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Capt. E. S. Fogarty Fegen VC – A Forgotten Tipperary Hero.

During WWII, between early May 1940 and the end of July 1941, British cargo ships were being sunk by German U-boats and battle ship surface raiders, at an average rate of some 66 per month. Before WWII finished in 1945, the British would lose 2,426 merchant ships and 19,180 seamen in the North Atlantic. Between June and October 1940 alone, more than 270 allied ships had been sunk in the North Atlantic.

One such incident, which happened on the 5th November 1940, on the North Atlantic route, involved Captain Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen, latter commanding HMS Jervis Bay, which was escorting a convoy of 38 ships carrying merchandise, (merchantmen), Convoy HX.84.

Captain Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen, was the son of Mary Catherine (née Crewse) and Vice Admiral Frederick Fogarty Fegen of Ballinlonty, Borrisoleigh, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Born on October 8th 1891, in Knightsbridge, London; Edward Fegen came from a strong naval tradition, with both his father and grand-father being naval officers. His Fogarty Irish family history, indeed, can easily be traced back to the 5th century, to one Fergus Cearbhall, latter the 133rd monarch of Ireland.

We first get to hear about Captain Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen on March 24th 1918 (end of WWI), when a British Merchant steamer the ‘SS War Knight‘; on route from New York to Britain with supplies, led by ‘HMS Syringa’, accidentally collided with the ‘SS O.B. Jennings‘ off St. Catherine’s head, at the southern tip of the Isle of Wight. This collision resulted in the release of naphtha cargo (a flammable liquid hydrocarbon mixture) being carried by ‘SS O.B. Jennings‘, which then flowed across the deck of the ‘SS War Knight‘. A fire now began on both ships, but also on the surface of the water surrounding both ships.

The ‘SS War Knight’ had an international crew, on board, made up of Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, Norwegian, Swedish, Belgian, Newfoundlanders, Jamaican, American and Australian.

‘H.M.S. Garland’, under the command of Lieutenant Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen, with other destroyers, were proceeding to the spot to render assistance, when it was seen that one boat which had been lowered from the ‘O.B. Jennings’ had been swamped. The H.M.S. Garland closed in on the O.B. Jennings, rescued the men from the swamped boat, and then proceeded alongside the ship, which was still blazing, rescuing those who were still on board. She afterwards proceeded to pick up the others who had left the ship in boats; rescuing in all four officers and twenty-two men. Lieutenant Fegen handled his ship in a very able manner under difficult conditions during the rescue of the survivors, while Quartermaster Driscoll worked the helm and saw that all orders to the engine-room were correctly carried out. Lieutenant Fogarty Fegen actions during this rescue resulted in both men being awarded Silver Sea Gallantry Medals, latter medal first struck in 1855 for saving life at sea.

Captain Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen’s Service Record: –
1922. Jan. – promoted to Lt. Cmdr. Seniority 15/10/1921, serving in HMS WHITLEY.
1922. Dec. – appointed to HMS SOMME.
1924. Jan. – appointed to HMS VOLUNTEER.
1925. Jun. – appointed to HMS COLOSSUS Accommodation ship, 20,000 tons, Boys training ship.
1926. Jul. – appointed to HMS FORRES as Lt/Cmdr in command.
1927. Nov. – on S.O.T.C (Senior Officer`s Technical Course) at Portsmouth.
1927. Dec – appointed to R. A. N. – ( R A N C at Captains Point, Jervis Bay ) on Naval staff.
1928. Jan – believed promoted to Cmdr on 20/1/1928.
1929. Dec. – still at R. A. N.
1932/1934HMS OSPREY.
1934 – on S O W C (Senior Office`s War Course) at R.N. College at Greenwich from 15/10/34 to February 1935
1935. Mar. – HMS DAUNTLESS to June 1935.
1935. Aug – HM Dockyard, Chatham to August 1938. HMS CURLEW – Reserve Fleet, and HMS DRAGON – Reserve Fleet.
1939. Jul – HMS EMERALD, Cruiser, 7,550 tons, Reserve Fleet at the Nore. [Interesting to note that the Capt. of HMS EMERALD was Capt. A.W.S.Agar, VC, DSO.]
1940. Feb. – appointed Acting Capt. of Armed Merchant Cruiser, HMS JERVIS BAY.

