The previous series on "Maritime Disasters" concentrated mainly on the larger ships and vessels (all with casualties of around 100 or more) that to many of us have become household names.
Now please take a look at this series on the losses of many of the smaller ships such as the destroyers, light cruisers, mine sweepers, merchant ships and landing craft with losses of around 80 to 100.
Many of these have never been given much publicity, others have not even been mentioned in historical documents. But they were all serving ships, all of them contributing a just cause to the war effort of the country that they represented. This, by no means is a complete list, but a short list of disasters that I have been able to find further documentation about.
This 4 page series features stories of the losses of some of the less-well known, "smaller ships":
SIMON BOLIVAR (November 18, 1939)
Dutch passenger ship of 8,309 tons built to carry 238 passengers in three classes and sailed the Hamburg-Central America route. (She was named after the South American revolutionary leader 1783-1830.) Owned by the Royal Netherlands Steamship Company, she was en route to Tilbury from Rotterdam, when she struck a magnetic mine at 12.30pm when about twenty-five miles from Harwich. Captain Voorspuity and 130 passengers lost their lives. Passing ships picked up survivors and took them either to Harwich or London.
HMS EXMOUTH (January 21, 1940)
Royal Navy destroyer of 1,475 tons (Capt. R. Benson) sunk by a torpedo from the U-22 (Kptlt. Karl Heinrich Jenisch) off Kinnaird Head on the Moray Firth, North of Scotland. The Exmouth had met the Cyprian Prince off Aberdeen, to escort her northwards to Scapa Flow in the Orkney's when at 04.48 hrs the vessel was hit by a torpedo on the starboard side at her forward magazine which exploded with a tremendous flash of fire and black smoke. The ship sank with all hands, 16 officers and 173 ratings.
The freighter Cyprian Prince, fearful of another torpedo attack, continued on with its cargo of anti-aircraft guns, searchlights and trucks for the defence of the naval base at Scapa Flow. Some time later eighteen bodies were washed ashore near Wick and were buried in a mass grave. (The U-22 was lost north of Jutland in March 23. She is believed to have struck a mine and sank with all hands).
HMCS FRASER (June 25, 1940)
This Canadian destroyer was dispatched from Bermuda to assist in the evacuation of the British forces from Dunkirk. At 10.30pm on the 25th the Fraser was given orders to proceed to Bordeaux to help in the rescue of an estimated four thousand refugees desperately trying to escape the advancing German military forces.
Accompanying the Fraser was the Canadian destroyer Restigouche and the British cruiser HMS Calcutta. In poor visibility and very rough seas, the captain of the Fraser decided to bring his ship closer to and behind the cruiser. In doing so the two ships collided, the bow of the heavier Calcutta sliced into the side of the Fraser with such force that the lighter vessel broke into three pieces. Forty-five crewmembers of the Fraser were killed and nineteen men from the Calcutta lost their lives. Some months later, many survivors from the Fraser, now transferred as part of the crew of the destroyer HMCS Margaree, lost their lives when the Margaree sank after a collision with the freighter Port Fairy on October 22, 1940.
HMS DARING (February 18, 1940)
British destroyer of 1,375 tons, launched in April, 1932 and torpedoed and sunk by two torpedoes from the U-boat U-23 (Kptlt. Otto Kretschmer-Knights Cross) while escorting convoy HN-12 from Norway to Britain. She sank about 30 nautical miles east of Duncansby Head in the northern tip of Scotland. Commander S. A. Cooper went down with the ship as did eight other officers and 148 ratings. One officer and four ratings, the only survivors, were picked up from the sea by rescue ships. The Daring was the first Royal Navy destroyer to be sunk by a U-boat torpedo in WWII. The U-23 was scuttled on September 10, 1944, off the coast of Turkey.
