Members of the Wardroom of HMAS Creswell recently honoured the memory of Captain Fogarty Fegen, VC, RN, and his gallant action in command of HMS Jervis Bay (armed merchant cruiser) against the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer just sixty years ago. A stirring speech by Captain James Goldrick, RAN recalled the action in which Captain Fegen and almost his entire ship’s company lost their lives. It is notable that the RANC Historical Collection at CRESWELL is now home to several pieces of memorabilia associated with Captain Fegen.
Fogarty Fegen served as the Commander (Executive Officer) of the Royal Australian Naval College in 1928-9. He was appointed to the RAN on loan and arrived at the College on 20 January 1928 and departed on 4 August 1929. In the College Year Book for 1928 he was listed as “Edward S.F. Fegen”; the use of his third Christian name “Fogarty” is presumed to be his preferred one.
Born in 1891 to an Irish Catholic family with a long history of Royal Naval service, Fegen entered the Navy in 1904. He served throughout World War I as a lieutenant in HM Ships Amphion (light cruiser) and Faulknor, and as First Lieutenant of TB26, then also in HM Ships Moy and Paladin (destroyers).
He continued after the Armistice was signed in 1918 in command of several destroyers. In 1924 he was appointed to the training ship HMS Colossus (1911 dreadnought). From January 1926 to mid 1927 (when he was promoted Commander) he was Commanding Officer of HMS Forres (minesweeper), attached to Britannia Royal Naval College for cadet training.
After leaving BRNC he was appointed in command of HMS Suffolk (heavy cruiser) on the China Station. During this commission he received an Admiralty Commendation and was awarded a lifesaving medal by the Dutch Government as officer in charge of boats crews from the Suffolk, involved in a dramatic rescue of the crew of the merchant ship Hedwig. The boats had proceeded some 28 miles in very rough water to the rescue of the Hedwig which was stranded on a reef between the coast of China and the Philippines.
Subsequently, Fegen served at the Anti-Submarine School, on the staff of Chatham Dockyard, and in command of cruisers in Reserve (HM Ships Dauntless, Dragon and Curlew). Immediately before World War II he served as the Commander of the cruiser HMS Emerald and was promoted Acting-Captain a few months before the outbreak of war.
HMS Jervis Bay
While in command of HMS Jervis Bay in November 1940, she was proceeding from the United States to Europe as the sole escort of a convoy of 31 merchant ships. Jervis Bay was a former passenger liner built in 1923, with a displacement of 14,000 tons and a maximum speed of about 15 knots. As an armed merchant cruiser she was fitted with seven 6″ guns.
Captain Fogarty Fegen’s citation for the Victoria Cross takes up the story:
“For valour in challenging hopeless odds and giving his life to save the many ships it was his duty to protect. On the 5th November, 1940, in heavy seas Captain Fegen, in His Majesty’s Armed Merchant Cruiser Jervis Bay, was escorting 31 Merchantmen. Sighting a powerful German warship, he at once drew clear of the convoy, made straight for the enemy and brought his ship between the raider and her prey, so that they might scatter to escape. Crippled, in flames, unable to reply, for nearly an hour the Jervis Bay held the German’s fire. So she went down; but of the Merchantmen, all but four or five were saved.” The researched history written after the war gives more information. The German ship was the pocket-battleship Admiral Scheer, a heavily armoured ship 12,200 tons, with six 11″ and eight 5.9″ guns. Six merchant ships were sunk and of the Jervis Bay’s ship’s company, nearly all were lost. Fegen himself was said to have been gravely wounded, almost losing one arm, but he remained at his post on the bridge and fought on.
The 1941 RAN College Yearbook carried a special tribute to Commander Fegen – the news of the battle received too late to be carried in the previous year’s edition. The obituary noted the coincidence of his ship’s name – Jervis Bay – giving yet another link to the College. It concluded that: … “it is intended to erect at the College some memorial to this very gallant officer; and we know that all who have been connected with the College at any time will desire to pay tribute to the memory of our former Commander.“