Viking Star

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Introduction

Viking Star was in service from 1920 and took part in a number of convoys during WW2. She was sunk by a German U-boat in 1942 whilst sailing independently.

Seven lives were lost and there was great hardship to the survivors before they were rescued. Viking Star had a working life of 12 years.

Viking Star
Viking Star - date and location not known. [1]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Refrigerated Cargo/Passenger Ship
Registered owners, managers and operators Blue Star Line
Builders Napier & Miller
Yard Old Kilpatrick, Glasgow
Country UK
Yard number 225
Registry London
Official number 145113
Signal letters N/K
Call sign GDLT
Classification society N/K
Gross tonnage 6,213
Net tonnage 3,928
Deadweight N/K
Length 400.3 ft
Overall Length N/K
Breadth 52.3 ft
Depth 28.5 ft
Draught N/K
Engines Triple expansion steam engine with Cylinders of bore 27", 44" and 73" with stroke 48".
Boilers 8 single-ended boilers, pressure 180 psi.
Engine builders Dunsmuir & Jacson Ltd.
Works Glasgow
Country UK
Power 517 NHP
Propulsion Single Screw
Speed 10 knots
Cargo capacity 337,009 cubic feet of refrigerated space in 65 compartments
Crew 60 including 5 DEMS gunners and Master at time of sinking
Passengers N/A
Viking Star
Viking Star at Capetown date not known. [5]

Additional Construction Information

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

  • 2 decks (steel) and shelter deck (steel)
  • Refrigeration machinery

Viking Star was a refrigerated ship and according to Lloyds List this equipment was built by Haslam Foundry and Engineering Co. Ltd. She had two refrigeration units with two compressors, used a Carbon Anhydride (now called carbon dioxide) based cooling system and was insulated with cork & silicate and cotton. She had 23 refrigerated compartments with a total capacity of 337,009 cubic feet.

Career Highlights

Date Event
1919 Laid down as War Peony
28 November 1919 Launched by Napier and Miller as Lusiada for Blue Star Line Rio de Janeiro and registered in Brazil
March 1920 Completed
1920 Transferred to Blue Star Line (1920) Ltd. renamed as Vikingstar and registered in London
1929Renamed as Viking Star
1930 Owners restyled as Blue Star Ltd.
25 August 1942 Sunk by enemy action
Viking Star
Viking Star - date and location not known. [1]

Service Pre WW2

I have been unable to discover any information about Viking Star's service before WW2 other than the following account of life on her recorded by Capt. E. Ashton-Irvine in 1969. The full article is available on-line at External Ref. #10. Clearly Ashton-Irvine didn’t think too much of Viking Star, but his comments on the state of the ship after being laid up are interesting.

Looking back it seems a long tine since I joined my first ship as a cadet in 1927, but the recollection is as vivid as if it had happened yesterday.

I joined the SS Viking Star belonging to the Blue Star Line of London, on the 1st of April and no one needs to remind me of the day. I travelled up from Liverpool in my brand new cadet's uniform (and, of course, it was too big to allow for my growing - let's remember it was the start of the worst part of the depression and money was hard to come by), but more about that later. I arrived in Newcastle and found that the ship was down the river in North Shields. I finally found my way there - it was raining hard, a filthy night, and my bag was heavy but I found a boy who toted it from the train to the Coal Staiths for 2 pennies. That was a walk of about two miles and a dirty one too.

My first sight of the ship really was a sickener. She had been laid up for nearly a year at the buoys and had just been taken off them to bunker (coal - so you can imagine, or can you, because I really don't think you can). She was a ship of about 8,000 tons flush decked, with a three-tier bridgehouse; number 3 hatch or the bunkers amidships and the afterhouse and fidley around the funnel which was large, had a dome top and looked awful. Coupled to the fact that she was rusty from end to end and covered with coal dust.

I found my way up the ladder and after stumbling through feet deep coal - and coal dust that was more like mud), I found myself in the officers' alleyway and managed to locate the cadets' room. My two mates were lying in all their glory - dungarees, coal dust, et al - in the lower of the four bunks. The room was thick with smoke, both ports were open, and it looked as if they had been open for the past year because everything was so dirty it was impossible to tell what colour the bulkheads were. I found they were both 3-year cadets and well experienced. They both suggested I should beat it home forthwith and, frankly, I think I would have done well to have done so. I was taken to see the "mate", a hard case "Georgy" who hated two things - the sea and "silly ass cadets." I got small change from him. I went to meet the Captain, a very old gentleman of over 71, who had shares in the company, had been an ex-Salining shipowner, and was in his dotage. He promptly forbade me to go ashore because the Tyne was full of pubs and loose women. Needless, to say, I stayed on board that night and earned the derision of my mates who came back stoned and said they had had a fine time. I still wonder if they did, I was sent to bed after a very poor dinner, but it was all new to me and I think I put up with it and made as if I liked it, but doubted if I really did.

The next day I was up at 5:00 a.m., got tea for the other two, shaving water and a bucket of water to bathe in, scrubbed out the room and bathroom - that really was a misnomer as it was about the size of a wardrobe, 3 feet by 3 feet and 6 feet high and there was nothing in it but cold air of which there was plenty, so we bathed in the room which, as I said, had four bunks in it, one settee like a shelf and nothing else. All our gear went into the spare bunk. I then went out on deck to try and clean up the mess, shovelled coal all day, had meals off the table in the pantry - and what meals! Ugh - weren't fit for pigs. We left the coal berth, went to get water and on the 4th of April we sailed for the River Plate. What a trip! We shovelled coal all day and after it was out of one deck, we shovelled it into another deck and into the stoke hold.

The ship was a refrigerated cargo ship carrying chilled and frozen meat so the whole vessel below decks had to be cleaned to the most perfect standards in the 17 days taken to get to Buenos Aires. We were at it from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every night and we managed to get her to the state that we started loading, after a minute inspection, soon after we docked.

