1944

This page deals with events that happened to HMS Wensleydale during 1944. However, where I have a lot of information, separate pages are available.

Whilst on an anti-shipping sweep near the Isle de Bas, Northern France, on 5th of February 1944, Wensleydale, along with other hunt class destroyers of the 15th destroyer flotilla, Tanatside (leader),Talybont and Brissenden made radar contact with 1 destroyer and 2 minesweepers. These turned out to be the destroyer T29 and the minesweepers M156 and M206. Surprise was complete and Tanatside's first salvo scored 2/3 hits on the destroyer, which turned to the west and escaped. The two minesweepers turned inshore, one of them blazing fiercely. Radar contact was then made on another enemy force which was approaching to cut off the destroyers. The force turned North and engaged two more Elbing class destroyers which also retreated. As reports indicated that a force of E-boats was approaching and both minesweepers were now ablaze, the Hunts withdrew to the North. Shortly afterwards, two heavy explosions were heard from the direction of the minesweepers. (Extracted from summery of service of HMS Tanatside). M156 reached the coast at L'Aber Wrach, but was finished off the next day by Typhoons from 266 Squadron.

For events of 20th February 1944 see THE SINKING OF HMS WARWICK page.

 

LEFT: On the bridge, prior to D-Day. From left to right. Lieutenant Commander William P. Goodfellow, RNVR (skipper), Lieutenant Richard Hodgson (assistant navigator) and the First Lieutenant Derek R. Ford, RN.

 

Wensleydale took part in exercises at Slapton Sands. Live ammunition was used. Wensleydale was escorting a coastal convoy in this area when E-boats entered Lyme Bay and sank shipping, resulting in a large loss of American lives. On 18th May, Wensleydale, together with Tanatside (Senior Officer) Watchman and Wanderer were on patrol when an aircraft report was received that a force of about 8 E-boats was approaching their patrol line. The E-boats were intercepted and  Tanatside claimed to have sunk one with a direct hit from her 4" gun. Wanderer also hit one. Some of the E-boats did slip through the patrolling but did not attack merchant ships sheltering in Lyme Bay. It was suspected that their mission was minelaying. As this force of E-boats withdrew the Tanatside and Wensleydale engaged them again in a running fight, but without any success.

On 6th June 1944, At around 08.00 Wensleydale was to be found providing cover for the Americans landing on Omaha Beach. "As we crossed the Channel on 5/6 of June, the sky was filled with the drone of aircraft sent to destroy the German artillery  defences along the coast and elsewhere. At this point every single member of the crew was handed an important letter. A letter which was sent to every single sailor, solider and airman engaged in the forthcoming battle. It was from the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF), Gen Dwight Eisenhower, telling us of the mammoth task facing us. That the eyes of all the free world were upon us. That he personally thanked every one of us for our efforts in the name of freedom, and wishing us gods speed and a safe return to our homeland.  It was a choppy sea and by dawn's early light, through my binoculars sitting on the Pom Pom gundeck, I could see many of the unfortunate American G.I.s. suffering sea sickness. Having arrived at our designated beach head in Normandy, we were agreeably surprised to find that there were no enemy aircraft in sight, and we were well beyond the range of enemy shore batteries. Looking back at that eventful day, I realized how lucky I was to have a grandstand view of everything sitting at my Pop Pom station with my binoculars, without the dangers of those fighting to get ashore. Our only menace being the constant firing of the "Nellie's" (HMS Nelson) massive 16" guns as she blazed away" (Jack Rodway Judd, aboard HMS Wensleydale 6.6.44)

LEFT: Jack Rodway Judd

Petty Officer Robert Benson was in charge of the ships radar systems. "On D-day one of the sets broke down. Fortunately, it was not particularly needed and it was two days before I found out what was wrong with it. It was a sight you could not forget. We were not too far away from HMS Warspite. It was bombarding the shore. When we got there the sea was covered in French letters, blown up; but I don't know why to this day. We could see the German machine gun nests on the cliff tops. The Captain wanted to get a bit closer, but was turned down. I suppose they thought we might get in the way or something. We stayed off shore for a couple of days, but nothing really happened to us. At the time we did not know of the slaughter that was happening on on the beach".

