Swordfish aircraft to aid another ship under attack by U Boat. She herself was then discovered and tracked by U-29.

The aircraft carrier HMS Courageous was on anti submarine patrol south of Ireland. She had despatched 4 Swordfish aircraft to aid another ship under attack by U Boat. She herself was then discovered and tracked by U-29. When she turned into the wind to allow her aircraft to land, she also moved into a position from where she could be torpedoed. At 19.50 U-29 fired three torpedoes and scored two hits on the port side. HMS Courageous sank within 17 minutes with the loss of 518 officers and men out of a total crew of 1259. Captain Makeig-Jones was last seen saluting the ensign as his ship sank.

HMS Courageous; an aircraft carrier converted from a cruiser

British Movietone News released on 21st September 1939.

There are several good images of HMS Courageous at Maritime Quest..

Forced labour in Poland

Poles and Jews ordered to do forced labour

No doubt forced to smile for the camera as well. The original German propaganda caption read

For the first time they can make themselves useful. These kaftan-Polish Jews, whose only activity so far has been to stir up hatred against the Germans in volksbewußte of the most repulsive and insidious kind, now on the eastern front get to make themselves really useful for the first time in their life. Here you can see them ready to march to the labor station. Dated 16.9.39″

The U-boat threat looms and the Red Army mobilises

It was estimated that seven submarines were operating in the east and Eastern and at Atlantic on eight September. Two more may have arrived there since. They displayed considerable activity and achieved some success.

The Naval, Military and Air Situation up to 12 noon on 14th September 1939 as reported to the War Cabinet:

Naval Situation

U. Boats — Disposition and General.

5. In the North Sea two submarines made them presence felt; the steamers GOODWOOD and MAGDAPUR having been sunk by mine or to torpedo on 10th September off Flamborough Head and Aldeburgh respectively.

6. There is no reliable report of a submarine either in the Channel or in the Irish Sea.

7. It was estimated that seven submarines were operating in the east and Eastern and at Atlantic on eight September. Two more may have arrived there since. They displayed considerable activity and achieved some success. Five steamers were sunk and four changed on 7 September. On 8 September two steamers were sunk and to chased on 9 September forward shelled but escaped. On 11 September three was sunk. Since then no more ships have been sunk.

8. A submarine with a tanker was reported by an American flying boat halfway between the Azores and Bermuda on 10th September and may be proceeding to the West Indies.

Military Situation

Poland

27. Owing to overwhelming German air superiority and the very dry weather which gave the German armoured and mechanised forces full scope, the Poles were forced to continue their retreat rapidly. By the morning of 8th September, the Polish Northern Army group had fallen back to the line of the R. Bug; in the south western sector German armoured and mechanised forces had penetrated from the S. W. through the Polish lines and were within 40 miles of Warsaw, and the line of the retreat of the Polish Western Army group of eight divisions was seriously threatened. The Polish Southern Army of seven divisions had suffered severely and was in serious danger of being outflanked by German forces advancing from Slovakia.

28. In view of this critical situation in the Polish high command decided to try to stabilise the battle along the line of the Rivers Bug – Vistula and San, resting their right flank on the Prypet marshes. The isolated Western Army group was ordered to fight its way through to Warsaw. The bridges over the Vistula had been heavily bombed and their position was precarious.

29. By the evening of 9th September, the Polish Northern Army group was holding the line of the Bug, but streetfighting was going on in the outskirts of Warsaw. Some very confused fighting took place on the 10th and 11th September, the polls, all along the front, but by the evening of the 11th the Poles appeared to have succeeded in temporarily stabilising the front on the line of Rivers Bug – Vistula and San, and to have forced the Germans temporarily to withdraw from Warsaw.


Soviet Union

33. It is estimated that of approximately 4,000,000 men now with the Red Army, approx. 1,500,000 are concentrated on or near both Polish frontier. It is reported that transport and material are being requisitioned and the railways leading to the Polish frontier had been closed to normal traffic. One report states that these measures appear to have been taken with the knowledge of the German Government, but this cannot be accepted as definite.

