May 12 1942 was a calm hazy lazy day typical of Plymouth in mid May, the gorse in blossom, the air sweetly scented by the ocean.
At approximately 12.50 Plymouth Sound erupted to the roar of aero engines and naval gunfire.
Attack on Plymouth Sound
Measuring 53 x 81 cms (21” x 32”), oils, available for exhibition, (sold).
Painted in 2014 as a book cover for the author David J.B. Smith who wrote on the 04 March 2014 “The painting looks absolutely fantastic with all the detail picked out“.
Alas you can’t fully appreciate the research and detail here on Facebook, still, I hope you have the ‘flavour to enjoy.
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This painting, developed from conversations followed by sketches was specifically designed to become a book cover.
Sketch for D J B Smith
David Smith’s previous book ‘Being Silent They a Speak‘ became an Amazon best seller.
At the time of the attack, unfortunately for the attackers, H. M. Ships Wolverine, Brockelsby and Cleveland were putting to sea. Wolverine and Brockelsby promptly engages the attacking Me 109’s.
I was able to visit the location several times and discuss the action at length and in detail with author David J B Smith, mostly in the congenial “Kings Arms” at nearby Oreston.
David J.B. Smith & Gordon Frickers
The principal action in this painting is the convoy in the bay under Jennycliff and Me 109 no 8 attacking it.
There is a considerable amount of other historical detail shown in this painting, for example over the distant Cawsand bay, a small detail is a Walrus flying boat (they were based at RAF Mount Batten) making a hasty turn away from the Me 109’s.
On the subject of Me 109’s, David found and I built an exact model of our aircraft as an aid to perspective.
Me 109 bf model
All as usual meticulously researched in this case with my supervising the aid of the excellent Mr. David J B Smith.
We established the convoy which had anchored for a few hours in Jennycliff bay was made up of 7 merchant vessels, 1 of the 7 was at Echo Buoy, eventually we found the names of all the merchant ships.
Eye witness reports mention a small convoy at anchor, stopping over in Plymouth Sound on route from Wales to Portsmouth
There was no surviving ‘official’ record. The vessels would have had there names painted out and been typical merchant ships of that period. The guard ship was HMS Wolverine.
Plymouth defenses included booms stretched from both ends of the Breakwater to Fort Picklecombe and Bovisand Fort respectively, the sharp eyed will notice a boom vessel at work with the western boom.
The attacking German aircraft would have attacked in line astern and been at about 1/2 a kilometer apart for mutual protection and so as not to interfere with each other’s attacks.
We know one pealed off to attack Wolverine. sinking British destroyers was a Luftwaffe priority, hence some confusion in official reports re the number of Me 109’s that attacked Plymouth Sound shipping.
We know about the barrage balloons and their barges. They were used in most parts of the Plymouth waters. There were at least 2 of them that should appear in our painting.
Old wooden schooners were often used for the duty which left the poor old ships ruined by the end of the war.
Documents, rare raw reports related to the attack by 6 ME 109 bf’s, one damaged by naval gunfire and a second was shot down while attacking shipping in Plymouth Sound.
The attack was a surprise, the HMS Wolverine report confirms the lack of warning and speed of attack, the ground defenses did not engage the aircraft.
The Wolverine report is dated the 16th, 1942, same as the others.
The other account is from the Plymouth Command War Diary from that day.
vessels anchored in the Sound & Jenny Cliff bay at around the same time.
The account by the RAAF is great and mentions a burning barrage balloon attached to the center of the Breakwater.
HMS Wolverine was outside the western entrance in front of the other two warships when the attack started.
I checked out the dazzle camouflage scheme used at that time by the Royal Navy at that time in that theater so we know that is ‘spot on’.
Two Bf 109’s peeled off to attack Wolverine. The German Bf 109 pilots flew in a Schwarm of 6 aircraft thus each had his own wing man.
They flew in groups of two, close together.
These two aircraft were called a Rotte.
The damage report for HMS Wolverine from my source at the National Archives. In the report it goes over the attack in great detail with additional subject matter we did not know about before.
The report by Wolverines Captain says there were 6 ME109’s.
It says the weather was fine but hazy patches of very low thin cloud.
The aircraft all approached from the east. They machine gunned and dropped bombs just missing a vessel at Echo Buoy.
It says Wolverine was outside the western entrance when the attack happened.
She was the furthest ship out. Followed by Cleveland & then Brockelsby.
It also says & is confirmed by other reports that a second aircraft was damaged on departure.
We have the barrage balloons on the Break Water, which I believe is correct, the report says that a ‘waterborne barrage balloon’ was shot down into the sea.
Barrage balloons were often attached to moored (stationary) small craft which in turn were often wooden sailing ships, schooners and such like stripped of their spares. Many a fine old vessel was ruined in this way and abandoned to rot after the war.
The report of the attack specifically aimed at HMS Wolverine estimated the bombs used were no more than 250 lbs in weight. This shows us that each aircraft was carrying 4 of the smaller SC 50 bombs. This would mean more bomb splashes. So our thoughts of each aircraft carrying a single SC 250 (550 kg) bomb is incorrect.
Our aircraft could still have had bombs on her belly as she turned away to head out to sea again. It also says that two bombs missed and exploded astern of Wolverine and the other bounced of her deck killing one sailor and that it exploded fifteen yards off her starboard side about midships.
More recently, divers discovered the Bf 109 aircraft wreck in Cawsand Bay.
Me 1o9 detailed:
The Me 109 F-4/B of group 10/JG2
David found photographs of a Bf 109 F4/B aircraft colours showing a plane from the same squadron, only our aircraft is No 8.
The definitive aircraft livery. Note the yellow under the nose and the yellow tail rudder with sunk ship kill markings on. All the aircraft in this 10/JG2 section shared the same tail kill markings.
10/JG2 where a fighter bomber unit. They flew in Schwarms in groups of 4.
They bombed targets and left. Because of this it was hard to attribute a certain hit to a specific pilot, so the group all displayed the same kill markings.
If they were just a fighter unit they would be in a specific dog fight and have individual kill markings.
10/JG2 at this time were not. This is documented
A tiny detail, note the red fox on the nose, squadron ‘symbol’.
David found two original WW2 photos of the same A/C type from 10/JG2 so could write confidently, “These colours and markings are definitely the Bf 109’s which attack our convoy in Jennycliff Bay 1942“.
He also found photos of the bombs and how they were attached to the aircraft.
In flight the tail rudder for a port hand turn like our BF 109 should be to the left.
On the port & stb BF 109 wings are control surfaces known as ailerons (outer wing flaps). When you bank to the left (Port), your left wing aileron is up and the right wing aileron is down.
Plymouth Sound attack, 1942 (detail)
The number in Blue 8 on our Bf 109 is correct.
David found “3 cracking photos of the SC 250 bomb” the aircraft carried.
He also established “all of the 6 Bf 109’s were only carrying one SC 250 kg bomb each“.
David “also found out that our Bf 109 dropped his bomb after his final turn whilst on his way out. This would mean he would still have the bomb showing in the painting as he turns“.
We had to confirm the height, spring or neap, the strength and direction of the tides because in Plymouth Sound the currents change frequently and are very complex.
Cawsand from Plymouth Hoe
We were able to confirm the position on Echo Buoy in Plymouth sound.
It was in the same location in 1942.
Eastern entrance to Plymouth Sound seen from Jennycliff.
The tide graph shows the tide was ebbing, low water was at 14:00 ish.
Tidal Diamonds for Plymouth Sound
It was not a spring tide. We needed to know because it affects the the direction the ships would be lying. Eddys etc may effect small craft but not warships.
The Admiralty buoy ‘Echo Buoy’ mentioned in relation to the convoy is the buoy nearest to Plymouth out of the 3 buoys Charlie, Delta & Echo. It is virtually in the middle of the sound.
My own Admiralty Chart of Plymouth Sound was also useful.
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