Arlington Court (1924)

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Introduction

The name Arlington Court was used by Court Line for three ships:


Arlington Court (1924) was launched in 1924, had a fifteen year service life and was torpedoed and sunk in 1939. I will simply refer to her as Arlington Court on the rest of this page.

Arlington Court
Arlington Court - photo by Walter E. Frost taken 22 May 1935 - presumably near Vancouver. [3]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Cargo ship
Registered owners, managers and operators United British Steamship Co. Ltd.
Managers Haldin & Philipps Ltd. London
Builders Workman, Clark & Co. Ltd.
Yard Belfast
Country UK
Yard number 469
Registry N/K
Official number 147644
Signal letters N/K
Call sign KQNJ
Classification society N/K
Gross tonnage 4,915
Net tonnage 2,985
Deadweight N/K
Length 396.6 ft
Breadth 53.1 ft
Depth 26.5 ft
Draught N/K
Engines 3 cylinder triple-expansion steam engine with cylinder bores of 26", 42" and 70" with stroke of 48".
Engine builders William Doxford & Sons. Ltd.
Works Sunderland
Country UK
Boilers Three single-ended boilers with boiler pressure of 180psi.
Power 414 NHP
Propulsion N/K
Speed N/K
Cargo capacity N/K
Crew "Fleet in 1942" gives complement as 35
Arlington Court
Arlington Court - date and location not known. [1]

Additional Construction Information

The 1930-31 Lloyds Register entry for Arlington Court has the following additional information about her:

  • She had one steel deck
  • Fitted with electric light and Wireless

Career Highlights

Date Event
5 Apr 1924 Launched by Pickersgill
May 1924 Completed
1936 Owners restyled Court Line Ltd. - same managers
16 Nov 1939 Torpedoed and sunk

Service Pre WW2

No detailed information about her service prior to WW2 is known other than that she was laid up on the Tyne for a number of years during the 1930s depression.

Service in WW2

Arlington Court took part in just one convoy in WW2 and was sunk while taking part in it. Convoy SL7 Departed Freetown on 31 October 1939 and arrived in Liverpool on 16 November 1939. According to Convoyweb - External Reference #5, the convoy consisted of 39 merchant ships and 2 escorts. She was carrying 7,340 tons of maize, straggled and was sunk by German submarine U-43.

Loss of Arlington Court

According to Middlemiss - External Reference #4:

Arlington Court under Captain Hurst took two torpedoes from U-43 in the homeward convoy SL7 from Freetown. The radio room and bridge were wrecked with three dead in the explosion and Captain Hurst reluctantly gave the order to abandon ship as he had already survived three WW1 torpedoings. The crew took to the lifeboats and 22 from one boat were rescued although the Chief Engineer died from exposure, and six survived in the second boat after wallowing for six bitterly cold days and nights with a 18-year old apprentice in charge to give encouragement and set course.

Based on examination of information recorded in External Reference #3, U-43 was very successful and sank 21 Allied ships and damaged two more. Arlington Court was her first victim and this was in fact U-43's first patrol. She left Wilhelmshaven under the command of Wilhelm Ambrosius on 6th Nov 1939 and arrived on return on 14th Dec 1939 after five and a half weeks.

According to Uboat.net - External Reference #6:

At 14.07 hours on 16 Nov, 1939, the Arlington Court (Master Charles Hurst), a straggler from convoy SL-7A, was hit by a G7a torpedo from U-43 320 miles 248° from Start Point. At 14.55 hours, the ship was hit in the foreship by a coup de grâce and sank in 30 minutes. Six crew members were lost and the chief engineer died from exposure in one of the lifeboats. The master and 21 crew members were picked up by the Dutch steam merchant Algenib and landed at Queenstown (Cork). Six crew members in a lifeboat were picked up after six days by Spinanger and landed at Dover.

Submarine U-43

U-43 sank 21 ships totaling 117,036 grt; damaged a further ship of 10,350 grt, and caused the total loss of another of 9,131 grt.

U-43 was herself sunk on 30 July, 1943 south-west of the Azores, in position 34°57'N, 35°11' W, by a Fido homing torpedo from an Avenger aircraft of the US escort carrier HMS Santee with 55 dead (all hands lost).

Survivor Reports

I have obtained two survivor reports of the sinking from the National Archive and these are transcribed below.

Captain Chas. Hurst

REPORT OF AN INTERVIEW WITH CAPTAIN CHAS. HURST
MASTER OF THE S/S ARLINGTON COURT


CASUALTY SECTION
TRADE DIVISION
29th November 1939


CAPTAIN HURST:

On the 31st October we left Freetown at about 7AM with Convoy S.L.7. Our cargo was 3,790 tons of maize. Our ship was painted grey all over. After about 2 days out we lost sight of the convoy as we could not maintain enough steam oweing to malaria among the firemen. On the fourth day I gave up hope of picking up the convoy and decided to open the confidential letter and proceed under Admiralty Orders. We were zig-zagging during the day and during the night when it was moonlight.

