Walter Edward GOMERY
At Home in South Kirkby, Yorkshire
Walter Edward Gomery was the eldest son of Percival John Gomery, a miner at the Frickley Pit in South Kirkby, Yorkshire and his wife Charlotte Ainsworth. Percy and Charlotte had a family of seven children:-
Walter and his mother Charlotte photographed together before he left for the war c.1942
The Edinburgh was a 10,000 ton cruiser, only one of two of this type, the other being the Belfast. Built at Wallsend in 1938 she was commissioned with the Home Fleet in 1939 and commanded by one of the most popular captains in the Royal Navy, Captain Hugh Faulkner (later to become Rear-Admiral Faulkner, CB, CBE, DSO). Edinburgh was 613 feet long with a 63 foot beam and an extensive fo'c'sle deck running beyond the bridge. She was powered by Parson's geared turbines giving 80,000 horse power and an official speed of 33 knots, but could unofficially reach 37 knots. The best of modern technical equipment had been incorporated into the ship - the most up to date asdic equipment to detect submarines; the latest radar equipment. Her weaponry was impressive - four triple turrets of 6-inch guns controlled from director towers which contained "highly technical electronic computer tables" which calculated the gun elevation and angles required to hit the enemy moving at a given course and speed; twelve 4-inch guns; four three pounders; sixteen smaller guns used to produce a barrage of fire against enemy aircraft; 21-inch torpedoes with a 750 lb warhead on TNT on either side of the ship; two hangers which housed Walrus aircraft launched from the catapult launching deck.
Arctic Convoy PQ14
Royal Navy destroyers and cruisers escorted the merchant ships from Iceland to Murmansk and back to protect them from attack by German U-boats, planes and navy. One thing could always be guaranteed and that was that they would be attacked at some time during the journey so there was no time to relax and let your guard down. If you were lucky there was fog, cloud and snow clouds to hide in; if your were unlucky it was 24 hours daylight and clear weather.
Convoy PQ14 comprised twenty three merchantmen carrying guns, tanks, planes, ammunition and trucks to supply Russia. Ten of these cargo ships were British, nine American, three Russian and one Greek. They sailed from Reykjavik at 1400 on Wednesday 8 April 1942 accompanied by eight small escorts of anti-submarine trawlers and minesweepers, making a rendezvous with Edinburgh, another large destroyer and a corvette on Sunday 12 April. Between Wednesday 8th and Sunday 12th the convoy had encountered a thick field of drifting ice, as the Polar ice barrier was further south than usual given the time of year. This coupled with heavy fog had made it virtually impossible for the cargo vessels to maintain convoy formation and many had been forced to turn back after suffering damage. Edinburgh joined a convoy of only eight merchant ships with an impressive escort of six destroyers, four corvettes, four minesweepers and two trawlers.
On Tuesday 14th the convoy was spotted by a German reconnaissance plane, and on Thursday they encountered a number of German submarines. Edinburgh's function was to guard the convoy against surface attack, and there was little she could do to help the destroyers in their job of forming a protective screen around the cargo ships. It was no place for a large cruiser vulnerable to U-boat attack, so Edinburgh took up position 10 miles astern of the convoy. The destroyers dropped pattern after pattern of depth charges chasing the signals from the U-boats. The cargo vessel Empire Howard was lost in this attack along with 2000 tons of military stores and 45 of its 54 crew. The remainder of the convoy arrived at the Kola Inlet at 1100 on Saturday 19 April.
Admiral Bonham-Carter sent the following dispatch about convoy PQ14 to the Admiralty in London:-
"Under present conditions with no hours of darkness, continually under air
observation, submarines concentrating in the bottle necks, torpedo attacks to be expected,
our destroyers unable to carry out a proper hunt and search owing to the oil situation,
serious losses must be expected in every convoy. The remains of PQ14 were extremely lucky
in the weather, in that when the first air attack developed, fog suddenly came down and
though enemy bombers remained overhead for some time trying to sight Edinburgh and the
convoy, they eventually had to leave.
The difficulties of the Russian convoys did not go unnoticed, and concern was expressed by the Admiralty to the Defence Committee, warning them that the losses could become unacceptable. However the War Cabinet lead by the Minister of Defence Winston Churchill put great pressure on to keep the convoys going to aid Russia.
The Return Journey
Two days before Edinburgh was due to leave the Kola Harbour for the return journey to Iceland she was secretly loaded, in the dead of night, with scores of ammunition boxes containing over 5 tons of gold bullion. The bullion was part of a deal between the Russian Government and the US Treasury as down payment on thousands of tons of war equipment for the Red Army. The gold was believed to have been part of a stockpile of bullion accumulated by the last Czar before the Russian Revolution in 1917, so was probably claimed by the Bolsheviks when they murdered the Czar and his family. Convoy QP11 left Murmansk on 28 April to return to the base in Iceland. The convoy consisted of 13 merchant ships - seven British, five American and one Russian, escorted by the British cruiser Edinburgh, six British destroyers, two Russian destroyers, four corvettes, an armed trawler to pick up survivors should the need arise, and four British minesweepers, the latter who would be with the convoy for 300 miles before returning to base at Murmansk.
