World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                          Alan Simms 

Baptism of Fire

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Alan Simms
Location of story: North Atlantic Russian Convoys
Unit name: Merchant Navy, R Chapman + sons


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Wendy Atkinson of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Alan Simms.

Alan Sims joined the Merchant Navy, as an apprentice officer at the age of 16. His first trip to sea proved a lively one for Alan and his friend, Harold Stanfield, who were both from Goole. They were on their first trip to sea through Arctic waters. The ship, the Empire Cowper, was in a convoy to Murmansk with valuable aid of civilian and military supplies to Russia.

The ship managed to get through with the valuable cargo, but on the way home, four-engined Nazi planes attacked the convoy. Their ship received a direct hit and after being sunk, the crew got into life rafts; thankfully it was calm seas. 8 men were missing and 27 rescued, there were extra gunners from Army and Navy personnel with them.

In the first attack, three bombs fell astern, doing no harm, but about twenty minutes later, two more planes attacked with machine gun fire and bombs. The bombs caused the ship to catch fire. After they had left the ship, another air attack occured and the vessel sank. "It all happened so suddenly, we had no time to be firghtened," said Alan.

HMS Blackheath, one of the two escort trawlers, rescued them and took them to Reykjavik in Iceland. There, they were transferred to the cruiser HMS Liverpool which took them to Scapa Flow, from where they took a ferry to Thurso, a train to Doncaster, and then Goole. They were given three weeks leave then sent back to sea.