It was about 1PM on November 16th: our position was then 320 miles, 248° from Start Point: I lft the bridge and went down below to decode a message. I had no sooner got out my Confidential Books when there was a big explosion. We were steering N27 E true. A torpedo had struck us at the after end of No. 2 Hold, immediately under the bridge on the port side, Both bridges were torn away on the port side: the telegraph was broken and as the wireless instruments were put out of action, we were unable to send out any message. There was a very heavy sea and a West-south-westerly gale blowing. I estimated that the force of the wind to be 8 and the waves were about 30 feet high.

Immediately after the explosion, the ship started to take a big list to starboard and to roll heavily, so I ordered my crew to man the boats. 23 of the crew, including myself, got into the starboard lifeboat which was lowered away. The Chief Officer and the Third Officer, with one other man, lowered the dinghy that was hanging below the starboard end of the bridge. They slid down the falls into it and were never seen again. The remaining 7 or 8 men on board lowered the port lifeboat which, owing to the list, was severely damaged. Nevertheless, they slid down the falls and got into it.

We pulled away from the ship end, about eleven minutes after, a second torpedo hit the ship on the port side, which caused a large splash of water. We did not, at any time, see anything of the submarine. In about 15 minutes the ship sank. Just before this, I caught a glimpse of our other lifeboat but never saw it again. As the weather was so bad, I decided to throw out a sea-anchor, When the weather alleviated, we set sail and had an oil-bag hanging over the bows to break the force of the sea.

On the third day out, our Chief Engineer, and old man of nearly 70, died. I knew he was passing away the day before so had him wrapped up in blankets and gave him brandy. I pronounced death with the other members and committed his body to the sea. Before doing so, we took his clothes off, as some of the men were still scantily clothed and could make good use of them.

Owing to the heavy sea we were making a lot of water all the time. I had one of the thwarts of the ship broken up and, by tearing up the small boat cover managed to make a dodger which we fixed on the weather side. This kept the crew from being continually washed by the spray, which was blowing into the boat all the time. At night-time we utilised the big boat-cover under which we all huddled together. It was very cold and raining like sleet most of the time which cut through us. I issued bread and water, biscuits and milk three times a day.

On the Monday, I was expecting three more men to die from exposure. Our feet had begun to swell from being continually immersed in water. The behaviour of the crew was excellent. They took their orders very well and did everything that was expected of them. Had there been any sort of panic, we could never have survived. We were in the boat from Thursday about 1.30 PM until 8 o'clock Monday morning when we were picked up by the Dutch Motor Vessel ALGENIB. Our position was then 90 miles South of the Bishop Rock. We had sailed 170 miles in the lifeboat.

We were landed at Queenstown. None of the men sustained any injuries from the explosion.



The Captain stated that he had been in conversation with one of the survivors of the other boat who could not speak too highly of a deck-boy called Malcolm Morrison, aged 18. He comes from Stornaway and is used to handling sails. Apparently it was entirely due to his skill in handling the boat that the 6 men in his boat were saved. There was no officer in the boat.

The Captain also stated that he had been blown up twice in the last war and, therefore, intended to be well prepared this time should the occasion arise: so he had trained the men in lifeboat work, making them practice even without Officers. Both lifeboats had been amply provided with water, biscuits, tinned meat, tinned milk, a bottle of brandy, 6 blankets, matches, two gallons of oil for the lamp and oil for smoothing the sea in case of very rough weather.

Malcom Morrison

REPORT OF AN INTERVIEW WITH MR. MALCOLM MORRISON,
DECK BOY OF THE S.S. ARLINGTON COURT.
CASUALTY AND STATISTICAL SECTION
TRADE DIVISION
5th January 1940


MR. MALCOLM MORRISON:

It was about 1 PM on November 16th. We were coming to the English Channel and the watch was on deck, one fellow was steering and another on look-out, and the rest standing by. There were 2 watches on deck, the dog watch and the middle watch, and one watch below. I was in bed, my watch being due at 4 PM, when at 1.50 PM I heard a torpedo hit us. It was in No. 2 hold on the port side. The boy with me was crying because he could not get his clothes on, but he managed to get on a singlet, dungarees, and a life jacket but no boots. I manaed to put on my dungarees over my pyjamas, a life-jacket and se boots.

Everyone took his station. One Able-Seaman, 2 firemen, a deck boy, galley boy and the cook, lowered the port lifeboat to the water's edge. I was on the after fall and we were supposed to lower the after end first. The weather was very bad and she filled to the thwarts with water and was damaged by hitting against the ship's side. Then the seven of us got into her, I took the tiller, the others started bailing out the water and we drifted away from the ship astern.

The submarine was now just abeam of our lifeboat, about 90 yards from the ship, and we thought, from the position of the periscope, that she would rise and overturn us, but she submerged and fired another torpedo. The starboard lifeboat was on the other side of the ship with 23 men on board, and the jolly boat with 3 men was away ahead of the ship on our side, but we were all drifting away in different directions, ourselves astern.

