CITTA' DI PALERMO (January 5, 1942) Italian passenger ship (5,413 tons) built in 1930 and converted to an auxiliary cruiser, left Brindisi for Patras escorting the motor vessel Calino. On board the Palermo were around 600 Italian troops. At 08:00 hrs. when three miles north-west of Cape Dukato she was struck by two torpedoes launched from HMS Proteus. The Palermo took only six minutes to sink. There were a few survivors but almost all on board went down with the ship.
LAMORICIE (January 9, 1942)
The French passenger ship Lamoricie was crossing the Mediterranean from Algiers to France when she sank near the Balearic Isles. While sailing to Marseille the weather deteriorated severely and the ship altered course to assist a freighter in distress the SS Jumieges. Unfortunately the latter foundered in heavy seas with all hands before the Lamoriciere could be of assistance. The captain tried to take shelter behind the island of MENORCA but the ship could not cross the wind. Finally the boilers shut down, all power was lost as water began pouring in through the coal hatches and the ship started to list heavily and began to sink. (The ship had recently been converted from diesel oil to coal owing to wartime shortages) A total of 301 passengers and crew were lost. There were 93 survivors. One of those lost was Jerzy Rozycki, one of the three Polish cryptologists who worked on cracking the German Enigma code in 1932. Rozycki and his team had travelled from France to Algiers in late 1941 to work on the Enigma codes and was returning on the Lamoricie when disaster struck. Two other members of the code breaking team, Jan Gralinski and Piotr Smalenski also perished.
LADY HAWKINS (January 19, 1942) Passenger/cargo ship (7,988 tons) of the Canadian National Steamship Company, the Lady Hawkins was sunk by the U-66 (Korvkpt. Richard Zapp) midway between Cape Hatteras and Bermuda. The ship was carrying 212 passengers and 109 crew when hit by two torpedoes. About 162 passengers died as did 88 of the ships crew. The steamship Coamo rescued 71 persons from a lifeboat and brought them to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The liner Coamo was later torpedoed on December 9, 1942 and sank with the loss of 133 passengers and crew. The U-66 was sunk on May 6, 1944 by the destroyer escort USS Buckley. There were 36 survivors but 24 of the crew died.
SS STRUMA (February 24, 1942)
The charted Greek owned ship Struma sailed from Constansa under the command of a Bulgarian, Captain G.T. Gorbatenkoin, and flying the Panamanian flag. There were 769 Romanian Jews on board, including 269 women and 105 children, many from the town of Barland, their hope was to reach Palestine. After three days at sea, the Struma anchored off the outer harbour at Instanbul, with engine trouble. Here she awaited British permission to proceed to Palestine, permission which the British refused (a mistake they were to regret) one reason given was "It will encourage a flood of refugees". Turkey, for some unknown reason, likewise refused them to disembark although the local Jewish community, who were already running a camp for Displaced Persons, were quite willing to take the Struma's passengers and were in the meantime supplying them with food and water. One of the passengers, Medeea Marcovici, suffered an embolism and was transferred to the Jewish hospital in Instanbul. She was granted a visa for Palestine and died there in 1996.
After two months at Istanbul with engines that were damaged beyond repair, conditions on board became appalling, many of the passengers now suffering from dysentery and malnutrition. Eventually the Turkish police arrived to tow the Struma out into the Black Sea. The British had exerted strong pressure on Turkey to pursue this course. The enraged passengers fought then off but a second attempt, where force was used, succeeded, and the Struma was towed out and cast adrift outside Turkish territorial waters. This inhuman decision by the Turkish and British governments was to destroy the special relationship between Britain and the Zionist Jews. On the water for 74 days since leaving Conatansa, the Struma, hopelessly overcrowded, and with no country willing to accept them, was suddenly torpedoed and sunk by the Russian submarine SHCH-213 commanded by Lt. Col. Isaev, just ten miles from Istanbul. All on board, a total of 769 persons, perished except one, nineteen year old Romanian Jew David Stoljar who today (1999) lives in Oregon, USA. The British High Commissioner in Palestine, Sir Harold MacMichael, stated: "The fate of these people was tragic, but the fact remains that they were nationals of a country at war with Britain, proceeding direct from enemy territory. Palestine was under no obligations towards them".
DE RUYTER (February 27, 1942)
Dutch light cruiser (7,548 tons) sunk during the seven hour Battle of the Java Sea. Flagship of the Allied Force Commander, Rear Admiral Karel Doorman RNN, the ship was hit by a torpedo from the Japanese heavy cruiser Haguro at 23.32pm and sank taking the lives of 366 men including Admiral Doorman. There were 70 survivors. Also sunk in this battle were the Dutch light cruiser Java (7,205 tons) and the destroyer Kortenaer 1,640 tons) The Java was struck by a torpedo from the Japanese heavy cruiser Nachi (14,980 tons, commanded by Rear Admiral Takagi) and sank in fifteen minutes taking 530 crewmembers to their deaths. There were 35 survivors. This was the greatest loss of life on any Dutch warship. The destroyer Kortenaer (Lt. Cmdr. Kroese) hit amidships at 17:13pm by a torpedo from the Haguro, broke in two and sank almost immediately, losing 59 men from her crew of 171. The destroyer HMS Encounter rescued 113 from the stricken vessel but one survivor died on board. During the battle, 152 torpedoes were fired from the Japanese warships, but only three found their targets. In this, the saddest of days for the Royal Netherlands Navy, a total of 955 brave men gave their lives. (The Battle of the Java Sea, the greatest surface engagement since Jutland, took the lives of 6,339 sailors from both sides and the loss of many Allied warships. Only four ships were sunk on the Japanese side.)
HMAS PERTH (March 1, 1942)
Australian cruiser of 6,830 tons launched in 1934 under the name HMS Amphion. Transferred to the Australian Navy in 1939 and renamed HMAS Perth. During the Battle of the Java Sea the Perth's commander, Captain Hector Waller, pulled his ship out of line when the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter was hit and placed it between the Japanese warships and the Exeter to save it from further damage (the Exeter later sank). The Perth, accompanied by the American cruiser Houston, was later sunk in the Sunda Strait half an hour after midnight about four miles from St. Nicholas Point in Java as the two ships attempted to escape southwards from the battle area and into the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately they ran straight into a Japanese invasion fleet of destroyers and troop transports in Banteng Bay and after a long running battle during which all ammunition was expended, both ships were sunk by torpedoes. On board the Perth were 45 officers, 631 ratings, 4 civilian canteen staff and six Royal Australian Air Force personnel, a total of 686 men. Casualties were 23 officers and 329 ratings killed. There were 334 survivors who were taken prisoners of war. Of these, around 106 died in captivity. Not one of the Perth's officers died while a prisoner of war, due no doubt to the privileges granted to men of officer rank. For this heroic act, Captain Waller never received the equivalent of the British VC as did the captain of the Houston. The Dutch government offered its highest award, the Militare Willems-Orde posthumously to Captain Waller, but to its everlasting shame, the Australian government turned it down. In World War II, twelve Victoria Crosses were awarded to members of the Australian forces engaged in operations against Japan but not a single VC was awarded to the Royal Australian Navy.
USS HOUSTON (March 1, 1942)
Sunk in the Sunda Strait by torpedoes from the same warships that sunk HMAS Perth The Houston went down just twenty minutes later about a mile from the Perth, taking 643 men to their deaths. The 368 survivors made their way to Bantam Bay on the western shores of Java, only to be captured by the Japanese who had already occupied the area some hours before. Of the survivors, seventy-seven died while in Japanese captivity. Both captains of the Perth and Houston went down with their ships. Captain Robert Rooks, the commander of the Houston, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously. The Houston lies in approximately 107 feet of water just north of Panjang Island.
GALILEA (March 28, 1942)
Italian liner of 8,040 tons, torpedoed and sunk by a British submarine near Antipaxo. The Galilea was carrying Italian troops from North Africa to Italy when attacked. The ship went down taking the lives of 768 troops and crewmembers to their deaths.
