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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
12.20 Acting ERA Bradley and others get the Midship Raft into the water and
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.