Created: 25 July 2001 - Updated: 5 February 2014
By Mike Kemble (c)
Lt Cmdr A N G Campbell RN
February 2014: At the time of preparing this web site, and the subsequent chapter on HMS Kite in my book '(On A Sailors Grave (No Roses Grow)' I had researched and been informed that Lt Cmdr ANG Campbell, Kites Captain at the time of her sinking, had only recently joined the ship from HM Submarines. Information has been unearthed by Ray Holden that shows the man as Capt of the Kite from May 1944 to her sinkng, and his death, on Aug 21st 1944. I was given the impression that he had only been appointed Captain of the Kite to replace her usual capt, Segrave, due to his breaking a leg and was in hospital. This was also incorrect, it was a normal transfer of command. In Campbells' case it was a transfer from HM Submarine Severn in May 1944. It does not, however, exonerate him from his fatal decison to order Kite to follow a slow straight course in waters known to be infested with U boats in order to clear the tangled 'foxers' mentioned on this page. Lt Comdr Campbell was appointed Capt of HMS Kite in May 1944, fully 3 months previous. http://uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/3410.html HMS Severn.
Sinking of HMS Kite
In early August 1944, HMS Kite was detached from her sister ships in the 2nd Support Group and, after having engine repairs, was sent north to Loch Ewes to form part of the escort to convoy JW59. Operation Victual was the largest convoy ever sent to Russia. The convoy consisted of 28 Freighters, 14 of which loaded with explosives; 2 tankers; 2 Escort Oilers; a Rescue ship and a special crane ship. Also, going to Russia, in the convoy, were 12 Motor Torpedo Boats or MTB's. At 1500 hrs the 20th Escort Group was steaming through the gate followed by the first freighter. The last ship passed through at 1700 hrs 15 August. HMS Kite and HMS Keppel took up their position as Advanced Starboard Attack Party. HMS Keppel, although an ageing destroyer, was a veteran of convoys. At 2045 hrs on Sunday 20th August, HMS Keppel got a contact on her starboard quarter. Kite joined her and a Fairey Swordfish, "a Stringbag" from HMS Vindex, watched as HMS Keppel and HMS Kite blasted away with hedgehogs and depth charges. They hunted throughout the night, anti-gnat foxers streamed. At 0400 hrs, 21st August, the convoy altered course which it had been holding since 17th August, where the heavy escort had joined up, to a heading of 050 degrees in the direction of Spitzbergen, from which it would alter course again, later to round Bear Island and run down to Kola Inlet. At 0644 hrs HMS Kite, after a long and fruitless hunt had slowed to 6 knots and was clearing her foxers (see below) which had become twisted around one another. She was hit on the starboard side by 2 torpedoes from U344. The ship heeled over at once to starboard. Men on the deck and a lookout on Keppel's bridge saw the U Boat surface briefly, to assess his attack and to send off his sighting report for the wolfpacks. HMS Kite's stern broke off, floated for a few seconds, then sank. Her bow floated for a minute and then sank at a steep angle.
At 0730 hrs, with HMS Peacock and HMS Mermaid now in attendance, HMS Keppel stopped to pick up survivors. There were about 30 men in the water when HMS Keppel started to collect survivors, but only 14 were rescued. (We must remember that we are looking at Arctic waters here - temperatures near freezing point - a human cannot survive long in these conditions). Of the 14 saved, 5 died within minutes. See my Board of Enquiry pages for further details. These men are recorded as Missing Presumed Dead by the Admiralty. 217 officers and men lost their lives.
The Sinking of HMS Kite as recalled by Tel(S) G.A.Copson. HMS Keppel.
I was off watch and asleep in my hammock in the Signal's mess below deck forward of the bridge, "action stations" sounded and being dressed I put my boots on and was up the ladder and making my way aft where my office was located. I was a "Huff Duff" operator and the HF/DF set was in a kiosk in the officer's flats below X gun. There were three of us in my branch, but the office only had room for two so I went out on to the Quarterdeck where the depth charge parties were gathered. When I looked around the sea was covered with wreckage, items of clothing, bits of wood and bodies of men, some of whom were dead but others alive. There were people sitting or clinging to floating objects and others struggling to reach us, but we couldn't stop until other escorts came to give cover and this took some time. When we did stop I was conscious of the sickening stench of oil which had spread over water and the people in it were covered in this black slime which made it impossible to get a grip on them and nothing could done to help them until a boat was lowered. One image that remains in my mind to this day is of a young lad who seemed to be about my age bumping against the side of the ship looking up at me and I was not able to help him, and as we looked at each other - he died . The survivors were brought on board and it was my turn on the HF/DF set and did not see anything more. I had only joined the Keppel a few days before we sailed and and when we were at anchor in Loch Ewe I had to go to the Kite to pick up some papers required for my office and went to her signal's room to collect them, in there I met several of her "sparks" and had a bit of a yarn with them - none of them survived. It was quite an introduction for a 19 year old on his first trip!. Sixty years later I had the privilege of attending the Dedication Service at Braintree and it was a very emotional day meeting the two survivors and a shipmate (Joe Bennett) from the Keppel. It is said the memory plays tricks, but sometimes some things just burn into your brain and never go away.
