Jervis Bay

by tirial

HX84 was a British navy convoy in the second world war. Attacked by the German battleship Admiral Sheer, the convoy's sole armed escort, the converted liner Jervis Bay, moved into

HX84 was a British navy convoy in the second world war. Attacked by the German battleship Admiral Sheer, the convoy's sole armed escort, the converted liner Jervis Bay, moved into the path of the battleship to buy time for the convoy to escape.

The story of the Jervis Bay, the San Demetrio, the Beaverford and the other ships of convoy HX-84 is not just one of courage against incredible odds, but also one of how a small action can have consequences that can change the path of a war.

HX84 and The Jervis Bay

The sole armed escort of HX84

During the Second World War the North Atlantic convoys were the lifeline that kept Britain from being starved out. Braving the dangers of the u-boat wolfpacks, the Luftwaffe and the sea itself, one of the greatest threats they faced was convoy raiders – German battleships designed to sink the defenceless merchant vessels.

When HX84 sailed from Halifax, Canada in 1940, the members of the convoy could hardly have realised that their voyage would be immortalised. A convoy of thirty-eight cargo vessels and one lightly armed ocean escort, they were bringing vital supplies to the UK from their North American ally Canada, for at the time the US had not yet entered the war.

Once out in the Atlantic HX84 would meet with a fully armed escort ship, but until they joined them, the Jervis Bay was their only line of defense.

A WW2 Convoy of Steam Supply Ships Sailing Along the English Coast, 1942
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The sole armed escort in the convoy, the Jervis Bay weighed 14,000 tons but her size was deceptive. A converted liner, her entire armament consisted of six-inch guns, bolted to the deck and dating from World War One; virtually antique. She was unarmoured, and possibly a match for a U-boat or similarly converted raider. Against a battleship of any kind, she would be helpless, but with the shortage of armed ships she was the only escort available.

The Ambush of HX84

The Jervis Bay and the Convoy Raider

It was the 5th November 1940 at around 5:30 pm and nearing dusk when the encounter that guaranteed HX84 and the Jervis Bay's place in history occurred.

A strange ship was sighted on the horizon, approaching fast. The convoy, expecting to meet with its Atlantic escort, sent signals requesting it identify itself but received no answer. At the same time as the convoy identified it, the ship opened fire.

The Admiral Scheer was a German Pocket Battleship, designed to be able to outgun anything that could catch it, and outrun everything else. Fast, manoeverable and deadly, it carried eleven inch guns with considerable range. German Intelligence had learned the location of convoy HX84 and the Admiral Scheer, commanded by Admiral Krancke, had been ready to intercept. It was a convoy raider, and a ship of the same type had sunk eleven ships from one convoy in less than an hour.

Instantly the order was given to scatter, and the convoy split up, dropping smokefloats to cover their retreat. This strategy was the best defense convoys had, but was often futile. A ship like the Admiral Scheer could simply plow through the smoke and run down the unarmed merchant vessels, as Captain Edward Fegen of the Jervis Bay was well aware.

The fate of the Jervis Bay

Against the pocket battleship

As the convoy fled, the Jervis Bay swung towards the Admiral Scheer hoping to buy the merchant ships time. If they could delay the raider until darkness fell, the ships would be able to hide in the Atlantic at night and the chances of the Scheer finding them were slim. Opening fire with its antiquated six inch guns, well out of range and unable to penetrate the armour of the battleship even if they were not, the Jervis Bay set course towards the Admiral Scheer.

The Admiral Scheer's first shots fell wide, as Admiral Krancke realised the armoured liner was actually trying to attack. For the same reasons the Jervis Bay sought to delay it, the Scheer needed to get past the liner quickly. The Admiral Scheer's initial volleys were an attempt to disable the escort ship efficiently, allowing them to bypass it and pursue the convoy. The Jervis Bay did not turn aside, and continued ahead at full speed.

Knowing they were losing time, the Scheer changed tactics. The pocket battleship found their range and began to pound the approaching escort with full barrages. No longer trying to conserve ammunition, intending to sink the vessel that was all that stood between it and the convoy, the Admiral Scheer opened fire with salvo after salvo of six hundred pound shells. They tore through the converted liner like paper.

The Jervis Bay's bridge was struck, and Captain Fegen's left arm torn off. The engine was destroyed, but by that time the ship had built up momentum and continued to close on the Admiral Scheer, her six inch guns still firing futilely and still falling short. With the next salvo an exploding shell hit the bridge, killing the Captain, and one of the forward guns was destroyed. Her remaining gun still firing, still falling painfully short, the Jervis Bay continued from sheer momentum.