LEBERECHT MAAS and MAX SHULTZ (February 22, 1940)
Six German destroyers, sailing from the Schilling Roads, the German Naval anchorage at Wilhelmshaven and proceeding to their North Sea action stations, were attacked by mistake by their own Luftwaffe. By a full moon, a Heinkel 111 from 4/KG26, on its way to attack merchant shipping along Britain's east coast, spotted the wake of the destroyers and believing them to be enemy merchant ships started its bombing run. The last destroyer Leberecht Maas was hit by the third bomb dropped. The fourth bomb hit amidships and Leberecht Maas broke in two and sank in a ball of fire. Only 60 of the destroyers crew survived, 282 men drowned.
The next ship attacked was the Max Schultz which blew up in a violent explosion after hitting a newly laid British mine and sank, taking to the bottom its entire crew of 308 men. Of the two ships, a total of 590 men perished. A German court of inquiry began on board the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper. It was established that the cause of the tragedy was the failure of the German Navy Group West to inform the Luftwaffe that its ships were at sea.
HMS GLOWWORM (April 8, 1940)
British destroyer (Lt. Cdr. Gerard Roope) escorting the battleship Renown and screening minelayers about to mine the entrance to the port of Narvik, was spotted off Norway by the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper. The two ships decided to ram each other, the Glowworm ripping a hole 40 metres long on the Hipper's side but failed to sink her. The destroyer then capsized and sank after her seacocks were opened after the 'abandon ship' order was given. Only 31 of her crew survived out of a complement of 149, two dying next day from fuel oil poisoning and were buried at sea.
The rest of the crew were rescued by the Hipper, which remained on station for over an hour picking up survivors. All were treated with respect and consideration by the Hipper's crew. A week later the 29 survivors were disembarked at Wilhelmshaven to spend the rest of the war as prisoners. (This was the first action of WWII resulting in the award of the Victoria Cross to Lt. Cdr. Roope who went down with his ship)
NORGE and EIDSVOLD (April 9, 1940)
Two coastal defence ships of the Norwegian Navy, both of 4,166 tons, were lying at the port of Narvik when a force of eleven German destroyers appeared out of the fog. A demand for immediate surrender was rejected whereupon one of the destroyers, the Wilhelm Heidkamp, fired three torpedos which hit the Eidsvold in her forward magazine blowing the ship to pieces and killing 185 of her crew of 193. Six more torpedoes were fired from the German destroyers, two from the Bernd von Arnim and the two hit the Norge amidships which sank within a few minutes taking with her 110 members of her crew. There were 89 survivors from the Norge. In this action, on the first day of the German invasion of Norway, two of the most powerful ships in her small navy, were destroyed and 276 officers and men killed. In all, there were 105 survivors. Within the next five days the eleven German destroyers were sunk by ships of the Royal Navy during the main Battle of Narvik. (The Heidkamp was badly damaged when a torpedo blew away her stern, killing her captain and 81 of her crew. She finally sank at her mooring on April 11)
BISON (May 3, 1940)
French destroyer (2,436 tons) bombed by German JU87s north-west of Namsos during the evacuation of troops from Norway. Hit in the forward magazine, the ship exploded killing 136 members of her crew. The survivors were taken off and the ship was sunk by HMS Afridi. Soon after, four more JU-87s appeared and attacked the Afridi which also sank taking the lives of the 49 seamen and 14 soldiers on board. From the two ships a total of 199 lives were lost.
HMS WAKEFUL (H88) (May 29, 1940)
British destroyer torpedoed 13 miles north of Nieuport by German E-boat S-30. The Wakeful (Cdr.R.L. Fisher) had taken on around 700 men from the beaches at Dunkirk, an operation that had taken eight hours. Heading north and for home she was hit by the E-boat’s torpedo. It was 12.40pm when the missile struck amidships on the starboard beam. Another destroyer, HMS Grafton, moves in to help but is hit and damaged by a torpedo from the same E-boat. HMS Comfort now approaches but is fired upon by the Grafton who mistook her for a German ship. The Comfort finally sinks. After the torpedo struck the Wakeful she reared up from the water and broke in two. Fifteen seconds later the ship sank below the waves. Other ships nearby picked up 25 survivors but for over 600 men below deck, the end came swiftly. The Wakefield lies 17 metres under the surface and is designated as a war grave. In 2001 the destroyers nameplate and crest were recovered and presented to the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth.