 

BELOW:  The Armada on D-Day, as seen from HMS Wensleydale. (Picture taken by Robert Benson 6.6.44)

 

 RIGHT: Petty Officer, Robert Benson. Radar Mechanic, HMS Wensleydale

HMS Wensleydale was equipped with 3 radar types. "The type 271 was high frequency (3000 megacycles), and used to search the sea surface. On a good day it was possible to pick up a submarine periscope with it. This was the one used mainly at sea, especially at night. This type could give an accurate bearing and range. I used to have lots of arguments with the old sailors on board who used to work in the director. They used to have optical range finders and they were brought up to believe how accurate they were. It was a while before I was able to convince them that radar was better. Type 285 was the other set. I had this fastened to the Director, which controlled the guns. The 285 has switching aerials that could possibly give a better bearing than the 271 in some ways. When you got a target the 285 could lock onto it, with a fairly accurate bearing and a very accurate range. This would pick up signals at 15 miles. The type 271 was better at close range. The third type of radar was like one of the early sets fitted on aircraft. The Ariel was right on top of the mast. It was mainly used to pick up aircraft. All 3 sets were in use all the time, by 3 different operators. The 271 was situated just for'd of the after guns. When these fired the whole set vibrated. Every now and then something would go; either a glass valve or a primitive connection. So as soon as the set went of, it was my job to fix it. It was usually only out of action for an hour or two. We carried spares, but I was the only one who could fix it. One of the worst times for me was when the 271 got hit, whilst in action one night. The dynamo that converted DC to AC, was hit. This meant that the set would not work. So myself and the ERA decided to run a cable from the 285 which was amidships, back down to the 271. We had to do this on the deck. I felt rather exposed, as bullets were hitting the funnel at the time." (Radar Mechanic, Robert Benson)                                  

LEFT: Radar crew on HMS Wensleydale. Date unknown, but probably 1943/44. Do you recognize anyone? Third from left is Robert Benson. One could be Leading Radar operator George Ball from Wharton, Lancashire. There might also be Able Seaman E. Douglas on the photo. Another could be Able Seaman John McLeod, who lowered the ships ensign 17.5.45 and retained it until mid September 1992. It now hangs in St Margaret's Church North Yorkshire, at the Western end of Wensleydale. Should you recognize anyone else, please get in touch.

The night 10th of June, saw Wensleydale, together with Brissenden and Blankney patrolling the convoy routes in Channel 78. At 0214 E-boat was sighted right ahead, range 3000yds. Forward mounting would not depress so target was brought on to port bow. One E-boat was engaged and bursts were observed over the target before it became obscured by smoke and retired fast to the East. Blind fire, using radar ranges and bearings was continued after visual contact was lost. At 0308, sighted wreck of "Halstead"; with HMS Fernie standing by. Proceeded Southward down channel 78 to cover convoy, reported by Fernie to be 10 miles ahead and scattered. Sighted HMCS Prescott with one trawler in company, stopped and picking up survivors from one merchant ship and a tug. Passed along port and then starboard flanks of convoy. In good formation, escorted by one corvette. Altered course to Northbound to contact Fernie and resume patrol. All signs of enemy ceased. 0427 Course and speed as necessary to close and hail Prescott. 0446 Closed Fernie, Halstead was in tow stern first. Course and speed necessary to screen Fernie and Halstead. Brissenden and Blankney ordered to join. 0530 Transferred Wensleydale's Medical Officer Surg Lt GG Wallis to Halstead in Fernie's boat to tend casualties. Both Brissenden and Blackney also transferred their Medical Officers to Fernie and Halstead. 0835, parted company with Fernie and tow. 1016, passed through Spithead Gate. One E-boat possibly damaged. Brissenden and Blankney did not make contact. The proximity of large numbers of ships made detection of E-boats by type 271 radar extremely difficult owing to side echoes from convoy.

On the night 12/13th June, Wensleydale in company with HMS Brissenden was patrolling in the vicinity of Cape d'Antifer. At about 0130 Wensleydale obtained contact with 4-6 E-boats travelling at high speed and making smoke. Course was altered to intercept, and rocket flares were fired to illuminate. Asdic reported torpedo. Course was altered to starboard and the for'd mounting opened fire, bursts were observed close above leading E-boat. Enemy altered course and was obscured by smoke. Red glow was observed behind smoke, altered course to intercept. Red glow seen to emanate from smoke float and rocket flare burning on water. Opened fire 'blind' by type 271 radar. Lost contact by radar, and resumed course to reach Southern end of patrol line. Result of action: one E-boat probably damaged, at 0334. E-boats driven off and prevented from attacking convoys in Channel 78. In one of the actions with E-boats, shortly after D-Day the Canadian reporter Stanley Maxted visited the ship and made a recording of the battle for the BBC. I have tried to find this recording but have had no luck.

