This is the text of the report written by the Captain of the SS Nishmaha after the rescue of HMS Dunedin’s survivors.
Official Report of Captain …..
Master of the Lykes Lines S.S. …….
November 27th 1941 – 5pm (ship’s time). 6.30 pm GMT. In Latitude …… N, Longitude ……W.
Fourth Officer Mr. …….. reported to me that he saw something wide on the port horizon that might be a boat. We changed course and headed for the object which, when picked up by binoculars, proved to be a raft. When close to it it was identified as a Carley raft, with four men aboard.
Other Officers came up to the bridge and, when circling around, sighted two more rafts some distance away on our Starboard quarter. Instructing them to keep the rafts in sight, ordered the Chief to launch a life boat and pick up the four men on raft close by. This accomplished, we passed a line to the life boat and proceeded under slow bell to the other rafts sighted. When approaching the two rafts, others were sighted scattered about in close proximity. Launching two additional boats, each in command of a Deck Officer, men on all rafts in sight were rescued.
It was getting quite dark, and the Fourth Officer, in charge of No. 3 boat, reported what seemed to be a flash light beam dead ahead, some distance away. We steamed toward it, towing the three boats, and found two more rafts. After rescuing the men aboard them, the life boats were brought alongside, and we started to take the ship-wrecked men aboard. In all we had 72 men – some of whom were able to climb aboard by the pilot ladder, others were so weak that we were obliged to hoist them to the ship’s deck. Some were unconscious, delirious and hysterical. Some were badly burned from fractured steam pipes, some suffered from splinter wounds, others were in bad shape from sunburn, dog fish and Barracuda bites, and all were more or less smeared fuel oil. All were practically naked.
We laid them out on the cargo hatches, covered them with sheets and blankets, and gave them water and hot tea. As quickly as possible we began to examine them, sort them out on the basis of their apparent physical condition, and transfer them to bunks throughout the ship’s quarters. All the hands not on watch assisted in this work. After all the ship’s bunks were occupied, we placed mattresses on the deck in the Officers’ Mess Room, and in passageways until all were made as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. We then started treatment of their wounds and administered first aid to the extent of our ability. Officers and crew members donated all of their clean underwear and such other clothing as could be spared, and then we opened the ship’s slop chest for other articles of clothing, shoes, slippers and everything we had until all were supplied. Distributed smokes to all of them, and continued feeding hot tea and gruel. Five of the men died during the first twelve hours – they were too far gone for us to save them. They were buried at sea, with full honors.
Fortunately, we were able to relieve the suffering of the remaining 67 and gradually built up their strength; however, many of them were border-line cases and there was a grave question as to whether or not we could save them.
The Chief’s Officer and Ship’s Clerk, together with a lucky survivor, undertook the job of nursing, assisted by various members of the crew. These men worked daily from 5.30 am until well into the night. Dressing wounds, bathing, cleaning out lacerated wounds, doing a little necessary cutting here and there to keep wounds healthy, and allay infection. For ten days and nights we labored to the best of our ability, doing any and everything to alleviate the suffering of these men, and were rewarded in seeing their gradual recovery.
We landed them at ……… on December 7th and handed them over to the military authorities. Eighteen were stretcher cases, a few suffering from foot and leg injuries could not walk, but were otherwise in fair physical condition. The 67 men, 4 of whom were Officers, were said to be the only survivors of the crew on H.M.S. ………., which was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine on November 24th. The men had been in the water 80 hours when we picked them up, and I was informed that the 7 rafts we rescued were all that escaped from the doomed ship. Originally there had been 84 men on these rafts – all of whom except those rescued died from wounds, exposure, or drowned because of insanity, before we sighted them.
As I look back on this occurrence, it is realised how fortunate we were in being the instrument of rescue for these unfortunate men. It was 5.00 pm when we first sighted a raft, and pitch dark when the final rescue was accomplished. From the condition of the men when taken aboard my ship I feel sure that, had they been obliged to spend another twelve hours without rescue, none of them would have survived.
…….. (Master), S.S. ………
The voyage Log Book of the S.S. ……. Substantiates the Master’s report, as published above. It’s a sad piece of Marine history, but demonstrates anew the age old tradition of the sea in the saving of life. We are proud that the members of our crew of one of our ships were privileged in rendering assistance in the manner noted, and in the fact that this service, in behalf of their fellowmen, was fully appreciated is evidenced by the following letter, written in pencil by one of the survivors, and handed to our ship’s Master when the writer of the letter left the rescue ship on the way to a hospital in a friendly port.
How jolly thankful we felt when we saw your ship in the distance, and I think that everyone of us must have offered up a prayer that we would see our small Carley floats, one minute visible on top of the waves, and next out of sight.
I suppose no one can imagine the ordeal of being three days and nights on a raft, with your shipmates constantly passing on to another world – the endurance too much, or that God had something better in mind for their spirit.
May God comfort those dear wives and their dear children, Mothers and sweethearts of those brave shipmates who were taken from us.
Captain, what a task your Officers and men performed, not forgetting your ever happy self; your very kind remarks from time to time were much appreciated. For myself I must mention the Second Engineer – his hospitality and kindness I can never forget.
Captain, Officers and men, THANK YOU! Just a HUMBLE THANK YOU for all you have done for us all. THANKS from the Officers and 64 men of H.M.S…………. May God bless you all, may your kindness be returned to you a thousand-fold. To all of you we wish a Very Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year. You are Americans, never to be forgotten; THANK YOU one and all from those aboard your good SS ………….THANK YOU AGAIN!
P.S. Lykes Bros. Lines can be proud of such wonderful, untiring seamen, devoted to the kindness of mankind. When this World War is over, may that wonderful nature prevail.
Lykes Fleet Flashes, February, 1942