- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Lt. Commander James Allon
- Location of story:
- North Atlantic, North Sea
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 29 June 2004
HMS "Kenilworth Castle" photographed some time during the war.
This is the story of my father's war, written shortly before he died in March 2004.
"After standing by and watching HMS Kenilworth Castle building for several weeks the time came for the commissioning and dedication service which was held on Sunday the 14th of November 1943 in the river Tees.
The service was conducted by the Reverent J. R. Precious, padre of the Middlesborough Seamen’s Mission, in the presence of the ship's company and their families including my wife Margaret. It was very impressive . The weather on the day was atrocious. In spite of this I believe everyone was glad to be there.
On the Tuesday following the dedication service we left the Tees for the two weeks working up exercises which all new ships undertook, necessary to make the crew familiar with the ship and their shipmates.
The working up base was in Tobermory on the isle of Mull and was ruled with a rod of iron by a certain Vice Admiral Sir Gilbert Stephenson, long retired but brought back to command the working up base. It was reputed that Sir Gilbert was an Admiral when the First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Dudley Pound was a midshipman, he was held in great respect at the Admiralty.
On approaching Tobermory I had been forewarned that, for the Admiral, first impressions were very important. You approached the port from a high headland and as soon as the Admiral's yacht came into view your flag signals had to be hoisted. Then, as you made your way to your berth, the mooring pinnacle had to be promptly dropped and the mooring party on its way to secure the ship to the buoy. As soon as this was completed your pennant was dropped. It went like clockwork and, soon after, the Admiral’s barge came alongside for me to go aboard ship to meet him. He was very complimentary
It was essential that, before the start of the commission, the ship's company, especially the officers, be as capable as possible. On the way from the Tees to Tobermory it was very clear that the navigating officer, a Sub. Lieut. RNR. was not suitable, owing to seasickness. He was a nice lad, but would have been a liability in service. I had words with the training staff, who informed the Admiral and he was removed the next day, to be transferred to a larger ship.
No time was wasted and the working up exercises started in earnest the very next day after arrival. Each section of the ship's company was allotted a training officer or petty officer, all experts in their fields and all looking for weaknesses in their trainees.
I, as commanding officer, was not spared but spent time on the attack table dealing with anything from a submarine hunt, an air attack, or a rescue at sea.
Two days were spent at sea hunting a submarine and the next day I was part of the hunted, going down in the very old submarine whilst being hunted by other ships under training. The old sub. leaked like a sieve once under the sea the pressure made the small leaks spurt out in, to me, an alarming way. It did not seem to bother the submariners.
It was not all work however. The Admiral was not above pulling a fast one when the opportunity arose. He sent a raiding party to board a Canadian corvette, they removed a Lewis gun from the ship and the next morning the Admiral sent a message to the Captain of the ship to send a party to collect it. Nothing further was said about it, but next night the Canadians had their revenge. They quietly, in the middle of the night, removed the Admiral's barge. A message was sent next morning, would the Admiral please send a party to collect his barge. He was not best pleased and I believe his Coxswain got a rough reception when he discovered his barge was missing. He was a good sport however and made no fuss.
What could have been a very nasty accident passed off with some damage but nobody hurt. One of the ships was practicing depth charge drill when a live depth charge was fired, it landed in the middle of the harbour and did some damage to a Naval trawler, but it could have been a lot more serious.
At the end of a very strenuous two weeks of "working up" the captains of the ships under training were invited to dinner with Admiral Stephenson. He was a very good host, and all had a good time.
The next day the ships departed Tobermory for the last time, on their way to the various bases. We proceeded to Belfast which became our home base for some time.
After reporting our arrival to the Naval base at Belfast, we had a few days to settle in and then we were fully occupied with Atlantic convoys and on occasion as part of a detached group engaged in hunting submarines. Much more ground could be covered when not tied to a convoy and what follows is a description of the anti submarine equipment in use, and the successful outcome of one operation.
The principal instrument in the detection and hunting submarines was the so called "Asdic" equipment. This could detect submarines be sending out an electric charge which on striking a solid object returned a message to the receiver in the ship. The detection range was not very great, about 2000 yards. By plotting the range and bearing of the object on the ship's plotting table it was possible to find the direction the target was taking and, if it was a submarine, the attack could be set up. An interesting point about the asdic equipment was the ability to detect quite soon whether the target was moving towards you or moving away. This, called the Doppler effect, was caused when the transmission hit the target. If it was moving away, the return echo returned at a lower note than when it was transmitted. If it was moving towards the return echo was higher. It was very helpful in the early stages of a contact.
Not all contacts however were submarines, large shoals of fish gave off echoes which had to investigated, it soon became evident by the movement what the contact was.
