- Contributed by
- People in story:
- George Fogden
- Location of story:
- The Atlantic
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 31 January 2004
This is a further insight into the wartime life of Petty Officer Engineer Mechanic George Fogden (service number P/KX100681), and follows on from George’s Enigmatic Tale. George’s own words follow.
Continuation of the Battle of the Atlantic, May 1941, still on board HMS Bulldog.
After arriving in Gourock with our convoy after our encounter with U-110, we were given two days’ break to allow each half of the crew to have a run ashore for relaxing and a few pints of beer. In the meantime, another group of merchant ships were arriving in the bay, ready to be escorted up to Iceland.
When our break was over and all the crew refreshed, we assembled the convoy in the correct order (slowest ships at the fore and fastest at the rear), and then we were on our way to Reykjavik.
We ran into some stormy weather on the way up and it was a great relief to see Iceland on the horizon. However, our luck ran out because of the weather. The Canadian Navy had failed to bring their convoy from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and we had instructions to carry on without our convoy, after they were diverted into harbour. We were to sail to Halifax to collect the convoy which we were supposed to escort back to Scotland.
We sailed on to Halifax and expected to be able to call in to Reykjavik on the way back to take on fuel and supplies, and have a two-day break, which was the normal procedure. We assembled the convoy at Halifax and started our return journey to Iceland. Everything was running very smoothly - or so we thought.
Refuelling with the enemy
About halfway between Halifax and Iceland we received orders to scatter the convoy as the German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prince Eugen were travelling down between Greenland and Iceland with the intention of attacking the Atlantic convoys. They were being chased by ships of the Home Fleet, including our battleships HMS Hood and the Prince of Wales, the two cruisers HMS Norfolk and Suffolk, and the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious. They would later be joined by battleships HMS King George V, Rodney and Repulse.
Our instructions were to leave the convoy with a small escort and to steam south in case we were needed to help in the battle against Bismarck later on. We duly sailed south and eventually we were running desperately short of fuel, because we hadn't been able to refuel at Reykjavik. We were by then approaching the Azores and, being a neutral country, we could not enter the harbour without permission. Our captain radioed the British Consulate on the Azores and explained our situation and asked if he could help. A response was immediately put into operation and we were allowed to enter harbour, where to our relief an oil tanker was at anchor.
After careful manoeuvring and tying up on the starboard side of the tanker, the next operation was to connect up the fuel pipes to our tanks and start taking on fuel. We also hoped that while we were in harbour it could be arranged for some stores (food etc) to be brought out to us. However, after we started taking on fuel we noticed that on the other side of the tanker, also re-fuelling, was a German U-Boat…
This caused great consternation, because if the U-Boat left harbour before us it could be waiting when we got out and we would be an obvious target for their torpedoes. Also while we were refuelling, news came through on the ship’s radio that Bismarck had sunk HMS Hood. This was unbelievable as the Hood was always considered to be unsinkable.
In view of all that had happened our captain decided that we could not wait for stores to be brought out to us, so as soon as our fuel tanks were full we would leave harbour, wait for new instructions and do the best with the stores we had on board.
On getting out of harbour our captain asked for further instructions, and Admiral Jovey (on board HMS King George V and in charge of operations), radioed back that we would not be required and should return north to reassemble our convoy and carry on as normal.
Green bread and dog biscuits
We then spent a couple of days getting back to our convoy and reassembling them to start our journey to Gourock. Of course in this time our stores of food were diminishing rapidly, and it was a matter of tightening our belts. The worst thing of all was our bread supply. First the crusts went green, which wasn’t too bad because we could cut the crusts off. Then the inside of the bread started going green. This we covered with jam and pretended it wasn’t there.
After a while, when the bread really was inedible, we had to go onto what is known in the services as hardtack. This is a form of biscuit, just like a dog biscuit, and as long as your teeth were good you had no problem eating them – and if you had a cup of tea you could always dunk them to soften them up.
Besides running out of bread, our meat supply had also been diminished, so we had to go onto another good old standby - tins of corned beef. These were 7lbs in weight and were issued at one tin per mess (about 12 men’s rations). We also had tins of sardines, which helped to give us a variety of food and vitamins, powdered milk, and vegetables that included tinned carrots and dried haricot beans and peas which needed to be soaked overnight.
Fortunately we were on the homeward journey and were looking forward to getting back to Gourock and some real food.
The Bismarck is sunk
We were eventually (without any trouble with U-Boats) in sight of Scotland when news came on the ship’s radio that Bismarck had been badly damaged and sunk by Swordfish planes from HMS Illustrious, the air craft carrier, which had sailed from Gibraltar with the Mediterranean Fleet to apprehend Bismarck before she got safely to France.
We duly arrived at Gourock with our convoy, and then to the great joy of everyone we were told that Bulldog was due for a boiler clean and general maintenance, which meant we would be in Glasgow dockyard for at least ten days. Each half of the ship's company would therefore have five days’ home leave.
The procedure was that the captain would decide which half would go on leave first and those left behind would commence with the work in hand. Engine Room Ratings would start on the boiler cleaning and machinery maintenance and the Seaman Ratings would be cleaning and painting the ship. When the first ratings returned from their leave, they would then take over the work and the second half would proceed on leave.
Before you left the ship to go on leave you were issued with a railway pass to whichever destination you were travelling to, and also a ration card so that you didn’t have to sponge off your relatives' food while you were staying with them. This was only for the same amount of food that they were getting, as there was no special treatment for those serving in the forces.
Once your leave was over and you returned to your ship, everything had to be checked out to make sure it was in running order and then the captain would report 'ready for sea' and await further instructions. These would usually arrive within 24 hours, or when the next convoy of merchant ships were ready to be escorted - and then away we would go on our journey to Iceland, never really knowing what to expect on the way.
I remained on HMS Bulldog, going backwards and forwards from Scotland to Iceland for the next six months, sometimes having ships torpedoed but never able to capture another U-Boat.
Then, in the middle of December 1941, it was decided that Bulldog should be fitted with a new depth charge device called a Hedgehog. This was to replace the old depth charge throwers, which were located along each side of the ship. The Hedgehog was fitted to the forecastle and was a nest of 12 chambers containing what looked like bombs.
I never saw this device in action. Before the completion of work, I and quite a number of the crew who had served nearly 18 months on the Atlantic convoys were recalled to HMS Nelson, Portsmouth Barracks, for a recuperation period. This was navy procedure to enable you to refresh your mind and body ready for a new challenge. This meant I and my colleagues were able to spend some of our time with our loved ones at Christmas 1941, not knowing what the New Year of 1942 had in store for us. That is another story and I will bring this one to an end by saying what a memorable one it was for me in my young life.
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