Article courtesy of Brian S. Lowe Formerly Lt.Cdr.R.N.V.R
As a member of the Navy Records Society I have recently received the latest book issued by the Society – The Defeat of the Enemy Attack on Shipping 1939-1945. From the Introduction to this book it appears that you would like to have any information which might be useful in supplementing your records. In 1941 I was involved in an incident which might be of interest to you.
On page 262 of the book there is reference to the sinking of U-47 by HMS Wolverine on 8 March 1941 but on Page xlix there is an amendment to this which shows that U-47 was sunk on 7 March 1941 in a probable accident north of Rockall. At that time I was serving in HMT Northern Reward on the Northern Patrol based on Kirkwall. We used to be on patrol for about ten days and then have four days rest in harbour, usually Kirkwall. In February 1941 we made two patrols off the south coast of Iceland during which we had remarkably fine weather. We were returning from the second of these patrols when the incident occurred. Regrettably I am not sure of the exact date when it happened but I believe that it was on 1 March 1941 or a day or so later.
On that day I had the afternoon watch and initially the weather was fine with little wind. During the course of the afternoon we passed an abandoned freighter with a name ending with ‘pool `which was listing badly and had probably been torpedoed which indicated that U-boats had been in the area. Towards the end of my watch the wind began to increase and the sea to get up. At four o’clock I was relieved and went below but shortly after the action station alarm bell went and I went to the bridge where I was told that a submarine’s periscope had been sighted and that the Asdic operator had reported a good echo which he was able to hold.
I was Asdic officer and took over the attack but by this time the wind was beginning to freshen fast and the sea was getting rough which made it progressively more difficult for the Asdic operator to keep in contact with his target. However we made four or five attacks dropping a pattern of five depth charges each time. After the last attack contact was lost with the target but on returning to the scene we ran through a large patch of oil on the water which smelt strongly . We did not see any wreckage but by then it was dark and getting very rough, so much so that we had to withdraw the depth charge thrower parties from the deck as large seas were coming aboard and threatening them.
We thought that our attack might well have been successful in at least damaging the U-boat but we were by no means certain. The trace on the Asdic recorder looked reasonably good and the patch of oil could have indicated that we had done some damage although we had been told that U-boats sometimes discharged oil to fool their attackers into thinking that they had been damaged.
On our return to Kirkwall the C.O. reported the incident to the Senior Officer Northern Trawlers but we heard no more so the powers-that-were obviously considered that our attack was unsuccessful. However I have always wondered if they were correct and when I saw that U-47 went missing in the area at about the same time I thought that maybe we were successful after all. I would add that, if we had damaged the U-boat to the extent that it had to surface it might have sunk because the storm that followed was the worst I experienced during my time at sea and lasted for 18 hours. We were told that when it hit the Orkneys the wind was recorded at over 100 knots.
After nearly 60 years I cannot remember the exact position where this incident took place but I think that we were about half way between our patrol position 20 miles or so south of Öraefrajökul in Iceland and Cape Wrath which we had to make for to avoid minefields. This would have put us some distance to the north of Rockall where it is thought that U-47 was sunk.
I do not know if Northern Reward’s log book is retained in the Admiralty’s archives but, if it is, the date and position of this incident would recorded in it. Another record which might still exist is the C.O.’s report on the attack made to the Senior Officer of Northern Trawlers.
On another matter, in November 1941 I was serving in H.M.S. Vidette based in Gibraltar and on 13 November we were sent out from Gibraltar to screen H.M.S.Ark Royal which had been torpedoed to the east of Gibraltar. It was a nasty shock to learn next morning that the Ark had just sunk.