During the Second World War vast amounts of essential materials were moved by convoy, and when we think of the merchant ships on these convoys, we tend to think of those vessels plying the Atlantic, Mediterranean as well as the convoys to Russia, what most of us tend to forget are the convoys that sailed around the coast of Great Britain, moving essential war supplies, food and fuel to the major ports, as well as to the Naval Bases.

 

 

During the Second World War vast amounts of essential materials were moved by convoy, and when we think of the merchant ships on these convoys, we tend to think of those vessels plying the Atlantic, Mediterranean as well as the convoys to Russia, what most of us tend to forget are the convoys that sailed around the coast of Great Britain, moving essential war supplies, food and fuel to the major ports, as well as to the Naval Bases.

A fair amount of the material moved in these coastal convoys went to the war effort, though a proportion of it went to the major ports for loading onto ships that would be part of the great convoys crossing the Atlantic and to the beachheads of North Africa, the Mediterranean and to supply the fleet fighting in the Far East.

 

The Coastal waters of the United Kingdom were extremely dangerous for shipping during the war, especially those on the south and east coast as they were easy prey to the enemy aircraft in France, Holland and Germany as well as the E Boats that hunted along the Channel and southern North Sea, which became known as “E Boat alley”.  Thousands of tons of shipping as well as their cargoes and crews were lost along this route, and at least two RFA’s were lost on these convoys, this is the brief story of one of them.

 

 

Coastal_convoy_1

 

 

 

Convoy FS.650 left Methil on the 18 November 1941, in all there were 9 merchant ships along with their escorts, amongst this group was the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker, RFA War Mehtar an ageing lady from the end of the First World War, slow and cumbersome she sailed in this convoy loaded with precious fuel oil for the Destroyer force at Harwich.

 

On the night of 19 November as the convoy was off Great Yarmouth they came under attack from E Boats of 2 Schnellbooteflottille, under the command of Kapitanleutnant Klaus Feldt.  The Captain of War Mehtar, Captain S M Woodward RFA, along with his Chief Officer were on the bridge of the tanker when they heard the high pitched whine of the E Boat engines and saw these grey wolves leap out of the gloom to attack the convoy.

 

 

Coastal_Convoy_2

 

 

 

Captain Woodward immediately ordered the ship to turn to port as the wakes of eight torpedoes were seen in the water, four on each side of the ship, fortunately non of these struck the tanker though just after this the ship came under attack from S.104, commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Gerhard Rebensburg, and War Mehtar was struck by a torpedo in the stern.

 

 

coastal_convoy_3

 

 

 

There was a huge explosion along with a flash and a column of water rose up from the ship, as high as her masthead.  The cargo burst into flames and quickly engulfed the ship, the order was given to abandon ship and the crew launched the boats, unfortunately as they attempted to get clear of the burning ship, they were nearly run down in the water by another ship, fortunately the ship then stopped and picked up survivors from the water.

 

The tug “Superman” arrived to take the tanker under tow, but at daybreak the blazing tanker broke her back and sank in position 52 35’N 02 30’E.

 

 

 

Superman-01

 

Tug Superman

 

 

On 9 January 1943 E Boat S104 struck a mine in the English Channel and was sunk. One of the crew was killed and 22 were wounded

 

 

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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