Convoy UGS-40, under extreme enemy air attack. May 11th. 1944

Introduction.
By 1943 the Allies were in control of both North Africa and Sicily, and convoys could now be routed to and through the Mediterranean. Although Naval and Air superiority over Germany obtained, such convoys were still prone to enemy air attack.

Convoy UGS-40 had sailed from Norfolk Virginia, on the 22nd. of April in 1944, by the 11th. of May it was shaping a course for Bizerta in Tunisia, to be the target of the most intensive air attack on any convoy in this arena over the second half of WW2.

Task Force 61 and Convoy UGS-40.
Convoy UGS-40 sailed out of Norfolk Virginia, bound for the Mediterranean on the 22nd. of April 1944. It was composed of about 65 Merchant Ships from America, Britain, Canada, Norway and the Netherlands, although the majority of the vessels emanated from the United States.

All the Merchant ships are not listed below, as perhaps 10 of those that sailed are unknown, it does seem that the composition of UGS-40 did change between its start and final arrival. A large naval escort named as Task force 61 consisted of 18 ships, if we include those ships that joined after the Atlantic crossing was successfully negotiated. TF 61 was commanded by Commander Jesse Sowell in USCGC Campbell.

US Coast Guard Cutter Campbell
US Coast Guard Cutter Campbell

The "Treasury" class Coast Guard cutters (sometimes referred to as the "Secretary" or 327-foot class) were all named for former secretaries of the Treasury Department. The cutter Campbell was named for George Washington Campbell, a native of Scotland, who served as a Secretary of the Treasury under President James Madison. He was born in 1769 and moved with his family to North Carolina in 1772. Campbell graduated from Princeton in 1794 and won election to Congress in 1802. He remained in Congress until 1809, serving as the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee during his last term. He was chosen as a senator for Tennessee in 1811, but resigned in 1814 upon being appointed as the Secretary of the Treasury in 1814 by President James Madison. He was the first cabinet member from a region west of the Appalachian Mountains. Campbell resigned after only eight months in office due to problems with raising finances for the war effort during the War of 1812, particularly after the British burned Washington. He returned to the Senate in 1815 and served until April 1818, when he was appointed Minister to Russia. He returned to the United States in July, 1820, and in 1831 was a member of the French Claims Commission. He died in Nashville, Tennessee, on 17 February 1848.

Escort TF-61.
Commander Jesse Sowell in USCGC Campbell.

The British AA Cruiser, HMS Caledon.

US Destroyers, Benson, Bernadou, Dallas, Ellis11.

US Destroyer Escorts, Decker, Dobler, Evarts, Smartt, Walter S. Brown, Wilhoite, Wyfells.

US Minesweepers, Steady, Sustain.

The British Fleet Tug HMT Hengist.

The French Ships, FNS Cimeterre, FNS Tunisien.

Merchant Ships in Convoy.
Note: The letters in brackets after each ship denote their country of origin, they are:

US, United States of America, BR, British, CAN, Canada, DUT, Netherlands, and NOR, Norwegian. Their listing is in no particular order.

  • SS Abraham Lincoln ( US )
  • SS Colin P. Kelly Jr ( US )
  • SS Cornelius Gilliam ( US )
  • SS Grenville M. Dodge ( US )
  • SS John Banvard ( US )
  • SS John Stevens ( US )
  • SS Thomas W. Bickett ( US )
  • SS Fernbrook ( NOR ) had been built in Copenhagen in 1932
  • SS Albino Perez ( US )
  • Ben H. Miller ( BR )
  • SS Clement Clay ( US );
  • Empire Stalwart ( BR )
  • SS Benjamin Huntington ( US )
  • SS Conrad Weiser ( US )
  • SS George H. Dern ( US )
  • SS James W. Fannin ( US )
  • SS John Dickinson ( US );
  • SS Stephen A. Douglas ( US )
  • SS Samuel Moody ( US )
  • SS William B. Giles ( US );
  • SS Abangarez ( US )
  • SS Ben F. Dixon ( US )
  • SS Carter Braxton ( US );
  • Empire Alliance ( BR )
  • Fort Michipicoten ( CAN )
  • SS Francis M. Smith ( US );
  • SS James Whitcomb Riley ( US )
  • SS John F. Myers ( US )
  • Junecrest ( BR )
  • Magdala ( DUT )
  • SS Odysseus ( US )
  • Port Melbourne ( BR )
  • Sambarie ( BR )
  • Samkansa ( BR )
  • Samfairy ( BR )
  • Sampenn ( BR )
  • SS Samuel Moody ( US )
  • SS Thomas Nuttall ( US )
  • SS William H. Aspinwall ( US )
  • SS William Mulholland ( US )
  • SS Zachary Taylor ( US )
  • SS James J. Pettigrew ( US )
  • SS Janet L. Roper( US );
  • SS John W. Griffiths ( US )
  • Laurentide Park ( NOR )
  • Neocardia ( BR )
  • SS Peter Zenger ( US )
  • Salimis ( NOR )
  • Samdaring ( BR )
  • Samlea ( BR );
  • Samgallion ( BR )
  • Samspelgy ( BR )
  • SS Thomas L. Clingman ( US )
  • SS Van Lear Black ( US )
  • SS William H. Moody ( US )
  • SS William Paterson ( US )

Norwegian MS Fernbrook
Norwegian MS Fernbrook, part of Convoy CGS - 40

German bombers were a serious threat to allied shipping in the Mediterranean from the new year of 1944, because about 100 modern bombers were stationed in the South of France, their primary goal being the large UGS convoys from U.S.A., carrying supplies to the allied forces in Italy. Fernbrook was in Convoy UGS 40 (station 54), consisting of 77 ships ("Nortraships flÄte" says 65 ships), 17 escort vessels as well as the British cruiser Caledon. The convoy was attacked by a total of 62 aircraft off Cape Bengut on the evening of May 11-1944. The attack lasted for 40 minutes, no ships were hit, 19 planes crashed in the sea, giving a convincing example of how important and useful it was to have decent armament on the merchant ships. According to a gunner's report from Fernbrook, 1 aircraft fell in the water on her port side between ship No. 34 and 35, and another came down in flames near No. 74 and 75.

