The Blue Star Line's Tuscan Star, Torpedoed and sunk. The 6th. of September, 1942. Another Victim of the U-Boat War.
(New: 23 November 2008 - see diary from Alan Wells at the bottom of this page.)
With those words, we in Australia, at 2115 ( 9.15PM ) Australian Eastern time on that fateful Sunday evening, also went to war against Germany, as did the Blue Star Line with its fleet of merchant ships.
A prophecy comes true.
We should never lose sight of the fact that after the fall of France in June 1940, Britain, aided by her then Dominions, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, stood alone, for the cause of freedom against the might of Germany, until America finally joined us on the 7th. of December 1941, through the unprovoked attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor.
On that voyage, I shared a cabin with one of my 1936 fellow entrants at the Royal Australian Naval College, it was Red Merson, a future Commodore of the RAN.
We sailed from Liverpool all alone, skirted Northern Ireland, and shaped a course for Greenland, then turned westwards for the North American continent. Then hugging the eastern seaboard of America, we sailed for the Island of Aruba, where we bunkered, then moved to Cristobal on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.
Tuscan Star. This is the ship I came home to Australia in from Liverpool late in 1941
The Panama Canal.
From the Cristobal side, one first travels south past Colon, through Limon Bay as you approach the Gatun Locks where your ship is lifted 26 meters to Gatun Lake. You now travel through an excavated channel to Miraflores Lake, then negotiate a further set of locks to lower the ship about 9 meters to the Pacific tidewater level, thence past Balboa, and on out into the Gulf of Panama. The total time from Atlantic to Pacific is 7 to 8 hours.
This 64 kilometer journey saves about 12,600 kilometers from the voyage around Cape Horn at the tip of South America.
I was amazed at this engineering feat, bearing in mind that the canal was built through an area infested with mosquitoes which spread both Yellow Fever and Malaria, and needed to be sanitized before any work could begin.
I believe it was in the year 2000 that the Panama Canal reverted to the Republic of Panama.
The ship carried a deck cargo of wooden crates, containing Avro Anson Aircraft destined for the Royal Australian Air Force, but no sooner had we cleared the canal, when a number of these crates started to emit smoke, then caught fire. It seems that in Cristobal, some explosive chemical devices were secreted into these crates, they then, with time, activated, causing the fires. Amid high drama, these burning crates were hoisted up off the deck and dumped into the sea.
Melbourne, Pearl Harbor Day.
I was home at last, and it was the 7th. of December 1941, Japan had attacked the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, this action of course brought the United States into the war, at last we were no longer alone in this war, our future victory now seemed ordained.
I was pleased to be home again, never feeling very safe when forced to take passage in a Merchant ship, particularly across the North Atlantic, earlier in 1941, I had travelled in the Empress of Japan, a troopship, from Colombo in Ceylon, via India and Cape Town to the Clyde in Scotland.
After a short leave, I was back at sea again, joining HMAS Canberra, to be still on board when she was sunk at the Battle of Savo Island, on the night of the 9th. of August 1942.
On the 6th. of September, 1942, Tuscan Star was just north of the equator, off the Gulf of Guinea, homeward bound from Buenos Aires, via Santos in Brazil, and Freetown, with a full cargo, including 7,300 of frozen meat. The ship was carrying 25 passengers and had a crew of 88, and was sighted by U-Boat 109, crossing her bows, and steaming at about 13.5 knots, it was close to 2100( 9 PM. ) At a range of only 800 yards, two torpedoes were fired, both hit the starboard side, one in Number 5 hold, the second in the Engine Room.
Ten minutes after these torpedoes struck Tuscan Star, U-109, reported reading her emergency message:"SSS SSS 01 degrees 34 minutes North, 11 degrees 40 minutes West, Tuscan Star torpedoed, sinking quickly, SSS SSS."
Aboard Tuscan Star, orders were immediately given to abandon ship, all boats with the exception of the motor boat, damaged in the explosion, were lowered, manned, and pulled away from the ship within 10 minutes, only 4 minutes later, the ship took her final plunge, and slipped beneath the waves.
U-109 surfaced, and observing both women and children in the life boats, passed cans of condensed milk and chicken down to the survivors. This U-Boat was on her way home from a lengthy patrol, and food on board was indeed scarce, so this gesture by her Captain, was indeed a humane one.
U-109's account of this action includes a quite bizarre report, Seidel, one of her crew, when passing over the provisions, had noticed a very pretty young woman, dressed in a fur coat, and little else. The coat opened to reveal her breasts, "Captain, he shouted, shine the light over here, I would like one more look at the beautiful girl!" The bridge obliged, but alas! too late, the said young lady had drawn her fur coat to close across her breasts.
