By Mike Kemble (c) From information provided by Ray Holden, Clem Bray, Christine Chaplin, Lionel Irish, Mary Davies, Paul Masterson & Others
of the Board of Enquiry into
Part 1: Boards of
Enquiry - Instructions
Nothing has been changed in the following letters, signals or transcripts except the format, it was far too large for a web document - no words have been changed. Any comments or queries added by myself are in red. I am indebted to Christine Chaplin who dispatched these documents to Ray Holden who forwarded them on to me for inclusion in the unfolding saga of HMS Kite. What unfolds on these documents does not make a pretty picture and gives the appearance of a bit of a "whitewash" of Naval Officers, form your own opinions!! Following on from the Board of Enquiry transcript I will give the official report and my own opinions on this, although admittedly, I am no sailor! Mike Kemble.
OFFICE OF COMMANDER IN CHIEF
BOARDS OF ENQUIRY
In amplification of the instructions given in paragraph 1 of Form S 1360, I wish to bring to the attention of officers concerned my views on the conduct of Boards of Enquiry.
2. The task of a Board of Enquiry is usually to investigate some occurrence which has been brought about by a failure of personnel, material or organization. The main object of the investigation is to obtain such information as will enable us to guard against a repetition of the same, or similar occurrence. This means that we must find out who, if anyone, was responsible for the failure and whether the fault lies inside or outside the ship itself; it may be with some authority or department, or civilian firm, or some individual in the ship.
3. Unless specifically so ordered it is not the duty of a Board of Enquiry to propose disciplinary action but, for the reasons given above, it is essential that their Finding should specify in detail what persons in the ship (under the general responsibility of the Commanding Officer) were responsible for what happened and the precise degree in which each acted incorrectly or failed to act. This is a matter which is frequently glossed over or not clearly pressed to a definite conclusion; it is, however, important that he who has failed should be left in no doubt how and where he went wrong, so that he may profit by the experience and act correctly on a future occasion. If on the other hand the Board reach the conclusion that no person in the ship was in any way responsible for the occurrence they must clearly state this opinion in their Findings.
4. The Admiralty have directed that members of Boards of Enquiry investigating accidents, losses of stores etc, before coming to any conclusion which imputes blame to any person, should consider carefully:
(i) whether his apparent fault was due to negligence or inexperience or both
(ii) whether, having regard to his previous experience in similar operations, it was reasonable to entrust him with that particular duty.
The Board's opinion on these points should be included in their Findings.
5. It is also an important part of the duty of every Board of Enquiry to make recommendations for the future prevention of similar occurrences.
6. Every officer who convenes a Board of Enquiry in the Western Approaches Command is to furnish the President with a copy of this memorandum, which is to be attached to Form S.136Q and included in the minutes.
7. The special attention of Administrative Authorities, who have the subsequent handling of the reports of Boards of Enquiry, is called to my memorandum No W.A.190P of 15th June 1943, which was addressed to Flag Officers in Charge and Captains (D).
Flag and Naval Officers in Charge
The Convening Order for the Board of Enquiry into the sinking of HMS Kite:
Office of Flag Officer in Charge
8th September 1944
You are to assemble on board at Navy House, Clarence St, Greenock, at 1000 on Sunday 9th September, as a board of whereof
Commander A H Thorold, OBE,DSO,RN of HMS Cygnet is to be the president and hold a full and careful investigation into the circumstances attending:
THE LOSS OF HMS KITE
2. The enquiry is to be conducted in accordance with the directions contained in Kings Regulations and Admiralty Instructions Chapter XI. and Commander in Chief, Western Approaches Memorandum No WA4190P of 25th August 1944 (copy for the President only).
3. The report of the Board is to be accompanied by the minutes of evidence taken, and is to contain an expression of opinion on the merits of the case as disclosed by the evidence, including a statement of the causes of the occurrence.
4. The questions in the minutes are to be numbered consecutively, and the name and rank or rating of each witness are to appear at the head of each page on his evidence.
5. The reports and minutes are each to be signed by the members of the Board and are to be in triplicate.
6. The original report is to be sent herewith for the purpose of the enquiry, and is to be returned with the report of the Board, together with this memorandum.
7. The Commanding Officer, HMS ORLANDO has been informed and directed to afford the Board all the necessary facilities.
8. Unless the president has something to communicate he is to send the reports when completed, not to bring them.
9. A shorthand writer has been detailed from the Office of the Flag Officer in Charge, Greenock.
To: COMMANDER A H THOROLD, OBE, DSO, RN HMS CYGNET Signature
LIEUTENANT COMMANDER F L COX, RNVR HMS ORLANDO Rank: REAR ADMIRAL
LIEUTENANT T W LANCASTER, DSC, RN HMS CYGNET
(Copies to: Commanding Officer, HMS Orlando, Captain (D), Greenock
Copies of Relevant Signals originating from HMS Keppel/Kite
(Note: SO Escorts was the title being used by CS10). (TOR - Time of Report)
1. To KEPPEL and KITE From: SO ESCORTS
Take starboard quarter action in diagram number 2
2. To: SO ESCORTS From: KEPPEL
Am investigating contact on starboard side
Am attacking with depth charges
My estimated position 135 ZZ 7
3. To: SO ESCORTS From: KITE
Am about to attack with depth charges
4. To: SO ESCORTS From: KEPPEL
I am resuming my station. KITE in company
188 ZZ 15 TOR: 0121B
5. To: SO ESCORTS From: KEPPEL
6. To: SO ESCORTS From: KEPPEL
My estimated position is 194 ZZ 12 miles
7. To: SO ESCORTS From: KEPPEL
KITE has been sunk
The Board of
List of Witnesses
Petty Officer JRL Payne D/JX 154993
Witness called and cautioned
Q1 Are you Petty Officer John
Richard Lewis Payne Off No: D/JX 154993?
A1 Yes Sir
Q2 Were you serving in HMS KITE on
the 21st August 1944?
A2 Yes Sir
Q3 Would you tell the Board what you know of what occurred in HMS Kite at the time of the explosion, or the first you know about it?