In Buenos Aires it was no stopping day and night, and in three days we had a half full ship. We went to Freybentos for frozen lamb and corned beef, then back to Buenos Aires for frozen offal (hearts, livers, etc.); then up to Rio for more meat thence to Santos for bananas. Not once did my feet touch the shore except to go on the quay to paint the hull. If we were not looking after cargo we were painting the hull and it was all very hard work. Food had improved and our room had been painted so it wasn't too bad but we knew no better and that's one reason, I think, we stuck it out.

The homeward-bound trip to London from Santos was chipping and painting, and get the ship to look something at least clean, because she was a vessel that no one could ever take pride in - she was just a misfit built after the first World War in depression periods, and was cheap and nasty in every way.

We were only four days in London and out again - no leave at all. So it went on with only one variation and that was in September when we changed our run and went out to the Pacific Coast to Vancouver, Seattle, Olympia, Everet, Tacoma, Portland and San Francisco, also to Los Angeles for fruit, fresh and tinned. After calling in Kingston for coal bunkers, we went to the Havre, Hamburg, Rotterdam and Copenhagen to discharge.

Service in WW2

Viking Star took part in 19 convoys during the war years according to information shown in the table below which is provided courtesy of Convoyweb - see External Ref. #4.

Departure Convoy/Independent Arrival
Southend, Oct 7, 1939 OA.16G (Southend - to OG 2)
OG.2 (to AT SEA - Gibraltar) Gibraltar, Oct 17, 1939
Freetown, Dec 10, 1939 SL.12 (Freetown - Liverpool) Liverpool, Dec 26, 1939
Liverpool, Jan 9, 1940 OB.69 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Freetown, Mar 5, 1940 SL.23 (Freetown - Liverpool) Liverpool, Mar 22, 1940
Southampton, Apr 9, 1940 OA.125G (Southend - to OG 25)
OG.25 (to AT SEA - Gibraltar) Gibraltar, Apr 16, 1940
SL.35 (Freetown - Liverpool) Liverpool, Jun 25, 1940
Clyde, Jul 14, 1940 OB.183 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Freetown, Sep 3, 1940 SL.46 (Freetown - Liverpool) Liverpool, Sep 23, 1940
Clyde, Oct 19, 1940 OB.231 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Freetown, Jan 1, 1941 SL.61 (Freetown - Liverpool) Liverpool, Jan 24, 1941
Liverpool, Mar 2, 1941 OB.293 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Freetown, May 10, 1941 SL.74 (Freetown - Liverpool) Liverpool, Jun 4, 1941
Liverpool, Jun 30, 1941 OB.341 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Halifax, Oct 16, 1941 HX.155 (Halifax - Liverpool)
Halifax, Mar 12, 1942 SC.74 (Halifax - Liverpool) Liverpool, Mar 28, 1942
Liverpool, May 22, 1942 OS.29 (Liverpool - Freetown) Freetown, Jun 11, 1942
Freetown, Jun 17, 1942 ST.26 (Freetown - Takoradi) Takoradi, Jun 22, 1942

Loss of Viking Star

Viking Star was sunk on 25 August 1942 by torpedoes fired by German submarine U-130 commanded by Ernst Kals. She was sailing independently and carrying 4,519 tons of refrigerated cargo and 200 tons of fertilizers.

Out of a total of 60 on board (some accounts say 61), seven seamen lost their lives and the survivors underwent an arduous trip in rafts and boats before they were rescued. There were two main groups of survivors from the ship - both of which had a very hard time of it - and we are fortunate to have accounts of events from both groups.

Report by First Officer F.MacQuiston

Below is a transcription by Stan Mayes from the original typed document:

SHIPPING CASUALTIES SECTION - TRADE DIVISION
REPORT OF AN INTERVIEW WITH THE CHIEF OFFICER. MR. F.MACQUISTON
ss "VIKING STAR" 6,445 gross tons
INDEPENDENT SUNK BY 3 TORPEDOES FROM U-BOAT ON 25th AUGUST, 1942

MR. MACQUISTON

1. We were bound from Montevideo to Freetown with 4,500 tons of frozen meat and 200 tons of fertilizer. We were armed with 1 4” gun, 1 12-pdr, 2 Twin Marlins, 3 Hotchkiss, 2 P.A.C, rockets and kites. The confidential books were in a weighted box and went down with the ship. The number of crew, including the Master, 3 Naval and 2 Military Gunners, was 60, of whom 7 including the Master and 3rd Engineer are missing.

2. We left Montevideo ct 2100 Local time on 9th August and proceeded independently as routed by the N.C.S.O.

3. On 22nd August we heard what we took to be aircraft engines about 0300. This aircraft seemed to be circling round, and although we could see nothing we closed up our machine guns until the sound finally faded away. On the morning of 25th August a Sunderland flying boat circled round the ship 3 times. We hoisted our ensign and ship's recognition flags, and tried to make contact with an Aldis lamp, but received no answer. We kept our ensign and signal letters flying all day as this aircraft appeared several times and these flags were still flying when we were torpedoed.

4. At 1645 Local time on 25th August in position 6.00 N. 14,00 W we were struck by a torpedo in the engine room on the port side, followed almost immediately by another torpedo which struck in almost the same position. The explosions were very loud, there was a strong smell of cordite and a tremendous column of water was thrown up over the bridge

5. I was on watch at the time, the 4th Officer was on watch with me and was on monkey island, also a look-out man was stationed in the starboard gun nest.

6. Immediately after the torpedoes struck, the ship listed 10 - 12 degrees to port. After a few moments she righted herself and remained upright. Both boats on the port side were blown to pieces by the explosion, the derricks were smashed, the hatch covers were blown oft the bunker hatch, the stoke hold and engine room and bunker hatch immediately filled with water. The W/T transmitter and aerials were destroyed by the explosion and no W/T message was sent. As we could not see the submarine and there was no point in keeping the guns manned, it was decided to abandon ship. The engines had stopped on their own accord but the ship carried her way for about 10 minutes.

