A lot has been said on the job of being a convoy escort in previous newsletters and in the various forums. But for all the strategy and positioning and such that goes into it and there is a lot, the single biggest part of protecting a convoy is keeping your warship with the convoy. With apologies to Admiral Nelson – “A escorting Captain can do no wrong who puts his ship alongside the convoy.” Since I’ve been the designated convoy escort more times than not, I though I’d impart some “wisdom” learned over the years.
The protecting warship Captain (who I’ll refer to as Commodore) is responsible for the convoy, and that’s whom I’m addressing in this paragraph. Commodores of a convoy aren’t to get involved in a gun battle. That’s for the other warships of the fleet to worry about. Getting involved in a gunnery duel will pull the defending warship off the convoy, and allow the convoy to get pounced on by another enemy warship. Gunnery for a warship on convoy patrol is more as a deterrence. Basically just to give the enemy something to think about. If it slows down an attacking warship, or causes it to back off, then the job is done. Many times just keeping the turrets tracking the attacking warship (without firing) is enough to give them a bit of a pause and cause at least a subtle change of tactics. That’s generally enough to get another several feet towards the goal of a convoy run without new damage. As long as the attacking warship’s Captain thinks someone is alive at the gunnery position, many times the job is done for keeping the convoy afloat and underway. The Commodore of the transport fleet also needs to keep an overall situational awareness of the pond and keeping track of which ships are where. Friendly ships as well as enemy ships. If you need reinforcement, it’s a good idea to know which direction it will come from. Knowing where the enemy ships are coming from gives you the opportunity to give the direction to the convoy to maneuver out of the way and time for you to maneuver into position to block or blunt the attack. The idea overall isn’t for the escort to take a lot of damage instead of the convoy, just to ruin the shot so that ALL units in your fleet take reduced or no damage. The Commodore also needs to keep directions continually going out to their charges. Convoy Captains are generally green, and need a lot of attention. Getting in some maneuvering time prior to a battle is a good idea for the convoy fleet to get used to each other and the crazy Commodore ostensibly in charge of it. If a convoy ship falls out of formation and gets pounced on? Leave it. Better to have one badly mauled or sunk convoy vessel than adding a warship into it and leaving other ships of the convoy undefended. Besides, the enemy’s time spent dispatching a rogue transport is time very well spent for your convoy getting around the pond otherwise uncontested. Nothing like a bit of chum thrown well away from your position to distract/preoccupy the sharks. I wish I could give specifics of how to do this exactly and do that exactly, but once the hostilities commence all but the basic plans outlined above go OUT the window, so I’ll save the specifics. Sometimes the escort needs to follow the convoy to starboard, other times to port. Sometimes the escort needs to be leading, other times following, sometimes directly to port or starboard of the fleet. It all depends on the situation which is very dynamic on the pond changing from minute to minute and sometimes second to second, and it all gets back to the Commodore’s situational awareness for knowing where to deploy the escort vessel at that precise moment.
The transport captains in the convoy have their job to do as well, and I’m addressing them in this paragraph. Transport Captains need to follow the directions given by the Commodore without question. Occasionally those directions may seem insane, other times they ARE totally insane, but the Commodore is responsible for the transports safety and keeping them afloat. The time to question the directions given, is AFTER following them. This is not to say all of those directions will be perfect, or even correct, but if the Commodore issues directions to go left and they’re planning on covering the right side from an attack, and the transports do something else, the escorting warship will absolutely not be able to get into a positive position to provide protection. When a convoy panics and scatters, the escorting ship can’t protect any of them, and indeed will likely end up a very damaged ship trying to do so by engaging enemy warships on their terms.
That’s about it in a nutshell for successful convoy runs. Nothing fancy, no grandiose tactics per se. Just keep it together and keep your wits about you and you stand a good chance of making it home.
USS Dallas CA140
Designated convoy escort since 2002