HMS CORNWALL and HMS DORSETSHIRE (April 5, 1942)
HMS Cornwall, (Capt. Manwaring) the 10,000 ton, 8-inch gun British cruiser sunk off the coast of Ceylon by bombs from 53 Japanese planes from the carriers Akagi, Soryu and Hiryu. From the Cornwall 198 men were lost, the ship sinking in 22 minutes at 1.40pm. HMS Dorsetshire, (Capt. Agar) British cruiser sunk along with the Cornwall, lost 227 men, the ship taking at least nine direct hits and sinking in less than eight minutes. The cruiser Enterprise and two destroyers rescued 1,122 men from the water.
HMS HERMES (April 9, 1942)
The 10,850 ton aircraft carrier (Capt. R. Onslow) was the first Royal Navy ship to be specially designed as such. This was the ninth ship to bear this name. The Hermes left the naval base of Trincomalee, Ceylon, escorted by the Australian destroyer Vampire, and while sailing south off Batticaloa on the east shore, the ships were attacked by carrier-borne aircraft from a Japanese force of three battleships and five carriers including the Akaga, Hiryu and Soryu, which had entered the Bay of Bengal a week before and were now attacking the naval base. Around seventy bombers were sent to dispatch the Hermes which sank within ten minutes, followed by the Vampire shortly after. Of the complement on the Hermes, nineteen officers and 283 ratings died. On the Vampire, nine men lost their lives. The hospital ship Vita rescued approximately 600 survivors from the two ships and took them to Colombo and later to Kandy for recuperation. The air attack on the base killed 85 civilians in addition to military losses. Thirty-six Japanese planes were shot down. The wreck of the Hermes was found sixty-three years later, in 2006, about five nautical miles from shore and fifty-seven meters down. Divers attached the White Ensign to the rusting hull. The wreck of the Vampire has never been found.
RAMB IV (May 10, 1942)
Former Italian hospital ship captured by the British and now a Ministry of War transport, was carrying 360 staff and wounded patients when attacked by enemy aircraft while on its way to Alexandria from Tobruk. The ship had to be abandoned and later sunk by Royal Navy warships. During the attack, 155 wounded men were killed and ten of the crew lost their lives.
BATTLE OF MIDWAY SINKINGS : SORYU, AKAGI, KAGA and HIRYU (June 4-8, 1942)
Japanese aircraft carriers sunk during the Battle of Midway. In this battle the enemy lost four aircraft carriers, all reduced to burning pyres within ten minutes by just 54 American pilots.
The United States lost 307 men in this battle. None of the opposing ships sighted each other; the entire, decisive battle was fought entirely by the carriers' planes. From the Japanese carriers, around 250 planes were lost. The aircraft included Vals, Kates, and Zeros. The American planes were from the carriers Enterprise, Yorktown and Hornet. The aircraft included the Dauntless, Devastator and Wildcat. In all, the Americans lost 72 planes. The Yorktown was the only casualty of the US Task Forces, three bombs from a Japanese dive bomber reduced the carrier to a derelict wreck and when two torpedoes hit the vessel causing a 26-degree list, the order to abandon ship was given. At 6 am on June 7, a Japanese submarine found her and performed the coup de grâce with two more torpedoes.
The American victory at Midway gave Australians their first real feeling of security. Its takeover by Japan was no longer a real possibility. Australia's only defence against the Japanese at this time was its distance from Japan and the size of the country. Was Australia worth the enormous cost and effort needed to launch an invasion?
MIKUMA (June 5, 1942)
During the Battle of Midway, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto was going to attempt not to make Midway a complete failure. He sent out an urgent message to send four of his smaller aircraft carriers down from the Aleutians and brought up a number of heavy cruisers to join his main fleet.
But the attempt at the taking of Midway was destined to failure. Yamamoto finally signalled his ships to withdraw. Two of the cruisers from the Midway force under the command of Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, the Mikuma and the Mogami, both of the Mogami class heavy cruisers, came under attack of the USS Tambor, a submarine of the US Strike Force. Both the Mikuma and the Mogami turned so as to avoid attack, but turned into each other. The Mogami, building up full power turned into the path of the Mikuma hitting her amidships. Both cruisers were badly damaged. Rear Admiral Spruances' dive bombers found the two cruisers early the following morning, their bombs adding greatly to the damage. The Mikuma finally sunk, Two of her survivors were picked up by the American submarine USS Trout. The crippled Mogami managed to get back the base at Truk where she was fitted out as an aircraft carrying cruiser, but the Mogami was finally sunk by US aircraft in the Philippines in October 1944.
TRENTO (June 15, 1942)
Italian cruiser badly damaged by British torpedo-carrying aircraft south-west of Crete while attacking the Harpoon convoy en route to Malta. The Trento was taken in tow by its escorting destroyer but was then hit by two torpedoes from a British submarine and sinks. Of its complement of 1,151 men there were 602 survivors, a death toll of 549.
MONTEVIDEO MARU (July 1, 1942)
Sunk by the American submarine USS Sturgeon (Lieutenant Commander Wright) about sixty-five miles west of Cape Bojidoru, Luzon, in the Philippines. She was heading for Japan from Rabaul, New Britain, carrying 1,035 Australian nationals including 845 army prisoners of war, the bulk of the 2/22 Battalion, Australian 8th Division (Lark Force). The 7,267 ton passenger ship had left Rabaul on the 22nd of June, unescorted and unmarked when at 0225 hrs on July 1st, was hit by two torpedoes from a four torpedo spread from the Sturgeon at a range of 4,000 yards. Developing a list to starboard, the ship sank stern first at 0240. Later reports indicated that 845 army personnel, 208 civilian P.O.W.s, including twenty missionaries, who had been living and working on New Britain when the Japanese came, 71 Japanese crew and 62 naval guards (a total of 1,186) made up the ships complement. Among the 208 civilian prisoners were the 36 crewmembers of the Swedish cargo ship Herstein which was bombed and set on fire while loading copra in Matupi Harbour. From the Allied contingent on board, there were no survivors. Lives lost amounted to 1,053. A memorial in the Bita Baka War Cemetery at Rabaul lists all the names on 30 columns.
A week later, on the 6th, the rest of Lark Force (168 men) and some civilian nurses, were herded on board the Naruto Maru and nine days later, dirty and half starved, arrived safely at Yokohama. All survived the war. After the war, Japanese sources state that seventeen Japanese crew and guards had survived the sinking of the Montevideo Maru and reached the shores of Luzon Island. Their fate is uncertain, they have not been heard of since and it is presumed that they were attacked and killed by Philippine guerrillas.
GLOUCESTER CASTLE (July 15, 1942)
Union Castle Line passenger ship of 7,999 tons and converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser, was attacked off the Ascension Islands, by German commerce raider Michel during a voyage from Birkenhead to Cape Town, South Africa. All her starboard side lifeboats were destroyed after which she sank about ten minutes later. Of her complement of 12 passengers (all women and children) and 142 crew, a total of 93 souls perished. Two lifeboats escaped the scene carrying 61 survivors but was later picked up by the Michel and transferred to her supply tanker, the Charlotte Schliemann, which transported them to Yokohama, Japan, where they were interned for the rest of the war. Two of the survivors died while in Japanese captivity.
USS QUINCY, USS VINCENNES, USS ASTORIA (August 9/10, 1942)
Three US cruisers sunk during the one hour 1st Battle of Savo Island by a force of Japanese warships including five heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and one destroyer. The American warships were protecting and escorting US troop transports en route to Guadalcanal. Total losses from the three ships amounted to 1,077 men killed and 709 wounded. On the USS Astoria 216 men were killed. The Vincennes lost 332 men and 529 men were lost on the Quincy. Many of the blood and oil covered survivors, struggling in the water, fell victim to the sharks. Japanese casualties were only 58 killed and 70 wounded.
