HC Deb 14 January 1918 vol 101 cc11-3
11. Commander BELLAIRS

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is now in a position to make his promised statement on the results of the inquiry into the loss of the second Norwegian convoy; and whether he will make a statement as to the outcome of any inquiry into the attack on a convoy off the Tyne on the same day?


A Court of Inquiry, appointed by the Commander-in-Chief, Grand Fleet, has been held into the circumstances connected with the attack on the Scandinavian convoy, which took place on Wednesday, the 12th of December, 1917, when His Majesty's ship "Partridge" was sunk, and His Majesty's ship "Pellew" damaged. The Court consisted, as announced in the statement which I made to the House on the 17th of December, of Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee, Vice-Admiral Sir John M. de Robeck, and Rear-Admiral W. E. Goodenough.

The Board of Admiralty, after full consideration, confirm the finding of the Court in its opinion that the escorting vessels did their best to protect the convoy, and were fought in a proper and. seamanlike manner, and that the other forces which were at sea for the purpose of giving protection to the convoys which were crossing the North Sea at that time took all possible steps to come to the assistance as soon as the attack was reported to them, and to prevent the escape of the enemy.

The Court of Inquiry makes a number of recommendations on the convoy system. These, I need not assure the. House, have received, and are receiving, the closest consideration. From the commencement of the convoy system its great difficulties have been recognised. Adjustments and improvements are continually being made, and its general great success is attributable thereto.

It is due to Sir David Beatty that. I should say that the Board of Admiralty are further of opinion that the circumstances which prevented the covering forces from being on the spot at the time of the attack were such as could not be prevented, and they are of opinion that the Commander-in-Chief's dispositions were the best that could have been made with the forces available at the time.

As regards the second part of the question, the enemy's attack off the North-East Coast of England was upon two neutral vessels which had become separated in the dark during the night of the 11th-12th of December from a southbound convoy. One of these two vessels was attacked in the very early hours of the morning of the 12th of December, and sunk. The survivors, except two engineers who went down with the ship, were picked up by patrol forces which were shortly on the scene. Soon afterwards, on the same morning, the other neutral vessel which had been separated from the convoy was also attacked, and the crew abandoned the ship, which afterwards broke in two, the two halves being later towed into port. The vessels escorting the convoy from which these two ships had fallen astern were unaware of the attack owing to the distance separating them.

Commander BELLAIRS

As the right hon. Gentleman stated in the course of Debate that Sir David Beatty was responsible for the arrangements for these convoys, does he still adhere to that statement?


The statement that Sir David Beatty was responsible—yes. I adhere to it.

Commander BELLAIRS

The statement that Sir David Beatty is entirely responsible for the defence of these convoys and the arrangements for the convoys?


Yes. I stated that.

Commander BELLAIRS

I beg to give notice that I will draw attention to this matter on another occasion.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the object of the Admiralty is to lead the Navy to victory, or to cover up every blunder and every defeat by misrepresentation in this House?