I am grateful to Nicholas Vasilatos for bringing Clan Cumming to my attention. He is one of a group of divers who have recently located the wreck of the ship and asked me for a copy of a photo from the Allen Collection. Having had a quick look at her history, I decided that she should be added to this site. Nicholas has kindly provided some photos of the wreck which can be seen below.
Clan Cumming was completed in 1938 and served extensively during WW2 undertaking many independent voyages and taking part in a small number of convoys. She survived an air attack, was torpedoed, and came close to destruction when a ship laden with explosives and docked nearby in Pireaus exploded causing massive damage. Shortly afterwards she was sunk by a mine on 15 April 1941.
|Registered owners, managers and operators||Owners: The Clan Line Steamers Ltd.
Cayzer, Irvine & Co. Ltd. Managers
|Builders||Greenock Dockyard Co. Ltd.|
|Overall Length||487.6 ft|
|Engines||Triple expansion steam engine with cylinders of bore 26", 42" and 68" with stroke 48" and low pressure(LP) exhaust turbines with double reduction (DR) gearing and hydraulic couplings.|
|Engine builders||J.G.Kincaid & Co.|
|Boilers||5 single-ended boilers operating at 220 psi|
The Lloyds Register entry for Clan Cumming for 1940-41 has the following additional information about her:
- She had two decks and a shelter deck
- Poop 31 ft, Bridge 102 ft and Forecastle 69 ft.
- She had a cruiser stern
- She had a duct keel forward of machinery space
- She had a gyro compass and was fitted with echo-sounding and radio direction-finding equipment
- She was fitted for oil fuel
|18 October 1937||Launched|
|15 April 1941||Mined and sunk|
I have not found any specific information about the service history of Clan Cumming prior to WW2.
Clan Cumming took part in a number convoys and a large number of independent voyages during WW2 according to information shown in the table below which is provided courtesy of Convoyweb .
|Lourenco Marques, Sep 6, 1939||Independent||Beira, Sep 8, 1939|
|Beira, Sep 12, 1939||Independent||Mauritius, Sep 16, 1939|
|Mauritius, Sep 25, 1939||Independent||Capetown, Oct 3, 1939|
|Capetown, Oct 8, 1939||Independent||Freetown, Oct 19, 1939|
|Freetown, Oct 22, 1939||Independent||Liverpool, Nov 1, 1939|
|Liverpool, Nov 8, 1939||Independent||Newport, Nov 9, 1939|
|Newport, Nov 18, 1939||Independent||Clyde, Nov 19, 1939|
|Clyde, Nov 25, 1939||Independent||Liverpool, Nov 26, 1939|
|Liverpool, Dec 2, 1939||Independent||Capetown, Dec 25, 1939|
|Capetown, Dec 25, 1939||Independent||Port Elizabeth, Dec 27, 1939|
|Port Elizabeth, Dec 28, 1939||Independent||East London, Dec 29, 1939|
|East London, Dec 30, 1939||Independent||Durban, Dec 31, 1939|
|Durban, Jan 5, 1940||Independent||Dar-es-salaam, Jan 10, 1940|
|Dar-es-salaam, Jan 11, 1940||Independent||Zanzibar, Jan 12, 1940|
|Independent||Tanga, Jan 13, 1940|
|Zanzibar, Jan 13, 1940||Independent||Mombasa, Jan 14, 1940|
|Tanga, Jan 14, 1940||Independent|
|Mombasa, Jan 21, 1940||Independent||Port Pirie, Feb 7, 1940|
|Port Pirie, Feb 7, 1940||Independent||Sydney NSW, Feb 12, 1940|
|Sydney NSW, Feb 28, 1940||Independent||Melbourne, Feb 29, 1940|
|Melbourne, Mar 3, 1940||Independent||Aden, Mar 21, 1940|
|Aden, Mar 22, 1940||Independent||Suez, Mar 26, 1940|
|Port Said, Mar 27, 1940||Independent||Gibraltar, Apr 1, 1940|
|Gibraltar, Apr 3, 1940||Independent||Dunkirk, Apr 8, 1940|
|Dunkirk, Apr 16, 1940||Independent||Liverpool, Apr 18, 1940|