The U-Boat now picked up speed, and disappeared into the night.
The 3rd. Officer's boat leaked badly, and all its occupants were transferred to the Captain's boat, by the following morning three boats had set sail steering northwards, with a reasonable southerly wind behind them, they made good some three knots.
The Captain's boat gradually lost touch with the two other boats, and at 1500 ( 3 PM ) on the 7th. it sighted the Orient Line's Otranto who took them on board, dropping these survivors at Freetown the next afternoon. They were all home in Liverpool by the 25th. of September. The other two boats also made it to safety, but 9 men were lost when the ship sank.
By war's end, the Blue Star Line had sacrificed 29 of its original fleet of 38 ships, playing its part in the war effort. U-109 was to receive her own comeuppance the next year, being suprised whilst on the surface, she was stalking Convoy HX 236, out of New York bound for the United Kingdom.
On the 7th. of May. 1943, a Sunderland Flying Boat, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Rossiter from 10 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, attacked with 4 depth charges set at a shallow depth, and followed up by dropping another 4 depth charges from a broadside position.
U-109 began to move in tight circles at about 5 knots, it appeared that her rudder was jammed, over the next 20 minutes, she trailed oil, then slowed to a stop with her stern awash.
Although fully surfaced the whole time, no crew members were ever evident, and it must be assumed that the depth charge attacks had buckled her hatches, thus entombing her entire crew, all 52 of whom perished.
Within 30 minutes of the attack by this Sunderland commencing, U-109 sank stern first, at 1500 ( 3 PM.)
The unrelenting U-Boat War had claimed another German Submarine, and Tuscan Star was finally avenged.
New: 23 November 2008
As promised I have typed up dad's notes about his being torpedoed on the "Tuscan Star". I have attached it as a Word file. The format and spelling isn't the best but I tried to enter it exactly as he had written it. I think it still makes sense.
Alan's Father was aboard Tuscan Star when it was sunk by a German U-Boat. Here are the notes he kept at the time and later from his lifeboat, sailing to the west coast of Africa, and eventually his return to England. I have left the content as Alan has sent it. This was the ship I returned to Australia in late in 1941, sailing via the Panama Canal.
Liverpool to Sth. America
Thursday Joined MV. Tuscan Star bound for B.A. Argentina.
9th July ’42 Bofoe team already on board.
Wrote to Lily. Have got a fine cabin on boat deck.
Friday Moved into the Mersey.
10th July ‘42
Saturday Sailed in Convoy at 9 AM. Watch started 4 on 4 off
11th July ’42 dawn to dusk.
Sunday Aircraft sighted. Identified as a Liberator. Later the
18th July ‘42 same sight (Approx 11.30 PM) 2 ships sunk by torpedoes lane ahead of us, same column, from which 39 survivors were saved, and the leader of the starboard column, from which there would not be many survivors, as she carried ammunitions. All we could see of the later ship, on turning out on deck, was a huge pall of smoke where she had been.
Thursday 3.30 PM. Left convoy. Two or three hours later
23rd July ’42 sighted lifeboat with 23 persons aboard. Picked them up. Turned out to be survivors of the SS. Shaftesbury, sunk 12 days earlier. All transferred to convoy escort which had come over to investigate; Empty lifeboat used as target by Bofoe and 4” guns. Eight more lifeboats adrift somewhere but nothing further sighted.
Saturday Arrived at Beunos Aires and moored alongside by 3
8th Aug. PM. Some Passengers disembarked straight away. Anti-sabotage watch commenced. 6 on 12 off. My first watch at 6 PM – 12 midnight.
A week or son in B.A. 2 nights at La Plata, 1 night at Montevideo, Uruguay (saw what remains of the Graf Spee) then 2 or 3 days at sea on our way to Santos, Brazil.
While at sea, Brazil declared war on the Axis. Drew 200 milreis and bought presents and more stores.
Thursday Sailed from Santos for Freetown, B.W.A. Total No of
27 Aug. hours Anti Sabotage watch 110 hours. Passengers on board for England. Mostly volunteers for H.M. Forces. Two babies. one 3 the other 2 yrs.
Sun. 21 hours. Ship struck by 2 torpedoes and at once
6th Sept began to list to Starboard. One torpedoe in the engine room and one aft.
No 3 lifeboat damaged by explosion, but No’s 1 – 2 – 4 away alright.
The ship sank in approx 10 mins, and after she had dissapeared the U boat surfaced, approached our lifeboat (No 4) and asked for nationality, name of ship and also for the captain or Chief Eng. Neither of whom were in our boat.
After talking to the 2 other life boats, the U boat returned to No 4 boat, sent over bread and milk for the 2 children, told us he had his duty to do, wished us luck, and dissapered in the darkness (He also said he had picked up out 2nd Radio Officer.)
When our lifeboat cleared the ship we had on board 43 persons, including the women and 2 babies, the third officer in charge. Were taking water, and the rudder was broken, so 10 of the passengers were transferred to another lifeboat. We turned over all the women and the two babies.
The sea anchor was put out and we kept head on to the sea till day break.
Mon Raised the sail at daybreak and set a course N.E. The
7th September 3 boats soon being separated. Rudder made a fixed, being a big improvement on the steering oar.
Tues. Water issued dawn & dusk, beaker per man.
8 Sept 42 Pemmican, Biscuits, Horlicks and chocolate. At meal times in variety. Cigs 2 per day.
Following wind and sea. It is estimated that with continuation of fair weather, land, which at the nearest point, is approx 250 miles away should be sighted by Friday or Saturday.
Wed. Still a following sea and wind.
9 Sept 42
Thurs. Sea and wind still with us. The makeshift rudder
10 Sept 42 keeps needing attention, but it is doing good service. We keep having showers of rain. Cigs have been cut to 1 per day.
All the time we have been adrift, bailing has been carried on in watches; the officers taking the pump and we others using the hand bailer. Two A.B’s a Q M and the 3rd Officer attend to the steering.
Friday Everyone looking for a sight of land.
11 Sept 42
11.20 AM Aircraft sighted. Flares lighted but we were not spotted.
11.30 AM Land sighted at last. By the time we approached the land, it was too dark to risk a landing though the surf so lay off till day break.
Sat. Dawn. No wind. Had to lower the sails and take to
12 Sept 42 the oars, to pull into the land. Two teams for rowing, 1 hr. on, 1 hr off. After rowing 3 hrs, sighted native canoes who escorted us through the rocks and surf, finally beaching the lifeboat at 1.30 PM without incident. Bill, an AB. To who we owed a lot, for the sailing of the lifeboat, and also the 3rd officer, collapsed under the heat and reaction but soon recovered.
The natives informed us that we were at the village of NIFFOO, in Liberia, and di the very best for us, as far as was in there power.
Fruit, nuts and a meal of rice and goat was provided for us, the goat being specially killed for us.
We were all accommodated at the village guest house for the night, and had the best sleep since being torpedoed.
Sun A government official is expected this morning. On
13 Sept 42 his arrival we were all assembled in the village council hut, where the 3rd officer informed us we would have to walk to another village 12 miles to the south, where we should be able to obtain conveyance to Monrovia and then to Freetown.
Left Niffoo 12 12;30PM and arrived at Sasstown by 5 PM. with 1/2 hr stop at a village half way. The walk tired everyone. We had two rivers to cross by canoe, pools to wade through, a soft sandy beach to walk on, and heavy showers of rain at frequent intervals.
At the halt made halfway, we saw our first white man since landing. He was a missionary and told us he would be in Sasstown soon after us, and would see that we all had a cup of tea, something that the natives cant supply us with, and which we are all longing for.
On arrival at Sasstown, we were accomodated at the house of one of the Elder Dempsters Agents. Most of us having a bed to sleep in, and clothes loaned while our own wet things dryed. Cigs were given to us all at the rate of 14 per man, and after a meal of rice and corned beef, we turned in, for what proved a good sleep.
Mon Everyone having a cup of tea at 4.30 A. The tea and
14 Sept 42 sugar being sent over by the missionary Sunday night as promised.
After breakfast of rice and meat the 3rd Officer informed us that we should have to walk back to Niffoo, and from there, on to a U.S, camp where we should be taken by air to Monrovia or Freetown. The only alternative was to wait at Sasstown for a week or a fortnight while a boat was sent round for us. No one felt like doing that, so a start was made back to Niffoo at 12 noon.
Arrived back at Niffoo at 4 PM. Wet through and dead tired. A U.S. Army Sergeant and Corporal waiting there for us, with tinned emergency rations, from which we made quite a good meal. We have to leave here at day break, so as to arrive at the camp in daylight.
Tues Set off from Niffoo at 6.30 AM. Had showery weather
15 Sept 42 till noon, and then the sun came up. Five or six rivers crossed by canoe, and the usual soft sandy beach to march over. Arrived at the camp by 4.30 PM. after covering about 25 miles. Our legs were one big ache. In 3 days we have travelled about 50 miles. The night was spent under canvass. A seaplane was just about to leave, and had room for 1 passenger. A junior engineer took the place.