Propaganda has been chiefly directed against Poland and Great Britain, though the tone of the press has not been particularly favourable to Germany.

Air Situation

British Air Operations

53. There are no major air operations to record during the period under review. Bomber aircraft have carried out some further propaganda and reconnaissance flights. Enemy opposition has been slight and only one aircraft is missing. One aircraft landed in Belgium and the crew has been interned. Propaganda flights have now been temporarily suspended.

54. The first 10 squadrons of the A. A. S. F. and the 4 Fighter Squadrons accompanying the Field Force are now ready to operate from their bases in France, they though they will not be complete in all respects until 20 September.

55. Aircraft from Coastal Command have attacked a total of 16 submarines during the past week. There is some reason to hope that five of these attacks have been successful. In addition they have carried out a large number of reconnaissance’s, and escort flights for convoys.

see TNA CAB 66/1/30

The British Expeditionary Force leaves for France

Polo ponies or not, the Captain did sail with the regiment from Dover (the Colonel was to follow on in a few days’ time), and the behaviour of the men showed this ranked second only to watching the English football finals: we were in high spirits and we very definitely wanted to go to war: The laughter and the joking never ceased, and it was just as well that we left England happily, because our return would be a pitiable one.

William Pennington was 18 and a Lance Bombardier with the Royal Horse Artillery when war was announced. For him “the prospect of actually firing our guns in anger was exhilarating”. The regiment was given notice to be ready to embark for France within a week:

The regiment did arrive in France, but ten days later, as predicted by Sergeant Smudger Smith, on Monday September 11, 1939, at six in the evening, to be precise. ‘We are always bloody well late,’ Smudger said, ‘in the same way we always start our wars with a retreat. What can you shaggin’ well expect when the pissin’ officers say they can’t go until all the mess furniture and the silver is packed. And we can’t do that until the friggin’ weekly Guest Night has been held next Monday. Mustn’t miss that, you know, or people ‘ud think it strange of us to be so unsociable, even if there is a fucking war on! And Captain Crapoff won’t bleedin’ want to go until he’s got his polo ponies ready. Can’t win a war without ’em, you know! And we all know that the Colonel has to go down to Brighton for his usual dirty weekend with his tart from Kidderminster. So what’s the fucking hurry? The French are there to keep the pot boiling, and they’ll be on about their bloody “On ne passe pas” even though the only thing they’re capable of passing is the shit in their pants. But Gerry will make them do that in a hurry, you just watch.’

Polo ponies or not, the Captain did sail with the regiment from Dover (the Colonel was to follow on in a few days’ time), and the behaviour of the men showed this ranked second only to watching the English football finals: we were in high spirits and we very definitely wanted to go to war: The laughter and the joking never ceased, and it was just as well that we left England happily, because our return would be a pitiable one.”

See William Pennington: Pick up your Parrots and Monkeys…: A Boy Soldier in India (Cassell Military Paperbacks)

HMS Oxley is sunk … by HMS Triton

” I then ordered the challenge to be made as soon as my sights were on and I knew the armament was ready, and the signalman made it slowly. No reply was received. After about 20 seconds I ordered the challenge to be made again. During this time I had been studying the submarine very closely indeed. “

HMS Oxley

Lieutenant-Commander H. P. de C. Steel, Royal Navy, HMS Triton; testimony given at the Board of Inquiry into the circumstances of the loss of HMS Oxley;

I surfaced at about 5 minutes to eight on the evening of 10th September and fixed the position of the ship Obrestad Light 067°, Kvassiem Light 110°. That position put me slightly west and south of my patrol billet which was No.5. My intention for the night was to patrol to the southward on a mean course of 190° and in order to get on that line I steered 170° zigzagging 30°, 15° each side of the mean course at about three to four knots, slow on one engine, charging on the other. The submarine was trimmed down. Before I went below I gave orders to the Officer of the Watch that if he saw a merchant ship he was to keep clear of her and in any case attempt to get end on. At the time there was one merchant ship coming south well away on my port quarter, and that was the only ship in sight at the time. The officer of the watch took over and I went below. Actually, we could not see this ship on the port quarter with the naked eye – only with binoculars.

Shortly before nine o’clock I was in the control room and there was a message from the bridge: Captain on the bridge immediately. I went straight up. The night was dark and there was a slight drizzle and I could see nothing except the shore lights. The Officer of the Watch informed me that there was a submarine fine on the port bow which for the moment I could not see. The ship was swinging to starboard and the officer of the watch was in charge. The signalman was sent for. In fact I am not certain whether he followed me up. I then made out through binoculars an object very fine on the port bow and I gave orders for the bow external tubes to stand by – Nos. 7 and 8 tubes.

At the same time the crew went to diving stations. I broke the charge and got on the main motors at once and it was at this moment that I recognised the object as a submarine. I took the ship and kept Triton bows on. From what I could see I appeared to be on a broad track, I should say about 120 degrees, and the object was steering in a north-westerly direction. It occurred to me that it might be Oxley and I dismissed the thought almost as soon as it crossed my mind because earlier in the day I had been in communication with Oxley and I had given her my position accurately, which was two miles south of my billet, No.5, and Oxley had acknowledged this, and I had also given him my course which was at the time 154°. By this time the signalman was on the bridge and I gave him the bearing of the object or the submarine. I told him not to make any challenge until he got direct orders from me. He knew the challenge and the reply. I then ordered the challenge to be made as soon as my sights were on and I knew the armament was ready, and the signalman made it slowly. No reply was received. After about 20 seconds I ordered the challenge to be made again. During this time I had been studying the submarine very closely indeed. She was trimmed down very low and I could see nothing of her bow or shape and the conning tower did not look like Oxley’s, and I could not see any outstanding points of identification such as periscope standards, ete.

Accordingly, I ordered the second challenge to be made; received no reply to the second challenge. Receiving no reply to the second challenge, I made a third challenge again after a short interval. Receiving no reply to the third challenge I fired a grenade which burst correctly. I did not see the grenade actually burst although I knew it had burst because of the light as I had my eyes fixed on the submarine. By this time I was completely convinced that this was an enemy submarine. I counted fifteen to myself like this: and-one, and-two, andthree … When I had counted fifteen to myself! gave the order to fire; No.7 and No.8 tubes were fired at three-second intervals. About half a minute after firing, indeterminate flashing was seen from the submarine. This was unreadable and stopped in a few seconds. The Officer of the Watch also saw this. It gave me the impression that somebody was looking for something with a torch – it was certainly not Morse code. Very shortly afterwards, a matter of a few seconds after the flashing had stopped, one of my torpedoes hit. I told the Officer of the Watch, Lieutenant. H. A. Stacey, to fix the ship, and he fixed the ship as follows: Obrestad Light 035° Egero Light 105°. This fix placed the ship 6.8 miles 189° from No.5 position, which put me 4 miles inside my sector. I took the bearing of the explosion and proceeded towards the spot at once. The sea was about 3 and 2. Very soon we heard cries for help and as we came closer we actually heard the word ‘Help’. There were three men swimming. I manoeuvred the ship to the best of my ability to close the men and kept Aldis lights on. Lieutenant Stacey and Lieutenant Watkins attached lines to themselves and dived in the sea which was covered in oil and succeeded in bringing Lieutenant Commander Bowerman and Able Seaman Gukes to safety. The third man who afterwards transpired to be Lieutenant Manley, RNR, was seen swimming strongly in the light of an Aldis when he suddenly disappeared and was seen no more.

No blame was apportioned to HMS Triton; HMS Oxley was found to have been out of position and her watchkeeping had been at fault – ultimately all the blame fell on the unfortunate Lieutenant Manley, RNR.

Just as the RAF were learning through a process of ‘trial and error’, as at the ‘[permalink id=1044 text=’Battle of Barking Creek’]’, so too were the Royal Navy. The cause of the disaster was kept a close secret until the 1950s.

See TNA : ADM178/194 and Submariners.co.uk for Roll of Honour of those lost on HMS Oxley.