371 H/C.O. 23/5/01
CONFIDENTIAL 25th November, 1942.
SHIPPING CASUALITIES SECTION…TRADE DIVISION.
REPORT OF AN INTERVIEW WITH THE QUARTERMASTER, MR. A. MAY.
M.V. ABOSSO - 11,330 GROSS TONS.
INDEPENDENT SUNK BY TWO TORPEDOES ON
29TH OCTOBER, 1942
TIMES: ALL TIMES IN A.T.S.
+2 FOR G.M.T
We were bound from Cape Town to Liverpool with 3,000 tons of wool
or cotton. We were armed with a 4'', 1 Bofors, 2 Oerlikons, 2 Twin Marlins, 6 Lewis, 2 Pig Troughs, and 4 P.A.C. rockets. The Confidential books went down with the ship. The crew including 13 Army and 7 Naval Gunners was 203, we also had on board 190 passengers, and of this total 1 R.A.M.C. Captain was injured and 362, including all the Gunners, are missing.
I do not know whether we were carrying any Confidential mails, but we had 400 bags of ordinary mail stowed in the mail room. As the explosion was in the vicinity of this room it is quite possible that some of the bags were floating about when the vessel sank.
2. We left Cape Town on 8th October, sailing independently for Liverpool. On the 15th October we had a gunnery practice during which a P.A.C. rocket was fired. This rocket caught in the lid of the D.F. apparatus and tore it off. After this we were still able to pick up contacts but could not tell their distance or position.
3. We proceeded without further incident until 29th October when at 1700 A.T.S. we picked up a submarine on the D.F. apparatus, but could not tell how far away it was from us or in what direction.
4. When darkness fell on 29th October we ceased zig-zagging and at 1805 altered course from 107˚ compass to 022˚. We had just got steady on this course at 1815 when, in a position 40.00 N. 28.00 W. (approx.) we were struck by a torpedo abaft the bridge on the port side. It was a very loud explosion and I think I saw a flash as the torpedo struck. I do not know what damage was done, but as far as I know none of the boats was blown away.
5. As soon as the torpedo struck the ship the main engines stopped and all the lights went out. She took a heavy list to port and the people who went to the port boats were told to use those on the starboard side on account of the heavy list.
C.-in-C. Western Approaches, D.P.D. (Cdr. Dillon Robinson)
C.-in-C. South Atlantic N.I.D. (Cdr. Lister Kaye)
V.A. Gibraltar N.I.D. 1/P.W.
R.A.W.A.F N.I.D. 3/P.W.
I.M.N.G. N.I.D. (Cdr. Winn)
D.T.D. D.N.O. (London)
D.T.D. (D.E.M.S.) D.N.C. (Bath)
D.A/S.W Captain Beswick.
D.T.S.D. Mr. Allen.
D.T.M.I Files (2)
-2- M.V. ABOSSO.
6. We had 12 boats, of which only nos. 1 and 2 were fitted with skids. As no. 3 boat was being lowered one of the falls was let go and all the occupants were thrown into the water. As my boat, which was No. 5, was being lowered we picked up a few people from the promenade deck, the boat then went with a run, but fortunately landed on the top of a wave, the boat was not capsized, and we were able to pick up some of the people from no. 3 boat.
7. As far as I know No. 3 was the only boat on the starboard side which did not get away safely from the ship. I do not know what became of any of the port boats.
8. After my boat was clear the ship righted herself, the emergency generator was put into operation, and the flood lights were turned on. Almost immediately a second torpedo struck the ship on the port side.
9. I could see three or four boats in the water but I do not know whether they were port or starboard boats. I did not see any red lights on the water, but I could see No. 9 boat, which was the motor boat, moving about picking up survivors.
10. At 1825 the ship sank bow first, five minutes after being struck by the second torpedo. After the ship had sunk the submarine surfaced and put her searchlights on the boats. I told the men in my boat to turn out the red lights on their life-jackets so that we should not be seen. I do not know whether any of the survivors were spoken to by members of the submarine's crew.
11. There was not much wind during the night but we used the oars to keep the boat head to sea. We were in touch with the other boats until 0130 on 30th October, but when daylight came there was no sign of them.
12. My boat was leaking so badly, it took us all our time to bail out, and we did not have much time to watch the other boats.
13. I was the only seaman in my boat, the three Naval personnel being stokers. The Dutch Lieutenant Commander took charge at the beginning, but he became a little excited so I suggested that I should take charge and to this he readily agreed. This Lieutenant Commander helped me at the tiller while I distributed the rations, but I do not think he helped me for more than one hour during the whole time we were in the boat. The rest of the Dutchmen were gunners and engineers. The Troop Officer should have been in my boat but I do not know what became of him: There were only 4 or 5 men who really belonged to no. 5 boat.
14. When daylight came we hoisted a mast and commenced to sail. We sailed all day Friday (30th October) until 1600. We then put the sea anchor out until daybreak on 31st October when we set sail again and fortunately sailed into a convoy, where we were picked up by H.M.S. BIDEFORD at 1100.
15. We had about 30 gallons of water in the boat, but I do not think we drank more than one pint between us the whole time we were adrift.
16. We had to bail continually. The first night the water was only 6" from the gunwhale, but when we got all hands bailing we managed to keep the water under control. We could not use the pump, because although it was not broken, it could not cope with such a large amount of water and we were therefore bailing with sea boots and empty tins.
17. We had material in the boat with which to repair the leaks, but owing to the cold, when the material touched the water it hardened immediately.
