Halcyon Class Minesweepers

Halcyon Class Ships
Convoy PQ15




This is not a comprehensive account of the convoy but records the important roles that the Halcyon Class ships played.

For more details of the ships that sailed in these convoys visit www.convoyweb.org.uk

Source: ADM 199/721

HMS Bramble

8th May 1942


I have the honour to submit a report of the passage of the Convoy PQ15 from the time the Rear Admiral Commanding the Tenth Cruiser Squadron in HMS Nigeria parted company to the arrival at the Kola Inlet.

2. The Rear Admiral Commanding the Tenth Cruiser Squadron parted company at 0745Z/2nd May in position 071° 31’ North 013° 20’ East when the responsibility for the safe conduct of the convoy devolved on me.

3. Just before parting company the Rear Admiral Commanding the Tenth Cruiser Squadron had given the Commodore of the Convoy a new route which made certain that the ice to the southward of Bear Island would not be met.

4. Shortly after HMS Nigeria had left R/T from Convoy QP11 was heard and the Convoy was subsequently sighted.

5. Captain (D) in HMS Somali was detached to close HMS Bulldog (The Senior Officer of the Escorts to QP!!), in order to discover what tactics were being employed by German destroyers in their attacks and any other information of interest.

6. He returned with little news that was not known before except that QP11 had been attacked in daylight by four torpedo aircraft which had, however, carried out a poor and completely ineffective attack.

7. The news of this attack was passed to all escorts of PQ15 and the Commodore of the Convoy.

8. Half an hour after passing QP11 shadowing aircraft commenced shadowing and from this moment until longitude 036° East was reached the Convoy was continuously shadowed by one or more Blohm & Voss or Focke-Wolff aircraft and submarines.

9. At 2009B/2nd May when in position 073° 01’ North 017° 32’ East St Albans on the port bow of the convoy obtained a contact and carried out an attack. She was joined by HMS Seagull from the port beam of the convoy, who also attacked. The submarine attacked was forced to the surface and fire was opened on her conning tower before it was discovered that she was the submarine P551. The submarine was very badly damaged and quite unseaworthy. The crew were transferred to St Albans and the submarine sunk by gunfire. Reports from the Commanding Officers of Seagull and St Albans are forwarded herewith.

10. I consider that they were in no way to blame for the action which was taken. They were escorting a convoy through waters in which it was a certainty that many enemy submarines were operating and they could afford no hesitation in their attack. P551 appears to have been 100 miles out of position. I have not had the opportunity of meeting either of the surviving officers one of whom was badly wounded but information has reached me that he stated he had had no sights for six days.

11. At 2327 Z/2nd May in position 073° North 019° 40’ East an attack by torpedo aircraft developed. Six aircraft came in low on the starboard bow of the convoy; some torpedoes were seen to be dropped outside the Screen and some while they were passing through the Screen. One machine was hit and crashed just ahead of the convoy in flames. Another was apparently hit and passed down the starboard column of the convoy and there is evidence now that what was reported as a possibility in my 2300/5th May could now be considered almost a certainty although this machine was not seen to crash.

12. SS Botavon, SS Jutland and Cape Corso were hit by torpedoes. Cape Corso blew up and Jutland sank very quickly. Botavon settled down by her bows and sank more slowly and I ordered Badsworth to sink her by gunfire.

13. The Commodore and one hundred and thirty seven survivors were picked up by HMS Badsworth, trawlers and HMS Chiltern.

14. The visibility at the time was a maximum of four miles, frequently closing down to very much less. The half light of the Arctic night combined with haze made the aircraft very difficult to see and they were undetected by HMS Ulster Queen on Type 270.

15. The aircraft attacked in formation and it was disappointing that in spite of the fact that they came over and through the strongest part of the Screen HM Ships Somali and Matchless it was not possible to break up the attack. It is easy to be critical after events of this description when time plays so important a part and when afterwards the speed at which everything happened is forgotten. But the fact remains that HMS Bramble from the central position of the screen opened fire with her Oerlikon guns first, and that if HM Ships Somali and Matchless had been a few seconds “quicker on the trigger”  the attack might have been hampered a little and perhaps another aircraft brought down. But with the visibility prevailing, the lack of warning, the available gun power, and the resolution of the attack, I very much doubt whether loss of ships in the convoy could have been prevented.

16. It had been suspected that the convoy was being shadowed from the starboard bow by a submarine but doubt arose whether the signals received were not those of aircraft who were shadowing on the reciprocal bearing on the port quarter, HMS Badsworth, however, reported from the intercepted signals that the submarine was surfacing and very shortly afterwards the aircraft attacked.

17. HMS Somali was forced to alter course a little to starboard to comb tracks of torpedoes, one passing very close down her starboard side and it is possible that these torpedoes were fired by the submarine.

