I have been tracng my family history and learnt about a relative who lost his life in WW1 serving on the Alcantara.
I visited the National Archive in Kew, London and copied the draft report by Captain Wardle which I have sent to you as an attachment.
There were several other reports from the captains of the other ships involved in the engagement but I did not have the time to copy them all.
Hope this may be of interest to you.
I have the honour to report that on Tuesday 29th February, at 9 A.M. I was in approximate position 61 – 45.N. O.58.E, having ordered H.M.S. “Andes” to rendezvous with me in 61.50.N, 1.O.E, to transfer secret papers.
At 8.55.A.M smoke was reported on the port beam, bearing N.75.W (true), and almost at the same time a signal was received from “Andes” stating enemy in sight, steering N.E., 15 knots, - and also another signal describing her – which I read as stating she had two funnels.
I at once increased to full speed and steered for the smoke.
At 9.10 A.M. I sighted “Andes”, hull down bearing N. (true), and steering N.E. (true).
At 9.15 being about 6000 yard off stranger I hoisted M.N. and fired two rounds of blank.
The stranger at once stopped and made a signal “I am stopped”
She then hoisted her number M.G.VI which was not in my copy of “Signal letters of ships of all countries”.
The ship’s company were at action stations and the guns were kept on the stranger.
About this time, 9.20. A.M., a signal was received from “Andes” “Enemy has altered course to S.E.”, and I saw that “Andes” had also altered to S. E. and apparently reduced speed. She was thus closing us.
When 4,000 off the stranger I altered course to port to keep this distance off while signalling her.
It could then be seen that she was flying Norwegian colours, and had Norwegian flags painted on her side with the name “RENA”.
I then signalled to “Andes” by search light “Am intercepting suspicious vessel, is enemy still in sight”. To this no reply was made.
In response to my signals the stranger signalled that she was from Rio de Janeiro to Trondghem.
These particulars, her size and course, all agreed with Lloyds confidential list of ships.
Getting no reply from “Andes”, I determined to put an armed guard on board stranger, who appeared quite normal, and then to proceed to help “Andes” with the enemy, as smoke had been sighted S.S.E. true.
While getting the guard ready, I reduced to 14 knots, and kept clear of stranger’s stern.
At 9.35, “Andes” signalled “That is the suspicious vessel”.
At 9.40, the boat was being swung out, and I was closing stranger on the port quarter when I noticed her ensign staff drop over the stern, and men clearing away a gun on the poop.
At the same moment stranger fired a shell at our bridge, which put the tellmotor steering gear, engine room telegraph, and all telephones on the bridge out of action, besides killing and wounding men.
The flaps with flags on her sides were let down, and she fought under no flag.
I at once gave the order full speed, and open fire. Range 2000 yards.
A messenger was sent aft to order the after steering gear to be connected up, and all further steering was done from the after control.
The enemy at once went ahead and turned to starboard, firing high explosive shell, some of them very short, but several hits were made near the water line amidships, penetrating the No. 1 stokehold bunkers which were half empty, and the engine room.
At 10.2., the enemy fired a torpedo which passed under our stern, starboard helm being used to avert it.
The first round from our after 6” – port, hit the ammunition of the after gun of enemy and put it out of action.
The German prisoners state that our third salvo all hit the enemy.
At 10.15 enemy was badly on fire by the bridge, range 5,500 yards. And she apparently stopped.
At 10.22 boats were noticed leaving the enemy who was enveloped in a cloud of smoke.
I ordered cease firing. H. M. Ship was beginning to list to starboard, and then suddenly listed to port.
The smoke cleared from enemy, and she fired one more round.
I then ordered open fire, but at 10.35 H. M. Ship was listing badly to port and sinking. I therefore gave the order, Cease firing, boat stations, stop engines. The order to stop engines never reached, but they apparently stopped themselves, when the water rose.
Every effort was made to get the boats out and save wounded, but several falls had been shot through, and men were precipitated into the water. – H. M. Ship was making about 3 knots through the water with the helm apparently hard a starboard, but the ship turning to starboard.
At 11.2. H. M. Ship sank.
At least 15 boats and a large raft floated clear.
H.M.S. “Comus” and “Munster” were rapidly coming up, “Munster” commenced saving life , while “Comus” proceeded to “Andes” who all the time had apparently been about 8,000 yards off, and reopened fire on the enemy, which was still burning furiously.
I am of opinion that enemy was completely abandoned by 10.30, and that the round fired afterwards was due to a heated gun. The statements of prisoners bear this out.
A wireless message was received from ”Comus”, but the decoded message never reached the bridge, and I was therefore unaware that help was on its way.
I have the honour to report that the officers and men of H. M. Ship fought with great gallantry, and that no one left their stations until ordered to, and I personally witnessed cases of men assisting wounded at great risk.
A full report will be submitted later.
The exact times will probably require revision when investigated. Those quoted are given from memory of the Navigating Lieutenant, who used a stop watch, but whose note book was lost while in the water.
A list of survivors on board H.M.S. “COMUS” is attached.
I have the honour to be,
Your Obedient Servant,
The Commander-in Chief
H.M. Ships and Vessels.