Killed In Action

Photos By Len Baker, forwarded by Trevor Skeggs, nephew.

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Len Baker, left, with cigarette.
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Len Baker, second from right. Note Tropical Kit.
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Boxing Match.
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Pic Unknown.
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Boxing Match. Note 6inch gun
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Boxing Match.
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HMS Jervis Bay.
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Officer on Bridge.

As told by Trevor Skeggs...

  • My grandmother's sister married Mr. Porter whose son was also on the Jervis Bay and knew Len Baker.

  • Our family moved to a place called Westcliff-on-Sea from 1957 - 1997 and never knew that the Captain's steward, Davey B.W also hailed from there.

  • My mother maintains that her brother came home on leave early in 1940 because the ship's Victorian 6" pea-shooters were being replaced with 8" guns. This was apparently unsuccessful (the ship had been designed circa. 1921, and perhaps 6" mountings were considered good enough to tackle the Q-ships of World War 1). I have been unable to find anyone else who can verify this story.

Also forwarded by Trevor Skeggs...

  • The Jervis Bay was built in 1922, only 4 years after the Great War, with conversion to a Q-boat in mind (gun mountings only). Lightly skinned and not highly compartmentalised, she had to be filled with barrels and cork before commission.

  • The RNVR crew was taken from Chatham by special train and HMS Jervis Bay commissioned Aug. 30, 1939, under Captain H.G.Harris RN (ret'd.) at the Royal Albert docks. Nearby, amongst the 12 P & O liners, was the Rawalpindi.

  • At Scapa Flow, the anchor fouled a cable and the windlass was badly damaged. Returned to the Tyne for repairs and further refit. The Rawalpindi replaces the J.B. on Northern Patrol. (Unofficial : the crew go home on leave. My mother somehow gets the story from her brother that an aborted attempt was made to upgrade to 8" guns, but apparently the mountings wouldn't take them.)

  • The Jervis Bay is credited with sinking a destroyer : unfortunately, it was one of ours. The anchor (again!) ripped open the side of HMS Sabre at Rosyth. To dry dock at Hebburn on the Tyne again. There, the crew of the J.B. meet the crew of HMS Kelly (Mountbatten's destroyer), also damaged. During this repair, the crew learn the fate of the Rawalpindi, sandwiched between the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau (Nov. 23, 1939.) (Did the crew of the J.B. thus get a year's reprieve?)

  • During a prolonged spell of escorting small convoys between Freetown and the Channel (never calling at an English port) the J.B. earned the congratulations of the C-in-C for finding a disabled freighter and towing it for 10-days at sitting-duck speed.

  • The position of the convoy was known to the Germans. In his book, Kapitän Theodore Krancke certainly makes no secret of expecting to find convoy HX84. ("That was the convoy all right").

  • As the Jervis Bay repeatedly signalled the challenge "A", the signals officer of the Scheer was commanded to attempt a bluff. " 'She'll give her recognition signal in a moment,' said Krancke. 'Whatever it turns out to be repeat it at once as though we were calling her.' Krancke was anxious to leave the enemy in doubt as to his real identity for as long as possible in order to get close up to the convoy before opening fire. At the moment the distance between the Scheer and the British auxiliary cruiser was still about fifteen miles.

    The auxiliary cruiser's 'A' was now followed by 'M' - 'A' - 'G' in quick succession. The Signals Officer of the Scheer immediately had the 'M.A.G' signal repeated, but the bluff failed. The Captain of the British auxiliary cruiser was not deceived. In any case, he probably knew quite definitely that no friendly warship could possibly be in that quarter, and now sheafs of red rockets began to hiss up from his decks - clearly the pre-arranged signal for the convoy to scatter. At the same time the auxiliary cruiser and most of the other ships in the convoy began to lay down a smoke screen.

    The distance between the two ships was considerably less now and when it was about ten miles the Scheer, which up to then had been racing straight towards the convoy, turned to port to bring her broadside to bear. The guns were trained on their targets now - the big guns had been ordered to concentrate on the British auxiliary cruiser while the medium artillery was to take a tanker not far away from her as its target.

    The British auxiliary cruiser, which was ahead of the second line of the convoy, had stopped signalling, and by this time the ships were close enough for the British Captain to have realised what he was faced with, for the outlines of the Scheer were now clearly visible against the evening sky and he could plainly see the guns of her triple turrets trained on him. As unlikely as it might seem, he had encountered a German pocket battleship in mid-Atlantic. His immediate reaction to this knowledge was to put his own ship between the Scheer and what was obviously a two-funnelled passenger vessel and probably the most valuable ship in the convoy. It floated far higher in the water than the other vessels. The Scheer was now less than ten miles from the nearest ship of the convoy, which was the auxiliary cruiser, and Krancke ordered his guns to open up. A preliminary salvo screamed off from one of the turrets to check the range. That was at 16:42 hours. "

  • As is recognised in the muddle of battle, accounts differ. All agree on the accuracy of the German gunnery. Survivor Sam Patience had joined HMS Lincoln as quartermaster for her Canadian sea trials. He was not impressed, and jumped at the chance to steer an ocean liner by swapping ships with a quartermaster he'd met in Halifax who needed to get home in a hurry; the Jervis Bay had to wait for a convoy.