History of HMS JERVIS BAY.
The HMS Jervis Bay was built originally as a passenger ship; its purpose, to carry emigrants to Australia. With WWII beaconing, it was taken over by the Admiralty in August 1939. She was fitted with seven 6-inch guns, dating from the turn of the century, which were distributed around her decks and was repainted grey. Now, lightly armed and riding high in the water, her crew would refer to her as so many other such refurbished ships, as an “Admiralty-made coffin.”.

Her role was designated as that of an ocean escort ship, to guard Atlantic convoys. The British Admiralty were well aware that Germany in the First World War, had frequently employed armed liners, for raiding allied ships and in the Second World War, against such similar liners the HMS Jervis Bay would have had an equal chance of a successful defence, but was no match against an armoured ship.

On the November 5th 1940 in the Atlantic, Captain Fogarty Fegen, was commanding the HMS Jervis Bay, while escorting 38 merchantmen, when they were attacked by the German Pocket Battleship ‘Admiral Scheer‘, commanded by Admiral Captain Theodor Krancke; latter commanding all German naval forces in Western Europe.

History of ADMIRAL SCHEER.

The Admiral Scheer was a Deutschland-class heavy cruiser (often termed a pocket battleship) which served with the Kriegsmarine (War Navy) of Nazi Germany, during World War II. [The vessel was named after Admiral Reinhard Scheer, German commander in the Battle of Jutland.]
She was built at the Reichsmarinewerft shipyard in Wilhelmshaven, in June 1931 and was completed by November 1934. Originally classified as an armoured ship (Panzerschiff) by the Reichsmarine, in February 1940 the Germans reclassified the remaining two other ships of this class as ‘heavy cruisers’.

The ‘Admiral Scheer’ had slipped through the Denmark Strait and into the open Atlantic on the night of October 31st, on her first combat offensive of WWII. Now hunting in the North Atlantic, her radio intercept equipment quickly identified convoy HX-84, as being in the surrounding sea area. An on board seaplane (Heinkel He 60) launched from a catapult on the ‘Admiral Scheer’, eventually located the HX-84 convoy on the morning of November 5th, some 144 km, (90 mls) from their then North Atlantic position.

Sometime in the late afternoon a lookout on board the ‘SS Rangitiki’, latter the tallest of the convoy ships, observed the mast of the Admiral Scheer on the horizon. At about 4:45pm Capt. Fogarty Fegen sounded action stations and began accelerating his ship out of its convoy position; to head toward the Admiral Scheer, firing the ship’s 6-inch guns, while aware he was well out of range of the enemy craft.

It was only Admiral Scheer’s third salvo that struck the Jervis Bay’s bridge, knocking out her rangefinder, wireless, and fire-control equipment, while also killing several officers and crewmen in the blast. Captain Fegen’s left arm was very badly injured in the strike.

Darkness was falling as Admiral Krancke continued to train his big guns on the Jervis Bay, with each salvo launching two and a half tons of ordnance at the stricken vessel. Admiral Krancke knew he needed to quickly sink Jervis Bay in order that he would have sufficient time to attack the rest of the convoy.

However, Jervis Bay continued steaming towards Admiral Scheer while firing her guns, until her steering gear was knocked out. Nevertheless, the heroic actions of the Jervis Bay had now saved most of the convoy, but Capt. Fegen’s actions would cost him his life and that of his ship.

With Captain Fegen now dead, Lt. Cmdr. George Roe, in assumed command, ordered the remaining crew members to abandon ship. Most of the surviving Jervis Bay crew simply jumped into the icy, sub-Arctic sea, some making it to existing rafts, while others made do with what debris they could find floating on the water’s surface.

