My Grandfather's Arctic Convoy

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by Jonathan Ball, Jun 22, 2011.

  1. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball From the North.

    I'm in the process of researching the Merchant Navy Service of my Maternal Grandfather. In March 1944 his ship, the Fort Hall was part of Convoy JW58 that sailed from Loch Ewe to the Kola Inlet (Murmansk). The following is what I have discovered so far. I will be following up with the Return Convoy RA59. If anyone has any information, photos etc relating to the Merchant Ships, Escorts and U-Boats mentioned then please feel free to add them to the thread.

    Convoy JW58

    The Convoy departed Loch Ewe on 27 March 1944 and was arranged in the following Cruising Order


    Within the convoy were the Escort Carriers Activity and Tracker along with the U.S Cruiser Milwaukee that was to be handed over to the Soviet Northern Fleet and the Cruiser HMS Diadem

    The total list of Escorts to Convoy JW58 and their period of cover reads as follows:

    March 27 - March 29: Minesweepers Rattlesnake, Onyx, Orestes and Corvettes Rhododendron and Starworth.

    March 27 - Apr. 4: Close A/S Escort by Destroyers Westcott, Whitehall and Wrestler and Corvettes Bluebell, Honeysuckle and Lotus.

    March 29 - Apr. 4: Cruiser Diadem, Escort Carriers Activity and Tracker, Destroyers Impulsive, Inconstant, Obedient, Offa, Onslow, Opportune, Oribi, Orwell, Saumarez, Serapis, Scorpion, Venus and the Norwegian Ship Stord.

    Also, the Western Approaches 2nd Escort Group, commanded by Captain F. J. Walker with Sloops Starling, Magpie, Wild Goose, Wren and Whimbrel, and Destroyers Beagle, Boadicea, Keppel and Walker.

    Apr. 3 - Apr. 4: Russian Destroyers Gremyaschi, Kuibyshev, Razumny and Razyarenni.

    None of the merchant shipping was lost during the Convoy but there was significant action involving the Escorts and U-Boats.

    The first incident came on 29 March and involved U-961 commanded by Oblt. Klaus Fischer which was attacked and sunk by depth charges fired from the sloop HMS Starling. All 49 men of the crew were lost.

    On 1 April U-673, commanded by Oblt. Heinz-Gerd Sauer was attacked by depth charges from an Avenger aircraft of 846 Squadron from the Escort Carrier HMS Tracker and the Destroyer HMS Beagle. The U-Boat was subsequently forced to disengage and return to Port due to the Damage inflicted.

    A day later U-360, commanded by Kptlt. Klaus-Helmuth Becker, was attacked and sunk by depth charges from the Destroyer HMS keppel. All 51 hands were lost.

    On 3 April, U-288 under the command of Oblt. Willy Meyer was attacked and sunk by rocket fire and depth charges from Swordfish of 819 Squadron flying from the Carriers HMS Activity and Avengers from 846 Squadron aboard HMS Tracker. The following images, courtesy of captured the attack on film:






    All 51 men aboard U-288 were lost.

    The Convoy reached the Kola Inlet and safety on 4 April. On the same day and whilst operating in the Arctic Ocean U-355 was listed as missing with all 52 hands lost. The last signal received from this boat, commanded by KrvKpt. Günter La Baume was on 1 April and indicated that the Submarine was in pursuit of Convoy JW58.

    Next: The Return Convoy RA59.
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  2. Deacs

    Deacs Well i am from Cumbria. Patron

    Good luck with your research Johnathan looking good
  3. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    Superb stuff Jonathan, look forward to hearing more about your research.
    Good luck.
  4. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

    Hello Jonathan,

    Will see what I can dig up for you - for starters then:

    Some files that may be of interest at the National Archives:

    ADM 217/18 (Report of proceedings and enclosures for HM ships KEPPEL (SO), BEAGLE, BOADICEA and WALKER of 8th escort group while acting as support force to convoy JW 58 from 29 March to 4 April)

    ADM 217/111(Rescue ship RATHLIN: report on voyage 18 while escorting convoys JW 58 and RA 58 from 20 March to 15 April)

    Photo of ss 'ARGOFAX' ex 'FORT HALL' here: Argofax

    FORT HALL official number 169621

    1943 FORT HALL, MOWT (E.R. Management Co), London.
    1946 Park SS Co, Montreal.
    1946 ARGOFAX, Argonaut Nav. Co, Montreal.
    1951 Same owner, London.
    1959 STROVILI, Strovili Cia Nav., Piraeus
    1967 Scrapped Osaka.

    dbf likes this.
  5. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball From the North.

