"Convoy HX84"

Convoy HX84 departed Halifax Nova Scotia, on Oct 28th 1940, with 38 ships. And was escort from Halifax, by the Canadian destroyers Columbia and St. Francis, once clear of the coast HMS Jervis Bay, took over the unenviable task of escorting. She was a liner built in Barrow in 1922 and had been requisitioned by the British government for use as an armed merchant cruiser. Fitted out with eight 6-inch guns, dating from the turn of the century, which were distributed around her decks, she had a crew of 259 men, and was assigned to convoy duty on the North Atlantic. Earlier, the German 15,000 tons, pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, had slipped quietly into the Atlantic. She located the Jervis Bay's convoy and decided to attack immediately, as it was late afternoon and it would be difficult to find targets in the dark. Captain Fegen of the Jervis Bay decided to advance to meet the raider, in the hope of delaying the Germans long enough to enable most of the convoy to escape. The convoy was ordered to scatter and the Jervis Bay, dropping smoke floats as she went, endeavoured to bring the Admiral Scheer within the range of her guns, but she was no match for  the well armoured battleship, and within 15 minutes Jervis Bay was dead in the water; she sank with the loss of 190 of her crew. Although Admiral Scheer sank five other ships, with the British freighters Maiden and Beaverford suffering heavy losses, both sank with their entire crews of ninety-one on the Maiden, and seventy-seven on the Beaverford. The toll would doubtless have been higher were it not for Jervis Bay's valiant charge, in recognition for which Captain Fegen was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

Ships in convoy HX84

Vessel Cargo Destination Nationality  
         
Erodona Benzine London GB  
Andalusian General Oban GB  
Hjalmar Wessel Lumber Gt Yarmouth Norwegian  
Rangitiki Refrig / Wood Barry GB  
Cornish City General Liverpool GB  
Empire Penguin Steel / General Glasgow GB  
Trewellard  (Lost, 16) Steel / General Liverpool GB  
Morska Wola General Manchester Polish  
James J Maguire Kerosene Avonmouth GB  
Emile Francqui General London Belgian  
Persier Steel Hull Belgian  
Cetus Pit Props Hull Norwegian  
Stureholm Scrap Iron Oban Swedish  
Vingaland Steel / General Glasgow Swedish  
Delphinula Gasoline Manchester GB  
Sovac Lube Oil Mersey GB  
San Demetrio Gasoline Avonmouth GB  
Maidan (Lost, 91) General / Trucks Liverpool GB  
Danať General Oban French  
Fresno City (Lost, 1 serv) Maize Oban GB  
Castilian   Hull GB  
Brairwood   Oban GB  
Athelempress   Clyde GB  
Kenbane Head (Lost, 23) General Belfast GB  
Beaverford (Lost, 77)   Liverpool GB  
Cordelia   Clyde GB  
Atheltemplar   Clyde GB  
Lancaster Castle   Tyne GB  
Dan-y-Bryn   Oban GB  
Trefusis   Oban GB  
Puck   Barrow Polish  
Saint Gobain   Liverpool French  
Anna Bulgari   Ellesmere Greek  
VarÝy   Milford Haven Norwegian  
Delhi   Oban Swedish  
Oil Reliance   Oban GB  
Pacific Enterprise   Liverpool GB  
Solfonn   Clyde Norwegian  

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Another act of survival and heroism came from the "San Demetrio", she was hit by the Admiral Scheer. The San Demetrio was a tanker carrying 12,000 tons of aviation fuel and had only a top speed of 12 kts, she was owned by the Eagle Oil & Co Ltd, London. The Admiral Scheer had caught her and after four salvos from her guns her upper deck was a mass of flames, her bridge and her poop destroyed, plus she had a gaping hole in her port side. The tanker was now a time bomb waiting to go off, it was a miracle that the explosions and flames had not caused the aviation fuel to explode. The order to abandon ship was given, even while abandoning the ship the Admiral Scheer still firing on her, two boats managed to launch with the crew of 26 in one and 16 in the other. Even when they had pulled away, the Admiral Scheer still fired into the ship, but the ship would not explode. Then suddenly the Admiral Scheer switched off her searchlights and disappeared into the night and carried on chasing the now scattered convoy. All the crew managed to escape, which in itself was a miracle, the two boats were separated during the night and the lifeboat of 26 with the captain were picked up later and taken to Newfoundland.  The other crew of 16 rowed away from the tanker before it exploded, by morning the tanker was nowhere to be seen. They drifted until late afternoon, then they spotted a ship, as they came closer they realised it was the San Demetrio, some how it had not exploded and even now it was still on fire. As darkness came they could not make up their mind whether to risk going on board, try to put out the fire, and attempt to sail the ship home, or to risk being drowned or die from exposure in the lifeboat. Once darkness settled they lost sight of the ship and resigned to stay in the boat. At dawn, the 7th November, the San Demetrio was about five miles to leeward. Sail was set and they were again close alongside at about noon. She was still on fire, but no one objected to re-boarding, which was soon successfully accomplished. Once aboard they managed to put out the fire and rig up a steering system, though the bridge was more or less totally destroyed. Without any navigational equipment or charts, they managed to sail the tanker through the U-boat killing grounds to Ireland and then after refusing the assistance of another boat, they then sailed on to the Clyde. They docked there on the 16th Nov, with their battered Red Ensign flying at half-mast, in memory of their only fatality, John Boyle who died on the 10th Nov from his wounds received on 5th Nov. The photograph of the San Demetrio, was taken when she was off the Irish coast, you can clearly see some of the damage, plus the S.O.S. painted on her side.

 

The story was made into a film, the "San Demetrio London" in 1943, starring Walter Fitzgerald, Mervyn Johns, Ralph Micheal and Robert Beatty.

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