I was asleep in my hammock when I was woken by an explosion, shortly followed by a second. I was up and into my boots as action stations sounded. I already had my duffel coat on as we were ordered by the captain to sleep fully clothed in case we ourselves were hit by a u-boat torpedo. I made my way onto the upper deck and headed for my action station, HMS Kite was astern of our position and sinking fast. Within no more than a minute of me reaching the upper deck HMS Kite was fully submerged.
I made my way to the bridge, where my action station was, and carried out a sweep of the surrounding area but could not pick up a contact with the u-boat. The Keppel circled the survivors as we continued to look for the u-boat responsible for sinking HMS Kite until support arrived. When both HMS Mermaid and Peacock arrived the Keppel then drifted amongst the survivors who were scattered far apart. I had been ordered to go to the focale with a hard line, where I saw a large number of the men covered in thick oil and clinging to carley rafts or bits of wreckage.
I was stood alongside AB Pritchard when a carley raft with two men on it came towards us. AB Pritchard threw his line out to the men but it fell short. One of the men on the raft shouted ‘are you too old to throw a line’. As both AB Pritchard and myself were a lot older than the rest of our crew it was not uncommon for our own shipmates to comment on our age. The men in the carley raft must have been wondering who had been sent to rescue them as they drifted aft where they were eventually hauled onboard.
Many of the survivors on wreckage tried to swim to the Keppel and I saw several seamen drown as they did not have the energy to make it to us. I still believe that a lot more would have made it if the had held onto whatever wreckage they were clung to and waited until we could launch our own whaler. I suppose panic and fear take control of you in such an awful situation.
After we had collected all the remaining survivors we headed back towards the protection of the fleet and I went below to our mess. One of the survivors was in our mess telling us of his ordeal. I remember some of the Keppel crew members trying to make light of what had happened to him by asking him how it was he had only got his feet wet. He told us that he had jumped from the deck of the sinking Kite straight into a carley raft. We gave him the nickname of ‘CAT’
It was not long before we were given our orders to leave the fleet again and search for the u-boat that had sunk HMS Kite. Unfortunately not all that were rescued by us from the icy waters of the North Atlantic survived and both myself and AB Pritchard, being older members of the crew, were detailed to prepare the dead seamen for burial. This entailed wrapping their bodies in canvas, putting weights at their feet and sewing up the canvas putting the last stitch through the nose (old navy superstition).
My duty at the burial service was to place the dead seamen one at a time on a sloping board and cover them with the Royal Navy flag. We held onto the body and flag whist a short service was carried out. The officer leading the service would then give us the signal to release the body into the sea and to their grave. Each individual received the same service whether they were an officer or not.
Only a few of our crew attended these services as our new orders were to search for the u-boat that had sunk HMS Kite and the Keppel had to be fully manned.
Signal from HMS Keppel to the Admiralty - Aug 1944
On 22nd August, a "Stringbag" (Fairey Swordfish) from HMS Vindex was returning from a routine patrol when, coming out of a cloud, she found herself abaft a U Boat running on the surface towards the convoy. The pilot, Gordon Bennett, immediately went into the attack and dropped 3 depth charges. 2 fell to starboard and exploded harmlessly but the 3rd landed on the deck of the U Boat and rolled forward, and became wedged under the jump wire forward. The U Boat dived and 10 seconds later the depth charge exploded at 20 feet. The stern rose out of the water and sank out of site, one survivor was seen swimming for about a minute, he too then sank out of site. This was the U344, which had sunk HMS Kite the morning before, she went to the bottom with all her 50 crew.
Ray Holden found this item on the U504
Anti-Gnat Foxers were a very simple device. Short pieces of metal pipe each on their own short lanyard were attached to a steel wire cable. These were paid out to the stern of the ship and simply towed along which of course caused them to rattle together. A noise greater than the ships engines was achieved which FOXED the acoustic torpedoes. Not having these streamed correctly was the cause of her doom. These were exactly the opposite to your anti mine flails. See also the relative remarks contained in my Board of Enquiry Pages. Walker refused to allow their use when he was in command.
www.shipsnostalgia.com has the following message regarding JW59.
I did sail in Convoy JW59 when HMS Kite
was sunk - I was 3rd R/O on "Samidway" (I believe the rescue ship you mention was
"Raglan" a Clyde steamer.)
Gordon Bennett - The Avenger of HMS Kite
I have received a copy of a letter that Gordon Bennett
wrote to Clem Bray on 24th November 1989 in which he describes the attack on
U344. The letter is obviously replying to some points Clem Bray had raised. They
may not make as much sense to those of us not privy to Clem's original letter
but the main gist is the attack on the U344.
On the original letter was a telephone number near Derby, I finally found out the code and rang the number, the current user of that number has never heard of Gordon Bennett and I suspect that he may no longer be with us, the number being reallocated.
HMS Vindex and the book Escort Carrier
This is the entry from a Naval Historical Site which contains erroneous information regarding the loss of the Kite and the U344. I mailed them a long time ago regarding the truth, however, it has not been corrected.
15th-29th - Attacks on Tirpitz and Russian Convoy JW59 - Russian convoy JW59 (33 ships) leaves Loch Ewe on the 15th with a heavy escort including escort carriers "Striker" and "Vindex" and the 20th and 22nd Escort Groups.
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