|Liverpool, Apr 24, 1940||Independent||Clyde, Apr 25, 1940|
|Clyde, May 2, 1940||Independent||Newport, May 5, 1940|
|Independent||Swansea, May 17, 1940|
|Newport, May 17, 1940||Independent|
|Swansea, May 21, 1940||Independent||Liverpool, May 22, 1940|
|Liverpool, May 29, 1940||Independent||Durban, Jun 21, 1940|
|Durban, Jun 22, 1940||Independent||Fremantle, Jul 7, 1940|
|Fremantle, Jul 9, 1940||Independent||Adelaide, Jul 14, 1940|
|Adelaide, Jul 16, 1940||Independent||Melbourne, Jul 18, 1940|
|Melbourne, Jul 20, 1940||Independent||Sydney NSW, Jul 22, 1940|
|Sydney NSW, Jul 25, 1940||Independent|
|Brisbane, Jul 28, 1940||Independent||Brisbane, Jul 29, 1940|
|Independent||Brisbane, Aug 4, 1940|
|Brisbane, Aug 8, 1940||Independent||Sydney NSW, Aug 10, 1940|
|Sydney NSW, Aug 10, 1940||Independent||Durban, Aug 29, 1940|
|Durban, Aug 30, 1940||Independent||Capetown, Sep 2, 1940|
|Capetown, Sep 4, 1940||Independent||Freetown, Sep 14, 1940|
|Freetown, Sep 16, 1940||Independent||Freetown, Sep 17, 1940|
|Independent||Liverpool, Oct 3, 1940|
|Liverpool, Oct 19, 1940||Independent||Clyde, Oct 20, 1940|
|Clyde, Dec 19, 1940||WS.5A (Liverpool - Scattered 25-28 December 1940.)|
|Gibraltar, Jan 6, 1941||Excess|
|EXCESS. ( - )||Piraeus, Jan 12, 1941|
|Piraeus, Jan 19, 1941||AS.12/1 (Piraeus - Port Said)||Piraeus, Jan 20, 1941|
|Piraeus, Apr 14, 1941||Independent|
According to Uboat.net  on 30 September 1940, merchant ship Heminge, a straggler from convoy OB-220, was attacked and sunk by torpedoes fired by German submarine U-37 at position 52° 26' N, 18° 33 W. She had been carrying coal and bound for Tenerife.
One crew member of Heminge was lost but the Master and the other 23 members of the crew and a gunner were rescued by Clan Cumming and taken to Liverpool.
On 11 October 1940, Clan Cumming was bombed by enemy aircraft at Liverpool; the Commonwealth War Graves Commision records a single loss of life from this incident. See Roll of Honour below for details.
At 08:00 on 19 January 1941, Convoy AS 12/1 departed Piraeus bound for Port Said where it arrived on 21 January 1941. The ships in the convoy were Clan Cumming, Clan MacDonald and Empire Song. The convoy was escorted by Anti-aircraft cruiser Calcutta and destroyers Greyhound, Defender and Janus.
The convoy was attacked by Italian submarine Neghelli of the Adua Class, commanded by Captain Charles Ferracuti. At 11:53, Clan Cumming was struck by a torpedo but, although seriously damaged, was able to return to Piraeus under her own power escorted by Janus.
On the same day, Neghelli was sunk with depth charges off Phalconera in the Aegean Sea by the British destroyer HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A'Deane, DSC, RN). There were no survivors.
A few months later on 22 May 1941 HMS Greyhound was bombed by Stuka (Ju-87) dive bombers and sunk in the Kithera Channel about 8 nautical miles north-west of Antikithera Island, Greece during the battle for Crete.
Operation Excess was a series of convoys to Malta, Alexandria and Greece in January 1941 and Clan Cumming had been part of this operation. She was still in port in Piraeus when Clan Fraser arrived on 4 April 1941 with a cargo of military stores including TNT explosive.
On 6 April Clan Fraser was attacked by aircraft and hit by three bombs killing seven members of her crew. The ship blazed for five hours then blew up causing major damage to the port and other shipping; buildings up to 15 miles away were shaken by the blast.