The catastrophe at Savo Island was a demoralizing defeat for the Allies and the worst defeat ever suffered by the United States Navy. During this one hour duel, the Australian cruiser HMAS Canberra (Captain Frank Getting) was also sunk with the loss of 85 lives. Many of Canberra's survivors were rescued by the American destroyers USS Patterson and the USS Blue which was herself sunk with all hands some weeks later on August 23. On hearing of the Canberra's sinking, Churchill requested that the British cruiser HMS Shropshire be sent to replace her. In 1943, the US launched a new cruiser and named her Canberra, the first time the US Navy had named a vessel after a foreign warship. Fifty years later, a deep sea diving team, led by Robert R. Ballard, and including one of the Canberra's survivors, Ordinary Seaman Albert Warne, placed a plaque on the battered but upright hull of the Canberra which read "In Memory Of Our Fallen Comrades". USS Astoria, HMAS Canberra, USS Quincy, USS Vincennes.
HMS EAGLE (August 11, 1942)
British 22,600 ton aircraft carrier (Capt. L. Mackintosh) launched in 1918, sunk in the Mediterranean, 70 miles south of Cape Salinas, Majorca, by four torpedoes from the German U-73 (Kptlt. Helmut Rosenbaum) while escorting a convoy (Operation Pedestal) to the island of Malta. All four torpedoes hit the Eagle on her port side slewing the ship to starboard and shedding the parked Sea Hurricanes on her deck into the sea. Listing to port she turned slowly over and sank just over seven minutes later. Many of the survivors, bobbing in the sea by their hundreds were severely injured by concussion when the Eagle's boilers exploded. Of her crew of 1,087 a total of 160 perished, two officers and 158 ratings. The 927 survivors were picked up by the destroyers HMS Lookout and HMS Laforey and the tug Jaunty. The Eagle was the only aircraft carrier in Admiral Cunningham's Mediterranean Fleet and the only carrier with two funnels. (On the 16th December 1942, the U-73 was sunk off Oran by the US destroyers Woolsey and Trippe, killing 16 of her crew. There were 34 survivors.)
HMS MANCHESTER (August 13, 1942)
British light cruiser (9,400 tons) launched in April, 1937 and torpedoed four miles east of Kelibia, Tunisia, North Africa, by Italian torpedo boats, MAS-16 and MAS-22. The cruiser was engaged in escorting the great 'Pedestal' convoy to Malta at the time of the attack. Badly damaged, the ship had to be scuttled by her crew. A total of 150 men lost their lives. Three officers and 375 ratings landed on the Tunisian coast and were interned by the Vichy French authorities.
SS BAEPENDY (August 15, 1942)
Brazilian passenger and cargo ship (4,801 tons) now serving as a troop transport, sunk by the U-507 (Korvkpt. Harro Schacht) off the mouth of the Real River between Rio de Janeiro and Manaus. There were over 700 troops on board of which 270 died. Also sunk was the Annibal Benevolo, another Brazilian passenger ship, with a loss of 150 and the Araraquara with 131 passengers and crew lost, both sunk on the August 16, 1942. The U-507 was later sunk on January 13, 1943, by depth charges from a US Catalina flying boat in the South Atlantic. The entire crew of 54 perished. The sinking of these passenger ships caused Brazil to declare war on Germany on August 22nd.
LACONIA (September 12, 1942)
British Cunard Line luxury liner (19,695 tons) converted to a transport ship, was torpedoed and sunk by the U-156, commanded by Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein. The ship was carrying over 1,800 Italian prisoners of war captured in North Africa and guarded by 160 Polish guards, former Russian prisoners of war. Also on board were 268 British military and civilian personnel including 80 women and children. About 500 P.O.W.'s were killed instantly when the torpedoes hit the prison holds. Over 200 survivors were picked up by the U-156 helped by the U-506 and U-507 and then the U-boats in turn were attacked by an American four-engine Liberator of the USAF 343 Squadron from the US base on Ascension Island. Even though they displayed a large Red Cross flag, the plane dropped three depth charges. Altogether, including the crew, 2,732 persons were on board the Laconia when attacked. A total of 1,649 lives were lost including the captain, Rudolf Sharpe (ex-Lancastria). Vichy naval craft picked up 1,083 survivors. This incident caused the German Naval Authorities to issue the 'Laconia Order' by which all U-boat captains were forbidden to pick up survivors. At the Nuremberg Trials, Grand Admiral Doenitz was accused of a war crime by signing the order, but was acquitted on that charge only to spend 11 years and 6 months in prison for other war crimes.
USS WASP ( September 15, 1942)
American aircraft carrier which as part of the British Mediterranean Fleet, assisted in escorting convoys to Malta. She was then transferred to Far Eastern waters where she took part in operations off Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. While south of the islands on September15, she was attacked by a Japanese submarine which scored three hits on the carrier. A heavy list to starboard developed after which she caught fire and sank. Most of her complement of around 2,000 were rescued but 193 of her crew were killed.
LISBON MARU (October 1, 1942)
Japanese transport vessel of 7,053-tons, carrying 1,816 British and Canadian prisoners of war from the Shamshuipo P.O.W. camp at Hong Kong to Japan, was torpedoed by the US submarine Grouper about six miles off Tung Tusham Island on the Chinese coast. The prisoners were contained in three holds which soon became foul with the stench of sweat, excreta and vomit. Many lost consciousness through thirst, lack of fresh air and extreme heat. Men were reduced to licking the condensation from the sides of the ships hull. A bucket of liquid was lowered by the guards and thirsty men rushed to grab it, only to find it was filled with urine. On top deck were some 778 Japanese military men on their way home to Japan. At 7 o'clock in the morning, the torpedo struck, severely damaging the ship but causing no casualties among the prisoners. Soon a Japanese ship, the freighter Toyukuni Maru came alongside and took on board all the Japanese soldiers but none of the Allied prisoners.
The Lisbon Maru was then taken in tow heading for Shanghai, but some hours later the ship, now low in the water, began to sink by the stern. Prisoners in Number 3 hold were unfortunately below the waterline and now beyond rescue. Some prisoners in the other two holds managed to break free but were shot down as they emerged. Another four Japanese ships appeared on the scene and some escaped prisoners, swimming in the water, managed to reach the dangling ropes and started to climb aboard only to be kicked back into the water when within a few inches from the deck. Eventually, most of the surviving prisoners were taken on board the four ships and taken to Shanghai where thirty-five sick and wounded were unloaded. A few however, managed to swim away from the Lisbon Maru and were rescued by Chinese fishermen and taken to a group of small islands near by (Sing Pan islands). At Shanghai, a roll call accounted for 970 men, a total of 846 had perished, 154 were from the Middlesex regiment. Of the 970 survivors, some 244 died during their first winter in the Japanese camps. The 'Lisbon Maru' was not marked in any way to indicate that she was carrying prisoners of war but as she was armed and carried Japanese troops the ship was a legitimate target. (Among the 1,780 graves in the Sai Wan Bay cemetery are the graves of those who lost their lives in this tragedy.)
Toilets for P.O.W.s on these ships were primitive to say the least. They were hung like bird cages over the two sides of the ship. all swaying like swings in the wind. A prisoner hung on to the ropes and defecated directly into the ocean. Some, too weak to get out, had to wait for the next in line to help him out while he in turn helped the other in. In the wake of the ship two yellow coloured streaks could be seen trailing to the horizon, the result of droppings from dozens of these outboard 'benjos'. When the seas were rough, the prisoner got drenched but as toilet paper was unknown, what the hell, it was better than using your hands to clean yourself. But why bother, you may ask, back in the torrid holds of the ship you again sat in a few centimetres thick carpet of semifluid human waste, blood, urine and vomit, the stench of which must have been horrific. Caged animals could not have suffered worse.
