San Emiliano

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Introduction

The tanker San Emiliano (1939) was in service from 1939 until she was sunk by enemy action in 1942 with great loss of life; she had a working life of less than 4 years. I will refer to her simply as San Emiliano on the rest of this page.

San Emiliano San Emiliano
The above photos are believed to have been taken during trials of San Emiliano in the Clyde in April 1939. [1]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Tanker
Registered owners, managers and operators Eagle Oil and Shipping Co. Ltd, London
Builders Harland & Wolff Ltd.
Yard Govan, Glasgow
Country UK
Yard number 1015g
Registry Glasgow UK
Official number 167216
Signal letters N/K
Call sign GRGL
Classification society N/K
Gross tonnage 8,071
Net tonnage 4,314
Deadweight 12,152
Length 463.2 ft
Overall Length 479.4 ft
Breadth 61.2 ft
Depth 33.1 ft
Draught N/K
Engines 4-stroke cycle single acting 8 cylinder oil engine (4S.C.SA) with cylinder bore 29 9/16" and stroke 55 1/8".
Engine builders Harland and Wolff
Works Glasgow
Country UK
Boilers 2 double boilers operating at 180 psi
Power 502 NHP
Propulsion Single screw
Speed 12 knots
Cargo capacity 12,000
Crew 48 at time of sinking

Additional Construction Information

The Lloyds Register entry for San Emiliano for 1941-42 has the following additional information about her:

  • 1 deck with 2nd deck clear of cargo tanks
  • She had a cruiser stern
  • She was fitted with echo-sounding and radio direction-finding equipment
  • Machinery aft
  • Longitudinal framing at bottom and at deck
  • Carrying petroleum in bulk
San Emiliano San Emiliano
These cuttings announce the launching (left - Glasgow Herald 21 December 1938) and delivery (right - Times 4 August 1939) of San Emiliano. [4 and 5]

Career Highlights

Date Event
20 Dec 1938 Launched
5 April 1939 Completed
9 August 1942 Sunk by torpedo

Service Pre WW2

We know that San Emiliano discharged petrol at Santos in August 1939 and arrived in the river Amazon on 3rd September 1939 - the day the war began. She loaded a full cargo of fresh water from the Amazon for Curacao. It was common practice for tankers to take water from the Amazon for Curacao on their return from East Coast South American ports.

San Emiliano, the Ship Adoption Society and Govan High School

San Emiliano was "adopted" by Govan High School in Glasgow just before the start of WW2. The British Ship Adoption Society was an independent charity founded in 1936. It encouraged schools to correspond with seafarers who wrote back and described what life on board a ship was like. Presumably what was in the minds of those that set the charity up was to provide another interest for seafarers and to encourage those at school to consider a life at sea.

The motto of the British Ship Adoption Society was:

We live by the sea

We exist by the sea

Let us never forget this

San Emiliano was "adopted" by Govan High School in Glasgow which celebrated its centenary year in 2010. I was contacted by the school librarian Mr. Ian McCracken regarding the history of the ship. During our exchanges on this matter it came to light that some correspondence from the crew had been kept in the school archives and this is reproduced below by permission of the Head Teacher. The ship was built at Govan and it is likely that the fathers and grandfathers of many of the students would have worked on building her in the local Harland and Wolff shipyard.

The Able Seaman's Letter - A Call at Aruba

To the scholars of Govan Secondary School

Dear Scholars, — Well, here goes. I think by way of a start a little introduction won't do any harm, so I will try and give you a brief account of my younger days. At college (I think that is the right term because I had to pay 2d per week) although there was free education it did not apply to the R.C. at the time of my graduating in the year 1900, so any mistakes I might make I ask you to overlook.

I might mention that had I been left to follow my natural instinct, I would today, without a doubt, be the world's most noted cartoonist, but unfortunately for me, the teacher caught me too many times and always gave my trousers a good dusting without removing me first! So I left college with a very high grade Standard Four education to start away in life with, and as far as I am concerned, I am highly satisfied. After 38 years at sea, I have been on all sorts and sizes of ships, carrying all kinds of cargo from and to all parts of the world, including four years in the mine-sweepers in the last War, and two years research work for the South African Government. I will try and give you a detailed account of the work I am following at present, that of carrying oil in bulk to various places in the world.

You children who live among the world's most famous shipbuilding yards, do not require a description of the ship, as the word "Tanker" explains itself. There are quite a few reasons why this class of ship is so important to the welfare of people at home today, but I will leave that part to the teachers to explain, as he, no doubt, is in a better position to do so than I am.

The Crew

Our crew consists of 41 hands all told, divided into three departments, Deck, Engine and Catering. The, Deck has three certificated officers, one in charge of each watch, 10 seamen, three in each watch and one dayworker, bosun and carpenter and two apprentices, and all of these come under the direct control of the Chief Officer. The Engine Room staff come under the direct control of the 2nd Engineer who works under the instructions of the Chief Engineer. The Catering Department are under the control of the Chief Steward, who is responsible for the most important part, to keep a contented crew. I must say we have one of the best, and the same applies to the two cooks, but I must not let them know that, or they will think I want something ; a seaman is always suspicious when you start to flatter him (except when he is ashore, and then he is like clay in the hands of a modeller). There is also a wireless operator. Every one on board, no matter what rating, comes under the Captain ; his word is law.

Now on leaving port the general routine of the ship begins, all ropes are stowed away, wires reeled up, derricks stripped, and anything that is movable is securely lashed. All seagoing ships have very much the same routine with regard to the general work of the ship, painting, scraping, scrubbing, and cleaning, overhauling running gear, mooring ropes and wires, and the prevention of rust. Each seaman does two hours at the wheel in his turn, and during the night also two hours look-out or stand-by, it works round so that every man gets the same time at the wheel, look-out and stand-by. In a tanker, more so than in any other ship afloat, there is always that very grave danger of fire, so that every precaution is taken to prevent it. Boat drill and fire drill are carried out every week, under the watchful eye of the captain, so that every man knows exactly what to do, and where to go should the occasion arise, no matter what the state of the weather, or if it is daylight or dark. There are full instructions, with illustrations, of how to restore the apparently drowned or gassed, by the Schaeffer method, accessible to all hands, and there is also a full equipment of smoke helmets and-hand fire extinguishers all handy everywhere about the ship. There is a first class medicine chest and first aid appliances, also a well appointed hospital with two swinging cots, in case any of the crew should meet with an accident during the voyage ; so you see nothing has been overlooked, but every precaution is taken to prevent accidents.

When you are off watch you are at liberty to do as you like, there is a good library on board (Seafarers' Education Service) and any book you would like which is not in the library will be obtained for you on return to the home port. Anyone wishing to follow any particular course of study can do so free of charge, and a list of subjects and professors is provided. Some play at cards or draughts, or make mats, or anything at all as your fancy takes you.

Tobacco is supplied duty free, but you must only smoke in the places and at times appointed by the Captain, and this rule is strictly enforced. Safety matches are also supplied, because when you are leaving or rejoining a ship, you will have to pass through the Refinery or Storage Depot, and all matches or lighters must be given up the gate, failing to do this will get you into serious trouble.

The time is kept throughout the ship from the bridge, and the bells are struck by the helmsman, 2, 4. 6 or 8 bells at each hour of the watch. Seven bells are struck at 7.20 a.m. and at 11.20 a.m., this is done to give the watch time to have their breakfast or dinner before relieving, the other bells denote each hour of the four hour watch. The clock is corrected every day at 6 p.m. by the 2nd Officer; this is another task I will leave to the teacher to explain, as it requires some little detail, which may be of interest to you.

Thanks to education and science, the days of the old sea-boot-faced Skipper, and blue-nosed Nova Scotia mate, with his biting tongue and belaying pin, and the armour-plated steward with his everlasting bread and cracker hash, are over, and they have been sent to their proper place.—"Davy Jones's Locker." Now when you have finished your watch you come into nice comfortable, well ventilated and air conditioned rooms. If you are wet there are drying rooms, and plenty of fresh water, hot and cold, good wash and bathrooms, and good bed and. bedding. The food is very good, well cooked and well, served, and plenty of it. Most ships today are fitted with refrigerators and the perishable food is kept in good condition.

Well, now for the other side of the picture. I am afraid it will take a better scholar than me to give you any impression of what it Is really like in a heavy sea in a deep loaded ship of any sort. I suppose most of you have been to the seaside at some time or another, and if you have seen a half submerged rock and watched the tide come in and break over it, it will give you a little idea of what a ship's deck looks like. Add to that the uncontrollable motion when you don't know which way she is going to roll next, and various other items which I cannot possibly describe. A tanker is fitted with a "flying bridge" so that you can go from one end of the ship to the other without having to go on the main deck.