On 22nd June, Wensleydale in company with other Hunts, Tanetside, Brissenden, Together with HMS Beagle, Rowley, Londonderry and the French frigates L'Aventure and L'Escarmouche; were on patrol when they were attacked by JU 88. No damage to Wensleydale, not sure about the others.

On July 3rd Wensleydale was in collision with the tug Bahia. This caused a split 2"6 in the ships side. Two feet above the upper deck level, between frames 6-9 on the port side. I have tried to find out more about this tug but with little luck. Any help appreciated on this subject.

On 5th of July Wensleydale took over an underwater contact from HMS Talybont. This contact was marked by a Dan Bhoy. The contact had previously been depth charged by HMS Brissenden, Onslaugh and Oribi. Between the 5th and 6th of July Wensleydale fired off 40 depth charges also believing the contact to be a U-boat. Wreckage was produced, including: Oil, two diving suits and wooden wreckage. The assessment of the Skipper of Wensleydale was that it was a U-boat that was badly damaged, which was finally destroyed. The decision of The U-boat Assessment Committee was that the target was more likely to have been some sort of small sunken craft or a rock. A search of the area on July 8th confirmed that a non-sub contact existed in that position. Echo sound traces seemed to confirm this and a Dan Bhoy with a yellow flag was laid in the position.

For events of 5th of August 1944, and the 20th of August 1944 see U-671 & U-413

                                 RIGHT: Photograph of detonating depth charge taken by one of the crew.

On board Wensleydale at around this period was the Norwgian, Stig Egede-Nissen, who's job was to intercept German radio traffic. The following article is produced courtesy of his son Hans:

Stig Egede-Nissen was born at the 11th of Dec 1907. He studied medicine at first, something he had to give up since he became ill at the sight of seeing blood. Up till -35 he studied at the Norwegian High School of Technology in Trondheim, playing amateur theatre more than he really studied (according to the familiy tradition). From 1935 till -38 he was at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, studying to become an actor, as with six of hissiblings. Coming back to Norway in -38, he started acting first in Trondheim, then in Oslo until the German occupation in April 1940. There was a spontaneous strike at the theatres, the actors refusing to play for the Germans, and the Gestapo arrested some twelve of them. Dad was not amongst them, but he offered to take the place of a colleague with a family and this was accepted. After that he became involved in the resistance movement, the Germans were on his track when he managed to escape to Sweden where he arrived in Stockholm at the 3rd of October 1942. Due to his knowledge of language (his English and German were fluent), he was lent to the British Navy.

 LEFT: Stig Egede-Nissen, aged 32.

I am not sure, but I think he came directly onboard the Wensleydale, where his job were to snatch messages between German vessels and Germany. He translated the messages, sending them up to the bridge. He acted as information officer and got the rank of lieutenant. I don't know the date he left Wensleydale, but I had the notion that he were on board during the D-day. (Could that be correct?) During the last months of the war, he took part in the commando "Polar Bear", whose mission was to neutralize Norwegian harbours and installations against the destructions planned by the Germans when capitalizing. He was trained at a camp in England, and I think I remember him telling that his instructor was his fellow Norwegian Jan Baalsrud, whose story was told in the Oscar-nominated movie: "Nine lives".  His time at the Wensleydale was interrupted by casting for a movie, "Return of the Vikings", which were about the Norwegian whaler's contributions during the war, in the navy as well as in the other arms. "It was wonderful to have a break from the life at the destroyer," he uttered in an interview in 1951.  His brother Adam told: In October 1944 we met in London, not having seen each other in several years. We sat together one night at a hotel room, drinking whisky listening to the V2-bombers roaming over London. To him this was an everyday experience, to me it was quite a new and frightening one. The next morning he were in for a new mission. During the last part of the war, he was sent home to contribute to neutralize a part of the Oslo harbour in case of occupation during the liberation process [that's another version...] he wore disguise, in his rucksack he carried ammunition. He was tough and had good nerves. Being stopped by a German guard patrolling once, he was asked what he was carrying in that rucksack of his. "Sprengstoff," he replied with a grin, and was let go, believed to be joking! After the war, I know dad was decorated with the St.Olaf medal with oak branch, so I am quite proud of him. (Hans Egede-Nissen)

In September 1944 Wensleydale was transferred to the 21st Destroyer Flotilla based  at Sheerness. For convoy defence and patrol duties in The Channel and North Sea.

For events on the night of 20/21st of November 1944 see COLLISION AND THE END

 

 

 

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(C) David Allen, Nov 2006