HMS CURACOA (October 2, 1942)
British light cruiser of 4,290 tons was engaged mainly in convoy escort duties during WWII. It was while escorting the Queen Mary that disaster struck. The Cunard White Star liner was carrying 15,000 American troops to England when the Curacoa's lookout reported what he thought was a submarine on the port bow. The Queen Mary turned sharply to starboard and the Curacoa, in pursuit of the suspected U-boat, crossed her bows with insufficient clearance causing the two ships to collide. Proceeding on a zigzag course at a speed of twenty eight and a half knots the Queen Mary knifed through the escort cruiser cutting her in two, the halves separated by about 100 yards. Fearful of U-boats in the area and aware of his responsibility to his passengers, the captain did not even slow the ship down until it entered the safer waters of the Firth of Clyde. The 'Queen' was badly damaged, her bow plates folded back at least forty feet into the ship. A total of 338 men aboard the Curacao died as a result of this tragedy (25 officers and 313 ratings) There were 26 survivors. The incident occurred some 20 miles off the coast of Donegal, Ireland.
KOMET (October 14, 1942)
German commerce raider (3,287 tons) escorted by four Motor Torpedo Boats and some minesweepers was bound for the North Atlantic. The British Admiralty, knowing that an attempt was being made to send the Komet to sea, had stationed a strong force of craft in the English Channel to intercept her. In the short action which followed, the Komet was set on fire and shortly after, blew up, killing all 351 of her crew. Two of the torpedo boats and one minesweeper were also sunk.
SS PALATIA (October 21, 1942)
Cargo/Passenger ship of 3,974 tons, former Russian 'Khasan' captured by the Germans at Tallin on June 22, 1941, and now part of the Hamburg-America Line, departed Kristiansand, Norway, on October 21, 1942, having arrived the day before from Stettin. On board were 999 Russian prisoners of war and 135 ships crew and guards, a total of 1,134 men. About an hour after sailing, the ship was attacked by a torpedo carrying plane from 489 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, based at Wick, Scotland, and piloted by Flying Officer Richardson. The Palatia sank near the Sangnvaar Lighthouse, taking 954 prisoners, crewmen and guards to the bottom of the ocean. The wreck lies in over seventy meters of water and is now classified as a War Grave.
MV ABOSSO II (October 29, 1942)
Elder Dempster Lines passenger/cargo liner of 11,330 tons (Capt. R. W. Tate) while on its way from Cape Town to Liverpool, she was attacked and sunk by torpedoes from the U-575 (Kptlt. Gunther Heydemann) about 589 nautical miles (1,091 kilometres) north of Lagens Field, Azores Islands. Two torpedoes were fired at intervals of twenty minutes, the second sinking the Abossa in about fifteen minutes. There were only 31 survivors including five Dutch members of the 33 Netherlands Royal Navy and one female passenger out of the ten women on board. Three of the four Royal Navy men on board survived. All survivors were in lifeboat No 5, the only lifeboat with survivors that didn't capsize. In all, a total of 168 crew and 193 passengers were lost (=361). Among the passengers were 44 newly trained pilots from the No 23 Service Flying Training School, X Flight, Advanced Training Squadron, at Heany, Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia. Pilot Officer William B. Thomson of Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, was the only survivor from this pilot graduating course. Survivors were picked up from the freezing Atlantic 36 hours later when an Australian Navy Lieutenant on board the sloop, HMS Bideford, which was escorting a troop convoy proceeding to North Africa as part of Operation 'Torch', sighted their lifeboat. The sloop put them ashore at Gibraltar three days later.
Pilot officer Thomson was assigned to return to Britain onboard a Sunderland Flying Boat, one of two which were to take off in formation. On take off his plane developed engine trouble and take off was aborted and delayed for a few hours. The other Sunderland, which had a number of high ranking officers on board, plus five passengers, continued on to Britain only to crash in heavy fog upon arrival...all the five passengers were killed. Pilot Officer Thomson claimed that it was only fate or his lowly rank which kept him off the ill-fated flight. (He died in 1993) On the Alamein Memorial are inscribed the names of 19 RAF men lost on the Abosso. Others are commemorated on memorials in various countries including Singapore (21) and one name on the Australian War Memorial. (The U-575 was sunk on March 13, 1944, with the loss of 18 crewmembers. There were 37 survivors.)
WARWICK CASTLE (November 14, 1942)
Passenger liner of 20,107 tons owned by the Union Castle Line of London. With 428 persons on board, including 295 crewmembers and 133 servicemen, the liner was torpedoed by the U-413 at 8.44am. The ship sank in 85 minutes. The Warwick Castle was being used as a troopship and had just disembarked troops during the North Africa landings and was returning empty as part of Convoy MFK-1X when attacked. A total of 114 lives were lost. (60 crew and 54 service personnel). There were 314 survivors.
SS PRESIDENT DOUMER (October 30, 1942)
Ex-French passenger liner, now a Ministry of War Transport of 11,898 tons (Bibby Line) serving as a troopship, sank with the loss of 260 lives near Madeira. She was part of a UK bound convoy when struck by a torpedo from the U-604 (Kptlt. Horst Höltring) about 151 nautical miles (280 kilometres) north of the Madeira Islands in position 35.08N, 16.44W. The U-604 was scuttled on August 11, 1943, in the South Atlantic with the loss of 14 of her crew.
SS MENDOZA (November 1, 1942)
Ministry of War Transport liner of 8,234 tons (Captain B.T. Batho) sailing from Mombasa, East Africa, was sunk by the U-178 (Kpt. Zur See, Hans Ibekken) about 70 nautical miles (129 kilometres) east-northeast of its destination, Durban, South Africa. The Glasgow-registered Mendoza, an ex-Vichy French ship captured off Montevideo by a British armed merchant cruiser, and now sailing under the Blue Funnel flag, was carrying 153 crew and some 250 passengers when it blew up taking the lives of 28 of her crew and 122 service personnel. With her two propellers and rudder blown off, the ship settled by the stern. Ten lifeboats were launched, the survivors attempting to reach land when the American ship SS Alava arrived. While climbing the ladder, Captain Batho slipped and fell into the water, his body crushed between the ship and the lifeboat. The U-178 was scuttled on August 25, 1944 at Bordeaux, France.
CITY OF CAIRO (November 6, 1942)
British passenger ship sunk by the U-68 (Kptlt. Karl-Friedrich Merten) 840 kilometres south of the British island of St. Helena. There were around 100 deaths among its 300 passengers and crew. Merten believed that the ship he had sunk was a 8,000 ton cargo boat. After the sinking, the U-boat commander helped rescue survivors still in the water and had them placed in the lifeboats. He then departed the scene with an apology for the sinking but not before he provided the survivors with precise details of how to reach St. Helena. However, one lifeboat drifted for fifty-one days before reaching the coast of Brazil. Only two of its original eighteen people on board, were still alive. Some years later the British survivors held a reunion in London and Merten was invited to attend having previously published his own account of the sinking. At the reunion, one of the survivors was heard to remark "We couldn't have been sunk by a nicer man". Karl-Friedrich Merten died of cancer in May, 1993.
HMS HECLA (November 11, 1942)
Royal Navy depot ship of 10,850 tons, the fifth of seven ships to bear this name, was taking part in the Allied landings in North Africa, when it was torpedoed and sunk just after midnight by a German U-boat, the U-515. It sank west of the Straits of Gibraltar, 337 kilometres northwest of Rabat, French Morocco. A total of 279 men died and 568 survivors were rescued by the escort destroyers. HMS Venomous succeeded in rescuing more survivors from Hecla and landed them at Casablanca. Seven months earlier, on April 16, 1942, she was part of convoy WS-18 which ran into a minefield laid by the German Minelayer Doggerbank. Damaged and taken in tow by the light cruiser HMS Gambia, she was to spend the next eighteen weeks in Simonstown undergoing repairs. In this instance twenty-four of her crew were killed when she struck the mine amidships.
