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Admiral_Bing

The sinking of Special Service Vessel HMS Fidelity (D57) 30th December 1942

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In June 1940 with the surrender of France the French steam merchant ship Le Rhin sailed from Marseillaise for Gibraltar commandeered by Claude Andre Michel Peri (AKA Jack L'anglais) and his partner Madeleine Victorine Bayard (AKA Madeleine Barclay)  who would  be his First Officer, a SOE spy  and a commissioned officer in the WRNS and one of the very few women afloat in a senior position on any British Naval warship during WW2.

 

Le Rhin with her existing captain in charge was converted to HMS Fidelity a British Special Service Vessel which was commissioned on the 24th September 1940. HMS Fidelity's role as part of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) was to sail off the coast of Southern France flying a neutral Spanish or Portuguese flag to land agents into France and to pick up allied airmen from the French escape lines and to undertake small scale sabotage operations the ship sailed twice on these missions but little of substance was achieved. 

 

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Since both Claude Peri and Madeline Bayard has spent many years together with Marconi in French Indochina , they suggested that using this detailed knowledge of the area and utilising a specialist sabotage team and support equipment they could inflict significant damage on the Japanese forces in the area using HMS Fidelity as a base of operations as the Royal Navy could no longer hope to attack the Japanese directly  in Indochina after the devastating  loss of Singapore in December 1941 and the subsequent loss of most of the ABDA naval forces and bases in the area . Thus HMS Fidelity in 1942 was significantly upgraded to act as a Commando carrier and to be a serious armed threat if she was stopped for inspection  by an  unaware Japanese patrol ship  (Which is largely how the cruiser HMAS Sydney was lost when she went in too close to inspect the German Auxiliary cruiser Kormoran posing as a neutral merchantman in 19th November 1941 although the Kormoran was also sunk in the action), HMS Fidelity was heavily armed with four single 4” (100mm) guns, 4 torpedo tubes, anti-torpedo nets, two OS2U Kingfisher float planes, two small landing craft and Motor Torpedo Boat 105.   T Troop of Royal Marine 40 Commando was separately trained in Scotland for operations against the Japanese and specialized in explosive demolitions.

 

On the 18th November 1942 HMS Fidelity, joined up at the starting point for Convoy ON 154 was to begin at Liverpool bound for New York consisting of 45 ships , HMS Fidelity herself was bound for the Panama canal for the Pacific and was to leave the convoy once the most dangerous part of the journey had been undertaken.

Heading into the Atlantic aircraft  patrol gap on 28 Dec 1942 HMS Fidelity launched a OS2U Kingfisher that later crashed in the sea, the two crew were rescued by Destroyer HMCS St. Laurent (H83). HMS Fidelity then had severe engine trouble with her triple expansion steam engines and fatefully dropped behind the convoy, for protection the ship deployed her anti torpedo nets and managed to maintain a slow speed of about 2/3 knots.

 

On the 29th the captain decided to head for the Azores and HMS Fidelity launched her surviving aircraft and MTB 105 for antisubmarine patrols. The aircraft located two boatloads of survivors from torpedoed SS Empire Shackleton and the two landing craft were launched to tow these lifeboats back to the ship.  By evening HMS Fidelity was in the cross hairs of two U boats, the first torpedo was launched from the stern of U 225  but missed, a couple of hours later torpedoes 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 were singly launched by U Boat 615 at HMS Fidelity but they either all missed or some or all were caught by the deployed anti torpedo netting.

 

On the 30th of December HMS Fidelity, after losing contact with the patrolling MTB, was found by  U 435, Torpedoes 7 and 8 launched by U-435 finally found their mark and HMS Fidelity was sunk  at 43°23′N 27°07′W at 16:30 after a large explosion. The U boat commander noted a large number of people on rafts and survivors in the water before he left the area but later in the night the weather deteriorated. None of the 274 (some reports 280) Free French crew, 51 Royal Marines RM 40 Commando T troop & the ship's Royal Marine gunners, 4 civilians or the 44 rescued survivors from SS Empire Shackleton who were on board the ship survived.  The only survivors were the eight member crew of MTB 105 which was on anti-sub patrol and had broken down with engine trouble away from the ship and drifted before later being rescued by the crew of HMCS Woodstock (K238) and the two pilots picked upon the 28th by the C Class Destroyer HMCS St. Laurent (H83).

 

To this date RM 40 Commando has never reused T as a company designation in memory of the loss.

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