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Remembered Today:

Submarine Attack on AIF Convoy, July 1917


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I'm researching AIF Convoy 31, which was escorted into Plymouth on 19th July 1917.

According to a very detailed diary kept by Private William Bowler, AIF, on the 18th, a submarine surfaced between HMAT Shropshire and NZ38 Tofua.

10th and 11th July were fine days, weather getting cooler. One man started a betting book on whether the ships would get torpedoed or not. Betting 3 to I "Shropshire", 4 to 1 "Tofua", 6 to 1 "Benalla", "Ascanius", "Marathon", 10 to 1 "Turakina". Our ship was the favourite for the sinking stakes, she was the largest of the Convoy, and therefore the U boats would know that she would have the largest number of men aboard, and most cargo. The Bookmaker lost.

On the 17th, six British destroyers arrived and surrounded the convoy. He wrote: They are all numbered on the bow, and appear to be of the latest class. We could see 85, 56, 48, 62, and 27.

On the 18th at 3 p,m, a submarine bobbed up between us and the "Tofua". The N. Zealander let fly with her stern gun, and T.P.D. No 56 turned in her own length, and raced straight at it, doing over 40 knots, and firing her Bow gun. The second shot knocked the top off the Conning tower, and the sub sank. The destroyer circled round the spot for a while, and then signalled to the Convoy to resume zigzagging. When the Sub was first sighted, the starboard convoy turned to Starboard and raced off at 17 knots, we turned to port and did likewise. We don't wonder at the German fleet running away from the British Navy, because we only saw two units using their guns I anger and going at full speed, and if they had been coming at us like that, we would have hopped it and beaten all records over any distance. Soon after we had resumed our stations, we passed floating hatches and wreckage of all kinds. We sighted a floating Lifeboat, and a Destroyer went over and had a look at it. The T.B.D.'s are wonderful little craft, and as handy as a Motor Boat. They are as inquisitive as a monkey, and run about like a dog let off the chain. One minute they will be doing 5 knots, and the next 25, or if they are in a hurry 46 knots.

Every diary entry I have been able to cross-check against HMAT Benalla's Officer of the Watch log, the Ascanius record of a death at sea and my grandfather's service record / photographs of Durban, Cape Town, Freetowwn and Plymouth accords with his entries. At midday on the 18th July 1917 the convoy was at latitude 47 degrees 50' longitude 7 12', the second last point on the image. The photo of H48 was taken on the morning on the 19th July.

However, there is no record on uboat.net for the day in question, so does anyone have further information on this? Also, what is a T.B.D.?

post-66620-0-77805900-1322107288.jpg post-66620-0-92836200-1322107285.jpg

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The destroyer (48) could be HMS HOPE of the "Acorn" or "H" Class. TBD = Torbedo Boat Destroyer. The HOPE was of 745 tons and launched in 1910. She was capable of about 27 knots. No. 56 could have been HMS LAPWING; No. 85 possibly HMS RUBY; No. 62,HMS AMBUSCADE and No. 27 HMS PORPOISE.

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As you're in Canberra, have you viewed the log/war diary for the SHROPSHIRE at the AWM? There are several refs in NAA RecordSearch but the most promising is:

Title: SHROPSHIRE: Melbourne May 1917 - Plymouth July 1917

Barcode: 528255

In the series notes, "ships reports of attack and sinking by enemy submarines" is one example of what may be included. I have a post-war diary of another Australian transport and it is quite detailed, though it may be the luck of the draw.



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  • 3 years later...

I've come across another reference to this 'submarine'.

My great grandfather was aboard the Shropshire in the same convoy, and in july he sent a letter back home to the local newspaper (13 Sept 1917 - The NewcastleMorning Herald online at http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/138745231?searchTerm=joe%20palmer&searchLimits=l-decade=191|||l-year=1917|||l-month=9|||l-state=New+South+Wales|||l-title=356)

The article says:

The following are extracts from an addendum written to the letter on the night of July 18th. when the vessel was, nearing its port: "An after bit, a little account of our last and easily the most exciting day float The morning opened with rumour as usual.' Private Palmer details what the various rumours were, and proceeds: "This is what we saw. From early In the morning we passed through a good deal of wreckage, including a ship's boat. At 3 p.m. the leading destroyer signalled us, and suddenly went right to the stern at a tremendous speed and fired a shot. We saw the splash a little ahead of her. The -- (nearest boat) also had a shot. We have not heard the exact official tale, but I am convinced that a submarine was following us. We have been going full speed all day. A little later on we witnessed the morbid sight of dead bodies floating by very close to us. One poor chap we could see was wearing shorts similar to those common on a transport. More wreckage followed, and by dark we were prepared for anything. I think there will be many eyes that will not close aboard to-night. It makes us realise that we are at last very close to the big tangle, and brings home to us very vividly as the best of newspapers reports could never do, what a potent and real menace the submarine really is, but I am very confident that we are going to slip through o.k."

Not proof - but at the very least it seems the troops thought there was a submarine about.

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