USS JUNEAU (November 13, 1942)
American anti-aircraft light cruiser named after the capital city of Alaska. During the night actions of the naval Battle of Guadalcanal the Juneau, commissioned in February, 1942, was struck by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-26. The torpedo was meant for the American cruiser San Francisco but missed and hit the Juneau. Badly damaged, the ship tried to escape from the battle zone but was again hit by a second torpedo which apparently hit the powder magazine causing the ship to explode in a great ball of fire. This time the Juneausank in less than thirty seconds taking the lives of her Captain and 687 crew members. There were about 115 survivors but only 10 were alive when help arrived eight days later. On board the Juneau were the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert who had enlisted together on January 3, 1942 and insisted on serving on the same ship. Four of the brothers died in the explosion, the fifth, George, died from his wounds on a raft some days later. After this tragedy, President Roosevelt issued instructions that in future if any American family lost more than two sons, the remaining boys would be relieved from further combat duty and sent home. A new ship, The Sullivans, was named in their honour and christened by the boys' mother, Mrs. Alleta Sullivan, in April, 1943. It was the first US Navy ship with a plural name and went on to earn 9 battle stars while serving in the Pacific theatre. She was decommissioned in 1965 and is now moored at the pier side of the Naval and Servicemen's Park in Buffalo, New York.
USS SAN FRANCISCO (November 13, 1942)
American heavy cruiser of 9,950 tons launched in 1933 and commissioned a year later. In 1942 she was part of the naval force covering the invasion of Guadalcanal. During the landings a Japanese torpedo bomber crashed on the aft superstructure of the ship killing fifteen men and wounding twenty-nine others. The San Francisco, flagship of Admiral Callaghan, was badly damaged during the Battle of Cape Esperance in which she received forty-five major hits from the Japanese battleship Hiei. On board the 'Frisco' 77 men had been killed including Admiral Callaghan (some reports say 115) and 105 men wounded. Limping back to Pearl Harbor before returning to the US for repairs, the San Francisco served out the rest of the war, earning seventeen battle stars.
HIEI (November 13, 1942)
Japanese Kongo class battleship sunk by bombs and torpedo hits during the half hour naval Battle of Guadalcanal (off Savo Island) Damaged by shells from the USS San Fransisco, her steering gear shattered, the Hiei was now careering all over the ocean. Her commander, Captain Nishida, then switched to manual steering and after nearly completing a 180 degree turn sailed the ship away from the battle area at reduced speed. Soon three B-17 bombers, from the American held Henderson Field on Gaudalcanal and in company with six torpedo carrying planes from the USS Enterprise, attacked the Hiei. Listing to starboard and down by the stern, the order was given to abandon ship and the evacuation of nearly 1,300 of its crew began. The Hiei, was then scuttled by her crew and abandoned. Left alone in the gathering darkness it was never seen again. So were 188 men of her crew who went down with her to the bottom of Ironbottom Sound. This was the first Japanese battleship sunk in WWII and the first warship sunk by the US Navy since 1898.
USS ATLANTA (November 13, 1942)
American light cruiser, (6,000 tons) sunk during the Guadalcanal Landings by a torpedo from the Japanese destroyer Akaksuki and from shells from the battleship Hiei. The Atlanta ran into the line of fire from the USS San Francisco and received another nineteen 8 inch shells before the mistake was discovered. Fired at from both sides, the cruiser was soon ablaze throughout her whole length, her crumpled decks strewn with dead bodies including that of her commander, Admiral Scott. The commander of the San Francisco, Admiral Callaghan, was killed minutes later by a 14 inch shell from the Hiei. Of the Atlanta's complement of 735, a total of 172 men were killed and 79 wounded. The decision was taken to scuttle the ship by demolition charges and the Atlanta now lies at the bottom of Savo Sound.
SS SCILLIN (November 14, 1942)
Italian cargo/passenger ship en route from Tripoli to Sicily with 814 Commonwealth prisoners-of-war on board, a naval gun crew and 30 Italian guards, was torpedoed by the British submarine HMS Sahib (Lt. John Bromage) 10 miles north of Cape Milazzo in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Sahib rescued 27 P.O.W.'s from the water (26 British and one South African) plus the Scillin's captain and 45 Italian crew members. Only then, when the commander heard the survivors speaking English, did he realize that he had sunk a ship carrying British prisoners-of-war and some Italian soldiers and had drowned 783 men. At a subsequent inquiry into this 'friendly fire' tragedy, Lt. Bromage was cleared of any wrongdoing as the ship was unmarked and at the time he firmly believed that the ship was carrying Italian troops. The Ministry of Defence kept this incident a closely guarded secret for fifty-four years, telling relatives a pack of lies, maintaining that they had died while prisoners-of-war in Italian camps or simply 'lost at sea'. It was not until 1996, after repeated requests for information from the families of the drowned men that the truth came out. On the 24th of April,1943, the Sahib was attacked by bombs from German Ju-88s and depth charges from the Italian corvette Gabbiano Badly damaged, the Sahib was later abandoned and scuttled.
HMS AVENGER (November 15, 1942)
British escort carrier (13,785 tons) built in the United States as the passenger liner Rio Hudson. Transferred to the United Kingdom under Lend-Lease and later converted to an auxiliary aircraft carrier in March, 1942. While in convoy from North Africa to the Clyde in Scotland, she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-155 just west of the Rock of Gibraltar (87 kilometres south of Faro, Portugal). The Avenger had been taking part in the North Africa landings before sailing for her home port on the Clyde, Scotland. At approximately 0307hrs the Avenger, part of Convoy MKF-1, was hit on the port side causing her bomb magazine to explode and blowing out the centre section of the ship. Enveloped in flames and black smoke, the Avenger sank in less than two minutes after the torpedo hit. Sixty seven officers, including her captain, Cdr. A. P. Colthurst, and 446 ratings went down with the ship, a total of 514 men. Twelve survivors were picked up by the escorting destroyer HMS Glaisdale. The U-155 (Korvkpt. Adolf Piening (1910-1984) survived the war and was scuttled during Operation Deadlight.
HMS ARETHUSA (November 18, 1942)
British cruiser of 5,200 tons escorting convoy MW-13 to Malta (Operation Stonedge) When the convoy was about 450 miles from its departure point, Alexandria, it was attacked by a formation of torpedo-carrying enemy bombers. Avoiding all but one of the torpedoes the Arethusa, was hit causing immense damage to the ship and killing 156 men from its complement of around 500. The ship managed to limp back towards her home base under her own power but finally had to be towed the last 150 miles, stern first, by the destroyer HMS Petard, to be met by tugs on the approach to Alexandria. Safely in harbour, the bodies of those killed were transferred to the destroyer HMS Aldenham and transported three miles out to sea for burial.
SS TILAWA (November 23, 1942)
The 10,006 ton British India SN Company passenger/cargo liner (Capt. F. Robertson) sunk by the Japanese submarine I-29 1,497 kilometres north-northeast of the Seychelles Islands while on her way from Bombay, India, to Mombassa and Durban, South Africa, with 6,472 tons of cargo. The explosion created great panic among the native passengers who rushed the lifeboats causing many deaths. Some time after the torpedo struck and whilst the ship was still afloat some crew and passengers attempted to reboard the vessel when the second torpedo hit. The ship carried 222 crewmen, four gunners and 732 passengers. Of the 958 people on board, 252 passengers and 28 crew were lost. The cruiser HMS Birmingham rescued 678 survivors and next day the P&O ship SS Carthage rescued four Indian seamen from the ocean.
SS NOVA SCOTIA (November 28, 1942)
Passenger/cargo ship of 6,796 tons launched in 1926 for the Warren Line, requisitioned and converted to a troopship in 1941, was en route from Aden to Durban, South Africa, carrying 780 Italian P.O.W.'s and 130 South African military troops acting as guards, plus a crew of 127. It was sunk in the southern Indian Ocean 244 kilometers northeast of Durban by the U-177 (Korvkpt. Robert Gysae). Casualties amounted to a staggering 863 lives lost. The U-177 was sunk on February 6, 1944, by depth-charges from a US Liberator aircraft. Fifty of her crew died, there were 15 survivors.