Finally, inevitably, the Scheer's salvos hit something vital within the Jervis Bay. The ship shuddered and turned over, sinking. It was still out of range for its guns. One hundred and ninety men were lost.

Some sources say the Jervis Bay survived twenty-four minutes, others nearly an hour. Twenty four minutes sounds so little time when bought with the lives of the crew of the Jervis Bay. But however long the battle lasted, all agree, it was time enough for darkness to fall and the convoy to scatter.

The Admiral Scheer pursued the fleeing convoy, but it was a far cry from the triumph they had expected when they sighted HX84. Instead of sinking eleven ships in an hour, they spent the night and next day in pursuit, expending fuel and ammunition. Thirty-one of the thirty-eight convoy vessels got through, and Captain Fegen received a posthumous VC.

If the Gods Are Good: The Epic Sacrifice of HMS Jervis Bay

The authors deliver a stirring account of one of the greatest David-and-Goliath stories in the annals of sea fights: the sacrificial defense of a British convoy by its escort Je...

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The Beaverford

Taking up the chase

The story of HX84 does not end with the sinking of the Jervis Bay. The Jervis Bay was gone, but its gallant sacrifice had bought time for darkness to fall. The convoy had had time to scatter, making it impossible for the Admiral Scheer to locate them all, but they were not out of danger. The raider set out in pursuit of the remaining ships, hunting the convoy ships using starshells.

Faster than the merchantmen, the Admiral Scheer overhauled part of the fleeing convoy and set the fuel tanker San Demetrio on fire. Then it went after the merchant freighter Beaverford.

An unarmoured merchant vessel equipped with a single four-inch gun, the Beaverford was no match for the convoy raider. Captain E. Pettigrew, knowing that his ship was lost, embarked on a dangerous game of cat and mouse, trying to further delay the raider. Because the Admiral Scheer was faster than any of the cargo vessels it hunted and could simply run them down, any further time that could be bought would improve the convoy’s chances.

Undercover of darkness, the Beaverford managed to occupy the Admiral Scheer for a further five hours. The Admiral Scheer, unsure of what was facing it, was reluctant to close in the gloom and eventually torpedoed the freighter. It was sunk with all hands.

The San Demetrio

Set ablaze, abandoned and then reboarded

Hit by the Admiral Sheer, the fuel tanker San Demetrio was set ablaze, but failed to sink. She was carrying highly explosive aviation fuel and, afraid of an explosion, the Captain ordered all hands to abandon ship.

As the crew climbed into lifeboats, the pocket battleship continued to fire on the burning ship before it moved on to other prey, certain that the San Demetrio was beyond recovery.

San Demetrio
San Demetrio

Two lifeboats were launched, one containing sixteen of the crew, one with twenty-six, but they drifted apart in the Atlantic. The twenty six crew were eventually picked up and taken to Newfoundland.

Floating overnight in the cold the smaller group of crewmen were delighted the next morning to see a ship on the horizon. Their delight turned to confusion when it revealed itself as the San Demetrio, still ablaze and still afloat. The next night the ship was still in view, and rather than spend a third night at sea, the decision was taken to reboard her. The crew managed to get the fires under control. Without steering or navigational equipment, they jury-rigged a rudder and managed to work out their course from the path of the sun. The skeleton crew sailed the damaged San Demetrio over one thousand miles back to Britain, where she arrived on 16th November with her precious cargo almost intact.

The crew's heroism did not go unrewarded. By maritime law, it was decided they were entitled to the salvage rights for the vessel, worth between one and two thousand pounds each. The San Demetrio itself however, was sunk by a U-boat in 1942.

The Saga Of San Demetrio

Many of the earliest books, particularly those dating back to the 1900s and before, are now extremely scarce and increasingly expensive. We are republishing these classic works ...

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The Saga Of San Demetrio by F. Tennyson Jesse (2007-03-15)

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The Saga of San Demetrio by F. Tennyson Jesse

"...the tale of San Demetrio and the armed merchantman H. M. S. Jervis Bay, which was in charge of the convoy, will be told also, and may well be given pride of place. There may have been stories of the sea as great, but none greater." F Jesse Tennyson

San Demetrio on film

The story of the San Demetrio was made into a film, sadly now only available from in UK and European format.

There is also a model of the ship in the Imperial War Museum, shown in the photograph above. It represents the San Demetrio as she came into port, damaged and jury-rigged. The words "SOS Help" are written across the bridge, and can also been seen across the back.

