Could HX84 have been warned?

A follow up to the 'Sea Breezes' article by Urban Peters who served on the S.S. Mopan.

Liverpudlian, Urban Peters raises a serious question as to whether HMS Jervis Bay could have been warned by his ship, the S.S. Mopan, the banana boat that the Admiral Scheer encountered prior to attacking HMS Jervis Bay and the HX84 convoy, that she was protecting.

SS Mopan

The S.S. Mopan had passed Convoy HX84 , and she had declined an invitation to join the convoy, preferring instead to sail on ahead, alone. The Admiral Scheer came across the Mopan, and ordered her to stop, firing warning shots from her 5.9 inch guns, which exploded close to the freighters bow.

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Mopan shelled

Kranke (in command of the Scheer) ordered the Mopan's radio not to be used, and held the Scheer's guns directly aimed at the Mopan and her radio transmitter stack. James Macintosh, the radio officer on the Mopan had indeed pleaded with the Mopan's Captain S.S. Sapsworth, to let him send out a warning message to Convoy HX84, and Captain Sapsworth did indeed refuse that request on more than one occassion. Sapsworth envisaged the Scheer blowing the Mopan out of the water, and so he refused to send a message to Convoy HX84, saving the many men on the Mopan who would have lost their lives. Sapsworth ordered an abandonment of his ship, which occurred in both a calm and in an orderly fashion. Indeed, Sapsworth did not exactly rush in abandoning his ship, which in hindsight, helped give the convoy darkness, due to the time that Sapworth and his crew took to abandon his ship. The crew of the Mopan might have viewed Sapsworth as both a coward and in some ways guilty of neglecting the ships in convoy HX84, especially during their years in a German prisoner of war camp. I believe that he did what he thought was best at that particular time, for his ship and crew.

Mopan crew board Scheer

The Mopan crew were taken prisoner aboard the Admiral Scheer, and they were forced to watch their own ship being sunk by the Scheer. This in itself took a great deal of time, causing further annoyance to the Germans.

Mopan shelled while crew watches

SS Sapsworth talks to German officerIndeed, Captain Sapsworth was summoned to Kranke on the Scheer, who was upset as to how long the Mopan was taking to sink.

Kranke ordered an increased rate of gunfire from the Scheer's guncrews, though Sapsworth warned Kranke to avoid the Mopan's stern due to ammunition being stored there.

The Scheer taking the crew of the Mopan crew as prisoners is often viewed as a considerate act, and many viewed Kranke as a kind man. It certainly shows him in a kind light, thought was it just compassion that drove Kranke to take the Mopan crew as prisoners? He could have blown the Mopan out of the water of course, and left few survivors. He could have ordered the ship's abandonment, though left the Mopan's crew adrift in their lifeboats. Was it all about being compassionate? Kranke was certainly annoyed by the Mopan encounter holding up his ship from reaching convoy HX84. What if he had left the men in their lifeboats, and another ship had come across the crew, or they had some other means to warning the convoy of the German raiders presence. No, Kranke either had to butcher the crew of the Mopan in my opinion, or take them prisoner to stop anyone else warning the convoy of the Admiral Scheer being in the convoy's vicinity.

DEMS Report

When the Scheer finally came across the convoy, Kranke was extremely annoyed by the time taken up with the Mopan. It was getting dusk. The Germans were mercilous in their shelling of both HMS Jervis Bay, as the above DEMS report varifies. Many of the 65 Jervis Bay survivors talked when being debriefed back in Halifax, NS, Canada, of the Scheer firing at them on the liferafts and the only lifeboat that got away. It was as if the Germans wanted no survivors from the Jervis Bay at all. The Mopan prisoners aboard the Scheer (down in the bowels of the Scheer), had to hear the attack on the convoy, feeling perhaps both powerless to stop the destruction, and in some ways guilty of not being able to warn the convoy. The Mopan crew certainly held their Captain (Sapsworth) responsible for the latter.

Capt. KranckeIn fairness, Kranke couldn't have taken any more prisoners really anyway. His ship was full of Mopan prisoners, though I don't think that he would have taken any prisoners anyway. He was 'mad as hell', and taking prisoners would have taken room and indeed valuable time, and light was fading fast, and the Scheer had a convoy to catch and sink. He showed no mercy to ships such as the Beaverford, sinking her with all hands lost.

