The Loss of S.S. Strathallan in December 1942

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The S.S. STRATHALLAN was one of several large passenger ships built in the 1930’s by Vickers-Armstrongs of Barrow-in-Furness for the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company of London – P & O. These vessels, for which basic details are shown below, were designed and built for the Australian service :

Gross Registered Tonnage 22,284 tons
Length x Width 664 feet x 80 feet
Builder and Year of Build Vickers-Armstrongs of Barrow – 1931
First Class + Tourist Accommodation 498 + 670 persons : Total 1,168 passengers
Sister-Vessel S.S. Strathnaver
Subsequent Names None
Ultimate Fate Broken up at Hong Kong in 1961

Gross Registered Tonnage 23,772 tons
Length x Width 664 feet x 82 feet
Builder and Year of Build Vickers-Armstrongs of Barrow – 1938
First Class + Tourist Accommodation 448 + 563 persons : Total 1,011 passengers
Sister-Vessel S.S. Stratheden
Subsequent Names None
Ultimate Fate Torpedoed by U-562 on 21-12-1942, sunk 22-12-1942.

Gross Registered Tonnage 23,722 tons
Length x Width 664 feet x 82 feet
Builder and Year of Build Vickers-Armstrongs of Barrow – 1938
First Class + Tourist Accommodation 448 + 563 persons : Total 1,011 passengers
Sister-Vessel S.S. Strathallan
Subsequent Names Henrietta Latsi (1964) Marianna Latsi (1966) [Greece]
Ultimate Fate Broken up at Spezia in 1969

Gross Registered Tonnage 23,428 tons
Length x Width 665 feet x 82 feet
Builder and Year of Build Vickers-Armstrongs of Barrow – 1935
First Class + Tourist Accommodation 445 + 665 persons : Total 1,110 passengers
Sister-Vessel None
Subsequent Names Marianna Latsi (1963) Henrietta Latsi (1966) [Greece]
Ultimate Fate Broken up at Spezia in 1969

Gross Registered Tonnage 22,547 tons
Length x Width 664 feet x 80 feet
Builder and Year of Build Vickers-Armstrongs of Barrow – 1932
First Class + Tourist Accommodation 498 + 670 persons : Total 1,168 passengers
Sister-Vessel S.S. Strathaird
Subsequent Names None
Ultimate Fate Broken up at Hong Kong in 1962

Many of the Merchant Navy’s vessels were taken over during the war, in Government service, as Armed Merchant Cruisers (AMC’s), Supply Vessels, Rescue Ships, Oilers, and Troop Transports. In the latter capacity, ‘trooping’, the large passenger liners of Cunard, P & O, Canadian Pacific, and suchlike were converted early in the war years. The P & O liner S.S. STRATHAIRD, for example, carried the first American troops to arrive in Britain on 26 January 1942. These ships retained their mercantile marine crew but this was often supplemented by some senior Royal Navy personnel, medical personnel and DEMS Gunners.

The beautiful 1938-built S.S. STRATHALLAN, a large twin-screw six-turbine passenger liner owned by the P & O Company of London, built for the Australian service via Bombay, India, was serving as a troopship in 1942 at the time of her loss through enemy action.

At 02:23 hours (Central European Time) on the morning of 21st December 1942, carrying 4,600 troops and nurses on board, and a crew of 430, the vessel was in a position North of Oran, off the Algerian Coast of North Africa, when she was attacked and torpedoed by the German submarine U-562. The torpedo struck the British vessel at 02:31 hours.

According to the log of the U-Boat Commander, two hits were heard and it was believed that the vessel may also have been under attack from enemy aircraft and suffered a hit from an airborne torpedo. Although badly damaged, the vessel was considered salvageable and taken in tow. However, the following day, 22nd December 1942, a fire broke out and she subsequently capsized and sank in position 36’ 52” North, 00’ 34” West.

According to the publication Britain’s Sea War – A Diary of Ship Losses 1939-1945 by John M. Young, only four crew members were lost in this incident. (A photograph of the S.S. STRATHALLAN, taken in the Thames River in 1938, appears on Page 176 of the latter publication) However, according to another publication, U-Boat Operations of the Second World War : Volume II by Kenneth Wynn, six crew members, along with two army officers, perished in the incident.

