This archive footage from British Pathé shows 2nd Escort Group entering Liverpool after period at sea. Led by Captain Frederic ‘Johnnie’ Walker, 2nd Escort Group became the Royal Navy’s most successful U-boat hunting group and are credited with the destruction of 23 U-boats in two years.
They entered Liverpool in February 1944 to great jubilation, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, A V Alexander, and C-in-C Western Approaches, Admiral Sir Max Horton, were both there to greet them. Both can be seen in the footage below, Alexander is the speaker, with Horton stood next to him.
The ships of the group were all Black Swan-class sloops; Starling, Wren, Woodpecker, Cygnet, Wild Goose, and Kite. The footage above depicts the group returning home in early 1944 following their famous ‘six in one trip’ exploit. On 31 January 1944, 2nd Escort Group sank the U-592 and then, in one 15 hour action on 9 February, sank three U-b0ats – U-762, U-238, and U-734. Two days later they sank U-424, and finally, on 19 February they sank the U-264.
On 20 February, Woodpecker was struck in the stern with an acoustic torpedo. The damage was severe, but the ship was still afloat. The group attempted to limp the stricken sloop home but Woodpecker sank in rough seas off the Scillies a week later. None of her crew were lost and the Woodpecker was the only 2nd Escort Group ship to be sunk.
Escort Groups were the idea of Admiral Horton, who took a more proactive and aggressive stance to defending convoys. The highly successful groups were tasked with the hunting down and destruction of U-boats rather than with traditional convoy escort duties.
Sadly, Captain Walker died on 9 July 1944 following a stroke. By the time of his death, he had been made Companion of the Order of the Bath, had received the DSO & three Bars, and was Mentioned in Despatches three times.