    Some files that may be of interest at the National Archives:

    ADM 217/18 (Report of proceedings and enclosures for HM ships KEPPEL (SO), BEAGLE, BOADICEA and WALKER of 8th escort group while acting as support force to convoy JW 58 from 29 March to 4 April)

    ADM 217/111(Rescue ship RATHLIN: report on voyage 18 while escorting convoys JW 58 and RA 58 from 20 March to 15 April)

    That's great Hugh, thanks for the link, I will see if Lee or Andy would mind copying these files at Kew and then I can put them on here.

    Thanks to both Mike's for the compliments. I will certainly post details of Convoy RA59 tomorrow.
  6. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    Jonathan , I can't rake up any photos of the U Boats concerned but hope that the following might be useful. ( Seems the commanders of the other boats you mention all survived the war).
    The first two pieces are from "Chronology of the War at Sea" (A Naval History of WW2" by J.Rohwer and G.Hummelchen (Greenhill Books).



    Quite a bit of Luftwaffe activity and associated losses.

    The FW-200's lost are listed as being three Type C-6 aircraft shot down by aircraft from either HMS Activity or Tracker, all claims are for 31/3/44 ;

    FW200 Werke Number Reg Code.
    0220 TA+MV / F8+GL.
    0062 KF+QB / F8+BL.
    0224 TA+MZ/ F8+OL.

    Above from "FW-200 The Airliner which went to war" Juan-Carlos Salgado (Classic Books).

    Jerry Scutts in his book "The Fw-200 Condor" lists the crews of the Condors and the aircrew from the carriers who made the claims as being ;

    Claims by S/lt. N.M. Simon in Wildcat JV601/Z and S/lt. L.A. S. Swift in JV522/R of 819 Squadron HMS Tracker 69.29N/00.27E, at 09.20 hrs.
    S/lt.G.B.C. Sangster in JV391/S and S/lt. B.H.Beeston in JV522/R of 819 Squadron. 70.20N/01.30W at 18.19hrs.
    S/lt.R.H.Meed in JV490 of 846 Squadron, HMS Activity, 70.18N/00.02E at 16.27 hrs.

    Location of losses is given as 400kms NW of Lofoten Islands.

    Attached Files:

  7. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball From the North.

    Thanks for the scans Jim, they are absolutely great. I wonder what was fate of the Swordfish aircrew shot down by U-288?
  8. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    God knows the poor guys must have had little chance.........
  9. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball From the North.

    The Return Journey:Convoy RA59

    Convoy RA59 sailed from Kola on 28 April 1944. This Convoy included my Grandfather's ship Fort Hall


    The Cruise order was as follows:


    The Escorts sailing with the Convoy and their dates of cover provided were:

    Apr. 28 - May 3: Cruiser Diadem, Escort Carrier Fencer, Destroyers Boadicea, Ulysses, Verulam, Virago, Walker and Whitehall.

    Apr. 28 - May 4: Escort Carrier Activity, Destroyers Marne, Matchless, Meteor, Milne and Musketeer.

    Apr. 28 - May 6: Destroyers Beagle, Inconstant, Keppel, Westcott and Wrestler, Corvette Lotus as well as the Canadian Frigates Cape Breton, Grou, Outremont and Waskesiu.

    By the amount of action seen on the outward Convoy JW58 the Sailors of the Merchant Ships must have known the U-Boats were around, they did not have long to wait. The following is an account from

    At 19.56 hours on 30 Apr, 1944, U-307 fired a spread of three FAT torpedoes at the convoy RA-59 about 50 miles south of Bear Island. The crew heard three detonations and sinking noises and reported two ships sunk and one ship damaged. However, only the William S. Thayer (Master Daniel A. Sperbeck) in station number 33 was hit by two torpedoes on the starboard side between the number 1 and number 2 hatches and in the number 4 hold. The explosions destroyed the shaft and the engines and broke the ship into three parts in the number 1 and number 4 hold. The forward part listed to starboard and sank in about 30 seconds, followed by the midships section after two minutes. The eight officers, 33 crewmen, 28 armed guards (the ship was armed with one 5in, one 3in and eight 20mm guns) and 165 passengers (Russian naval personnel) did not have time to launch the lifeboats and abandoned ship on six small square floats. The survivors were picked up by the American Liberty ship Robert Eden from station number 35 of the convoy and landed them in Glasgow. Most of the Russian passengers stayed on the stern section and were taken off by HMS Whitehall (D 94) (LtCdr P.J. Cowell, DSC, RN), which then scuttled the wreck by gunfire. Six officers, 17 crewmen, seven armed guards and 13 passengers were lost.