The German U-Boat responsible for the loss of this troopship was a Type VIIC, built by the famous German shipyard of Blohm & Voss, Hamburg.

Keel laid down 27 February 1940
Launched 24 January 1941
Commissioned 20 March 1941
Feldpost Number M 40 608
Service Record 1 U-Flottille : Kiel/Brest (From March through November 1941)
29 U-Flottille : La Spezia (From January through February 1942)
Number of Patrols 10 including her last from which she was not to return
Ships Sunk 6 totalling 37,287 tons
Ships Damaged 1

The Commanders of U-562 :

From March 1941 through September 1941 : Oberleutnant zur See Herwig Collman
From September 1941 through February 1942 : Kapitanleutnant zur See Horst Hamm

As far as I have been able to ascertain, U-562 was the only U-Boat ever commanded by either of these two officers, and U-562 was only ever under the command of these two naval officers.

The War Patrols of U-562 :

1st Patrol – North Atlantic : From 19-06-1941 until 30-07-1941 – 42 days
Sailed from Kiel to cover a wide area of the central north Atlantic along with other U-Boats to seek out Allied convoys for attack. Although involved with attacks on several convoys (HX133, OB346 and OG69) U-562 had no individual successes on this patrol and returned to Lorient.

2nd Patrol – Atlantic : From 25-08-1941 until 03-09-1941 – 10 days
Sailed from Kiel and joined other U-Boats to form the Bosemuller Group on 01-09-1940 in an area WSW of Ireland. However, the boat developed mechanical problems and had to put in to Brest to have these attended to. Consequently, there was to be no success for U-562 on this patrol. (Other U-Boats involved in this patrol : U-71, U-83, U-95, U-98, U-557, U-558, U-561, U-751)

3rd Patrol – North Atlantic : From 11-09-1941 until 15-10-1941 – 35 days
Under the new command of KL Horst Hamm, sailed from Brest to join up with Brandenburg Group to patrol an area SE of Greenland. During this patrol, U-562 had the following successes before returning to her base in Brest :

22-09-1940 : Torpedoed and sank British cargo ship ERNA III in a position ENE of Cape Farewell. 1,590 GRT. Owned by MOWT under Managers J. Constantine S.S. Line. Bound for Milford Haven from Montreal.

02-10-1940 : Torpedoed and sank British CAM type cargo ship EMPIRE WAVE in a position East of Cape Farewell. Part on Convoy ON19, the 7,463 GRT British freighter, owned by MOWT under Managers Barr Crombie & Company, had been on a westbound passage from UK to Halifax.

Other U-Boats involved in this patrol : U-69, U-74, U-94, U-372, U-373, U-431, U-552, U-564, U-572, U-575)

4th Patrol – Mediterranean : From 17-11-1941 until 06-12-1941 – 20 days
Sailed from Brest for the Mediterranean, passing through the Straits of Gibraltar during the night of 27th/28th November. Took up a position off the coast of Morocco and had the following single success of this patrol before returning to a base at Messina, Sicily.

02-12-1941 : In a position just off Punta Negri, Morocco, torpedoed and sank the British cargo ship GRELHEAD, 4,274 GRT, Cardigan Shipping Company, which had been on a passage from Melilla to UK.

5th Patrol – Mediterranean : From 06-12-1941 until 29-12-1941 – 24 days
Sailed from Messina for the Eastern Mediterranean and patrolled in an area off the coasts of Egypt and Cyrenaica. On the 23rd, U-562 carried out an attack on a convoy near Tobruk, missing an escort vessel, and on the 24th she unsuccessfully attacked a steamer of about 8,000 GRT. The U-Boat returned to a base at Pola in the Adriatic Sea.

6th Patrol – Mediterranean : From 04-04-1942 until 11-05-1942 – 38 days
Sailed from Pola to lay mines off Famagusta, Cyprus. The minefield sown resulted in the loss of the small British sailing vessel TERPSITHEA (157 GRT) and the steam tug ALLIANCE (81 GRT) which had been towing her. U-562 returned to her base at Pola.

7th Patrol – Mediterranean : From 22-06-1942 until 25-07-1942 – 34 days
Sailed from Pola to patrol in the Eastern Mediterranean and had the following single success before returning to a base at La Spezia :

14-07-1942 : Torpedoed and damaged the 3,359 GRT Dutch oil tanker ADINDA in a position off Sidon.