A3 I had the morning watch Sir, when it happened. We were getting the PNM's in. The speed was too fast to get the PNM's in and the Petty Officer who was on deck with me went on to the bridge and asked the Officer of the Watch if he could reduce speed. He said he would reduce speed to 6 knots. I went up on the port side of the boat deck and he stopped heaving in on the floats and we were trying to get the turns out of the wire. Then the explosion happened.
Q4 What was the actual state of the
foxers at the time?
A4 The port PNM wire was wrapped
round the displacer towing wire and the starboard PNM was in the rattling
Q5 What type of floats were you
A5 The old displacers Sir
Q6 What was your actual duty as
regards getting in the foxers, were you for'd or aft?
A6 Well I had no actual duties at all Sir, because I was in action on the pom pom deck and the other Petty Officer asked me to give him a hand. I went down on the other side of the boat deck. The other Petty Officer was on the quarter deck and was Petty Officer of the Watch.
Q7 Where were you at the actual time
of the explosion?
A7 I was on the pom pom deck at the actual time of the explosion Sir.
Q8 What was the original speed
before the bridge was asked to reduce?
A8 I am sorry Sir, I don't know what actual speed we were doing. The other Petty Officer came down and told me that they were going to reduce to 6 knots.
Q9 As far as you know, had speed
already been reduced when the explosion occurred?
A9 Yes we had already dropped speed.
Q10 Now I think you had better go on with what
happened from the explosion onwards.
A10 There was an explosion on the starboard side
aft and I was knocked over, and while I was getting up there was a second
Q11 How far off do you think the explosion was?
A11 One was aft of the companion ladder Sir, on the quarter deck. That is were all the dirt and so forth came from Sir anyway, when I looked.
Q12 At that time had there been only one
A12 Yes Sir and about three or four seconds later
another one. They seemed to blend into one, but there were definitely two
Q13 Where do you estimate the second explosion
A13 On the starboard quarter Sir.
Q14 Was there any difference between the violence
of either explosion?
A14 No Sir, they were both the same and very
quick together. That is only my estimation though Sir, I am not sure.
Q15 As far as you can see, did one appear to be
further for'd or further aft than the other?
A15 The first was further for'd and the second further aft Sir.
Q16 What happened after you got into the water?
A16 When I jumped into the water I was gasping for breath. The water was very cold and I got hold of a life buoy in the water. I could see the stern disappearing. I was on the life buoy Sir, I don't know for how long. There were 4 of us on it, and then I saw a Carley float and swam to that Sir.
Q17 Had you got a life belt on?
A17 Yes but it was not blown up.
Q18 Were you wearing a piece of rope tied round
A18 No Sir
Q19 Were there, to your knowledge, any particular
orders in the ship about the wearing of lifebelts and lengths of rope
A19 We always had to wear a lifebelt Sir, but there were no particular orders about wearing a rope.
Q20 Do you know if many of the ships company did
wear pieces of rope?
A21 I was Captain of the Quarter Deck Sir in one or two in my division did, but not very many.
Q22 Did you at any time sight anything resembling
a U Boat?
A22 No Sir
Q23 Did many people float clear of the ship?
I jumped over the port side Sir and there were only about a dozen in my
estimation who followed me over the port side.
Q24 Were any orders given as regards abandoning
A24 No I didn't hear any orders given Sir.
Q25 Can you say at all how long you think the
ship floated for?
A25 She seemed to go very quickly to me Sir, in less than a minute after we got hit I should think. She heeled right over and went down in less than a minute it seemed to me
Q26 Do you know anything of the state of the
watertight doors at the time?
A26 Well they were very strict about them Sir. They should have all been closed below decks Sir.
Q27 After you got onto the raft, how many were
there with you on the raft?
A27 There was only one on when I got on, and then after a while 3 more came on Sir.
Q28 Did they all remain on the raft until you
were picked up?
A28 Yes Sir.
Q29 How were you actually picked up by HMS Keppel?
A29 She steamed right up to us Sir. They were going to lower the whaler but the sea fetched us right up to the ships side Sir.
Q30 Did they hoist you out?
A30 Yes but I don't remember much about that Sir.
Q31 Did you hear any explosion at all after you
were in the water?
A31 Yes Sir, I heard I think it was two, and I asked the chap who was on the Carley Float with me what he thought it was and he said he thought it would be the depth charges going off.
Q32 Were any of the depth charges set to any
depth to your knowledge?
A32 To my knowledge, No Sir, they were all set to "safe".
Q33 Was primer placing gear fitted?
A33 Yes Sir.
A34 No Sir, the bows were just disappearing. When I heard these explosions I could see the stern sticking up, about 200 yards Sir and she was going down at the bows.
Q35 From that you mean the ship had split into
A35 Yes Sir
Examination of witness
Q36 Are you Leading Seaman Ernest Chapman Bradley
Off No: 136903?
A36 Yes Sir
Q37 Were you serving in HMS Kite on the 21st
A37 Yes Sir
Q38 Will you tell the Board about the explosions
and subsequent action in HMS Kite?
A38 We were asleep down the for'd mess deck Sir.
On the first bang nearly all the mess deck woke up, and the second
Q39 Do you mean the conning tower or the
A39 The conning tower Sir.
Q40 How long did the conning tower stay up?
A40 The water was a bit loppy Sir and swinging us around, and I only had one glimpse of it. I told the Petty Officer on the float to duck because I thought they were firing at us, but we found afterwards it was depth charges from our own ship exploding under the water.
Q41 How many explosions did you notice?
A41 Under water explosions Sir?
A42 3 or 4 Sir, they appeared pretty deep.
Q43 How much of the ship was still floating when
the explosions took place?
A43 The half that we went over the side was floating Sir, and just as we hit the water the stern was disappearing.
Q44 Were you wearing a life belt?
A44 No I had an oilskin all weather suit on Sir. It seemed very buoyant.
Q45 Were you wearing a piece of rope tied round
A45 No Sir
Q46 Were there any ships orders about wearing
life belts and ropes?
A46 There was an order in the ships list Sir, and I had my life belt near at hand Sir, but when she got hit she started to list and I thought it was best to get out.
Q47 But there were no orders about pieces of
A47 All men were issued with ropes Sir and were told to make them, when I was first in the ship.
Q48 But you hadn't got your ropes end on at the
A48 No Sir, it was with my gas mask.
Q49 Did you stay on the flotanet until you were
A49 No, we were all drifting together. There were 2 carley floats and when we got there we swam onto the Carley float, but there were still two men on the flotanet.
