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Survivors' story

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: June 14, 2012

Marianne Donovan with her father Charles Allen's scrapbook.

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MARIANNE DONOVAN has compiled a detailed account of the events surrounding the sinking of HMS Penzance with some details taken from her father Charles Allen's scrapbook of news stories about the incident.

Apart from bombing attacks on England, in 1940 the German Navy continued to strengthen its presence in the Atlantic, knowing that support and supplies for Britain would come from places such as Canada.

Supply ships crossed the Atlantic in convoy with armed escorts and air cover. This was limited, however, because land-based aircraft lacked the range to reach mid-Atlantic or to cross the ocean. Because of this, an area left virtually uncovered became known as the "black pit", the most dangerous area for shipping and favoured by German submarines.

In August 1940 the first convoy left Sydney, Nova Scotia, with HMS Penzance its sole armed escort. On August 24 the entire convoy was around 700 miles off the coast of Ireland and thought to be in the safe zone, away from the 'black pit' when a torpedo hit the ship and she went to the bottom almost immediately.

Survivors described how some of her depth charges, activated by water pressure, exploded as the vessel sank, blowing a number of drowning men to the surface and away from a large patch of burning oil.

One of the freighters in the convoy, MV Blairmore, lowered a boat and picked up seven men, including Charles Allen, while another vessel rescued seven or eight others.

Although seemingly safe on board the Blairmore, just after midnight the vessel was also hit by a torpedo. She, however, took on water only slowly, giving the crew a chance to launch lifeboats and rafts.

After 17 hours adrift, the seven Penzance survivors and the Blairmore's 30 crew were picked up by the Swedish freighter Eknaren and landed in Baltimore, Maryland.

All were taken to hospital and the injured Charles Allen was kept under observation for some time before he returned to the UK in April 1941.

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