Loading the Cargo

Now that you have been through a little bad weather, you can take your oilskins off and get ready for entering port. Up comes the ropes and wires, cargo derricks are rigged, rat guards for the ropes got ready, pilot ladder and boat rope over, and in the meantime the various flags are being hoisted or lowered by the officer of the watch. Up comes the pilot, shakes hands with the Captain and exchanges a few words, and away we go-for port. We are not long now before we are made fast, out goes the gangway, and the doctor and numerous other port officials come on board. In the meantime the shore gang are busy fixing up the pipe line ready for loading. The water ballast is pumped out, and then the tanks are inspected by an official of the refinery who gives the O.K. to start loading. When I say that they put 15,000 tons in in 36 hours you can see it is pretty quick work, and the officer on watch has a very busy time indeed. Some times you have two or more grades of oil, and they must see that it is not put in the wrong tanks, temperatures are taken at intervals, this is done by the apprentices, samples are also taken, but this is done by the shore staff. If you are loading or discharging spirit (petrol) all fires are extinguished. I mean galley and boiler fires, which as they are oil burning, only means turning off the oil. All hands go on shore for meals, and the steam required for the ship's auxiliary machinery is supplied from shore, also the current for the electric lighting, by means of pipes and cables. There is a man stationed at the portable telephone at the ship, and all the time of loading scuppers are plugged up and drip trays are placed under all joints to catch any leakage. These things look very small items, but they are very important when handling oil in bulk, for it not only reduces the risk of fire, but saves a lot of waste.

Impressions of Aruba

Now I will give you my impressions of Aruba : It must be the island that Robison Crusoe discovered, or was stranded on or whatever happened. I just forget how the stoiy goes, but if I remember right he had a goat and a coloured man, Friday. As far j as the goat is concerned it is the only sign of animal life that I have seen, or that could possibly live on what grows in Aruba. I have not even seen a donkey, and he is a hard customer, and I don't think there ever was a native, if there, was he must have been a very hard case too. Most of the inhabitants are natives of the Caribbean Group with a mixture of Mexican and Spanish, but these mostly comprise the labouring class. The white people are mostly Americans who all hold key positions in the refinery, and they have a colony of their own. Their houses are all of the one storey type very common in the tropics, built of wood and concrete and about three feet off the ground, with a verandah, and shuttered windows to keep out the fierce heat of the sun, and are very cool at night. All the houses stand on their own ground so that plenty of air can circulate around them. There is a nice school and a well equipped hospital, and I have noticed a few attempts at gardening, but I think it is a thankless job, because rain is as scarce as oil is plentiful. The colony is guarded by the oil company's patrol men, who work on the "clock" system; that is there are certain places: on each man's round where a key is kept. As each man goes on duty he is handed a clock, and at each place where a key is kept he inserts the key in the clock, thus showing the time he was at that particular place. The clock is locked so that it cannot be tampered with, and the patrolling is done day and night.

Now for the town, if you can call it that. San Nicolas is the name, and I think that is the best part about it. Being a Dutch possession it is policed by the Dutch, and the Customs Officers and all other officials are Dutch. You require to have a pass to go in and out of the refinery, and these are sent on board when the ship is moored up, and each man applies to the 2nd Officer for his pass if he wants to go ashore. All parcels are opened by the watchman at the gate when you are coming back on board, and anything is the shape of strong drink is not allowed through. The one street that the town boasts of is about one mile long, containing shops of every description except butchers and provision dealers. I think most of the meat and provisions are supplied by the oil company, for they have a large store inside the main gate to the refinery. In the town the articles for sale are 90 per cent, cheap Japanese goods and very inferior, and drink is all imported. The currency is mostly Dutch and American, but they will take English pound notes, but not silver or copper. The town has a picture house, but I cannot describe it as I have not yet been in it, but from the outside appearance it looks like one of the "laugh and scratch" type. The other houses or buildings, shacks or dug-outs defy description. Fresh water has to be bought, one of the labourers told me he had to pay four cents for a petrol tin full (two gallons).

I think 1 have told you all I can think of at present, so I will attend to one or two little jobs I have to do for myself. I engaged a new washerwoman this trip, Mrs Goodenough, or something; you know the one I mean, she is on the wireless. Two weeks' soak and one week's boil or something like that, so I hope she will be a success; if not it will be just too bad for me. Then I have a sock to darn, and a few patches to put on my dungarees, and I must get my "plus fours" out of the locker and polish up my golf clubs, in case I am invited to a round or two ; one never knows what is going to happen in a strange country, and there is nothing like being prepared.

The homeward bound passage is the same as the outward, with this little difference; when we tie up in the home port we receive our Account of Wages, and go to the pay table and "scratch off" (the seaman's name for the pen supplied my the Board of Trade for the use of seamen), pack our bags, and away we go for a few days' hectic life while the money lasts. Then the shipping office again, another ship, new faces, new rules, etc., and start all over again on another voyage. So it goes on, one continual performance until we sign on for the "Last Voyage," destination unknown. So I will know close with this one regret, that I was born 50 years too early. Trusting this letter will give you as much enjoyment to read it as it gives me to write it.

I remain, yours sincerely,

A. R. CARROLL.(Able Seaman.)

M/V San Emiliano, At Sea. 7th August, 1939.

I have been unable to find out anything about Mr Carroll but will add any information that comes to light at a future date.

The Chief Steward's Letter - Work of the Catering Department

To the pupils of Govan Secondary School

Dear Friends Ashore, - As some of you may be interested in the catering on board this vessel I presume I may consider myself the most fitting person to enlighten you.

Vessels belonging to this company are stored for a certain period, based on the time the voyage is to take. As this ship is the vessel adopted by your school, I shall concentrate on the catering in this ship. Two and a half months is about the time to do our voyage, but to be on the safe side, approximately four months' stores are supplied, to allow for any unforeseen circumstances. It would be too long a job to itemise four months' provisions, so I shan't attempt it, but to cater for a ship's complement for three meals a day takes quite a lot of stores, as this vessel carries forty-one of a crew.

Cooking on board, which is done by the chief and second cooks, is not hard work, but very tiring as the cooks are on their feet for ten hours per day, and they get through quite a lot of work in that period. Besides preparing the menu they also have to bake all bread for the ship, so they haven't any time to waste. Other work of the catering staff is of a domestic nature, namely, polishing woodwork, scouring, making beds, waiting on tables, in fact everything done on shore to keep a home clean, is done on board ship. Inspection of the ship and all accommodation takes place every Sunday morning at sea. This is a very good practice because the ship's captain knows that his ship is being cleaned at least once a week. Stores are issued to members of the crew just as required ; there is no shortage, but waste is not tolerated. Stores must be used and not abused. This is al] I am writing this time, but I shall only be to pleased to answer any questions relating to my department. So until next time. I bid you all good luck and good health.

Yours faithfully,

J. BENGSTON (Chief Steward).

M/V San Emiliano, 10th August, 1939.

I am grateful to Stan Mayes and Ray Buck for the following information about John Bengston:

Crew lists from San Emiliano in 1942 show that John Bengston gave his address as Cranford Street, South Shields.

Stan told me that John Bengston remained Chief Steward on San Emiliano for a few trips after he had left her in April 1942. Although she was a happy ship, Stan had been asked to sign on for a further 6 months but declined as he had been at sea without a break and he had not seen his family. He said John Bengston was relieved by Charles Bennell not long before San Emiliano was sunk on 9 August 1942. Charles Bennell perished when she was sunk - both Stan and John had a narrow escape.

Ray Buck told me that John Bengston appears to have been a regular Eagle Oil Company man as his name appears on the crew lists of Eagle Oil ships as follows:

I am pleased to be able to report that neither Mr Carroll nor Mr Bengston appear on the Commonwealth War Grave Commission's casualty database so it is presumed that they both survived the war.

Service in WW2

Convoys

San Emiliano took part in 47 convoys plus a large number of independent voyages according to information shown in the table below which is provided courtesy of Convoyweb - see External Ref. #4.

Departure Convoy/Independent Arrival
Natal, Sep 7, 1939 Independent Trinidad, Sep 9, 1939
Trinidad, Sep 25, 1939 Independent Kingston, Sep 30, 1939
Kingston, Oct 4, 1939 KJ.3 (Kingston Jamaica - UK Ports) Liverpool, Oct 28, 1939
Liverpool, Nov 20, 1939 OB.38 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Independent Corpus Christi, Dec 12, 1939
Corpus Christi, Dec 15, 1939 Independent Halifax, Dec 24, 1939
Halifax, Dec 27, 1939 HXF.14 (Halifax - Liverpool) Havre, Jan 9, 1940
Havre, Jan 20, 1940 Independent New York, Feb 10, 1940
New York, Feb 14, 1940 Independent Halifax, Feb 17, 1940
Halifax, Feb 18, 1940 HX.21 (Halifax - Liverpool) London, Mar 6, 1940
Southend, Mar 31, 1940 OA.120G (Southend - r/v OB 120 49.27N 06.32W)
Independent Aruba, Apr 18, 1940
Independent Curacao, Apr 20, 1940
Aruba, Apr 20, 1940 Independent
Curacao, Apr 25, 1940 Independent Halifax, May 3, 1940
Halifax, May 4, 1940 HX.40 (Halifax - Liverpool) Clyde, May 19, 1940
Clyde, Jun 5, 1940 OB.162 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Independent Corpus Christi, Jun 23, 1940
Corpus Christi, Jun 26, 1940 Independent Bermuda, Jul 3, 1940
Bermuda, Jul 5, 1940 Independent Halifax, Jul 8, 1940
Halifax, Jul 11, 1940 HX.57 (Halifax - Liverpool) Methil Roads, Jul 27, 1940
Methil, Aug 3, 1940 OA.193 (Methil - Dispersed)
Independent Baytown, Aug 23, 1940
Baytown, Aug 26, 1940 Independent
Bermuda, Sep 4, 1940 BHX.71 (Bermuda - Jd HX 71)
Independent Bermuda, Sep 12, 1940
HX.71 (Halifax - Liverpool) Liverpool, Sep 27, 1940
Liverpool, Oct 7, 1940 OB.225 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Independent Aruba, Oct 24, 1940
Aruba, Oct 27, 1940 Independent Bermuda, Nov 2, 1940
Bermuda, Nov 3, 1940 BHX.86 (Bermuda - Returned To Bermuda)
Bermuda, Nov 10, 1940 Independent Halifax, Nov 13, 1940
Halifax, Nov 14, 1940 HX.88 (Halifax - Liverpool) Liverpool, Dec 1, 1940
Liverpool, Jan 5, 1941 OB.270 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Independent Aruba, Jan 23, 1941
Aruba, Jan 25, 1941 Independent Bermuda, Jan 30, 1941
Bermuda, Feb 1, 1941 BHX.107 (Bermuda - Jd HX 107)
HX.107 (Halifax - Liverpool) Avonmouth, Feb 23, 1941
Avonmouth, Mar 6, 1941 Independent Clyde, Mar 9, 1941
Clyde, Mar 12, 1941 OB.297 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Independent Curacao, Apr 1, 1941
Curacao, Apr 5, 1941 Independent Halifax, Apr 13, 1941
Halifax, Apr 16, 1941 HX.121 (Halifax - Liverpool) Liverpool, May 2, 1941
Liverpool, May 17, 1941 OB.323 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Independent Baytown, Jun 7, 1941
Independent Mobile, Jun 8, 1941
Mobile, Jun 8, 1941 Independent
Baytown, Jun 30, 1941 Independent Bermuda, Jul 6, 1941
Bermuda, Jul 6, 1941 Independent Halifax, Jul 9, 1941
Halifax, Jul 11, 1941 HX.138 (Halifax - Liverpool) Liverpool, Jul 27, 1941
Liverpool, Aug 6, 1941 ON.5 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Independent New York, Aug 20, 1941
New York, Aug 23, 1941 Independent Halifax, Aug 25, 1941
Halifax, Aug 29, 1941 HX.147 (Halifax - Liverpool) Loch Ewe, Sep 11, 1941
WN.179 (Oban - Methil) Methil, Sep 13, 1941
Methil, Sep 13, 1941 FS.594 (Methil - Southend) Southend, Sep 15, 1941
Southend, Sep 20, 1941 FN.521 (Southend - Methil) Methil, Sep 22, 1941
Methil, Sep 24, 1941 EC.76 (Southend - Clyde) Loch Ewe, Sep 27, 1941
Independent New York, Oct 15, 1941
New York, Oct 17, 1941 Independent Halifax, Oct 19, 1941
Halifax, Oct 22, 1941 HX.156 (Halifax - Liverpool) Belfast Lough, Nov 4, 1941
Belfast Lough, Nov 6, 1941 BB.97 (Belfast Lough - M Haven) Swansea, Nov 8, 1941
Independent Milford Haven, Nov 11, 1941
Swansea, Nov 11, 1941 Independent
Milford Haven, Nov 12, 1941 ON.36 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Independent New York, Dec 1, 1941
New York, Dec 3, 1941 Independent Halifax, Dec 6, 1941
Halifax, Dec 8, 1941 HX.164 (Halifax - Liverpool) Belfast Lough, Dec 23, 1941
Belfast Lough, Dec 26, 1941 BB.116 (Belfast Lough - M Haven) Swansea, Dec 27, 1941
Independent Milford Haven, Jan 4, 1942
Swansea, Jan 4, 1942 Independent
Milford Haven, Jan 5, 1942 ON.54 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Independent Aruba, Jan 28, 1942
Aruba, Jan 30, 1942 Independent Bermuda, Feb 6, 1942
Bermuda, Feb 6, 1942 Independent Halifax, Feb 9, 1942
Halifax, Feb 13, 1942 HX.175 (Halifax - Liverpool) Liverpool, Feb 25, 1942
Liverpool, Mar 23, 1942 ON.79 (Liverpool - Halifax) Halifax, Apr 5, 1942
Halifax, Apr 8, 1942 HX.184 (Halifax - Liverpool) Belfast Lough, Apr 20, 1942
Belfast Lough, Apr 21, 1942 BB.165 (Belfast Lough - M Haven) Swansea, Apr 23, 1942
Independent Milford Haven, Apr 29, 1942
Swansea, Apr 29, 1942 Independent
Milford Haven, May 1, 1942 OS.27 (Liverpool - Freetown)
Independent Trinidad, May 20, 1942
Trinidad, May 23, 1942 TO.1 (Trinidad - Curacao) Aruba, May 25, 1942
Independent Curacao, May 27, 1942
Aruba, May 27, 1942 Independent
Curacao, May 29, 1942 OT.4 (Curacao - Trinidad)
Independent Takoradi, Jun 16, 1942
Takoradi, Jun 19, 1942 Independent
Matadi, Jun 28, 1942 Independent Trinidad, Jul 14, 1942
Trinidad, Jul 15, 1942 TAW.5 (Trinidad - Key West) Curacao, Jul 17, 1942
Independent Aruba, Jul 19, 1942
Curacao, Jul 19, 1942 Independent Curacao, Jul 26, 1942
Aruba, Jul 26, 1942 Independent
Curacao, Jul 29, 1942 WAT.8 (Key West - Trinidad) Trinidad, Jul 31, 1942

Stan Mayes served on San Emiliano from 18 September 1941 until 23 April 1942 and accounts of his voyages with photos, including convoy HX 184 can be found in the Recollections section of the Benjidog website HERE.

Defensive Armoury

San Emiliano was equipped with guns for self-defence and Stan Mayes was one of those trained to operate them. He provides the following account of the defences:

The 4.7" gun was on the poop and in addition there were two 20 mm Oerlikons located in nests built on the bridge, and one 40mm Bofors gun installed near the funnel. DEMS Gunners were on the ship. Mick Snashall and I had gunnery courses and gained a certificate. We were paid 6d per day for it while on ships Articles. We performed our normal duties, but manned guns during action stations. We also had lots of gun drill when at sea.
San Emiliano
This is an enlargement of a photo that has been enhanced to show the nests for the Oerlikons which could be accessed from the deck by rope ladders as well as from the bridge. [1]
San Emiliano
This shows Stan Mayes and Mick Snashal on duty at one of the 4.7" guns on San Emiliano. [1]
San Emiliano
Some of the crew and DEMS gunners aboard San Emiliano off Aruba in February 1942. [1]

Degaussing

Degaussing minimised or removed the magnetic field of a ship and was carried out by passing a strong electical current through cables fitted around a ship.

San Emiliano
This shows part of the Degaussing cables fitted to San Emiliano. Degaussing reduced the risk of ships being detected by magnetic mines and was initially fitted externally as shown here. The thick cables carrying the degaussing current are to be seen strapped to the diagonal metal trough. [1]

Almost Overpaid!

