Pictured here is a part of the ASDIC trace from January 17, 1944. The chase lasted seven hours in rough weather and eventually resulted in the sinking of U-377 by HMS Wanderer.Derek John Kidd
A sailor grabbing a lifeline before solid water swept amidships in HMS Wanderer, January 1944.Derek John Kidd
Sailors chipping through ice formed on the deck of a ship in a blizzard north of Murmansk, 1944.Derek John Kidd
Seaman Derek John Kidd of HMS Sandwich, Portsmouth, England, March 1940.Derek John Kidd
HMS Sandwich showing the "blunt" end after bombing attack, North Atlantic, January 1942.Derek John Kidd
"After a while, we found it was better to form groups of, you know, three or four experienced anti-submarine ships to be separated from convoys and go and look for the submarines before they hit the convoy."
This was HMS Wanderer. And we were part of what they called killer/hunter groups. Normally, convoys, you know with all the merchant ships, are escorted by escort groups of anti-submarine vessels like destroyers and corvettes and things like that. But after a while, we found it was better to form groups of, you know, three or four experienced anti-submarine ships to be separated from convoys and go and look for the submarines before they hit the convoy. And that’s what we were doing. We were going up on the Murmansk Run where of course they were always under attack. And you know, often only a third of the convoy would get through and it was important because it went into Murmansk or Archangel [also known as Arkhangelsk; both Soviet Arctic ports] and we were told that the supplies were taken off and went straight down to the front, to [St.] Petersburg [then known as Leningrad] and so on.
And so it was important to get them through but we were out on various convoys and either within sight of the convoy or within touch, or out looking for any Wolf Packs [massings of German U-boats] that might be forming, and that’s what we were doing at that time. North of Bear Island, which is well within the Arctic Circle, awful weather conditions, quite awful. Nothing much in the way of icebergs at that point but awful weather. We were dependent entirely on what we used to call ASDIC, that is now known as sonar, you know, underwater detection. And our transducer, which is a thing about, oh, three feet circumference and about 10 inches thick, and it’s a quartz steel sandwich which when you put an electric current across it, it will contract the quartz and then release it. Thus, producing a wave which is, if you get the right frequency, you get sound. Or you can detect the echo coming back. It’s just underwater radar.
Anyway, our transducer, which was in a protected dome, which went down below the ship, just ran down and then it was retracted if you needed to, our oscillator failed. So in other words, we were blind and deaf. And terrible stuff. Anyway, I had to obviously as the ASDIC control officer, and I and my petty officer, had to go down below to the hull below to watertight door hatches and we knew our dome had been leaking but we didn’t know how much water we’d find down there or indeed, when we took the dome off, or took the top of the dome off in order to drain the oscillator, how much water would come in.
Anyway, that’s what we had to do and so we got down there, there wasn’t a great deal of water and between the two of us, we managed to take the top of the dome off and get the oscillator up, great big thing, and then change it with a spare that we had, we always carried two spares and had to put the spare, connect up with the oscillator and then put it back in the dome and there you are.
But the eerie thing was, all sorts of eerie things, first of all, we didn’t know how much water was going to come in and I think there was about every, well, what seemed like every 10 seconds, the phone would ring from the bridge, how are you getting on, what’s the delay? Because you know, they’re up there blind too and deaf. And while we were down there, you could hear torpedoes coming by. Mark you, you can recognize the sound of the torpedo when you’re underwater anyway. And certainly it was an eerie sensation to hear torpedoes going by. And also, it was explosions either by ships that had been torpedoed or depth charges going on somewhere else.
Got a submarine later on that trip. I don’t think we ever identified which one it was [U-377, sunk with aid from HMS Glenarm on January 17, 1944]. But anyways, got one and that’s all. The main battle the times we were there was between the aircraft and the convoy and the heavy cruisers.
Interview date: 7 October 2010