| S E C R E T
I have the honour to render a report on the loss of H.M.S. DUNEDIN and subsequent rescue of the survivors.
On 24th November DUNEDIN was proceeding at 15 knots speed of advance, course 287 deg, carrying out a search under the orders of C. in C. S.A. for a suspected enemy supply ship in the area 0deg-5deg N, 25deg-30deg W. Weather was fine, wind southerly, force 3, sea silent, moderate southerly swell, visibility excellent.
At about 1250 G.M.T. the loft lookout, A.B. Moore who survived, reported a ship. Course was altered to 230deg, the bearing on which the ship was sighted, and speed increased to 18 knots, speed of advance 16 ½ knots, 25deg continuous swing zig-zag. Moore then reported that the object sighted was apparently the single mast of a ship, and that he had lost sight of it and was unable to pick it up again. The conclusion was drawn that the object sighted had been either a submarine which had since submerged, or a surface craft which had observed DUNEDIN’s approach and had turned away at a greater speed than hers. DUNEDIN’s speed was not further increased, on account of the need for saving oil fuel.
At 1326 G.M. T. DUNEDIN was struck by a torpedo on the starboard side near the seamen P.O’s mess, and after a short interval, variously estimated at between 6 and 15 seconds, by a second torpedo which struck on the starboard side abreast the Wardroom flat. It has been impossible to ascertain the extent of the damage sustained by the hull, as the ship took a list of about 15deg to starboard immediately after the first impact, and this list increased to about 35deg within 5 minutes. It was observed, however, that the explosion from the second torpedo had torn up the Quarterdeck, dislodged No 6. 6” gun, and blown off the port propeller, the bare shaft of which could be seen as DUNEDIN finally turned onto her beam ends.
Captain R. S. Lovatt, who was on the bridge when the ship was hit, immediately descended to the flag deck to originate a distress message. Chief Yeoman Lavington, who survives had tried in vain to ring up the main W/T office from the S. D. O. About a couple of minutes later, C. P. O. Tel Grant arrived at the R. C. O, from, it is believed, the main W/T office, and was at once ordered to make a distress signal from the R. C. O. on the emergency set. C. P. O. Grant, who died later on a raft, said on the day after the sinking that he had sent the message 6 or 7 times. His manner, however, showed no confidence that the signals had got through.
The position of the ship when she was torpedoed was approximately 3deg N., 26deg W. Instructor Lieutenant Harcombe who was on duty in the plot died later on a raft. He stated that he had passed the ship’s position to the S. D. O., but C. P. O. Grant stated that he transmitted the position as 3deg N. 21deg W.
Attempts were made to close the upper deck Z hatches and doors, but some of them were found to have been buckled by the explosions.
While the distress signal was being transmitted, Captain Lovatt gave the order to abandon ship and this was done. Unfortunately the cutter, which was on the high side, hung up at one end which was finally let go with a run. The cutter thereby entered the water an acute angle and possibly sustained damage so that it swamped immediately and it is feared that a number of ratings thereby lost their lives. The whalers, which were stowed in chocks on deck, were freed and one of them was seen, after DUNEDIN had sunk, in the water in a water-logged condition, with a few ratings both inside and outside the boat. The remaining boats, a 25 ft. motor boat and a 14 ft. dinghy, were freed, but as the ship heeled over to 90deg before sinking, they could hardly have floated off.
Shortly after DUNEDIN sank, a count was made of the Carley rafts which could be seen, and 7 were distinguished all within a radius of about 1 mile. Counting was rendered difficult on account of the swell. One of these rafts, which had stepped a flagstaff and flag and which was to leeward of the others, was not sighted again, and is presumed to have drifted more rapidly than the rest. In addition to these rafts one Flottanet remained in company and was at first supporting 7 men. The rafts were filled to capacity or above, in which state they floated submerged to a depth of about 1 foot. Several spars, boxes, etc., were also used by men in the water. Captain Lovatt and Lieutenant Commander Sowden were said to have been seen on a large box and spar respectively.
Immediately before DUNEDIN sank, a U-Boat broke surface close to the ship. This U-Boat appeared to be large and painted light blue-grey with dark grey camouflage stripes. It was not known whether she took any prisoners.
By this time, DUNEDIN having turned over 90deg capsized and sank about 20 minutes after being struck. There were no underwater explosions or disturbances. Large patches of oil came to the surface.
At some time during the night of 24th, 2 green Very lights were observed, possibly about 8 miles to the southward. It was concluded that these were from the U-Boat rendezvousing with a supply ship. Nothing further was seen.
Most of the rafts carried several badly wounded men. The total number of men originally embarked on the 6 rafts and on the flottanet which remained in company is not accurately known, but a list of names of 145 men has been compiled. This is almost certainly incomplete. Some rafts had a jar of water, and one had picked up a tin of biscuits from the sea. This tin proved to be impregnated with salt water and the condition of the biscuits was therefore poor. The officers explained to the men on their rafts the chances of being picked up, and these at first appeared to be good, the expectation being that H. M. S. CANTON known to be operating in the adjacent area, would have received the distress signal and would immediately initiate a search.
The first night on the rafts was fairly comfortable, there being no rain. The swell gave the rafts a considerable motion which made it difficult at times to keep on them, but the men got some sleep by huddling together and the night did not seem unduly cold. Many of the men were scantily clad and some were naked. Some were without lifebelts. Most of the badly wounded cases died during the first night, and a number of uninjured suffered from delusions.