In March 1942 it appears that there was an administrative error at Eagle Oil with the wages of ship’s carpenter D.P. Brennan - they were shown as £16 15s 0d instead of £14 15s 0d so the office notified Captain Tozer in a letter dated 9 April 1942. The main point of this appears to be to ensure that, in the case of loss of the ship, he would not be overpaid. Wages in any case would cease immediately for crew whose ship was sunk.

In the event Daniel Brennan lost his life when San Emiliano was sunk four months later and we can all rest in our beds knowing that no overpayment would have occurred.

San Emiliano San Emiliano
A copy of Eagle Oil Company letters sent to Captain Tozer. [1]

Log Extract

San Emiliano
The official log of San Emiliano showing changes in crew in 1941 and 1942. The first entry records J Tozer taking over as Master on 29 December 1941. Later entries for January 1942 record new crew members. Of the names I can make out, three of these men were lost with the ship - Alan Woodward, Stephen Williamson and Harry Pyman. [1]

Loss of San Emiliano

The Final Voyage of San Emiliano

San Emiliano sailed from Swansea on 29 April 1942 and later joined convoy OS 27 Southbound towards Freetown. OS 27 consisted of 48 ships and 11 escorts. The Commodore ship was Elder Dempster's Sobo.

Before Freetown, San Emiliano detached from the convoy and continued on voyage independently for Curacoa arriving there on 27 May 1942. She loaded petrol and sailed in convoy to Trinidad on 29 May 1942, then sailed independently for Takoradi arriving 16 June 1942. After discharging cargo she sailed independently for Curacoa arriving 17 July. On arrival at curacoa Ron Snashall, a friend of Stan Mayes and one of those who joined the crew on 4 January 1942, was taken off ship to a hospital suffering from malaria and had a lucky escape. San Emiliano loaded high octane and sailed for Trinidad on 29 July and arrived on 31 July. On 6 August she sailed independently for Capetown.

Sinking

On 9 August 1942 San Emiliano was hit by two torpedoes fired by German submarine U-155 and exploded in a huge fireball. This incident is covered in the television 'World at War' series ' Wolf Pack: U-Boats in the Atlantic 1939 - 1944' which purports to show film of some of the survivors being rescued.

Two harrowing first hand accounts of the sinking, and a copy of an official US Navy Department report can be found below. Of the 48 people on board only 8 survived.

US Navy Department Report on the Sinking

The following report was sent to me by Stan Mayes as a photocopy. Stan advised that the origin was a U.S. Navy Department document entitled "Summary of Statements by Survivors". The copy has U-155 written manually on it and it contains a one-page history of U-155 including its fate.

Report on San Emiliano

EMILIANO Owners: Eagle Oil & Shipping Co. London, England. Operated by British M.o.W.T

Report of interview with:
Sunk by: Torpedo without warning from submarine at about at 0130 GCT on August 9th, 1942.
Position: 07.30N 54.45W :
Voyage: Trinidad to Capetown
Cargo: 11,500 tons of 100 octane aviation gasoline
Armament:
Draft: 27ft 7ins forward 27ft 4ins aft
Confidential books: Burnt with the ship
Crew: 48
Casualties: 40 killed

The ship immediately caught fire, and burnt violently for approximately 10 hours, then sank, stern first. The tanker was on course 100°(T), speed 11½ knots in 60 fathoms, radio silent, not actually zigzagging at the moment of attack as the Master was on the bridge, was using all possible speed to clear himself from the Red Cross Ship, Newfoundland, which, fully lighted, had just passed close aboard, crossing the San Emiliano's bow from the port side. Previous to this time the ship had been using zigzag diagrams numbers 9 and 37 during daylight hours. One look-out was stationed on top of the bridge, while three gunners were at their post on the after gun platform. The ship was being conned by the Third Mate, who had the watch, but the Master was on the bridge. The weather was clear, slight sea running, wind East force 2 to 3, visibility good, no moonlight. At the time of attack the lights of the Red Cross Ship Newfoundland were visible, about 10 miles distant on the starboard bow.

The first torpedo struck on the starboard side of numbers hold, 15 feet below the water line. The explosion seemed to split the ship in two, and gasoline was thrown over the entire ship. About 30 seconds later a second torpedo hit in starboard in number 3 hold and ignited the gasoline which had been strewn over the ship which immediately became a raging inferno. The first torpedo made a hissing noise as it approached the ship. No distress signals could be sent. There was no opportunity to offer a counteroffensive as the aft gunners were enveloped in flames.

The crew numbered 48 and all but 12 were burnt to death before there was any opportunity to abandon ship. One lifeboat was launched with eight survivors, and four other members of the crew dived overboard, were picked up by the lifeboat; but were so severely burned these four died within a short time. The eight survivors were picked up by the General Thomas S Jessup on August 10th, and landed at Paramaribo on August 11 th. Planes of the U.S Army Air Force dropped supplies and medicine to the survivors and directed the rescue vessel to the lifeboat.

The sub which was seen only for a moment, was over 800 feet long, painted a dark blue, with a light grey conning tower, which had a dark blue band near its top.

Note: The U.S Naval Observer at Paramaribo commented that the San Emiliano was the most valuable of 20 ships that left Trinidad in convoy, bound Gibraltar, Capetown, Brazilian ports and Paramaribo, and "That is seems logical to deduct that the enemy knew what cargo the San Emiliano had aboard and where she was bound, also exact information as to where and when the convoy would disperse, for the ship was attacked about 18 hours after dispersal of the convoy by a submarine that apparently was waiting for her, as the ship's speed of 11½ knots seems somewhat above reported speeds that the submarine could make submerged had she attempted to trail the ship".

Report on Submarine U-155

Name:U.155
Flag: German
Type: DC C
Built: AG Weser (Bremen
Launched: 01/10/40
Commissioned:: 23/08/41
Total Patrols:: 10
Tnis Patrol: 3
Sailed from: Lorient on 09/07/42
Arrived at: Unit this patrol: Lorient on 15/09/42
U-Flotilla 10
Successes this patrol: GRT (Sunk) GRT (Damaged):
28/07/42 WEIRBANK(Br) 5150
28/07/42 PLAVE (Br) 2347
29/07/42 BILL (No) 2445
30/07/42 CRANFORD (U.S) 6096
01/08/42 KENTAR (Du) 5878
01/08/42 CLAN MacNAUGHTON (Br) 6088
04/08/42 EMPIRE ARNOLD (Br) 7045
05/08/42 DRACO (Da) 389
09/08/42 San Emiliano (Br) 8071
10/08/42 STRABO (Du) 383
Fate: 08/03/43 bombed by a Catalina of VP.-53 Swn U.S.N in 12.38N 52.39W (East of Barbados) and lost with all 52 hands.

Reports of Interviews with the Chief Officer Mr. T.D.Finch

The key surviving witness to the horrors of the loss of San Emiliano was the Chief Officer, Thomas Finch. He provided several accounts of what happened and I have included all of those that have come to my attention. The accounts are complementary as he recalled additional information on each occasion. The first and second accounts were attached to the papers related to the US Navy report on the sinking.

Thomas Finch's First Account

We left Trinidad on the 6th August, 1942, and joined up with Convoy E-7. The convoy proceeded without incident until 0300 on the 8th August when it was dispersed, all ships sailing independently for their various destinations. We proceeded at 8 knots, zig-zagging all the time until 1930 on the 8th when a Hospital Ship crossed our bows; as this ship had all her lights blazing we ceased zig-zagging, altered course to the Northward, and continued at full speed to get away from her lights.

At 2130 on the 8th August, when in position 7º 30’N. - 54º 45’W., steaming at 13 knots on a course 130º (approx.) we were struck by two torpedoes. The weather was fine and visibility good but very dark, there was a slight sea and swell with light airs. The first torpedo struck under the bridge on the starboard side, followed about 20 seconds later by another torpedo which struck also on the starboard side in the pump room about 60ft. abaft the bridge. I was in my cabin at the time and heard a loud humming noise just before the first torpedo exploded, I thought we were being dive bombed, but on hearing the second explosion I realised we had been torpedoed. Both explosions were very noisy but I am unable to say whether any water was thrown up or if there was a flash. The first torpedo appeared to strike deep down, splitting the ship open and covering the decks with gasoline, while the second one set fire to the ship, and within half a minute the vessel was a blazing inferno from the bridge aft; the crew abaft the bridge had no hope of surviving.

I managed to climb through the port on to the fore deck and a few of the crew succeeded in following me. I saw No.2 forward lifeboat was undamaged and the Wireless Operator volunteered to release this boat. This man crawled on his hands and knees through the flames and released the falls, jumping into the boat as she was still made fast to the ship by the forward painter. I was unable to release the painter but managed to swing the boat off from the ship. Actually it was lucky for me that the painter had jammed because, as the ship still had weigh on her, on releasing the painter we should have drifted into the flames.

Just as we managed to swing clear of the ship the seams opened and burning gasoline poured out over the water. I heard one man shouting from the forecastle head and looking back I could see a number of the crew leaping from the deck into the burning water without an earthly chance of escape, and I was powerless to help them. Four of the crew, including the Apprentice, immediately took the oars and rowed away from the ship, but even so the flames gradually crept nearer and nearer the boat. I took one of the oars and pulled like grim death, and as the ship lost her weigh we managed to get about half a mile from her, where we stood by in the hope of sighting further survivors. We picked up 4 men from the water but saw nothing of the men who were aft at the time of the explosions.

There were now 12 of us in the lifeboat, including the Apprentice, 2nd Officer and 3rd Steward. Apprentice Clarke had been badly burnt and was almost unrecognisable, at the time we did not realise how badly he was injured, but when he ceased rowing I found he had been rowing with the bones of his hands, the flesh had been burnt off, I could not get his hands off the oars and had to use a knife to do so.

About half an hour after leaving the ship’s side a flickering light was observed on the port quarter of the ship, thinking this was probably the submarine I flashed an S.O.S. message with the torch, whereupon the flashing ceased and we saw nothing more. The 3rd Wireless Operator stated that he saw the submarine for a few seconds whilst running forward to abandon ship. We stood by the ship all night and at 0700 on the following morning, 9th August, the vessel appeared to melt amidships and break in two, the after end sank in a mass of smoke and flames, while the bow up-ended and remained afloat and blazing for another hour. At 0830 we approached the smouldering wreckage in search of further survivors but found none. We then hoisted sail and set a course Westwards to take advantage of the wind and current, towards the British Guyana coastline, which I estimated to be about 110 miles away. The Apprentice and 2nd Officer both died in agonising pain during the morning and before 1600 that day the 3rd Steward and Greaser had died from burns and injuries.

At 1100 on the 9th August we sighted an aircraft, this ‘plane circled the burning wreckage several times. We signalled to him, he did not appear to understand, but finally came over and dropped a barrel of water which unfortunately broke on hitting the sea. Throughout the day the ‘planes kept in contact with us and at 1830 one of them dropped a parachute with water, rations, medical supplies, cigarettes and instructions to proceed on a course of 190º (True) to Dutch Guyana Lightship, approximately 90 miles distant. They also flashed a message that help was coming and wished us good luck.

At 1900 on the 10th August we sighted the U.S. Army Transport General Gessup, this ship came alongside and picked up the remaining 8 survivors, landing us at Paramaribo at 1100 on the 11th August. I suggest that there should be an ample supply of morphia in lifeboats, especially in tankers carrying aviation spirits. If we had had even a small supply of morphia a lot of suffering could have been alleviated. The Boat’s Wireless set was kept in the wireless cabin and we were unable to reach it.

I would like specially to mention the great courage shown by Apprentice Clarke. Although very badly burnt with his hands almost devoid of flesh, he rowed as well as any of the crew. He remained cheerful throughout and although in agonising pain he never complained and was an inspiration to all in the boat. I would strongly recommend him for a posthumous award. Wireless Operator Dennis, although badly burnt, managed to crawl to the lifeboat and release the falls, thus saving the lives of the 8 survivors. This man was badly burnt but showed great courage and fortitude throughout.

Note: It is understood that there is an error in this account and that the ship that picked up the survivors was in fact the US troopship General Thomas S.Jessop however the original account has been left uncorrected.

Thomas Finch's Second Account

This second account by Mr. Finch is even more harrowing than the first:

We left Trinidad on 6 August 1942 in convoy, bound for the Cape and eventually Suez, fully loaded with a cargo of high octane gasoline in all about 12,000 tons. In the evening of 9 August the convoy dispersed. Round about 6 in the evening as dusk fell I noticed a ship coming up from astern with full navigation lights blazing, indicating a neutral vessel. By 7 o'clock she was a mile on our starboard beam and I noticed with the lights she was carrying that she was a hospital ship. By 8 p.m. when the 3rd officer relieved me of the watch she was well down on the horizon and disappearing. I've always had the idea that the U-boat must have been hanging around then, probably on the surface on that particular track and must have seen the hospital ship and more than likely saw us silhouetted against her lights.

At about 9 o'clock I decided to turn in for the night and was partially undressed when there was a terrific explosion from the starboard side which was immediately followed by another. I jumped out of the bunk, rushed to the cabin door, which came away in my hands, saw that the mess was ablaze, and started to run down the alley-way. I saw the apprentice running around and shouted to him "Quick, this way . . . follow me'. We rushed back into my cabin, smacked the door back into position to prevent the fire entering, undid the thumb-screws to the port-hole, opened it up, and pushed the apprentice through it, and I followed him, landing on the shelter deck, down the ladder to the fore-deck and ran to the focslehead which I judged to be the safest place.

By this time the ship was ablaze from bridge to stern, the whole sky being lit up by the flames which must have been hundreds of feet high. I saw the starboard life-boat had crashed into the sea but the port life-boat was still hanging in the davits, so I shouted to the apprentice 'Come on ... quick . . . we've got two minutes to get that boat away. If we don't, we're dead'. As we were running along the fore-deck towards the bridge, this boat also crashed into the sea ... We had to jump from the shelter deck to the falls about 6 feet and slide down them. Three other men threw themselves into the boat in desperation. At this time I had let go the after painter and noticed men running round the poop who were on fire, throwing themselves into the sea which was itself on fire. We were about 40 ft. from the ship's side when the 3rd officer came running along the fore-deck from the focs'le-head shouting 'Wait for me, wait for me!' He dived over the side and we picked him up. At the same time there was another man on the focs'lehead shouting, but there was nothing we could do because out of the 5 or 6 who got away into the boat, only 3 were able to row.

Slowly the ship drew ahead of us whilst we struggled to keep clear of burning sea. We heard some screams for help and rowed over and pulled out of the water a fireman who was terribly burned, so much so that when we pulled him into the boat, the skin from his body and arms came off in our hands like gloves, and he was in a very bad way indeed. Eventually we heard two other cries for help and found in the water an able seaman who was clothed and not burned. Shortly after we picked up a pumpman in the same condition. We tried to pursue the ship, looking for survivors, but it was an impossible task because those in the boat were so gravely injured and collapsing, leaving only three to row against the wind and sea. So we stopped rowing and found the first apprentice terribly burned, so much so that his hands had to be freed from the oars with scissors.

The third officer and I attended to the wounded and were horrified at the extent of their injuries. There seemed no further signs of life anywhere so we hoisted sail and set course for Trinidad. This time, the fireman who had been in such agony all' night, died, and within minutes the second steward who had suffered terrible abdominal wounds and burns also passed away. I went over to him and lifted the blanket covering him and noticed the whole of his stomach badly injured and exposed. He had been very patient during the night and the only thing he complained of was the cold. Both these men were committed to the deep. We had been sailing for an hour or two when the second mate called me. He had been badly burned and severely injured below the waist. He wanted water which I gave him, but even then I knew it was hopeless and a few minutes later he passed away, and as I covered him up with a blanket I noticed that the senior apprentice's life was also drawing to a close.

About midday he died having been very badly burned all over his body; and had been so very brave trying to keep up the morale of the rest of the men by singing. The most pathetic thing about the whole tragedy was the extreme youth of these lads, which was uppermost in my mind as I committed them to the deep.

We continued our voyage, in utter despair and sadness. At about 1 o'clock in the afternoon we heard the hum of a plane. He circled round several times, increasing height and then dropped a parachute, which held a cask of water but this broke on impact and so was wasted. I wasn't too concerned about water at that point as I reckoned I had enough to last us about 30 days. We proceeded and just before dark the plane returned. He dropped the second parachute and this time it was a churn, rather like a milk churn. It was a good drop as it landed about 30 to 40 yards away from us. We picked it up and inside was a flask of iced water, cigarettes, chocolates and soup and a message saying 'steer south, coast within 110 miles.

I had had a rough idea that this was so, but steering south for me was against everything, e.g. current and the wind. However I decided to try so we turned round and headed south as far as we could judge. Dawn broke, we tidied the boat as far as we could and had a few rations. About ten o'clock the plane appeared again and dropped another parachute and this time it wasn't food but a message saying 'Help coming'.