The force of the explosion sent Clan Cumming rolling on her beam ends. A large steel plate landed on her bridge top and half of a windlass crashed through No. 4 hatch and started a fire. Later a section of Clan Fraser's bridge weighing 12.5 tons was found nearly a mile away, and thirty feet of her 80-ton derrick was found in a park.
The official record states:
There was a heavy raid on the Piraeus by 10 German aircraft on the night of the 6th/7th which put the port completely out of action for several days. bout a dozen mines were laid in the harbour, but H.M. Ships Ajax and Calcutta successfully made their way out. The s.s. Clan Fraser, 7,529 tons, with 350 tons of T.N.T. and a lighter alongside her with a further 100 tons, both blew up. Many fires were caused ashore and in ships in the harbour.
The following account is provided in the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War - External Reference #51:
It will not be forgotten that Captain Nevins and his survey section had been in Greece since November; their record of being the first New Zealand troops in Greece was now added to by being among the first under fire. The section was still quartered in the New Phaleron hotel with other RE units when the Germans followed their declaration of war against Greece by raiding the Piraeus harbour.
Wave after wave of bombers came over about midnight (6 April), rocking the city with explosions and setting fire to the harbourside, but the hotel was well away from the danger zone and the sappers finally went to bed. They were wakened by an explosion loud enough to bring them back to the windows, but nothing could be seen through the dense smoke. The noise came from the freighter Clan Fraser which had been hit by a bomb and set on fire; she was loaded with TNT, and an hour later blew up with such force that windows in the hotel were shattered and a cascade of giant sparks was heaved high into the smoky night—sparks that were red-hot sections of steel plate and superstructure.
There was an urgent call for fire fighters; the sappers jumped into their truck and made for the waterfront; on the way they passed a section of the Clan Fraser's steel plating folded up like a piece of paper.
Dawn was near when Captain Nevins reported to the Admiralty building and was taken to a military officer connected with the dock area. He was a brigadier with a patch over one eye and was christened 'Lord Nelson' on the spot. He very soon earned the respect of the sappers, for he did a neat job all by himself: about two hundred yards from the wharf where a minesweeper was tied up, a small vessel was burning and a Greek gun crew was trying to sink it — it was loaded with petrol. The Greeks, either through excitement or ignorance, were missing the target.
'God's teeth! Give me that gun!'.
'Lord Nelson' pushed the crew aside and, single-handed, holed the ship at the water line. Then he produced a tug and took the sappers over to the Clan Cumming which was also on fire. Her sides towered above the tug, for she had just left the slipway after being torpedoed, was quite empty and very high out of the water.
There was nobody aboard except the captain and the chief engineer; buckets of salt water were hauled up the steep sides and thrown on the flames while everything that was movable and burning was thrown overboard. All around them drifted burning barges filled with petrol drums exploding like a ragged barrage.
The battle was won by mid-morning and the next job was the Davies some distance away. The section boarded its truck and passed warehouses on fire, cranes lying twisted and forsaken like children's discarded toys and crowds watching their homes burning. They passed an Australian just standing and swearing; for two days he had helped load petrol drums into a rake of box wagons and now they were burning and he could do nothing about it — the points were fouled and the wagons could not be moved.
The table below provides details of the merchant seaman whose life was lost when Clan Cumming was bombed and is from the Commonwealth War Grave Commission database.
|Ali Ullah||Seacunny||Indian Merchant Navy. The CWGC state that his name is recorded on the Bombay and Chittagong War Memorials.|
Ali Ullah is described as a 'Seacunny' - a term I had not previously heard of - but which means a "Lascar Helmsman".
The Chittagong Memorial, which together with the Bombay 1939-1945 War Memorial to be found in the Indian Seamen's Hostel Bombay, commemorates over 400 sailors of the former Indian Navy and nearly 6,000 sailors of the former Indian Merchant Navy who were lost at sea during the war years. Each memorial takes the form of a finely bound volume containing the names of the dead.
Amazingly quickly after the explosion of Clan Fraser, on 14 April 1941, Clan Cumming got a seaworthy certificate and sailed from port. The gunners on board even managed to shoot down a plane as they left Piraeus - but Clan Cumming's luck had run out.
