the night of the 16th December 1942, HMS Firedrake, an 'F' class
Destroyer, was the escort leader to convoy ON153, with 43 ships
bound for Canada.
They sailed in a force 12 storm the worst the Atlantic had seen
for a very long time. At about 17.00 hrs, the ASDIC operator picked
up a contact. HMS Firedrake tracked the contact to about 5 miles
south of the convoy, when at 20.10 hrs she was hit by a torpedo
fired by U-boat U211. The ship broke in two. The bow section sank
immediately, with the stern just managing to stay afloat.
Lieutenant D.J.Dampier RN had a tally up and found there were 35
still on board. He quickly got the men to work shoring up the
bulkheads of No. 3 boiler room, and making safe and jettisoning
the depth charges and torpedoes. The gun crew were ordered to
fire star shells to attract the attention of the other escorts,
because all the radio and signaling equipment had gone with the
bow part of the ship.
At about 22.00 hrs, one of the other escorts - HMS Sunflower, a Flower
class Corvette - was attracted by the star shells so she made
towards them, firing star shells herself. The skipper first thought
that the stern section of Firedrake was a U-boat and was about
to fire HE at it, but then suddenly realised what it was.
He tried to get his ship as close as possible to HMS Firedrake in
order to get the survivors off, but the weather was so bad and
the sea too rough. There were 60 foot waves breaking over the
two ships, which were bobbing about like corks, so he decided
to stand by and hope the weather would get better. At about 0040
hrs on the 17th December, the weather worsened and the bulkheads
started to give way under the tremendous battering. The stern
of HMS Firedrake started to sink, so the men had no option but
to take to the water, and at 00.45hr the stern sank.
The Sunflower moved in quickly to pick up the men in the water, a
Newfoundland rating, G J Furey, had a rope tied around his waist
and was lowered down the side of Sunflower. He would swim out
to a man and grab hold of him, then his mates on board would heave
them back to the ship and get him onboard. He and his mates managed
to get 27 on board but one died later. There were 168 of the Firedrake's
crew lost and 3 others that had been picked up earlier that had
survived an earlier sinking that night.