Convoy HX 219

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Small model ships

Image courtesy of Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

I would not like to be a pirate – apart from being illegal, the chances of meeting a violent end are too great– but I do like the swashbuckling aspects.

The sight of the Jolly Roger (the pirate skull and crossbones) being raised is pretty exciting – it is a part of pirate lore which has been adapted by submariners. 

A British commander first flew the notorious flag in modern times nearly 100 years ago.

An impressive model (pictured)at Merseyside Maritime Museum shows Convoy HX 219 at the rendezvous for eastbound convoys some 200 miles north west of St John, Newfoundland, at 6 pm on 19 December 1942.

 The convoy of 45 merchant ships, including 17 oil tankers, is protected by two destroyers and four corvettes of the Liverpool-based escort group B2 commanded by Donald Macintyre on HMS Hesperus.

The 1:1200 scale model depicts the convoy forming with the ships much closer together than on most of the coming voyage. When fully under way the vessels soon spread out to fill 20 square miles of sea.

HX 219 was a particularly fortunate convoy at this critical stage in the Battle of the Atlantic. No ships foundered or were damaged and the U-357 was sunk by the joint efforts of the destroyers Hesperus and Vanessa.

Survivors of the U-boat are pictured disembarking from Hesperus at Liverpool’s Gladstone Dock.

Admiral Max Horton, commander-in-chief of the Western Approaches, is seen congratulating the crews of the Hesperus and Vanessa after the sinking of U-357.

Horton (1883 – 1951) introduced the British submariners’ tradition of hoisting the Jolly Roger after sinking a foe.

He was a pioneer in undersea warfare during the First World War. At the outbreak of hostilities he was in charge of HMS E9, one of the first British ocean-going submarines.

At dawn on 13 September 1914 he torpedoed and sank the 2,082-ton German cruiser Hela - the first German ship sunk by a British submarine in the war. This was when Horton first raised the Jolly Roger as he entered port.

The last time a British submarine flew the Jolly Roger was after HMS Conqueror sank the Argentinean cruiser General Belgrano in 1982.

Three weeks after his first kill, Horton went on to sink the German destroyer S 116. Later he sank another destroyer and several merchant ships in the Baltic.

Horton served on submarines throughout the war and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) with two bars recognising his spectacular successes.

He was put in charge of Western Approaches in November 1942, introducing many tactical changes in the way escort ships were used.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents and bookshops.