7. We started to get the starboard boats away, but one of the Sailors let go the forward fall of No. 1 boat which was the motor boat. Fortunately it was held by the gripes and the after fall but when it was finally lowered the boat filled with water immediately - I think it must have been helped by flying debris from the explosion. We attempted to bale this boat out, but the water gained too rapidly so the occupants abandoned it and swam to No. 3 boat where they were taken on board. We transferred the food, wireless and water breakers from this boat into No. 3. Eight life rafts were released before the ship was abandoned.

8. There were now 36 men in no. 3 boat and 17 men on 2 rafts. In the distance we could see more rafts, but decided it was not advisable to make for them as we were experiencing difficulty in keeping the boat head to wind. We made the boat fast to the 2 rafts with the 12 men on them and used the rafts as a sea anchor.

9. About 20 minutes after the first torpedo we saw the periscope of a submarine and almost immediately at 1705 she fired another torpedo, at the ship which struck on the port side amidships. A terrific column of water was thrown up, the funnel crashed down, the 2 ends of the ship came out of the water, the ship sagged amidships and sank almost immediately.

10. The submarine was steaming around in the vicinity of the boat so we thought we would wait until it had gone away before sending out a wireless message on the emergency set. We waited, for about 1½ hours and then rigged up the wireless mast and aerial. At 1815 we sent out a wireless message giving the ship’s position. The Wireless Operator said that atmospherics were very bad at the time and he thought it would be better to wait until morning before sending out another message. When he tried to transmit in the morning the set would not work and the Operator reported that the motor had gone wrong. He then took the set to pieces in an endeavour to effect repairs but was not successful.

11. We kept the boat; head to sea and remained in the vicinity because having been sighted by a Sunderland flying boat just previous to being torpedoed I thought our non-arrival in Freetown would be reported and a search made.

12. We remained in the vicinity until 27th August when as no assistance came I decided to cut the rafts adrift and make for the land. The rafts had plenty of water and food and I thought that if we separated there would be more chance of our being sighted.

13. At 1000 local time on 27th August I gave the rafts the wireless mast and large yellow flag and cast them off, setting my boat en a N.N.E course.

14. During the night of 27th August the wind increased to gale force and we were obliged to heave the boat to. We proceeded throughout the 28th August but during the heavy squalls we were forced to lower the sail and put out the sea anchor.

15. At 0200 Local time on 29th August we sighted land and could see a beach with palm trees, but there was a heavy surf breaking on it. We tried to keep the boat off shore until daylight using oars, sail, and sea anchor, but we were gradually being swept in toward the beach. As the men had become very exhausted by this time I decided to take a chance and run for the beach.

l6. The boat was turned toward the beach and as we were pulling she was caught by the heavy surf and swept in. As the boat touched the beach three successive waves broke over it, sweeping everyone out and landing them all on to the beach. We grabbed hold of the painter and pulled the boat up on to the beach as the swell lifted her and we eventually managed to get the boat hauled far enough up on to the beach to be able to take out all the gear.

17. It vas very cold on the beach so we rigged up a wind breaker using the sail as a tent. It was about 0400 when we landed on the beach and about a quarter of an hour later we saw a native running along the bench waving a long knife. I walked towards him but he ran away and each time I approached him he turned to run away. Eventually I persuaded him that we were friendly and he took my 2nd Officer and one of the crew to his village with him. A native who could speak English was sent back to us on the beach and we all went back with him to the village. Through this Interpreter I explained to the Native Chief whad had happened. I was taken into the Chief's hut and lay down for 2 hours, after which we trekked to another village where we were taken to a Paramount Chief. In this village we were given food consisting of cocoanuts and sweet potatoes and Native runners were sent to Bonthe where the District Commissioner lived. The District Commissioner immediately sent a native to see that everything possible was being done for us. We remained in this village until the morning of 30th August when we were taken to Bonthe in launches which had been sent down the river for us.

18. Bonthe is a trading centre with a British and 2 French firms in the trading business. From the Wireless station at Bonthe I sent a message to the Admiralty at Freetown telling them of the sinking of my ship and giving the position of the rafts. I understand a flying boat, 2 trawlers and a M.T.B. were immediately sent out and that all the men on the raft have since been picked up.

19. We remained at Bonthe for 2 days until a M.T.B. came and took us to Freetown where we arrived on 2nd September.

20. The capacity of my boat was 32, but we had 36 people in it. There was no room to move and we found it very difficult to bale the water out of the boat. We were in the boat for 4 days and sailed about 150 miles. We had 1 wooden breaker of water and 2 galvanised tanks containing a total of about 28 gallons.

21. The boat was equipped with chocolates, pemmican, biscuits and malted milk tablets. In the morning I gave the men 2 pieces of chocolate; at noon I gave them 2 biscuits with pemmican and 2 chocolates and malted milk tablets in the evening. I allowed 2 oz. of water per man three times a day. I found the chocolate made the men more thirsty than the malted milk tablets.

22. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX was not very helpful. All he did was to lie in the bottom of the boat and do nothing. During the night he always managed to get in the bows of the boat where he could not be got at. His behaviour set a very bad example to the rest of the crew who began to argue about taking turns in baling and helping with sailing the boat.

23. Second Officer, F, Jones, and Able Seaman S. Mayes were of great assistance to me giving at all times every assistance possible with the sailing and being always ready to carry out orders. They set a fine example to all in the boat.

24. When last seen the Master was running aft where he released a raft and was seen to leave the ship on this raft all by himself.

Mr. Frederick MacQuiston, the Chief Officer, was later awarded the M.B.E. This honour was announced in the London Gazette of January 5, 1943, with the following citation:

The ship, when sailing alone, was torpedoed. The Chief Officer, with thirty-six men in his boat, decided to make for land and so to get help for the other survivors on rafts, with whom he left three weeks supply of provisions and water. By his leadership and skill Chief Officer MacQuiston brought thirty-six people to safety, and his efforts led to the early rescue of the others.

