MV FRANCHE COMTE - 16th March 1941

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by hutt, Mar 28, 2021.

  1. hutt

    hutt Member

    Although its a few days after the 80th anniversary I thought I would commemorate the torpedoing of the tanker Franche Comte on the 16th March 1941 with this report made by the captain 10 days later with the tanker finally back in home waters.

    m.v. “FRANCHE COMTE”

    At anchorage.

    Wednesday, 26 March 1941.

    Port of Rothesay, Isle of Bute.

    Messrs John I. Jacobs & Co. Ltd.,

    15, St. Helens Place

    London. E.C.3.

    Captains Report

    Dear Sirs,

    I regret the delay in making my report to you on the torpedoing of my vessel, but feel sure that you will understand that owing to the numerous matters that have required my attention since getting the ship into this port, this is the first opportunity I have had to make this report.

    Firstly I have to report that on the night of the 14th March 1941 at 11.30pm during an attack on the convoy by enemy submarines, my vessel was struck by shell fire that holed her in No. 1 Port Tank, damage caused being shell hole through Shell plating about 4 ft. above water line, luckily no cargo was being carried in this tank so no cargo was lost. It was afterwards ascertained that the shot that struck us was fired by the m.v. “AURIS”.

    On the night of the 16th March 1941 the convoy was again attacked by enemy submarines, several vessels being torpedoed and sunk, and at 11.55 p.m. my vessel was struck by a torpedo causing heavy and serious damage in the No. 2 Tank, No. 1 Tank, Forward Pump room and No. 3 Tank. The approximate position at the time of torpedoing was 61–15N 12–30W and the vessel was stuck on the port side. Immediately the vessel was struck she took fire and settled badly by the head, the foredeck being completely submerged and blown out. At that time I had no other options but to order the crew to the lifeboats, the fire being completely out of control, and being unable to estimate how the long the vessel might remain afloat. The lifeboats were manned and lowered into the water, but my instructions were to remain alongside until I in my boat, or the Chief Officer in his boat, gave orders to cast off. I regret to report that this was not carried out, as the crew in the boats cut the painters adrift, however having got the tow boats together I ordered that we remain as near the ship, to windward, as possible so as to be able to reboard in the event of the vessel not foundering. Whilst standing by H.M.S Destroyer H.28 came back and ordered crew in boats to board that vessel. On being picked up I immediately repaired to the bridge to advise the Commander of my wish and intention to remain by my vessel until I was satisfied that she was unsalvageable and was advised by him that he would return me as soon as he had returned to the convoy and was able to do so. On his return to the lifeboats I ordered the crew to return with me, but regret to report that I was met with the complete refusal by all the lower ratings, then called for volunteers to return with me and am pleased to give the following names who immediately responded :-

    J. J. Spring Ch. Officer J. Timmes SnD Officer

    G. Rowlandson Third Officer F.Le Roux Ch. Engineer

    W. Marshall Snd. Engineer L. G. Hutt Fourth Engineer

    J. G. I. Williams Fifth Engineer F. Pashley Ch. Steward

    T. Martin 1st Radio Off. D. Seymour Snd Radio Off.

    H. Davies 3rd Radio Off.

    The destroyer then returned us to one of the lifeboats and we endeavoured to pull back to my vessel, but found this was impossible owing to the wind and sea and not sufficient pulling power, but on the Destroyers return to the convoy, H.M.S. (Corvette) “BLUEBELL” was ordered to return and look after us, on her arrival back I requested Commander for volunteers to assist in manning the ship and I take great pleasure that the following list of men volunteered. I may add that these men had already lost their ships by enemy action and had just previously been picked up :-

    P. O. Sullivan - late Third Officer s.s “VENETIA”

    D. T. Evans - late Third Engineer s.s “VENETIA”

    A. J. Pillet - late A.B. s.s “VENETIA”

    B. Plummer - late AB s.s “VENETIA”

    P. Redgrave R.N. - late Gunner s.s “VENETIA”

    Arnulf Anderson - late A.B. on Norwegian m.v “FERM”

    On getting alongside the “FRANCHE COMTE” the fire was still burning and in the darkness the hole in her port side was a nerve – wracking sight and I was unable to persuade the men to reboard, so decided to remain alongside in boat until daylight. Whilst standing off H.M.S. Armed Trawler “NORTHLAND ------“ arrived and we were again picked up, but I advised the Officer Commanding of my intention to reboard my vessel and he agreed to remain by her until daylight. At daylight he reboarded, that being 9 a.m. on the 17th March 1941. The fire by this time had been put out by the sea and at 11.35 a.m. having raised steam on boiler, the vessel was got under weigh and we proceeded on our passage at slow speed, escorted by H.M.S. “BLUEBELL” I am pleased to report that, despite the difficulty experienced in steering and the fact our compasses were completely out of adjustment and it being impossible to ascertain any errors, the Azimuth Mirror also being gone, I was able to bring my vessel into this port without assistance, where we anchored at 1.50 p.m. on Friday, 21st March 1941.

    I have also to report that on the 19th March 1941 H.M.S. “BLUEBELL” advised me that they had run out of stores, she having about 79 survivors from other vessels, besides her own crew and at 4 p.m. that day I stopped under lea of the Isle of Lewis and transferred stores to her. Whilst she was alongside R. Power, R.N., late Gunner of the s.s.” VENETIA “ was ordered on board to assist man guns in the event of aerial attacks.

    I would like to express my admiration and gratitude for the magnificent manner in which may remaining members of the ship’s company and the volunteers carried out their duties and assisted me to bring my vessel safely back into port.

    Trusting all has been carried out to your entire satisfaction.

    I am, Dear Sirs,

    Yours faithfully

    (signed) L .C. Church.
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  2. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    ...And the pay would have stopped for the sailors of the sunken ships. This policy was not changed until May 1941 IRRC.
    hutt likes this.
  3. hutt

    hutt Member

    There is an interesting tail about this whole affair. Effectively, after the ship returned and it's remaining cargo of oil discharged (to a value of several hundreds of thousands of pounds), the volunteer crew from both the Franche Comte, Venetia and Ferm all lodged salvage claims and considerable debate ensued as to the legitimacy of the claim, all of which is documented at Kew. Some of this has been told in the book Arctic Voices but after my mothers death I came across another set of photos taken probably while it was at anchor in the Western Isles. The extent of the damage is apparent in this and other photos. There is a brief mention on U Boat Net but the Captains letter gives a more comprehensive list of the crew who returned with the boat FC01.jpg
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2021
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  4. hutt

    hutt Member

    The attached photos give an indication of the extent of the damage from deck level and I presume the one with the crew member standing in water gives an idea of just how down the ship was before unloading. The sketch, presumably torn from a contemporary magazine would indicate that the return of the boat despite the damage was of some note.

    FC03.jpg FC04.jpg FC05.jpg
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