WAVERLEY (May 29, 1940)
A Clyde paddle steamer of 537 tons taken over at the outbreak of war for service as a minesweeper. During the Dunkirk evacuation she was bombed by German aircraft and sank rapidly. She was carrying around 600 troops just rescued from the beaches. There was little time for rescue and she went down with about 350 men.
HMS SKIPJACK (June 1, 1940)
Royal Navy minesweeper (Lt. Cdr. F. Proudfoot) assisting in the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk, was subjected to intensive bombing by a force of German bombers off La Panna. On board the Skipjack were between 250 and 300 soldiers just rescued from the beach, (the exact number is not known). The ship received a direct hit which sank her immediately. Most of the unfortunate troops and crew were drowned.
VAUQUOIS (June 18, 1940)
French corvette, sunk while evacuating troops to England. Just prior to the fall of the French port of Brest the Vauquois put to sea carrying 115 soldiers, some coastal defence men and her crew. Soon after leaving harbour, when opposite the Vinotiere light at the entrance to the Chanel de Foire, the corvette hit a submerged aerial mine. The explosion cut the ship in half, the bow section sinking immediately and the stern section staying afloat for a few minutes more. The speed of the sinking left little time for survivors to be rescued and only 29 were saved. A total of 135 men lost their lives.
MV PAGANINI (June 28, 1940)
The Italian passenger Motor Vessel Paganini, 2427 tons and built in 1928, was in convoy bound for Durres (Albania) when at 11.00hrs a fire occurred in the engine room. A subsequent explosion caused the loss of the vessel in position 41°27'N 19°11'E. A total of 147 men were drowned.
ESPERO (June 28, 1940)
Italian destroyer (Captain Enrico Baroni) lead escort of a three ship troop convoy including the destroyers Ostro and Zaffiro, sunk while transporting 160 Black Shirt soldiers from Taranto to the Italian garrison at Tobruk. When 100 miles north of its destination the convoy was spotted by Vice-Admiral Tovey's 7th Cruiser Squadron at around 6.30 PM. The 1st Division of the Cruiser Squadron, which included HMS Neptune, HMS Orian and the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney, gave chase and caught up with the convoy at 7.20 PM.
Hit by several salvoes the Espero engaged the British ships while making smoke thus allowing the Ostro and Zaffiro to escape. The Espero was again hit and sunk by shells from the Sydney which later picked up 47 survivors. Captain Baroni was posthumously awarded Italy's highest honour, the 'Medaglia d'Oro al Valor Militare'.
FOYLEBANK (July 4, 1940)
Merchant vessel of 5,582 tons (ex ‘Andrew Weir’ ) requisitioned in 1939 and converted into an anti-aircraft gunship for patrols around Britain's east coast. In June 1940, as the Battle of Britain was in progress, she arrived at the harbour of the Royal Naval Base of Portland in England's south coast. At breakfast time on July 4 the ship was attacked by a squadron of German JU 87 Stuka dive bombers. In an action that lasted only eight minutes the Foylebank (Captain H. Wilson) was hit by over twenty bombs. The vessel listed to port and shrouded in smoke and flames, finally sank. Casualties among her 298 man crew were 176 men killed and many injured. The question one may ask is 'where was Fighter Command during the attack on the Foylebank?' as the Tangmere RAF Station was only a few minutes flying time away.
MOHAMED ALI el-KABIR (August 7, 1940)
Egyptian vessel of 7,289 tons, built in Scotland in 1922 and later requisitioned in 1940 by the British Government and converted to a troop transport. The ship left Avonmouth, en route to Gibraltar, carrying military stores and a complement of 895 naval and military personnel including 163 crew, 26 officers and 706 other ranks, many from the 706 General Construction Company of the Royal Engineers. Off the coast of Ireland, the ship was torpedoed at 19.56 hrs by the U-38 (Lt. Henrich Liebe) and sank one and a half hours later.
