Wehrmacht History 1935 to 1945


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We tried to save half ship

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We tried to save half ship


We tried to save half ship.
When the 17,000 ton, London tanker San Alberto was torpedoed on 9 December 1939, the vessel broke in half. Members of the crow, who had escaped returned to their ship and raised steam, in the hope of getting the floating half to port. Their eventual rescue, as described by one of the officers, is here reprinted from the pages of News Chronicle.

The San Alberto was hit at 615 hrs in the morning. The explosion blew the skipper into the air and in falling he broke his wrist. He was the only one injured. The torpedo tore up 60 ft of deck, and the fore part of the ship was totally isolated from the after part. All the officers were in the fore part, where their quarters were, and the men were in the after apart. This resulted in there being no officers aft to direct the manning of the lifeboats. The boson, Malcolm Bain of Greenock, as a senior petty officer, took charge, and his splendid work in seeing that the men all got away safely cost him his life. He was a first-class seaman and a man of unflinching courage and discipline. He left himself until last. Unfortunately, there was not much time left, and then jumping into the last boat he missed and was lost. When daylight came, we discovered that one of the boats containing three of the crew and a passenger had got lost. This boat we never saw again. Actually it was adrift in five days and four nights, and though the men had plenty of food. All was suffering from exposure and trench feet. When they landed at south coast port. All are now recovering. The rest of us. After 10 or 12 hours decided that the after part of the ship would probably remain afloat a long time, so the whole of the crew returned. The engineers broke up accommodation fittingsto raise steam on the auxiliary boilers. So that they could get, the main motor started. They did a magnificent job of work throughout. By keeping the engine is going slow astern. The crew prevented the seas from tearing the front part of the San Alberto's remains to bits, but every time she came head to sea great strips of plating were torn away. We had lights and heating in the accommodation and hot meals all in a mere fragment of a ship. We made a fire on the poop in the hope of attracting a patrolling aeroplane, but after a time this was put out in case it should only bring another submarine. There was no radio, of course, and when the Belgian steamer Alexandria Andre came along. We signalled to her with a pocket torch. They sent out a boat, but the sea was too rough for it to get near. Two men did jump. The first landed safely, but the other missed and in a few minutes had drifted fully a mile away. Then the skipper of the Belgian ship showed the man he was. He backed up his ship and pick the man directly out of the water without the assistance of a small boat. In such a gale, it was a superb piece of seamanship. All rescue efforts were then abandoned until the morning, and the Alexandra Andre began a vain search for the missing boat. She stood by all next day until destroyer came in response to her radio call. The sea was still too rough for rescue efforts, and the destroyer stood by all the second night, that the only way to transfer the crew was by Carley float. The ship was sinking rapidly and there was not a minute to spare. When the last of the men had been transferred. They all had to jump into the icy water, and be dragged onto the float. It was bitterly cold and the gale was blowing even worse. Yet three of these men were at sea for the first time in their lives and could not swim a stroke. There was another passenger who had originally got away from the ship in the captain's boat. He two like everyone behaved as though sailing in the remnant of a sinking ship was quite an everyday occurrence.



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The Second Great War.
Edited by Sir John Hamilton

The War Illustrated.
Edited by Sir John Hamilton

2194 Days Of War.
ISBN-10: 086136614X

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