Shortly after leaving port she struck a mine at position 37° 49' N, 23° 38' 30'' W and sank after a large explosion. At this time she had 110 persons on board including the crew, 3 gunners and 77 Prisoners of War. Fortunately everyone was rescued.
Below is the best transcription I have been able to make from a blurred copy of a report of an interview with the ship's Master - Captain J.D. Matthews - on 9 December 1941:
9 December 1941
Shipping Casualties Section - Trade Division
Report of an interview with the Master: Captain J.D.Matthews
SS Clan Cumming 7,264 Gross Tons
Independent - Sunk by mine on 15 April 1941
1. We were bound from Piraeus to Alexandria in (??). We were armed with a 4.7" gun and a 12 pounder. The ship was degaussed and the apparatus was working. The crew including myself numbered 107. There were no casualties. The confidential books were kept in a safe in my cabin and went down with the ship.
2. We left Piraeus at 2030 A.T.S. (1830 G.M.T.) pm the 14th April bound for Alexandria. (Our ship was torpedoed on 19th January but we managed to get back to Piraeus where she remained for about three months for repairs to be effected).
3. Prior to leaving Piraeus about 1700 A.T.S on the 14th April, our ship was attacked and damaged by 'Stuka' dive-bombers and the 'All Clear' was sounded while I was ashore getting a route from Lieut. Cdr. O'Caffery, the Naval Routeing Officer. It was arranged that I should leave harbour and dodge around outside the harbour until an escorting Destroyer, either H.M.S.Hero or H.M.S.Flamingo, arrived when we were to proceed into Phaloron Bay until daylight for the convoy. We steamed outside the harbour and cruised around, waiting for the Destroyer escort which I was given to understand would be with me not later than 2100 A.T.S, but although I waited until 2255(??) A.T.S. no escort arrived.
4. As the moon was getting up, and there was a possibility of further air attacks, I decided to proceed in a SWly course (210°). I laid this course down on my chart and proceeded at half speed for (??) miles, then altered course to (180° ??) for approximately one mile. About 2310 A.T.S. we had reached a position on Aegina (??) Island when a warning shot was fired and we received a signal by morse from this island 'Danger from mines'. 'You should alter route to the North'. We turned the vessel around to the North by using the engines and at 2355 A.T.S. both engines were stopped. The position by cross-bearings placed the ship approximately two miles clear of the charted minefield, the engines remained stopped and the ship drifted in a South-easterly direction, at the approximate rate of ½ mile an hour.
The series of photos shown below and the account of the dive were kindly provided by Nicholas Vasilitos who has been diving the wreck with friends .
Here is an extract of the dive report:
Diving the ‘Clan Cumming’ had been on the agenda for a couple of years. The reason for delaying doing it was that her wreck was suspected being one inside a busy traffic lane on the approaches to Piraeus port. Therefore, due to safety concerns we were reluctant to dive at that spot, so initially we contended ourselves with just locating the wreck with the echo sounder and getting a general idea of its size, depths, orientation, etc. In the course of time however, we managed to setup a dive within acceptable safety margins. After this dive which was done end of July 2012, we believe to have identified the ‘Clan Cumming which is lying in 94 meters of water off Cape Tourlos, island of Aigina.
Diving her would not present any serious difficulty if only she was not so dangerously close to dense ship traffic. We had to wait for perfect surface conditions, minimal scheduled ship traffic and planned for a shorter bottom time. The wreck lies at 94 meters of water on her port side making an impressive sight due to her massive size. The parts visited are in a generally good condition; due to the limited bottom time and a scooter problem we managed to visit just the forward part of the accommodation and her forward decks up to the mast. Visibility was not that good, especially closer to the bottom, meaning that the port half of the ship is wrapped in a cloud of silt. Current was negligible.
Closing this brief report, further dives must be done in order to document points of interest on the wreck. However it will be an ongoing task for quite some time as these dives must be carefully planned and done in conditions such that will guarantee the team’s safety. Documenting the ship’s story as fully as possible from various sources will also be attempted in the near future.
Team members in these dives: