In May of 1942 there was intense activity by U-Boats in the Caribbean that resulted in heavy losses of allied shipping. Germany was trying, and succeeding, to disrupt the supplies of war material reaching Europe from the USA and Caribbean. Trinidad and Venezuela were supplying the allies with petroleum products, Guyana with Bauxite and the Caribbean Islands were sending food and men. The Submarines involved east of Barbados were U-155, U-156, and U-162.
The convoy system was not used at the time giving the U-Boats easy targets. Later in the war the ships sailed in convoy, with armed escorts, and losses were much less.
It was not until 1944 that the battle of the Atlantic had swung against the German Navy. With the introduction of new technology to detect submarines and breaking of their communications code the U-Boats incurred heavy loses.
Below are articles transcribed from The Barbados Advocate, The Barbados Observer and The Barbados Herald relating to the arrival of survivors of ships sunk by U-Boats east of Barbados during May 1942. The name, date and location of the ship sunk was not printed as part of the necessary war censorship. I have been able to link some survivors to the ships that were sunk.
Most accounts in that period recall that whenever possible the submarine gave the crew time to get into their lifeboats and get away before attacking the second time to finish the job. Afterwards the Submarine usually approached the lifeboats to get the name, destination and cargo and offered any assistance required. They also gave them a course for the nearest land.
The City of Melbourne was sunk by U156 on the 13th May 1942 at 15N 54.04W while sailing from Beira to New York with general cargo. Captain Harry George Booth and 85 crew landed in Barbados.
On the 14th May 1942 the British Colony, Captained by R. Thornburn, was at 13.13N 58.10W travelling from Trinidad to Gibraltar with a cargo of 9800 tons of Fuel Oil destined for the British Navy. She was hit in the bow by a torpedo from U162 at 01:38 but not much damage was done. She evaded a second Torpedo at 02:02 Hours. However at 05:45 she was hit by another torpedo and caught fire. After the crew abandoned the ship it took a further 2 torpedoes to sink her at 07:39. Four crew members were killed. The surviving crew were questioned and offered assistance by the submarine crew before making it safely to Barbados.
Taken from The Barbados Advocate 16th May 1942. The Barbados Herald of the same day gives a list with the same names.
Vessel Torpedoed in the Caribbean – Nine Survivors in Port.
Nine survivors from a missing vessel arrived at Martins Bay, St. John yesterday. They reached port in a small boat and were brought to the city where they were taken care of by the Police and Harbour authorities.
The List is as follows:
Chief Engineer: William E. Dickinson
Second Engineer: Austin Conway Reynolds
Third Engineer: Ian H. Ronald
Fourth Engineer: John Clark
Donkeyman: Charles Beckett
Greeser: David Mason
Firemen: Edward Jennings and James Robert Anderson.
Messroom Boy: James Sutherland (#)
Their story told in brief that about 8 o’clock one night recently they sighted a ship which signalled to them. They replied thinking that it was a friendly vessel. It turned out to be a submarine which circled the vessel three times signalling them to abandon ship.
“They gave us one torpedo which killed the skipper and the mate and merely damaged the vessel” said one survivor. “We decided to make her reach Barbados and beach her but they came at us again and we realised that there were two submarines. They hit her a second time and it was all over. We made port in our little boat” (*)
“This is the second time for me” said one hearty chap of middle age, “but I hope to get out and get somewhere that I can have a crack at these blighters.”
At Central Police Station the men were treated to refreshment after a bath and new clothing were supplied to them.
Miss Daisy Yearwood M.B.E. Island Commissioner for the Girl Guides, Mrs E.B. Williams District Commissioner, Mrs W. Warton and Miss Myra Croney attended to the catering and these ladies were much intrigued to see the baby of the party in his very early twenties with a small parcel of dainties toiletries for his sweetheart.
Although the crew list are those from the British Colony, the story is different from another source I have been able to find. I suspect that they have combined the stories from 2 different arrivals.
(#) The Barbados Herald has his name as James Sullivan, which agrees with the crew list of the British Colony. He was the Mess Room Steward.
(*) This may refer to the sinking of the Kupa.
Some of these accounts may have been from the survivors of the City of Melbourne.
Two days later, on May 18th, The Barbados Advocate carried an account of other survivors from the British Colony.
Vessel Torpedoed in Caribbean
31 more Survivors Arrive – Five in Hospital
Thirty more survivors from a missing vessel reached Barbados on Saturday – nineteen landed at Speightstown in the morning and twelve at Bathsheba in the afternoon.
At Six Mens they were given first aid treatment by the St. Peters Branch of the St. Johns Ambulance under Miss Shiela Bovell and Dr T.L.E. Clarke was in attendance; while those landing at Bathsheba were given first aid treatment and refreshments by Mrs. A.M Jones and Miss Ward, members of the St. Johns Ambulance. Dr Carter was in attendance. Both Dr Clarke and Dr Carter are lecturers to the St. Johns Ambulance.
Captain R. Thorburn was among five of those who had to be taken to hospital where they were detained due to injuries. Their story was the same as that told by their comrades who landed at Martins Bay on Friday. There was one twenty-year- old lad who had been torpedoed for the fourth time and whose only comment was: “Jerry can’t stop me from going to sea.”
They were all taken to central Police Station where Police Officers and men and members of the St. Johns Ambulance and Girl Guides rendered them every assistance, treating them for bruises and minor injuries and giving them refreshment and clothing. Within an hour of their arrival they appeared to almost to have forgotten their harrowing experience.
The list is as follows:
Chief Officer: Hambling
Third Officer: J. Hunter
Apprentice: F.Tapping, G.Hearn
5th Engineer: N.Cuthbert
Chief Wireless Officer: D. Moody. Second Wireless Officer: K. Andrew, Third Wireless Officer: W. Mac Donald
Chief Steward: J. Roberts. Second Steward: A.Bentham
Cabin Boys: J. Jallagher, G.W.Somers
Chief Cook: J. Sayers. Second Cook: G.Mylott
Gunner: T.J. Jones, S.Moran, G.F.Dunford
Boatswain: J. O’Dowd
A/B Seamen: A. Hewett, L. Caldecott, N. Nesbett, J. Junni, G. Barker, A. Kirby.
O.Seamen: W.Grace, C. Jordan
Pumpman: P. Duvis
Fireman: W.J. Lincoln, H. Martin, G.Fitzerald
Members of the St. Johns Unit present were Miss D. Crawford, Miss H. Barnes, Mrs. E. Davis, and Miss E. Nicholls, while the Guides included Miss Daisy Yearwood, M.B.E. Commissioner, Mrs E.B. Williams Assistant Island Commissioner, Mrs Myra Croney, Miss Betty Williams, Miss Pickering, Mrs W. Warton, and Miss M. Cozier.
Not all attacks by U-boats were successful. On the 18th May U156 hit the San Eliseo by four torpedoes without sinking her. The tanker fired back at the submarine when it surfaced in order to attack with its deck gun. The battle started on at 18.52 on the 18th May and continued until 09.17 the following day when a fifth torpedo missed the zigzagging ship. The battle was broken off when the submarine was ordered to proceed to Martinique for other prey. The tanker reached Barbados on the 20th May where temporary repairs were made before she continued to the USA where permanent repairs were made and she returned to service. The San Eliseo survived the war and was scrapped in Bilbao in 1963.
The San Eliseo had travelled from Liverpool to Trinidad and Aruba where she had collected a shipment of oil and was on her return journey, so although the U156 did not claim a sinking, the submarine did stop a vital shipment of fuel reaching the UK.
The British motor tanker, the San Eliseo was built by Lithgows in Scotland in 1939 and was operated by Eagle Oil & Shipping Co. Ltd., London.
The Master of the San Eliseo was Captain Peter Johnston.
On the evening of 18th May 1942, the San Eliseo was torpedoed by a U-boat 156 while 625km NE of Barbados. The impacts broke the compasses and damaged the communications equipment. Captain Peter Johnston gave the order to zig-zag and change course to lose the U-boat, which they eventually managed to do. He then navigated the San Eliseo to Barbados using a lifeboat compass and the stars. The San Eliseo arrived in Barbados on 20th May for temporary repairs before continued to the USA where permanent repairs were made.
Captain Peter Johnston was awarded an OBE for ‘courage and skill at sea’ and the Lloyd’s medal for bravery at sea. The Lloyd’s medal for bravery at sea is very rare; only 500 were issued during the war. They were issued by the Lloyd’s insurer, though the government approved the medal in 1941.Their Finest Hour – Captain Peter Johnston OBE
San Eliseo British Motor tanker
On the 18th May the Norwegian Tanker, Beth, was sailing from Trinidad to Freetown with 10,109 tons of Fuel Oil destined for the Allies. She was intercepted by U-162 at 11.48N 57.32W at 02.10 and torpedoed on her starboard side by one of two torpedoes. After her crew got off in the 3 lifeboats another torpedo caused the cargo to ignite and the Beth soon sank. The U-162 then approached the lifeboats and asked about their cargo and destination. The survivors were also offered food and water and given a course to Barbados. Two life boats reached Consetts Bay 36 hours later and one went to Tobago reaching there on the 20th May.
From The Barbados Advocate 20th May 1942
21 Survivors Reach Barbados
For the second time in less than a week Barbados became a haven of refuge for sailors in difficulties. Yesterday evening at about 6.30 o’clock a lifeboat with 21 survivors from a missing ship landed at Consetts Bay, St. John. They had been drifting in an open boat for a few days after they abandoned ship shortly after 8 o’clock one evening.
They were promptly met by local authorities and taken to the Central Police Station. There they were provided with clothing and refreshments and attended by the local branch of the St. Johns Ambulance Association led by Mrs. A.M. Jones and a company of Girl Guides under Mrs. E, B, Williams, District Commissioner.
The members of the ships party included the Captain and six other officers. Another boat is expected to arrive shortly.
As soon as the men landed enquiries were made by his Excellency the Governor through A.D.C. Mr. Pratt Barlow who visited the men at the Central Station.
The Siljestad, a Norwegian Motor Merchant, carrying War Material from New York to Alexandria was at 15:20N 52:40W or about 420 miles North East of Barbados, on the 15th of May, when she was hit by one torpedo fired from the U-156 at 02:54 Hours. After the crew, 2 drowned while abandoning the ship, left the ship in the 2 remaining lifeboats Captain Werner Hartenstein of the U-156 made sure they had food and water and gave them a course to Barbados. They had been followed by the submarine since 17:20 the day before.
The survivors were picked up by the Kupa 12 hours later and brought aboard along with the lifeboats. The plan was to replenish them and they would continue on to Barbados on their own.
The Kupa was a Yugoslavian Steam Merchant sailing from New York to Alexandria with a cargo of military trucks, aircraft parts and oil in drums.
The U-156 was still in the area and watched these proceedings from a distance. At 20:59 on the 15th May a torpedo hit under the Bridge and the Kupa sank in a few minutes. The crew from both ships abandoned in their respective lifeboats. Soon after U-156 surfaced and questioned the survivors and picked up 14 floating tyres which helped the German war effort. The lifeboats from the two ships landed in Barbados and Venezuela.
One lifeboat with the crew of the Siljestad met the illuminated Italian steam tanker Arcola, which had a British control crew, going to Las Palmas. Three young British sailors were transferred to the tanker, while the remaining men continued to Barbados.
From The Barbados Advocate on 21th May
56 Survivors from Missing Vessels
Excellent First Aid Work
Fifty Six Survivors from two missing vessels arrived in Barbados yesterday evening. Thirty nine arrived in two boats – one in St. Peter and one in St. Philip. The relief work hardly had been completed when another seventeen arrived in St. John. Twenty One arrived on Tuesday evening. This makes a total of 117 survivors from four vessels arriving in the last five days.
His Excellency the Governor made enquiries through his A.D.C. Mr. Pratt Barlow, who visited the Central Police Station.
Lady Bushe visited the Central Police Station and besides offering words of cheer enquired of the men of their requirements. A party of Guides under Miss Daisy Yearwood, M.B.E., provided the refreshments.
The limiting of information in these days of restriction compels the elimination of details in stories of daring and hardihood which must thrill the hearts of those who admire the men of the Merchant Navy. These men who go down to the sea in ships see the wonders of the sea but they also have first-hand knowledge of the callous hand of Nazism.
“We took to our boats while our vessel sank” said one survivor, “and the crew of the sub, which had now surfaced, after giving us our location undressed and had a swim in the sea. We were left to the perils of the deep.”
But when one looks away from a story of savagery there is a thrill of pride when the same unfortunate, snatched from a watery grave, queried “Do you think I can get another ship soon?”
And his pall joins in “We’ll show em that we got guts to go again and beat them to it. We got Jerry licked already.”
It all happened again a few days ago that survivors were picked up from a missing vessel. This was an indication that danger was lurking around. “This was about 9.20am, and we kept a look out. It was 2.30pm when we saw a periscope and a few minutes later a torpedo coming at us.”
“I was hoping” Interjected another “that she would surface before we sank. I was ready and had a small present for her. She came up when we had nothing. Cowards!”
“Well” continued another’ “we took quietly to the boats and . . . here we are ready to go again.”
“We had a marvellous reception in Barbados. Everyone has been so kind. . . I have made up my mind that after this war I will make it a point to come back to Barbados for a holiday.” A few of the men who suffered injuries were taken to hospital while the units of the St. Johns Ambulance Association from St. Philip and St. Peter did some excellent work in relief of those who had suffered minor injuries. Dr. Harold Skeete and Dr. Lindsay Hutson were in constant attention through the evening.
On the 22 May The Barbados Advocate carried this article. This article seems to refer to survivors from different ships.
86 More Survivors Landed – Thrilling Tale of the Sea.
Eighty-Six Survivors of the crew of 87 arrived in Barbados yesterday after several days at sea in five open boats. This is addition to the 56 that arrived on Wednesday and makes a total of 203 landed here within the last week.
Early yesterday morning 21 men in an open boat arrived on the East Coast of the island and at once units of the St. Johns Ambulance Association turned out to render first aid and their work in this connection with that of the Girl Guides Emergency Unit won the admiration of everyone. Tired, thirsty, hungry men who as members of the merchant navy had dared the perils of the sea and the dangers of the enemy found themselves snatched from the horrors of the inhospitable waves on to an unknown shore.
The Sun and the sea had taken toll of their strength but their courage was undaunted. It was shortly after 8 o’clock when the first batch arrived and told of other boats to follow. They were brought from St. Philip to the Central Police Station and the work of the relief started. I was not until two o’clock in the afternoon that the last batch arrived many of them in need of medical attention. Dr. Harold Skeete, never tired, cool, calm and in his usual business-like manner tended to their every need and the English speaking members of the party were highly appreciative of, and pleasingly surprised at the standard of efficiency of the amateur nursing section of the unit.
Their stories which because of the exigencies of the moment cannot now be told bore the stamp of unbelievable courage and daring. “This is my eighth bump but I will go again” said one sailor of many years’ service. “This is my first voyage” said a lad of seventeen “but I hope to be out soon again I can’t let this stop me”. And so ran the theme of undaunted courage which must stop the fanatical onrush of Nazism seeking world domination.
Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen, Africans and Indians were all ready to go again so that the life line of the Empire should be kept open to feed the body of fighting men which “marches on its stomach”
If at no other time, Barbados was awakened to the fact not only was a war on but it was proverbially at our door. And like Barbadians good and true they gave of their best so that those from distant lands and climes who had suffered should be relived at the earliest possible moment. The customs of the Orient and the resignation to Kismet were two factors in the day’s proceedings – the one unusual the other startling. One saw the greeting, cheek to cheek, and the ready willingness to accept without question the state in which fate had placed them.
But it was the story of the Seafarer who had braved the dangers of the deep for thirty-five years that was most intriguing. “I was at sea during the last war” said he “and was torpedoed five times. This is the first time this war so that you see I have half-a-dozen voyages unfinished. But you see I am three quarters on my second million miles and I’ll be damned if I let Jerry stop me finishing this second million. But what of the Skipper. He was bumped twice in the last war, machine gunned once, and when they sank the sub he got –(This was a royal award). Now he’s got it again but he’s as jolly as ever.”
And then came an unusual story. It was just pas 5 o’clock in the afternoon when we heard a terrible bang. The old ship went several feet out of the water. We knew what had happened and took to the boats. The submarine surfaced and the skipper came on the conning tower. He was followed by a few officers and a Gestapo man. “Sorry he said but I had to do it. You’ll realise that there is war on and this is my duty. Anybody hurt? No came the answer.” He gave us our position ….and added “Hope to see you after the war. Good Luck”. He circled our boats and lifted his hat and other officers did the same. They then had some target practice putting thirty-three shells into the vessel. Even she was a true Britisher. She stood afloat for an hour after the forward part had been cut off from the hull. How long will we have to wait until we have to wait before we get another ship?”
The various sections of the crew are being accommodated at various institutions and private residences.
The Barbados Herald was a weekly Newspaper and carried the following article on the 23rd May 1942
Survivors at Barbados
Within the past 8 days a total of 208 survivors from allied ships torpedoed in these waters have taken refuge in this island.
Beginning Friday last week when nine landed in Martins Bay, St. John, the day after thirty one came 19 landed at Speightstown and 12 at Bathsheba, two days after on Tuesday afternoon twenty-one came in at Consetts Bay, St. John, and the next day Wednesday 56 between St. Peter, St. Philip and St. John, Thursday saw the biggest arrival, no less than 86 landed on that day, 21 in the morning and 17 in the early afternoon on the East Coast and 48 in Speightstown in the morning. Without exception these survivors speak of the cold blooded methods of the Nazi U-boat Crews who send their ships to the bottom and leave them at the mercy of the sea in open boats.
But are they down hearted? Not a bit, no sooner they feel refreshed after their long hours under the boiling tropic sun than they are asking how soon they can get another ship.
The St. Johns Ambulance Association has done excellent work in caring for these survivors, almost as soon as the first step ashore, whatever part of the coast that may be, the Association is there with hot tea etc. and ready to assist the Doctor should there be any cases requiring medical attention.