Her sole escort was the destroyer HMS Griffin which rescued a total of 766 of the troops and crew on board and landed them at Greenock, the wounded being taken to Hairmyres Hospital in East Kilbride. Unfortunately a total of 129 men lost their lives. Two weeks later, thirty-three bodies were washed up on the shore of Donegal in Ireland.
HMS PENZANCE (August 24, 1940)
Royal Navy sloop of 1,025 tons sunk by the German submarine U-37. The Penzance (Cdr. Allan Wavish) was escorting Convoy SC-1 south-west of Iceland when torpedoed. A total of 90 crewmen died leaving only 7 survivors to be picked up by the merchant vessel Blairmore which later that night was herself torpedoed by the same U-boat. The seven survivors had again to be rescued, this time by the Swedish merchant ship Eknaren.
CONVOY HX-72 (September 21/22, 1940)
Convoy HX-72, consisting of 42 ships, sailed from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, en route to Liverpool, England. It was the first convoy to lose more than six ships. In fact, in the first successful 'wolfpack' attack of the war, eleven ships in the convoy were lost to the U-boats as it crossed the Atlantic. The casualties amounted to 116 seamen killed from the eleven ships. Thirty-one ships survived the attack by the five U-boats whose commanders are now household names, Schepke, Bleichrodt, Jenisch, Kretschmer and Prien. Unfortunately, sixteen ships of the thirty-one which survived were lost later in the war, fourteen of them to U-boats. Schepke, in one of the most daring exploits of the war had positioned his submarine right in the middle of the convoy and kept that position as the convoy moved along. In the space of just over three hours his U-boat, the U-100, sank seven merchantmen, many of them carelessly showing lights. Kretschmer sank three ships and Jenisch one. Total tonnage sunk during the wolfpack attack was an amazing 72,727 tons. One ship, the 'Empire Airman', loaded with iron-ore, sank almost immediately with thirty-two members of her thirty-seven man crew.
HMCS MARGAREE (October 22, 1940)
Canadian destroyer of 1,375 tons built at Hebburn-on-Tyne, UK, as HMS Diana. Transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy and renamed Margaree. On October 22, while escorting Convoy OL-8 out of Liverpool to the North Atlantic, the Margaree was in collision with the freighter Port Fairy west of Ireland and sank taking the lives of 142 of the ships crew. Many of them had survived the sinking of the destroyer HMCS Fraser, lost in collision with the British cruiser Calcutta during the evacuation from France. On that occasion forty-five of the crew from the Fraser were killed.
JERVIS BAY (November 5, 1940)
Originally built to carry emigrants to Australia, the Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line 14,164 ton liner was taken over by the Admiralty in 1939 and converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser (MAC Ship) with a crew of 254 men. On the 5th of November the Jervis Bay was the sole escort for convoy HX-84 from Halifax to Britain and consisting of 37 freighters. When the convoy was attacked by the German battleship Admiral Scheer, the Jervis Bay engaged the Scheer in a desperate attempt to enable the convoy to escape.
In a twenty two minute battle the Bay's commander, Captain Fogarty Fegan, and most of his officers were killed. In all, 187 officers and crew were lost when the blazing ship sank 755 nautical miles (1,398 kilometres) south-southwest of Reykjavic, Iceland. Fifty six survivors were rescued by the Swedish freighter Stureholm (Capt. Sven Olander) but three died before reaching the port of Halifax. Captain Fogarty Fegan was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. On December 11, 1940, the Stureholm was sunk with all hands by the U-96. The Admiral Scheer went on to sink six other ships in the convoy which took the lives of another 251 men. On April 9, 1945, she was bombed and sunk by the RAF while at her anchorage in Kiel.
MV SALVADOR (December 15, 1940)
The Uruguayan registered vessel Salvador, carrying refugee Bulgarian Jews who were desperately attempting to reach Palestine, sailed from Constanza in Romania and miraculously reached Istanbul. The vessel was built to carry between 30-40 passengers but on this journey she carrying 327. There were no cabins, bunks or life-jackets, the passengers packed in like sardines, standing room only. After departing Istanbul the dilapidated ship was caught in a severe storm while crossing the Sea of Marmara. The ship sank taking the lives of 204 passengers including 66 children. There were 123 survivors.
