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