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Ian Ferguson's Homepage, Part Two:


Continued from Part One: SS Albertolite


W.L.G.  Ferguson W.L.G. Ferguson

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.
ASDIC Diagram This ASDIC diagram is courtesy of the 9. Flotille; Brest site.
Such a weapon would allow the escort's ASDIC operator to maintain contact with the target until the last moment, ensuring greater accuracy. Ian saw his father first discussing his idea for what was to called "Hedgehog" at a Christmas party in 1940. As Ian later described it, his father and Major Millis Jefferis -- later Major-General Sir Millis Jefferis -- "sat at a table with pencil and paper and drinks in long intense conversation for ages", oblivious to the festivities going on about them. After that unusual beginning, a test model of the new weapon was produced, the Royal Navy became involved, and the first Hedgehog went into operational service aboard a ship in January 1942. (Click for Photo of HMCS Sackville Hedgehog). After his work on weapon design, W.L.G. Ferguson joined the Royal Navy, where he was dubbed "Fergie", and he served in the Atlantic and on the Russian convoys.

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 HMS Magpie, when, newly-fitted with Hedgehog, she set off from Liverpool to hunt for U-boats with the other ships of the legendary 2nd Escort Group -- HMS Starling, HMS Kite, HMS Wild Goose, and HMS Woodpecker. The 2nd Escort Group was commanded by the Royal Navy's most acclaimed U-boat hunter, 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 Magpie -- Captain Walker directed the firing of Magpie's hedgehog. With just one try, a direct hit was made on U-238 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.

A Hedgehog Salvo of 24 With 3 Entering Water on the Right
Hedgehog salvo
From: The article "Destroyer Escort", by Antony Preston

By February 19th, the sloops had sunk an incredible total of six U-boats in just 20 days -- U-592, U-762, U-734, Magpie's U-238, U-424, and U-264. 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 U-764, and she sank in tow on February 27th. (Click Here for Patrol Diagram).

HMS Magpie Receives a Hero's Welcome to Liverpool

HMS Magpie Receives a Hero's Welcome to Liverpool

When this photo of Magpie's triumphant return to Liverpool was taken, Fergie was standing on deck among her heroic crew. He later described the Admiralty's reaction to their sortie as "quite a pat on the back". Tragically, Captain Johnny Walker died from a stroke just a few months later, on July 9th, 1944. The great man had driven himself ceaselessly since the war began, and his doctors attributed his death to overwork. Although devastated by the loss of their leader, the men and ships of the 2nd Escort Group went on to sink 8 more U-boats before the war's end.

Photo Source: A newsreel of the period.

"Fergie and His Young Shipmates"

This dramatic photo shows Leading Seaman Fergie and his young shipmates after their arrival in Liverpool. W.L.G. Ferguson was only 43 years old when this photo was taken, but the strain of the campaign shows in his face, making him look older.

PHOTO SOURCE: The same newsreel as the above photo of Magpie.

Fergie and Mates at Liverpool

Only once more in WWII would the total of six submarines in one sortie be paralleled -- by the remarkable American destroyer escort USS England (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 Lieutenant-Commander 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 USS Raby, and during the next 11 days, USS England succeeded in sinking a total of six Japanese submarines, including the gigantic I-16, which was fifty feet longer than she was. (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 lives.


Ian in 1959
Ian on his Wedding Day January 31, 1959.

After his adventures aboard HMS Magpie, W.L.G. Ferguson remained at sea and served in the Mediterranean aboard HMS Matchless. 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 -- the PIAT (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 regarded Albertolite 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.


Ship Line

RETURN to Ian Ferguson's Homepage, Part One: SS Albertolite

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Paradise of Powell River.Net: Ten ships This site which is part of Powell River.Net 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.

World War Two Cruiser Operations Among this site's many offerings is the tragic story "How We Killed the Men of HMAS Sydney" by former German naval veteran, Heinz Messerschmidt, of the Auxiliary Cruiser Kormoran. The sinking of HMAS Sydney and tragic loss of all her men was Australia's biggest sea disaster of the war. Kormoran was the ship which earlier in the war had captured Imperial Oil's Candolite.

Australia at War This site created by Peter Dunn concentrates on World War One and World War Two. The many topics covered include a list of Ships Sunk in Australian Waters by Japanese Submarines and a page about the Japanese "Glen" Floatplane.


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.

Alan R. Constant has written a history of the tanker MV Montrolite entitled Sinking of the Montrolite. For details please see Alan's website .

New John A. Campbell has written a history of Albertolite and the other ships of the Powell River breakwater in Hulks: The Breakwater Ships of Powell River (2003). Ian Ferguson was one of the contributors to John's book. For more information please visit Concrete Ship Books and The Final Resting Place of the Charleston. To order a copy of the book, please contact the Powell River Historical Museum and Archives, P.O. Box 42, Powell River, B.C. V8A 4Z5 CANADA Phone: 604-485-2222 Fax: 604-485-2327 E-mail:

For an eye-witness account of a Merchant Seaman who was captured by the Kormoran, Ian recommends Prisoner of the Kormoran: W. A. Jones' Amazing Experiences on the German Raider Kormoran, and as a Prisoner of War in Germany. First published in Sydney by Australasian Publishing Co. Pty. Ltd., 1944. Second edition published by Harrap in London and Sydney, 1945.

For information on the I-Boats and their assaults against Australia, Ian recommends David Jenkens' Battle Surface!: Japan's Submarine War against Australia, 1942-44, published in Milsons Point, NSW by Random House Australia, 1992.

There is an interesting chapter about I-26 and the attack on Estevan Point Lighthouse in Donald Graham's Keepers of the Light: A History of British Columbia's Lighthouses and Their Keepers, published by Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd., Madeira Park, B.C., c1985.



Fighting the U-boats: Captain F. Johnnie Walker, RN This page which is part of the extensive website gives a biography of Captain Walker's World War Two years.

HMS Magpie This website which is dedicated to the late Tom Iddon, founding member of the Magpie Association, pays tribute to the sloop and her men.

HMCS Sackville, the 'Last Corvette' HMCS Sackville has been lovingly preserved and now serves as Canada's Naval Memorial, at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Be sure to take a virtual tour of the ship.

USS England DE-635 This site created by Dennis O'Brien offers all kinds of information about the destroyer escort and the men who served aboard her. Among the many highlights are the text of a 1947 history provided by the US Naval Institute, a newspaper article and biography of Ensign John C. England, photos of Commander Walton B. Pendleton's Navy Cross and a link to a journal article about a lifesaving procedure pioneered by Lieutenant John A. Williamson.

United States Naval Academy Museum Homepage Among the many artifacts of this world-famous museum in Annapolis, Maryland, are part of USS England's bridge and her illustrious "scorecard".


For more information on Captain Walker, 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.

For other related webpages please see this site's main Links Page and Sources Page.

Ian's pages are maintained by Maureen Venzi and they are part of the Allied Merchant Navy of WWII website.