PWSTS Forum for Old Boys, Family and Friends

Members Login
Username 
 
Password 
    Remember Me  
Post Info TOPIC: Merchant Navy Day 2011 Commemorative Brochure


PWSTS Forum Member

Status: Offline
Posts: 69
Date:
Merchant Navy Day 2011 Commemorative Brochure
Permalink  
 


The National MNA are looking for stories to put in the forthcoming Merchant Navy Day 2011 Commemorative Brochure. This is one I have sent in and would like to share it here.

The Destruction of Convoy SL-64S

By the end of 1940 the strangle hold on Britain was beginning tighten even more. In the first eighteen months of the war some 1,294 Merchant ships totaling 4,779,945grt tonnage had been sunk with the British taking the brunt of the losses with 781 Merchant ships sunk, with the loss of 8,528 British seamen and hundreds more injured and maimed. 1941 would see no let up and by the end of February 1941 a further 170 Merchant ships had been sunk of 630,337grt, with the loss of a 1,390 British Merchant seamen.

The following is just one story, a tiny part of the war, but after seventy years the story has still not drawn to its final conclusion.
 
The SL/MKS series of convoys ran from Freetown Sierre Leone from September 1939 throughout the war and not one single convoy was ever canceled from the 178 convoys, which departed Freetown. From May 1943 the convoys would rendezvous with the Gibraltar MKS series for the final part of the trip home to the United Kingdom.
 
On the 30th January 1941 a total of 28 ships were formed into Convoy SL-64 of which 19 of these ships were given the prefix SL-64S, the S denoting "slow" as they did not have the 9 knot minimum speed  to keep up with the convoy and it was known they would be left vulnerable and without escort at some point. This must have left the Masters and crew somewhat apprehensive and even angry as they steamed past no less than four Cruisers, four Corvettes, ten Naval Trawlers and a Naval Sloop moored alongside as they left port. It being presumed the Admiralty thought their ships had more important tasks than to look after these little Merchant ships, which just so happened to be carrying over 150,000 tons of much need supplies to our beleaguered Island.
 
After just two days the 19 ships from SL-64S huddled together in tight formation under the guidance of the Convoy Commodore ship SS Warlaby as the faster ships slowly disappeared over the horizon. On the 12th February 1941 the slower convoy had crossed over 1700 nautical miles of ocean and was about 184 nautical miles East of Sao Miguel, Azores and still holding formation, with only two ships straggling behind unable to keep the seven and a half knot speed. On the same day a large war ship was sighted astern gaining on the convoy and to the relief of the crews of the Merchant ships believing the Admiralty had decided after all to send an escort to their aid. Men started to line the rails of their ships  and watched in awe as the Cruiser sailed between the center columns of the convoy. Their relief was short lived as the unknown warship suddenly identified herself by raising her battle ensign, as that of the German Cruiser Admiral Hipper. (The Cruiser had earlier come across one of the stragglers, SS Shrewsbury from the convoy and had sunk her with the loss of twenty crew) This mighty war ship displacing some 18,600 ton with a main armament of eight 8 inch guns unleashed a mighty salvo at the Convoy Commodore ship at close range and when the smoke settled the Warlaby had gone within two minutes taking thirty-six of her thirty-nine crew with her. Salvo after salvo was fired into the convoy which now desperately tried evasive action to escape the carnage. Five other ships soon followed the Warlaby to a watery grave including the SS Derrynane, SS Westbury, SS Perseus, SS Borgestad and SS Owestry Grange, with a combined loss of one hundred and twelve seamen. A number of the Merchant ships had attempted some resistance firing at the Cruiser with their small DEMS armaments. This was short lived and the ships were blasted out of the water. A further two ships were damaged before the Cruiser made good her escape in case any radio transmissions had been made. The remnants of convoy SL-64S were left to fend for themselves, with a number heading for shelter at the Azores.
 
The story now turns to the other straggler from Convoy Sl-64S. SS Nailsea Lass, 4,289grt, (Nailsea SS. Co. Ltd). Built in 1917, purchased by the Evan & Reid Management Co. Ltd of Cardiff in 1936. This rusty twenty-four year old tramp steamer was already past her prime and if not for the war, would have been sent to the breakers yard. At the beginning of the war the ship had been employed around the British coast and had been involved in one North Atlantic convoy. In July 1940 she had joined the outward bound convoy OB-186 from Liverpool and dispersed with her final destination being Calcutta arriving on the 24th September 1940. After loading a mixed cargo of charcoal, iron, pig iron and a general cargo the ship sailed independently to Freetown via Colombo, Durban & Capetown. Originally designated to join the 19 ship Convoy SL-63S, the ship was forced to return with engine defects. After eventually sailing in the next convoy the ill fated SL-64S, the old tramp steamer could not even keep the seven and a half not speed required and was straggling the convoy on the very first day. Her bottom badly fouled with weed and years of neglect had left the ship in a poor state. Her Master, Captain Thomas Llewellyn Bradford had no choice but steam on, all to unaware of the unfolding nightmare beset those ships that had left him in their wake. Twenty-five days after leaving Freetown, oblivious to the carnage, which had earlier taken place,  the Nailsea Lass found herself  sixty miles South-West of Fastnet, the most southerly point of Ireland and had been ordered to the South-West of England without closing the French coast.
 
