- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mr George Fogden
- Location of story:
- The Atlantic Ocean
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 December 2003
George Fogden (my wife’s maternal grandfather) was 17 years old when WWII was declared, on 3rd September, 1939. He came of age 4 days later, 7th September, and enlisted the very same day, eventually to become Petty Officer Engineer Mechanic Mr G. Fogden, Service no. P/KX100681. What follows is George’s remarkably modest account relating to his part in a monumentally significant event, which turned the tide in WWII.
In early 1940, having just completed 4 months of intensive training (i.e. “square bashing” and Engineering Basics), myself and three other ratings (Cyril "Dixie" Lee, Monty Bullock and Ginger Bailey), were drafted as 2nd Class Stokers to the Destroyer H.M.S. Bulldog, based in Portsmouth Dockyard.
We were soon fully occupied in our duties as novice stokers, as the Bulldog was an escort for Merchant ships passing through the English Channel, permanently on patrol between Portsmouth and Dover. Before long we were learning how to fire the boilers, and looking after the auxiliary machinery in the Boiler Room.
During the Summer of 1940 we were busy patrolling the Channel without too much trouble - and we thought we were getting very professional at our jobs.
At the beginning of August 1940, just as the period to become known as the Battle of Britain was about to start, we had come into harbour after a patrol, when a squadron of German bombers came over dropping their bombs on the Dockyard. Two bombs landed on the jetty where we were tied up, and the third landed on our Quarter Deck. Our Captain, Lieutenant Commander Wisden, was below in his cabin. He was sadly killed.
Bulldog was put into dry dock for repairs, and when they were complete we were able to put to sea again. We had a new Captain, of course.
We only carried out a few more patrols: as the Battle of Britain was then making patrolling impossible, our Captain received orders to take the ship to Scapa Flow. This meant a three-day journey up the North Sea.
On arrival at Scapa Flow we were designated to an Escort Group for protecting convoys across the Atlantic. Firstly, we had to assemble the Merchant Ships in the correct order, so that the slowest ships were at the front and the fastest at the rear.
There were 6 to 8 Royal Navy escorts to each convoy, HMS Renown and HMS Illustrious were able to be called upon for 'handy backup'.
Once organised with all ships ready for sea, we would head for Reykjavik in Iceland. Here we would transfer the responsibility for the safety of the Convoy to the Canadian Navy, for the rest of the journey to the U.S.A. In the meantime, they would have brought a Convoy from the U.S.A. for us to escort back to Gouroch in Scotland. We would sometimes remain in Iceland for a couple of days to take on stores and refuel at Reykjavik as well.
The convoy's sailing time would be around 10 days. This was a regular procedure until 8th May 1941, when we had left Iceland for the journey back to Scotland. On the morning of 9th May, just at dawn, two of the ships in our Convoy were torpedoed and sunk by German U-Boats.
I was due to go on duty in the Engine Room at 08:00hrs to cover the Forenoon Watch until Midday, and at 07:50hrs I made my way into the hatch, and down into the Engine Room to take over duties from my opposite number.
We were steadily moving at about 7 knots - the usual speed for a Convoy of Merchant Ships, and in the usual zig zag pattern designed to disorientate the enemy.
Suddenly the Engine Room telegraph from the Bridge clanged round to ‘Full Steam Ahead’, which was our order to open wide the Steam Control Valves to the turbines, allowing the greatest amount of steam through so we could travel at our top speed of 30 knots (about 37mph). The turbines were spinning at their maximum speed and the Propeller shafts were throbbing in their bearings, when all of a sudden we heard a series of explosions deep below us. Our Depth Charges had been deployed. The ship carried 3 depth charges on each side, port and starboard, plus a rack of 6 on the stern. The Telegraph Indicator from the Bridge then went to ‘Stop Engines’, which we carried out immediately. For a while all was quiet.
We had no idea what was happening, as we were down in the bowels of the ship, but without any warning our 4.7 Guns opened fire, shaking the whole ship. Then all was quiet again.
We knew no more until we were relieved at midday by the next duty Engine Room watch. When we got on Deck we could see we had a U-Boat in tow (U-110). She had been damaged by our Depth Charges, and had surfaced. The crew had jumped into the water, and were picked up by other Escort vessels.
Our 1st Lieutenant had organised a Boarding Party under command of Sub-Lieutenant Balme and eight ratings. They had found no one on board but managed to gather up some papers and documents, (which seemed to look important), and Sub-Lieutenant Balme discovered what looked like some sort of typewriter which he managed to bring out.
We managed to tow U-110 for about 100 miles, hoping to get her to Iceland, but unfortunately she was too badly damaged, and began to fill with water. Our Captain, Commander Baker-Bresswell, gave the order to release the tow lines, and she went to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Having lost the U-Boat, it was decided to return to our position in the protection of the Convoy. By this time they had travelled some miles ahead of us. Eventually catching up with the Convoy, we proceeded on our journey to Gouroch without losing any more of the ships.
As soon as we were moored at the jetty, the information which had been taken from U-110 was handed over to the Naval Authorities, along with the mysterious typewriter. This was sent to Bletchley Park decoding centre, and was found out to be the Enigma Machine - the first one to be captured by any Allied forces. It enabled the Authorities to intercept and decode all messages coming out of Germany, and was instrumental in helping to bring the War to an end.
I had many other experiences during the War, both in the near Middle East, escorting ships across the Indian Ocean from Durban to Bombay, and later in the Far East, in the Pacific.
The time I spent in the Atlantic was the most memorable and satisfying - something I will never forget - and if this is put on record, it will be something for my Children and Grandchildren to look back on.
G. Fogden (ex Royal Navy)
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