Buy My WW2 Book here
(Kite has her own chapter)

By Mike Kemble (c) From information provided by Ray Holden, Clem Bray, Christine Chaplin, Lionel Irish, Mary Davies, Paul Masterson & Others

 

Report of the Board of Enquiry into
The Sinking of HMS Kite On 21st August 1944

Part 1: Boards of Enquiry - Instructions
Part 2: Convening Order - Loss of HMS Kite
Part 3: Secret Signals from HMS Keppel
Part 4: The Board of Enquiry Transcript (& following pages)
Part 5: Keppel Report, Findings, Letter from Dir of Torp & Minings
Part 6: Emails and my own Findings

   
HMS Kite and HMS Keppel

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.

 

Part 1

Letter from Admiral Sir Max Horton regarding Instructions that Boards of Enquiry were to follow.

OFFICE OF COMMANDER IN CHIEF

WESTERN APPROACHES
DERBY HOUSE
LIVERPOOL
25th AUGUST 1944

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).

MAX HORTON
Admiral
Commander in Chief

Distribution:

    Flag and Naval Officers in Charge
    R.A.C.O.B. (W.A)
    Commodore (D) Western Approaches
    Captains (D) Belfast, Liverpool, Greenock
    Commanding Officer, HMS IRWELL

 

Part 2

The Convening Order for the Board of Enquiry into the sinking of HMS Kite:

SECRET

Office of Flag Officer in Charge
GREENOCK

8th September 1944

S.1360 MEMORANDUM

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

SECRET

 

Part 3

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

                                                                                                                                                    20.2230B

___________________________________________________________________________________________

2.    To: SO ESCORTS                                                                                                                From: KEPPEL

                                    Am investigating contact on starboard side

                                                                                                                                                    TOR: 2340

                                    Am attacking with depth charges

                                                                                                                                                    TOR: 2341

                                    My estimated position        135 ZZ 7

________________________________________________________________________________________

3.    To: SO ESCORTS                                                                                                               From: KITE

                                    Am about to attack with depth charges

                                                                                                                                                   TOR: 2353

________________________________________________________________________________________

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

                                    KITE torpedoed

                                                                                                                                                   TOR: 0642

________________________________________________________________________________________

6.  To: SO ESCORTS                                                                                                                 From: KEPPEL

                                    My estimated position is 194 ZZ 12 miles

                                                                                                                                                   TOR: 0644

______________________________________________________________________________________

7.    To: SO ESCORTS                                                                                                               From: KEPPEL

                                    KITE has been sunk

                                                                                                                                                    TOR: 0655        

______________________________________________________________________________________    

 

Part 4

The Board of Enquiry Transcript
(Covering Questions 1 - 35)

List of Witnesses

Questions            1              to            35            Petty Officer JRL Payne D/JX 154993
Questions            36            to            53            Leading Seaman EC Bradley D/JX 136903
Questions            54            to            71            Leading Seaman D Brannigan D/SSX 23262
Questions            72            to            83            Able Seaman C Bonsall D/JX 419597
Questions            84            to            91            Able Seaman AP Sharples D/JX 563041
Questions            92            to            101          Able Seaman GH Johnson D/JX 368812
Questions            102          to            117          Able Seaman L Irish D/JX 351286
Questions            118          to            158          Able Seaman R Holmes D/JX 369266
Questions            159          to            182          Able Seaman F Webb D/JX 418056
Questions            183          to            201          Lieutenant John Arthur Douglas RN HMS Keppel
Questions            202          to            210          Sub Lieutenant Raymond William Hall RNVR HMS Keppel
Questions            211          to            213          Petty Officer JRL Payne D/JX 154993 (recalled)

 

 PETTY OFFICER JOHN RICHARD LEWIS PAYNE Off No: 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 position.

Q5       What type of floats were you using?

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
explosion. The ship started to heel over very fast; I climbed off the pom pom deck and ran along the port side and the ship was
right over then Sir. I took off my sea boots and coat and ran down the ships side and jumped into the water.

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 explosion?

A12     Yes Sir and about three or four seconds later another one. They seemed to blend into one, but there were definitely two
explosions.

