"M. V. Athellaird"

Report on Loss by Enemy Action.

 

(47.24 N.   49.49 N.)

(16.49 W.  9. 20 W.)

On July 2nd (1940) at approximately 22.40 B.S.T. vessel z. z. No8 at time violent explosion occurred abreast of foremast, apparently a torpedo, vessel going down rapidly forward, engines were stopped, Radio officer ordered to broadcast S.O.S. requesting immediate assistance, which was answered by Valentia and Lands End, 5 verey lights (Red) and a distress rocket were fired to warn shipping of what had happened. Engines were put ahead and vessel headed to N. E. but as steering was difficult owing to trim, and also because I feared the carrying away of further bulkheads forward, (Apparently the vessel being extensively damaged from forepeak to No. 2/3 Bulkhead) I ordered engines stopped, and that the crew take to the starboard boats (lee side) and lay to for the night, so that a better estimate of the possibility of returning to port could be made in daylight, both boats got into position about 200 yards to windward on the vesselís Port bow, and whilst lying in this position a torpedo passed right underneath my boat, we watched its track carefully but it must have passed astern of ship as no explosion was heard. At about 1 a.m. a terrific explosion occurred abreast of the Athellairdís funnel on the port side, and it was noticed that the vessel was settling down rapidly after this. I last saw the vessel at about 2 a.m. and when dawn came there was no sign of her at all, neither could we see the Chief Officerís boat, as the sea and swell had increased considerably during the night. At about 7 a.m. we sighted the Chief Officerís boat a mile to N.W. of us, but did not speak to him until dusk on Wednesday evening when it was decided to head North Eastward as soon as weather permitted. The boats did not sail in company but sighted each other at intervals until Sunday noon when we closed on each other and discussed what would be our exact position. It was decided to keep on the N. Eastward. Rough weather alternating with calms and heavy rain made life miserable in the closely packed boat. On the night of Monday the 8th the wind backed to S.W. and S.S.W. and increased to a fresh gale at about 3 p.m. Tuesday, boat was hove to, stern on to the sea anchor with reefed jib up to keep boat from coming broadside, but seas were curling aboard over stern and a re-arrangement of the men in boat became necessary to lessen risk of swamping. Although we had been compelled to heave to 3 times previously, it had been to lessen our drift more than anything else. This morning however, things appeared very serious and to make matters worse the sea anchor rope and tripping line both carried away at the same time, we then ran before the wind and sea until the wind decreased slightly around 9 a.m. when we once more tried to head E.N.E. by compass. We set a reef lug at 11 a.m. and at about 1 p.m. sighted a convoy ahead and by keeping on our course, we sailed right up alongside the H.M. Escort vessel (H.M.S. Sandwich) which so kindly took us aboard.

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It should be mentioned that whilst turning vessel round to N.E. on Tuesday night, the 2nd I heard the 47 gun being fired and on asking the poop what they were firing at, was told that they had fired at a submarine on the surface at 1000 yards range. I was looking in the direction indicated at the time the gun was fired but could not see anything except the silhouette of the M.V. Lobos to the N.W. which I thought might been mistaken for the submarine and I ordered them to cease fire. The gunner fired in accordance with previous instructions i.e. not to await orders if he saw any enemy craft at close range.

I did not see any sign of submarine at all, either from the shipís deck or from the boats.

During the early hours of Thursday, the 4th I saw three blue flashes, rather dim, but as these were not in accordance with the Mateís torch flashes I  did not reply, and when questioning Mr Vincent on Sunday he stated that he had shown no blue flashes at all.

Soon after noon on Tuesday, the 9th inst., I sighted a vessel ahead which proved to be one of the leading ships of the West bound convoy, and we were picked up by the escort vessel H.M.S. Sandwich at about 1.30 p.m. We were given every attention possible on board this vessel, and no words of mine can adequately describe the kindness shown to all of us.

"Crew of the Athellaird at Greenock"

We were landed at Greenock at 8 a.m. yesterday, Sunday 14th July, and arrived Liverpool at 0.40 a.m. to-day.

Report written by Capt Hugh Roberts, Master. Monday 15th of July 1940.

 

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