Mid-Ocean Escort Force

Mid-Ocean Escort Force

Mid-Ocean Escort Force (MOEF) referred to the organization of anti-submarine escorts for World War II trade convoys between Canada and the British Isles. The allocation of United States, British, and Canadian escorts to these convoys reflected preferences of the United States upon their declaration of war, and the organization persisted through the winter of 1942-43 despite withdrawal of United States ships from the escort groups. By the summer of 1943, United States Atlantic escorts were focused on the faster CU convoys and the UG convoys between Chesapeake Bay and the Mediterranean Sea; and only British and Canadian escorts remained on the HX, SC and ON convoys.

HMCS Sackville, preserved at Halifax Harbour, is believed to be the only survivor of the MOEF Flower class corvettes
United States Coast Guard cutter Ingham, shown here in a post-war configuration, is one of the few larger MOEF escorts to be preserved



On the basis of experience during World War I, the Admiralty instituted trade convoys in United Kingdom coastal waters from September, 1939.[1] Anti-submarine escorts were allocated on the basis of perceived threat. Early German Type II submarines from bases in Germany were unable to operate effectively beyond European coastal waters. Following acquisition of bases in Norway and France, German Type IX submarines and German Type VII submarines refueled by German Type XIV submarines operated in the mid-Atlantic beyond the range of patrolling aircraft. Many anti-submarine escorts lacked the endurance to accompany convoys through the mid-Atlantic. HX 129 left Halifax on 27 May 1941 as the first convoy to receive escort for the entire trip.[2] Escorts based in Halifax Harbour handed HX 129 off to escorts based in Newfoundland who subsequently transferred HX 129 to escorts based in Iceland who in turn delivered HX 129 to escorts based in the Western Approaches.

American Escorts

USS Reuben James was sunk while escorting convoy HX 156

In Newfoundland on 9 August 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to provide American destroyers for the Canada to Iceland portion of HX convoys and westbound ON convoys.[3] HX 150 sailed 16 September 1941 as the first convoy with American escort.[4] ON 18 sailed 24 September as the first westbound convoy with American escort.[5] The Royal Canadian Navy continued to escort the SC convoys and their slower ON counterparts.[6] Canadian escort groups were increased from a nominal strength of four ships to six -- typically one Canadian River class destroyer with five Flower class corvettes.[7]

The Gleaves class destroyer Kearny was torpedoed while escorting Convoy SC 48 on 17 October 1941.[8] Clemson class destroyer Reuben James was torpedoed and sunk on 31 October 1941 while escorting Convoy HX 156.[9] When the United States declared war, American escort groups typically contained five destroyers, although six USCG Treasury class cutters were included within the pool of ships rotating in and out of these escort groups.[10]

Long-Range Escort Organization

As the United States Navy struggled to find enough destroyers to meet escort needs for both the Pacific and the vulnerable Atlantic coastal shipping, the shorter great-circle route from Newfoundland to the British Isles was considered as a means of eliminating meeting point delays and reducing the number of destroyers required for escort of convoys between Canada and the United Kingdom. Initial proposals by the United States on 24 January 1942 produced an agreement in early February for a Mid-Ocean Escort Force organization of fourteen Escort Groups.[11] American-led Escort Groups were prefixed with the letter "A"; while "B" indicated British-led Escort Groups and "C" designated Canadian-led Escort Groups. Fifteen United States destroyers, fifteen Royal Navy destroyers and twelve Canadian destroyers were to provide the striking power of these escort groups while fifty-two British and forty-nine Canadian Flower class corvettes were to perform the patrolling role. Approximately one-third of the theoretical MOEF escort Group strength of three destroyers and seven corvettes was unavailable at any given time.[12] Half of the unavailable ships needed storm or battle damage repairs,[13] and the remainder were undergoing normal refit and training.

Each MOEF escort Group worked in a 33-day cycle allowing nine and one-half days with a westbound ON convoy, six days in St. John's, Newfoundland, nine and one-half days with an eastbound HX or SC convoy, and 8 days refit in Derry.[14] The shorter routing away from Iceland eliminated the need for most escorts to attempt maintenance in Iceland's poorly equipped Hvalfjörður anchorage; but the United States was required to maintain an additional force of five destroyers in Iceland to escort ships between trans-Atlantic convoys and United States military occupation bases. The Royal Navy continued to provide an eastern local escort force of Naval trawlers in the Western Approaches while Canada continued to provide a Western Local Escort Force (WLEF) of corvettes, minesweepers, and short-range destroyers between Halifax Harbour and Newfoundland.[15]

Initial MOEF Escort Group Composition

USS Benson was one of the modern United States destroyers initially assigned to MOEF and later diverted to escort troop convoys

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