HMT Bedfordshire. Photo courtesy of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

The Sinking of the HMT Bedfordshire:

The Bedfordshire began its life as a small deep-sea fishing vessel designed for artic trawling. Its area of fishing was in the Arctic waters up until the beginning of WWII. At that time she was retrofitted and requisitioned by the Royal Navy for military service. At the beginning of her duties, HMT Bedfordshire escorted ships and performed anti-submarine duties around the southwest coast of England and the Bristol Channel. During her time of duty, Bedfordshire became a well-seasoned patrol boat, surviving several attacks from aircraft. Also, she launched several depth charge attacks on suspected U-boats.

Prior to the United States' involvement in WWII, there was an abundance of ships left over from WWI. Under the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, the United States had lent England fifty outdated WWI era destroyers and ten Lake Class Coast Guard Cutters. At the time it seemed like a suitable deal, however, during the first six months of 1942 it became a serious problem. The German U-boats were wreaking havoc along the East Coast. What had started off with England seeking help from the United States now turned to a reversal of fortune. The United States was seeking help from England to help patrol this area known as Torpedo Alley.

England sent to the United States two dozen armed trawlers along with their crews. These ships had been fishing trawlers that had their trawling gear replaced with depth-charge racks and deck guns and small arms. Their refrigerated holds swapped out fish for ammunition magazines. Though these were still British ships, they were under orders from U.S. Naval authorities. Bedfordshire was one of those trawlers sent to the United States.

In the spring of 1942, Bedfordshire was based in Morehead City, North Carolina. It didn't take long for Bedfordshire to be involved in U-boat activity. On the morning of April 14, she provided protection for the USS Roper (DD-147). The Roper had just sunk the U-85 off Nags Head and had been recovering bodies from the U-boat. Under the command of Lieutenant R.B. Davis, the trawler patrolled an area from Norfolk, Virginia to Cape Lookout, North Carolina. Her duties were to escort ships and convoys around the Diamond Shoals. Bedfordshire's other duties included antisubmarine warfare patrols.

At one point while docked in Morehead City, the trawler received a visitor. Aycock Brown was a civilian investigator for the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). His investigations were to identify any bodies that washed ashore or recovered at sea. Also, he collected and analyzed any intelligence gained from bodies and debris. He recently had been assigned to identify four bodies that had been recovered from the surf above Nags Head. The bodies had been from the British tanker, San Delfino, that had been torpedoed by U-203 on April 9, 1942. Since the bodies would be interred on American soil, U.S. Naval authorities thought that the funeral should include the use of British flags. Which just happen to why he came aboard the Bedfordshire. He requested of Sub-Lieutenant Thomas Cunningham the flags to be used in the ceremony. Brown was escorted to the wardroom, where the flags were kept. While there they also drank some rum. After partaking of the rum, Cunningham gave him the four flags plus an extra two.

The Bedfordshire continued her patrols returning to Morehead City whenever she needed coal and supplies. During these patrols that didn't see any action. While in dock at Morehead City on May 9 when the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Icarus sank the U-352 twenty miles away. While docked in Morehead City, the crew frequently stopped to pick up provisions. They also liked to have a good time as young men and would wander around town drinking and wooing women. On May 10, 1942, the sailors were out on the town for a fun evening. Four crewmen including stoker Samuel Nutt and cook Richard Salmon, never made it back on board before it departed the following afternoon. The four sailors found themselves in jail following their alcohol-fueled antics. 

So on May 11, 1942, the Bedfordshire set off to escort a convoy to Hatteras. It then joined another British trawler, St. Loman, to search for any U-boats along the eastern shipping lanes. At that time, the German U-boat U-558 was operating in Bedfordshire's patrol area. The U-558 was commandeered by Kapitänleutant Gunther Krech. Up to this time, Krech while patrolling from Maine to Georgia had not had any success with sinking any vessels. In the early hours of May 12, the U-558 noticed Bedfordshire. The U-boat got into position and fired two torpedoes that missed their target. Those missed torpedoes weren't even noticed by the crew aboard the Bedfordshire. At 5:40 AM, the U-558 repositioned itself and fired a third torpedo. This torpedo hit its mark and was followed by a massive explosion. The explosion was so powerful it lifted the trawler out of the water and the ship sank immediately. The attack happened so quickly there was no time to send a distress signal. Also, the explosion left no evidence of the ship. For several days the Navy wasn't aware of the Bedfordshire's sinking since there were no witnesses, signals, or survivors. The first clue came when crewmembers began washing up on the beaches along the coast.

Two days after Thomas Cunningham's and Stanley Craig's bodies were discovered, the Eastern Sea Frontier Command's Enemy Activity and Distress Report recorded their deaths. At the same time as their bodies being discovered an empty life raft was found washed ashore. At that point since the Bedfordshire hadn't been heard from since May 11, officials recategorized it as missing and possibly sunk. Four other bodies were later recovered. Thirty-three other crewmen's bodies were never found and were assumed they were trapped aboard the trawler when it sunk.

