Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Context for Combined Ops,"HMS Belmont sunk, Jan. 1942"

Beware, to All That Dare Cross the Sea

As published on January 15, 1942

The month of January, 1942 can be considered ‘early days’ by the first small group of Canadian officers and ratings (RCNVR) who volunteered for ‘special duties’ overseas in the Combined Operations organization. The following information, from personal memoirs and The Halifax Herald, reports on what occurred during early days that surely affected many of the young sailors already far from home.

From the naval memoirs of D. Harrison, RCNVR and Combined Ops, age 21:

The first group of volunteers for special duty left Halifax January 30th, 1942, aboard the Dutch Liner Volendam. Actually a first try had aborted when the AMC (Armoured Merchant Cruiser), HMS Queen of Bermuda, ran aground a few miles out into the Atlantic. Our second try was in a small convoy consisting of the Dutch Volendam, the Largs Bay and two destroyers, HMS Belmont and HMS Firedrake, and we were designated Convoy NA-2. [A third trooper, the SS George Washington, unable to keep up well with the others, started with us but detached to a port in Newfoundland before action began.]

Early in February, 1942 we arrived in Greenock, Scotland having been safely shepherded there by the Firedrake after the Belmont was torpedoed late on the night of January 31st, with a total loss of life. The Largs Bay was a sister ship to the Jervis Bay, which went to certain destruction against the Scharnhorst on November 5th, 1940 in order to buy time so all but four of its convoy could get safely to England.

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The headlines and an article that follow from the January issue of The Halifax Herald remind us of dangers all men faced who dared cross the Atlantic on their way to Europe.

Closest Approach Yet Made By Enemy

New York, Jan. 14 -- (AP)

The Third Naval District announced tonight the Panamanian tanker Norness was torpedoed by a submarine early today 60 miles south of Montauk Point, Long Island - the closest approach yet made to North American's east coast by enemy vessels in the second Great War. The brief navy announcement said naval craft had been sent to the rescue from New London, Conn., and Newport, R.I., and that a number of survivors was known to to have been picked up.

Menace Increasing

Earlier, the Navy had reported a tanker in distress off the eastern tip of Long Island, and simultaneously warned that the U-boat menace to Atlantic coast shipping was increasing. Merchant shipping had been warned of the increasing submarine hazard, said a navy spokesman, in order that steps might be taken to counter the peril.

At that time, the navy said one of their patrol planes had spotted the stricken ship, its lifeboats filled with the men of its crew, bobbing on the wintry waves around it. The patrol plane's alarm sent other aircraft and surface vessels from New London, Conn., speeding to the rescue and to hunt down and depth-bomb the submarine. While the location of the torpedoing was off Long Island, the navy spokesman said the range of hostile U-boat activities appeared to spread "pretty well up and down the east coast."

14 Survivors Landed

Fourteen survivors were landed by a naval craft tonight at the Newport, R.I. island torpedo station. No one was allowed to talk with them at the closely guarded plant. It was believed, however, none of those arriving here was seriously injured, for the station has not medical facilities to treat serious cases, which are taken to the naval hospital on the mainland.

The announcement did not identify the nationality of the submerged attacker, nor did it say whether the damaged tanker, en route from Panama City, Panama, had gone to the bottom. The position of the oil carrier, 60 miles south of Montauk Point, which is at the eastern tip of Long Island about 120 miles from New York City, would place it approximately 110 miles due east of New York Harbor.

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What would the young Canadian members of RCNVR and Combined Operations, with only a few hours of training on a minesweeper under their belts, have thought of reports of the submarine menace or the cartoon below (from The Halifax Herald, January 14, 1942)? 

"Reporting from the East Coast of Canada... safe journey, Boys!"

For more information about Canadians in Combined Operations in WW2, visit my growing blog about the subject @

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