Wed The seaplane came back again during the morning
16 Sept 42 with stores for the camp. No cigs. Though. Took 6 survivors back with him and left word that he would not be back for 2 days as the plane needed an overhaul.
Our 3rd Officer was one of the 6 to go in the plane, to try and make some arrangements for us remainder to be picked up. Senior 2nd Engineer left in charge.
A ship sighted in the Bay. By her actions, she looks as though she may be looking for us surviviors.
Thurs Ship still in bay. Junior 2nd Eng. And the US. Army
17 Sept 42 Officer trying to contact it by canoe. Later, word brought by canoe, that we are to go over the surf by canoe, and will then be picked up by lifeboat, and transferred to the ship. Everything went off fine, except for 1 canoe being over turned by the surf. The two soldiers escaped with a soaking.
H.M.T. Rumba. 2 cases of provisions sent over by the yanks, as the trawler is overdue, and is running short of food and water. No fresh water allowed for toilet. Sailors gave us dry clothes and cigs. Set off for Freetown.
Fri Received message to stop higher up coast to pick up
18 Sept 42 more survivors. 16 all told, from the Viking Star, sunk 25 Aug. they have been ashore here for 14 days and have been well treated. Another Trawler came alongside us and gave us fresh water, food and cigs. Under way again at 6.30 PM.
Sat Arrived at Freetown and moored alongside the Edinburgh Castle at 3.30 pm. All survivors taken ashore to the mission to eat and sleep. Met some of our survivors from one of the other lifeboats, and learned that one lot, including 2 soldiers, have already set off home by passenger boat.
Had my first shave for a fortnight, also a good bed to sleep in. Two soldiers have been sent up to the Wilberforce Barracks, (where Frank and I expect to go) so that accounts for all the army gunners. It does not look as if the 4 naval ratings got away from the Tuscan Star.
Sun After breakfast all of us were issued with new vest,
20 Sept shirt, shorts, belt, topee, razor, toothbrush & paste. Later had to go down to the DEMS. office to interview the Commander, and check reports that he had already received, about the torpedoeing. He told us we should be sent home in the next convoy.
Taken up to Wilberforce Bks. The first persons we saw, were Osborne and Charlie. Each of us received 1 pound pay. After lunch, issued with some Army Kit, but essentials such as shaving brush, Boot brushes, cutlery, Forage Cap and respirator, they could not issue. Went to M.O. for inspection. Nothing to do in Barracks, and a very poor N.A.A.F.I.. We could not buy anu toilet soap.
Mon Moved into a hut of our own. Had a run into
21 Sept Freetown to do some shopping. Only bought razor blades, as everything is so expensive.
Sent cable to lily. Back at Barracks, worked it to have early breakfast, and be ready to leave by 8.30 AM. Thursday, to join a ship. All survivors except Charlie who has had to enter hospital.
Tues Frank and I joined the Conakrian. The 3 Bofor
22nd Sept gunners put on a Palm oil Tanker. The Conakrian was in the same convoy as us outward bound, and the 2 soldiers already aboard her, were embarked on the same day as Frank and I in Liverpool, travelling in the same lorry to the docks.
Special quarters aft, but since the torpedoeing, outward bound of the two ships, all the gunners have been transferred to cabins on deck. We hopeto have one too. We dont fancy sleeping down below.
Wed Have managed a cabin on deck. Painted it out
23rd Sept to-day. Another bunk to be fixed yet but should be able to sleep there by Thursday night.
Sailed for home at 3.30 PM. Approx 24 shipe in convoy.
Thurs. Sunderland Flying boat, one of Air Escort made
24th Sept forced landing. Escort stood by. Working watch of 4 on 4 off.
Sat 4 escort ships augmented this morning by 4 more.
3rd Oct 42 Abreast of canary Islands yesterday.
Sun 6 ships left the Convoy, to proceed at a faster speed
4th Oct 42 to England. 4 escorts went with them, leaving us with 4.
Mon In aircraft zone from dawn this morning. Abreast of
5th Oct 42 the Azores at 7 – 8 PM.
Wed Started increased aircraft watch, 10 hrs daily, with
7 Oct 42 a 2 hr break. Sleep all night.
Thurs: Hostile air-craft flage hoisted, but no plane sighted.
8th Oct 42
Mon Sighted Nth Ireland at last. East coast ships leave
12 Oct 42 Convoy during the night. Glasgow ships tomorrow morning. Another Convoy joined up with us.
Wed Liverpool at last. Moved right into Bromborough
14 Oct 42 Dock. Went to the pictures in the evening and posted letters to Lily and mother.