    Sam was midway through the first dogwatch on his eighth day at the wheel, when the unknown ship was spotted at 16:55 on Nov. 5th. (Guy Fawke's day). They had been anticipating submarines below or Condors above. "The chief yeoman signalled with the Aldis lamp to the unknown warship. There was no reply. The crew looked through the eyesights of the guns. They could see the silhouette plainly. Someone suggested it was an *R-class, friendly battleship, but Patience explained that it couldn't be because they had a distinctive 'tiddly-top' on the funnel. They were still speculating when the first salvo whistled over their heads and exploded in the sea about 100 yards away. " . . . . . . . . .

    "Patience handed the wheel to another sailor and went to man the forward port gun. The crew were told to throw smoke floats over the side - big containers like dustbins" . . . . . . "Then the Jervis Bay steamed to port, away from the smoke and straight towards the Admiral Scheer. The second salvo fell short, but shrapnel from an exploding shell decapitated the man standing next to Patience." ..... "The third salvo caught the Jervis Bay amidships, smashing the wireless office and much of the deck superstructure. Captain Fegen ordered full speed ahead, and steered straight towards the enemy. More explosions rocked the liner. Patience looked up to see the bridge alight and the captain with one arm partly severed. There were fires everywhere now. Men were on fire, too. Screaming, they jumped over the side.

    The next salvo blew the gun opposite Patience right off the forecastle, along with its mounting and its crew. The shells arrived at a horrific velocity. The ship bucked and rolled under the impact. The next one had to kill him, Patience thought. Instead, its blast blew him off the gun platform and down the well deck, dazed but only slightly injured".... All subsequent Allied accounts seem to follow the above version: from "The Lonely Sea, The Jervis Bay" : "Two ranging salvos fell one on either side of the armed merchant cruiser, displaying testimony to the German reputation for gunnery of a quite phenomenal accuracy : the third salvo crashed solidly into the hull. In one stroke the foremast was shot away, the director and range.finder wrecked, the transmitting station, which controlled the guns, knocked out of action and the guns themselves rendered useless for all but primitive hand control - the cables feeding in the electrical supplies had been completely severed. The battle had not yet properly begun, but already the Jervis Bay was finished as a fighting unit.

    Kapitän Theodore Krancke of the Admiral Scheer knew that he had nothing more to fear from the big merchantman. He at once altered course to overtake the fleeing convoy, only to find that his way was barred once more: the Jervis Bay, too, had put over her helm, and was closing rapidly on a head- on collision course." However, the German account does not exploit this account for propaganda purposes: "Coloured rockets were still shooting into the air from the deck of the British auxiliary cruiser. They were different signals. Who were they intented for ? Were they still for the scattering ships or were they perhaps warning signals to cruiser protection on the starboard side of the convoy and therefore invisible to the Scheer ?

    After a period of twenty-three seconds, which seemed much longer, the first salvo from the Scheer fell into the shimmering grey-blue sea, sending up vast fountains of foamy white water sharply outlined in black at the edges. The shells exploded between the Scheer and her target, blotting the British cruiser temporarily from view. That first salvo had not been more than about 200 yards from its target. A second, corrected salvo now followed from both turrets and almost simultaneously there were flashes of gunfire from the enemy, but the spurts of flame visible amidships and aft were small and feeble compared with the tremendous stabs of flame and the shattering explosions from the guns of the Scheer. They looked little more than signals, but they showed that the enemy was returning the fire to the best of his ability and the fact that the response was so prompt indicated that the British auxiliary cruiser had been ready for action and that her guns were served by trained naval men. But the return fire fell much too short, with the exception of a single shell that fell close enough to send spray onto the deck of the Scheer, and it was clear either that the British auxiliary cruiser had only one gun with range enough to get anywher near the Scheer or that she had no central fire control and in consequence her guns were firing independently." . . . . According to the German account, it was the fifth salvo that first devastatingly hit the Jervis Bay:

  • Contrary to British propaganda, we weren't the only ones with radar. Kapitän Krancke reveals that the Admiral Scheer was equipped with radar so secret that only a few of the crew knew about it. The accuracy of the gunnery is thus explained.