Account by 3rd Officer John Rigiani

Viking Star
John Rigiani who was 3rd Officer of Viking Star at the time of her loss. [2]

The following account of the loss of Viking Star and the 12-day voyage of one of the groups of survivors was provided by her 3rd Office John Rigiani. It has been transcribed from an article in Sea Breezes, July 1946, External Ref. #9.

Affidavit - "Loss of the Viking Star"

Many of the officers and men of the Merchant Navy whose ships were torpedoed during the war had to spend days in their lifeboats or on rafts before they were picked up or reached land. Here is a story, typical of many, which will emphasise to the British public the gallantry and endurance of our seafarers and the perils and dangers which they were ready to face in order to defeat the enemy's attempts to blockade our Island. The master, Capt. James Edward Mills, was amongst those who lost their lives.

by Third Officer J. RIGIANI

August 25th

4.50 p.m. Awakened and thrown from bunk by fierce explosion. Vessel heeled over and took a heavy list to port. The main deck became inundated with water and considerable steam was escaping from the broken steam pipes. Numbers two and four lifeboats were completely broken up by the force of the explosion. Numbers one and three lifeboats were lowered and after life rafts released.

Went forward and released starboard forward life raft and passed painter of same to number one boat. Left main deck and went on bridge and into chartroom and obtained sextant and lowered it into number one boat. I observed that all hatch-boards and covers were in position on number one and two hatches, but none on number two "A" which was already full of water up to sea level. Vessel slowly righted herself. Considerable amount of oil and cork insulation was on the water. Number three lifeboat, fairly full of men, cast off and drifted away from ship's side together with one life raft. None of the crew apparently were left on the ship so I slid down life line into number one boat.

Lightened the boat by swimming to life raft together with Cadet Patterson and others of the crew. The boat continued to sink and the majority of occupants were transferred to the raft. The raft was now considerably overloaded and in danger of overturning. Left this raft and swam, to raft attached to number three boat. Number three boat was now under command and pulled back to number one boat and raft. Bailing continued for some time on number one but the boat was completely waterlogged. The chief officer transferred to number three boat. Stores were transferred from number one to number three boat and both rafts were attached to same. The boat and rafts were some half-mile from the vessel when a terrific explosion took place and the vessel broke her back and began to settle in V shape, stem and stern being the last to disappear, ensign flying at gaff and numbers flying from yardarm as ship sank. Six men were on one raft, seven on the other. Some 30-odd were in the boat. I observed two more rafts in the distance, and as darkness set in the chief officer signalled with red lights and torch and obtained replies. The wind rose during the night and the sea became choppy and the rafts began bumping.

August 26th

At daylight we lashed both rafts together and they acted as sea-anchor to the lifeboat. At noon the chief officer raised the question of separating and of the lifeboat proceeding for help. I pointed out that we were in a patrol area only 150 miles from a naval base and had signalled to same only five hours before torpedoing, and so requested 24 hours more grace. The chief officer agreed to this and to the suggestion that we have some of the extra stores and a sextant transferred from the number one together with some red lights. I asked some of the men in the lifeboat to change places with some of the men on rafts for a few hours in order that they might try to dry their clothing a little. The suggestion was not acceptable, apparently, to the men in the lifeboat.

The day passed and the sea rose somewhat. In the evening smoke was observed on the horizon and efforts were made to attract attention with smoke floats, but with no success. Issued food ration to men on rafts. Calculated on 25 days' food at the rate of one biscuit, one spoonful pemmican, one tablet of malted milk, one piece of chocolate and one half-dipper of water, night and morning. The night passed with crew divided into two six-hour watches. Six men slept on the good raft whilst the other seven sat on the waterlogged raft. The water was continually up to the level of the buttocks of the men on the waterlogged raft. It was rather cold this night and the men began to feel the effect of sitting in water.

August 27th.

6.0 a.m. Issued food and water rations. The sea continued to rise and the lifeboat had difficulty in keeping at a safe distance from us. The question again arose of separating. I pointed out that one raft was waterlogged and requested that some of the men be transferred to the lifeboat. There was opposition from the men in the boat. I drew the chief officer's attention to the fact that many men in the boat were somewhat apathetic and only two of the available oars were being used. The chief officer agreed to hoist sail and try more oars and sail around us and then if he could take more men he would do so. I agreed to this but insisted that Cadet Patterson be transferred immediately. After some demur this transfer was effected, and A.B. Dainith also gave place in the boat to Gunner Hancock.

The lifeboat cast off, hoisted sail, and, as wind was settling steadily from the south-west, sailed away north-easterly. The lifeboat remained in sight for some hours, but for some reason, did not return, and so we did not obtain any extra stores or a sextant. During this afternoon and evening, from observation of the sun (declination 10 N. approximately), and during the night from lunar and stellar indications coupled with wind and current tests, I decided that we were making a course approximately east-south­east at about 12 to 15 miles per day. If the wind held, then there would be a chance to hit land before the Guinea current swept us around the bulge of Africa and into the Gulf of Guinea. This course was materially assisted by energetic paddling to keep the wind astern. As at the time of the torpedoing we were approximately six degrees north and fourteen degrees west, the knowledge that land lay some 150 miles to the eastward was of great assistance to our spirits. All hands were in the best of spirits despite the fact that many were suffering from open wounds and cuts, with little or no clothes to protect them from alternate heat of the sun and the extreme chill of frequent rain squalls, and the accumulating, depressing and trying ordeal of spending every other six hours sitting in salt water. Each morning and evening the food ration was issued and the men tackled it with gusto. Occasionally a fish was caught, and then the diet was varied with raw fish. Unfortunately we could not take full advantage of the rain storms to eke out our water ration owing to the fact that our blankets and weather cloth were continually soaked in salt water and we had difficulty in keeping anything free from salt in order to catch fresh water.

August 28th.