Captain Olander of the Stureholm, impressed by the courage shown by Captain Fegen and Jervis Bay, called his ship’s crew together and proposed they return to the scene to search for possible survivors. The crew of this Swedish ship agreed, and the freighter returned to the battle scene, where it was able to pull just 68 men of Jervis Bay’s crew (of the 266 man crew) from the freezing sea, (three of same died after being rescued and were buried at sea that night).

Stureholm then returned to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, considering it the safer of two options; arriving back there on November 12th.

The remaining 38 ships of the convoy, which had taken advantage of the time the Jervis Bay had bought for them, had scattered. With Jervis Bay sunk the ‘Admiral Scheer’ continued in search of the now scattered convoy ships managed to sink only five of them.

Note: – Names of Officers of ‘H.M.S. Jervis Bay’, are hereunder coloured in Purple denoting those known ‘Killed’, while names coloured in Red denote those as ‘Missing, Presumed Killed’.
Back row left to rightGunner E.R. Stannard, Lieut. Richard Shackleton, Surgeon-Lieut. H.St.J. Hiley, Paymaster Lieut. A.W. Stott, Lieut. Hugh Williamson (chief radio officer), Lieut. A.H.W. Bartle, Lieut. Norman E. Wood, Lieut. Walter Hill, Lieut.-Commdr. George L. Roe, Lieut. H.G.B. Moss, Paymaster Lieut. J.G. Sargeant.
Middle row left to rightPaymaster Commdr. E.W. White, Lieut. Commdr. K.M. Morrison, Commdr. J.A.P. Blackburn, D.S.C., Capt. E.S. Fogarty Fegen , V.C., Engineer Commdr. J.H.G. Chappell, Lieut. Commdr. A.W. Driscoll.
Front rowleft to right – Wireless Operator Donald Curry, Midshn. Owens, Midshn. Ronald A.G. Butler, Midshn. C.C.T. Latch, Midshn. W.B. Thistleton.

Other senior officers of the vessel, including Surgeon Lieut. Commdr. T.G. Evans, Lieut. Dudlet J.H. Bigg, and Sub-Lt. Guy Byam-Corstiaens, are not shown in the picture on the above video.

In one of Winston Churchill’s War Time Speeches entitled. “Forward, Till the Whole Task is Done”,communicated on May 13th, 1945. he states: –
“When I think of these days I think also of other episodes and personalities. I think of Lieutenant-Commander Esmonde, VC, or Lance-Corporal Connally, VC, and Captain Fegen, VC, and other Irish heroes that I could easily recite, and then I must confess that bitterness by Britain against the Irish race dies in my heart.”

The war ended for the Admiral Scheer in April 1945, when she was capsized in about 50 feet of water during a 300-plane air raid at Kiel harbour, on the southwestern coast of the Baltic Sea.

Captain Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen was recommended for the Victoria Cross by Britain’s King George VI, who was said to be “stirred deeply” by Fegen’s sacrifice. “When [Captain Fegen] attacked by the Admiral Scheer,” wrote King George VI in his diary, “he knew he was going to certain death.” The medal was awarded to Fegen’s sister, Miss M.C. Fegen, by His Majesty King George VI, at an investiture at Buckingham Palace, in June of 1941.

A citation for Capt. Fegen’s Victoria Cross was published in the London Gazette on November 22nd 1940.

It read: – “The King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Victoria Cross to the late Commander (acting Captain) Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen, Royal Navy, for valour in challenging hopeless odds and giving his life to save the many ships it was his duty to protect”.

Memorials can be found to Captain Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen at; Chatham Naval Memorial, Chatham, Kent, UK (Marker: 34. 1); on a sundial, at Hamilton, Bermuda; on a 4 meter high Column in the Hospital grounds at St John, New Brunswick, Canada, the Seaman’s Institute, Wellington, New Zealand and on a little known Naval Memorial headstone the walled-in old graveyard, beside the ivy covered, ancient ruins of a Church in Drom, Borrisoleigh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland. His body was lost at sea never to be located and thus he remains listed as ‘Missing, Presumed Killed’.

A Certificate from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) archives, can be downloaded directly from HERE.

In ár gcroíthe go deo.

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