About an hour after dusk we spotted a schooner sailing without lights. I grabbed a torch and signalled because I thought this was the help that had been sent, but as soon as he spotted the signal he turned away and went off into the night. About an hour and a half later the whole sky was lit up by flares, we heard a plane, and then the flares came down lighting up the whole ocean and we spotted our rescue ship which turned out to be the Admiral Jessop, U.S. Army Transport, He came along side and took the wounded off first, the rest climbed on board and then all were taken down to the sick bay and put under sedation. Before I was put under sedation the captain asked me what to do with the life-boat, and I told him to sink it as it had been such a boat load of misery, despair, and death, and I wanted no more to do with it. I learnt later that I could have sold it and with the cash I could have clothed the survivors.

Seven survived out of a crew of 48, but before the war was over I think another three of those saved at that time, lost their lives later. On this point I'm not quite sure but the senior wireless operator did die later ... I know that.

Those who got away in the boat were awarded one George Cross, two George Medals, one MBE, and three Lloyd's War Medals. Three were mentioned in despatches. The George Cross and two of the Lloyd's Medals were posthumous awards.

Notes

Further Information from Thomas Finch

Stan Mayes found the following additional account in a publication but I have been unable to ascertain the source.

The Chief Officer takes up the story:

I was in my cabin at the time and heard a loud humming noise just before the first torpedo exploded. I thought we were being dive bombed, but on hearing the second explosion I realised we had been torpedoed. Both explosions were very noisy but I am unable to say whether any water was thrown up or if there was a flash. The first torpedo appeared to strike deep down, splitting the ship open and covering the decks with gasoline, while the second one set fire to the ship, and within half a minute the vessel was a blazing inferno from the bridge aft; the crew abaft the bridge had no hope of surviving. I managed to climb through the port on to the fore deck and a few of the crew succeeded in following me. I saw No 2 forward lifeboat was undamaged and the wireless operator volunteered to release this boat. This man crawled on his hands and knees through the flames and released the falls, jumping into the boat as she fell upright into the water. Seven of us bundled into this boat which was still made fast to the ship by the forward painter. I was unable to release the painter but managed to swing the boat off from the ship. Actually it was lucky for me that the painter had jammed because, as the ship still had weigh on her, on releasing the painter we should have drifted into the flames.

Just as we managed to swing clear of the ship the seams opened and burning gasoline poured out over the water. I heard one man shouting from the fo'c'sle head and looking back I could see a member of the crew leaping from the deck into the burning water without an earthly chance of escape, and I was powerless to help them. Four of the crew, including the apprentice, immediately tooke the oars and rowed away from the ship, but even so the flames gradually crept nearer and nearer the boat. I took one of the oars and pulled like grim death, and as the ship lost her weigh we managed to get about half a mile from her, where we stood by in the hope of sighting further survivors. We picked up four men from the water, there were now twelve of using the lifebooat. Apprentice Clarke had been badly burnt and was almost unrecognisable; at the time we did not realise how badly he was injured, but when he ceased rowing I found he had been rowing wih the bones of his hands, the flesh had been burnt off, I could not get his hands off the oars and finally had to use a knife to do so.

Half an hour after leaving the ship's side a flickering light was observed on the port quarter of the ship. Thinking this was probably the U-boat I flashed an SOS message with the torch, whereupon the flashing ceased and we saw nothing more. One of the wireless operators stated that he saw the U-boat for a few seconds whilst running forward to abandon ship. We stood by the ship all night and at 0700 on the following morining the vessel appeared to melt amidships and break in two, the after end sank in a mass of smoke and flames, while the bow up-ended and remained afloat and blazing for another hour. The apprentice and the Second officer both died in agonizing pain during the morning and during the afternoon two other men died from burnns and injuries.

At 1100 on 9 August we sighted an aircraaft, which circled the burning wreckage several times. We signalled to him, he did not appear to understand, but finally came over and dropped a barrel of water which unfortunately broke on hitting the sea. Throughout that Saturday the aircraft kept in contact with us and at 1830 one of them dropped a parachute with water, rations, medical supplies, cigarettes and instructions to proceed to Dutch Guiana lightship, approximately ninety miles distant. At 1900 the next day we sighted a U.S. Army transport which picked up we eight survivors and landed us at Paramaribo the next morning.

One of the 40 crew members who died, 17-year-old apprentice Donald Owen Clarke was awarded a posthumous George Cross. The story of his ordeal in the lifeboat was reported:

He boarded the only lifeboat that was left intact, which was full of burnt and wounded men. He himself was severely burnt on his face, hands and legs. When the painter was cast off the lifeboat started to drift back on the flaming tanker and it was evident that it would require a tremendous effort to pull it out of danger. Most of the occupants of the lifeboat, however, were so badly burnt that they were unable to man an oar. Despite his own fearful injuries apprentice Clarke took an oar and pulled heartily for two hours without a groan or murmur of complaint. Only when the boatt was well clear did he collapse and them his burnt hands had to be cut away from the oar. Although life was ebbing out of his tortured body he lay in the bottom of the boat singing gay and cheerful songs to keep up the spirits of his injured shipmates. Next day he died.

A Fourth Account from Thomas Finch

This account is from another unknown source provided to me as a photocopy by Stan Mayes. It is on pages 85 and 86 in a chapter headed "The Battle of the Atlantic and has some additional information.

We left Trinidad on 6 August 1942 in convoy, bound for the Cape and eventually Suez, fully loaded with a cargo of high octane gasoline in all about 12,000 tons. In the evening of 9 August the convoy dispersed. Round about 6 in the evening as dusk fell I noticed a ship coming up from astern with full navigation lights blazing, indicating a neutral vessel. By 7 o'clock she was ½ a mile on our starboard beam and I noticed with the lights she was carrying that she was a hospital ship. By 8 PM when the 3rd officer relieved me of the watch she was well down on the horizon and disappearing. I've always had the idea that the U-boat must have been hanging around then, probably on the surface on that particular track and must have seen the hospital ship and more than likely saw us silhouetted aginst her lights.... At about 9 o'clock I decided to turn in for the night and was partially undressed when there was terrific explosion from the starboard side which was immeidately followed by another. I jumped out of the bunk, rushed to the cabin door, which came away in my hands, saw that the mess was ablaze and started to run down the alley-way. I saw the apprentice running around and shouted to him 'Quick, this way ... follow me'. We rushed back into my cabin, smacked the door back into position to prevent the fire entering, undid the thumb-screws to the port-hole, opened it up, and pushed the apprentice through it, and I followed him, landing on the shelter deck, down the ladder to the fore-deck and ran to the foc's'le head which I judged to be the safest place. By this time the ship was ablaze from bridge to stern, the whole sky being lit up by the flames which must have been hundreds of feet high. I saw the starboard life-boat had crashed into the sea but the port life-boat was still hanging in the davits, so I shouted to the apprentice 'Come on ... quick .... we've got two mintues to get the boat away. If we don't we're dead'. As we were running along the fore-deck towards the bridge, this boat also crashed into the sea.... We had to jump from the shelter deck to the falls about 6 feet and slide down them. Three other men threw themselves into the boat in desperation. At this time I had let go the after painter and noticed men running round the poop who were on fire, throwing themselves into the sea which was itself on fire.

We were about 40 ft from the ship's side when the 3rd officer came runnning along the fore-deck from the fo'c'sle head shouting 'Wait for me, wait for me!' He dived over the side and we picked him up. At the same time there was another man on the fo'c'sle head shouting but there was nothing we could do because out of the 5 or 6 who got away into the boat, only 3 were able to row. Slowly the ship drew ahead of us whilst we struggled to keep clear of burning sea. We heard some screams for help and rowed over and pulled out of the water a fireman who was terribly burned, so much so that when we pulled him into the boat, the skin from his body and arms came off in our hands live gloves and he was in a very bad way indeed.

Eventually we heard two other cries for help and found in the water an able seaman who was clothed and not burned. Shortly after we picked up a pumpman in the same condition. We tried to pursue the ship, looking for survivors, but it was an impossible task because those in the boat were so gravely injured and collapsing, leaving only three to row against the wind and sea.

So we stopped rowing and found the first apprentice terribly burned, so much so that his hands had to be freed from the oars with scissors, The third officer and I attended to the wounded and were horrified at the extent of their injuries. There seemed no further signs of life anywhere so we hoisted sail and set course for Trinidad. This time the fireman who had been in such agony all night, died, and within minutes the second steward who had suffered terrible abdominal wounds and burns also passed away. I went over to him and lifted the blanket covering him and noticed the whole of his stomach badly injured and exposed. He had been very patient during the night and the only thing he complained of was the cold. Both these men were committed to the deep. We had been sailing for an hour or two when the second mate called me. He had been badly burned and severely injured below the waist. He wanted water which I gave him, but even then I know it was hopeless and a few minutes later he passed away, and as I covered him up with a blanket I noticed that the senior apprentice's life was also drawing to a close. About midday he died having been very badly burned all over his body and had been so very brave trying to keep up the morale of the rest of the men by singing. The most pathetic thing about the whole tragedy was the extreme youth of these lads, which was uppermost in my mind as I committed them to the deep.

We continued our voyage, in utter despair and sadness. At about 1 o'clock in the afternoon we heard the hum of a plane. He circled round several times, increasing height and then dropped a parachute, which held a cask of water but this broke on impact and so was wasted. I wasn't too concerned about water at that point as I reckoned I had enough to last us about 30 days. We proceeded and just before dark the plane returned.

He dropped the second parachute and this time it was a churn, rather like a milk churn. It was a good drop as it landed about 30 to 40 yards away from us. We picked it up and inside was a flask of iced water, cigarettes, chocolates and soup and a message saying 'Steer south, coast within 110 miles'. I had had a rough idea that this was so, but steering south for me was against everything, e.g. current and the wind. However I decided to try so we turned round and headed south as far as we could judge. Dawn broke, we tided the boat as far as we could and had a few rations. About ten o'clock the plane appeared again and dropped another parachute and this time it wasn't food but a message saying 'Help coming'.

About an hour after dusk we spotted a schooner sailing without lights. I grabbed a torch and signalled because I thought this was the help that had been sent, but as soon as he spotted the signal he turned away and went off into the night. About an hour and a half later the whole sky was lit up by flares, we heard a plane, and we spotted our rescue ship which turned out to be the 'Admiral Jessop', U.S. Army Transport. He came along side and took the wounded off first, the rest climbed on board and then all were taken down to the sick bay and put under sedation. Before I was put under sedation the captaion asked me what to do with the life-boat, and I told him to sink it as it had been such a boat load of misery, despair, and death, and I wanted no more to do with it. I learnt later that I could have sold it and with the cash I could have clothed the survivors.

Seven survived out of a crew of 48, but before the war was over I think another three of those saved at that time, lost their lives later. On this point I'm not quite sure but the senior wireless operator did die later .... I know that. Those who got away in the boat were awarded one George Cross, two George Medals, one MBE, and three Lloyd's War Medals. Three were mentioned in despatches. The George Cross and two of the Lloyd's Medals were posthumous awards.

Donald Owen Clarke

Donald Owen Clarke, aged 19, Apprentice, was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the King's Commendation for brave conduct. He was one of the very few Apprentices who were given awards during the war.

The following quotation is from the story of the Eagle Oil Co. fleet by W.E. Lucas - External Ref. #54.

Of the two George Crosses which were earned by the Company's men, the story of Captain D. W. Mason has already been described and is widely known in the annals of the war. The same cannot be said of the ultimate sacrifice which was made by nineteen-year-old Apprentice D. O. Clarke. He will rank in naval history with Boy Cornwell at Jutland. Clarke was just sixteen when he joined the Eagle Oil and Shipping Company. He came from Chester-le-Street in County Durham with an excellent record from school and an overpowering desire to go to sea. When his promising career with the Company was tragically eut short after barely three years service, he was already a veteran of the war against the U-boats with twenty-seven transatlantic crossings to his credit.

His first opportunity to show his character came when the m.v. San Emiliano lived through two dive-bombing attacks on the Mersey Docks on May 5 and 7 1941. Tied up alongside Dingle oil jetty, which was a mass of flames, it was imperative to work the tanker away to safety. Captain Tozer, the Master, and one of the finest officers in the fleet, had ordered the crew away. But Apprentice Clarke volunteered to stay. Fourth Engineer S. A. Bone also volunteered to stay to keep the engines working. Clarke, regardless of the danger, helped to cast the ship off so that she could manoeuvre to safety. Next day, when the gateman Taylor fell into the dock, Clarke, although he could not swim, swarmed down a rope and helped Taylor to safety. For this he received the Silver Medal from the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society and also a monetary award from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.

It was fifteen months later that the San Emiliano was to meet her end. Captain Tozer was still her Master and Clarke was still one of her apprentices. She was two days out from Trinidad with a cargo of petrol. She was struck by two torpedoes and immediately swept by fiames. Clarke was trapped in his cabin. He fought his way out on to the deck and boarded the only lifeboat that was left intact. He was severely burned on his face, hands and legs. There were Chief Officer Finch, who was to receive the George Medal for his courage, steadfastness and seamanship, Apprentice Clarke and six other men in the boat. Later four more were picked up.

Five of the original eight in the boat were seriously injured. The boat had got away successfully but then it was seen that only by a greât effort would it be possible to keep her from drifting back on to the flaming tanker. There were only three men fit to man the oars. In spite of his fearful injuries, Clarke seized one of the oars and for two hours pulled without a murmur or groan. Only then was the lifeboat out of danger and only then was it seen how terribly Clarke was burnt and how near to complete exhaustion he was. As he collapsed his hands were stuck to the oar and it was realized that he had been rowing for two hours on his bare bones. His hands had to be cut away from the oar as he was laid gently in the bottom of the boat.

It was by now a boatload of death and agony. First, the Third Steward G. Hancock died, then Greaser H. H. Jackson and then the Second Officer R. B. Hudson. Life was ebbing slowly from Clarke's tortured body but he sang gay cheerful songs to keep the survivors in good heart. Finally he too earned a merciful release.

The San Emiliano had been a ship of disaster and courage. Her Master, Captain Tozer, badly wounded at the first torpedo explosion had refused to allow the only lifeboat to endanger itself by coming back alongside the burning tanker to take him off. With him to the fearful end stayed Chief Steward C. D. Bennell who chose to remain and die with his Captain. Today, over a bed in the Royal Victoria Infirmary at Newcastle-on-Tyne, a city from whose neighbourhood many of thé Company's finest servants corne, there is a simple tablet that reads 'To the memory of Donald Owen Clarke, GC, endowed by the owners of m.v. San Emiliano'. Perhaps few people who lie in that bed will know the record of unexampled courage that lies behind that brief inscription.
San Emiliano
Donald Owen Clarke. [1]
San Emiliano
This is the Citation which appeared in the Supplement to the London Gazette Gazette on 16 July 1943. [1]
San Emiliano
This shows shipmates of Donald Clarke from 18 September 1941 to 23 April 1942. In the rear from left to right are AB Stan Mayes and 2nd Steward Ron Snashall. In front of them are AB Mick Snashall and OS Pat Cousins. [1]

Commemoration of Donald Owen Clarke

Donald was remembered in Chester-le-Street by the local Sea Cadets unit who named their unit "T.S. Owen Clarke". Normally cadet units adopt a ship for their unit name but they chose to commemorate their local hero. A motor boat was given to the cadets in the 1950s and it was also named after Donald. It was dedicated by his sister Mrs. D. Brighton.

Sea Cadets Sea Cadets
Dedication of the motor boat T.S. Donald O. Clarke GC by Mrs. D Brighton. [1]

Ron Brewin wrote the following about the boat 2014 - See External Ref. #84:

In the mid-Fifties I was appointed Commanding Officer of the Chester-le Street and District Sea Cadet Corp and during that time the Admiralty allocated the Unit with a sea-going diesel powered boat which was moored at Sunderland South Docks. Because of the heroics of Donald, and with the approval of his Mother and the Civilian Committee it was thought appropriate to name the boat "Donald Owen Clarke GC". (The George Cross is equal to the Victoria Cross)

On 14 April 2003, Stan Mayes wrote the following letter to the Mayor of Chester-le-Street:

Dear Sir,

No doubt many of your citizens have earned a meritorious place in the annals of your town but may I remind you of one of the most courageous of them - Donald Owen Clarke GC.

A very important event will be taking place soon - the 60th and final commemoration of the Battle of the Atlantic is to be held on 4th May 2003 and it would be wonderful if this brave lad is remembered by your town during this important event.

Enclosed is the story of the last heroic hours in the life of Donald Clarke - a son of Chester-le-Street. Donald and I sailed together on occasions - he was a good pal and shipmate. On the next voyage of San Emiliano after I paid off she was sunk near Trinidad by two torpedoes from U-155 on 9th August 1942. There were only 8 survivors from a crew of 48.

The George Cross is the highest medal awarded to members of the Merchant Navy.

Please say a prayer for Donald on 4th May - He must never be forgotten!

Yours sincerely.

Stan Mayes

Stan got the following reply:

Chester-le-Street
Response from Councillor Malcolm Pratt. [1]

In May 2013 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission added two sets of information panels at the Tower Hill Memorial site. One of these panels tells the story of Donald Owen Clarke.

'The World at War TV Series

In 1969, Thames Television commissioned a series calle 'The World at War' which ran to 26 episodes. These are now available on DVD. The producer was Jeremy Isaacs and the narration was by Laurence Olivier and at the time it was the most expensive series ever produced for television. It took 4 years to make and was first screened in 1973.

Episode 10 was entitled 'Wolf Pack: U-Boats in the Atlantic (1939–1943)' and included an item about San Emiliano. I have extracted a three minute clip which includes short extracts of an interview with Thomas Finch. You can access the clip by clicking the play button in the window below.

Access the clip by clicking the play button in the window below.

Thomas Finch was not impressed by the end result. His 35 minute interview was cut down to 2 minutes in the production and the things he wanted to say about the sinking were not included. Stan Mayes wrote to Mr. Finch after the programme had been broadcast and he made this point very clearly in his reply.

San Emiliano
Copy of a letter from Thomas Finch to Stan Mayes dated 1 February 1974. [1]

Awards to Survivors

The George Medal was awarded to Thomas Finch, Chief Officer, for his courage and leadership

The George Medal was awarded to Donald Dennis, Chief Radio Officer, for his courage in releasing last undamaged lifeboat

An Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) was awarded to Raymond Atkinson, Third Officer, for his courage and help to the Chief Officer

San Emiliano
Citations that appeared in the Supplement to the London Gazette Gazette on 20 July 1943. [2]

Roll of Honour

Of the 48 people on board only 8 survived. It should be noted that there were four Royal Navy and Army gunners amongst the casualties.

Surname Forenames D.O.D. Rank Cemetery/Memorial Grave Ref. Additional Information
Andrews Henry 09/08/1942 Chief Cook Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 32. Husband of Winifred andrews, of Eastham, Cheshire.
Armstrong Thomas 09/08/1942 Junior Engineer Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 22. Son of Robert and Evelyn Armstrong, of Throckley, Northumberland.
Bastow Jack 09/08/1942 Storekeeper Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 26. Son of John William and Alice Bastow, of Landore, Swansea; Husband of W. Bastow, of Landore.
Bennell Charles Draper 09/08/1942 Chief Steward Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 42. Husband of W. R. Bennell, of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.
Brennan Daniel Patrick 09/08/1942 Carpenter Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 40. Son of Daniel and Susan Brennan.
Brown Joseph 09/08/1942 Royal Naval Gunner Plymouth Naval Memorial Panel 64, column 2 Age unknown. Assigned to H.M.S. President III, Service No. D/JX 266512
Butterworth Rudolph 09/08/1942 Second Radio Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 18. Son of Robert and Nora Butterworth, of Todmorden, Yorkshire.
Caplin John Charles 09/08/1942 Steward Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 23. Husband of Lillian May Caplin, of Swansea.
Clarke Donald Owen 09/08/1942 Apprentice Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 19. King's Commendation For Brave Conduct.
Davies Thomas Luther 09/08/1942 Greaser Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 35. Son of David and Annie Davies.
Hancock Cyril 09/08/1942 Assistant Steward Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 20
Harcourt Graham Stanley 09/08/1942 Cook Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 23. Son of George and Gwen Harcourt; Foster-Son of Mr. and Mrs. E. Edwards, of Newcastle-On-Tyne.
Hopcroft Bertram William 09/08/1942 Ordinary Seaman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 21. Son of Fred and Dorothy Hopcroft, of Ruislip, Middlesex.
Houston David Hutton 09/08/1942 Chief Engineer Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 49. Son of James and Martha Houston; Husband of Frances Houston, of South Shields. Co. Durham.
Hudson Robert Burton 09/08/1942 Second Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 27. King's Commendation For Brave Conduct. Son of Albert James Hudson and Mary Alice Hudson; Husband of Evelyn Beatrice Hudson, of Sunderland, Co. Durham.
Hughes Jacob Aneurin 09/08/1942 Ordinary Seaman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 19
Jackson Henry Haig 09/08/1942 Greaser Halifax Memorial Panel 21.
Jenkins Charles Reuben James 09/08/1942 Ordinary Seaman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 21. Son of James Jenkins, and of Caroline Dorothy Jenkins, of Henley-On-Thames. Oxfordshire.
Jones Edgar Thomas 09/08/1942 Royal Navy Gunner Chatham Naval Memorial Age 28. Assigned to HMS President III, Service No. D/JX 255118, husband of Elizabeth Hannah Jones, of Cwm Avon, Glamorgan
Jones Stanley George 09/08/1942 Bombadier Chatham Naval Memorial Age 23. Assigned to Royal Artillery, 6/3 Maritime Regiment, Service No. 3966054, son of Kathleen Olive Jones, of Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire.
Kiff Denzil Albert 09/08/1942 Royal Navy Gunner Plymouth Naval Memorial Panel 65, column 3 Age unknown. Assigned to H.M.S. President III, Service No. D/JX 219199
Lane Raymond Thomas 09/08/1942 Second Engineer Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 37. Son of Charles and Margaret Lane; Husband of Louie Catherine Lane, of Bebington, Cheshire.
Morgan Evan Iorwerth Rosser 09/08/1942 Able Seaman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 39. Son of David Thomas Morgan and Margaretta Jane Morgan; Husband of Gladys Lilian Morgan, of Poplar, London.
Murphy William Alfred 09/08/1942 Mess Room Boy Halifax Memorial Panel 22. Son of Alice Murphy, of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Patterson Arthur William 09/08/1942 Able Seaman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 41
Pyman Harry 09/08/1942 Boatswain Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 45. Son of Fredrick and Marie Pyman; Husband of Christina Pyman, of South Shields, Co. Durham.
Richardson Robert Haliday 09/08/1942 Pumpman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 44
Roach Stanley 09/08/1942 Junior Engineer Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 19. Son of Norman and Sarah Roach, of Darlington, Co. Durham.
Saunderson Harold 09/08/1942 Fireman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 22
Shand James 09/08/1942 Fireman Halifax Memorial Panel 22. Son of Mr. and Mrs. William Shand, of Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
Swift Leslie 09/08/1942 Able Seaman Plymouth Naval Memorial Panel 66, column 3. Age 33. Assigned to H.M.S. President III, Service No. D/JX 313592, son of James Swift, and of Esther Montague Swift, of Hazel Grove, Cheshire.
Thomas Emlyn 09/08/1942 Sailor Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 22. Son of John and Elizabeth Thomas; Husband of Ada Thomas, of Talog, Carmarthenshire.
Topping Hugh 09/08/1942 Royal Artillery Gunner Chatham Naval Memorial Age 22. Assigned to 6/3 Maritime Regiment, Service No. 3717296
Tozer James Wilfred 09/08/1942 Master Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 44
West Rudolph 09/08/1942 Third Engineer Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 48
Whitty Daniel 09/08/1942 Fireman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 39. Son of Francis Whitty and of Mary Whitty (Nee Mccarthy); Husband of Ellen Whitty, of Euston, London.
Williams John Lewis 09/08/1942 Sailor Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 25. Son of John D. and Catherine Williams, of Llanrhystyd, Cardiganshire.
Williamson Stephen Young 09/08/1942 Junior Engineer Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 20
Woodward Alan 09/08/1942 Fourth Engineer Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 30. Son of Arthur and Esther Woodward; Husband of Margery Elizabeth Woodward, of Tynemouth, Northumberland.
Woollard Ernest 09/08/1942 Able Seaman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 92. Age 21. Son of Hugh and Julia Woollard, of Swansea.
San Emiliano San Emiliano
Panels on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorial at Tower Hill commemorating San Emiliano. [3]
Poppies

Survivors

Surname Forenames Rank Additional Information
Finch Thomas D Chief Officer Awarded George Medal And Lloyds War Medal
Drayton D.R. 3Rd Officer Awarded M.B.E.
Dennis D.W. Chief Radio Officer Suffered Serious Burns And Hospitalised In Paramaribo, Awarded George Medal And Lloyds War Medal
Franks P.A 3Rd Radio Officer Suffered Slight Physical And Nervous Exhaustion, Commended
Buckley J. Sailor Suffered Slight Physical And Nervous Exhaustion, Commended
Hanham K.G. Ordinary Seaman Suffered Slight Physical And Nervous Exhaustion, Commended
Hosking T.H. Pumpman Suffered Slight Physical And Nervous Exhaustion, Commended
Brownrigg G.R. Apprentice Suffered Serious Burns And Hospitalised In Paramaribo, Commended.

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of Stan Mayes
  2. By courtesy of the London Gazette
  3. From the Benjidog Tower Hill Memorial Website
  4. By courtesy of The Times
  5. By courtesy of the Glasgow Herald