CERAMIC (December 6, 1942)
White Star Line, later Shaw Savill, a liner of 18,481 Gross Tons. On November 23, she set sail as a troop transport from Liverpool to Australia. When 1,148 kilometres west-northwest of the Azores, the ship was torpedoed three times and sunk by U-boat U-515 (Oblt. Werner Henke). A total of 655 crewmen, troops and nurses lost their lives including 33 Australians. There was one survivor, Royal Engineer sapper, Eric Munday, who was taken on board the U-boat to spend the rest of the war in a German P.O.W. camp. The rest of the crew and passengers were left to perish in the stormy seas. Allied propaganda claimed that the Ceramic's survivors were machine-gunned in the water. This was a big lie. It was many months before the Admiralty found out what happened to the Ceramic as she sank before any distress signal could be sent out. It was a letter that Eric Munday was able to write from his P.O.W. camp Marlag-Milag-Nord, near Hamburg, that alerted the Admiralty to the circumstances surrounded the loss of the Ceramic. The U-515 was sunk on April 9, 1944 in mid Atlantic by aircraft from the escort carrier USS Guadalcanal and from depth charges from the escort destroyers USS Pope, Pillsbury, Chatelain and Flaherty. Sixteen of the crew were killed, there were 43 survivors taken prisoner. Fearing a war crimes trial, the captain, Werner Henke, committed suicide while in US captivity in Camp Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. (Some reports say that he was shot while trying to escape.)
SS BENALBANACH (January 7, 1943)
The Ben Line 7,152-ton passenger/cargo ship launched in June, 1940 and sunk north-west of Algiers when the convoy she was part of was attacked by a single enemy aircraft. She was carrying 389 men of Motor Transport unit and a crew of 74 from the Clyde to Bona, North Africa. This was her second trip to the Allied landing area conveying troops and equipment. The Benalbanach was hit by two torpedoes launched from the aircraft. The ship caught fire, blew up and sank almost immediately taking the lives of 57 crewmembers and 353 service personnel. Her commander, Captain D. MacGregor, died in the water just as he was about to be rescued.
M.V. CITTA' DI GENOVA (January 21, 1943)
Built in 1930 (5413 tons) the Italian motor vessel leaves Patras on the 20th bound for Bari with 200 Italian troops and 158 Greek war prisoners on board. On the 21st at 1315hrs, twenty five miles west of Saseno Island, she is hit by two torpedoes from a salvo of five fired from the British submarine, HMS Tigres. She sinks in a few minutes with the loss of 173 men.
SS HENRY R. MALLORY (February 7, 1943)
Part of the 69 ship UK-bound North Atlantic convoy SC-118, the American ex-passenger liner Mallory, (6,063 tons) built in 1916, was attacked and sunk by a torpedoes from the German submarine U-402 (Forstner) part of a twenty U-boat pack. The Mallory was en route from New York to Reykjavik, Iceland, and had parted from the convoy just before the attack. Eleven ships in the convoy were later sunk. There were 494 passengers and crew on board the Mallory (Captain Horace Weaver) including 381 US troops, 34 armed guards, 2 civilians and a crew of 77 of which 39 members were lost. Also on board were 610 bags of mail. A total of 272 men perished. The 224 survivors were rescued four hours later by the US Coast Guard cutter U.S.C.G.C. Bibb, which picked up 205 men, three of whom died on board, and by the escort gunboat U.S.C.G.C. Ingham, which saved 25 men, two of whom died later. The U-402 was bombed and sunk with all hands in Mid Atlantic by aircraft from the carrier USS Card on October 13, 1943.
U.S.A.T. DORCHESTER (February 3, 1943)
Ex-coastal luxury passenger ship of 5,649 tons converted to a troop carrier, sunk by torpedo from the U-223 (Kptlt. Karl-Jung Wächter). The Dorchester was bound for the American base at Nararssuck in Greenland from St. John's, Newfoundland, as part of Convoy SG-19. With 902 passengers and crew on board, the ship was attacked at 03.55hrs about 150 miles south of Cape Farewell. Of the passengers, most were US troops. In addition she carried 1,000 tons of cargo. Escort ships of the Greenland Patrol rescued 229 persons from the stricken vessel, 132 by the US Coast Guard cutter USCGC Escanaba, and another 97 rescued by a sister ship, the USCGC Comanche. In all, 672 souls were lost including 404 soldiers. Hundreds of dead bodies, kept afloat by their lifejackets, were picked up from the sea. Later, even the Escanaba fell victim to a German submarine, being torpedoed in the Belle Isle Straits with only two members of the crew surviving. On board the Dorchester were four Army chaplains of different denominations who helped distribute life jackets and help the injured. When the storage locker was empty they removed their own life jackets and handed them to the next man in line. As the ship went down, survivors in the water could see the four chaplains standing on the sloping deck, arms linked and praying while awaiting their fate. A special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress and along with the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross, were posthumously awarded to the four chaplains. The U-223 was sunk in the Mediterranean just north of Palermo, Sicily, on March 30, 1944, by depth from British destroyers. Twenty-three of her crew were killed but twenty-seven survived.
CITY OF PRETORIA (March 2, 1943)
Ellerman Line passenger/cargo liner of 8,049 tons, New York to Liverpool, carrying a general cargo, was sunk by two torpedoes from the U-172 (Korvkpt. Carl Emmermann) and blew up immediately south-east of Cape Race. All on board, 145 persons, perished. The U-172 was sunk by depth-charges dropped from US aircraft on December 13, 1943. Thirteen crew were killed and 46 survived.
EMPRESS OF CANADA (March 14, 1943)
Liner of the Canadian Pacific SS Company, 21,516 tons (Capt. George Goold), converted to a troop transport. Referred to as the 'Phantom' by the German U-boat captains because she had escaped U-boat detection for three and a half years. While sailing from Durban, South Africa, to the UK via Takoradi on the Gold Coast, West Africa, she was sunk just after midnight, off Sierra Leone, by the Italian submarine Leonardo Da Vinci whose commander gave Captain Goold half an hour to abandon ship after the first torpedo struck. On board were 1,346 persons including 499 Italian prisoners of war and Greek and Polish refugees. A total of 392 people died including around 90 women and 44 crewmembers. The survivors, who had to endure exposure and vicious shark attacks, were picked up by the destroyers Boreas, Petunia and Crocus and the Ellerman Line vessel Corinthian. One man who did not survive was the naval officer in charge of the Italian prisoners, who failed to pass on the order 'Abandon Ship' to the lower deck thus causing great loss of life among the prisoners. On hearing this, angry survivors grabbed the officer and threw him overboard to the sharks. No formal action was ever taken over this murder. Da Vinci was later sunk with all hands by the destroyers HMS Active and HMS Ness on 24th of May, 1943, near Cape Finisterre.
HMS DASHER (March 27, 1943)
US-built merchant ship, the Rio de Janeiro, was later converted to an escort aircraft carrier in 1941 and loaned to the Royal Navy under the Lend-Lease Agreement. Renamed HMS Dasher (7,866 Tons) she saw service in the Mediterranean and on convoy duties to Murmansk. In 1943 she was being used as a Fleet Air Arm Training ship. It was in this capacity that the ship blew up in the Firth of Clyde in Scotland, between Ardrossan and the Isle of Arran, while heading for the port of Greenock. At about 4.45pm, on this hazy Saturday afternoon, while her Swordfish planes of No. 891 Squadron were practicing take offs and landings on her deck, one of her pilots misjudged a landing and crashed into a store of aviation fuel drums and explosives. The subsequent fire and violent explosion sent the Dasher to the bottom in less than five minutes, her bow rising almost vertical before plunging stern-first to the bottom. Oil from the sinking ship caught fire and spread over the water in which the survivors were swimming. A total of 358 officers and men drowned but 149 sailors survived and were picked up from the sea by dozens of small rescue vessels which sped out from Ardrossan to give what help they could. The Dasher lies upright in 170 metres (310 fathoms) of water, her flight deck some 30 metres above the seabed. As the 50th anniversary of her sinking approached, the Royal Naval Association undertook to erect a memorial at Ardrossan so that those that perished shall not be forgotten. (On June 28, 2000, a Memorial Plaque was fixed to the flight deck of the Dasher the site of which is now a war grave.)
