The Blue Funnel Line

Hugh Erith Williams

1921 ~ 1941

Hugh Erith Williams, Bryn Chwilog, Uwchmynydd, lost his life in 1941, when the Blue Funnel vessel Calchas was torpedoed without warning off the West African coast while homeward bound from Australia. The handwritten account of this tragic story, along with the photographs, were lent to us by his family.



Homewards from the Far east for Liverpool with ‘generals’ Alfred Holts deeply laden Calchas (10,305 grt, Captain Holden) was torpedoed in the engine room on 21st April 1941 by U 107, in position 23.50N 27.00W, close to where Memnon had foundered, 40 days before. U 107, a type 1X ‘Atlantic’ boat, was commanded by Lt Cmdr Gunter Hessler who was Donitz’s son in law. He subsequently went on to sink a total of 87,000 tons of Allied shipping.

23.50N 27.00W

Seven men in the engine room and boiler rooms were killed outright and No7 lifeboat was destroyed. The passengers and some of the crew then got away leaving Captain Holden, his officers and the remainder of the crew aboard to see what could be done to save the ship. It was then that tragedy occurred. A second torpedo ripped open the other side of the engine room killing many of those who had stayed, and Capt Holden. Although he was seen to go to his quarters, was never seen again. Calchas then broke in two and within three minutes she had sunk. The motorboat was launched from the lower bridge but even those who could escape were lost when the boat was dragged under by the suction as she sank.

Six lifeboats containing the fortunate ones but without their experienced navigators then set sail for the nearest land. Apart from a second sighting of U 107, a merchant vessel – a neutral ship, for she had white upper works which astonishingly sheered off and proceeded on her way and the loss, due to weather, of the small lifeboats, no’s 3 and 4 (personnel and provisions transferred to boat no 5), the first ten days were surmonted. Then the first casualty, the second radio officer, unable to stand the strain any longer, jumped overboard from lifeboat no 5 and was not seen again. On 4th May a passenger died, and many others were in very bad shape, thirst, hunger and exposure were begining to have their effect.


The following day, 650 miles from where  Calchas had sunk, they landed upon the coast of Senegal, two died in getting ashore. Between 5th and 8th May the three other boats landed on the CapeVerde Islands. A remarkable 14 – 16 days sailing for four boats without instrumnets, other than compasses and under the leadership of the bosun, the carpenter an able seaman and the chief steward – skilled seamanship coupled with the instinctive will to survive.

Torpedoed on April 21st in position 23.50N 27,00W (about 550 miles north of Cape Verde Islands) The crew and passengers took to six lifeboats but later transferred into four. Three reached islands in the Cape Verde group while the fourth sailed 650 miles in 16 days to reach the coast of Senegal. A total of 31 lives were lost either in the torpedoing or aboard the boats.


The Philoctetes was another Blue Funnel vessel that Hugh sailed on as Deckhand while he was with the company.


Remember Them?


Many thanks to Miss B Williams, for this tragic account, and all photographs.


Calchas Website


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