All three boats kept in sight of each other until it was dark. We had recieved orders to stay in the same position as the ship. A Norwegian Tanker had passed us at 9.30 AM and was just in sight when we were torpedoed. We thought she might pick us up. I do not know her name.

About 11 o'clock that night we saw a neutral ship, carrying lights. Everybody ws sleeping in the boat, having bailed out water all day, and while I was at the tiller I was keeping a good look-out. We sent up 6 flares and she answered us with a red light, but we could not get near as everyone ws too tired to row and we had not set the sail this first night owing to the bad weather. The waves were breaking right over our heads and we were taking in water. She sailed round for about 2 hours, but we could not get any nearer. I think she thought we might be a submarine.

The next day was not so bad, although the weather was still very rough with squalls of rain, sleet and hail. We had lost sight of the Norwegian and I said to the sailor "we shall not any more ships to pick us up unless we set the sail. We must steer the same course as the ship". The sailor did not want to set the sail so I handed the tiller over to him and tried to set the sail along. He let go of the tiller, he had no idea of sailing, so I had to tie it up while I went to attend to the mast. We had a single dipping lug sail and sailed continuously from 3 o'clock on Friday, I was sterring N. 72 **** E and with the wind astern of us, that is from the Westward, I tried to keep towards the coast. The next day, Saturday, we saw a convoy and we sent up a flare, but the flares were not good in daylight and they did not take any notice. We tried to get nearer but could not do so, so we kep steering on the same course but compass.

On Sunday we saw another British ship (the weather was not quite so bad now): I thought she noticed us but she did not come near. This was about 2 PM. We did not see any more ships for 6 days. We were still steering on the same course. I told the sailor th have a sleep. I did not seem to have any sleep at all, but when I was cold I rowed until I ws warm, and then steered again. The weather became better after Sunday as we were getting nearer to land. The others were bailing most of the time. The cook was 65, I thought he woud die before we reached land.

It was very cold, I was wet through all the time, and so were the others, as none of us had oilskins. We had plenty of ship's biscuit, some condensed milk and some tins of corn-beef, but as this made us thirsty we did not eat much of it. We had two breakers of water, but one was half full of salt water, so it was no good. After the first day out we only had half the other breaker left, as they were all helping themslves when they wanted a drink. As the only way to get water out of a breaker is with a dipper, I took charge of this and kept it in my pocket. I always gave water to the cook when he asked for it, but the rest were rationed at 2 dippers a day. We ran out of water after 6 days.

On the 8th day, the wind was coming from the South, and about 5 AM we saw a Norwegian Tanker. I decided not to send up a flare until we were nearer. The Mate had already seen us and called the Captain, who gave orders to alter course aaway from us as she thought we were a submarine. I immediately sent up a flare which had the required effect and stopped her, as she had received the message which had been sent out to every ship to look out for us. When we got near, all hands were called on deck in the Tanker. They then threw ropes to us, but all the men were too weak to catch hold of them, so they lowered a pilot ladder and the men managed to climb on deck, but they could not walk as their feet were so swollen owing to long immersion in the cold water. We were given some whisky, and had a hot bath and then went to the mess room. We wne to bed, 3 of us in the hospital, and 4 men down forward. We steamed 2 days and 2 nights before reaching Dover.

Before we reached Dover, 3 British aeroplanes came out to look for us. They thought the Tanker might be a German ship disguised, but as soon as we established our identity they returned to Dover with the news that we were on board. When we arrived off Dover a Drifter came alongside with several officers. We wnet on board and were taken ashore.

The Custom House officials gave us our ration cards and we went to a hotel. A Doctor came along and told me to go to hospital but I insisted on going home. He said I should go to hospital for a week, but I said I was fit to travel, which I did, accompanied by the deck-boy, in spite of his terribly swollen feet. The Galley Boy and cook went into hospital at Dover, the others joined the remainder of the crew who were already in hospital in Cardiff.

I first went to sea with my father when he went out fishing before I left school at 14. I also went for a time to the Gravesend Training School.

The sailor was 21 and the deck-boy 16.

Roll of Honour

Information follows about members of the Merchant Navy who served on Arlington Court that 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
Cutter Thomas 16/11/1939 Third Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 10. Age 24. Son of William and Anne Cutter; Nephew of Mr. J. B. Cutter, of Newbiggin-By-The-Sea Northumberland.
England Thomas Leonard 16/11/1939 Sailor Tower Hill Memorial Panel 10. Age 26
Pearson John Henry 19/11/1939 Chief Engineer Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 10. Age 65. Son of Anthony and Margaret Pearson; Husband of Mary Anne Pearson, of Cardiff.
Thomas Cecil James 16/11/1939 Chief Officer Tower Hill Memorial Panel 10. Age 39. Son of William and Hannah Thomas, of Roath, Cardiff.
Wardle Joseph 16/11/1939 Carpenter Tower Hill Memorial Panel 10. Age 62
Tower Hill Memorial
This is a photo of the panel on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorial at Tower Hill commemorating Arlington Court.[2]
Poppies

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of George Robinson
  2. From a series of photographs of the Tower Hill memorial taken by the site owner in 2010.
  3. By courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives