|Continued from Part One: SS Albertolite|
While young Ian was serving in the Allied Merchant Navy, his father W.L.G. Ferguson, Chief Draftsman to the Ministry of Defence, was hard at work perfecting a new anti-submarine weapon which would help make the sea a safer place for all Allied mariners -- HEDGEHOG. Once World War II started it became obvious that in order to sink enemy submarines the Allied escort ships needed a better kind of weapon than the depth charge then in use. When a submerged sub was detected by a naval ship's ASDIC (later called SONAR), depth charges were dropped over the side or stern of the ship. Not only did the ship have to immediately speed away to avoid damaging herself in the resulting explosion, but the ship's own engine noise would interfere with the ASDIC as she passed over the submarine, causing her to lose contact at a crucial moment. At the beginning of the war W.L.G. Ferguson and a colleague were working on the development of a new kind of forward throwing weapon called the PIAT (Click for Photo). From their work on the PIAT Ian's father and his colleague realised that what was needed at sea was a weapon like a grenade launcher which could fire multiple volleys ahead of the escort ship, and which would explode only if the hull of the submarine was hit.
For W.L.G. Ferguson, the highlight of
his involvement with Hedgehog came in 1944.
In January 1944 he was serving aboard the
Royal Navy sloop
when, newly-fitted with Hedgehog, she
set off from Liverpool
to hunt for U-boats with
the other ships of the
2nd Escort Group --
HMS Wild Goose, and
The 2nd Escort Group was
the Royal Navy's most acclaimed
Captain Frederic "Johnny" Walker .
Earlier in the war Captain Walker
had pioneered superb anti-submarine
techniques which in May 1943 had helped to turn the
Battle of the Atlantic in favour of the Allies.
On February 9th, 1944, Captain Walker
decided to use Magpie's Hedgehog against
a U-boat which was proving too wily
to be caught by depth charges alone.
From the deck of
his own ship, HMS Starling --
1,000 feet away from
Captain Walker directed
the firing of Magpie's hedgehog.
With just one try,
a direct hit was made on
and Ian's father, who had taken a leading part
in the Hedgehog action, had the
grim satisfaction of seeing for himself how his
weapon was fully proven in the field.
By February 19th, the sloops had
sunk an incredible total of
in just 20 days --
The group's success was marred only by the sad loss
of HMS Woodpecker.
On February 19th she was severely damaged by an
acoustic torpedo or "gnat" from
and she sank in tow on February 27th.
(Click Here for Patrol Diagram).
Only once more in WWII would the
total of six submarines in one sortie
be paralleled -- by the
remarkable American destroyer escort
(Click for Photo).
The destroyer, built in 1943, was named after
one of the heroes of Pearl Harbor,
Ensign John C. England.
In May of 1944,
under the inspired command of
W. B. Pendleton and with the able assistance of
Lieutenant Commander J. A. Williamson
as executive officer,
USS England received orders to search for a Japanese
submarine known to be in the Solomon Sea area.
On May 19th, she set off in company with the destroyer escorts
USS George and
and during the next 11 days,
USS England succeeded in sinking
a total of six
Japanese submarines, including the gigantic
which was fifty feet longer than
(Click for Photo).
This astounding feat caused the
crusty American Chief of Naval Operations,
Admiral Ernest J. King,
to exclaim, "There'll always be an
England -- in the US Navy!"
(Click for Photo).
By the end of the war,
Hedgehog would be responsible for sinking a grand total
of fifty submarines, thereby saving many Allied ships and
After his adventures aboard HMS Magpie,
remained at sea and
served in the Mediterranean aboard
When he became old enough
Ian left the sea and joined the Canadian Army. During
training, Ian was sent
to Kingston, Ontario, where he learned to use
the weapon which earlier on had inspired his father
and his colleague to
come up with the idea of Hedgehog --
(Click for more on PIAT).
After the war was over Ian eventually "swallowed
the anchor", married "a nice girl" and settled in Australia.
His memories of his youthful days in the Allied Merchant Navy
remained vivid in his mind and he always
fondly. "She was", Ian later wrote, "a grand hard working little
lady and she did great service for Canada and British Columbia."
Ian has always been very proud of his father's many
important contributions to the Allied war effort and one of
his treasures is an audio tape of Fergie
talking about his involvement with Hedgehog.
Ian and his wife Gwend
now make their home in the beautiful city of
Adelaide, South Australia.
Ian can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Paradise of Powell River.Net: Ten ships This site
which is part of
gives a brief history of Albertolite
and describes her final resting place as part of the unique
breakwater at Powell River, British Columbia. Further information
and photos are available at
Powell River's Giant Hulks and
Discover Powell River: The Giant Hulks.
For more information on the role of Canada's
Imperial Oil fleet
in WWII, see
Esso Mariners: A History of Imperial Oil's Fleet
Operations from 1899-1980,
written and published in
1980 by Imperial Oil
Limited, Toronto, Canada.
Fighting the U-boats: Captain F. Johnnie Walker, RN
This page which is part of the extensive
gives a biography of Captain Walker's World War Two years.
For more information on
Ian recommends the book
Walker RN: The Story of Captain Frederic John Walker CB, DSO and
Three Bars, RN,
written by Terence Robertson and originally published
in 1956 by Evans Brothers of London. Also published
in 1975 by White Lion Publishers of London.
Ian's pages are maintained by Maureen Venzi and they are part of the Allied Merchant Navy of WWII website.