Author Topic: Captain Fogarty Fegen RN VC and the gallant crew of HMS Jervis Bay  (Read 2216 times)

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Offline Boris

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When World War II erupted, the RN converted the Aberdeen & Commonwealth Line-owned, Australia-migrant passenger liner, Jervis Bay (14 000 t) to an Armed Merchant Cruiser, fitted with seven antiquated, 1898-vintage, 6-inch guns, two 3-inch guns of 1894 design, and crewed with RNVR from Britain and Canada.The ship's main role was to provide protection to convoys crossing the Atlantic. She was without armour, not highly compartmentalised and had to be filled with barrels and cork before commission. Her home port in late 1940 was Bermuda: being the first 'warship' to tie up in Hamilton Harbour, at Albuoy's Point.

HMS Jervis Bay at Dakar, Senegal, taken in either January or April, 1940 by J F Alyard, ship's survivor (Wikimedia commons)

The Action

On 05 November 1940, HMS Jervis Bay was the sole escort for Convoy HX-84, comprising 37 cargo ships bound from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Britain.

Late that afternoon, the 15 000 t German pocket battleship KMS Admiral Scheer located the convoy, and attacked. The Scheer's armament consisted of six 28 cm (11 in) guns in two triple turrets.
The Captain of Jervis Bay, Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen, knew his ship was badly outgunned and no match for the speed and the firepower of the Admiral Scheer. (His armament had less than half the range of the Scheer). He ordered the convoy to scatter, and dropped smoke canisters, which created a smokescreen to hide the convoy.

Captain Fegen, decided to advance to meet the raider, in the hope of delaying the Germans long enough to enable most of the convoy to escape in the approaching dusk.

The Captain, continuing to deploy smoke, set course toward the German raider to draw its fire. By doing so, he put the Jervis Bay directly between the convoy and the enemy. Although Jervis Bay's guns fired continuously, every shot fell short of the enemy. Meanwhile 11-inch shells from the raider ranged in. Given its lack of armour, the crew had little protection from the blast and shrapnel of Scheer's relentless bombardment, and casualties mounted. The bridge was soon hit, and with it the Jervis Bay's gunnery control centre. Another shell struck the bridge and Captain Fegen lost an arm, yet remained in command. Sometime thereafter, in the fusillade from the enemy. he was killed by yet a further shell. Soon, most of the officers were killed. Nevertheless, this one-sided battle lasted for twenty-four minutes. At the end of that period the Jervis Bay was aflame and her guns out of action, yet she continued her course in an attempt to ram the Scheer. Eventually, her propulsion failed and the order was given to abandon ship.

In all, 187 officers and crew were lost when the ship sank, ablaze, 755 miles south-southwest of Reykjavik, Iceland.

The Aftermath

Following the dispatch of Jervis Bay, in the gathering gloom, the Admiral Scheer then pursued and sank six other ships of the convoy: being the Mopan, Maidan, Trewellard, Kenbane Head, Beaverford and the Fresno City. Yet, due to the heroic actions of the Jervis Bay, 31 ships, with their crews, escaped. (The tanker San Demetrio, which was also shelled and set afire, ordered its crew to abandon ship. Two days later the ship was found by some of her crew adrift in a lifeboat: she was still ablaze. They climbed back on board, extinguished the flames, repaired the engines and limped into port almost two weeks after the tanker was declared to be a loss).

One of the merchant ships in the convoy — the Swedish freighter Stureholm — bravely risked returning to the scene several hours after the action to pick up survivors: sixty-eight of Jervis Bay's crew of 254 were rescued (three later died of their injuries).

Captain Fegen RN was awarded a posthumous VC for his bravery. The citation reads:

'for valour in challenging hopeless odds and giving his life to save the many ships it was his duty to protect. On the 5th of November, 1940, in heavy seas, Captain Fegen, in His Majesty's Armed Merchant Cruiser Jervis Bay, was escorting thirty-eight Merchantmen. Sighting a powerful German warship he at once drew clear of the Convoy, made straight for the Enemy, and brought his ship between the Raider and her prey, so that they might scatter and escape. Crippled, in flames, unable to reply, for nearly an hour the Jervis Bay held the German's fire. So she went down: but of the Merchantmen all but four or five were saved.'

Personally, I would say the Merchant Seamen of San Demetrio and Stureholm also displayed extreme courage in their actions  — albeit not placing themselves in immediate harm in the face of the enemy, as did the Jervis Bay.

My first introduction to the heroic story of Captain Fegen RN VC, goes back a long way.

In the early 1970s, when staying at the Merchant Navy Hotel in Lancaster Gate, London (as I'm sure many others in this forum did on several occasions in their MN careers), the main room, 'The Jervis Bay Room', contained a display commemorating the famous action. It was practice, upon entering the room, to salute the display.

Many years later, upon joining the RAN, I was posted to RANC at HMAS Creswell (located in Jervis Bay, ACT). It was the custom then (and maybe still so?) to host an annual 'Fogarty Fegen' Mess Dinner in November; where many speeches are made and toasts drunk.

Again after many further years, I settled in Bermuda. Annually, on Remembrance Sunday, a service is held in Point Pleasant Park, Albuoys Point, attended by serving and ex-military. Situated in the Park is a sun dial with a commemorative, bronze plaque (raised by public subscription organised by the Women's Auxiliary and unveiled a year after the sinking). A photo is attached, but the memorial plaque has weathered and not easily deciphered. It reads:

REV. II. 10.
There is a synopsis of the heroic action at this You Tube link (But note: the memorial plaque pictured in the video is actually in Scotland, opposite the old kirk in Wick, not Albuoy's Point, as captioned. Also, despite the paintings in the video depicting Jervis Bay in camouflage 'Battleship Grey' during the action, I believe she had reverted to a commercial livery, as shown in the photo above. Happy to be corrected on this).

« Last Edit: Jul 24, 2017, 01:33 AM by Boris »

Offline Rod

Many brave souls went before us, and will come after us.

Offline Boris

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Many brave souls went before us, and will come after us.
Indeed Rod, and it does make one feel humble. Knowing your current background, I'm sure you have thought, as I do, if it came to the crunch, would I have the guts to do 'the right thing'?

They say you never know, until that time eventuates.

"Non sibi sed patriae"


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