Q50 How many men did you see in the water?
A50 About 60 or 70 I should think Sir.
Q51 You went out of the fore mess hatch and over
the port side. Do you recall anything of what happened to No 2 guns crew?
A51 No Sir
Q53 Was there much oil in the water?
A53 When we went over the side we were in clear water Sir, but when we started swimming to the float we found the oil and it kept us warm, so we tried to stick near to the oil fuel all the time.
Examination of witness
LEADING SEAMAN DANIEL BRANNIGAN D/SSX 23262
Witness Called and Cautioned
Q54 Are you Leading Seaman Daniel Brannigan Off
No: D/SSX 23262?
A54 Yes Sir
Q55 Were you serving in HMS Kite on the 21st
A55 Yes Sir
Q56 Will you tell the Board what you know of what
happened that morning?
A56 I was lying on the lockers on the for'd mess deck when I heard the first explosion. I just dashed up the ladder and as I was on the ladder there was another explosion, and I just got up and jumped over the port side. I got on the Carley Float and then I was picked up by HMS Keppel.
Q57 Were you wearing a life belt?
A57 No Sir. I got one out of the port whaler as I came up.
Q58 Were you wearing a ropes end secured round
A58 No Sir.
Q59 Were there any orders in the ship about the
wearing of life belts and ropes ends?
A59 Not when you were off watch or turned in Sir.
Q60 Did you see any signs of a U Boat?
A60 No Sir, only what Leading Seaman Bradley said
to me on the float, when he told me to duck because he thought
they were firing
was no Question 61 on the copy received by me.
Q62 Did you see many other people in the water?
A62 About 70 I should say Sir.
Q63 On the port side?
A63 Yes Sir
Q64 Was there any oil on the water?
A64 There was no oil fuel as we jumped into the water at the start Sir, but as we swam away we came into it Sir.
Q65 Did you notice any other explosions when you
were away from the ship?
A65 As the stern was going down there was another explosion Sir.
Q66 Were there any under water explosions that
A66 Yes Sir
Q67 Did they shake you up?
A67 There was not much of a shaking with it Sir.
Q68 How many of these explosions were there? Did
A68 About 5 I think Sir.
Q69 You did not hear any orders being given
regarding abandoning ship or anything of that sort?
A69 No Sir, no orders at all came through; we were very lucky to get on top at all Sir.
Q70 What were the orders in HMS Kite in case of
A70 It was a long ring on the bell Sir.
Q71 Was that done?
A71 No Sir, because if it had we would have all
been at Action Stations in a couple of seconds.
Examination of Witness
ABLE SEAMAN CHARLES BONSALL Off No: D/JX 419597
Witness Called and Cautioned
Q72 Are you Able Seaman Charles Bonsall Off No: D/JX 419597?
A72 Yes Sir
Q73 Were you serving in HMS Kite on the 21st August 1944?
A73 Yes Sir
Q74 Will you tell the Board what you know of what happened that morning?
Well I don't know much Sir because I was in the for'd mess deck. I had come off
the middle watch and was going to sleep
using my life
Q75 You went into the water on the port side?
A75 No Sir, on the starboard side; the same side as she was listing.
Q76 Had you got your lifebelt on by that time?
A76 No Sir. When the first bump threw me off the lockers my first thought was to get up top.
Q77 Had you a piece of rope secured round you?
A77 No sir.
Q78 What were the Ship's Orders as regards life belts and ropes ends?
A78 If you were on the upper deck you had to wear your life belt Sir, but I don't know about ropes ends.
Q79 But there were no definite orders that you had to wear them the whole time?
A79 No Sir, I don't think so. It was just made clear that we always had to wear them on the upper deck.
Q80 When you got into the water, what did you swim to to keep you up?
To a flotanet Sir, but we couldn't unroll it so I swam for a fender and then saw
a Carley float and swam for that,
I stayed there until I was
Q81 Was there much oil about?
A81 Yes Sir, I was covered from head to foot in oil. I think that is what finished one or two of the chaps Sir, their nostrils were full with oil.
Q82 Did you see many others in the water?
A82 Yes Sir, there were quite a few floating round on wreckage but I don't know how many there were.
Q83 Did you see anything resembling a U Boat?
A83 No Sir.
of Witness terminated
ABLE SEAMAN ARTHUR PRATT SHARPLES Off No: D/JX 563041
Witness Called and Cautioned
Q84 Are you Able Seaman Arthur Pratt Sharples D/JX 563041?
A84 Yes Sir
Q85 Were you serving in HMS Kite on the 21st August 1944?
A85 Yes Sir
Q86 Will you tell the Board all you know of what occurred that morning?
I do not know very much Sir. I was asleep on the lockers. The explosion woke me
up and as I was getting up the
Q87 What happened after you got into the water?
I swam away from the ship to get away from the suction. I was floating round on
my back and then got away
clear from the
oil that was
Q88 Had you a life belt on?
A88 No Sir
Q89 Or a piece of rope secured round you?
No Sir, I never had one of these pieces of rope. There were some on the ship and
we were given rope to make them, but I
never got one
Q90 Do you know what the Ship's Orders were about wearing life belts and securing ropes ends round you?
As regards life belts, when we fell in of a morning the First Lieutenant used to
pick us out and put us in his report
for having no life belt,
Q91 Did you see any signs of a U Boat about?
A91 No Sir, I never noticed anything like that.
of Witness terminated
ABLE SEAMAN GEORGE HENRY JOHNSON Off No: D/JX 568812
Witness Called and Cautioned
Q92 Are you Able Seaman George Henry Johnson Off No: D/JX 568812?
A92 Yes Sir
Q93 Were you serving in HMS Kite on the 21st August 1944?
A93 Yes Sir
Q94Will you tell the Board what happened that morning?
I was sleeping in my hammock Sir, and I heard two explosions. I dashed up the
ladder, through the for'd hatch, and
slid down the port
Q95 You actually saw a submarine yourself?
A95 Yes Sir
Q96 How much of it did you see?
A96 The conning tower Sir.
Q97 Were you wearing a life belt at the time?
A97 No Sir, just a vest.
Q98 Were there any Orders about wearing life belts and ropes ends?