HMS ACHERON (December 17, 1940)
British destroyer, launched March 18, 1930. While running trials after a refit the Acheron hit a mine off the Isle of Wight and sank in minutes. Lives lost were 151 men (six officers and 145 ratings). There were only 15 survivors.
Two specialized types of ships evolved during the war, the CAM SHIP and the convoy RESCUE SHIP. After many refinements the Rescue Ships went into service in January, 1941. The first rescue was by the 1,526 ton Toward, taking twelve survivors from the sea. Eventually there were 29 rescue vessels which covered 786 voyages and rescued 4,194 survivors from 119 ships. The record holder was the steamer Zamalek with 665 survivors rescued during sixty-eight convoys. The Rathlin rescued 634, the Perth, 455 and the Copeland with 433.
Six rescue ships were lost to enemy action, the worst case that of the Stockport, lost with 64 crewmembers and 91 rescued survivors. Some 2,296 British, 951 Americans and 369 Norwegian seamen owe their lives to the Rescue Ships. LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks) were also used to rescue wounded after the Normandy landings. A total of 41,035 wounded were safely evacuated back to England.
CAM SHIPS (Catapult Armed Merchantmen)
In spite of convoy protection, merchant ship sinking's continued at an alarming rate. In March, 1941, some merchant ships were fitted with a launching ramp on which a Hurricane fighter could be launched to engage the enemy long range Condor bombers. Called 'Hurricats' and manned by volunteer pilots, they were launched from the modified ships called Camships.
The first Hurricat kill was on August 3, 1941. The big disadvantage with Hurricats was that they could not land on their mother ship but had to ditch in the sea nearby. Altogether 35 CAM ships were in service but only eight catapult launchings were made in anger shooting down six enemy aircraft. One RAF pilot was killed. Twelve CAM ships were lost to enemy action while sailing with convoys. When escort carriers came into operation, the CAM Ship idea was cast aside.
These were merchant ships built during the war for the British Ministry of Shipping. All were given the prefix 'Empire' as were ships requisitioned or taken as war prizes i.e. the Italian hospital ship Leonardo da Vinci became the Empire Clyde. A total of 196 Empire ships were sunk by various means in WWII. The first ship to enter the port of Cherbourg after its liberation was the Empire Traveller carrying ten thousand tons of gasoline for the US Forces. The last Empire ship sunk was the 8,028 ton tanker Empire Gold, torpedoed by the U-1107 on April 18, 1945.
SIAMESE PRINCE AND EMPIRE BLANDA
The Siamese Prince was a British cargo ship of 8,456 tons launched in Glasgow in 1929. Sailing from New York to Liverpool with general cargo she was sunk by one torpedo from the U-69 (Metzler) southwest of the Faröe Islands. The captain, Edgar Litchfield, 47 crewmembers, one gunner and 8 passengers were lost. The Empire Blanda was a British cargo ship of 5,693 tons, launched in Glasgow in 1919 and sunk by a single torpedo from the U-69 two days later while in convoy HX-107. The ship had sailed from Halifax enroute to Grangemouth with a cargo of steel and explosives when attacked south of Iceland. The captain, George Allan Duncan, 36 crewmembers and 3 gunners were lost. There were no survivors. Total casualties from the two ships were 97 dead.
HMS BONAVENTURE (March 31, 1941)
British light cruiser built at Greenock, Scotland and launched in April 1939, was sunk south-east of the island of Crete by a torpedo from the Italian submarine Ambra. The cruiser was escorting Convoy GA-8 from Greece to Alexandria. The Bonaventure took 139 of her crew to the bottom. There were 310 survivors.
CONVOY 'TARIGO' (April 16, 1941)
Named after the lead Italian escort destroyer Luca Tarigo. The convoy, consisting of four German freighters and one Italian ship was en route to North Africa, when attacked near the island of Kerkennah, off the Mediterranean east of Tunisia, by the Malta based British 14th Flotilla. The Flotilla consisted of the destroyers HMS Nubian, Mohawk, Janus and Jervis. The freighters were carrying around 3,000 German troops and the Italian vessel 'Sabuadia' was loaded with munitions. All the freighters were sunk during the engagement.
