"North Atlantic Convoys"

1940 ~ 1941

The end of October 1940 I was appointed Master of the mv Athelregent at Birkenhead, and sailed in ballast with a South bound convoy, and we were sent off on our way when well Westward of Ireland, passing close to the Azores and then into the South Atlantic. Soon after crossing the Equator, one engine had to be stopped for 18 hours due to the main engine compressor jacket having burst. A new coil was available on board and the jacket was repaired and the engine restarted, and having put into Cape town for routing instructions, we had to get a seaworthy certificate for these repairs. We were delayed there for a week as the Surveyor insisted on a new compressor jacket being made and fitted at that port. We then loaded a full cargo of molasses at Durban, leaving that port on Christmas Eve for Liverpool. We joined our convoy at Freetown, and just before arriving at that port we must have crossed the path of the Graf Spee as she was in that area at that particular time. The homeward convoy was a slow one, which came north to the West of the Azores, and our only escort consisted of three small whalers. When about 500 miles westward of Ireland our Commodore informed us that we were to proceed as if we had no escort, and we proceeded as if we were alone until we arrived off North Ireland, when, as if by magic, the convoy reformed on its own, with only two ships having gone on ahead.

We discharged at Liverpool and again sailed in convoy for Halifax, on the 3rd February 1941. We had the Commodore and his staff on board, also a Naval Sub- Lieut as passenger. This convoy started off through the North Channel, then West until we reached 20 degrees West Longitude, then South until due West of Ireland where we turned Westward and proceeded independently. The night before we dispersed was very dark with patches of cloud, and about 11 pm two planes passed overhead and soon afterwards flares were seen to the South West at considerable distance away. Before leaving us the Senior Officer of the escorting destroyers came close to enquire if we had any idea as to what those flares were, but we never found out, on that night they could easily have been 70 to 80 miles away. We had a fine passage across, and when we were approaching the Grand Bank, at 8 am, one fine day, the ss Trelawney, sent out a message that she was being attacked by a strange Warship, the position was 240 miles astern of us, and it was the Scharnhorst and Gneisau beginning their famous raid on Atlantic shipping. We passed through considerable field ice after passing Cape Race, and arrived at Halifax to land Commodore Galer R.N.R. and his staff, we then proceeded towards New York. When the Pilot boarded, he said he had instructions for me, these told me I was to enter New York if I needed fuel, but if not, I was to return to Halifax, which we did, and had a full gale and blizzards the whole way.

The Convoy

Send out all your warships to watch our big waters
That no one may stop us from bringing you food.
For the bread that you eat and biscuits you nibble
The sweets that you suck and the joints that you carve
They are all brought to you daily by all of us Steamers
And if anyone hinders our coming, you'll starve.

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I had an idea when approaching Halifax the first time that we might be needed as we had heard a sister ship’s S.O.S. message saying she had been badly damaged by heavy sea on his way from Bermuda to join a homeward bound convoy from the Canadian ports, and his later message was to say he was proceeding to Halifax. We arrived and found that my surmise was correct, we were to take over his cargo, we managed to take in about 10,000 tons of molasses the rest had been lost, or mixed with water. This we took to Philadelphia, and having discharged, had left the berth and cast off the tugs, when the electric steering gear went completely haywire. We piled up on a mud bank but soon got clear and the steering returned to normal once more. We then went to Baltimore for dry-docking, and although the steering gear was carefully examined nothing was found wrong. We loaded at Cuban ports with molasses and joined a convoy at Halifax for home. When in convoy the steering gear again caused trouble and to avoid running into other ships, we dropped out at 10 pm one night and stopped to overhaul everything at 2 am we got away again and I took the wheel to see if I could find out at what particular place the disturbance was, but off she went again, but this time I thought I had detected a flash somewhere about the steering standard and soon smelt burning. We found two small indicator wires wrapped together with insulation tape. The wires being bare were shorting at intervals and this proved to be the cause of all the trouble, they gave us all grey hairs. We arrived in the Clyde during an air raid and were ordered next day to proceed to Hull, our discharging berth at Greenock, had been fouled by unexploded bombs. We made one more trip to Cuba and back to Hull before I left this ship, it had become necessary for me to undergo an operation for the removal of the Gall Bladder.

M.v. Athelknight

May 1942

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