Clan Cumming

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Introduction

I am grateful to Nicholas Vasilatos for bringing Clan Cumming to my attention. He is one of a group of divers who have recently located the wreck of the ship and asked me for a copy of a photo from the Allen Collection. Having had a quick look at her history, I decided that she should be added to this site. Nicholas has kindly provided some photos of the wreck which can be seen below.

Clan Cumming was completed in 1938 and served extensively during WW2 undertaking many independent voyages and taking part in a small number of convoys. She survived an air attack, was torpedoed, and came close to destruction when a ship laden with explosives and docked nearby in Pireaus exploded causing massive damage. Shortly afterwards she was sunk by a mine on 15 April 1941.

Clan Cumming
Clan Cumming - Location not known but presumed to be shortly after her completion. [1]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Cargo Ship
Registered owners, managers and operators Owners: The Clan Line Steamers Ltd.
Cayzer, Irvine & Co. Ltd. Managers
Builders Greenock Dockyard Co. Ltd.
Yard Greenock
Country UK
Yard number 430
Registry N/K
Official number 165924
Signal letters N/K
Call sign GDGW
Classification society N/K
Gross tonnage 7,264
Net tonnage 3,676
Deadweight N/K
Length 463.7 ft
Overall Length 487.6 ft
Breadth 63 ft
Depth 29.9 ft
Draught N/K
Engines Triple expansion steam engine with cylinders of bore 26", 42" and 68" with stroke 48" and low pressure(LP) exhaust turbines with double reduction (DR) gearing and hydraulic couplings.
Engine builders J.G.Kincaid & Co.
Works Greenock
Country UK
Boilers 5 single-ended boilers operating at 220 psi
Power 1,370 NHP
Propulsion Twin Screw
Speed 17 knots
Cargo capacity N/K
Crew N/K

Additional Construction Information

The Lloyds Register entry for Clan Cumming for 1940-41 has the following additional information about her:

  • She had two decks and a shelter deck
  • Poop 31 ft, Bridge 102 ft and Forecastle 69 ft.
  • She had a cruiser stern
  • She had a duct keel forward of machinery space
  • She had a gyro compass and was fitted with echo-sounding and radio direction-finding equipment
  • She was fitted for oil fuel

Career Highlights

Date Event
DateEvent
18 October 1937 Launched
January 1938 Completed
15 April 1941 Mined and sunk

Service Pre WW2

I have not found any specific information about the service history of Clan Cumming prior to WW2.

Service in WW2

Clan Cumming took part in a number convoys and a large number of independent voyages during WW2 according to information shown in the table below which is provided courtesy of Convoyweb - see External. Ref. #4.