A total of 1,248 German soldiers were rescued from the sea by Italian rescue ships including the hospital ship Arno. Over 1,700 perished. The British destroyer Mohawk (1,870 tons) was torpedoed and badly damaged by the Tarigo and had to be abandoned by her crew and sunk. The Luca Tarigo was also sunk.
HMS KELLY (May 23, 1941)
K-class destroyer (1,695 tons) commanded by Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, was bombarding German positions on the island of Crete in company with the destroyer Kashmir, when at 5.30am on the 23rd they were attacked by German Stuka dive-bombers, each carrying a 500-kg bomb under its belly. The Kashmir was hit by one bomb dead amidships and sank almost immediately with the loss of 79 crewmembers. There were 159 survivors. The Kelly was hit soon after just abaft the engine room killing all in the foremost boiler room. Within minutes she rolled over and sank taking the lives of half of her crew, a total of 128 men.
The 38 survivors, including Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, were picked up by the destroyer HMS Kipling which also rescued the Kashmir's survivors. The Kipling, when only a few miles from Alexandria on the Egyptian shore, ran out of fuel and lay wallowing in the gentle swell until rescued by HMS Protector which came along side and replenished her fuel tanks.
HMS WRYNECK and HMS DIAMOND (April 27, 1941)
British destroyers (900 tons) attacked by German Stuka aircraft and sunk off Nauplia, Greece. She was helping in the evacuation of troops from Greece, and in the process had picked up, with the help of another destroyer HMS Diamond, around 700 troops and crew from the 11,600 ton Dutch liner Slamat, now converted as a troopship and under British control, which had been attacked and damaged earlier.
HMS Wryneck and HMS Diamond were both sunk in the attack with the loss of nearly both their crews and all the survivors of the Slamat. The Wryneck lost seven officers and 98 ratings, the Diamond lost seven officers and 141 ratings. Of approximately 950 troops and crews of both ships only one officer, fourteen naval ratings and eight soldiers were rescued.
HMS CALCUTTA (May 29, 1941)
British anti-aircraft cruiser of 4,200 tons, launched July 1918, was taking part in the British and Greek withdrawal from the island of Crete, when bombed and sunk by two bombs from JU-88 enemy aircraft. Carrying a complement of 400, two officers and 114 ratings were lost.
SS AGUILA (August 19, 1941)
Commodore ship of Convoy OG-71 en route to Gibraltar from Liverpool. The convoy, consisting of twenty three merchant ships and escorted by six corvettes and two destroyers, was attacked by German submarines while off the south western coast of Ireland. On board the Aguila were twenty-two W.R.N.S., (Women's Royal Navy Service) the first batch of girls who had volunteered for cipher and wireless duties on the 'Rock'. Also on board were many servicemen, all naval personnel, taking the Aguila's complement to 161. Soon after midnight, the U-204 fired two torpedoes at the convoy and hitting the destroyer HMS Bath, which was manned by the Royal Norwegian Navy. She sank within three minutes drowning 83 of her crew, 13 of whom were British. Another torpedo, this time from the U-201, hit the Aguila amidships sending her to the bottom in ninety seconds. There were only 16 survivors, leaving a death toll of 145.
The dreadful, unbelievable truth, was that not one of the twenty two Wrens had survived. Captain Arthur Firth and nine others were rescued by the destroyer HMS Wallflower. Six of the crew were rescued by the tug 'Empire Oak' but sadly lost three days later when the tug was torpedoed by the U-564. As a tribute to their memory, a lifeboat named 'Aguila Wren' was built and launched on June 28, 1952, for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. (This lifeboat is now in the hands of a private owner, Tim Kirton of Northumberland and is being restored)
Before the Convoy OG-71 reached its destination, eight of its ships had been sunk plus two escort vessels with a loss of nearly 400 lives).