His Excellency the Governor and Lady Bushe are taking special interest in these strangers within our gates and nothing is being overlooked that could add to their comfort where they are housed.
The Barbados Observer, another weekly newspaper, records the same day.
203 Survivors Find Refuge Here.
Only One Life Lost in Four Sinkings.
Barbados is at present providing refuge for 208 survivors who have landed at various points along the coast within the last six days from a total of four vessels sank by enemy action.
Snatched from a watery grave these peaceful invaders of the colony have been very much in evidence along city streets for the past week. Representation various nationalities – English and other European, Indians and Africans – they are too glad to be on terra firma once again and are being given a most hospitable welcome by all and sundry.
Members of the St. Johns Ambulance have more than justified their existence and have been on hand daily to render needy first aid, Their efficient ministrations- both at Central Police Station and at the General Hospital – have been highly commended as also have been the services of the Girl Guides who attend to serve refreshments. Quite a few of the officers and men have had to attend Hospital for treatment and some were detained. His Excellency the Governor and Lady Bushe paid a visit to detainees at the Hospital on Thursday. Through the week Lady Bushe has displayed the most active interest in the men and could be seen amount the earliest visitors to the Central Police Station whenever a new batch arrived.
INDIANS AT QUEENS PARK
Among the last to arrive is a large number of Indians who are in residence in Queens Park. Earlier arrivals this week included two Africans.
The suddenness with which this relatively this large number of ship wrecked mariners has descended upon the island is not without reaction of some kind. An increasingly large number of people – not altogether noted for unintelligence – is expressing the view that their presence here is due to another diabolical trick from the repertoire of the subtle and treacherous Nazis, and that these men have hostile designs against the island.
So widespread and persistent has this feeling become that the Government has been compelled to take notice of it and yesterday the following communique was officially released:-
FULL PRECAUTION TAKEN
The attention of the Government has been drawn to certain statement and communications in the Press and elsewhere regarding the Bona Fide of seamen who have landed in Barbados from ships lost by enemy action.
It is not the practice of the authorities to make known of the names or particulars of any ships so lost, as such information is of value to the enemy and, if published, would increase the dangers of those who are daily risking their lives for the Empire.
The Public is advised that every precaution is taken by the officials concerned to ensure that the identity of all survivors is fully established.
WHAT THE NAZIS CLAIM.
According to the Canadian Press Dispatch from Berlin yesterday, The German High Command claims that NAZI Submarines have sunk 20 ships totalling 111,600 tons in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico and 3 other aggregating 14,000 tons in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The articles in the Barbados Advocate of the22nd May, Barbados Observer and Barbados Herald of the 23rd May most likely refer to the, Siljestad and Kupta (both sunk on the 15th May), and the Beth and the Quaker City both sunk on the 18th May.
The Poseidon was sunk on the 26th May at 14.35N 58.19W by U155. All 32 crew lost their lives.
Some Barbadians were also lost during this time. The Barbados Herald of the 16th May 1942 has the following story:
The following passengers who sailed from Barbados recently are reported as missing:
Andrew Bradshaw, Chapman Street Bridgetown
Oscar Greenidge, Queens Street Bridgetown
Eric S. Hamblin, Welches Road St, Michael
Cuthbert Alleyne Reid, Brighton, Black Rock
Thomas Walter Reid, Diamond Rock, St. Peter.
This article only covers one month of the World War II. There is a lot more research to be done.
Every family has a story of a Grandparent, Uncle or Aunt whose life was affected in some way by the war. It is important that these be recorded for future generations. It does not matter which side they were on. History cannot be changed, but should be understood in the context of the times.
For further information on crew lists of the ships mentioned click on the links below. If you know of any person who was involved in any way in these events add a comment. I would welcome any further information.
Here are previous BajanThings articles on John Heller, Sid Graham, Arthur Walker and Michael Doyle who all arrived in Barbados after their ship’s were torpedoed and sunk, the Bajan owned schooner Florence M. Douglas and the Cornwallis which were both torpedoed.
Allied Merchant Ship Losses 1939 to 1945
Our thanks to the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum for this map of Allied Merchant Ship Losses from 1939 to 1945. It was produced by Captain (MN) Hill Wilson – Master Mariner from the Canadian Merchant Navy Veterans Association.
If you focus on the West Indies and the North Eastern coast of South America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Columbia, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam and French Guyana) the concentration of red dots shows how active the the U-Boat war in the Caribbean really was. Had there been more U-boats available the German’s operation Neuland might have succeeded in strangling the Allied war effort by cutting off the vital supply line of oil and aluminium.