A98 Only one about wearing life belts Sir.
Q99 But there were no definite orders that you had to wear them at all times?
A99 No Sir
Q100 Did you see any other people in the water?
A100 Yes Sir, plenty of them.
Q101 Were most of the men undressed when they turned in?
A101 Yes Sir.
of Witness terminated
ABLE SEAMAN LIONEL IRISH Off No: D/JX 351286
Witness Called and Cautioned
Q102 Are you Able Seaman Lionel Irish Offr No: D/JX 351286?
A102 Yes Sir
Q103 Were you serving in HMS Kite on the 21st August 1944?
A103 Yes Sir
Q104 Will you tell the Board what you know of what happened that morning?
I was in the after mess deck in my hammock Sir, at the time, and all we knew was
just two bangs. I went up the ladder
Q105 You went into the water on the port side?
A105 Yes Sir
Q106 Were you wearing a life belt at the time?
A106 No Sir
Q107 Were there any Ship's Orders that you know of about wearing life belts and ropes ends secured round yourself?
Well the First Lieutenant gave strict orders about life belts Sir, but I was
Quartermaster and could never feel
in the wheel
Q108 Were there any orders to wear them at all times?
A108 Well he was very strict Sir.
Q109 As far as you know, did many of the Ship's Company sleep in their life belts?
A109 There were quite a few did Sir.
Q110 Was there any definite mention about having ropes ends secured round you?
A110 No Sir, not that I know of.
Q111 Did you see any signs of a U Boat when you got into the water?
A111 No Sir
Q112 When you got into the water, did you notice any other under water explosions?
A112 Yes Sir, there were some.
Q113 Can you say about how many?
A113 I should imagine about three or four Sir, but I could not be sure.
Q114 But not very violent?
A114 Well, not enough to shake you up Sir, they must have been very deep.
Q115 Did they appear to be far away?
A115 It would be very difficult to say Sir. I just heard them, that is all, but I didn't feel any vibration.
Q116 What did you swim to when you got into the water?
A116 I picked up an oar Sir, then I saw a plank and transferred to that and then I went over to a sort of butcher's block Sir.
Q117 Did you have much difficulty in getting on to HMS Keppel?
A118 I don't really remember Sir. I was told that I went down twice and I don't remember much about being taken on board.
of Witness terminated
ABLE SEAMAN REGINALD HOLMES Off No: D/JX 369266
Witness Called and Cautioned
Q118 Are you Able Seaman Reginald Holmes, Off No: D/JX 369266?
A118 Yes Sir
Q119 Were you serving in HMS Kite on the 21st August 1944?
A119 Yes Sir
Q120 Will you tell the Board all you know of what happened that morning?
I do not know very much Sir. At the time I was on watch on the bridge as
telephone number, and at 0640 there was an
Q121 Do you mean that the Lieutenant had left the ship or that he had left the bridge?
A121 He had definitely left the bridge. I saw him jump off the bridge so I presume he went into the water Sir.
Q122 How far was the bridge from the water at that time?
A122 I should say about 60 degrees Sir.
Q123 What did you do then?
A123 I threw my coat off, took off my boots, and dived over the port side Sir.
Q124 Did you see any more of the Captain?
A124 No, Sir, I never saw anything more of him.
Q125 Did any more of the bridge personnel get away as far as you know?
Well, I never saw any of them Sir. The messenger was sent on a message to the
First Lieutenant and there was only me
Q126 Had there, to your knowledge, been any report from the Asdic to the bridge?
A126 Nothing at all that I know of sir.
Q127 Within the last few minutes previous to the explosion?
A127 No Sir
Q128 Was the Asdic. so far as you know, operating satisfactorily?
A128 Yes Sir
Q129 No reports of breakdowns?
A129 No Sir, nothing at all.
Q130 How many Officers of the Watch were there?
A130 Two on watch, but Sub Lieutenant Strutbers went below on a message for Lieutenant Savage. I don't know what the message was Sir.
Q131 As far as you know, had any signal been received which gave you the impression that U Boats were in the vicinity?
A131 Not that I know of Sir
Q132 What was the reaction of the signalman and the four lookouts when the two explosions occurred?
A132 Well, I never really had time to look Sir. The first thing I thought of was getting out of the way of the stuff coming over.
Q133 Did anyone follow you?
A133 No Sir. I was the last person to leave the bridge. The Officer of the Watch had gone.
Q134 You do not recall what happened to the lookouts or the signalman?
A134 No Sir.
Q135 You say that Captain used bad language and went below. What did the bad language indicate?
A135 It was something about Germans Sir.
Q136 Did you gather from his action what he intended to do by going below?
A136 No Sir.
Q137 Did you hear him give any order at all?
He did not give any orders at all Sir. The first thing he said was "Have
you sounded action stations yet?" then
he used the bad language
Did the Officer of the Watch do anything further, apart from crouch, between the
explosions and leaping
over the side?
Did he give
A138 No Sir.
Q139 How long would you estimate the time between the two explosions and the time Lieutenant Savage went over the side?
A139 About 50 seconds, something like that Sir.
Q140 How long do you estimate it was before you went over, say between the fist explosion and the time you left the ship?
About 45 or 50 seconds Sir. As soon as I got into the water I turned round and
looked and the ship had turned right over
Q141 Were you wearing a life belt at the time?
A141 Yes Sir, but I didn't have time to blow it up.
Q142 Had you got a rope end secured round you?
A142 No Sir, they were not very strict about us carrying those.
Q143 Did you succeed in time in getting your left belt blown up?
A143 No Sir, when I felt for it in the water it was broken. My hands were numb anyway, and I couldn't feel it in any case.
Q144 What did you swim to when you got into the water?
A144 It looked like a butcher's block Sir.
Q145 Did you stay there all the time until you were picked up?
A145 I got on a big plank, there were two of us Sir.
Q146 Did you see many other people in the water at that time?
A146 I should think about 80 or something Sir.
Q147 On the port side only?
A147 Yes Sir.
Q148 Did you notice any under water explosions?
A148 Yes Sir, but I don't know if they were from us or from the Keppel.
Q149 Was any part of the ship still floating when the explosions occurred?
A149 There might have been about 12 foot of the bows; the stern had completely gone Sir.
Q150 Have you any idea what the course and speed of the ship was at 0640?