Issued food and water at 6.0 a m. and spent day keeping rafts stern on to sea. We replaced raft lashings with stouter ones and wedged lifejackets between the rafts to act as fenders and to stop rafts from wearing the lashings away. The wind continued from the southwest and the raft made fair progress. At 6.0 p.m. we sighted what appeared to be another raft just before sunset about three miles to the westward.

August 29th.

6.0 a.m. food and drink. All hands were now quite settled down to watch-keeping, everyone pulling his weight. One or two were suffering from exposure and were subject to fits of shivering but there were no complaints. One good sign: healthy wrangling amongst the watch below as to who had the best position and who had the most blanket even though the latter was continually sodden with water. We saw something in the water about two miles away but were unable to distinguish it. It was very cold during the night. Issued extra ration of malted milk tablets to keep saliva free in mouths.

August 30th.

6.0 a.m. food and drink. The sea was choppy but the sun broke through the cloud banks and it be­came quite warm. At about 8.0 a.m. we sighted smoke to the southward and later made out the masts, funnel and finally the hull of a steamer. The vessel never came nearer than five miles. We endeavoured to attract attention with Wessex flares but only one worked and the vessel finally passed our beam and so out of sight.

The men were rather depressed but not for long, as the warmth of the sun was invigorating, the men stretched out as best they could and for the first time since leaving the ship everyone felt really warm. For the past three days the rafts had been the centre of interest for many small sharks but today some really big ones came too close for comfort. During the day we also observed many barracuda, and once a large whale broke surface within 50 feet of the raft. With nightfall came wind, and the sea freshened, and by morning there was blowing a strong breeze from the southwest and seas were breaking over the rafts. During the night we heard an aeroplane overhead but had no means of attracting attention.

August 31st.

6.0 a.m. food and drink. It was hard work all morning keeping the rafts running before the seas. The wind slackened during the afternoon and backed to southward. We renewed the lashings and straps on the wireless mast which was carrying our yellow flags. At 6.0 p.m. food and drink. The biscuits were sodden with salt water as the lockers were full of water and we noted also that the tins containing pemmican and chocolate had deteriorated rapidly and the water had found its way through the tins and worked into the food. After supper we observed a raft about one mile away. We endeavoured to paddle towards it, but darkness set in and we lost it. The wind blew at a gentle breeze throughout the night accompanied by a moderate sea and a southwesterly swell.

September 1st.

Food and drink at daybreak and about 7.0 a.m. we sighted the raft again. All hands buckled to, and with two paddles used vigorously, and the rest of us using our hands as paddles, after about four hours we came up with the raft and took aboard Gunlayer Boardman. We lashed the three rafts together and in celebration had an extra food and water ration. Our provision situation was now considerably improved by the addition of the food­stuffs from the third raft. This raft also had red lights and Wessex flares (all useless owing to the fact that the tins were not watertight) and a first-aid kit full of water. However, I managed to dry some of the lint and bandages and apply a few dressings to the gunlayer who was suffering severely from salt water boils. All hands were now suffering from this same painful ailment and could not bear to be touched on certain parts of their bodies. During the afternoon, land was sighted far away to eastward and all hands paddled enthusiastically for the rest of the day and during the night towards it.

September 2nd.

After about 2.0 a.m., however, very heavy rainstorms set in, and when day broke under very dull conditions no land was visible. However, as the wind and sea seemed to be in the southwesterly quarter, we kept the wind astern all day and paddled on. With nightfall the intermittent rain ceased and the wind increased. There was now a very heavy ground swell but we did not mind this as it was taking us towards the land. About 9.0 p.m. we sighted a bright light flashing every thirty seconds, apparently to the southeast. Keeping this on our starboard quarter we paddled throughout the night. The men were now on two-hour watches, and in between tried to snatch a little sleep but this was practically impossible.

September 3rd.

With daylight we observed a hump of rock, apparently an island with a lighthouse on it, away to the southeast, distant about nine or ten miles. As I was afraid to be hauled further round to the south-ward, I ordered the course to be hauled further round to the north­ward and continued paddling. At noon we cut the third raft adrift to facilitate progress throughout the day. The men were now very weak from exhaustion, but they kept gamely on, and in the late afternoon were rewarded by seeing the island recede farther round the starboard quarter, and finally about 5.0 p.m. a low line of land broke to the east­ward from north to south, distant about five miles. A double issue of food and drink put renewed energy into us, and we paddled on during the night. The lighthouse was now about one-two points on our starboard quarter.

About 12.0 p.m. the heavy swell had changed into long-rollers and I realised that we were close to land. After another hour we suddenly heard the land roar of surf and found ourselves in very heavy breakers. A dark line was visible right ahead. We made an attempt to coast in on the breakers, but the seas were too high, and I realised that it was essential to try to keep off shore until morning. By now the breakers were continually breaking over the raft and all hands were in danger of being washed off. After fighting our way in an attempt to get out beyond the breakers, we were caught in a cross breaker and swept inshore again. Suddenly a very high breaker tossed the raft completely over, and all hands were swept off. However, luckily every­one managed to clamber back on board but we had lost everything except the food in the locker and some of the water.

September 4th.

For the rest of the night we clung to the rafts, and by the grace of God were not swept by any more breakers. In the morning the land appeared some half-mile distant, and after issuing a ration of food and water, we broke up one of the rafts and, using it as paddles, drove in on one of the breakers towards the shore. After an hour's work a breaker caught us and threw us within swimming distance of the shore. As all hands could swim, I ordered all overboard and ashore. The undertow was very fierce and as the beach shelved sharply it was a hard fight even when our feet touched the sand. During this struggle the raft was thrown amongst us and, unfortunately, when the men dragged themselves ashore it was found that the gunlayer, Boardman, was missing. Immediately search was made, but it was unsuccessful, and the men were so exhausted that they practically collapsed in the sand. After a while some natives came along and informed us that we had landed in Liberia, and they took us to their village where they gave us food and drink.

September 5th.