4 inch gun, 4" Quick Firing S.A. Gun
40mm Bofor: a light anti-aircraft gun
20mm Oerlikon: Anti-Aircraft Gun
Twin Marlin synchronized machine-guns
Lewis Gun, a light machine gun
The Pig Trough launcher designed by Nevil Shute held 14 two-inch rockets for firing vertically against air attack.
P.A.C. Rocket (Parachute And Cable Rocket).
"These fiendish contraptions were fitted one on each side of the bridge.
We are told: "The P.A.C.Rocket is a device for placing a strong wire, 480 feet long, vertically over the ship in the path of an attacking aeroplane. There is a parachute at each end of the wire, and the effect of an aeroplane striking the wire should cause a violent swerve and possible dive into the sea".........not to mention a dive and crash onto the deck of our own ship with bombs and all !! (Did we give the idea of Kamikase to the Japanese ?).
"The general rules to be followed are :-
(a) Fire the rocket five seconds before it is estimated that the aircraft will be right overhead - it is better to be a little early than too late.
(b) In rough weather the rocket should be fired when the ship is roughly upright.
Safety Note: When firing do not stand near to the rocket or wire box. Apart from the blast of the rocket the wire is inclined to whip about. (And could take the operator up in front of the enemy aircraft"!! This might have serious consequences particularly if the enemy airman is unsportingly firing his machine guns at the time !....."
R.A.M.C. Royal Army Medical Corps
HF/DF High Frequency Distance Finder: The apparatus was used for locating U-boats by picking up their radio signals. It was introduced at the end of 1942 and normally used in convoys, to warn against so called 'tiger packs'. Once a sign was picked up and the U-boats located, often by making contact with coastal HF/DF installation for correct triangulation, air assistance could be brought in to bomb the U-boats. The Abosso had 3 trained HF/DF radio operators on board. The apparatus needed a very special aereal, attached to one of the ships mast and looking like a box.
ATS absolute time sequence
According to the K.T.B.-U757 a message was sent at 1632 hours Berlin Time:
"Wireless message 1632/29: Marqu. [FkOMt Karl Marquard] BD 2932 [49°09'00"N 29°45'00"W] Single ship on North-East Course, 12 knots, I lay behind, 6 cubic metres left, North by East 5, Sea 5, 25 millibars. [wind direction and force; swell]
The U-575 followed the Abosso while surfaced.
According to the K.T.B.:
BD 3761[48°51'00"N 28°25'00"W]
A fan of four torpedoes from 1200 meter. Bow on the left, position 80, enemy speed 13 knots. Distance 1000 meters, depth 3 meters. The steamer fills the glass for two thirds of its length. After 80 seconds a hit amidships. Enemy stops and stays in position with an increasing list. It is a Motor ship of the “Abosso” type. 2 masts, the front one without stays, passenger superstruction built high up, receding bow, cruiser stern, deck stretching even all along, dip between bridge and funnel, further superstructions near the after mast and on the afterdeck, between both a deep dip. Bridge superstructure and passenger superstruction, octagonal funnel about the same height. Speed after linking with the sea 14 knots.
The port side of the ship was lower than the starboard side of the ship. Because, as mentioned in 6., most of the lifeboat had no skids or skates, lowering the boats on that side was difficult: The lifeboats would scrape along the hull of the boat and any obstacle might damage the boat. Ltd. Coumou stresses the fact in his report.
From Cowden's May report we learn:
"We were carried well away from the ship by a sea. We got the oars out and whilst doing so we were engaged in picking up survivors from the water.
These came out of Nr. 3 boat which had upended whilst still hanging by the forward falls, the after ones having been let go.
We picked up 4 survivors who are included in the 31 previously given by me."
" Some of the occupants in my boat were suffering from injuries. In particular Capt. Reaks [Reeks] (R.A.M.C) had hurt his back. J. Tyrer [Tyder] Asst. Steward had a foot injury. Also D. Thomas (foot injury) and a Dutch sailor who had burnt his hand coming down the lifeline into the boat,"
Ltd. Coumou maintains in his report that he had ordered 4 of his men to lower 'their' boat, in case of need. He maintains that they jumped into the water after having done so, to be picked up by lifeboat no. 5. He states that the passengers of lifeboat no. 3 were the Dutch recruits on board. From the burned hand it would seem that the owner of the hand, Q.M. D.F. de Ruyter, was the one that let go of the fall of lifeboat no. 3. In that case lifeboat no. 3 was the boat occupied by the Dutch submarine crew and was Ltd. Coumou in the wrong boat."
7, 8, 9, 10.)
The KTB describes these events as follows:
Finishing off shot from tube V [at the rear end] at the target laying stopped. Depth 4 meters. After 55 seconds hit front bridge. Reloaded tubes.
Steamer sinks by the bow.
I proceed to the location it went down. A big amount of floating rafts and lifeboats, partly with lights on, counted them with searchlight. About 10 lifeboats and 15 to 20 rafts. All fully manned with soldiers in kaki uniforms.
I did not succeed in ascertaining the name because under the prevailing weather conditions the possibility for communication was limited. After trying once I took off, because the rafts were partly filled with wounded men and I did not feel like staying any longer in the vicinity of the lifeboats under the circumstances. With 3 cubic metres fuel left I started on my way to Wolfbauer [Captain of the supply ship].
13.) May certainly was not the only seaman on board the lifeboat. Also on board were Q.M. G. Arundel. A.B. and James Tyder, A.B. Two of the Netherlands Navy men were Able seamen and Ordinary Seaman and a third was quartermaster.
Ltd. Coumou sketches in his report a different picture, where he depicts himself more or less as the sole saviour of the survivors. See also Cowden's May report.
The story seems to end somewhat abrupt, but there is no clear indication that there was another page to the document.