Veteran Stories:
Ralph Hennessy

Navy

  • Lieutenant Ralph L. Hennessy, Royal Canadian Navy, on destroyer HMCS Assiniboine in september 1940. Hennessy enjoyed a brillant career in the RCN from 1936 to 1970. He was awared the Distinguished Service Cross for the sinking of U-210 in August 1942.

    Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-104253 / Restrictions on use: Nil / Copyright: Expired
  • British Prime Minister Winston Churchill boarding HMCS Assiniboine in Hvalfjord, Iceland. On the picture: Hennessy, Stubbs, AB Moody, CPO Orr & CDR Thompson.

    Ralph L. Hennessy
  • U-210 just before being rammed by HMCS Assiniboine (August 6, 1942).

    Ralph L. Hennessy
  • Fire Party at Work.

    Ralph L. Hennessy
  • U-210 German POWs boarding Royal Navy destroyer for Halifax.

    Ralph L. Hennessy
  • Vice-Admiral (Ret'd) Ralph Hennessy, June 2011.

    The Memory Project
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"So our main job and the job of our authorities ashore was to route us so that we didn’t run into a German Wolf pack. Well, that didn’t always work. Sometimes we did and then all proverbial hell broke loose."

Transcript

[With HMCS Assiniboine in the Caribbean Waters]

It’s at [HMCS] Assiniboine [a River-class destroyer]. In fact, the Assiniboine originally was the British destroyer, [HMS] Kampenfeldt, which we blocked from the British at the outbreak of war and she was re-commissioned as Assiniboine. And I spent a major part of the war and subsequently in one category or other in that ship, eventually winding up in command.

We were part of a small force of Canadian and British ships which were in the Caribbean [Islands] to prevent German merchant ships which had taken refuge in neutral harbors at the beginning of the war, prevent them from breaking out and returning to Germany. And that’s when one did break out and the British cruiser, [HMS] Dunedin [a Danae-class light cruiser], and ourselves, recaptured it when it was trying to get into territorial waters. And point of fact, it did get into the Dominican Republic territorial waters and we went into territorial waters and Dunedin all on one side, ourselves along the other, just boarded her and pulled her back out. Which was quite illegal.

[Combat at sea against U-Boat U-210]

I would say considerable damage because in the initial shellfire battle on the surface, his submarine [U-210] fire set our ship on fire, because the shellfire hit the motorboat gasoline storage on the upper deck. And the submarine captain [Korvettenkapitän Rudolph Lemcke] was silly, to put it mildly, because he was an ex-destroyer captain and this was late in the war and in the German navy, they were running out of submarine commanders and were tapping destroyer captains on the shoulder, handing them a submarine to command, which was the case in this one. And any sensible submarine commander getting into a surface battle with a destroyer would be well advised that the first moment he had a chance was to pull the plug and submerge and then try and torpedo the destroyer. This ex-German sub destroyer captain didn’t have the sense to do that, he, he tried to fight us on the surface as if he were on a destroyer. He was just beating himself.

His shellfire, because it was at very close range, did a lot of shell damage down below, aside from setting the ship on fire. And it was my job as the XO, Executive Officer or second in command, to look after damage control. So I was down below after organizing the fire parties to put the fire out, I was down below supervising the damage control parties on various parts of the ship, repairing shell damage, flooding and so forth.

[The convoy system]

You realize of course that the, every convoy that we took over was a group of merchant ships. And normally these convoys would run about 40 or 50 ships and we would have all too few escorts against a German submarine pack, Wolf pack [a formation of German submarines organized to attack simultaneously Allied merchant ship convoys], if we ran into one. So our main job and the job of our authorities ashore was to route us so that we didn’t run into a German Wolf pack. Well, that didn’t always work. Sometimes we did and then all proverbial hell broke loose.

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