Next day we set out along the beach to the nearest town, Cape Mount, and after walking some five hours through the sand and some two hours through the jungle, we reached the village of Latia. On the way to Latia we picked up another survivor, who had drifted ashore the day before — Sullivan, the chief radio operator. At Latia I sent a note in to a Dutch trader at Cape Mount, and about midnight a launch belonging to Pan-American Airways came and took us the rest of the way to Cape Mount. Here, at the Dutch trader's home, we were treated with every hospitality and our hunger and thirst appeased and our wounds dressed. Our greatest delight, however, was to find here already more of our shipmates, the chief and second engineers and one of the refrigerating greasers.

I reported to the chief engineer as the senior officer, and herewith append the full list of survivors under me this sixth day of September, 1942.

P. Sullivan, First Radio Operator
D. P. Lennon, Fourth Engineer
T. Hewett, Lamp-trimmer
J. Daintith, A.B.
W. Kaye, A.B.
E. Kitchen, A.B.
J. Hitchin, A.B.
P. Quirke, A.B.
L. Lipton, Refrigerator Greaser.
C. Hill, Chief Steward.
J. Lynch, Deck-hand.
J. Holmes, Deck-hand.

Account by Stan Mayes

Stan Mayes had joined the crew of Viking Star at Tilbury on 21 May 1942 and describes his voyages from that date until her loss in the Benjidog Recollections website HERE.

Stan's account of the aftermath of the loss of Viking Star provides a lot more personal details including his observations on the crew and how he tracked down some of the survivors many years later. He also describes how his pay was stopped from the day the ship was lost - there is even a copy of his payslip to prove it.

Viking Star
Stan Mayes who was an Able Seaman on Viking Star at the time of her loss, taken about 16 months later. [1]

Account by Clifford Maw

Viking Star
Clifford Maw was a Deck Boy on Viking Star at the time of her loss. [3]

This account of the loss of Viking Star was completed by Clifford Maw who was a Deck Boy from Leicester. I have transcribed it from The War Illustrated - External Ref. #35. Much of the account would not be considered politically correct in this day and age but Mr Maw was speaking as anyone at that time would have done and it would be wrong to modify it.

We Navigated the African Bush

Although the Battle of the Atlantic was raging, the War seemed a long way from the 6,000-ton oil-burning meat ship Viking Star on that sunny afternoon of August 25, 1942. What happened after the first "fish" smacked home is told by Clifford Maw then a 16-year-old Deck Boy.

We had left Buenos Aires with a full cargo of frozen beef, and some of us were sunning ourselves on deck in the first dog-watch and talking about "fish" — torpedoes — their construction and method of firing them. Two or three were in bathing costumes; there was Kelly the donkeyman in over­alls and a beret, and myself wearing only a pair of rope-soled shoes and grey shorts hitched by a sixpenny belt. The lamp-trimmer in his birthday suit was splashing happily in a canvas bath on the after well-deck.

I had just opened my mouth to say something when there came the muffled sound of an explosion. A couple of seconds later a louder explosion came from somewhere deep under the galley, near to which some of us were sitting. It was a real case of "talk of the devil." Two torpedoes had struck the ship like thunderbolts out of the blue ; no periscope was visible in the wide circle of ocean and no bubbling tracks of the "fish" had given warning of the attack. At that second blow the Viking Star lurched violently to starboard till the side-rails were almost awash.

Two engineers, five firemen and a naval gunlayer were killed instantly. Two men on deck were blown into the air, and one of them, the third engineer, was never seen again; the other, an A.B., crashed down on a splintered hatch with a broken leg. The lamp-trimmer leaped out of his canvas bath on hearing the explosions and when the ship listed took a remarkable dive over the starboard rail into the sea. My recollection of the event is of lying in the scuppers looking dazedly into a smoke-filled sky, and finding myself with a sprained ankle on attempting to scramble up.

We took to the lifeboats, on the captain's orders, and bellowed abuse when a U-boat appeared a cable's length away and smashed a third torpedo into the sinking ship. The seventy-third voyage of the old Viking Star was ending in the deep Atlantic, and by some freakish convulsion she rose in two halves with the bow pointing at one angle and the stern with stopped propellers at another. It looked like a gigantic V, symbol of Victory, as if, in her dying, the British veteran had made a last majestic gesture of defiance. So the Viking Star went down at 17.45 G.M.T., her position at the time of the attack being latitude 6 degrees North, and longitude 14 degrees West.

We were on tenterhooks lest the U-boat should start machine-gunning us, but it sheered off and we set course for the distant coast of West Africa. We felt fairly confident that a naval or air patrol from Freetown would find us, but it did not work out that way, and some of the rafts never reached land. Circumstances made it necessary for lifeboats and rafts to part company, and I will not dwell unduly on a voyage in an open boat crowded with thirty-six men in a space meant for twenty-six.

Short commons, seasickness, work, dangerous moments, spells of boredom, hopes raised only to be shattered — such formed our lot over four days and nights on the ocean. Time and again someone jumped up to point out "a sail" that proved to be no more than a wisp of cloud on the horizon or a shadow on the sea. So when Kelly yelled out one drizzly night, "Look ! There's land, fellows !" he was told brusquely to "Pipe down and stop rocking the boat! " But he was right, and we raised a hoarse cheer when doubts were dispelled. None of us was feeling too strong and I had taken my belt in to the last notch. But we kept rowing against the ebb-tide until caught by the heel in a breaking crest of sea. The first mate ordered "Ship the oars !" and the boat rushed forward amid surf with foam creaming over the stern and gunwales.

Another giant roller struck us and our boat was hurled up and over, flinging us all into the sea. It looked like "curtains" for me. My kapok life-jacket had been soaked frequently and had lost its buoyancy. Instead of keeping me afloat it dragged me down, and I was lucky to find myself lying on the beach and Chippy, the carpenter, who had rescued me, bending over and applying first-aid with ham-fisted vigour. The other chaps were ashore and had hitched the sea-anchor to a thorny bush to hold the overturned lifeboat fast, then rigged a sail for a windbreak, and we all waited in this rough shelter for the dawn.