SS ELLA (August 28, 1941)
The German steamer Ella was the first ship sunk in the greatest sea-mine disaster of World War II. Under threat of imminent German occupation, the Soviet Union decided to evacuate its 24,000 troops from the Estonian capital, Tallin. To move the troops to Leningrad, four ship convoys were formed and after the troops were boarded, the convoys set sail. Out at sea the convoys formed a line fifteen miles long. At 18.00 hrs the ships were off the Juminda peninsula and in the gathering darkness sailed straight into a German laid minefield. The Gulf of Finland at this time was probably the most heavily mined area in the world with approximately 60,000 mines laid by Germany, Finland and the Soviets. The SS Ella was the first to go down after which Luftwaffe air attacks and artillery fire from Finnish coastal batteries added to the confusion.
Of the 195 ships that left Tallin 53 were destroyed by mines and air attacks. Of the 29 large troop carrying merchant ships in the convoy, 25 were sunk. Loss of life in this disaster were some 6,000 souls.
CONVOY HG-73 (September 17-October 1, 1941)
Of all the convoys sailing the homeward route, Gibraltar to Britain, Convoy HG-73 sustained the heaviest losses. In 1941, twenty-eight separate convoys, consisting of 570 merchant ships made the journey with a loss of twenty-five vessels. HG-73, twenty-five merchant ships with escorts, sailed from Gibraltar on the 17th of September but was spotted by a German plane off Cape St Vincent and shadowed by the U-371and three Italian submarines. Other U-boats soon appeared on the scene and battle commenced. After firing their torpedoes the submarines withdrew.
Nine merchant ships were sunk (7 British and 2 Norwegian) leaving a casualty list of 264 men killed.
SS AVOCETA (September 25, 1941)
A 3,442 ton passenger/cargo vessel built at Dundee, Scotland in 1923, for the Yeoward Cruise Line. The Avoceta operated the Liverpool, Casablanca, Lisbon and Canary Islands route with passengers and fruit cargoes. On her homeward run to the United Kingdom in September, 1941, carrying 88 passengers and 469 tons of general cargo, she joined the twenty-five ship Convoy HG-73 at Gibraltar. When the convoy was attacked by the U-203 (Mutzelburg) north of the Azores on the 25th (see above) the Avoceta was hit and sank taking the lives of 123 souls (43 crewmembers, 4 gunners and 76 passengers.) Rescued by HMS Periwinkle were her master, Captain H. Martin, 19 crew, 7 naval personnel and 12 passengers. and taken to Milford Haven. Three others were picked up by the British ship Cervantes.
VANCOUVER ISLAND (October 15, 1941)
The 9,472 ton Canadian freighter was sunk in the north Atlantic by the U-558 (Oblt. Günther Krech) This was her first voyage laden with war goods for Britain. There were twenty one survivors. One hundred and four lives were lost including thirty three of her sixty four crewmembers, eight Armed Guard Gunners and thirty-two passengers. The Vancouver Island was the ex-German merchant ship Weser captured on September 25, 1940, by HMCS Prince Robert (Captain Ooshakoff RCN) off Manzanillo, Mexico. The Weser was taken to Esquimalt, British Columbia, refitted for service in the Canadian Merchant Service and renamed Vancouver Island. (The U-558 was sunk on July 20, 1943, in the Bay of Biscay by depth charges from a British Halifax and an American Liberator. There were only 5 survivors from her crew of 50)
HMS COSSACK (October 21, 1941)
The fifth of the Tribal Class British destroyers to bear this name, famous for its rescue of prisoners from the German ship Altmark in Jossing Fjord, Norway, on February 16, 1940. While escorting a convoy from Gibraltar to Britain the Cossack (1,959 tons) was hit by a torpedo from the German U-boat U-563 The explosion blew off the bow and forward section of the ship killing 159 officers and ratings. Still afloat, the vessel was taken in tow stern first by a tug from Gibraltar but bad weather caused the tow to be slipped and the Cossack sank soon after.
Some survivors were rescued by the escorts HMS Legion and HMS Carnation and taken to Leith, Scotland. (The Altmark was later converted to a tanker under the name Uckermark and while anchored in the harbour at Yokohama, Japan, sank after a huge explosion ripped the vessel apart while the crew were having lunch. Cause of the explosion was thought to be a spark from tools used by a repair gang working near the fuel tanks. Forty-three crewmen from the Uckermark died).