CITY OF GUILDFORD (March 27, 1943)
Ellerman Lines passenger/cargo ship of 5,157 tons, en route from Alexandria to Tripoli, North Africa, carrying aviation spirit and munitions, was sunk by the U-593 (Kptlt. Gerd Kelbling, Knights Cross) near Derna. Sixty-eight of her crew, 11 gunners and 46 passengers were lost, a total of 125. There were 13 survivors. The U-593 was sunk on December 13, 1943 in the Mediterranean by depth-charges from USS Wain and HMS Calpe. All her crew survived.
MELBOURNE STAR (April 2, 1943)
Blue Star liner (12,806 tons) Capt. J. B. Hall, sunk 600 miles south-east of Bermuda by the U-129. (Korkpt. Hans Ludwig Witt. Knights Cross). There were 113 passengers and crew lost, and only four survivors. The U-129 was scuttled on August 18, 1944 at Lorient, France.
SS FRANCESCO CRISPI (April 19, 1943)
Italian passenger ship of 7,464 tons, built in 1926 and used by the Italian Army as a troop transport was torpedoed and sunk by HMS Saracen off Punta Nere in position 42º46'N 09º46'E. The Francesco Crispi was en route from Leghorn to Bastia in Corsica when attacked. She sank with the loss of around 800 men.
SIDI-BEL-ABBES (April 20, 1943)
French steamship of 4,392 tons torpedoed and sunk by the U-565 near Oran about ten miles north of the Habibas Islands. On board were some 1,130 Senegalese troops being transported from Casablanca to Oran. A total of 611 lives were lost, 520 being rescued by British naval escorts.
SS ERINPURA (May 1, 1943)
British India SN Company troop transport (5,143 tons) built in 1911, in convoy with 23 merchantmen and escorted by eleven destroyers, was bound for Malta. When some 30 miles north of Benghazi, the convoy was attacked by German bombers and torpedo carrying aircraft. On board the Erinpura (Capt. P. V. Cotter) were 1,015 troops, including 179 crew, 11 gunners, and over 600 soldiers from the African Basothe Pioneer Auxiliary Corps. A large bomb exploded in the hold sinking the ship in a matter of minutes. A total of 664 lives were lost including forty-four crewmembers.
A.H.S. CENTAUR (May 14, 1943)
Former passenger/cargo vessel, the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur (3,222 tons) sunk after being set on fire by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-177near Cape Moreton, 38km off the Queensland coast. The Centaur had left Sydney Harbour while brightly illuminated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. Red crosses were painted on both sides of the hull and funnel and she flew the Red Cross flag. She was on her way to Port Moresby in New Guinea to pick up wounded from the battles of Buna and Gona, when the attack occurred at 0410hrs. The ship sank in about three minutes taking the lives of 268 people, including 18 doctors, 11 nurses, 193 other medical personnel of the 2/12th Field Ambulance and 45 members of her crew. There were 64 survivors from the 332 persons on board, picked up by the American destroyer USS Mugford. Of the twelve nursing sisters on board, only one survived. In 1990, the ship was declared a historic wreck. After the war, the captain of the I-177 , Lt-Cdr Hajime Nakagawa, was arrested and tried as a war criminal. He spent four years in Sugamo prison for atrocities committed in the Indian Ocean such as shooting survivors of torpedoed ships. During the war 49 ships were sunk off the East Coast of Australia, a total of 1,287 lives were lost. The wreck of the Centaur was finally found on December 20, 2009, at a depth of 2059m.
SS YOMA (June 17, 1943)
Passenger/Cargo liner of 8,131 tons of the British and Burmese Steam Navigation Co., built 1928 in Scotland and now serving in the Mediterranean as an auxiliary transport. She was in convoy GTX-2 with the ships SS Amarapoora, Pegu, Kemmendineand Sagaing en route from Sfax to Alexandria when she was sunk at 7.33 am by two torpedoes from the U-81 near Derna. She was the only ship to be sunk during this convoy. On board were 1,793 troops of which 484 were lost. British Army men included 134 officers and 994 ratings. Free French Army men included 22 officers and 643 ratings. Capt. George Patterson and 32 crew members also perished. Survivors were picked up escort ships including the Australian minesweepers HMAS Lismore and HMAS Gawler.
USS HELENA (July 6, 1943)
American light cruiser of 13,327 tons, sunk at the Battle of Kula Gulf 10 miles north of Kolombangara in New Georgia. Hit by three torpedoes from Japanese warships, the Helena jack-knifed and sank with 186 of her crew of 888. The survivors were picked up by other US warships. About 400 of them later served on board the new USS Houston. The Helena was the last but one of the 10 American cruisers lost in WWII. The USS Helena was awarded 7 Battle Stars.
DUCHESS OF YORK (July 11, 1943)
The twin funnelled 20,021 ton passenger liner/troopship owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway was in convoy with the liner SS California and the munitions ship SS Port Fairy en route to Freetown, Sierra Leone. About three hundred miles off Vigo in Spain the convoy was attacked by three FW-200 German bombers during the evening of the 11th. The two liners were hit amidships and set on fire. The three escort destroyers, HMS Douglas, HMS Moyola and the Canadian destroyer H.M.C.S. Iroquois proceeded to transfer passengers and crews. The Iroquois rescued 628 from the Duchess of York but sadly 89 men lost their lives. Soon after midnight on the 12th the blazing hulk of the two ships were then sunk by torpedoes from the convoy escorts. The SS Port Fairy was then escorted safely to Casablanca where all survivors were disembarked.
TSUSHIMARU MARU (August 22, 1943)
Japanese Cargo/Passenger ship, 6754 tons, part of convoy Namo 103, sailed from Naha Port in Okinawa bound for Kagoshima. On board were 1,484 civilians including 767 children being evacuated from the island. Near the island of Akuseki the vessel was attacked at night by the American submarine 'Blowfin' and sunk. Only 59 children survived, leaving a death toll of 1,529. The wreck was located on December 12, 1997.
Japanese seaplane tender (11,317 tons) departed Kure escorted by two destroyers. On board were over six hundred troops and twenty-two tanks on their way to reinforce the garrison at Buin. Commanded by Rear Admiral Osugi Morikazu, the convoy was attacked by a US strike force as it sailed through the Bougainville Channel only two hours and twenty miles from its destination. Heavily bombed and strafed the ship was doomed and soon on fire from bow to stern. Heeling heavily to starboard, the ship plunged bow first under the waves. One of Japans greatest sea disasters the sinking took the lives of around 1,080 lives including those from the two destroyers which were also bombed but not sunk. There were 178 survivors rescued by the same two destroyers that had earlier protected them.
R.N. ROMA (September 9, 1943)
Italian battleship, flagship of Admiral Carlo Bertgamini, sunk in the Mediterranean (off the coast of Sardinia) by direct hits from two radio-guided 'Fritz-X' 320 kg bombs dropped from Dornier 217 K11s Luftwaffe planes from the Istres airstrip near Marseille. (A total of 1,386 such bombs were manufactured during the war. This radio-controlled bomb was the first really effective weapon against the battleship, other than the torpedo). The Roma capsized, broke in two and sank at 16.12hrs. The Italian surrender had just been signed and now their foe was their former ally, Germany. The Roma (41,650 tons) had set sail for Malta from her base at La Spezia with orders to join the British fleet. On seeing the planes approach, the gun-crews mistook them for British aircraft coming in to act as escorts and held their fire. Admiral Bertgamini, 86 officers and 1,264 crewmen perished as the ship went down. The pitifully few survivors (622 in all) were picked up by two of the escort destroyers. In the Mediterranean theatre alone, a total of 28,937 Italian sailors lost their lives. (The wreck of the "Roma" is at 41 10N 8 18E). During WWII, eight battleships were sunk by aircraft; these were the Roma, Prince of Wales, Repulse, Arizona, Oklahoma and the Japanese Hiei, Musushi, and Yamato.