San Demetrio London [Region 2]

United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 2 DVD: it WILL NOT play on standard US DVD player. You need multi-region PAL/NTSC DVD player to view it in USA/Canada: LANGUAGES: English ( M...

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San Demetrio London [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - United Kingdom ]

United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 2 DVD: it WILL NOT play on standard US DVD player. You need multi-region PAL/NTSC DVD player to view it in USA/Canada: LANGUAGES: English ( M...

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War At Sea Box Set (Cruel Sea, The/For Those In Peril/San Demetrio) [DVD]

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The Stureholm

An act of rescue

The survivors of the Jervis Bay had no chance to survive in the icy waters of the Atlantic at night. The Admiral Scheer did not attempt to pick them up, as it was chasing the convoy members. None would have survived except for an act of exceptional courage.

One of the convoy ships took a huge risk for the survivors of the ship that had saved the convoy. Captain Sven Oleander of the Swedish vessel Stureholm turned back despite the presence of the Admiral Scheer, which was still hunting the fleeing vessels and firing star shells which illuminated the area. Using the cover of night he managed to pick up 65 of the survivors. The Stureholm returned to Halifax and arrived safely on the 12th November 1940.

Sadly despite this act of courage, the Stureholm was to meet its own fate in December of the same year. It was part of convoy HX-92, when it was attacked by U-boats in the North Atlantic and sunk with all hands. Some of the Jervis Bay survivors had signed on as crew, and were aboard.

The aftermath of the battle

The final fate of HX84

The Admiral Scheer sank five vessels from the convoy, as well as their armed escort:

“Jervis Bay”
“Kenbame Head”
“Fresno City”

The Stureholm turned back for Halifax with the Jervis Bay survivors. The San Demetrio was set ablaze and considered lost, until it was reboarded and sailed home. The remaining vessels made it successfully to British ports.

Consequences of the battle

A change in the course of the war?

The Jervis Bay succeeded in delaying the Admiral Scheer for twenty-four minutes, but those twenty four minutes may have changed the course of the war.

Over 300 shells were expended sinking the Jervis Bay, and some accounts say as much as one third of the Scheer's ammunition was used against the unarmoured liner. This hampered the Scheer's own activities in the Atlantic, and had a lasting effect. The political effects were more far reaching.

An internal struggle was raging in German headquarters. The Navy wanted more battleships, but the pressure was on to build U-Boats as they were cheaper. The performance of the Admiral Scheer, a valuable pocket battleship, was being closely monitored. She sunk 17 ships in her first year of operation, while the Uboats sunk ten times that. This may have contributed to Hitler pulling the German Navy back into the Norweigan fjords and out of the Atlantic.

At the same time the British changed policy to have larger convoys guarded by battleships. While this resulted in fewer, larger convoys, with the withdrawal of convoy raiders it gave them a better chance to get through.

The Mopan

The tragedy of the Mopan

Shortly before encountering HX84, the Admiral Scheer had spotted a merchant vessel, the Mopan. To prevent them warning the convoy, the Scheer sent a signal to them to stay where they were and not attempt to use the radio. Under the guns of the battleship, the merchant seaman did as they were told. The Admiral Scheer picked up the crew (in stark contrast to the fate of the Jervis Bay survivors) and then sunk the vessel.

As POWs, the Mopan’s crew spent 5 months in the hold of the Nordmark, another raider. Eventually they were shipped back to Germany, where they were placed in a concentration camp and several died of malnutrition.

One of the survivors of the Mopan tells his story in a 1955 newspaper article:


The Lonely Sea by Alastair Maclean

A retelling of the war stories

As well as his fiction, Alastair Maclean retold a number of the famous incidents of the War in his short story collection "The Lonely Sea" such as the tale of the Rawalpindi, another merchant escort, and the fate of the Arandora Star.

The book closes with the story of HX84 and the Jervis Bay, an unforgettable homage by an excellent author.

The Lonely Sea

In this career-spanning collection of short fiction, master storyteller and former Royal Navy seaman Alistair MacLean is truly in his element—writing about the sea and its power...

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The Lonely Sea: Collected Short Stories

Collection of riveting tales of the sea including the story that launched his writing career, the account of the epic battle to sink the German battle ship, Bismarck, and two ne...

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About the Battle for the Atlantic

A brief summary of the tactics of the Battle of the Atlantic can be seen in this video, with World War Two footage.

Further resources about HX84

More abut convoy HX-84

A lot has been written about HX84, although a few resources stand out.

