- Convoy HX 90
Convoy Part of World War II Date 1-3 December 1940 Location Western Approaches Result German victory Belligerents Germany
United Kingdom Commanders and leaders Admiral Karl Dönitz Comm : VP Alleyne
Escort :Lt.Cdr MS Townsend
Strength 7 U-Boats
3 Italian submarines
Casualties and losses none 11 ships sunk (73,495 GRT)
HX 90 was an east-bound convoy of 41 ships which sailed from Halifax on 21 November 1940 bound for Liverpool and carrying war materials. The convoy, made up of contingents from Halifax, Sydney and Bermuda was led by Commodore VP Alleyne in Botavon.
The escort for the crossing had been sparse, as was common at this stage of the campaign, while the Western Approaches escort did not generally meet incoming convoys until south of Iceland, reckoned to be the limit of any patrolling U-boat’s endurance. In HX 90’s case the ocean escort was the Armed Merchant Cruiser Laconia, and she was due to rendezvous with the Western Approaches escort on 2 December..
Also at sea were several other convoys; SC 13 was to the north of HX 90, also heading east; while heading towards them was the west-bound OB 251. To the south, heading home from Gibraltar, was HG 47.
Ranged against them was a pack of seven U-boats, reinforced by three Italian submarines currently operating with them in the Atlantic. These were deployed in a patrol line at the fringe of the Western Approaches, hoping to intercept east-bound convoys before they met their ASW escorts.
On 1 December 1940, some 500 miles south of Iceland HX 90 was sighted by U-101 which reported its postion. Her skipper, Mengersen, was ordered to shadow and report, but during the day also the first Western Approaches escort, the destroyer Viscount (Lt.Cdr MS Townsend), arrived from OB 251. That evening Mengersen, was unable to resist attacking. He fired all twelve of his torpedoes, claiming four ships sunk and two damaged; in fact he sank three ships during the night, Apalachee, Kavak and Lady Glanely, and damaged another, Loch Ranza. Just after midnight on 1/2 December U-47 joined, skippered by U-boat ace Gunther Prien; his attack sank one ship, Ville D'Arlon, which had become separated from the convoy, and damaged another, Conch. Prien attacked a third ship, Dunsley, with his deck gun, but was driven off by an escort ship. Later U-95 joined, attacking the damaged Conch. She was again hit, but remained afloat. U-99, commanded by another ace, Otto Kretschmer, was en route to join the attack, but encountered the AMC Forfar, on her way to join OB 251 as ocean escort. Kretschmer attacked her, and Forfar was hit five times with torpedoes; she sank with the loss of 172 of her crew. There were 21 survivors. U-43 also missd the convoy, but fell in with OB 251, sinking two ships, while Argo, having attacked HG 43, also missed HX 90, but found SC 13, attacking and sinking one ship.
In the morning of 2 December the pack was joined by U-52, which sank two ships, Tasso and Goodleigh, while the convoy was joined by a further two escorts, Folkestone and Gentian, also from OB 251. They were assisted by the destroyer St Laurent, which had ben travelling with Forfar, but had detached to reinforce HX 90’s escort. Viscount and St Laurent attacked numerous ASDIC contacts, making thirteen depth-charge attacks over four hours. No U-boats were hit, but all were kept submerged and silent, allowing HX 90 to escape.
Later that evening however the convoy was sighted again, by newcomer U-94; she attacked during the night of 2/3 December and sank two more ships, Stirlingshire and Wilhelmina. Also that night U-99 found and sank a straggler, Victoria City (though other sources say she was sunk by U-140) and the damaged Conch which she also sank.
U-Boat Command (BdU), in the person of Adm. Karl Doenitz, was delighted with the attack, believing his U-boats had sunk eighteen ships of over 120, 000 GRT. In fact the confirmed loss to HX 90 was eleven ships of 73,495 GRT (other sources give 73,958 GRT). During the same period the pack had also sunk the AMC Forfar, two ships from OB 251, another from SC 13 and damaged an escort from HG 47. None of the attacking U-boats had been sunk or damaged. However 30 ships of HX 90 arrived safely, as did 41 ships of SC 13, the 30 ships of HG 47, and 31 ships of OB 251. Nevertheless the attack on HX 90 was a setback for the Allies, and one of the more serious convoy losses of the Atlantic campaign.
Date Name Nationality Casualties Tonnage
Sunk by… 1/2 December 1940 Appalachee Br 7 8,824 U-101 1/2 Dec Kavak Br 25 2,782 U-101 1/2 Dec Lady Glanely Br 32 5,497 U-101 1/2 Dec Ville D’Arlon Belg 56 7,555 U-47 2 December 1940 Tasso Br 5 1,586 U-52 2 Dec Goodleigh Br 1 5,448 U-52 2/3 December 1940 Stirlingshire Br nil 6,022 U-94 2/3 Dec Wilhelmina Dutch/Br 5 6,725 U-94 3 December 1940 Conch Br nil 8,376 U-47,U-95,U-99 3 Dec Victoria City Br 43 4,739 U-140 3 Dec W Hendrik Br ? 4,360 aircraft
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