No Escape For The Beaverford

By James Donahue

The Beaverford was a modest commercial steamship built in 1927 for passenger and freight service between London and ports on the St. Lawrence River. She was one of a fleet of vessels owned by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company and would probably have escaped historical attention if it had not been for the war.

As were all available ships of that period, the Beaverford was requisitioned by the British Admiralty for war service. She began running in convoys between America and England carrying arms and other vital supplies for the war effort. And the German Navy was actively working to stop those convoys.

It was on November 5, 1940 that the Beaverford was part of a 38-ship convoy, identified as HX84, laden with supplies and bound for England. The sole escort for the convoy was the passenger liner Jervis Bay, now converted to the role of an armed merchant cruiser.

The armaments on the Jervis Bay were seven six-inch guns dating from before the First World War. She carried a crew of 255 and flew a White Ensign. Her commander was Captain E. S. Fogarty Fegen.

When the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer appeared on the horizon, the convoy found itself to be "sitting ducks" for disaster. The convoy was ordered to scatter and Fegen turned the Jervis Bay toward the approaching battleship, knowing his ship stood no chance of survival in the confrontation.

The Jervis Bay dropped smoke floats in an effort to screen itself from the Scheer’s eleven inch guns and tried to bring her own six inch guns in range. But she never got close enough for her guns to do any damage. The big guns of the battleship quickly tore into Jervis Bay, destroying the bridge, the gun center, and killing not only the captain but most of the officers. When they abandoned the sinking ship, only 65 members of the crew of 255 got away in the small boats.

Now the Scheer turned on other convoy vessels. Her guns struck the oil tanker San Demetrio, setting it ablaze. The crew also escaped in small boats as the tanker went up in flames.

Next the battleship overhauled the Beaverford. It was just getting nightfall and the Beaverford’s skipper, Captain E. Pettigrew knew that his ship was doomed. In what has been described as an amazing act of bravery, Pettigrew turned his ship toward the looming battleship, its forward four-inch gun firing until the Scheer’s guns destroyed the Beaverford. The ship exploded and sank, taking its entire crew of 77 to the bottom with it.

It was said the actions of both the Jervis Bay and the Beaverford helped stop the advancing Scheer enough that most of the other ships in the convoy escaped destruction that day.

Five other ships were destroyed, however. They were Fresno City, Kenbane Head, Maidan, Mopan and Trewellard. A total of 91 other sailors perished in those vessels.

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