M.V. DONIZETTI (September 23, 1943)
Italian passenger vessel of 2,428 tons and now under the German flag, arrives at Rodi Island to embark Italian troops who have to evacuate the island. Licensed to carry 700 passengers she now had on board 1,576 military men plus around 220 crew. On the 23rd she left Rodi bound for Piraeus under escort of the German frigate Taio. While south of the island she was attacked by the British destroyers HMS Fury and HMS Eclipse. Badly damaged by gunfire the Donizetti capsizes and sinks. There were no survivors.
MICHEL (October 17, 1943)
German commerce raider of 4,740 tons, originally the Polish freighter 'Biolskoi' captured in Norway, was sunk by four torpedoes from the American submarine USS Tarpon (Cmdr. T. Wogan) about 60 miles off the Japanese island of Honshu as she approached Tokyo Bay. A tremendous explosion soon after the fourth torpedo struck, sank the vessel and she went down within thirteen minutes with the loss of 263 officers and crewmen including her commander, Captain Gumprich. Sadly, nineteen Norwegian seamen, prisoners on board the Michel, died in their 'cells'. There were 110 survivors who managed to reach shore. During her first cruise, commanded by Hellmuth von Ruckteschell, she sank 15 ships, (including the Gloucester Castle) a total of 99386 tons. On her second cruise, commanded by Captain Gunther Gumprich, she sank 3 ships, 27,632 tons. The Michel was the last of the ten armed merchant cruisers which the Germans employed during the war.
SINFRA (October 20, 1943)
French ship of 4,470 tons, now in German hands, and serving as a troop transport and part of a German convoy, is attacked north of the island of Crete by Mitchell bombers of the U.S.A.A.F. and RAF Beaufighters. The Sinfra, with 2,664 prisoners of war on board, including 2,389 Italians, 71 Greek prisoners and 204 German troops, sinks. When Sinfra was torpedoed, the order went out from the ship "Send rescue vessels . . rescue German troops first." One plane, a Dornier, of the 7th Luftwaffe Sea Rescue Squadron was shot down by the allied aircraft. By the end of the day, 566 survivors, including 163 Germans, had been saved leaving a death toll of 2,098. This was the greatest loss of P.O.W.'s in the Mediterranean during World War II.
HMS CHARYBDIS (October 23, 1943)
British Dido class Cruiser sunk 40 nautical miles northeast of Brittany, France, by two German- torpedo boats, the T-23 and T-27 of the 4th Torpedo Boat Flotilla commanded by Korvettenkapitan Franz Kohlauf. The Charybdis was part of Force 28 patrolling the Channel off the French coast (Operation Tunnel). Hit by two torpedoes on the port side, the cruiser was soon engulfed in flames and started sinking deeply by the stern. A total of 464 men lost their lives including her commander, Captain Voelcker. There were 107 survivors. One of her escort destroyers, HMS Limbourne, badly damaged, had to be scuttled. Forty of her 125 crew were lost. (A number of US soldiers were on board the Limbourne, all were lost; why the G.I.s were there has never been established) None of the bodies were ever recovered. Eighteen of the seamen, whose bodies were recovered from the sea after the sinking of the Charybdis, lie buried in the cemetery at St Peters Port on the island of Guernsey and many more at St. Brieuc in France. In 1992, the wreck of the Charybdis was found by a French team of explorers and in 2001 a British team surveyed the wreck. She lies on her port side, her back broken, at a depth of 83 metres. A year later they found the wreck of the Limbourne about five miles from the Charybdis, and positive identification was made by photographing the ships bell.
SENDAI (November 2, 1943)
Imperial Japanese Navy cruiser of 7,100 tons commissioned on April 29, 1924 at the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Yard in Nagasaki. Sunk at the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay off Torokina Point in the Solomons. Torpedoes and shells from US Rear Admiral Aaron Merrill's Task Force 39 set the cruiser on fire. At 0200 hrs the Sendai is abandoned and sinks at 0430 hrs with 184 of her crew. A total of 236 crewmen are rescued. The wreck lies at a depth of 440 metres about 55 kilometres north-east of Kota Bharu, Malaysia.
USS LISCOME BAY (November 24, 1943)
American escort carrier sunk by torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-175 (Lt. Cdr. Tadashi Tabata) 40 kilometres west-southwest of Butaritari Island, near Makin Atoll, Gilbert Islands. The carrier sank in 23 minutes after being hit. Her aircraft bombs, stowed in the hold, blew up in a terrific explosion taking the lives of 644 men and its Commander, Rear Admiral Henry A. Mullinix. The stern of the ship simply vanished, the explosion sending fragments of steel, human flesh and clothing so high in the air that they showered down on the USS New Mexico which was following almost a mile behind. Fifty-five officers and 217 men were rescued by the destroyer USS Hoel. The I-175 managed to escape in spite of the many depth charges being dropped. Black mess steward and ships boxing champion 'Dorie' Miller was among the dead. Miller won the Navy Cross at Pearl Harbor by moving his mortally wounded captain to a place of greater safety and then manning a 50 calibre machine gun on the deck of the USS West Virginia until his ammunition ran out. As Miller remarked later "I think I got one of those Jap planes". He had no formal training in weapons. On June 30, 1973, the destroyer USS Miller was named in his memory. Legislative efforts to upgrade his Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor have to date been unsuccessful.
ROHNA (November 26, 1943)
Seventeen year old British liner/troopship of 8,602 tons, carrying 2,193 passengers including 1,988 US troops, 7 Red Cross personnel and a crew of 198, sailed from Oran, Algieria, bound for Bombay, India, via the Suez Canal. She joined the convoy KMF 26 which consisted of 24 ships in six columns, four ships in each column and escorted by seven British destroyers. Between Algiers and Phillopville the convoy was attacked by around 30 Heinkel 177 bombers of 11/KG-40. The Rohna was hit by a HS 293 'glider bomb' (the world's first guided missile) The troopship, crewed by Indian seamen under British officers and captained by an Australian naval officer, was owned by the British India Steam Navigation Company. The ship sank in less than 30 minutes taking 1,015 US troops and 102 crew members to a watery death. This was the largest loss of American lives at sea during WWII. Between 10.30 PM and midnight, rescue ships, including the minesweeper SS Pioneer, the Red Cross ship Clan Campbell and the Rohna's sister ship HMT Rajula, reported "sailing through a sea of floating bodies". Just over 900 survivors were rescued. Eight of the Heinkel 177s were shot down during the attack. Survivors were landed at Phillopville and taken care of by a British army unit. For reasons of national security details of this tragedy were kept secret for many years.
For more on the Rohna survivors, see the The Rohna Survivors Memorial Association's website at http://www.rohna.org/. For the full story see Carlton Jackson's book 'Forgotten Tragedy'.
SCHARNHORST (December 26, 1943)
The 32,700 ton German battleship, (Captain Fritz Julius Hintze) was attacked by the British battleship Duke of York and destroyers Savage and Saumarez while attempting to intercept an Allied convoy sailing to the port of Murmansk in Russia. Damaged by the 14-inch shells from the Duke of York and hit by torpedoes from the British and Norwegian destroyers, she was then attacked by the cruisers Jamaica, Belfast and Norfolk. After a battle lasting thirty-six minutes, the mighty ship rolled over and sank bows first at 7:45pm about 75 miles off the North Cape, the northernmost point in Europe. The 36 survivors of the 1,969 crew were picked up from the sea but 1,933 men had died. All of the Scharnhorst’s 51 officers were lost including the Group Commander, Rear Admiral Erich Bey. Altogether a total of fifty-five torpedoes were fired at the Scharnhorst, but only 11 struck the ship. Losses from the British ships were eighteen killed and sixteen wounded. The Battle of North Cape was the last conflict between British and German capital ships in World War II. Thus ended effective efforts by Germany to block the Murmansk convoys. The wreck of the Scharnhorst was located by a Norwegian team in September, 2000. It lies, her hull upside down, in just under 1,000 feet of water.