HMS Jervis Bay, built by Vickers Limited in Barrow-in-Furness, and launched in 1922 started life as a Commonwealth Line steamer. In 1939 she was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and converted into an armed merchant cruiser. She was fitted with seven outdated, late 19th century 6 inch guns and two, even older 3 inch guns for anti-aircraft defence. In May 1940 Jervis Bay was assigned to convoy protection duties and was handed the role of escort for a convoy of merchant ships from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Bermuda that were bound for Britain carrying vital supplies. Jervis Bay was the only escort for this convoy consisting of 37 vessels.
The Admiral Scheer was a German Heavy Cruiser of the Kriegsmarine, often called a pocket battleship, she was fast and heavily armed. Launched in April 1933 the Admiral Scheer had a top speed of just over 28 knots and was armed with six 11 inch guns in triple turrets, and eight 5.9 inch guns in single turrets. She was tasked with hunting down and sinking allied merchant vessels, and was extremely successful, as she was easily able to outgun and outrun most vessels assigned to escort duty. The slow lumbering merchant vessels were easy pickings once the escort vessels were dispatched.
In October 1940, the Admiral Scheer slipped through the Denmark Strait with orders to locate and destroy allied shipping. On the 5th of November, convoy HX 84, escorted by Jervis Bay was approaching the coast of Iceland, on route to Britain from Nova Scotia when lookouts sighted a ship on the horizon. The ship was eventually identified as a German pocket battleship. The Jervis Bay was no match for the Admiral Scheer; she had a top speed of just 15 knots compared with the Admiral Scheer’s 28, and her miniscule vintage 6 inch guns could have little impact on the German Heavy Cruiser’s thick armour plating. The Captain of Jervis Bay, Edward Fegen didn’t flinch. Ordering the convoy to turn away and scatter, he steered his ship straight at the heavily armed German vessel and steamed towards her, drawing her fire away from the convoy saving all but five of the vessels. Despite being no match for the Admiral Scheer, Jervis bay fought on valiantly until the very end.
In a one sided battle Jervis Bay was eventually sunk, but the lightly armed vessel had bought enough time for the majority of the convoy to escape. Captain Fegen went down with his ship and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his selfless and courageous actions that saved 31 vessels carrying vital war materiel. Further posthumous awards were bestowed on Ordinary Seaman Bennett Southwell for “great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty.” The other was awarded to Temporary Sub-Lieutenant Jack Maynard Cholmondeley Easton for equal heroism; both men were awarded the George Cross. George Medals were awarded to a further 9 officers and seamen.