Q13     Where do you estimate the second explosion occurred?

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 you?

A18     No Sir

Q19     Were there, to your knowledge, any particular orders in the ship about the wearing of lifebelts and lengths of rope
whilst at sea?

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?

A23     I jumped over the port side Sir and there were only about a dozen in my estimation who followed me over the port side.
A lot of people seemed to go over the starboard side though Sir.

Q24     Were any orders given as regards abandoning ship?

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.

Q34      ?

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 two bits?

A35     Yes Sir

Examination of witness terminated

Witness withdrew

Q36     Are you Leading Seaman Ernest Chapman Bradley Off No: 136903?

A36     Yes Sir

Q37     Were you serving in HMS Kite on the 21st August 1944?

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 bang followed
immediately after. Then we got up the hatch and got over the port side.  We got out of the way of the ship going down and I swam with 3
others to the float.  When we got on the flotanet we were about 50 or 60 yards away from the ship on the port side.  Then we were floating
about for a few minutes and I saw the conning tower of a submarine about 150 to 200 yards on the starboard bow.

Q39     Do you mean the conning tower or the periscope?

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?

Q42     Yes?

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 you?

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 rope?

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 time?

A48     No Sir, it was with my gas mask.

Q49     Did you stay on the flotanet until you were picked up?

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 terminated
Witness withdrew

 

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 August 1944?

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 you?

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 at us.

There 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 you noticed?

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 you notice?

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 collision?

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 terminated

Witness withdrew

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?

A74    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
belt for a pillow. I  heard a bump, and it threw me off the lockers. Then there was another bump which threw me over. I got up and went up top
and by this she was over on her side, and that's about all I know Sir.

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?

A80    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
picked up.

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.

Examination of Witness terminated
Witness withdrew

 

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?

A86    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 hatch another bang
knocked me down again.  Then I got on deck and pieces of debris were all about. I went along the port side to the port whaler, looked over the
side, saw the quarter deck floating a few yards astern, and then I went to the Oerlikon gun deck, climbed up there and ran over the ships side.

Q87    What happened after you got into the water?

A87    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
about. There was a life buoy there with two or three of the lads on it but I couldn't get hold because of the three already on it, so I kept
swimming round until I saw a Carley float. I got on to that but I went right through it and when I came up the other side again there were
Bradley and Bonsall and they joined me and we got on a Carley float. Then HMS Keppel came along and picked us up.

Q88    Had you a life belt on?

A88    No Sir

Q89    Or a piece of rope secured round you?

A89    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
Sir.

Q90    Do you know what the Ship's Orders were about wearing life belts and securing ropes ends round you?

A90    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,
but he never had one himself Sir.
(One law for them, one for us)

Q91    Did you see any signs of a U Boat about?

A91    No Sir, I never noticed anything like that.

Examination of Witness terminated
Witness withdrew

 

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?

A94    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
side with Leading Seaman Bradley. We swam round for about a quarter of an hour, saw a Carley float, and after we had been on that for about
a couple of minutes I saw a submarine.

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.

Examination of Witness terminated
Witness withdrew

 

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?

A104    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 through the
bulk head door, starboard side, Sir and walked along aft towards the funnel. I went to assist and tried to get the port whaler away but we just
could not do it; she listed over too far. Then the next thing I knew I was in the water.

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?

A107    Well the First Lieutenant gave strict orders about life belts Sir, but I was Quartermaster and could never feel comfortable in the wheel
house with one on Sir, so I never had one on.

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.

Examination of Witness terminated
Witness withdrew

 

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?

A120    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 explosion aft
and then there was another two or three seconds later. Then I saw all the debris coming over, depth charge racks and all sorts of stuff and then
I ducked and I saw Lieutenant Savage who was Officer of the Watch, crouched down as well and dodging out of it.  I came out and the Captain
came on the bridge and said "Have you sounded action stations yet?" but by that time Lieutenant Savage was over the side. Then the Captain
used some foul language and then went inside again.

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?

A125    Well, I never saw any of them Sir. The messenger was sent on a message to the First Lieutenant and there was only me and Lieutenant
Savage and a signaller up there at the time.

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?

A137    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
and went below.

