HMS TETCOTT - OFFICIAL REPORT
ON THE COLLISION WITH HMS HEARTSEASE
27 December 1941
I have the honour to submit the following report of proceedings of HMS Tetcott towing and standing by HMS Heartsease, after the collision between the two vessels at 00:25 on 23 December 1941, which was described in my letter and enclosures to you of 26 December 1941.
I arrived on the bridge immediately after the collision. Sub Lieutenant R E Davis RNVR – who was First Officer of the Watch at the time of the collision – had thought that the engine room telegraphs were jammed and had gone down to the engine room to stop engines by giving a verbal order. I told him to organise a chain of men to pass orders from the bridge to the engine room, and sent Mr E Wynne, Gunner, who was Second Officer of the Watch, to make certain that all watertight doors were properly closed.
Lieutenant D L Davenport - First Lieutenant – then reported to me that the ship was badly damaged above water, but that he was unable to say how badly below. Mr A Wilkinson, Commissioned Engineer, reported to me that he did not think that the ship was badly holed below water, but that a certain amount of oil fuel and water were coming into the ward room and low power room, and that he would have to put all machinery in the low power room out of action and also break down the forward switchboard. This put the whole of the fore part of the ship in complete darkness except for the emergency lights and torches. The engine room telegraphs were not jammed, but the revolution telegraph was out of action for several hours.
At the same time an exchange of signals took place between the two ships and I learnt that the other ship was HMS Heartsease, corvette, and that she was badly holed for’d and might be sinking, so as soon as I could, 00:40, I closed her to stand by her and ordered the First Lieutenant to prepare to tow aft, Tetcott supplying wires and a shackle of cable.
At 01:00 I told Heartsease to pass a signal for me to RAD(HF), Admiralty, FOIC Greenock, RC-in-C WA, that I had been in collision with Heartsease and was going to tow her to Clyde as being the nearest repair port. All W/T signals had to be passed through Heartsease as all my W/T transmitting gear was wrecked.
At about 01:45 both ships were ready to begin taking in tow, and between this time and 07:20 I made eight attempts to get the tow across. In every case the tow parted before the wire was secured inboard. The main reasons for these failures were that Tetcott was drifting very much faster than Heartsease, and that I was very reluctant to use my screws when I could not see the tow properly. All this time the wind was NW force 5, and sea 34.
At 07:20 I suggested to Heartsease that we had better suspend operations until daylight, to which he agreed. I told him to send a signal for me to C-in-C WA to this effect, together with Tetcott’s damage. At this time Tetcott had only two heaving lines left, so that in any case a delay was necessary while the gear was straightened out and more lines made.
At 09:30 the attempt to take in tow was resumed and was successful at the second attempt, Heartsease being secured in tow by 11:40 and steering S20 W at 3½ knots by 11:55. The tow consisted of a shackle of cable and the 3½-inch towing wire belonging to Tetcott and a hurricane hawser and short towing line of Heartsease’s. At noon a position, course and speed signal was made to C-in-C WA.
The tow proceeded satisfactorily during the afternoon and Dog Watches, using staggered revolutions to assist steering. Vervain joined me at 15:50 and gave me an accurate position, my previous ones being all based on estimated drift and tide. At 20:00 I made another position, course and speed signal.
At about 21:00 the weather began to get worse and the tide was setting me on to Skerryvore. I tried to steer more to starboard, but steering was becoming very difficult. At 22:15 Vervain gave me a position, which put me only three miles from Skerryvore. Although this was closer than my estimated position, I decided to assume it was correct, since it put me in the more dangerous position, and so I decided to turn the tow.
I first tried to turn to port as it entailed putting the least strain on the tow, but I could not turn out of the wind with the heavy weight astern of me. I therefore decided to turn to starboard using my engines to help me turn, we came round very slowly, sometime falling back again, but after turning through 120 degrees the tow parted at 22:45. The reason for the tow parting was that we were then steering nearly into the wind and sea and jerks were coming on the tow. Any slower speed than revolutions for 5½ knots made the rudder quite ineffective, even with staggered revolutions.
As soon as the tow parted Heartsease hove to stern to the wind at sea, while I tried to heave in the tow in the hopes of being able to try again in the morning if Caroline Moller had not arrived by then. After one attempt it was evident that there was a very great danger of the rudder getting damaged by the shackle of the cable hitting it should the cable take charge. I therefore gave the order to slip the tow. Had my capstan been in action it could have been recovered, but a combination of a congested quarterdeck, darkness, pitching and no power made it a very difficult matter.
I then returned to Heartsease and stood by her, giving an estimated dawn position for the rendezvous with Caroline Moller. This was certainly wrong, as my estimate of a corvette’s drift to leeward was far too big. I asked Heartsease if she was alright and she replied that she was drawing away from Skerryvore, and was riding to the sea quite comfortably.
At about 06:00/24 I decided that the wind and sea were still rising and, from experience of the North Atlantic last winter, considered that I might well have to heave to myself before very long in which case I should be more of a liability than an asset to Heartsease. My side was beginning to show signs of working and if I had to heave to for more than a very short time my fuel position would become bad. I therefore asked Vervain if she was confident of being able to look after Heartsease by herself, and when she answered yes, I told Heartsease that I was parting company and gave her a signal to pass to C-in-C WA and FOIC Greenock telling them of my intentions.
As soon as I passed Orsay and got some lee, speed was increased very gradually and I arrived Greenock 18:00
I consider that the conduct of my ship’s company was nothing short of superb and it was very hard to realise that Tetcott had only been in commission for 22 days. Lieutenant D L Davenport and Commissioned Engineer A Wilkinson took charge of their departments exceedingly well, and Sub Lieutenant M D Dawson was of the greatest assistance to me on the bridge. The ERA of the watch P H Jacobs MX53116 and the Stoker Petty Officer in charge of Number One boiler room, SPO Puston MX84347 were both exceedingly cool and efficient at the time of the collision. They may well have prevented a very much more serious accident. The efforts of the following three ratings in getting electric power back on to the fore part of the ship, and in dealing with the for’d switchboard and lower power room also deserve very high praise. Their names are Electrical Artificer H D Neighbour, HX58120, Petty Officer G Wilson, JX14058 and Able Seaman R B Whitts, JX117430.
The Commanding Officer, HMS Heartsease told me that he considered that Tetcott’s camouflage, an Admiralty disruptive design, was very effective and superior to anything that he had seen before.
I have the honour to be sir,
Your obedient servant
H R Rycroft
Lieutenant in Command