John Robert Spilman served on the Empire Light and died when it got Torpedoed in 1943

Hello, I wonder if you can help?!

I am trying to do my family tree and i have a relative who served on the Empire Light and died when it got Torpedoed in 1943?

His name was John Robert Spilman and was an Assistant Steward.

If you could please let me know if i have the correct ship and maybe if you have any documentaton / Pictures? That would be most wonderful.

Id be very grateful if you would get back to me on this matter...

Kind regards 
Janna Prince

Hello Janna,

Here are some details about Empire Light and U-Boat U-486 who finally sank the ship after she was first torpedoed U- 638, and abandoned, only 5 survived.

John Robert Stilman certainly served in that ship, and all Merchant Navy sailors who died at sea without a known grave are recorded on panels at the Tower Hill Memorial London, and John is listed on Panel 43 there.

John Robert Stilman's Commonwealth War Graves Site.

Name: Empire Light.

Type: Motor tanker Tonnage: 6.537 tons Completed: 1925 - John Brown & Co Ltd, Clydebank Owner: H.E. Moss & Co, Liverpool. Homeport: London Date of attack: 12 Mar, 1943 Nationality: British Fate: Sunk by U-468 (Klemens Schamong) Position: 53.57N, 46.14W - Grid AJ 9585
- See location on a map - Complement: 50 (45 dead and 5 survivors). Convoy: ON-168 (straggler) Route: Manchester - New York Cargo: Ballast


 Built as British Lumen for H.E. Moss & Co, Liverpool
1942 renamed Empire Light by Ministry of War Transport (MoWT)
Notes on loss: At 18.20 hours on 7 Mar, 1943, U-638 (Bernbeck) attacked a straggler from convoy ON-168 southwest of Cape Farewell (grid AJ 5897) and Bernbeck thought that he had missed, but the Empire Light (Master Frederick Dolton) was damaged and abandoned. 39 crew members and six gunners were lost. The master, three crew members and one gunner were picked up by the British destroyer HMS Beverley (H 64) (LtCdr A.R. Price) and landed at St.Johns, Newfoundland.

At 22.12 hours on 12 March, U-468 sank the abandoned Empire Light by two coups de grâce.

TypeVIIC. Laid down. 1 Jul, 1941. Deutsche Werke, Kiel. Commissioned 12 Aug, 1942. Oblt. Klemens Schamong Commanders. 12 Aug, 1942 - 11 Aug, 1943.  Klemens Schamong.  Career. 3 patrols12 Aug, 1942 - 31 Jan, 1943. 5. Flottille (training)
1 Feb, 1943 - 11 Aug, 1943.  3. Flottille (front boat)

Successes. 1  ship sunk for a total of 6.537 GRT.
Sunk 11 Aug, 1943 near Bathurst, in position 12.20N, 20.07W, by depth charges from a British Liberator aircraft (Sqdn. 200/D), which was shot down by U-468. 44 dead and 7 survivors.
Incredible bravery

The pilot of the B-24 Liberator, Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg RNZAF, that sank the U-468 but perished with his entire crew in the attack was awarded the Victoria Cross based solely on the testimony of the officers of the U-boat, including its commander Klemens Schamong. This was the only such case in the war where a statement from the enemy resulted in such a high decoration. The aircraft pressed home its attack even though it was extremely low and on fire, a case of incredible bravery.

Empire Ships:

In 1939, the British Ministry of Shipping adopted a standard naming system whereby all merchant ships ordered to be built in Britain to Government account, except very small ship types, would be given the prefix 'Empire' to their name. This applied to ships acquired through purchase, requisition, or taken in prize, with some exceptions. It also applied to older ships acquired from the USA, modern ships acquired on Lease/Lend arrangements, salved and refitted ships, and captured enemy ships.

Tower Hill Memorial

The Tower Hill Memorial is a national war memorial on the south side of Trinity Square Gardens, just to the north of the Tower of London. It commemorates those from the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who died during both world wars and have no known grave.

The World War I memorial takes the form of a vaulted corridor, 21.5 metres long, 7 metres wide and 7 to 10 metres high. Inside are 12 bronze plaques engraved with 12,000 names. It was opened by Queen Mary on 12 December 1928. The World War II memorial takes the form of a semi-circular sunken garden located behind the corridor, to its north. It contains the names of 24,000 British seamen and 50 Australian seamen, listed on the walls of the sunken garden. In the center of the garden is a pool of bronze, engraved with a compass pointing north. The WWI memorial was designed by Edwin Lutyens and the WWII memorial by Edward Maufe.

Between the two memorials are two columns with statues representing an officer (western column) and a seaman (eastern). This was designed by Charles Wheeler. The second part of the memorial was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 5 November 1955.

The main inscription, located in between the two columns, reads


Best wishes.
Mac. Gregory.


Im over joyed. Thank you a million times over. My mother is happy too as John was her Uncle.
Thankyou once again.

Kind regards,
Janna Prince


Pleased I was able to help.

Regards to you both.

back to letters index


This site was created as a resource for educational use and the promotion of historical awareness. All rights of publicity of the individuals named herein are expressly reserved, and, should be respected consistent with the reverence in which this memorial site was established.

Copyright© 1984/2014 Mackenzie J. Gregory All rights reserved