An Epitaph

“Sheer senseless destruction to send a cockle-shell like the Jervis Bay up against the might of a pocket battleship. One feels, however, it would be unwise to voice such thoughts in the presence of the men from convoy HX-84…

The Jervis Bay moved out into the path of the Admiral Scheer and died so they might live.”

Alastair Maclean,”The Lonely Sea”

Original Guestbook

Comments from Squidoo

Comments from the old Squidoo guestbook. I've salvaged these as the personal comments and references to survivors say more than I ever could. This article did help to get some people back in touch, and I hope it will continue to do so.

religions7 profile image

religions7 5 years ago

Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

evelynsaenz1 profile image

evelynsaenz1 5 years ago from Royalton Level 1 Commenter

Congratulations on your well deserved Purple Star!

anonymous 5 years ago

Congratulations on your Purple Star Award - Kathy

TonyPayne profile image

TonyPayne 5 years ago from Southampton, UK Level 3 Commenter

What a great lens, 5***** well deserved and congratulations on your Purple Star.

My grandfather was on a Q-Ship during WWI, an armed trawler that lured U-Boats into a trap.

Lee Hansen profile image

Lee Hansen 5 years ago from Vermont Level 3 Commenter

Excellent lens, congrats for the well-earned purple star - your third, correct?

atirial profile image

atirial 5 years ago Hub Author

[in reply to Pastiche] Thanks for your comment, and yes it is my third purple star. I just thought that this event, and these men, should not be forgotten.

kateloving profile image

kateloving 5 years ago from Lancaster PA Level 1 Commenter

Great history with awesome pictures!! A well deserved purple star!!

Dianne Loomos profile image

Dianne Loomos 5 years ago

Congrats on the purple star and welcome to the Anchors Aweigh Navy Lenses Group!

anonymous 5 years ago

my grancfather served on the jervisbay his name was robert mcmin.

anonymous 5 years ago

My father served on the Jervis Bay and was a survivor of that horrific night. He did not like to talk about it much so I dont have a lot of information. I found this site during a search. Thanks for sharing.

anonymous 4 years ago

My Uncle , Clifford cottis was on the San Demetrio, and was one of the 14 men who boarded the stricken vessel and helped get them back to the UK, love hearing him tell the story, he is still alive and living in Essex......

anonymous 4 years ago

My father (Jack Harley) was a signalman on board the Cornish City which was the commodore's ship and responsible for the movements of convoy HX84. He recalls that the Mopan had caught up to the convey and had been asked if it wanted to join the convey. The Mopan had declined as it was carrying perishables and continued to sail away into the distance. My father kept an eye on it from time to time as it disappeared towards the horizon. Later that day at about 4:30pm, he came back on watch to find that the Mopan was still visible on the horizon. Puzzled, he thought it may have broken down. Very shortly after came the realisation that this was not the Mopan at all as the Von Scheer opened fire. One might think that if the Mopan had decided to join the convoy, then the Von Scheer would have reached the convoy much earlier in the day and many more ships and lives would have been lost including my father's, but against this there is also the thought that if the Mopan had radioed a warning to the convoy, then perhaps the Jervis Bay and the other ships sunk would have escaped into the darkness.

anonymous 4 years ago

My father,Michael Douglas O'Reilly, was sunk in the Jervis Bay convoy. He was on a ship named "Fresno City". He was in a lifeboat for several days and then picked up by a freighter heading to Halifax. He later joined the RCAF and won the Distinguished Flying Cross. He has since passed away but I tried to get a merchant marine gratuity for his widow (still alive) but was denied! His son....Michael O'Reilly.

anonymous 4 years ago

My father Fred Matthews was on the SS Castilian in convoy HX84, he said the attack started just as some of the crew were having tea, dad was a fireman and went back to the engine room to get as much steam out of the Castilian as possible when the order was given to scatter.

Obviously beeing below he could not see what was happening but I have read that the Scheers floodlights fell on the Castilian but before she could open fire a better target came into view, the San Demetrio. So fate saved her as she was carrying ammunition.

An interesting fact was alongside my dad was another fireman called Jack Coffey who had jumped ship from the Titanic in Queenstown in 1912 just days before she sank. One very lucky man.

Many lives are owed to the brave crew of the Jervis Bay.

anonymous 4 years ago

@anonymous: Hi Dave

My father Eric Percival was a DEMS gunner on the San Demetrio when it was sunk by Uboat U404 in March 1942. He survived in an open life boat but 19 of the crew perished.

