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HMS Forfar sunk by Kretschmer’s U-99

HMS Forfar, the armed merchant cruiser sunk by five torpedoes in the early hours of 2nd December 1940.

Allan Kerr was on the 8pm to midnight watch on HMS Forfar, an armed merchant cruiser as it made its way to join a convoy in the North West approaches. He later wrote a detailed account of the events in the early hours of the morning of the 2nd December 1940:

It was a black night, with no moon, and the fitful starlight occasionally obscured by cloud. I undressed, said my prayers and turned in quite happily. My sound sleep was soon broken by a terrific crash! Immediately I was awake. “Torpedoed” flashed through my mind and just as quickly I prayed and switched on my light. Never will I forget the eerie silence that prevailed. The engines had stopped and the lights were dimming rapidly. “Action Stations” was sounded on the klaxons, but this seemed to drain the last few dregs from the dynamo for it petered out and all went black.

HMS Forfar had become a victim of the U Boat ace Otto Kretscher, commanding U-99. The order was given to abandon ship and Kerr managed to make his way into one of the lifeboats. However Kreschmer did not want to wait as HMS Forfar slowly sank. He sent a further four torpedoes into the ship to finish her off:

Men now came down the rope ladders and as she settled some even jumped from the Prom. deck right into the boat. There would be nearly 20 men in the boat now and I was trying to slip the painter when someone in the water screamed my name. I was dripping with oil fuel even now, as the painter was thickly covered in it, however I got a good grip of the young fellow who I think was Radio Cadet Fraser. Another chap and myself were endeavouring to haul him inboard when with a shattering roar we went sailing into the air. The fourth torpedo had struck directly below my boat blowing us right out of the water.

I thought this was [the] finish. I can remember being down under and striking out mechanically for the surface. Just previously I had seen a Carley float for’ard of the boat. I swam to this to find the Postie, P.O. Lazenby and L/S Frank Mayo already “on board”. There were many others inside and all round so I just hung on for a while. Even in these circumstances the lads had to laugh at my appearance. Now capless, with hair and face coated thickly in that treacle-like oil I am sure I was an odd sight. While hanging there, Ken Fisher, a coder, came along and he was in a similar state. The time of the 4th torpedo striking us was approx. 0353 (Zone Time).

Two minutes later the 5th and last torpedo struck, again on the Port side. This was the final blow as the ship broke in two owing to the after magazine blowing sky-high. She was well down by the stern now and I remember the ghastly cracklings as the after end bent inwards crushing the decks like matchwood. She heeled quickly over on her Sta’b’d side, the after end disappeared, and as she settled, she turned right over and sank slowly and steadily by the stern.

We had paddled like mad to get well away, but as there were twelve of us and only 2 paddles we did not get very far. However, as she turned over on her Sta’b’d side, she went away from us and there was little suction owing to the slow speed at which she finally settled. As the bows slid away for the last time I said, “Well boys, there goes the last of the old Forfar.” I don’t know why I should make such a melodramatic statement, but it didn’t seem right to me that she should make her last exit unannounced.

Kerr was to spend a long time in the water clinging to the raft. After several disappointments when other boats failed to pick them up, he was eventually rescued by HMS Viscount. He was one of 21 survivors. 176 had died. Read his account on BBC Peoples War.

Kapitänleutnant Otto Kretschmer of U-99
A publicity shot of U-99 Commander Otto Kretschmer, taken in November 1940 when he was awarded the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves.

It was Kretschmers last successful patrol. He returned to Germany to a heroes welcome, he now had sunk over 200,000 tons of shipping, placing him comfortably at the head of the league of tonnage sunk.

5 thoughts on “HMS Forfar sunk by Kretschmer’s U-99”

  1. Are there any named photos of the crew prior to HMS Forfar being torpedoed in particular John Edward Burke ordinary signalman s/n C/JX187784.
    Much appreciated
    Trevor Ray

  2. my great uncle Henry j Lundrigan was on the Forfar when it was torpedo in 1940..he was a survivor along with another man from same community of Bay Bulls NL Canada..Dermott Crockwell

  3. An interesting Story about the Capture of U-99 – from an old Canadian Press article

    Friday, July 4, 1941
    U-Boat Attacks and Capture
    (By the Canadian Press)

    The grim story of an attack by a pack of U-boats upon a large convoy approaching the shores of Britain and the resulting capture of Commander Otto Kretschmer, U-boat ace, is told by a Saint John man who was an eye witness of the attack.
    At least three German submarines were accounted for he said.
    He is Charles Damery, 50, who was serving as an oilier on a British steamship when the attack occurred.
    “Ours was the slowest ship in the convoy and we were having quite a time all the way across,” he said. “We knew we were being trailed by subs and our escort destroyers were keeping a constant, sharp outlook.
    “Then, all of a sudden, the attack!
    Bold Attack
    “It was a bold one. They came in right among us, popping up for a sight, slinging their torpedoes and crash-diving.
    “A torpedo struck us in Number 3 hold and we took to the boats. There were about 40 of us and we didn’t find out until later that the explosion ofr the torpedo took the life of the bosun and another man.
    “A torpedo passed right under our lifeboat, going for our already stricken ship. But the ship had veered of when the steam was shut off and the torpedo missed her. It struck a tanker in the convoy.
    “A destroyer picked us up and then went after the subs with another destroyer. Our depth charges finally caught up with the Jerries.
    “Three of the subs surfaced like corks, badly disabled by the explosions. The sea was dotted with Nazi sailors. They kept yelling, ‘Kamerad’ and ‘an secoru’ (help). One of the subs in the distance signaled an SOS with her light.
    Commander Taken
    “We picked up about 45 survivors from the three subs. When Commander Otto Kretschmer came aboard the destroyer he gave a stiff Nazi salute, arm extended, and said ‘Heil Hitler’.
    “The destroyer skipper said, ‘None of that stuff here,’ and Ktetschmer smirked and heiled Hitler again.
    “He was a hawk-faced man of about 40, I’d say, and he boasted that he’d have got more of us if he hadn’t run out of torpedoes.
    “He kept asking questions about equipment on the destroyer, but outside of that kept pretty mum. If he was happy or sorry about being captured, he didn’t show it. The destroyer crew was mighty happy to have bagged such a big shot. He was ranked next to Gunther Prien, the U-boat commander who’d made the successful attack at Scapa Flow early in the ear, but Prien is now believed dead so that made him the Number 1 prize.
    Expected Death
    “The rank and file of the German sailors thought they were going to be liquidated for their U-boat activities. When they were told they’d be put in an internment camp in Britain they were surprised.
    “One of them said, ‘That’s excellent. But very stupid of you. The Germans are going to own Britain in a few weeks.’”
    Damery plans to be off to sea again soon. Another ship on which he had served was lost in an ordinary shipwreck.

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