Savage Chief With Pearly Spats

At first light, a solitary figure was seen, motionless as a bronze statue, near a palm tree. He proved to be a negro, wearing a loin-cloth and armed with a spear. When he saw us looking at him he vanished, and presently returned with a score of full-blooded negroes armed with spears and knives, and led by their chieftain and a nondescript native of paler hue who had been educated at a mission school and could "speak de Inglees bery good, yes mistah," and kept on saying so.

They gathered in a half-circle round our improvised tent over which the spindrift was blowing from the crests of the Atlantic surf. The first mate had slept less than any of us in the boat, and was catching up with some of it when he was awakened to deal with these visitors. None of us had ever seen anything quite like these natives, particularly the chief, who looked as if he might have stepped straight out of a Hollywood film. His ebony face was decorated with scars in spiral design, his parted lips revealed a white half-moon of teeth in a fixed grin. Barter had provided him with fine raiment and doubtless much prestige, for not every savage chieftain could sport, as he did, an Arab burnous, a grey topper of the kind once popular at Ascot, a pair of spats with pearl buttons, and a golf umbrella of red, blue, green and yellow—with a couple of broken ribs to give it a quainter look.

They reminded me of all I had read about cannibals. But that topper, the spats and gamp were reassuring; and they had brought bamboo litters, which suggested the desire to be helpful. The first mate held palaver with the mission-educated native, and discovered that we had made a landfall in French Guinea, which was territory under Vichy control at the time and therefore hostile to the Allies. We had landed, it appeared, a full 100 miles north of Freetown, Sierra Leone. It also appeared that these natives had heard something about a war being in progress, but had only the foggiest notion as to whom it was between and what it was all about.

The negroes stood watching us in silent curiosity, but presently some of them went to the cultivated patches near their village and returned with something to gladden the heart and stomach — green coconuts, bananas, oranges, limes and mangoes. This was just what the doctor would have ordered after our boat voyage on scant rations, during which I had taken in my belt to the last notch. In return for the hospitality, the first mate told the chief that he 'could have the lifeboat, which was no longer of use to us anyway. This further warmed the cockles of the chieftain's heart and we were taken to the village, some of the chaps carried on litters, and installed in thatched Kraals, where we slept soundly. Mysterious Code of the Wilds

Our portable radio set had been lost when the lifeboat had overturned, but these natives had their own broadcasting - system — the signal drums which, from time immemorial, had relayed messages from tribe to tribe over vast stretches of African bush and swamp. So the tom-toms beat out the news of our rescue in the mysterious code of the wilds and, later on, throbbing drum-beats from the distance brought a response. Incidentally, what that gift of the lifeboat meant to these simple savages can be judged by the fact that they celebrated by song and dance for hours until even the strongest of them were exhausted.

When food and rest had refreshed us, the dusky chief suggested through the mission-schooled interpreter that we should go to another village nearer an outpost where two French missionaries were established. This was agreed to, and the chief arrayed himself in all his glory and announced he would act as our guide. Not to be outdone in courtesy, the whole tribe - with the exception of a few old crones, and mothers with babies - volunteered for escort and brought out the bamboo litters in case any of us castaways should fall by the wayside during our journey through the bush. A strange procession set off on the trail. The chief in his Hollywood rig-out went ahead, using his furled golfing gamp for a walking-stick. The half-naked negroes followed, chanting weirdly, and we of the lost Viking Star marched among them in our odds-and-ends of attire or bathing costumes. I padded along in the rear, badly sun-blistered, and barefooted because I had lost my shoes in the surf, my personal escort a bunch of pot-bellied, naked piccaninnies who were obviously enjoying the adventure to the full.

We snaked into the African bush. The air was humid, the heat stifling. Strange birds and gaily-coloured butterflies winged among the trees, shimmering in the shafts of sunlight that pierced the forest gloom. Myriads of mosquitoes swarmed over our sweating parade, and tormented those of us not used to such devilish attack. Thorns and ticks seared all who were bare-legged, and the pace slackened as some of the sailors began to limp and straggle.

What looked like a tarred path crossed a game-trail farther on. The chief uttered a warning shout, patted his grey topper firmly over his crinkly hair and made a ponderous leap. The other natives jabbered and gestured excitedly. That "path." which was moving like a sluggish stream of pitch, consisted of millions of stinging black ants. The agile negroes leaped clear, but many of us had to seize tough strands of creeper that dangled from the trees and swing over that formidable army of ants.

Worse going lay ahead. Beyond the bush was a swamp through which the grown-ups waded above the knees and the piccaninnies wallowed happily. A big snake slithered from under a mass of fetid vegetation, and so startled one of our chaps that he lost his balance and squelched full-length in the mire. This made everyone (with one exception) more cheery. Without serious mishap we arrived at a village on a broad, muddy river, a place much larger than the one we had left. Here we were treated by another tribe with equal hospitality, and a runner departed at top speed to tell the missionaries of our arrival.

A feast was prepared and I dream of it now. Chicken was the main dish. The head of each fowl was removed and the feathered body plastered thickly with mud and laid over a brushwood fire. With fine judgement the native cook removed it when done to a turn, scraped off the mud and feathers, gutted the bird and carved it in satisfying chunks. There was enough, and to spare, for the village seemed to be positively overrun by fowls.

One night, after the Hollywood chief and we sat round the tires and watched a dance by the village belles, whose scar-decorated faces shone as if with black boot-polish. The high spot of this pagan dance came when the girls went leaping gracefully into the bush, caught, fireflies in their hands and came whirling back with their jet-black hair spangled with living sparks. Several days later the French missionaries came in an ancient motor-launch and took us to a trading post down-river. A message brought a patrol vessel of the Royal Navy into the estuary, and soon we were taken in fair comfort to Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Note: Stan Mayes points out the location quoted by Clifford Maws was incorrect and that the landing point was actually 100 miles South of Freetown and not in a Vichy area.