The first of the two submarines sunk by the groups to which Kenilworth Castle was attached was in the North Atlantic. The ships involved were HMCS Gatineau, (Lieut Commander H.V.W. Gross, who first made contact with the submarine) HMCS St Catherines (Commander P. W. Burnett, DSC, RN) senior officer in the group, HMS Icarus (Lieut Commander R. Dyer, RN ) HMCS Chudier (Lieut. Commander C. P. Nixon, RCN, they were all destroyers. The corvettes involved were HMCS Chilliwack (Lieut Commander C. R. Coughlan. RCNVR ) HMCS Fennel (Lieut Commander W.P. Moffat RCNVR) and, last but not least HMS Kenilworth Castle (Lieut J.J.Allon, RNR).
The submarine was hunted for 30 hours until it finally surfaced. It was shelled and finally abandoned. Most of the crew were picked up and made prisoners, the submarine was sunk by a torpedo from HMS Icarus.
The second submarine was detected by Radar at a distance of 14 miles. On approaching the position the Radar echo disappeared, on reaching the point of our last contact an echo was obtained by Asdic. This was attacked and kept under observation for thirty six hours. The only object recovered was a gallon bottle of mineral oil without any markings on it. The Senior Officer of the group, Commander Rayner RNVR, submitted a claim to the Admiralty for the sinking. This was turned down due to lack of wreckage recovered.
The sequel to the above claim came long after the war when the German naval records were examined. It was found that a submarine had reported in from that position and had not been heard from again. The group was then given the credit for the sinking. The submarine I believe was U1200.
The first sinking was reported in the national press and on the radio, the names of all the ships and their commanding officers was mentioned, the one and only time I have heard and read my name in public.
On one occasion two of us made a lone crossing of the Atlantic to eventually pick up a convoy from New York, HMS Porchester Castle and HMS Kenilworth Castle set sail from Londonderry to the lease lend American base in Argentia Newfoundland. The weather on the way over was atrocious, we were lucky as it was behind us and not ahead which enabled us to make good time.
The Americans in the base at Argentia were very efficient and as soon as we arrived squads of American ratings arrived on board looking for repair lists and our fuel requirements.
My other abiding memory of Argentia was the freezing cold, it was so cold it was forbidden for us to go ashore without being conveyed in a base vehicle. After several days we sailed to pick up our convoy, the weather was now foggy and the Radar was invaluable, after a days sailing we picked up the convoy, still in dense fog, we identified ourselves, took up our stations , relieved the American and Canadian escorts and never saw them, due to the miracle of Radar.
The passage across was quiet until approaching the North coast of Ireland when the convoy was attacked, we lost several ships including a rescue ship which was detailed to pick up survivors of ships sunk, there was a large loss of life and it was heartbreaking to be steaming through bodies which we had no hope of helping.
The convoy moved on and I was detailed to make a final search for survivors, after an hour or so I was about to rejoin the convoy when one of the lookouts reported an object some distance away, turning so that it was ahead of us we identified that it was not a periscope, we then steamed towards it until it was found to be a large butchers block with a man clinging on for dear life, he was covered in fuel oil and looked about all in, I reduced speed and went alongside him , by this time the crew had scrambling nets over the side , two of the lads went over and heaved him on board, after being revived the oil was cleaned off him he was bathed and put to rest, by the time we arrived in Londonderry he was fully recovered and very grateful he had escaped with his life.
The escorts and the ships in the convoy had an encounter had with a Fokker Wolf aircraft, during a voyage to the Mediterranean, when the convoy was sailing in a semi circular route to avoid attack by all aircraft except the long range version.
On this occasion we had a mini aircraft carrier with us, usually placed in the middle of the convoy as protection for such a valuable target. A warning was received that attack from the air was imminent and the aircraft carrier launched a fighter. The raider was spotted very high over the convoy, bombs were dropped but from that high altitude failed to hit a target, the fighter by this time was engaging the German plane, all this by now was out of range of the convoy, the message than came over the intercom that the German plane had been shot down and that there were three survivors in the water, a conversation between the Captain of the carrier and the senior Officer of the escort indicates the tenuous hold on life in some circumstances, they both proposed to take no action to recover the Germen airmen, until the senior officer of the escort remarked that information may be forthcoming in the event of their rescue, they were recovered and made prisoners, we then proceeded on our way to Gibraltar were we were relieved by the Med escort.
After the above episode we had two days in Gibraltar and then left to pick up another U.K. bound convoy, just after clearing the harbour it was reported to me that a Telegraphist had a mental breakdown and was fighting mad one minute and crying for his mother the next, I got permission to return to Gibraltar to get medical help for the rating, we disembarked him and returned to the group.
On our return next time to Gibraltar I enquired of the medical people the condition of the young man and was told he would not recover from his mental collapse, a sad end to his naval service.
The telegraphy team were under a lot of pressure, they were responsible for guarding the German frequencies used by the U boats, who sent in signals to their home base. These were very short and their bearing had to be reported to the senior officer of the group. At least two ships covered the same frequency this enabled the senior officer to plot the range of the target, which of course could be a very long way off, if it was on our patch we were off in pursuit."
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