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15 October 2014
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North Atlantic 1943: Raymond Edwards MNicon for Recommended story

by Norman Date

Contributed by 
Norman Date
People in story: 
Ray Edwards
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04 May 2004

My mate and I had just ended our 8 days leave after a trip of 4 months to South Africa and New York in which we lost 13 ships. As we went into the Prince Street Shipping Office, Captain Hillier said "just the two men I need for the Gloucester City, a Fireman and a Trimmer". So we joined the Gloucester City on 11th March 1943. After a few days of cleaning boiler tubes, etc., we set sail up through the Irish Sea and met up with a convoy of about 35 ships.

The weather was fairly good but after a few days it became rougher. We had a full cargo of coal but our bunkers were empty and we were scratching for coal on a top shelf and, being ankle deep in water out on the plate, we were having trouble keeping steam pressure. We were only doing 4 knots so the convoy left us on our own and we plodded on regardless. After about 6 days we went thought the wreckage of the convoy 48 hours ahead of us. They had lost over twenty ships. There was even the bow of a ship sticking out of the water and hatch covers, etc. We continued on and after about 33 days we got to Nova Scotia. Most of the time there were blizzards and while they were unloading the cargo of coal the dust covered the entire place.

The homeward bound journey was uneventful with wind behind us and plenty of coal in the bunkers. We sailed into Avonmouth on the Friday and off-loaded some cargo. On the Sunday we sailed up the River Avon and paid off on Monday 16th May 1943 in the Centre of Bristol

1.0 The terrible toll of merchant ships mentioned above most likely occurred between the 16th and 20th of March 1943 in the largest convoy battle of the war - around convoys HX229 and SC122. Over 40 U-boats are deployed against the two as they slowly coalesce in the mid-Atlantic air gap until there are 100 ships plus their escorts. Twenty U-boats take part in the attacks and sink 21 merchantmen before additional air and surface escorts finally drive them off. A RAF Sunderland accounts for the one U-boat destroyed. Again the German B-Service is responsible for providing Doenitz' packs with accurate convoy details and routeing.

2.0 The Gloucester City, commanded by Captain Smith OBE was instrumental in saving 92 survivors from the action in which the tanker San Demetrio was damaged in November 1940.

From: Norman Date / Hon Secretary/ Merchant Navy Association Bristol UK

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