A150 I couldn't tell you the course Sir, but we were doing about 4 knots I should think. We had slowed down to get in the foxers.
Q151 Do you know what speed you had been doing previously?
A151 I cannot say Sir, I have no idea.
Q152 Did you at any time sight anything that resembled a U Boat?
A152 No Sir.
Q153 Can you remember what revolutions were ordered when you reduced speed?
A153 I could not tell you what revolutions they were Sir, but I remember looking on the board and it averaged 4 knots.
Q154 Are you sure about that?
A154 Certain Sir.
Q155 Did you see anything resembling torpedo tracks?
A155 No Sir.
Q156 You spoke of this debris and the depth charge racks; can you amplify that at all as to what you saw?
A156 Well it was all spars of wood and stuff that you could see.
Q157 You could see separate depth charges coming into the air?
A157 Yes Sir.
Q158 Did any of the depth charge throwers come adrift?
A158 Yes Sir, they just blew up. They all blew to bits and several splinters of the rack came on the bridge.
of Witness terminated
ABLE SEAMAN FRANK WEBB Off No: D/JX 418096
Witness Called and Cautioned
Q159 Are you Able Seaman Frank Webb, Off No: DJ/X 418096?
A159 Yes Sir.
Q160 Were you serving in HMS Kite on the 21st August 1944.
A160 Yes Sir.
Q161 Will you tell the Board all you know of what happened that morning?
I had the morning watch Sir, B Guns crew doing the lookout on the starboard
Oerlikon. Next thing I knew there was an
Q162 Which side did you go over?
A162 The starboard side, Sir.
Q163 Was there one explosion or more?
A163 Two explosions sir.
Q164 As lookout, did you observe any torpedo tracks?
A164 No Sir.
Q165 Did you at any time then or afterwards observe what might have been a U Boat?
A165 No Sir
Q166 Had you got your life belt on?
A166 Fully inflated Sir.
Q167 Had you a ropes end on?
A167 I had it round my duffle coat Sir, but before going over I took it all off.
Q168 Did the life belt keep you afloat?
A168 Yes Sir, I couldn't have done without it.
Q169 Did you subsequently, in the water, get on to anything?
A169 I floated to a plank of wood Sir.
Q170 Was there much fuel oil where you were?
Yes Sir, a lot. And the First Lieutenant jumped over the side with me Sir. I
don't know whether he put his life belt on,
Q171 What were the Ship's Orders, so far as you know, about the wearing of life belts?
A171 Very strict Sir. You had to have them half inflated when you fell in in the morning Sir.
Q172 Did you have to wear hemp while you were asleep?
A172 There was nothing compulsory about that Sir.
Q173 How were you picked up by HMS Keppel?
A173 I don't remember being picked up at all Sir. I woke up in sick bay on the Keppel Sir and that is all I remember.
Q174 Did you notice any explosions after you got into the water?
A174 Yes Sir, three or four. I thought it was depth charges going off myself, but I don't know.
Q175 Have you any exact idea as to where the explosions occurred?
A175 No Sir.
Q176 You did not hear any orders given?
A176 I saw the Captain come out on the upper deck Sir and heard him use foul language, then he went back again.
Q177 That was outside his sea cabin?
A177 Yes Sir.
Q178 So the officers you saw were the First Lieutenant and the Captain and that was all?
A178 Yes Sir. Except Sub Lieutenant Strubers in the water. He was Second Officer of the Watch.
Q179 Where did the First Lieutenant normally sleep at sea?
A179 In his cabin Sir as far as I know, but I had seen him on the upper deck between 6 and 6.30. He may have been on the bridge, I am not sure.
Q180 What was he doing at the time you both went over the side?
A180 Just standing there Sir. I jumped in first and then he jumped in and got hold of me.
Q181 In fact you were supported in the water the whole time by your life belt?
A181 Yes Sir.
Q182 Did you hear either the First Lieutenant or the Captain give any orders at all?
A182 No Sir, I only heard the Captain shout some foul language and that was all I heard him say.
Examination of Witness terminated
LIEUTENANT JOHN ARTHUR DOUGLAS ROYAL NAVY
Witness Called and Cautioned
Q183 Are you Lieutenant John Arthur Douglas, Royal Navy, of HMS Keppel?
A183 Yes Sir.
Q184 Were you serving in HMS Keppel on 21st August 1944.
A184 Yes Sir.
Q185 Will you tell the Board all you know of the loss of HMS Kite?
A185 I was on the morning watch that day, HMS Kite, when I came on watch, was 45 degrees on the starboard bow, as far as I can remember about 5000 yards. We both had our displacers streamed, ours was tripped, and hers were not, they were in the rattling position. At about 5 o'clock I asked the Captain whether we could ask Kite to trip her PNM's because it was making a hell of a noise in our Asdics as we zig-zagged, and it seemed as if we could not pick anything up at all. He asked what our Asdics were like and I said "Poor", so we asked HMS Kite to trip her PNM's. That must have been about 5 o'clock as far as I can remember. HMS Kite reduced speed and dropped back on us; I think convoy speed at the time was about 6 1/2 knots. I gathered she had some difficulty with her PNM's, because she told us she was reducing speed. About 6.30 - I am not sure what the exact time was, but I think it must have been about 6.30, I was on the port side of the bridge. We have a sort of raised platform on the starboard side and I was standing on the lower portion when I heard two bangs and I picked up my glasses and looked at the convoy. I could not see anything, so I turned and look at Kite and all I could see then was her bow and everything else was obscured by the explosions. I could not see most of her hull at all. The Captain came on the bridge and I rang the alarm bells and we went hard to starboard and came down to 7 knots. Soon afterwards one of the lookouts reported an object in the water near HMS Kite and we all looked from the bridge, but we did not see anything. I got hold of the lookout afterwards and he said he thought it was a conning tower, but no one saw anything of it from the bridge. Anyway we swept over the area until the other ships came up. I think the submarine may possibly have gone under the wreck, anyway we did not pick it out. I should say HMS Kite sank within a minute, because by the time the Captain came on the bridge, which was within 10 seconds of my ringing the bell, she was already going and we did not see her at all. She seemed to go down in a matter of seconds. This is all I know about the actual torpedoing Sir.
Q186 What speed were you doing at the time?
A186 As far as I remember 9, 9 1/2 and 10 knots according to how we were maintaining station.
Q187 What form of zig zag were you doing?
A187 An independent zig zag Sir, 30 or 40 degrees either side.
Q188 Continuous weaving?
A188 We usually altered about every 10 minutes. There was no indication at all on our Asdics, no indication of torpedoes or anything.
Q189 Was it your impression on board that there were definitely U Boats in the are?
A189 Yes, in the vicinity, but not in the immediate vicinity Sir, not within 30 miles anyway, which I believe was the HFDF bearing.
Q190 Did you drop any charges after the torpedoing?
A190 No Sir, we set one, and then put it back to safe again. We did not drop any charges at all until later on.
Q191 Did you trip the PNM's as soon as you increased speed?
A191 No Sir
Q192 Did you start them rattling when you increased speed?
A192 No Sir we did not use them at al because they were not working particularly well. We had got them in the previous day, and as the Captain did not think U Boats were in the immediate vicinity, he got displacers out. HMS Kite had difficulty with hers, but she eventually got them going. We could not get ours going at all. We eventually left them out altogether thinking they would work later on after they had been running for a while. It was not until we got our other displacers out that we got them to work at all.
Q193 As far as you knew yourself, what were the Asdic conditions like that morning?
A193 As far as I know, average for those waters. They were generally bad throughout the trip and it is a rather difficult question really to assess them; comparing them with the Atlantic or somewhere like that, they were bad.
Q194 Was there any temperature gradient at the time? Did you hear any standard echo?
A194 Yes I believe they had one at 500 yards.
Q195 Did you hear any unexplained explosions subsequent to HMS Kite being torpedoed?
A195 Yes I heard about 2 minor ones, which I assume came from HMS Kite breaking up.
Q196 Did they appear to HMS Keppel to be like depth charges going off?
Q197 When you came to pick up survivors, how many were floating in the water at that time?
A197 My estimate was 30, but I must say that differs from other people's in the ship.
Q198 Are others more or less?
A198 The Captain said less, about 20.
Q199 Did you have much difficulty in getting them out of the water?
A199 Yes. Great difficulty. The oil was particularly thick. We lowered the whaler, which was the best way of getting them in, and then the boats crew found great difficulty in getting them in, it was so slippery.
Q200 Would it have helped if they had been wearing ropes ends round themselves?
A200 Yes Sir, it would have helped very much indeed. I feel very strongly on this point Sir and have made a report on it.
Q201 Were all the survivors picked up wearing identity discs?
A201 No they were not; only with one or two exceptions.
Examination of Witness terminated
SUB LIEUTENANT RAYMOND WILLIAM HALL, ROYAL NAVY VOLUNTEER RESERVE - HMS KEPPEL
Witness Called and Cautioned
Q202 Are you Sub Lieutenant Raymond William Hall RNVR?
A202 Yes Sir
Q203 Were you serving in HMS Keppel on the 21st August 1944?
A203 Yes Sir
Q204 Will you tell the Board all you know about the loss of HMS Kite?
A204 I was Second Officer of the Watch and keeping a lookout all round. We were not looking in the direction of HMS Kite at the time, but heard an explosion and looked round and saw HMS Kite enveloped in smoke. That is all I know about it really, Sir, because then I went down to the plot to my action station.
Q205 What were the Asdic conditions reported to be like that morning?
A205 Rather poor Sir, we could not hear very much, most of the time, because of HMS Kites foxers.
Q206 Were HMS Kite's foxers rattling immediately before the explosion or not?
A206 We could hear them Sir, we had a signal about a quarter of an hour before that she was reducing to 6 knots to recover her displacers.
Q207 You did not personally see anything that resembled a U Boat?
A207 No Sir
Q208 Did you stay on the plot until you started the rescue operations?
A208 I stayed during the rescue operations as well, Sir.
Q209 Did you notice any explosion subsequent to HMS kite being torpedoed?
A209 There was an explosion Sir, about 2 or 3 minutes afterwards. It sounded much deeper than the others; under water explosion rather than torpedo explosion.
Q210 Only one?
A210 Well, I could not be sure about that Sir.
Examination of Witness terminated
PETTY OFFICER JOHN RICHARD LEWIS PAYNE D/JX 154993
Q211 Have you any idea what time you reduced to 6 knots?
A211 As far as I can remember, about half an hour before the explosion Sir.
Q212 Did you see much debris flying after the explosion?
A212 Yes Sir, a lot of debris went up but I could not distinguish what it was.
Q213 You did not see any depth charge equipment flying in the air?
Q214 No Sir.
Examination of Witness terminated
REPORT ON THE TORPEDOING OF HMS KITE - HMS KEPPEL
11th September 1944. At 0640N on 21st August 1944 HMS kite was hit on the starboard side by two torpedoes. Survivors state that the ship heeled over to starboard at once and that the stern was cut off and floated clear for a few seconds before sinking. The bow floated for about a minute then sank at a steep angle. "Kite" was proceeding at about 6 knots, course 050 degrees at the time of the explosion. She was clearing her foxers displacers, which had become twisted round one another. Two survivors state that they sighted a conning tower off the starboard bow at close range soon after the explosions. This was not seen from Keppel's bridge, but one lookout reported an object in the water near Kite. It is thought that the U Boat may have surfaced for a few seconds on firing and dived again at once. Keppel closed the wreck at once and then carried out a search, but no contact was obtained.
At 0736, with Mermaid and Peacock carrying out observant, Keppel stopped to pick up survivors. The oil in the water was particularly thick and difficulty was experienced in getting survivors inboard quickly. Grapnels were most useful for hoisting men inboard, but several men had little clothing on and some were without life belts. Men wearing jacket type capok life belts and cork life belts were easier to deal with. In all cases the men in the water were unable to help themselves at all. Extra moveable scrambling nets would have enabled more to be saved. There were about 30 men in the water when rescue work started but this number diminished rapidly, due to the thick oil, and it is believed, to lack of life belts. 14 men were rescued, of which 5 died within a few minutes.
