|Three accounts of the Battle of the Atlantic by Allied servicemen who served aboard the convoys.
Reference ‘Our Lives – The Second World War and its legacy in the North West and Causeway Regions.’ Produced by Derry City Council and Causeway Museum Services.
“I served on HMS Snowberry as a submarine detector operator from April to November 1941. Snowberry escorted several convoys from the Clyde and Londonderry to Iceland, Newfounland and Nova Scotia often in appalling weather. Convoys often took weeks because they had to zigzag, heave to or slow down in bad weather. Their speed was often that of the slowest ship, such as a whaling factory. It was common to be stopped for days in hurricane force winds and 40 foot waves, rolling 45 degrees and slowed down by thick fog.”
Peter Walker, WW2 People’s War
“The next convoy began quite peacefully, like the others, in very calm sea to Londonderry for the usual refuelling. We wasted little time in Londonderry and sailed again at almost full speed to pick up the convoy. It was reported that one of their number, a tanker, had been torpedoed. We finally reached them in the mid-Atlantic and joined HMS Walker to bring the convoy home. During the night that followed four more ships of the convoy were torpedoed, and it became clear that U-boats were operating among this convoy, surfacing and firing torpedoes at will.
What use could two First World War destroyers be amongst this? Just after midnight HMS Walker sighted the fluorescent wash of a U-boat retreating on the surface and immediately gave chase, dropping a pattern of depth charges over the likely diving position of the U-boat.
Unfortunately, contact was lost, the U-boat disappeared and HMS Walker steamed to pick up survivors from yet another tanker. What was not known was the fact that the U-boat had been damaged by the depth charges, and, unable to stay underwater for long periods, it decided to surface for inspection of the damage. As it did so my RADAR operator immediately reported a dark green blob which he thought might be a U-boat. This fact was reported to HMS Walker and both ships then raced at top speed along the bearing given by the RADAR operator.
After a little more than a mile, the silhouette of a U-boat could be seen on the surface, so without hesitation our captain gave the order to ‘Stand by to ram’. Our ship Vanoc did in no uncertain manner at full speed hitting the U-boat amidships and toppling her over. It brought Vanoc to a standstill, embedded in the U-boat which was only cleared by both engines, full astern. The U-boat rose high in the air and sunk, the Captain, still on the bridge wearing his white cap but badly injured, went down with her.
We swept the surface of the waters with our searchlight I order to pick up survivors. I well remember and will do so always the cries of those men in the icy waters. ‘Kamerad’ [comrade]. In my youth my bitterness towards them was extreme. They had sunk our ships and many of our seamen drowned at sea. Their air force had bombed our civilians. I just had to shout ‘Leave them there.’ Fortunately perhaps the older members of our crew had more compassion and pulled up the side as many as they could, before the next alarm. It had amounted to just five, one officer and four men.”
W.P. Edney, WW2 People’s War
“When HMS Londonderry sailed up the River Foyle on its return from a spell of duty as a convoy escort the Captain would play a record of Danny Boy at top volume on the loud hailer. In the spring of ’42 the Battle of the Atlantic was far from over but we were consistently fortunate. Some convoys were heavily attacked, some slipped through almost unnoticed while the submarines were back at base picking up more fuel and torpedoes. When on one trip we were attacked south of the Azores it was by two Italian submarines, which lacked the training, experience and ruthlessness of the U-boat crews.”
Philip Marshall, WW2 People’s War