Departure Convoy/Independent Arrival
Lourenco Marques, Sep 6, 1939 Independent Beira, Sep 8, 1939
Beira, Sep 12, 1939 Independent Mauritius, Sep 16, 1939
Mauritius, Sep 25, 1939 Independent Capetown, Oct 3, 1939
Capetown, Oct 8, 1939 Independent Freetown, Oct 19, 1939
Freetown, Oct 22, 1939 Independent Liverpool, Nov 1, 1939
Liverpool, Nov 8, 1939 Independent Newport, Nov 9, 1939
Newport, Nov 18, 1939 Independent Clyde, Nov 19, 1939
Clyde, Nov 25, 1939 Independent Liverpool, Nov 26, 1939
Liverpool, Dec 2, 1939 Independent Capetown, Dec 25, 1939
Capetown, Dec 25, 1939 Independent Port Elizabeth, Dec 27, 1939
Port Elizabeth, Dec 28, 1939 Independent East London, Dec 29, 1939
East London, Dec 30, 1939 Independent Durban, Dec 31, 1939
Durban, Jan 5, 1940 Independent Dar-es-salaam, Jan 10, 1940
Dar-es-salaam, Jan 11, 1940 Independent Zanzibar, Jan 12, 1940
Independent Tanga, Jan 13, 1940
Zanzibar, Jan 13, 1940 Independent Mombasa, Jan 14, 1940
Tanga, Jan 14, 1940 Independent
Mombasa, Jan 21, 1940 Independent Port Pirie, Feb 7, 1940
Port Pirie, Feb 7, 1940 Independent Sydney NSW, Feb 12, 1940
Sydney NSW, Feb 28, 1940 Independent Melbourne, Feb 29, 1940
Melbourne, Mar 3, 1940 Independent Aden, Mar 21, 1940
Aden, Mar 22, 1940 Independent Suez, Mar 26, 1940
Port Said, Mar 27, 1940 Independent Gibraltar, Apr 1, 1940
Gibraltar, Apr 3, 1940 Independent Dunkirk, Apr 8, 1940
Dunkirk, Apr 16, 1940 Independent Liverpool, Apr 18, 1940
Liverpool, Apr 24, 1940 Independent Clyde, Apr 25, 1940
Clyde, May 2, 1940 Independent Newport, May 5, 1940
Independent Swansea, May 17, 1940
Newport, May 17, 1940 Independent
Swansea, May 21, 1940 Independent Liverpool, May 22, 1940
Liverpool, May 29, 1940 Independent Durban, Jun 21, 1940
Durban, Jun 22, 1940 Independent Fremantle, Jul 7, 1940
Fremantle, Jul 9, 1940 Independent Adelaide, Jul 14, 1940
Adelaide, Jul 16, 1940 Independent Melbourne, Jul 18, 1940
Melbourne, Jul 20, 1940 Independent Sydney NSW, Jul 22, 1940
Sydney NSW, Jul 25, 1940 Independent
Brisbane, Jul 28, 1940 Independent Brisbane, Jul 29, 1940
Independent Brisbane, Aug 4, 1940
Brisbane, Aug 8, 1940 Independent Sydney NSW, Aug 10, 1940
Sydney NSW, Aug 10, 1940 Independent Durban, Aug 29, 1940
Durban, Aug 30, 1940 Independent Capetown, Sep 2, 1940
Capetown, Sep 4, 1940 Independent Freetown, Sep 14, 1940
Freetown, Sep 16, 1940 Independent Freetown, Sep 17, 1940
Independent Liverpool, Oct 3, 1940
Liverpool, Oct 19, 1940 Independent Clyde, Oct 20, 1940
Clyde, Dec 19, 1940 WS.5A (Liverpool - Scattered 25-28 December 1940.)
Gibraltar, Jan 6, 1941 Excess
EXCESS. ( - ) Piraeus, Jan 12, 1941
Piraeus, Jan 19, 1941 AS.12/1 (Piraeus - Port Said) Piraeus, Jan 20, 1941
Piraeus, Apr 14, 1941 Independent

Rescue of Crew of Heminge

According to Uboat.net - External Reference #3 - on 30 September 1940, merchant ship Heminge, a straggler from convoy OB-220, was attacked and sunk by torpedoes fired by German submarine U-37 at position 52° 26' N, 18° 33 W. She had been carrying coal and bound for Tenerife.

One crew member of Heminge was lost but the Master and the other 23 members of the crew and a gunner were rescued by Clan Cumming and taken to Liverpool.

Aircraft Bombing 1940

On 11 October 1940, Clan Cumming was bombed by enemy aircraft at Liverpool; the Commonwealth War Graves Commision records a single loss of life from this incident. See Roll of Honour below for details.

Submarine Attack in Convoy AS 12

At 08:00 on 19 January 1941, Convoy AS 12/1 departed Piraeus bound for Port Said where it arrived on 21 January 1941. The ships in the convoy were Clan Cumming, Clan MacDonald and Empire Song. The convoy was escorted by Anti-aircraft cruiser Calcutta and destroyers Greyhound, Defender and Janus.

The convoy was attacked by Italian submarine Neghelli of the Adua Class, commanded by Captain Charles Ferracuti. At 11:53, Clan Cumming was struck by a torpedo but, although seriously damaged, was able to return to Piraeus under her own power escorted by Janus.

On the same day, Neghelli was sunk with depth charges off Phalconera in the Aegean Sea by the British destroyer HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A'Deane, DSC, RN). There were no survivors.

A few months later on 22 May 1941 HMS Greyhound was bombed by Stuka (Ju-87) dive bombers and sunk in the Kithera Channel about 8 nautical miles north-west of Antikithera Island, Greece during the battle for Crete.

Explosion at Piraeus

Operation Excess was a series of convoys to Malta, Alexandria and Greece in January 1941 and Clan Cumming had been part of this operation. She was still in port in Piraeus when Clan Fraser arrived on 4 April 1941 with a cargo of military stores including TNT explosive.

On 6 April Clan Fraser was attacked by aircraft and hit by three bombs killing seven members of her crew. The ship blazed for five hours then blew up causing major damage to the port and other shipping; buildings up to 15 miles away were shaken by the blast.

The force of the explosion sent Clan Cumming rolling on her beam ends. A large steel plate landed on her bridge top and half of a windlass crashed through No. 4 hatch and started a fire. Later a section of Clan Fraser's bridge weighing 12.5 tons was found nearly a mile away, and thirty feet of her 80-ton derrick was found in a park.

The official record states:

There was a heavy raid on the Piraeus by 10 German aircraft on the night of the 6th/7th which put the port completely out of action for several days. bout a dozen mines were laid in the harbour, but H.M. Ships Ajax and Calcutta successfully made their way out. The s.s. Clan Fraser, 7,529 tons, with 350 tons of T.N.T. and a lighter alongside her with a further 100 tons, both blew up. Many fires were caused ashore and in ships in the harbour.
Clan Cumming
Clan Fraser on fire. [2]

The following account is provided in the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War - External Reference #51:

It will not be forgotten that Captain Nevins and his survey section had been in Greece since November; their record of being the first New Zealand troops in Greece was now added to by being among the first under fire. The section was still quartered in the New Phaleron hotel with other RE units when the Germans followed their declaration of war against Greece by raiding the Piraeus harbour.

Wave after wave of bombers came over about midnight (6 April), rocking the city with explosions and setting fire to the harbourside, but the hotel was well away from the danger zone and the sappers finally went to bed. They were wakened by an explosion loud enough to bring them back to the windows, but nothing could be seen through the dense smoke. The noise came from the freighter Clan Fraser which had been hit by a bomb and set on fire; she was loaded with TNT, and an hour later blew up with such force that windows in the hotel were shattered and a cascade of giant sparks was heaved high into the smoky night—sparks that were red-hot sections of steel plate and superstructure.

There was an urgent call for fire fighters; the sappers jumped into their truck and made for the waterfront; on the way they passed a section of the Clan Fraser's steel plating folded up like a piece of paper.

Dawn was near when Captain Nevins reported to the Admiralty building and was taken to a military officer connected with the dock area. He was a brigadier with a patch over one eye and was christened 'Lord Nelson' on the spot. He very soon earned the respect of the sappers, for he did a neat job all by himself: about two hundred yards from the wharf where a minesweeper was tied up, a small vessel was burning and a Greek gun crew was trying to sink it — it was loaded with petrol. The Greeks, either through excitement or ignorance, were missing the target.

'God's teeth! Give me that gun!'.

'Lord Nelson' pushed the crew aside and, single-handed, holed the ship at the water line. Then he produced a tug and took the sappers over to the Clan Cumming which was also on fire. Her sides towered above the tug, for she had just left the slipway after being torpedoed, was quite empty and very high out of the water.

There was nobody aboard except the captain and the chief engineer; buckets of salt water were hauled up the steep sides and thrown on the flames while everything that was movable and burning was thrown overboard. All around them drifted burning barges filled with petrol drums exploding like a ragged barrage.

The battle was won by mid-morning and the next job was the Davies some distance away. The section boarded its truck and passed warehouses on fire, cranes lying twisted and forsaken like children's discarded toys and crowds watching their homes burning. They passed an Australian just standing and swearing; for two days he had helped load petrol drums into a rake of box wagons and now they were burning and he could do nothing about it — the points were fouled and the wagons could not be moved.

Roll of Honour

The table below provides details of the merchant seaman whose life was lost when Clan Cumming was bombed and is from the Commonwealth War Grave Commission's "Debt of Honour" database.

Surname Forenames Description Other information
Ali Ullah Seacunny Indian Merchant Navy. The CWGC state that His name is recorded on the Bombay and Chittagong War Memorials.

Ali Ullah is described as a 'Seacunny' - a term I had not previously heard of - but which means a "Lascar Helmsman".

The Chittagong Memorial, which together with the Bombay 1939-1945 War Memorial to be found in the Indian Seamen's Hostel Bombay, commemorates over 400 sailors of the former Indian Navy and nearly 6,000 sailors of the former Indian Merchant Navy who were lost at sea during the war years. Each memorial takes the form of a finely bound volume containing the names of the dead.

Poppies

Loss of Clan Cumming

Amazingly quickly after the explosion of Clan Fraser, on 14 April 1941, Clan Cumming got a seaworthy certificate and sailed from port. The gunners on board even managed to shoot down a plane as they left Piraeus - but Clan Cumming's luck had run out.

Shortly after leaving port she struck a mine at position 37° 49' N, 23° 38' 30'' W and sank after a large explosion. At this time she had 110 persons on board including the crew, 3 gunners and 77 Prisoners of War. Fortunately everyone was rescued.

Below is the best transcription I have been able to make from a blurred copy of a report of an interview with the ship's Master - Captain J.D. Matthews - on 9 December 1941:

Confidential TD/DEMS/139/1175
9 December 1941
Shipping Casualties Section - Trade Division
Report of an interview with the Master: Captain J.D.Matthews
SS Clan Cumming 7,264 Gross Tons
Independent - Sunk by mine on 15 April 1941

1. We were bound from Piraeus to Alexandria in (??). We were armed with a 4.7" gun and a 12 pounder. The ship was degaussed and the apparatus was working. The crew including myself numbered 107. There were no casualties. The confidential books were kept in a safe in my cabin and went down with the ship.

2. We left Piraeus at 2030 A.T.S. (1830 G.M.T.) pm the 14th April bound for Alexandria. (Our ship was torpedoed on 19th January but we managed to get back to Piraeus where she remained for about three months for repairs to be effected).

3. Prior to leaving Piraeus about 1700 A.T.S on the 14th April, our ship was attacked and damaged by 'Stuka' dive-bombers and the 'All Clear' was sounded while I was ashore getting a route from Lieut. Cdr. O'Caffery, the Naval Routeing Officer. It was arranged that I should leave harbour and dodge around outside the harbour until an escorting Destroyer, either H.M.S.Hero or H.M.S.Flamingo, arrived when we were to proceed into Phaloron Bay until daylight for the convoy. We steamed outside the harbour and cruised around, waiting for the Destroyer escort which I was given to understand would be with me not later than 2100 A.T.S, but although I waited until 2255(??) A.T.S. no escort arrived.

4. As the moon was getting up, and there was a possibility of further air attacks, I decided to proceed in a SWly course (210°). I laid this course down on my chart and proceeded at half speed for (??) miles, then altered course to (180° ??) for approximately one mile. About 2310 A.T.S. we had reached a position on Aegina (??) Island when a warning shot was fired and we received a signal by morse from this island 'Danger from mines'. 'You should alter route to the North'. We turned the vessel around to the North by using the engines and at 2355 A.T.S. both engines were stopped. The position by cross-bearings placed the ship approximately two miles clear of the charted minefield, the engines remained stopped and the ship drifted in a South-easterly direction, at the approximate rate of ½ mile an hour.

Wreck of Clan Cumming in 2012

The series of photos shown below and the account of the dive were kindly provided by Nicholas Vasilitos who has been diving the wreck with friends. Their website - External Reference #52.

Here is an extract of the dive report:

Diving the ‘Clan Cumming’ had been on the agenda for a couple of years. The reason for delaying doing it was that her wreck was suspected being one inside a busy traffic lane on the approaches to Piraeus port. Therefore, due to safety concerns we were reluctant to dive at that spot, so initially we contended ourselves with just locating the wreck with the echo sounder and getting a general idea of its size, depths, orientation, etc. In the course of time however, we managed to setup a dive within acceptable safety margins. After this dive which was done end of July 2012, we believe to have identified the ‘Clan Cumming which is lying in 94 meters of water off Cape Tourlos, island of Aigina.

Diving her would not present any serious difficulty if only she was not so dangerously close to dense ship traffic. We had to wait for perfect surface conditions, minimal scheduled ship traffic and planned for a shorter bottom time. The wreck lies at 94 meters of water on her port side making an impressive sight due to her massive size. The parts visited are in a generally good condition; due to the limited bottom time and a scooter problem we managed to visit just the forward part of the accommodation and her forward decks up to the mast. Visibility was not that good, especially closer to the bottom, meaning that the port half of the ship is wrapped in a cloud of silt. Current was negligible.

Closing this brief report, further dives must be done in order to document points of interest on the wreck. However it will be an ongoing task for quite some time as these dives must be carefully planned and done in conditions such that will guarantee the team’s safety. Documenting the ship’s story as fully as possible from various sources will also be attempted in the near future.

Team members in these dives:
Nicholas Vasilatos
Kostas Thoctaridis
Kostas Papastefos
Helen Tsopouropoulou
Clan Cumming
The wreck of Clan Cumming . She is lying on her port side - the photo shows her forward decks. [3]
Clan Cumming
The wreck of Clan Cumming . The photo shows her forward mast. [3]

Image Credits

  1. From The Allen Collection
  2. By courtesy of the Australian War Memorial Website - the photo is described "Copyright expired - public domain".
  3. By courtesy of wreckDiving.gr