The following ratings are survivors:
Position: (D/R) 73 01 N 03 57 E
Wind: W by N Force 3
Sea and Swell: 22
A/S Conditions: Fair
James Tyson - Commander RNR
2. The fact that no Asdic contact was obtained either by KITE or KEPPEL was probably due to the poor conditions prevalent in Northern waters, and if the attack was from short range there might never have been time to detect the torpedoes approaching.
3. Para 2 of C in C. W.A.'s remarks are concurred in
BSP/KS for DIRECTOR OF ANTI SUBMARINE WARFARE DIVISION 14th October 1944
Noted, concurring with Captain (D) Greenock's remarks, given in paragraph 2 of FOIC Greenock's covering letter.
2. DTM concurs generally, with paragraph 17 (6) of the Board of Enquiry's findings.
All depth charge pistols at present in use by surface ships, even when set to safe, are liable to fire at depths greater than 2000 feet on account of leakage or through fracturing of the safety rod, and, if the primer is home in the detonator, the depth charge will detonate.
In the KITE primer placer gear was fitted and in the case of those depth charges which, by force of the torpedo explosion, became separated from their throwers, the primer placer gear would have operated. In addition DTM considers it probable that KITE was using Mark IX or Mark IX pistols. The safety rods of these pistols have been deliberately weakened so that they fracture at a depth of approximately 875 feet in order to give these pistols an extra deep setting, and it was taken into account when producing this modification that the explosion of a depth charge at this depth would not hurt men in the water.
DIRECTOR OF TORPEDOES AND MINING
Part 6 - The Findings
2. At 2230 on the 20th August, 1944, H.M.S. KEPPEL and H.M.S. KITE were ordered by Vice
Admiral Commanding 10th Cruiser Squadron in H.M.S. VINDEX to take station
Starboard Quarter Sector
in diagram No.2. Between 2340 20th August and
August they investigated a depth
charged suspicious contact, but there was no result. H.M.S. KITE was
5,000 yards on the starboard
Displacers were streamed in both ships; in the case of H.M.S. KITE “A’ type were
KEPPEL had PNM’s
tripped whilst those
in H.M.S. KITE were in the rattling position.
4. About 0500/21st August H.M.S. KEPPEL requested
H.M.S. KITE to trip PNM’s which were causing interference
with the Asdics.
At some time about 0600 H.M.S. KITE reduced to 6 knots to clear port PNM
unit, the towing wire
of which was wound round the displacer towing wire. During
this time starboard PNM unit was still in the rattling position.
From H.F.D.F. bearings, U-boats were known to be in the vicinity, but
were not thought to
be in the immediate vicinity. H.M.S. KITE had one cruising watch closed
Wind was West by North, Force 3; weather, overcast;
visibility, 7’ sea and swell, 22; course and speed, 050, 6
conditions fair to
poor. Temp Air 39 F, Sea 45 F.
8. About 0640 in position 73
01’ N 03 57’ E, H.M.S. KITE was struck on the starboard side
by two torpedoes; there was an interval of a few seconds between each one hitting. The first struck
the region of
the break of the
boat deck, and the second further
aft in the vicinity of
the depth charge throwers. The ship broke in two, and the fore part listed heavily to starboard whilst the stern
of Able Seaman Reginald Holmes,
no Asdic warning of any sort was received on the Bridge prior to the explosions.
actual time the ship floated cannot be accurately assessed, but it was undoubtedly
a very short period, probably not much in excess of one to two minutes.
One result of
these explosions was that depth
charges and throwers were hurled into the water, amongst other debris.
11. No orders were
given to abandon ship, but those Officers and ratings who could get
up on deck took to the water almost at once. A Petty Officer and some
ratings did actually attempt
to lower the port whaler, but this quickly proved impracticable. However, a certain amount
such as a Carley raft, Flotanets,
timber and a life buoy floated off onto the water.
Shortly after abandoning ship there were four to five under-water
explosions, of no great violence.
13. Leading Seaman Bradley and Able Seaman Johnson both state that after
taking to the water they saw a
I4. From all the
available evidence, it seems that about 70 to 80 of the Ship’s Company got out
of the ship and into the water. After the explosion the following Officers were
Captain, Lieutenant Commander A. N.G. Campbell, R. N
He appeared on the Bridge for a short period but was not afterwards seen
in the water.
First Lieutenant, Lieutenant J. A. JONES, R.N. who was seen to get into the
Lieutenant J. C. Struthers, R.N.V.R., who
was seen in the water,
J. F. Savage, R.N.R., who was picked up and subsequently died onboard H.M.S. KEPPLE.
15. H.M.S. KEPPLE, on
observing the explosions, closed H.M.S. KITE’s position and carried out an A/S
search, which, however, proved fruitless.
16. At 0736 H.M.S.
KEPPEL stopped to pick up survivors whilst H.M.S. MERMAID and H.M.S. PEACOCK
carried out operation observant round her. Considerable difficulty was
experienced in getting survivors out of the water owing to the large quantity of
oil about and the fact that few were wearing life belts, and none had lengths of
rope secured round them. When the rescue work commenced there were about
30 men in the water, but these rapidly diminished, and only 14 were picked up,
of whom 5 died within a few minutes.
17. We find that :-
(1) H.M.S. KITE was sunk by two torpedoes fired from a U-boat on the
at short range.
(2) There is no evidence to show that the magazine exploded.
(3) Although the second
torpedo hit in the vicinity of the Starboard propeller, it is not considered
that either torpedo was a Gnat, as the ship’ s speed of 6 knots was below the
(4) Despite the
poor Asdic conditions it
some warning should have been obtained from the Asdic Set.
(Even though crewmen said it would not work at all - mk)
(Even though crewmen said it would not work at all - mk)
(5) The loss of H.M.S. KITE must, in some measure, be attributed to the
unsatisfactory performance of the Foxer gear, which necessitated the ship
steaming on a steady course at 6 knots. It is, at the same time, noted that the old type
displacers were in use.
The explosions heard and
felt by survivors in the water subsequent to the ship breaking in two, are
considered to have been caused by depth charges separated from the throwers by the force of the second torpedo explosion. These
charges were set to safe, but due to being separated from the throwers the
primer ‘placer ‘gear would have come into action and, in fact, the charges exploded
at a considerable depth.