At 8.00 am on Wednesday 29th the convoy was spotted by a German reconnaissance plane, and a destroyer group plus subs lay in wait. Admiral Bonham-Carter was on board the Edinburgh and it was his idea that it was no place for a large cruiser to be plodding along at the slow speed of the cargo vessels, and he ordered Captain Faulkner to take the cruiser 20 miles ahead in a zigzag course to avoid U-boat attacks. They did this but the mistake was to do it alone, they should have taken a destroyer to provide a screen against attack.
Attack by U-boat 456
As it happened U-boat 456 was lying in wait and they couldn't believe their luck to up periscope and find a lone cruiser directly in their sites - they fired two torpedoes into her. On board Edinburgh the attack had come totally out of the blue. Their asdic operator had reported a contact but the Admiral decided that any U boat that close should be visible from the bridge, and gave the order to disregard - false echoes were not unusual, but it wasn't false. The two torpedoes did terrible damage and killed all personnel in the areas they hit. The ship was virtually unsailable because of the damage and seemed to want to move in circles - even towing was going to be a very slow business, and the Kola Inlet was 250 miles away. The captain managed to get her going on a forward course but the speed had dropped to 2 knots and they were leaving a huge oil slick to signpost their position. They received reports that many German submarines were massing between the Edinburgh and the Kola Inlet, and that German destroyers were heading their way.
The temperature was 10 below freezing with a steady wind blowing off the polar ice cap. The clothing stores had been destroyed, and the galley out of action so the men on lookout and manning the guns above deck huddled together behind screens to get out of the wind, only getting cocoa and sandwiches for sustenance. It was so cold that if a man forgot his gloves and touched exposed steel his flesh would be peeled off like paper. And so they waited. Edinburgh was protected by the destroyers Foresight and Forester, and was then joined by the minesweepers Harrier, Niger and Hussar.
The Final Blow
On the 2nd May they were again attacked and there was a fierce battle. The Edinburgh fought on, moving in her bizarre circular motion she could only fire at the enemy whenever her bows faced in their direction. The Forester took so much damage she was virtually made helpless but had managed to manoeuvre herself close to the Edinburgh when her engines failed and she became a sitting target. The German destroyer Z24 fired two torpedoes at Forester but both passed underneath, missing the keel by a hairsbreadth. One of these torpedoes nearing the end of its run was splashing along the surface of the water losing speed, when the Edinburgh, slowly completing another circuit, crossed its path on a collision course. The torpedo hit Edinburgh dead centre, leaving the ship open from side to side. The enemy ships were still engaged in a fierce gun battle and had no idea this had happened.
This final blow for the Edinburgh happened at 7.30 on Saturday 2nd May 1942, and it was this torpedo that would have killed 18 year old Walter Gomery along with many of his shipmates. Edinburgh was virtually split in two with only some deck struts and bits of hull holding her together. The Admiral, aware that she could break in two at any moment and sink with heavy loss of life, gave the order to abandon ship, and signalled the minesweepers to come alongside to take off the wounded, passengers and crew. Below decks there was a battle for survival - steam erupted from burst pipes, thick fuel oil spurted in all directions, and men struggled in complete darkness as the list of the ship increased. On deck the guns of the Edinburgh continued to fire at the enemy until the Germans retired. Captain Faulkner commented later, "I shall never understand why they didn't come in and finish us off. I think they had acknowledged defeat after being so heavily shot at."
About 800 crew and passengers were taken off Edinburgh by the minesweepers, then the lines were let go and Foresight and Forester moved away to watch Edinburgh go down. However, she did not continue to heel over and it was decided that she should be sunk by gunfire. When this failed two patterns of depth charges were dropped alongside and still she didn't sink. Finally Foresight was ordered to fire her one remaining torpedo, and Edinburgh went down with the bodies of 57 men in her hull and millions of pounds worth of gold bullion.
The gold bullion was recovered in 1981 and was valued, at that time, at £45 million. The recovery was made by Jessop Marine Ltd. who took £20 million, of the remainder the Russians, whose gold it was in the first place, took two thirds and the British Government one third. According to the millenium edition of the Guinness Book of Records the dive to salvage the gold from Edinburgh was the deepest dive ever made by man.
The death of Walter Edward Gomery is commemorated on panel 67, column 3 of the Plymouth Memorial situated on The Hoe overlooking Plymouth Sound in Devon.
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