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Tuesday, 27 December 2011

H.M.S. Jervis Bay - Heroic Final and Valiant Moment - MV San Demetrio.




The Merchant ship, H.M.S. Jervis Bay had been taken over by the Royal Navy at the outbreak of war in 1939. This ship had been hastily converted with vintage guns from 1898 - seven 6in guns and two 3in guns. She had become a convoy escort during the last few months prior to November 1940 when this brave ship would charge into legend with an act of supreme bravery.

The event took place on 5th November 1940. The Captain of H.M.S. Jervis Bay made a heroic decision and sacrifice to protect a convoy of merchant ships in the Atlantic Ocean. Captain Edward Fegan ordered the convoy, his ship was escorting, to scatter when they came up against the German pocket Battleship Admiral Scheer. What followed was an act of bravery by Captain Fegan and his crew that was remarkable because all knew that their converted armed merchant cruiser was outgunned against such a formidable enemy. The merchant convoy, escorted by H.M.S. Jervis Bay, held valuable cargo bound for Britain from Canada and USA. With the safety of this in mind; H.M.S. Jervis Bay charged at AdmiralScheer diverting the pocket Battleship's attention away from the thirty seven Merchant ships. The crew of Jervis Bay were under no illusions as to what would happen when their Captain ordered the attack against a superior German pocket Battleship.

The hastily converted Jervis Bay attacked with her inferior and out ranged guns, fighting against the 28 cm guns of Admiral Scheer. Never the less, the crew of Jervis Bay stubbornly attacked with their guns blazing away. They fought for twenty two minutes as their ship was blown and torn apart – reduced to a burning hulk. Captain Fegan was reported to have had his arm shattered and his bridge blown from under him, yet still he remained, trying to keep his guns firing. He went down with the ship.

The Admiral Scheer was able to sink five more of the Allied convoy's Merchant ships, before the rest could scatter.

As the flaming H.M.S. Jervis Bay sunk, sixty five survivors managed to abandon the ship. They were picked up by a neutral Swedish Ship. The other brave 190 crew perished with H.M.S. Jervis Bay as the vessel went down to the bottom of the Atlantic. 

The dreadful sacrifice was not lost on British people. The vital cargo of the Atlantic convoy was the nation's lifeline. At this time of 1940, Britain was fighting for survival and her fate rested upon a knife edge. These bold acts were common in the Battle of the Atlantic as Britain and her allies desperately tried to keep their war effort alive.



MV San Demetrio


MV San Demetrio


From this dreadful attack came another incident of remarkable bravery. MV San Demetrio was one of the Merchant ships attacked by Admiral Scheer after HMS Jervis Bay went down fighting. MV San Demetrio was full of aviation fuel. The German shells that struck her had caused crippling damage and the merchant ship was burning furiously. The crew were ordered to abandon ship as it would be only a matter of time before the flamable cargo ignited. As the lifeboats left the burning vessel the survivors probably expected further shells from the German pocket Battleship.

Her crew sat in lifeboats waiting and knowing the same fate would befall San Demetrio as had HMS Jervis Bay. They were bobbing up and down upon the waves, expecting the worse. But it never came.

Amazingly, the Admiral Scheer turned her attention upon other ships of the scattering convoy. Maybe the crew of the German ship thought other vessels deserved priority attention and the San Demetrio could burn and blow without further help from them. It made sense when other merchants could be sunk.

Later, the San Demetrio crew were able to return and board the stricken Merchant ship. What had been a raging inferno had suddenly abatied. They ran about the decks and managed to quench the various fires still burning aboard the vessel. To everyone’s amazement the stricken San Demetrio was still afloat and able to make way through the sea. 

The attentive crew painstakingly nursed the damaged vessel over the following days and managed to limp the stricken ship back to the UK. She received a rapturous welcome home and the story of this heroism was noted. A movie was made about the ship and its crew. It is called; "San Demetrio London."

Sadly, the San Demetrio would be sunk at a later stage in the Battle of the Atlantic by U-boat in 1942.



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