ChrisDay LM profile image

ChrisDay LM 4 years ago

Great tale of heroism and comradeship. Pity we rarely show these qualities outside war . . . Lensrolled to my 'Unsung Heroes' lens.

anonymous 4 years ago

@anonymous: Hello Dave, I am researching HX 84 for a potential TV documentary. I would be very interested in contacting your uncle and any other survivors from that night. I wonder if you would be kind enough to contact me at Many thanks

anonymous 3 years ago

My Uncle,was Petty Officer on 'The Jervis Bay' his name is William Margetts he alas died when his ship was confronted by the mighty pocket battle ship 'Admiral Scheer'. It was such a blow for my parents who thought the world of him.I went to see the memorial to the 'Jervis Bay' and the sailors who served on her, last year on 5thNovember 2010 at Chatham in Kent.It was the 70th anniversary of it's sinking.I never knew my uncle personally as i was born 5years after his death but i was so pleased to have seen the memorial and i think my parents would have approved.God bless all who sailed in her.

Iain84 profile image

Iain84 3 years ago

A* lens! Lots and lots of information and pictures. Well done

anonymous 3 years ago

Thanks for your excellent article. "If the Gods be Good" is another excellent account of the battle and the survivors' accounts much later.

My mother emigrated from Ireland in 1930 aboard the civilian liner SS Jervis Bay and always remembered the later actions of Captain Fegan.

Appropriately, in 1928-29, Captain Fegan had been the Commandant of Australia's Naval College at Jervis Bay, New South Wales. My father had finished his naval service there in 1922.

Australia has just now taken delivery of HMAS Choules, which was formerly the RN's RFA Largs Bay. In the 1920s, the "SS Largs Bay" was one of the 5 "Bay" class liners bringing migrants to Australia.

One of the others was the SS Jervis Bay.

Good to see that one of the "Bay" vessels has returned to Australia.

Peter Graves, Canberra.

Richardryder profile image

Richardryder 2 years ago

Good Navy Lens Thank you

anonymous 2 years ago

@anonymous: My father, A.B.Sydney .H.Cheesman had been in the Navy since 1923. He came out in 1938 and was on the Naval Reserve. I still have the Admiralty`s telegram informing my Mother he had been killed -stating "Letter to follow". She never did receive that letter.!! She was left with we 3 children,all very young,. She named her holiday home in St.Osyth Essex "Jervis Bay". One day in the late 70s, a stranger knocked at the door & said he was a survivor . She took his details, but we have never found them and I do so wish we knew his name. Before my Mother died at 97 she told me my Father was her only true love. She had had an extraordinary experience during the night hours of 5.11.40. She and my Aunt were alone in bed in the house,,we children had been evacuated. There was a thundering knocking on the front door. They both went to the door,- there was nobody there at all - it was approx.11.30 pm . My Aunt related that my Mother said to her, "Something has happened to my Syd" and she did` not speak for very many hours afterwards.

anonymous 2 years ago

my father sailed on the Rangitiki Mr Harold Edwin Spurrier. We have a photograph of a cartoon from the New Zeeland Times after action on Jervis Bay Convoy showing a man of state holding out his hands and saying A big one that got away - doing so he is looking at Hitler with a fishingrod under his arm. The name of the boat Rangitiki is written between the hands of the man of state while seeing Rangitiki dissapearing in the distance.

craftycollector profile image

craftycollector 2 years ago

A most interesting lens, in keeping with some of my father's stories of convoy duty in the ATlantic.

anonymous 2 years ago

I first heard the story of Captain Fegen and the heroic sacrifice of him and his crew when my dad took me to the Jervis Bay Monument at the Saint John Drydock in New Brunswick, Canada on a cold & rainy Remembrance Day. Dad was a retired Royal Canadian Navy Captain -- tough & stoic, a real man's man -- but his eyes watered and his voice broke as he described the Jervis Bay's death charge to protect the ships & their crewmen of the convey. "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend." JP+

anonymous 2 years ago

My great uncle,Reg Watts, was was on the Jervis bay. I he was shot by the Germans, I believe, whilst on the life raft.

ManipledMutineer profile image

ManipledMutineer 2 years ago

Another superb lens.

anonymous 19 months ago

I attended Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Jervis Bay. So named after the brave ship of course. As a sea cadet, I held a staff position at HMCS QUADRA, where in 1996 I had the honour of sitting and meeting with Captain Fegen's son. He was a staff officer at the base. A moment I will not forget. I am currently a Lieutenant (Navy) with the cadet program. I have great respect for Captain Fegen, his crew and the Jervis Bay. May their souls escape the depths of the sea.

Updated: 01/22/2015, tirial
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