An Ocracoke family out of respect donated a tiny burial plot adjacent to their own cemetery. Two British flags were draped over Cunningham's and Craig's coffins. These were the same two flags that Cunningham himself gave to the Naval Intelligence officer Aycock Brown. Two other recovered bodies were buried beside the two other men. The two other bodies, including seaman Alfred Dryden, were buried in other local cemeteries on the Outer Banks.



Built: 1935 Sunk: May 12, 1942
Type of Vessel: Converted armed trawler Owner: British Navy
Builder: Smith's Dock Company, South Bank, Middlesborough, England Power: Coal-fired Steam
Port of registry: Grimsby Dimensions: 162'  x 26'  x 14' 
Previous Names:   


Here is the location of the sinking:  34° 10'N, 76° 41'W



Total Lost: 37, Survivors: 0

LastFirstDate of DeathPositionHomeAge
Barnes Frederick William May 12, 1942 Engineman Brynmawr, Brecknockshire 31
Bennett Stanley May 12, 1942 Ordinary Seaman  Comer Brook, Newfoundland 23
Bickford Leonard Preston May 12, 1942 Seaman Brixton, London 29
Bowen Ernest Geoge May 12, 1942 Seaman Landore, Glamorgan 22
Carruthers Edward Sydney May 12, 1942 Ordinary Seaman Newtown, Carlisle, Cumberland 20
Cerriono George Whiley May 12, 1942 Leading Seaman Grimsby, Lincolnshire 24
Clemence William Frederick W. May 12, 1942 Ordinary Seaman Sutton, Surrey 21
Clutterbuck Henry May 12, 1942 Sub-Lieutenant Birmingham 24
Cragg Francis May 12, 1942 Ordinary Seaman Liverpool 18
Craig Stanley R. May 12, 1942 Ordinary Telegraphist Balham, London 24
Cunningham Thomas May 12, 1942 Sub-Lieutenant Blackpool, Lancashire 27
Davis Russell Bransby May 12, 1942 Lieutenant Caldy, Cheshire 29
Davis Russell Samuel May 12, 1942 Ordinary Seaman Sydney, Nova Scotia 18
Dick John Rowan May 12, 1942 Seaman Girvan 32
Dicks Thomas Maxwell May 12, 1942 Ordinary Seaman Placentia Bay, Newfoundland 28
Dryden Alfred May 12, 1942 Seaman Berwick-on-Tweed, Northumberland 32
Duncan Andrew Watt May 12, 1942 Chief Engineman Rosehearty 42
Featherstone Geoffrey May 12, 1942 Telegraphist Barnsley, Yorkshire 21
Fisher George Henry May 12, 1942 Stoker 2nd Class    
Ford Herbert May 12, 1942 Seaman Sheerness-on-Sea, Kent 34
Hall Bruce May 12, 1942 Sub-Lieutenant Penrhiwceiber, Glamorgan  
Kelly Joseph May 12, 1942 Seaman    
Lee William May 12, 1942 Leading Seaman Garrabost, Isle of Lewis 30
Lukins Ernest William May 12, 1942 Petty Officer Stoker Barton Hill, Bristol 37
Maltby Frederick Francis May 12, 1942 Leading Seaman Swansea 31
McCauley James Lorne May 12, 1942 Ordinary Seaman Fort Williams, Ontario 19
McCrindle Alexander Allan May 12, 1942 Seaman    
McKenzie Angus May 12, 1942 Stoker    
Morton Ernest Neil May 12, 1942 Ordinary Seaman Truro, Cornwall 20
Myers William John May 12, 1942 Stoker Staines, Middlesex 34
Smitten Sidney William May 12, 1942 Ordinary Seaman Hackney, London 20
Stone Percy Ernest May 12, 1942 Seaman Hallsands, Devon 25
Sweeney John May 12, 1942 Ordinary Seaman Newfoundland  
Travell Charles James May 12, 1942 Ordinary Signalman    
Watson Thomas Alexander May 12, 1942 Ordinary Signalman Paignton, Devon 26
White Charles William May 12, 1942 Ordinary Telegraphist West Pinchbeck, Lincolnshire 29
Williams Leslie Joseph May 12, 1942 Stoker Dormanstown, Yorkshire 28


A  listing of the surviving crew: 




Photos of  Bedfordshire:

Remains of the HMT Bedfordshire. Photo courtesy of  NOAA. 


Remains of the HMT Bedfordshire. Photo courtesy of  NOAA.
Remains of unexploded depth charges near the stern. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
An archeologist surveys the remains of the HMT Bedfordshire. Photo courtesy of  NOAA. 
Multibeam sonar image of the HMT Bedfordshire. Photo courtesy of  NOAA. 

General arrangements of the Bedfordshire. Photo courtesy of  Greenwich Maritime Museum. 
Sub-Lieutenant Thomas Cunningham. Photo courtesy of Alison O'Leary.
The crew of the HMT Bedfordshire. Photo courtesy of  Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. 
Following the 1942 burial at the British Cemetary on Ocracoke Island, NC. Photo courtesy of Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.
The British Cemetary on Ocracoke Island, NC. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

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