|Posted by George Freund on November 10, 2013 at 8:45 AM|
On November 5th 1940 an epic and one sided battle occurred in the Atlantic around Convoy HX84. Though a footnote in history after 73 years, one of the greatest acts of courage in Canadian naval history took place on the SS Beaverford under the command of Captain Pettigrew a veteran of the Gallipoli campaign.
LAID DOWN ON THE STOCKS IN 1931 AND LAUNCHED IN 1933. SHE WAS BOMBED AND SUNK BY THE BRITISH RAF ON 9TH MAY 1945. SHE HAD BEEN A VESSEL OF 15,423 TONS WITH A TOP SPEED OF 28 KNOTS.
Convoy HX84 was attacked that day by a German pocket battleship. The Admiral Scheer was armed with six-11 inch guns, eight-5.9 inch guns and torpedoes. In another epic battle its sister ship the Graf Spee, fought three British cruisers to a draw in the Battle of the River Plate.
This time, however, the only escort vessel would be the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Jervis Bay. This vessel was a converted passenger ship armed with antiquated 6-inch guns from the First World War. To the uninitiated that isn't much protection because passenger ships have no armour plate and are very vulnerable to shellfire. Admiral Scheer's cannon would easily penetrate into the Jervis Bay while she stayed well outside of the British ship's guns.
HMS Jervis Bay did her duty. She positioned herself in the path of the battleship while the convoy scattered. It did not last long. She succumbed to her wounds in about 20 minutes and foundered. Her crew received medals including the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Service Order. The Swedish ship Stureholm moved in to rescue survivors. This story has been immortalized in books and a movie.
The damaged San Demetrio
BUILT IN GLASGOW BY BARCLAY CURLE & CO, AND LAUNCHED IN 1927. SHE WAS MANAGED BY THE CANADIAN PACIFIC STEAMSHIP COMPANY, BUT ACTUALLY OWNED BY CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY CO. IN 1940 SHE WAS REQUISITIONED TO CARRY WAR SUPPLIES, THE REASON SHE WAS PART OF CONVOY HX84. SHE WAS SUNK BY THE ADMIRAL SCHEER AFTER ENGAGING THE GERMAN RAIDER, IN AN ATTEMPT TO ALLOW THE REST OF THE CONVOY TO ESCAPE, ALL 77 CREW MEMBERS WERE LOST.
Captain Pettigrew and the men of the Beaverford bought valuable time allowing the other ships to scatter in the darkness. Thirty-two vessels made good their escape out of the thirty-eight ship convoy. The actions of these men were another legend, but one that is not too well remembered. There was no book. There was no movie. There was just the legend.
Captain Pettigrew had a strange foreboding before he sailed. He broke tradition by not dining aboard ship with his friends telling them it would be their last time together.
Downhills Central School
A school in England adopted every ship. It surprises me that after 73 long years, they still remember. A plaque is mounted in the school to the men of the Beaverford. They have posted details of the action, the ship, and the casualties on a website. They are remembered. I, too, remember. Years ago while researching my grandparents' journey to Canada; I found interesting history on the Canadian Pacific ships of which the Beaverford was a part. Legends should never be forgotten. A Canadian freighter fought a German battleship and even though David did not slay Goliath, he did save his shipmates. We should be thankful and proud.
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