1917
Dec.12 I had the afternoon watch. At 11.50 the bell rang for Action Stations and we left our dinners and went below. Just about 12 o'clock firing started and by about 12.15 we had the H. P. Steam pipe shot away and the turbines stopped. At the same time the Port Turbine got smashed up. We were then ordered to leave the Engine Room. As the last man was leaving the Dynamo got hit.
We got the midships raft into the water and put life belts on. I had one that someone else threw down. It had the white tape tied to the Blue. We went into the ditch at 12.20. It didn't seem too cold until we had been in the water for a time. We then pulled towards the German T.B. who picked us up. They let us dry our clothes in the Engine Room and gave us some rye bread and raw bacon to eat. Most of us went forward to sleep at night. I was in the foremost bunk and didn't sleep much.

- Extract from the war diary of John W Bradley, Acting ERA HMS Partridge

HMS Partridge was the ship on which John William Bradley saw active service in the Great War of 1914 to 1918. The Royal Navy has a tradition of naming ships after older ones no longer in service. Partridge is one such example. There was a Partridge in service in the days of sail, and at the end of the 19th. Century/early 1900's which was a sloop used as a minesweeper, and a Destroyer in the 1940's.
HMS Partridge was a "Repeat M class” Destroyer, ordered as part of the Emergency War Programme. Names beginning with “P” identify the M class ships so ordered. A total of 90 ships of the class were built before and during the First World War. They were generally of 895 - 1025 Tons, equipped with three 4 inch guns, and four 21 inch torpedo tubes. The speed was 34 Knots, and they were manned by a crew of 80.

The Convoy Protection System:

The Grand Fleet of the British Navy had decided earlier in the year, to provide convoys with anti-submarine protection using destroyers and armed trawlers. Cruisers were on patrol as covering forces, but were not in close company with any of the convoys. The convoys to Norway were operated on a daily basis, and some six thousand voyages were completed without loss.
The German Navy suspected early in the year that convoys to Norway were being given only small anti-submarine escorts, but mutinies had reduced their ability to launch attacks by surface ships in order to exploit this weakness. However, on 17 October 1917, the fast Light Cruisers Brummer and Bremse attacked a west bound convoy 65 miles East of Lerwick. The escorting destroyers Mary Rose and Strongbow were sunk, together with nine of the twelve merchant ships in the convoy. The previous successful record of protecting the convoys seems to have obscured the danger from surface ships, as illustrated by this attack. The Grand Fleet Command was also keen to avoid overstretching the available larger ships, and consequently the apparently tried and tested arrangement was allowed to continue.
The ships involved in the action of 12 December are as follows.

The Destroyer Escort

HMS Pellew Launched 8 May 1916. Pellew was an “M” Class repeat Destroyer ordered as part of the Emergency War Programme.
She led the convoy of 11 December 1917.

HMS Partridge
Partridge was built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson, and launched on 4th. March 1916. She was 1016 Tons, having Yarrow boilers, and turbine engines giving 25,000 shaft horse power. The standard armament was mounted, being four inch guns forward, aft and amidships, with four twenty one inch torpedo tubes.


The Armed Trawlers.

Livingstone.
Displacement 213 Tons Gross. Engines 60 HP Armament 1 x 3 pounder Admiralty Number 256 Port Reg. H. 496 Launched 1900 Built at Hull by CWG. Owned by Nation STC of Hull. Requisitioned August 1914 converted to a Minesweeper.

Commander Fullerton.
Displacement 227 Gross tons. Engines 60 HP Admiralty Number 3063 Port Reg. H. 286 Launched 1915 Built at Goole by Goole SB Co. Owned by Hellyer SFC of Hull. Requisitioned in September. The skipper J. W . Whelan was killed.

Lord Alverstone.
Displacement 247 Tons Gross. Engines 69 HP Dimensions 117ft. X 22 ft. x 12 ft. 6 ins. Armament 1 x 6 pounder AA. Admiralty Number 313. Launched 1917 Built at Beverley by CWG. Owned by North Western SFC of Grimsby Requisitioned in June and converted to a minesweeper.

Tokio.
Displacement 295 Gross Tons. Armament 1 x 3 pounder Admiralty Number 313 Launched 1907 Requisitioned August 1914 and converted to a Minesweeper.

The Merchant Ships

Bollsta, Kong Magnus, Bothnia, Maracaibo, Torlief, and Cordova.
Cordova was British registered, ( 2284 Tons) being owned by John Tully and Sons.

The German Ships

The four German boats of the 2nd. TBF which took part in the action of 12 December 1917 as described below, were classified as Torpedo Boats. The letter gives the Builder, V being for Vulcan, and G for Germania. The number indicates the class and identifies the individual boat within that class. Both types were built in 1915, and shared the same armament. This was four 8.8 cm. Guns, (later replaced by 10.5 cm.), four 50 cm. Torpedo tubes, and twenty four mines. V100 was one of two in the class, being 1350t with a speed of 37 knots, and having a crew of 114. An attempt was made to scuttle in 1919 at Scapa Flow, but this failed, and the boat was salvaged after being beached. The other three boats were of four G100 class boats of 1120t with a speed of 32 knots, having a crew of 104. All three were successfully scuttled at Scapa Flow in 1919. Although classed as Torpedo Boats, it is clear from the above details that the four German boats were larger, and more heavily armed than Partridge and Pellew.
At the outbreak of the Great War, boats of the above types were generally referred to as Torpedo Destroyers, as they relied on torpedos as their main offensive weapon. Later, the term Destroyer was used for this type, and Torpedo Boat was used to describe small fast boats carrying torpedo tubes only. Thus, some reports refer to the German ships as being Torpedo Boats, and others as Destroyers.

