HMT Bedfordshire – The Royal Navy ship sank defending the United States.

I’ve written several posts about American servicemen who died in Britain in WW2, most recently on the The Endcliffe Park Memorial in Sheffield & the incredible devotion of Tony Foulds.

A few weeks ago I came across a fascinating sad little bit of history from WW2 regarding some British servicemen who died in American waters, securing the coast from the Third Reich.

HMS Bedfordshire, a converted fishing trawler, became one of the many casualties in the battle for the Atlantic during World War II.   In 1941, Allied ships were under constant attack from German U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean in an attempt to starve Britain into surrender.

Along the East Coast of the United States, the submarines were a serious threat with many ships being attacked.  The US Navy had no specific anti submarine fleet and following the Japanese attack on pearl Harbour was concentrating its strength in the Pacific and so twenty four ships from the Royal Navy were sent to assist with patrol and escort duties and safeguard the eastern coast of the United States.

 

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HMT Bedfordshire

 

They all belonged to the Royal Naval Patrol Service, a fleet of ships that had all been converted from fishing trawlers.  Together they were affectionately known as Harry Tate’s Navy. Harry Tate was a famous musical hall performer who’s act always went wrong. His catchphrase was ‘Goodbyeeee’ which inspired the famous WWI song.One of the trawlers was HMS / HMT Bedfordshire. Built in 1935, the 443 ton ship was taken over by the Admiralty in 1939 and fitted with a four inch gun.

On the 11th May 1942, HMT Bedfordshire and HMT St Loman were sent out from their base at Morehead City in North Carolina to look for a German U-boat that was suspected to be operating near Ocracoke Island.

Unfortunately for the Bedfordshire, the two ships had already been spotted by the U-558, commanded by twenty-seven year old Gunther Krech.  That evening, Krech though they’d been detected by one of the trawlers and launched an attack on the St Loman, but it’s torpedoes were spotted and the St Loman managed to avoid them.

At 5.40am on the 12th of May, the U-558 fired on the HMT Bedfordshire and with a direct hit sent it to the bottom, with the loss of everyone on board.

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The British Cemetery in Ocracoke

Casualty List

Lt. R.B. Davis, RNR (In Command).
Temp. Sub. Lt. H. Clutterbuck, RNVR.
Temp. Sub. Lt. B. Hall, RNVR.
Temp. Sub. Lt. T. Cunningham, RNVR.
F.W. Barnes, Engineman.
S. Bennett, Ordinary Seaman.
L.P. Bickford, Seaman.
E.S. Carruthers, Ordinary Seaman.
G.W. Cerrino, Leading Seaman, RNR.
W.F. Clemence, Ordinary Seaman.
F. Cragg, Ordinary Seaman.
S .R. Craig, Ordinary Telegraphist.
J.R. Dick, Seaman.
T.M. Dicks, Ordinary Seaman.
A. Dryden, Seaman.
A.W. Duncan, Chief Engineman, RNR.
G. Featherstone, Ordinary Telegraphist.
G.H. Fisher, Stoker 2nd. Class.
H. Ford, Seaman.
J. Kelly, Seaman.
W. Lee, Leading Seaman, RNR.
E.W. Lukins, Act. Stoker Petty Officer (Ty).
A.A. McCrindle, Seaman.
A. McKenzie, Stoker.
F.F. Maltby, Leading Seaman, RNR.
E.N. Morton, Ordinary Seaman.
W.J. Myers, Stoker.
S.W. Smitten, Ordinary Seaman.
P.E. Stone, Seaman.
C.T. Travell, Ordinary Signalman.
C.W. White, Ordinary Telegraphist.
L.J. Williams, Stoker, 2nd. Class.
R. Davis, Ordinary Seaman, RCN.
J.L. McCauley, Ordinary Seaman RCN.

 

HMT-Bedfordshire.jpg

Although everyone on board the Bedfordshire perished, ship stoker Sam Nutt survived.  Sam had sailed across the Atlantic on the Bedfordshire to Norfolk, Virginia, before continuing down to Morehead City.

On the 10th of May, Sam had been on shore leave, but that night while leaving a bar, he was arrested and put in jail for the night.  However he was  released without charge and so  Sam made off to reunite with his shipmates only to find the ship had already departed.  Having boarded another boat to rejoin his shipmates, but when they reached the vicinity of Ocracoke Island there was no trace of the Bedfordshire.   By a stroke of good fortune, Sam Nutt had avoided certain death.

Fourteen months after sinking the Bedfordshire, U-558 also met her end when two allied anti submarine aircraft caught her on the surface off Cape Finisterre.  They dropped depth charges on her and she sunk. Up to forty survivors had been spotted, but when HMCS Athabaskan found them five days later, only five were still alive . Amongst the survivors was Commander Gunther Krech.  Upon inspection of the ships logbook it was found that the sinking of the Bedfordshire had been recorded.

Bedfordshire Wreck Discovered

In the summer of 1980, a team of divers came across a wreck which was identified as HMS Bedfordshire.  With the consent of the British government, local divers occasionally make visits to the ship which has protected status as a War Grave.

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The wreck of HMT Bedfordshire

A few days after the sinking of HMS Bedfordshire, four bodies were washed up on the beach of Okracoke Island.

Two were identified as telegraphist Stanley Craig, and Sub Lieutenant Tom Cunningham. The other two seamen were not identified but were both presumed to have come from the Bedfordshire as they were wearing Royal Navy uniforms.

They were buried in a small fenced off area in the island’s main cemetery, which is now maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

 

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Sub-Lt. Thomas Cunningham, photographed on the bridge of the HMS Bedfordshire, probably taken a few days before he died.  One of those buried in Ocracoke Village

In the 1980s, the state of North Carolina deeded the British cemetery in Ocracoke Village to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in perpetuity.  New British and Commonwealth style headstones for the sailors were erected on the plot though the Ocracoke Preservation Society decided they wanted to keep the original crosses that had been put up to mark the graves in the 1940s. The British agreed and so both original and new are present.

A Union Flag is raised every morning over the cemetery by members of the US Coast Guard, and a special ceremony, remembering those who died is held each May.

If you’d like to read about a shipwreck that might one day blew up and damage a significant part of London you might like The ticking timebomb shipwreck that could damage half of London

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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