    The William S. Thayer and the location of her sinking...


    For the next two days the Convoy Escorts fought off a number of attacks from the Wolfpacks. The first success came on 1 May, south west of Bear Island when U-277, commanded by Kptlt. Robert Lübsen was sunk by depth charges from a Swordfish of 842 Squadron FAA flying from the Carrier Fencer. The entire crew of 50 aboard U-277 was lost.

    Robert Lübsen

    A day later on 2 May Swordfish aircraft of the same Squadron which accounted for U-277 attacked and sank U-674 commanded by Oblt. Harald Muhs by rocket fire. The entire crew of 49 were killed.

    On the same day that U-227 went down more Swordfish of the same Squadron from HMS Fencer successfully depth charged and sank U-959 which was skippered by Oblt. Friedrich Weitz. The boat was sunk with all 53 hands lost.

    Friedrich Weitz

    It was during these attacks that RA59 dispersed and there were no further sinking's of Merchant Shipping or of U-Boats by the Royal Navy. The remaining ships arrived safely at Loch Ewe and Clyde on 6 and 7 May respectively.
  10. Timbeuse

    Timbeuse Junior Member


    I'm new on this Forum and just noticed your topic. My grandfather served on the auxiliary Aircraft Carrier HMS Activity and also took part in a lot of Arctic Convoys. His ship is mentioned in the 2 extracts of "Chronology of the War at Sea".

    Best wishes,

  11. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball From the North.


    I'm new on this Forum and just noticed your topic. My grandfather served on the auxiliary Aircraft Carrier HMS Activity and also took part in a lot of Arctic Convoys. His ship is mentioned in the 2 extracts of "Chronology of the War at Sea".

    Best wishes,


    Hi Tim

    A belated welcome to the forum. I was away on holiday when you posted this. Have you got anymore info on your Grandfather you could share?
  12. Tonywood1978

    Tonywood1978 New Member

    Hi Jonathan.

    My father was on the Fort Hall in that convoy..... He is still alive - aged 89 and lives in Devon - England. I wonder if he knew your grandfather? They will almost certainly have been shipmates... He was a Royal Navy gunner - operating Orlican Guns. They were called 'DEMS' - Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships.

    I found you / this blog as i googled 'JW58 Arctic Convoy'

    If you'd like to make contact please respond. I might be able to set up a call with Dad if that would be of interest. Pleae note however that whilst he is in good health, he is in the early stages of 'forgetfulness' lets call it. He has a reasonably good memory of his days in the war, but cant remember what he did this morning - if you understand.

    He was from Morecambe. A few of the lads were drafted to cross the atlantic and then travel across Canada by rail (taking around a week) where they went to Vancouver. From there they set off to collect their ships - one being the Fort Hall which i think was Canadian build. Then they sailed her back through the suis canal and all the way back to Loche Ewe before heading to Murmansk. His account of the trip across is quite remarkable, talking of icy conditions the like that nobody typically endures. The convoy was attacked a number of times.

    Just to think that your grandfather and my dad were on that same boat at the same time makes my hair stand up on the back of my neck! I am hugely proud of what he did...

    Get in touch if you'd like to... Kind regards - Tony Wood
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  13. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball From the North.


    Thanks for getting in touch and if its at all possible i'd be honoured to speak to your Dad. I'll reply to the email address you have sent me.


  14. William Wakefield

    William Wakefield New Member

    My Dad, John Wakefield was serving on HMS Whitehall during the arctic convoys to Murmansk
  15. James Harvey

    James Harvey Senior Member

    Where did the cruise order lists come from please?


  16. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

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  17. Barry Caine

    Barry Caine New Member

    Jonathan, my father was a Royal Navy Able Seaman and was aboard the SS FORT HALL from 1943 until 1945.
    I am trying to find where the ship was during that period.
    My father received a medal in the 1980’s from the Russian government.
    His name was Joseph Caine, service No JX397303.
    Hope you can help, thanks Barry.
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  18. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

  19. Seroster

    Seroster Canadian researcher Patron

    Holy smokes that is amazing! I just looked up one of my grandfather's ships and its movements are listed.
  20. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

    You may wish to cross refer Arnold Hague to the ship's movement cards.
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