11 December 1917

The British convoy left Lerwick bound for Bergen. Although Cordova was British Registered, the other Merchant ships were Neutrals, two each being Norwegian and Swedish, and the other Danish. Although five of the merchant ships were Neutrals, Germany had previously declared that all ships sailing under the protection of the British Navy would be classed as enemy vessels.

The German Navy had decided to repeat the successful attack of 17 October, and so on the same day that the convoy left Lerwick, Commodore Heinrich sailed his 2nd TBF of eight boats in search of another convoy. South of Norway four boats under Captain Heinecke turned west, leaving the other four Torpedo Boats, G101, G103, G104, and V100 under Lieutenant-Commander H Kolbe, to continue to the north.


12 December 1917

Shortly after 11.30 am. When off the coast of Norway, South West of Bjorne Fiord close to Bergen, Kolbe sighted the convoy to the south. He formed a line of three ships to attack the destroyers. The fourth boat was experiencing difficulties, and was limited to a speed of 25 Knots, and was therefore sent to sink the merchantmen.
This was at about the same time that Partridge sighted the four German boats, but due to a defective searchlight, was unable to make a challenge for about ten minutes. The delay allowed the Germans to close. Partridge then signalled Pellew on identifying the attackers. A signal was also sent by radio to alert the covering forces that the enemy were being engaged. Unfortunately, this appears to have been jammed by German transmissions. Cavendish signalled the merchant ships to scatter, and led Partridge to engage the German boats, attacking from leeward in rough seas.
Outnumbered and outgunned, the result of the engagement was predictable. Partridge had one torpedo tube damaged, but did hit V100 with a torpedo which failed to explode. (The crew of V100 confirmed hearing the noise of this torpedo striking the ship). Partridge was hit by shell fire which shot away the high pressure steam pipe, leaving her crippled. Her after gun was also put out of action. Lying dead in the water, she was then hit by two further torpedos, the second hitting her forward. Her Captain, Lt. Commander R.H. Ransome gave the order to abandon ship, and she sank off Bergen at 59 deg.48 min. N, 03 deg. 53min. E.
Pellew suffered severe engine room damage and had only one torpedo tube working, but managed to escape into the mist of a rain squall. She was the sole survivor of the convoy, eventually reaching Selbjorn Fjord under tow from a Norwegian ship. Partridge having been sunk, and Pellew unable to challenge the German boats, Kolbe proceeded to sink the rest of the convoy. The action was very short, as may be seen from timings reported in John Bradley's diary notes given below.

11.50 Action Stations Sounded.
12.00 Firing commenced
12.15 High Pressure Steam Pipe shot away, turbines stopped, Port Turbine smashed
12.15 Order to leave the Engine Room, the Dynamo was hit as the last man was leaving.
12.20 Acting ERA Bradley and others get the Midship Raft into the water and board it.
The survivors were picked up by a German Boat, and taken into captivity.

A German report states that following the sinking of Partridge, Pellew used her superior speed to escape. This seems a little fanciful as Pellew had only one effective engine, but Kolbe had the destruction of the convoy as his main objective, and Pellew was clearly no longer a threat. This report says that the crew of the merchant ships were offered the opportunity to be taken aboard the German ships before they were sunk, but that this offer was rejected by some. Four officers and forty-eight ratings were stated to have been taken prisoner from Partridge and the four trawlers, together with twenty-three civilians. The whole action was said to have occupied three quarters of an hour, and that the rescue of the English sailors from their rafts was made difficult due to the high seas. German casualties are stated as three wounded.

Early reports of the action stated that there were no survivors from Partridge, and one later report stated that the torpedo which struck the engine room killed all the occupants instantly. The casualties were indeed heavy, five officers and ninety-two ratings being reported as killed. Three officers and twenty-one ratings were picked up by the Germans, and became prisoners. Pellew suffered three killed and several wounded. The second Mate of the Merchant ship Cordova, Henderson, is mentioned in the Diary below.

Admiral Beatty, who had succeeded Admiral Jellicoe as commander of the Grand Fleet, set up an inquiry into the loss of the convoy. The report found that Pellew and Partridge had fought as well as could have been expected, but were overwhelmed by a superior force. The radio sets fitted to these ships were stated to be inadequate for them to contact their home port, and thus enable them to call up support from heavier ships such as the covering forces at sea on 12 December. The frequency of the convoys was henceforth reduced, and heavier ships added to the escorts. Early in 1918, the Germans attempted another attack hoping to trap these larger ships in an ambush, but this failed. This ended the assaults on the Scandinavian convoys.

John Bradley spoke occasionally of his experiences, mentioning events not included in the diary. Climbing on to the raft he spotted a cap float close by, and on retrieving it discovered it to be his own. He shook out the water, and placed it on his head. Another incident not reported, is that of a rating on the raft who on seeing the approaching Germans said, “They are not getting me”, and swam away.

There are various naval documents which relate to the sinking of the Partridge. A pdf collection of them can be viewed by clicking here.

The majority of men did not survive the sinking. Details of those who lost their lives can be seen here.