(7) No alarm was passed
or orders given to abandon ship, but we do not consider that there was, in fact,
time to do so.
large loss of life must be attributed to the amount of oil fuel about, the low
temperature of the water, and the fact that few of the Ship’s Company were
wearing lifebelts. The orders regarding the wearing of lifebelts on deck seem to
have been rigidly enforced, but the necessity for wearing them when below does
not appear to have been fully brought home to the Ship’s Company. Further,
very few were wearing ropes ends secured round them.
(a.) That once again attention be drawn to the necessity of wearing
lifebelts and ropes ends secured round the body at all times. This also
applies to the wearing of identity discs, which were not being worn by all
(b) That additional spare Foxer Gear
be allowed to ships, so that when operating in positions where the risk is above
normal and the escorts are likely to be the main target, they can cut away their
Foxers, when they run foul, in preference to reducing to a low speed for
considerable periods in order to disentangle them.
As an example, this would apply to ships, stationed in the quarter positions when submerged attack is the main threat and escorts will be the principal target for U-boats which have failed to get in a shot at the convoy.
is considered that one additional spare set above the present allowance would be
a reasonable increase.
Signed by the officers of the Board.
My initial impression from typing out these reams of reports is that the Board was hell bent on crucifying the ratings for not donning the proper gear and it has whitewashed over the obvious incompetence of Kite's temporary commander, who was actually a submariner!! The "apparent" cowardice of Lieutenant Savage who leapt off the bridge at the first explosion, no orders or directions being given by those in charge, literally leaving "every man for himself". What did the Captain do after swearing at the Germans? The holder of a DSC! Go back to his bunk and hide? Only hours before, Keppel and Kite had detected a U Boat, gave chase, and launched depth charges - so why does the Board's witnesses from the Keppel say, "not in a radius of 30 miles did we expect any U Boats" (Q192). Did these Officers really expect to have chased off (what was probably U344) as easily as that! Why scale down to cruising watch on CONVOY ESCORT in a minefield of U Boats and possible contacts that could have found them? This is the Arctic, U Boat infested, wartime waters we are talking about here, not a lake in some suburban park! The region was notorious for U Boat and aircraft interceptions! I certainly would not go to "cruise watch" there, especially not after having been "in contact". I also feel that Keppel was somewhat economical about the truth in one or two aspects. I am not a sailor, but having spent 17 years in the Army, I do feel that I know the "officer mentality" - not generally a pretty sight; but my reaction to all this is that nobody seemed to either know what they were doing nor, in the cases of some, actually cared. 217 men here lost their lives, many thousands more have lost their lives in convoys across the Atlantic and in the northern seas en route to Russia - but to lose your life to gross incompetence is actually murder, gross stupidity and should not have been overlooked by the Navy. Mike Kemble.
October 12th 2004: Received a very good email from the following gent who provides an alternative opinion:
Conclusions From Graeme Smith MRIN:
I don't think anyone covered up. I HAVE got considerable seagoing experience in a training background where we "set up" emergencies and believe me - people do the strangest things under stress. The captain swearing at Germans and leaving the bridge. People DO that sort of thing when they are unexpectedly caught out. Captain "D" s were not 10 a penny but there were plenty during the war that had NOT been weeded out by the system. Looks like this one was not that good. But he was clearly dead so I am sure the Board chose not to rub it in. There is a perfectly valid conclusion that ships should be issued with more foxers - along with deployment and cut away guidelines. A cost that is way less than a ship. In fact I read that as a main conclusion.
- And you can read part of this report in a very different and officer damning way. The repeated questioning about lifebelts and ropes ends was a way of establishing and confirming that the officers were not running that good a ship in that respect. In concluding and stressing the need to enforce this rule this board was probably doing no more than trying to get home a difficult and hard to enforce point. I used to do with fog drill. In our training we know that if you were run down in fog you had to be wearing a lifebelt to have ANY chance of popping to the surface. Trouble is that they are so damn uncomfortable no one does - especially if sleeping. Statistically we can show in training that wearing one improves your chance of popping to the surface. At sea it takes a VERY strong willed wardroom to enforce the rules. Kite's officers clearly did not. In those days no one wrote a report damning the dead if they could help it. The lessons could be clearly drawn without damning the dead. But anyone reading the report knows what happened.
On your point about why were they at Cruising stations… Well it could be that they should not have been - the officers maybe were not that good. However you have to go off Action Stations at some time - even up there in the Arctic and though the war was not won. The tempo of Russian Convoys was clearly diminished from what it had been before. You have to sleep at some point. From the board and seeing what KEPPEL was doing (an A/S sweep) I agree they should probably have still been at least closed up but with hands dispatched to galley for tea and sandwiches (a common way to survive 24 hours at Action Stations in WWII).
It seems pretty clear that between 70 and 80 made it into the water. But I am not surprised at the low number picked up. In fact it is a miracle that number were picked up alive. Post World War II analysis of survivors showed that making it into the water and staying afloat was a very small part of the battle to stay alive. A Life Preserver helps - but only a little. It was only in the late 1940's and into the 1950's that hypothermia was recognised as the real killer of many in-water survivors during World War II. Time staying conscious in Arctic water is considered 30-45seconds - then you cannot help yourself. Those who DID make it are very lucky. Note how many said they didn't remember being picked up. Not surprising - this was not their memory getting lost in the stress of the moment - this is the fact they were slipping into unconsciousness and were about to die. 5 did on deck on the KEPPEL. (Most people who died on the Titanic in 1912 did have life preservers on but were considered "drowned". Of course we now know they died of cold). Navies now concentrate on keeping you warm too with immersion suits that can be quickly donned in a very few seconds to give you a chance of staying warm in the water. So even though the Board was hoping to keep people afloat and recognised that a rope end around you made it easier to pull you out - the reality is that it would have been corpses - but the knowledge of the time didn't necessarily recognize that.
KEPPEL reported that by the time they got to the survivors the number they could see had diminished considerably. And here is the one bit that might have been "covered up". The reality was that as soon as you thought you had everyone you could get - you got moving again to avoid the torpedoes possibly headed towards you. Leaving
face down, oil soaked corpses who had just rolled over and died was normal but not generally written about - too distressing for family but well known about if you were there.
A belated reply to the above is that Kite's officer's were all "Walkers men" and highly trained but they had to follow the orders of the Captain at that time. If the regular Captain had been in command, I very much doubt that I would have been preparing these pages today.