On the evening of the 24th February 1941 at 21.43 hours (CET) a single torpedo from U-48 detonates under the bridge of the Nailsea Lass. After examining the damage the ship is ordered abandoned by Captain Bradford and all thirty-six crew get away in two life-boat before the ship sinks just over half an hour later. U-48 then approaches the lifeboats in order to question the survivors before removing the Captain and his Chief Officer, Alfred Hodder, taking them prisoner. Both men were landed at St. Nazaire three days later and were eventually interned at the Merchant Navy purpose built POW camp Milag Nord. Captain Bradford would remain in the camp until liberated on the 28th March 1945. Chief Officer Hodder was repatriated to the United Kingdom on the 16th October 1943 in a prisoner exchange, mainly made up of the older or sick prisoners. The remaining survivors in the two boats now in charge of by the Second and Third Mates  were left to battle against the elements. After becoming separated the two boats finally came ashore two days later at Ballytragh, Co. Kerry and Berehaven, Co. Cork respectively.
 
The story does not finish here either. On the Tower Hill Memorial on Panel 71 are the names of five crew members lost from this ship. In fact only one name should be named there. Reason being the others lie buried in unmarked graves. During the horrendous conditions endured over the two day period Thomas Harris a ships Fireman died from exposure and his body was committed to the deep by his shipmates. When the other lifeboat came ashore, three men were found to be dead from exposure. They were identified as Uriah Bailey (Fireman & Trimmer) age 60, Ben Leigh (Fireman & Trimmer) age 54 and John Robert (Fireman & Trimmer) age 44. A fourth crew member, the ships cook Kamarswarry Velu age 45 died later at Catherdaniel and all four men were buried at the Catherdaniel Graveyard on Abbey Island.
 
In 2010 contact of mine found documents in the Dublin archives from British an Irish authorities relating to the burial of these men and found three had been buried together just outside of the cemetery wall, with the other buried some five yards away. The reason they were buried the other side of the cemetery wall in not clear and grave markers were never put in place. Contact was made with Kerry County Council confirming the existence of the graves, but the exact location was unknown. Contact was made with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the representative for Ireland recently visited the site. Unable to find any evidence from the local church registry and being unable to locate the exact location of the graves due to the ground being heavily overgrown, the Commission has decided not to place any form of marker in the near vicinity of their final resting place.
 
I feel that just because the exact position of the burials can not be confirmed, is not a good enough reason for the CWGC to decline a proper headstone to mark their final resting place. One reason is I have evidence of a war grave in the Suda War Cemetery of that of a Merchant Seaman's headstone engraved with the words "Buried near this spot" The people of Catherdaniel held a service in 2011 on the 70th Anniversary to remember these men. We should not abandon them either. Out of respect they are due the recognition they rightfully deserve by placing a marker on their final resting place.
 
Lest we forget!
 
Rgds Billy McGee


-- Edited by British Merchant Navy at War on Saturday 11th of June 2011 11:06:09 AM

__________________


PWSTS Forum Member

Status: Offline
Posts: 356
Date:
Permalink  
 

A remarkable and moving story well worthy of inclusion in the brochure. I wish you well in your endeavour to have them properly remembered.

I was struck by the fact that all these men were a little older than many, possibly a reflection on the age of the ship. Also how impossible it is to comprehend the thinking behind the authorities decision making of the time.

Thank you for sharing it here.

Glancon



__________________


PWSTS Australian Director

Status: Offline
Posts: 1349
Date:
Permalink  
 

Thank you for that ,brings home the truth about the MN and the gallant men who scrificed ther lives in world war 2.

Wiggy



__________________
Wow what a Beer


PWSTS Forum Member

Status: Offline
Posts: 69
Date:
Permalink  
 

glancon wrote:
I was struck by the fact that all these men were a little older than many, possibly a reflection on the age of the ship. Also how impossible it is to comprehend the thinking behind the authorities decision making of the time.

Thank you for sharing it here.

Glancon


Desperate times call for desperate measures. Britain was still trying to recruit Merchant Seamen and were still in the process of creating the MNRP. The five men in question were not natives of the UK. Two were from Sierre Leone, one other from West Africa, one from Jamaica, the other from Ceylon. Nothing was found relating to next of kin for these five men, and I believe this is the reason the graves were never marked accordingly.

Without sounding disrespectful to the CWGC, I personally feel if this had been the case of any of the three armed services, the Commission would have sent an archaeological team to investigate. You can't tell me there is no possible way of checking the vicinity with the tools of modern technology today to find the remains of these men.

Whether the article is used or not does not really matter, as it is intended persue this regardless to a succesful conclusion.



Attachments
__________________
Page 1 of 1  sorted by
 
Quick Reply

Please log in to post quick replies.

Tweet this page Post to Digg Post to Del.icio.us


Create your own FREE Forum
Report Abuse
Powered by ActiveBoard