8th Patrol – Mediterranean : From 05-09-1942 until 18-10-1942 – 44 days
Sailed from La Spezia to patrol the Eastern Mediterranean area. However, U-562 had no success throughout this patrol and duly returned to her base at La Spezia.

9th Patrol – Mediterranean : From 22-11-1942 until 24-12-1942 – 33 days
Sailed from La Spezia to patrol the Western Mediterranean area. On 09-12-1942 the U-Boat made an unsuccessful attack on a Destroyer. On 21-12-1942 the U-Boat encountered the Allied Convoy KMF5 and torpedoed the British troop transport vessel STRATHALLAN, 23,722 GRT, in a position North of Cap Ferrat, Algeria. Following successful attack the U-Boat set course to return to her La Spezia base. However, on 23-12-1942 she unwittingly entered into an area East of the Spanish and South of the French coasts that was prohibited to U-Boats, being allocated to the German Luftwaffe for anti-submarine activities. Thus, during the morning of 23-12-1942 the U-562 came under depth-charge and machine gun attack from German aircraft patrolling the area. The extent of any damage sustained is not known and the U-Boat was successful in reaching her base at La Spezia on 24-12-1942.

10th Patrol – Mediterranean : From 07-02-1943 until 19-02-1943 – 13 days
Following a considerable lay-up time at the La Spezia base, over six weeks, which would suggest that the U-Boat may have been undergoing damage repairs, U-562 sailed from La Spezia for the Eastern Mediterranean, on what was to be her final war patrol. On the 19th of February 1942, in a position NNE of Benghazi, Libya, U-562 was sighted by a Wellington aircraft (38 Squadron) under the command of Flying Officer I. B. Butler, forming part of an escort of an Allied convoy (XT 3) on passage from Alexandria to Tripoli. The U-Boat was subjected to attack by the Wellington bomber and the British Destroyers HMS HURSLEY and HMS ISIS under the commands of Lt. W.J.C. Church and Cdr. B. Jones. Depth charge attacks by the British destroyers were successful and U-562 was destroyed in this action. There were no survivors from the U-Boat’s complement of 49 officers and ratings.

Useful References

British Vessels Lost at Sea : 1939-1945 HMSO Publication
British Shipbuilding Yards : Volume III Norman L. Middlemiss
Britain’s Sea War : A Diary of Ship Losses : 1939-1945 John M. Young
Axis Submarine Successes of World War II Jugen Rohwer
U-Boats : An Illustrated History David Miller
Convoy – Merchant Sailor At War : 1939-1945 Philip Kaplan & Jack Currie
Lloyd’s Register of Shipping Lloyds of London
Passenger Ships of the P & O Line Shipping : Today & Yesterday
War Beneath the Sea Peter Padfield

Prepared by A. Mac Kinnon 06-01-2001 on behalf of Mr. R. Kennedy of Kirkintilloch. 

Additional info on the Strathallan from P and O Heritage site records:

04.02.1940 –  Requisitioned by the Ministry of Shipping (later Ministry of War Transport) for service as a troop transport.

01.11.1942 –  Took part in Operation Torch – the first Algerian landings in the North African campaign.

12.12.1942 –  Sailed from the Clyde on her second trip to Algeria, as commodore vessel of a convoy bound for Oran. She was carrying 4,000 British and US troops and 250 Queen Alexandra’s nurses.

21.12.1942 –  Torpedoed by the German submarine U562 at 0225hrs in bright moonlight and fine weather shortly after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar about 75km (45 miles) off Bougie. She was hit in the engine room on the port side, two engineer officers and two Indian engineroom crew were killed in the explosion, and about a dozen passengers also lost their lives. The nurses and 1,000 troops were picked up by the destroyer HMS Verity and another destroyer, HMS Laforey, took Strathallan in tow. With the help of the salvage tug Restive it was hoped that she might reach Oran, but her list increased and the remainder of the troops were taken off by escorting destroyers. At 1315hrs she caught fire, and once it reached her cargo of rockets and ammunition, the rest of the crew were taken off by Restive.

22.12.1942 – Sank 19km (12 miles) off Oran at 0400hrs.