18. An Officer and a lookout in HMS Leda saw a black shape disappearing and HMS Leda altered course towards, obtained a good contact and dropped depth charges. Contact was lost after the attack and nothing more was seen. It is possible that this submarine may have been damaged or even sunk. (Click here for Report)

19. The next attack on the convoy took place at 2030Z/3rd May in position 073° North, 031°15’East and resulted in only two Ju88 getting in an attack and the trawler Cape Palliser suffered a cracked Plummer Block from a near miss. It is difficult to assess the number of aircraft taking part. No more than two were ever seen, but more were heard above the convoy in the clouds while these two were in sight and I should estimate the number as about four or six in all. Clouds were about 2000 feet and the aircraft appeared frightened of coming through. One Ju88 was shot down. No further air attacks took place.

20. From about noon on 2nd May to p.m. 4th May the Convoy was constantly shadowed by submarines abaft either beam and there were seldom less than two at a time.

21. The visibility was chiefly very good and these submarines were prevented from working up to a good position to attack from, by the vigilance of the Escort who chased them off dropping depth charges in the vicinity of where they had dived. I also adopted the policy of sending a unit of the Screen out to visibility distance and dropping two depth charges occasionally even if nothing had been sighted.

22. The only submarine which appeared before the beam was one which St Albans chased and forced to dive and the one which shadowed the convoy from the bow on the night of the torpedo aircraft attack. It is of interest to note that the speed of these submarines on the surface is greater than the maximum speed of half the escorts.

23. On one of these sorties HMS Badsworth dropped depth charges where the submarines dived and shortly afterwards saw a periscope; she counter attacked on a good contact and dropped two Patterns. She states that she heard the submarine blowing tanks but nothing appeared and she was unable to further the hunt as her A/S broke down. It is possible that this submarine was sunk or damaged.

24. Ice was met in positions 073° North 035° East, to 072° 20’ North 036° 30’ East to 071° 35’ North 036° 30’East.

25. The Convoy was kept to the edge of the ice as although there were frequent lanes, running roughly north-east to south-west and the ice was not thick, there were some small ‘bergy bits’ which were dangerous for the escort.

26. The two Russian destroyers were met at 1024Z on 4th May and they were placed 5 miles on the starboard and port beam of the convoy respectively.

27. Visibility started to deteriorate on the evening of 4th May and a south east gale sprang up bringing heavy snow. This provided excellent cover for the remainder of the passage and the convoy entered Kola Inlet at 2200C on 5th may.

28. The aircraft on the CAM ship were not flown off as no suitable opportunity appeared to present itself since the convoy was seldom being shadowed by less than two aircraft and since it was desired to keep it in reserve for the final attack before entering the Kola Inlet where it could have landed.

29. The feeling of being shadowed day and night with such efficiency is uncomfortable and considering the efficiency of the shadowing I am surprised that more air attacks did not take place. It is possible that although the weather was fine at sea (except for the last day) the weather at the aerodromes may have been different. It is surprising also that there is only evidence that one submarine attack took place – that on the night of the torpedo aircraft attack.

30. Shadowing submarines must have homes submarines ahead onto our track and I was always expecting a bow or beam attack. Perhaps the Commanding Officers of the submarines are inexperienced in attacking through a screen.

31. There can be no question that the passage from 12° East, when forced by ice to keep south of bear Island, is dangerous and eight knots seems to be very slow indeed. On the other hand with a large escort, an Anti Aircraft ship and a well armed convoy the Anti Aircraft fire is formidable and seems adequate to deal with the scale of bombing attack as yet produced.

32. The very long hours of daylight make the task of the submarines difficult provided the screen is active and offensive and a successful attack should only be possible by an experienced and resolute submarine. I am strongly opposed to allowing the screen to stop and hunt. With so many submarines in a small area it is necessary to have all the escorts in their station as long as possible. There is also the AA and surface defence of the convoy to be considered.

33. Both bombing aircraft and submarine attacks will have their successes but it should be possible to keep them low.

34. The defence of a large convoy against torpedo attack is, however, a different problem and constitutes a serious menace.

35. With regard to this problem the Anti Aircraft ship was placed in the centre of the convoy by the Rear Admiral Commanding the Tenth Cruiser Squadron – presumably for her own safety. On hearing that attack from torpedo aircraft was a probability I considered shifting her to a position from which her gun fire could be effective against low flying aircraft. I decided, however, to keep her where she was. To take her out of the convoy was to expose her to unnecessary risk and wherever she was she was bound to be blanked from some quarters. If she had been ahead of the convoy and inside the screen, she could have assisted in warding off the attack; on the other hand she would probably have been torpedoed and without HM Ships Nigeria or Ulster Queen the H.A. defence against the second air attack (and the final attack expected off Murmansk) would have been weak.

36. The instructions in the Western Approaches Convoy Instructions seem generally suitable, although the conditions are different from those experienced in the Atlantic, but I recommend for consideration that the use of R/T should be forbidden unless it is required for the actual hunt of a certain submarine.

37. I should like to record the excellent conduct of the convoy, the majority of which were American ships unused to convoy work. Their steadiness when the torpedo attack took place and leading ships, including the Commodore and Rear Commodore’s ships were sunk, their speed of opening fire and their excellent station keeping made the task of the escorts very much easier. It was largely due to the good conduct and discipline of the convoy that twenty two ships out of twenty five arrived at Murmansk undamaged.


I have the honour to be,


Your obedient servant

Harvey Crombie


Royal Navy  


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