Viking Star
This cutting is also from The War Illustrated - External Ref. #35. and has the caption:
LAST VOYAGE OF A MERCHANTMAN which, according to the German description accompanying these photographs (received in London through a neutral source), was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat in tropical waters. The stern of the unnamed merchantman is still visible (left). Members of the crew who managed to get away in a lifeboat (right) witnessed one of the saddest sights that seamen can endure—the last moments of a gallant craft which had become as a second " home " to them. [3]
Viking Star
This cutting is also from The War Illustrated - External Ref. #35. and has the caption:
THE VIKING STAR AT LONDON BRIDGE WHARF, unloading in 1935, Seven years later, on her seventy-third voyage, this big meat ship was to meet her fate at the hands of the Germans on a sunny afternoon in the broad Atlantic, as told here by her deck boy. [3]

The Survivors

The table below shows the survivors from Viking Star and how they made their escape. The information was compiled by Stan Mayes.

Name Rank Home Town Means of Survival
W.Belford 2nd Engineer Brechin Survived on a raft for 10 days
W.Blackburn Carpenter Southport Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
R.Boardman RN Survived on a raft for 12 days
W.Bond AB Liverpool 21 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
J. Briscoe Dems gunner St Helens Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
T.Burns Assistant Steward Liverpool 5 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
G.Carter Chief Refrigeration Engineer Ilford London Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
W.Cole Steward’s Boy Waltham Cross Herts. Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
J.Daintith AB Liverpool 6 Survived on a raft for 12 days
F.Dawson Assistant Engineer Manchester Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
J.Delaney AB Liverpool 20 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
R. Dennis Apprentice Bristol Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
A.Dunsford Donkeyman Jarrow on Tyne Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
W.Fox 4th Officer Orford Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
A.Gant Fireman Liverpool 20 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
A.Hancock DEMS gunner Grangetown York Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
J.Hewitt Lamp Trimmer Survived on a raft for 12 days
C. Hill Chief Steward Bristol Survived on a raft for 12 days
C.Hind Steward’s Boy Southport Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
J.Hitchen AB Liverpool 21 Survived on a raft for 12 days
A.Holmes DEMS gunner Hebburn on Tyne Survived on a raft for 12 days
J.Hopkins Refrigeration Engineer Liverpool 4 Survived on a raft for 10 days
D.Hughes Fireman Liverpool 3 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
F. Jones 2nd Officer Buenos Aires Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
M.Kay AB Liverpool 1 Survived on a raft for 12 days
J.Kelly Engine Storekeeper Wigan Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
E.Kitchen AB Hook Norton Oxford Survived on a raft for 12 days
D.Lennon 4th Engineer Liverpool 23 Survived on a raft for 12 days
L.Lupton Refrigeration Greaser Liverpool 21 Survived on a raft for 12 days
W.Lydiate Donkeyman Widnes Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
J.Lynch DEMS gunner Glasgow Survived on a raft for 12 days
C.Maw Deck Boy Leicester Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
S.Mayes AB Grays Essex Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
W.McEntegast 3rd Radio Officer Liverpool 13 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
F. McQuiston Chief Officer South Shields Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
R.Oppenheim Greaser Liverpool 6 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
G. Patterson Apprentice Liverpool 23 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
J.Porter Refrigeration greaser Liverpool 21 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
B.Quinn 2nd Cook London W9 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
J.Quirke Sailor Liverpool 20 Survived on a raft for 12 days
R.Reid Chief Engineer Inverurie Survived on a raft for 10 days
W.Reilly AB Liverpool 19 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
D.Richards AB Cardigan Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
J.Rigiani 3rd Officer Oswestry Survived on a raft for 12 days
B. Sloan 2nd Radio Officer London NW8 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
D.Sparkes Sailor Liverpool 4 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
C.Sullivan 1st Radio Officer Barnston Cheshire Survived on a raft alone for 10 days
A.Tallent Assistant Steward Liverpool 21 Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
F.Thompson Chief Cook Cardiff Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
D Trowler 2nd Refrigeration Engineer Felling on Tyne Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
J.Weightman OS Highbury London Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days
H.Wilkinson Bosun Margate Survived in a lifeboat for 6 days

Roll of Honour

Information follows about those who served on Viking Star and lost their lives. This is based on information held in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database.

Surname Forenames D.O.D. Rank Cemetery/Memorial Grave Ref. Additional Information
Anderson Thomas Ludvic James 25/08/1942 Fireman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 114. Age 37
Boardman Richard 25/08/1942 Leading Seaman and RN Gunner Portsmouth Naval Memorial Panel 62, Column 3 Age 37. Assigned to HMS President III - service No. P/JX 188344. Son of Richard and Margaret Boardman
Clark William Arthur 25/08/1942 Third Engineer Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 114. Age 28. Son of Robert Henry and Maple Clark, of Eccleston, Chorley, Lancashire.
Gibbons Michael 25/08/1942 Donkeyman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 114. Age 46. Husband of Catherine Gibbons, of Liverpool.
Hartley Leonard 25/08/1942 Fireman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 114. Age 22. Son of William Thomas Hartley, and of Betsy Hartley, of Seaforth, Liverpool.
Meehan Francis 25/08/1942 Fireman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 114. Age 28
Mills James Edward 25/08/1942 Master Tower Hill Memorial Panel 114. Age 43. Husband of Anne Mills, of Formby, Lancashire.
Spencer James 25/08/1942 Fireman Tower Hill Memorial Panel 114. Age 19. Son of James and Catherine Spencer, of Liverpool.
Tower Hill Memorial
This is a photo of the panel on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorial at Tower Hill commemorating Viking Star. Stan Mayes made an annual visit to place poppies there in memory of his friends that were lost on the ship until he passed away. [4]
Poppies

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of Stan Mayes
  2. Extracted and digitally enhanced by the site owner from External Ref. #9.
  3. Extracted and digitally enhanced by the site owner from External Ref. #35
  4. From the Benjidog Tower Hill Memorial website HERE
  5. Provenance unknown