SS Beaverford

SS Beaverford was a cargo liner operated by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company. Built in 1928 for freight service between Montreal and London, she was sunk on 5 November 1940 during the Battle of Convoy HX 84 while fighting to allow other ships in the convoy to escape from the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer.

Beaverford
History
Name: SS Beaverford
Owner: Canadian Pacific Steamships
Port of registry: London,  UK
Route: London to Montreal (Apr-Nov), London to Saint John, New Brunswick and Halifax (Nov-Apr)
Builder: Barclay Curle, Glasgow
Yard number: 617
Launched: 27 October 1927
Maiden voyage: 21 January 1928
Identification:
Fate: Sunk in battle by shell fire and torpedo from German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer 5 November 1940
General characteristics
Class and type: Cargo liner
Tonnage: 10,042 GRT
Length: 503 ft (153 m)
Beam: 62 ft (19 m)
Propulsion: Twin Screw, steam turbines
Speed: 15 kn (28 km/h)
Capacity: 12 passengers
Crew: 77
Sensors and
processing systems:
Echo Sounder, Wireless Direction Finder
Armament: 1940, fitted with one 4 inch & one 3 inch guns
Notes: Specification Source: “Beaverford”, ‘ ‘Lloyds Register’ ‘, 1940

Pre-war service

Beaverford was the first of five cargo ships built by Canadian Pacific in 1927 and 1928 including sister ships Beaverdale, Beaverburn, Beaverhill and Beaverbrae. Designed to carry 10,000 deadweight tons of cargo as well as 12 passengers, they were fitted with 80,000 cubic feet of insulated cargo space and 20,000 cubic feet of refrigerated cargo spaces for meat and fruit.[1] Their twin screws were powered by six Parson steam turbines and were among the most efficient steam engines of their time. Their boilers were fitted with Erith-Roe mechanical stokers, the first automatic stokers in the British merchant service.[2] The beaver ships maintained a fast cargo schedule between London and Montreal in the summer and London and Saint John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia in the winter.[3] Registered in London with a mostly British crew, the ship was adopted by the Downhills Central School near the London docks in Tottenham through the British Ships Adoption Society with students touring the ship when it was in port and receiving visits from the ship’s officers.[4] On July 2, 1938 Beaverford rescued 400 passengers from the Cunard Liner Ascania, which had run aground in the St. Lawrence River, near Bic Island, Quebec.[5]

War service and loss

With the onset of war, the fast and modern beaver ships were requisitioned by the British Admiralty to carry high-value stores. On September 16, 1939, just six days into the war, Beaverford sailed in HX 1, the first convoy of the war to leave from Halifax. Beaverford was fitted with two guns for self-defence, a four-inch gun on the stern and a three-inch gun on the bow in early 1940.[6] She remained owned by Canadian Pacific with a Merchant Navy crew, along with two DEMS gunners.[7] By the fall of 1940, the Canadian Pacific ship had made sixteen crossings of the Atlantic and had survived a U-Boat attack on convoy HX 55 in July 1940.[8] Beaverford sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia on October 28, 1940 as part of Convoy HX 84. Beaverford was carrying refined aluminum and copper, maize, meats and cheese and a large consignment of ammunition in her holds along with a deck cargo of timber and crated aircraft. Beaverford had a crew of 77. Most were from Britain but three were Canadians including one of the two gunners. The ship was commanded by the 60-year-old Captain Hugh Pettigrew from Coatbridge, who had sailed with Canadian Pacific since 1910, was a veteran of naval actions at Gallipoli, and (as chief mate) had survived the torpedoing of the Medora by SM U-86, west-southwest of Mull of Galloway, in 1918.[9]

HX 84

Convoy HX 84 was halfway across the Atlantic when it was located and attacked by the German heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer on November 5. The attack began at 17:15. The convoy’s only escort, the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Jervis Bay ordered the convoy to scatter. In an engagement that won the commander of Jervis Bay a posthumous Victoria Cross, the escort steered directly towards Admiral Scheer. Hopelessly outgunned, Jervis Bay was set afire and sank 22 minutes later.[10] Admiral Scheer now began to attack the convoy, first sinking the SS Maidan with all hands. The tanker San Demetrio was set on fire, but did not sink. Admiral Scheer next sank the freighters Trewellard and Kenbane Head.

Captain Pettigrew aboard Beaverford had begun to scatter but after the nearest ship Kenbane Head was hit and blew up, he ordered Beaverford to turn and engage the German heavy cruiser. Beaverford opened fire with her 3-inch bow gun. The first shot landed unexpectedly close to the German heavy cruiser. Admiral Scheer turned all its attention to this unexpected challenge firing star shells to illuminate Beaverford as darkness had now fallen. Beaverford turned to bring both of its two small guns to bear and fire at the German cruiser although neither gun was in range. Beaverford sent out a wireless message as it engaged the German cruiser, “It is our turn now. So long. The captain and crew of SS Beaverford”.

Admiral Scheer opened fire on Beaverford with its 11-inch guns. However Beaverford used the reserve power of its turbine engines to quickly turn and evade the fire as the shots landed in the water, missing Beaverford although the shrapnel started small fires amidst her deck cargo. The ships of the dispersing convoy had laid a thick smoke screen from floating smoke floats and Beaverford was able to disappear into the smoke screen. Admiral Scheer, its radar broken from the prolonged bombardment of Jervis Bay, had difficulty in locating the new challenger in the smoke and darkness. Beaverford, one of the faster ships in the convoy, had a chance to escape in the darkness, but for reasons unknown, Captain Pettigrew stayed to fight it out with Admiral Scheer. For the next four hours, Beaverford played a cat-and-mouse game, emerging from the smokescreen to fire at Admiral Scheer and then seeking cover in the smoke. Captain Theodor Krancke, in command of Admiral Scheer, had identified Beaverford as “Target No. 9” and thought he had destroyed the freighter, only to find the ship reappearing to confront him again.[11] With Admiral Scheer fully engaged with this one evasive target, the Swedish freighter Stureholm was able to return and pick up sixty-five survivors from HMS Jervis Bay.[12]

However every time Beaverford emerged from cover, the ship was hit by Admiral Scheer'. In all, Admiral Scheer fired 83 shells at Beaverford, 71 from its 5.9-inch guns, with 16 hitting the unarmoured freighter, and 12 from the cruiser's massive 11-inch guns, with three making hits. Beaverford began to take on water and slow. Fires spread on the freighter making it easier for the enemy guns to find their mark. Finally at 22:45, Admiral Scheer was able to destroy Beaverford with a torpedo. The torpedo hit the fore part of Beaverford, lifting the bow and detonating the ammunition in her hold. The ship blew apart and the stern was last seen sliding into the ocean. All aboard were killed in the sinking. Beaverford had engaged Admiral Scheer for almost five hours.[13] Delayed by Beaverford, the German cruiser was only able to find and sink one more ship from the convoy, SS Fresno City.[14] Of the 38 ships in the convoy, Admiral Scheer had only succeeded in sinking six.

Recognition

In 1944, an article based on accounts from one of the other ships in Convoy HX 84 was published by Normand Mackingtosh in the magazine Canada’s Weekly and republished in the London Evening Standard which praised the sacrifice of Beaverford: “For more than four hours she was afloat, followed by the raider, firing and fighting to the last. Using the big reserve of engine power for speed, and superb seamanship for steering and maneuvering to baffle and evade the enemy’s aim, for all that time she held her own, hit by shells but firing back and delaying the raider hour by hour while the rest of the convoy made their escape.”[15] However, the account published after the war by the Scheer's captain, Theodor Krancke ("Pocket Battleship") makes no mention of any battle with the Beaverford, which he mentions only as a ship carrying timber that proved hard to sink by gunfire. Krancke does mention a gun being briefly fired at his ship from what must have been the Kenbane Head, but that ship was sunk an hour before Beaverford and the Fresno City was set ablaze an hour or so after her, so it is hard to see how Beaverford could find the time for a four hour sea battle with a warship that never even noticed it. Some historians felt the crew of Beaverford deserved posthumous George Crosses, the ship and its crew received no official recognition for its role in the battle.[16] The lack of survivors from Beaverford and the attention paid the Jervis Bay and the tanker San Demetrio overshadowed Beaverford's role in defending Convoy HX 84.[17]

