Transcription of Captain G Hornsby's Report on the sinking of Fort Norfolk.
27th June, 1944.
SHIPPING CASUALTIES SECTION…TRADE DIVISION.
s.s. FORT NORFOLK.
Gross Tons: 7,131 Built: 1943 Nom. Speed: 10 knots.
About to join A convoy.
Not seen to sink.
Struck a mine 24th June, 1944
All times are D.B.S.T.( - 2 hours for G.M.T.)
Voyage: "Juno" Anchorage to U.K.
Confidential Books: In a box, which wentdown with the ship.
C.B. Register and Confidential Envelope(W.5) handed in to Admiralty.
2 Twin Oerlikons.
2 Twin Colts.
Crew: 73, including 21 Gunners
Missing: 8, viz: 2nd and 4th Engineers, 5 Crew, 1 Naval Gunner (Patterson)
REPORT OF AN INTERVIEW WITH THE MASTER – CAPTAIN G. HORNSBY.
1. We left "Juno" anchorage at 0803 on the 24th June,1944, together with several other ships, to join a convoy bound for the U.K. We had only been steaming about ten minutes, when, at 0817 on the 24th June, in a position 1 mile North from H.M.S. "HILARY" (Depot Ship), steering 330o at 9 knots, we struck a mine. The sea was calm, with light airs; weather fine and sunny, visibility good. The engines were running at 54 revs. at this time, and I was on a steady course, having been steering 330o for a few minutes. I was about a quarter of a mile behind the MALAYAN PRINCE, following directly in her wake, so I think she must have passed over this mine. The MALAYAN PRINCE had just turned 90o to starboard, and I was about to do likewise, when the mine exploded.
2. The explosion occurred amidships, immediately underneath the engine-room and stokehold. There was a dull thud, a huge column of water was thrown up on both sides of the ship, but mostly on the starboard side. No-one saw a flash. The engine-room and stokehold were completely wrecked, and flooded immediately, the engines stopped, and I think the boilers burst. Nos. 1, 3 and 4 lifeboats and all the rafts were blown away, leaving only one small lifeboat and several small buoyant floats in which to abandon ship. There was a split in the ship’s side about a foot wide, completely encircling the midship section, with only two sheerstrake plates holding the two ends together. The main deck was cracked. The FORT NORFOLK was a part-welded ship, but I do not think she split because of this, in fact I think she stood up well to the explosion, which was very heavy. The plates were town, not blown off.
3. I was in the wheelhouse when the explosion occurred, and was thrown out on deck. On recovering I ordered "abandon ship". An American Naval Launch closed the starboard quarter, and members of the crew accommodated aft managed to board this launch. I was with the remainder of the crew on the port side of the fore deck. We successfully lowered No. 2 lifeboat, and as many as possible abandoned ship in it (it was only built for 21 persons). The others, including myself, jumped over the side, after throwing the buoyant floats overboard. Everybody was clear of the ship by 0835.
4. Survivors in the water were quickly picked up by various M.Ls., which in turn transferred us to the "STORD", a Norwegian Destroyer. The men in the American Naval Launch were also transferred to the "STORD", and we were all landed at Portsmouth on Saturday night, 24th June.
5. I had no trouble in boarding the M.L. which picked me up. I was the only man to be rescued by this particular M.L., the others who jumped overboard before me having been picked up by another M.L., but I did not hear any comments from them. In my case there were four men on the deck of the M.L. and they threw me a rope, by which I quite easily hauled myself up.
6. The ship gradually buckled up. After three quarters of an hour, the stern dropped off and sank, leaving the bows sticking up out of the water. She was in that condition when I last saw her.
7. With the exception of the gunner, all those killed were in the engine-room or stokehold when the explosion occurred. The gunner was manning the amidship starboard gun, immediately over the explosion. After I was picked up, the C.O. of the M.L. searched the area to make certain that this gunner had not been blown overboard, but we did not find any trace of him.
8. Whilst anchored off "Juno" Beach, there were frequent raids every night by enemy aircraft, which dropped numerous mines. We used C.S.A. smoke during these raids as instructed, which lasted from five to 15 minutes. The night before this incident I heard something drop and explode about 100 yards from my ship. I thought at the time it was a bomb, but it may have been a mine.
9. All my crew behaved well, and there was no sign of panic.
Original document at the Public Record Office, London. Ref No.
Many thanks to Jan Gee for the transcription
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