So, Urban Peters does make a valid point as regards, could the Jervis Bay have been warned?

Yes, she probably could have been warned, though would Urban Peters himself, be here to tell the tale? Yes, he spent time as a prisoner of war, though he lived through the experience. No one lost their life on the Mopan, though each one had to carry the guilt, though not necessarily the blame.

Forced by Germans to Help Aim Guns.
Briton Tells of Role Played In Sinking Of Jervis Bay

By Jack Regan... Newspaper Article 1955.

A brilliant chapter of British Naval History during the Second World War - the story of the last hours of the armed merchant cruiser Jervis Bay - was recalled here Wednesday by a British seafarer who was a prisoner aboard the German battleship which sank the gallant vessel.

In Captured Crew

David A. Braid, 54 year old chief officer of the freighter New York City, now loading in Halifax, was numbered among a British crew which was forced to play a role in the Sinking of the Jervis Bay.

The Jervis Bay was sailing in a convoy of 38 ships bound for Britain when the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer opened fired on the group. In a daring move, the 14,000 ton Jervis Bay steamed toward the heavily armed battleship and engaged it in an action which permitted 29 ships to escape.

Braid, who was aboard the pocket battleship, recalled that the Germans hitched their prisoners to gun turrets and had them pull the turrents around on tackles during the action with the Jervis Bay.

The electrical equipment which operated the turrets had been knocked out of commission earlier that day when the Admiral Scheer shelled and sunk the merchant ship Mopan on which Braid had been second officer.

Mopan sighted by Admiral Scheer

Mopan sighted by Admiral Scheer, and sinking.

Mopan sinking

The 72 crewman on the Mopan were taken prisoner by the Germans.

"It was that same night that the Admiral Scheer attacked the Jervis Bay convoy", Braid recalled.

That day, November 5, 1941, was the start of a 4 year period of imprisonment for Braid and the other officers and crew of the Mopan.

He recalled that after the convoy attack, the Admiral Scheer steamed at full speed (23 knots) for southern waters. The pocket battleship, a sister ship of the Admiral Graf Spee which was scuttled by the Germans outside of Montevideo harbour, ran down to Southern Georgia.

Later the Admiral Scheer transferred its British prisoners to the German raider Nordmark in the South Atlantic.

Chief Officer Braid recalled he and his shipmates spent 5 dreary months cooped up in the hold of the Nordmark.

During the interval France had capitulated and the Nordmark's prisoners were transferred to an oil tanker and taken to Bordeaux. "It took the tanker 5 weeks to make Bordeaux", Braid said.

Men Went Hungry

From Bordeaux the prisoners were taken to a nearby transit camp where the men went hungry most of the time due to short food supplies. Eventually, the Mopan's crew was herded into cattle trucks and transferred to a concentration camp outside of Hamburg.

In this camp, called "Moriag", situated 10 miles outside of Hamburg, Braid and his companions languished until May 1945, when the camp was released by the 7th Armoured Division.

Conditions in the camp during the first two years of his stay were poor, the British officer reported. Food was in short supply and several members of his crew died of malnutrition.

Braid recalled that a Dartmoth, NS sea captain was held captive in the same camp. The Dartmouth man was Captain T.V. Ferns, who died a year ago.

During the more than four years of confinement Chief Officer Braid dropped from a chunky 150 pounds down to a frail 98 pounds. He now weighs 168 and would just as soon forget his dismal years as a prisoner. "I'd never go through anything like that again - I'd go over the side first."

Attacked By Sub

The ill-fated Mopan, a United Fruit Company ship, was the first merchant ship of the Second World War to be attacked by the Germans. That was another day David Braid remembers well.

Braid recalls the ship was just off the English Channel when it was attacked by a sub which peppered the merchant ship with between 60 to 70 shells. The action occurred during the first few days of the war.

On this occasion the Mopan, although potted with holes, made port safely without any loss of life.

After his release from the German camp in 1945, Braid was flown back to his home in Bristol where he met his 4 ½ year old son for the first time.

The boy, David Jr., is now 15.

Chief Officer Braid, a veteran of some 30 years sea experience, joined the Bristol City Line seven years ago, and is now a frequent caller at Halifax.

Newspaper unknown, circa 1955