Memorials

Although Beaverford 's crew received no official recognition, their sacrifice was received a variety of grassroots commemoration. A painting and memorial plaque was installed at a special service on May 20, 1944 at the school that had adopted Beaverford, the Downhills Central School in Tottenham.[18] The plaque read “SS Beaverford, our ship, lost with all hands in action 5th November 1940”. However the school was closed in 1964 as part of school amalgamations and both the painting and the memorial plaque disappeared, with the plaque later turning up in a junk shop.[19] Capt. Pettigrew's widow, H. G. Pettigrew, was welcomed in Halifax when she immigrated in 1948 and her husband was lauded as the man "who took over the task of covering the convoy against the German pocket battleship ... and gained five hours for the convoy before Beaverford was sank with all hands."[20] Canadian Pacific honoured the name of Beaverford in its postwar rebuilding of its fleet when it acquired a replacement ship in 1946, the SS Empire Kitchener, which was renamed SS Beaverford (II) and sailed under that name until sold in 1962.[21] The names of her British crew were recorded at the Tower Hill Memorial, the British Merchant Navy monument in London. The names of the three Canadians in her crew (Clifford Carter, Laughlin Elwood Stewart, William Lane Thibideau) are inscribed on the Sailors Memorial at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, Nova Scotia which overlooks the harbour mouth where Beaverford made her final departure in 1940.[22]

References

  1. ’ ‘Canadian Pacific’ Facts and Figures’ ‘, Canadian Pacific Railway (1937), p. 206
  2. "SS Beaverford", Clydebuilt Canada’’
  3. “Beaverford”, ‘ ‘Lloyds Register’ ‘, 1940
  4. Peter Pigott, ‘ ‘ Sailing Seven Seas: A History of the Canadian Pacific Line’ ‘, Dundurn Press (2010), p. 143.
  5. "Liner aground in St. Lawrence". The Times (48037). London. 4 July 1937. col E, p. 14.
  6. Roger Litwiller, "The Sacrifice of SS Beaverford –The Heroic Saga of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Ship with Teeth", November 4, 2018
  7. Bernard Edwards, ‘ ’Convoy Will Scatter: The Full Story of Jervis Bay and Convoy HX84’ ‘ Pen and Sword Maritime, Barnsley UK (2013), p. 11-12.
  8. Roger Litwiller, November 4, 2018
  9. Pigott, pp. 91, 139
  10. Pigott, p. 141
  11. Edwards, p. 95
  12. Roger Litwiller, November 4, 2018
  13. Jervis Bay Website, “Convoy HX84 The Aftermath”
  14. Edwards, p. 91
  15. Pigott, p. 141 and Edwards, p. 82-83
  16. Pigott, p. 143
  17. Edwards, p. 83-84
  18. Pigott, p. 143
  19. Edwards, p. 171
  20. "Aquitania Lands 1,656 Passengers", The Halifax Mail, Dec. 28, 1948, p. 3
  21. “Canadian Pacific Steamships”, The Ships List
  22. Pigott, p. 143

Roger Litwiller, "The Sacrifice of SS Beaverford –The Heroic Saga of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Ship with Teeth", November 4, 2018

‘ ‘Beaverford”, ‘ ’Downhills Central School’ ‘

Crewlist ‘ ‘Beaverford”, ‘ ’Downhills Central School’

“Captain Fegen wins the V.C. on the Jervis Bay”, ‘ ‘WW II Today’ ‘

SS Beaverford, ‘’Clydebuilt Canada’’

"SS Beaverford, or 'Scheer Carnage' 5th Nov 1940" (2010) Painting of battle by Scottish marine artist Jim Rae

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