Roy W. Brown, US Armed Guard Signalman.
The US Armed Guard Signalman Roy W. Brown sailed in the Liberty ship SS John Dickinson, she was laid down on the 29th. of April 1941, to complete on the 21st. of April in 1942. His Battle Station, a loader for a 20mm gun on her bridge. Roy's 18th. birthday was to fall on the day following a devastating enemy air attack on  the 11th. of May 1944.

Note. I am most indebted to Roy W. Brown for his lucid account of this action.

SS John Brown
A photo of the SS John Brown, one of only two Liberty Ships still in existence.
}The Liberty ships in Convoy UGS-40, including SS John Dickinson, would all have been similar ships

Gibraltar.
Convoy UGS 40 passed through the Straits of Gibraltar on the 9th. of May 1944, such a large convoy with a big escort was bound to attract the attention of enemy aircraft, and daily contacts had been made with them, so an attack was considered likely at any time.

Enemy aircraft arrive.
The convoy had consistenty drilled against air attack as it wound its way across the Atlantic Ocean. Come the evening of the 11th. of May, German aircraft mounted their attack upon the convoy, as it steamed off the coast of North Africa.

Fw-200 C
Fw-200 C coming back from a mission in 1943 met a U-boat along the French Atlantic coast. It was photographed from a second Kondor of which the shadow is visible on the water. A sole FW Kondor, was used against Convoy UGS-40

The aircraft approached from the convoy's port bow, and the escorts laid down a large barrage against them. 62 JU 88's, Dornier 217's, Heinkel 111's and a lone FW Kondor to guide radio controlled bombs, were covered by a swag of fighters, as the formation moved in to attack.

German Heinkel 111
The German Heinkel 111 medium bomber, used in the attack on Convoy UGS-40.

British Beaufort night fighters intercepted to shoot down two enemy aircraft and lose two of their own.

An incredible 92 torpedoes and a host of bombs were released against the Allied force.

Reports of this onslought state that 17 enemy aircraft were shot down, and Roy believes that figure could have reached 22, plus other enemy aircraft damaged. Not withstanding this heavy attack, plus glide bombs from the FW Kondor being released, not a single ship of the escort, or convoy of Merchant ships was hit, but there were many near misses.

Dornier 217
The German Dornier 217, part of the attack group on Convoy UGS-40

It is hair raising to be bombed and face concerted torpedo attacks, in my 6 years of war at sea, I had faced both these problems from Japanese aircraft attacks on my ships in the Pacific, you watch the Torpedo bombers move in, drop their deadly torpedoes, then wait to observe their wakes as they move towards your ship. Now you wonder if your Captain will order a helm alteration in time to alter course that will take your cruiser out of Harm's Way. It is a very nerve racking experience, so I  am well able to relive Roy's agony, and that of all those in UGS 40.

Both the Convoy Commodore, and Commander Sewell thought some of their charges were hit, but fortunately, not so. The Escort Commander in his report noted: " We had been living right, and GOD was on our side."

Roy was not so sure about that comment, but considered it quite a miracle that all ships had escaped with just slight damage to some ships, and a few crew members wounded.

He added, " How nice of Herman Goering to celebrate my forth coming 18th. birthday in such a manner."

This attack was described as the hottest contested convoy action in the second half of  WW2. It was natural for German Radio to make claims that their aircraft had sunk several Merchant Ships, some of the Escorts and damaged others, but patently untrue.

Conclusion.
By 1944, large convoys provided with sufficient Escorts could be fought through the Mediterranean, so that their vital cargoes of war materials could be delivered to our Armies, to allow them to finish the job in this arena of WW2. This action was a confirmation of that strategy.


USCGC Campbell used for target practice.

After Campbell had been decommissioned, she was turned over to the US Navy for use as a target. The Navy's Naval Air Warfare Command sank her on 30 November 1984 off Guadaloupe Island with a Harpoon missile during a fleet readiness exercise. The old warrior transmitted a final radio message as she slid beneath the waves:

 

"UNCLAS //N05752//

SUBJ: FINAL FAREWELL

1. I SERVED WITH HONOR FOR ALMOST FORTY-SIX YEARS, IN WAR AND PEACE, IN THE ATLANTIC AND PACIFIC. WITH DUTY AS DIVERSE AS SAVING LIVES TO SINKING U-BOATS, OCEAN STATIONS TO FISHERIES ENFORCEMENT, AND FROM TRAINING CADETS TO BEING YOUR FLAGSHIP. I HAVE BEEN ALWAYS READ TO SERVE.

2. TODAY WAS MY FINAL DUTY. I WAS A TARGET FOR A MISSILE TEST. ITS SUCCESS WAS YOUR LOSS AND MY DEMISE. NOW KING NEPTUNE HAS CALLED ME TO MY FINAL REST IN 2,600 FATHOMS AT 22-48N 160-06W.

3. MOURN NOT, ALL WHO HAVE SAILED WITH ME. A NEW CUTTER CAMPBELL BEARING MY NAME, WMEC-909, WILL SOON CONTINUE THE HERITAGE. I BID ADIEU. THE QUEEN IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE QUEEN."

 

John Dickinson, President of Delaware
John Dickinson, President of Delaware, President of Pennsylvania, the Liberty ship SS John Dickinson was named after him


   

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