Q138    Did the Officer of the Watch do anything further, apart from crouch, between the explosions and leaping over the side? Did he give any
orders?

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?

A140    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 and was
going down at the stern.

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.

Examination of Witness terminated
Witness withdrew

 

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?

A161    I had the morning watch Sir, B Guns crew doing the lookout on the starboard Oerlikon. Next thing I knew there was an explosion and
we had taken a list to starboard. I just took my duffle coat off and went over the side Sir. 

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?

A170    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, but I saw him swim
away from the ship's side and that is the last I saw of him.

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
Witness withdrew

 

LIEUTENANT JOHN ARTHUR DOUGLAS ROYAL NAVY
FIRST LIEUTENANT HMS KEPPEL

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?

A196    Yes.

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
Witness withdrew

 

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
Witness withdrew

 

PETTY OFFICER JOHN RICHARD LEWIS PAYNE D/JX 154993

Recalled

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
Witness withdrew

Part 5

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:

CT Bonsall   AB D/JX 419597
A Sharples AB D/JX 563041
JR Payne PO D/JX 154993
D Brannigan L/Sea  D/SSX 23262
EC Bradley L/Sea D/JX 136903
GH Johnson AB D/JX 368812
L Irish AB D/JX 351286
R Holmes AB D/JX 369266
F Webb AB D/JX 418096

                    
  The following died on board and were buried at sea:

Thomas Holden AB D/JX 569255
JF Savage Lieutenant RNR
N Regan -  
A Williscroft Acting/AB Possibly one of the 2 unident.
2 unidentified ratings See Above See also messages page

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

 

Western Approaches

22nd September 1944                                                                                                                                For ADMIRAL
                                                                                                                                                                   COMMANDER IN CHIEF

Noted.

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

November 1944

Part 6 - The Findings

Sir,
We have the honour to report that in accordance with instructions a Board of Inquiry consisting of the undersigned met at 1Q00 hours to-day, 9th September, 1944,
at Navy House, Clarence Street, Greenock, to investigate the circumstances attending the loss of  H.M.S. KITE. We have considered the evidence given by the several witnesses and our opinion of the occurrence is as follows:-

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 in the Starboard Quarter Sector in diagram No.2. Between 2340 20th August and 0121 21st August they investigated a depth charged suspicious contact, but there was no result. H.M.S. KITE was stationed 5,000 yards on the starboard bow of H.M.S. KEPPEL.

3.  Displacers were streamed in both ships; in the case of H.M.S. KITE “A’ type were in use. H.M.S. 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.

5.   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.

6.   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 up.

7. Wind was West by North, Force 3; weather, overcast; visibility, 7’ sea and swell, 22; course and speed, 050, 6 knots; Asdic 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 in 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 floated away.

 9.  From the evidence of Able Seaman Reginald Holmes, no Asdic warning of any sort was received on the Bridge prior to the explosions.

 10.  The actual time the ship floated cannot be accurately assessed, but it was undoubtedly only for 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 of life-saving equipment, such as a Carley raft, Flotanets, timber and a life buoy floated off onto the water.

 12.  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 U-boat conning tower break surface for a very short period, about 150 to 200 yards on the starboard bow of the fore portion of H.M.S. KITE. This was not corroborated by any other survivors, though H.M.S. KEPPEL’s look-out, at about this time, reported an object in the vicinity of H.M.S. KITE which he thought was the conning tower of a U-boat. This was not seen by anyone else in H.M.S. KEPPELL.

 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 seen :

(a)     The 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.         

                          (b)     The First Lieutenant, Lieutenant J. A. JONES, R.N. who was seen to get into the water.

                          (c)     Sub. Lieutenant J. C. Struthers, R.N.V.R.,  who was seen in the water,

                          (d)     Lieutenant 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 starboard side 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 critical speed.

(4)   Despite the poor Asdic conditions it is nevertheless considered that some warning should have been obtained from the Asdic Set. (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.

(6)  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.

 (8)     The 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.

 RECOMMENDATIONS -

 (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 survivors.

 (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.

 It 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.

Graeme J.W.Smith MRIN
Atlantic Technology Group LLC

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.

 

 

 

 

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