When we finished last week, HMS JERVIS BAY was out of the fight and the convoy was scattered - but she did her job.
By the time they realized that the Jervis Bay had been terribly alone, an hour had been lost. The convoy had been given time enough to break up and begin to flee....and so the pocket battleship ADMIRAL SCHEER, unopposed now, closed in.
However, there was a Canadian ship, the SS BEAVERFORD, armed with one 4 inch & one 3 inch gun who turned towards the SHEER and her six 11 inch, eight 5.9 inch guns and eight 21 inch torpedo tubes. What was the BEAVERFORD?
Beaverford was the first of five Beaver class cargo liners in service with the Canadian Pacific Railway’s fleet. The 10,042 ton twin screw, steam turbine merchant ship had her maiden voyage in 1928 ... designed to carry 10,000 tons of cargo and twelve passengers at 15 knots.JERVIS BAY was lost, and here is where we pick up the story, wonderfully told by Roger Litwiller;
Although a Canadian Pacific ship, the company chose to register her in the UK, as was the practice at the time. She carried a crew of seventy-seven sailors and ably mastered by 60-year-old Captain Hugh Pettigrew from Coatbridge, Glasgow. He had been sailing with CP since 1910. Most of her crew came from the UK, except for two Canadians.
She was one of 18 ships that sailed in HX-1, the first convoy of the war from Halifax to the UK on 16 September 1939; just six days after Canada declared war on Germany. In early 1940, Beaverford had a 4 inch gun installed on her stern and a three inch gun on her bow, for defense against surfaced U-boats.
By the time HX-84 left Halifax on 28 October 1940, Beaverford had already crossed the Atlantic sixteen times in convoy.
SCHEER then steamed past the sinking JERVIS BAY, now free to engage the merchant ships of the convoy. With only 22 minutes the convoy was still a smorgasbord of targets for the pocket battleships 11 inch guns with a range of over 19 miles; she could pick and choose her targets unimpeded.What can you say of such men? Such leaders? Such Sailors?
In quick succession she sank the freighter Maiden carrying a mixed cargo and military vehicles, all ninety-one sailors killed, then damaged and set on fire the tanker San Demetrio, followed by sinking the freighters Trewellard, carrying steel and 12 aircraft, killing 16 sailors and Kenbane Head, general cargo, with 23 killed.
Captain Pettigrew had heeded the order to disperse, bringing Beaverford to full speed and turning away from the mighty German warship, as he and his crew watched JERVIS BAY engage ADMIRAL SCHEER. Beaverford’s radio operator sent out a continuous update of the action on the ships wireless.
They watched as the ship closest to them, Kenbane Head, suddenly exploded and sink as the massive German rounds found their mark. Pittigrew gave the order to turn Beaverford about and he raced his ship through the smoke towards the mighty ADMIRAL SHEER.
Beaverford’s radio operator sent one last message on the wireless, “It is our turn now. So long. The captain and crew of SS Beaverford.”
Pettigrew ordered the stokers, manning the boilers to make smoke, laying a dense smoke screen to hide the fleeing ships of the convoy.
At 15 knots the Canadian Pacific ship suddenly broke through the smoke close enough for her 4 and 3 inch guns to register a near miss on SCHEER. The pocket battleship checked her fire and concentrated on the new threat, turning her full might on Beaverford.
With the skill of a master mariner and the courage of his crew, Captain Pittigrew battled ADMIRAL SCHEER, playing a deadly game of “cat and mouse” as she ducked in and out of the smoke screen, harassing the enemy warship.
Beaverford’s superior steam turbines allowed the merchant ship to utilize a burst of speed and with Pettigrew’s skill and exceptional seamanship he would wait for SCHEER’s 11 inch guns to fire and then order an increase in speed and change of course, making his ship a difficult target to hit.
Beaverford’s delaying action allowed the Swedish freighter Stureholm to return and pick up the sixty-five survivors from HMS JERVIS BAY.
The battle between Beaverford and ADMIRAL SCHEER continued into the dead of night. The fleeing ships of HX-84 could see the star shells and illumination rockets lighting the night sky, as SCHEER attempted to find her antagonizer. The merchant ship had many opportunities to turn away and escape in the darkness and the smoke, but she continued on with the fight.
Whenever SCHEER would turn towards the direction of the fleeing merchant ships, Beaverford would break through the smoke and darkness and engage the pocket battleship, then disappear again. Beaverford suffered for her actions, SCHEER fired 83 rounds from her 11 inch guns and 71 rounds from her 5.9 inch guns at the Canadian Pacific ship.
The battle had now lasted over five incredible hours, Beaverford was in trouble, and fires were raging in the ship, making her an easier target for the German gunners. She had by now been struck with twelve 11 inch shells and sixteen 5.9 inch shells. We can only imagine the hardship, destruction and carnage faced by her sailors as they attempted to continue the fight.
With her speed slowing as the steam turbines were damaged, SCHEER fired a torpedo. It found its target in Beaverford’s bow at 2245. With a sudden, fierce explosion, Beaverford disappeared in a mass of flames as the ammunition stowed in her bow detonated.
We do not know how many of Beaverford’s brave crew died during the battle or if anyone survived that final devastating moment as their ship erupted into a massive ball of fire. By the time Beaverford was lost, there were no allied ships in the area to search for survivors. All seventy-seven sailors sacrificed their lives so convoy HX-84 could escape.