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|12-20-2006, 04:08 PM||#1|
Ace of the Deep
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Deepest Dumbria
Voyage to Disaster
This is a true account but as there is no Submarine involvement, I've decided to post it here.
It's an account from an elderly Gentleman and appeared in our local newspaper [this is not the full article; I have taken extracts from it]. I'm sure this will be of interest to some of you.
VOYAGE TO DISASTER
"he was a 20-year-old corporal, and he and four other corporals joined the troopship Britannia at Liverpool on March 12, 1941.
When she crossed the Mersey Bar the following day as part of a convoy, her destination was Bombay. She would never make it, for the Britannia had just thirteen days to live.
The ship had a complement of 200 crew and 320 passengers. The passengers were a mixture. As well as a small party of Fleet Air Arm/RAF NCO's there were naval officers and ratings, as well as army officers and nurses.
However, the escort left the Britannia to sail on alone independently and she was soon around 750 miles west of Freetown, Sierra Leone approaching the Equator, which she was due to cross on March 26.
The day before, however, she had picked up company, a small steamer flying the Japanese flag, which sailed along her starboard side on a parallel course.
This caused no concern, for at that stage of the war the Japanese were still neutral.
However, the following day the stranger revealed herself to be a wolf in sheep's clothing; she was no innocent merchantman, but the heavily-armed German commerce raider Thor.
The first indication those aboard the Britannia had was when shells began falling around them and bursting aboard the ship. The troopship carried two guns, one forward and one aft, but they were soon put out of action.
She was sustaining heavy damage and casualties, and her captain decided to try to make a run for it under cover of a smokescreen. However, it quickly became obvious that the ship was doomed, and he gave the order to abandon her.
Another member of his draft, Jack Arkinstall, had the after gun as his action station. His story appears on the BBC website The Peoples War.
Himself and Jack both ended up in the same lifeboat, number 12, which was successfully launched and pulled away from the stricken ship. The boat, one of only two to survive the sinking, was designed to carry 25 people, but had 47 aboard.
A signalman claimed that a signal had been sent saying that the ship had been attacked, and we would soon be rescued.
The tragedy was that the enemy also believed that rescue was imminent. Two distress signals identifying her attacker as a surface raider had been sent from the Britannia and according to the Germans a response had come from a British warship which said she was racing to the scene.
For that reason Kapitan Kaehler left the scene immediately after sinking the Britannia. He had pumped 159 rounds into the liner sending her plunging bow first to the bottom in a huge cloud of oily smoke. Behind him he left 500 people in the water - and the ship which sent the signal never materialised.
The first two days in the boat were very unpleasant as most of it's passengers were suffering from seasickness.
On the fifth night, we saw searchlights sweeping across the horizon, and then a wonderful sight - a brightly lit ship with the Spanish flag illuminated by floodlights along her hull, proclaiming her neutrality.
The vessel was the liner Cabo de Hornos, which was en route from South America to her home port of Cadiz. She had already picked up a number of military and civilian survivors the previous afternoon; among them were two young naval ratings, one of whom had been attacked by a shark which had caused severe injuries to his leg. Fortunately the ship's doctor was able to save it, despite the fact that it was already infected by gangrene.
The search for survivors had been continued on the insistence of a Spanish-American noblewoman who was sailing as a passenger on the Cabo de Hornos. She persuaded the captain to keep looking for a few more hours, and that saved our lives.
They were indeed lucky to be picked up, since the ship's itinerary meant she only passed through the area - the Doldrums - once every ten weeks.
We were landed at Santa Cruz on Tenerife. We were allowed the freedom of the town, but were confined within it's boundaries. One day they were told to pack their kit and were shipped out on a Fyffe's banana boat bound for Gibraltar; from there the four surviving corporals sailed back to the UK on the corvette HMS Pimpernel, escorting a homeward-bound convoy.
The survivors of two other lifeboats were rescued at sea, with the Raranga rescuing 67 and a further 51 being picked up by the Spanish ship Bachi.
The remaining lifeboat from the ill-fated Britannia was not so fortunate; she headed east instead of west. By the time she reached the coast of Brazil 23 days after the sinking, only 38 people had survived out of her original complement of 82.
520 people left Liverpool on the Britannia. Only 331 survived the sinking.
The Thor had a relatively successful career. In two commerce-raiding cruises she sank no fewer than 22 ships, including an armed merchant cruiser. She met her end after a trip to Japan with a valuable cargo. She was lying in Yokohama harbour on October 30, 1941, when her supply ship, the tanker Uckermark, blew up, destroying the Thor and creating massive damage and heavy casualties in the port.
With grateful thanks to the Editor of the "Dunoon Observer & Argyllshire Standard"
GWX Team Member; Retired
GWX Home Page
|12-21-2006, 12:16 PM||#2|
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Docked on a Russian pond
An interesting story, Munson.
I've met an Englishman in Brazil who sailed on a liner from Rio bound for England in 1940. The ship was torpedoed. Once the ship sank, a U-boat surfaced, passed out rations and water to some of the lifeboats and gave them a heading for nearest land.