Willesden was a cargo ship completed in 1925 and sunk in 1942 by gunfire and a torpedo from German raider Thor. Survivors ended up in Japanese prison camps where they were treated atrociously - six of them dying in captivity.

Willesden - the date and location are not known. [1]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Cargo Ship
Registered owners, managers and operators Watts Shipping Co. Ltd., Watts, Watts & Co. Ltd. Managers
Builders Workman Clark
Yard Belfast
Country UK
Yard Number 475
Registry N/K
Official Number 148530
Signal Letters N/K
Call Sign GRKJ (in 1929) - later GKYC
Classification Society N/K
Gross Tonnage 4,563
Net Tonnage 2,851
Deadweight N/K
Length 401.6 Ft
Overall Length 416.7 Ft
Breadth 54.3 Ft
Depth 25.3 Ft
Draught N/K
Engines Triple Expansion steam engine with cylinders of bore 26", 42" and 71" and stroke 48"
Engine Builders Workman Clark and Co.
Works Belfast
Country UK
Boilers 3 single ended boilers with pressure 180 psi.
Power 428 NHP
Propulsion Single screw
Speed 10 knots
Cargo Capacity N/K
Passenger Capacity N/K
Crew N/K

Additional Construction Information

The Lloyds Register entry for Willesden for 1942-43 has the following additional information about her:

  • 1 deck (steel) and shelter deck (steel)
  • Tonnage opening closed 1941
  • Fitted with radio direction-finding and echo-sounding equipment

Career Highlights

Date Event
18 November 1924 Launched as Antinous for T.Bowen Rees & Co
January 1925 Completed
1933 Name changed to Willesden and owner change to Watts, Watts & Co.
1 April 1942 Sunk by German raider Thor

Service Pre WW2

I have not found any information about the service of Willesden before WW2.

Service in WW2

Willesden took part in 22 convoys according to information shown in the table below which is provided courtesy of Convoyweb - see External. Ref. #4.

Departure Convoy/Independent Arrival
Liverpool, Jan 4, 1940 OB.65 (Liverpool - to OG 13)
OG.13 (to AT SEA - Gibraltar) Gibraltar, Jan 12, 1940
Gibraltar, Mar 12, 1940 HG.22 (Gibraltar - Liverpool) Liverpool, Mar 22, 1940
Liverpool, Apr 20, 1940 OB.133 (Liverpool - to OG 27F)
OG.27F (to AT SEA - Gibraltar) Gibraltar, Apr 28, 1940
Freetown, Oct 9, 1940 SL.51S (Freetown - Liverpool) Liverpool, Oct 31, 1940
Liverpool, Dec 20, 1940 OB.262 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Halifax, Jan 22, 1941 SC.20 (Halifax - Liverpool) Liverpool, Feb 8, 1941
Liverpool, Feb 23, 1941 OB.290 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Halifax, Mar 17, 1941 HX.115 (Halifax - Liverpool) Liverpool, Apr 3, 1941
WN.108 (Clyde - Methil) Methil, Apr 4, 1941
Southend, Apr 17, 1941 EC.8 (Southend - Clyde) Tyne, Apr 18, 1941
Halifax, Jun 1, 1941 HX.130 (Halifax - Liverpool) Liverpool, Jun 20, 1941
WN.142 (Oban - Methil) Methil, Jun 20, 1941
Tyne, Jul 15, 1941 EC.45 (Southend - Clyde) Methil, Jul 16, 1941
Methil, Jul 17, 1941 EC.46 (Southend - Clyde) Loch Ewe, Jul 19, 1941
OB.348 (Liverpool - Halifax) Halifax, Jul 31, 1941
Sydney CB, Aug 22, 1941 HX.146 (Halifax - Liverpool) Liverpool, Sep 6, 1941
Liverpool, Sep 21, 1941 ON.19 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Sydney CB, Nov 22, 1941 SC.56 (Sydney CB - Liverpool) Liverpool, Dec 10, 1941
Clyde, Jan 20, 1942 ON.58 (Liverpool - Returned) Clyde, Jan 21, 1942
Liverpool, Jan 26, 1942 ON.60 (Liverpool - Halifax) Halifax, Feb 15, 1942

Willesden was sunk whilst on an independent trip as described below.

Loss of Willesden

According to the Bismarck and Tirpitz website - External Ref. #40 and other sources, on 1 April 1942, Willesden was intercepted by German raider Thor. Günther Gumprich, the Captain of Thor, had developed a successful strategy for attacking which started with the use of a seaplane to spot the target, the destruction of the target's radio aerials using a hook trailing from the aircraft to deny the ability to call for assistance, followed by the actual attack using Thor's considerable gun-power.

Thor opened fire with her 5.9" guns, and ignited oil drums on Willesden's deck. Most of the crew abandoned ship but her gunners managed to fire six shots before they were also forced to abandon the ship. Thor fired 128 shells at Willesden, and finished her off with a torpedo at position 16°00'S, 16°00'W.

The survivors were taken on board Thor where they joined the survivors of Wellpark that had been sunk two days earlier. They were later joined by survivors from further victims Aust and Kirkpool. Later they were transferred to Regensburg and ended up as prisoners of the Japanese who treated them atrociously. Six of the crew died in Japanese prison camps and the other thirty remained prisoners until the end of the war.

A description of the sinking of the ship and the experiences of the crew after being captured can be found at External Ref. 41#.

Roll of Honour

Merchant Navy Losses

Information follows about members of the Merchant Navy who served on Willesden that lost their lives. This is based on information held in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database.

The first table below lists those that died directly from the loss of Willesden.

Surname Forenames D.O.D. Rank Cemetery/Memorial Grave Ref. Additional Information
Macmillan Murdo 01/04/1942 Sailor Tower Hill Memorial Panel 119. Age 20. Son of Murdo and Mary Macmillan, of Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.
Whitley John Robert 01/04/1942 Boatswain Tower Hill Memorial Panel 119. Age 55. Son of Philip John and Mary Whitley; Husband of Isabel Whitley, of Seaton Carew, West Hartlepool, Co. Durham.
Surname Forenames D.O.D. Rank Cemetery/Memorial Grave Ref. Additional Information
Donaldson John 31/12/1942 Able Seaman Yokohama War Cemetery Brit. Sec. R. D. 7. Age 31
James Joe 30/12/1942 Fireman and Trimmer Yokohama War Cemetery Brit. Sec. E. B. 8. Age 57
Mendi Joe 08/05/1943 Greaser Yokohama War Cemetery Brit. Sec. L. B. 7. Age 50
Owen Robert 23/12/1943 Fireman Yokohama War Cemetery Brit. Sector Q.B.4 Age 24. Father to D.Owen, St.Johns, Newfoundland, Canada.
Runcie Alex 25/07/1945 Third Officer Yokohama War Cemetery Brit. Sec. C. C. 16. Age 24. Son of William John and Isabella Runcie, of Aberdeen.
Williams Alfred 08/09/1943 Donkeyman Yokohama War Cemetery Brit. Sec. Q. B. 4. Age 48
Tower Hill Memorial
This is a photo of the panel on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorial at Tower Hill commemorating Willesden.[5]

Image Credits

  1. Forwarded by a friend - provenance unknown.
  2. From the Benjidog Tower Hill Memorial website