Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The sinking of HMS Avenger

HMS Avenger was initially launched as the C-3 type Rio Hudson merchant for Moore-МcCormack Lines inc, in New York. In the summer of 1941, the vessel was delivered incomplete to the US Navy, for conversion to escort carrier. She was completed within the end of the year, and loaned to the United Kingdom under the Lend-Lease programme.

The new escort carrier was commissioned into the Royal Navy in March 1942, and left New York for Scotland two months later. HMS Avenger sailed on her first operation in September 1942, when she was part of the escort for arctic convoy PQ 18.
HMS Biter and Avenger seen from HMS Victorious during Operation Torch

Тhe carrier took the sea for her second combat assignment on 22 October 1942. She joined her sister-ship HMS Biter, and the fleet carrier HMS Victorious in the slow assault convoy KMS1. They were to play a major role in Operation Torch, the British-American invasion of French North Africa.

HMS Avenger left the convoy together with HMS Argus, where her 12 Sea Hurricanes of No. 883 Sqn were tasked with providing fighter cover for the 8 November landings. They did so without encountering any enemy opposition, so much that they were sent ashore on 10 November, while the escort carrier docked at Algiers to repair her engines.

HMS Avenger reboarded her Sea Hurricanes on 12 November, sailed to Gibraltar and then left for the Clyde two days later with convoy MFK 1.

The Atlantic waters off Gibraltar were patrolled by the "Westwall" group. One the U-boats belonging to this group was U-155, under the command of Kapitanleutnant Adolf Piening. In the evening of that 14 November, Piening received a radio message:
"To all boats in Cesar-Gustav quadrant, on 14 November at 1800 a convoy made up of an aircraft carrier, two auxiliary cruisers,two destroyers, two corvettes, and five large transports put to sea in the Atlantic".
U-155 headed towards the area, and at 19.20 picked up a signal from U-564, who had come in contact with the convoy. The Germans sighted the convoy at 02.55 (GMT+1). Piening wrote in his log:

  • "Zwei zattern zerstorer in RW 80° in sicht  (two shadow destroyers at right angle 80° in sight)". 
U-155 was at a distance of approximately 30 nautical miles , which force Piening to zig-zag for more than a hour before commencing his attack. At 03.45, Piening was ahead of and perpendicular to the convoy, at a distance of 1000 metres. At 04.05, the convoy made an emergency turn after a suspected U-boat contact. Piening realised he had been discovered and quickly fired two torpedoes, followed by a third a couple of minutes later. In his log he recorded:
Forward convoy ship is searching with a spotlight, shooting outwards with machine guns and is throwing depth-charges...convoy turning 45° starboard. My firing distance is now as a result about 2500 metres instead of 1000 metres.
No longer safe on the surface, U-155 made an emergency dive to 50 metres, where Piening and his crew clearly heard three detonations. It was 04.20. (GMT+1)
The first torped hit the attack cargo ship USS Almaack and badly damaged her. The second torpedo hit the 11.000-ton HMS Etterick , while the third ended its course hitting HMS Avenger amidships on the port side.
The explosion from the torpedo hit penetrated the bomb room and ingnited the entire provision on munitions. The centre section of the ship was blown out, the bow and stern section rose high in the air and the vessel sank within three minutes, with only 12 survivors.

At 0440, HMS Auckland sent this "Most Secret Message": 
"MFK one (Y) attacked by Uboats at 0320. Position 036 degs. 15' North 007 degs. 45 West. HMS Avenger blew up. Almaack torpedoed, HMS Glaisdale standing by."
The following inquiry into the loss of escort carrier concluded the vessel was sunk by a single torpedo hit, which resulted in a secondary explosion in the ammunition room. On 6 December the Admiralty received the following report from the Captain of HMS Ulster Monarch, Lieutenant Commander N. F. Kingscote. Please note the British were using GMT, compared to GMT+1 used by the Germans.

"At approximately 0310 a 45 degree emergency turn to starboard was made, and at 0312 a white rocket was fired by Almaack, to indicate she was hit. At 0313 a white rocket was seen on the starboard bow, which was thought to be from Argus.
At 0315, a vivid red flash appeared on the starboard side of Avenger, stretching the whole leght of the ship and lasting for about 2 seconds. This flash made a perfect silhouette of the ship, and was followed by a pall of black smoke.
After the flash, nothing more was seen of Avenger, but one or two small twinkling lights were observed in the water, obviously from floats HMS Ulster Monarch passed over the position of Avenger within three minutes and  nothing was seen."
HMS Avenger sank taking with her 67 officers and 446 ratings. Only 12 men survived.

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