USS REUBEN JAMES (DD-245) (October 31, 1941)
American four stack destroyer that was torpedoed and sunk 300 miles south of Iceland. The destroyer, one of five US destroyers escorting the UK bound Convoy HX-156 which had sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, sank after a torpedo fired from the U-562 (Lt. Capt. Eric Topp) struck her port side at 05.25 hrs and ignited ammunition in her forward magazine. The explosion split the ship in two, her forward section plunging beneath the waves taking all hands on that part of the ship with her. The stern then went under and when about 50 feet down her depth charges exploded killing a number of survivors in the water. The USS Reuben James took 115 men to their deaths including all its officers.
There were 44 survivors rescued by the USS Niblack. The Reuben James had joined the convoy escort force in March, 1941, guarding convoy's as far as Iceland where British escorts then took over. The U-562 was sunk on February 19, 1943, by depth charges from the British destroyers HMS Isis and HMS Hursley. She sank with all hands (49 men).
HMAS PARRAMATTA (November 27, 1941)
Australian Navy sloop, launched in June 1939, engaged in escort duties in the Mediterranean, was torpedoed and sunk 64 kilometres east-northeast of Tobruk, Libya, by the U-559 (Kptl. Hans Heidtmann). The destroyer was escorting a munitions ship 'Hanne' from Tobruk to Alexandria when attacked. Hit amidships by the torpedo and causing an explosion in the magazine, the sloop sank within minutes. Lost with the Parramatta were 138 crewmembers including her captain, Lt. Cdr. J. H. Walker. There were 49 survivors rescued by the destroyer HMS Avon Vale. The Parramatta carried a complement of 164 men. (The U-559 was sunk by depth charges from British destroyers on October 30, 1942, about 153 kilometres north-east of Port Said, Egypt. Seven men were killed, 38 survived)
SS CHAKDINA (December 5, 1941)
Armed boarding vessel commandeered by the British in Tobruk to evacuate their wounded. It sailed from the harbour with 380 wounded soldiers on board including 97 New Zealanders. Some officers and medical personnel were also accompanying the wounded. The ship was heading for Baggush, the H/Q of the 2nd N.Z. Division. At 9 o'clock in the morning a Luftwaffe plane dropped a torpedo which struck the ship in the after hold. It took only three minutes for the Chakdina to sink giving the wounded little chance to escape. Those who were not severely wounded managed to reach the escort destroyer HMS Farndale which picked up eighteen New Zealanders from the water. All the medical staff, except one, were saved. The Farndale reached Alexandria two days later and the survivors admitted to the No. 3 New Zealand General Hospital.
SHINONOME (December 17, 1941)
Japanese destroyer of 1,950 tons, part of a convoy of troop transports, heading towards the Malayan Penninsula, was sunk near Seria, 20 miles west of Miri, by two bombs from a Dutch three engined Dornier DO-24K flying boat of the Dutch Naval Air Group based on the island of Tarakan. The Dornier, piloted by Flying Officer B. Sjerp, dropped three bombs, two making direct hits, the third a near miss. The Shimonome blew apart in an enormous explosion causing fires to break out on the vessel. It took only a few minutes for the destroyer to roll over and sink. There were no survivors. The captain, Commander Hirosi Sasagawo and his entire crew of 228 men, perished.
HMS STANLEY (December 17/21, 1941)
Destroyer of 1,190 tons (ex-USS McCalla) transferred to Britain in 1940 under the Lend-Lease Agreement. She was escorting a convoy of around 30 merchant ships across the Atlantic when attacked by a U-boat pack and Focke-Wulf bombers during the five day period of December 17 to 21. The Stanley was sunk by torpedoes from the U-574(Oblt. Dietrich Gengelbach) with a loss of eleven officers and 125 ratings. The U-574 was sunk on December 19, 1941 by HMS Stork. Twenty eight dead, sixteen survivors.