The general policy adopted was to keep the rafts in touch with each other, and, to effect this, they were secured by painters at night, casting off during the day time so as to avoid bumping and to give a better chance of being picked up. At the beginning most of the rafts had a full equipment of paddles, but even with these, they proved very difficult to manoeuvre. The paddles were successfully used as thwarts, in conjunction with spars recovered from the sea, but a number of paddles were lost by demented men during the period.
Sharks were very numerous but gave little trouble. On the other hand, an unknown type of small fish was extremely ferocious. They were less than a foot long and blunt nosed, quite unlike barracuda. During the first and each successive night many men sustained deep bites from these fish. The bites were clean cut and upwards of an inch or more deep, and were mostly in the soles of the feet, although in some cases the fish sprang out of the water and bit into the men’s arms. Frequently the bites resulted in severed arteries and many men died from this cause. The gratings and nettings of the rafts did not prevent the fish from attacking from inside the rafts.
On the second day, the men who had been delirious during the night recovered their senses, and biscuits and water were issued at intervals to those rafts in touch with those so provided. Later in the afternoon there were several showers of rain and at least 2 jugs were refilled with rain water caught n pieces of a sail which had been picked up from the sea by one of the rafts.
The second night was cold and it rained on and off. The men were suffering considerably from exposure and general discomfort. A number died from fish bites and several men went quite mad, swimming from raft to raft. Some were quarrelsome and gave considerable trouble.
The third day was mainly dull and the men seemed to be suffering from their experiences of the night. Biscuits and water were issued to all rafts within reach of the provisioned rafts. The third night was dry and a little warmer, but the exposure was telling on most of the men and a large number died. The delusions from which so many were by this time suffering were invariably that they were, in swimming from one raft to another, going to their mess decks for a cup of tea, or some such purpose. They appeared to be quite happy in their delusions, and drowned very easily and almost without consciousness.
The fourth day was hot and many suffered from sunburn and possibly sunstroke. About one hour before sunset, a steamship was sighted and the rafts were paddled towards her. The ship proved to be S. S. NISHMAHA, of Houston, Texas, a freighter owned by Lykes Bros. S. S. Co. Inc., and bound for Philadelphia. The rafts were sighted from the ship and three of her lifeboats were lowered to pick up survivors. It is considered that a high standard of lookout was being maintained, but for this our rescue would never have been effected. The occupants of 6 rafts and one flottanet were rescued by about 2000, local time. These survivors, who numbered 72, were very feeble and many required surgical and medical attention. Every care and attention was given to them by the crew of S. S. NISHMAHA, whose generosity and kindness over a period of 9 ½ days cannot be too highly commended. Captain, officers and men ungrudgingly gave up their cabins and bunks. In addition all survivors were fitted out with clothes and were daily issued with cigarettes. No doctor was borne, and medical supplies soon ran short. Particularly good service in the medical line was given by the Master, Captain O. H. Olsen; R. H. Hibbard, and the Chief Engineer G. L. Bresson. Five survivors died as a result of exposure within 18 hours of being picked up, during which time every effort had been made to revive them. S. S. NISHMAHA landed the 67 survivors at Port of Spain, Trinidad, on Sunday, December 7th, 1941.
The undermentioned officers and ratings were outstanding in their behaviour. Their names are submitted as deserving commendation:-
Mr. C. B. Titheridge, Commissioned Gunner.
Behaved with great coolness, courage and confidence throughout the period on the raft. His steadiness and clear headedness were invaluable and undoubtedly gave confidence to the men.
A. B. Fraser.
This rating volunteered to swim to the assistance of a man who had fallen unnoticed from another raft and who was drowning. He reached the man just as he died, and after making certain that he was too late to assist him, returned to the raft. Fraser was well aware that the water through which he swam was full of sharks and barracuda, and he returned to the raft just as a shark threatened to attack him. He must also have been aware of the importance of conserving his own strength. His action therefore showed a high order of courage and willingness for self sacrifice and was an especially useful example to others.
Sergeant King R. M.
He supported, without complaint, a badly wounded marine for 48 hours. In order to do this he was immersed to the shoulders for a prolonged period and must have suffered acute discomfort. The wounded man eventually died. Sergeant King’s patience and care were a valuable example at a time when the patience of others was wearing a little thin due to the hardship all were suffering.
Boy McCall, Boy Morris.
Both these boys showed a very cool and courageous spirit throughout the period spent on the raft. Neither uttered a single word of complaint and both willingly and cheerfully carried out whatever duty was required of them.
C. E. R. A. Tall.
This man had both legs broken and badly injured when he was taken aboard the raft. He died towards the end of the first night. Throughout the period he was on the raft, he showed a wonderful spirit of cheerfulness and courage and his conduct was an example of fortitude which is admired by all. He joked and minimised his own misfortune to the last minute, and, as he was fully aware of the extent of his injuries, the courage he displayed cannot be too highly commended.
The above paragraph also applies word for word to E. R. A. Brunton.
R. Moore, A. B.
He showed great strength of character, both by his unstinted expenditure of energy on various tasks and by the cheering and steadying influence he exerted on the remainder of the crew of his raft. It was probably owing to the former that he succumbed on the day of the rescue.
There must have been many instances of courage, devotion and self-sacrifice among those who were lost on board or who never reached the rafts, but these must remain unrecorded.
Similarly it is not possible to remark on the conduct of the senior officer or rating on some of the rafts, such as Lieutenant Milner or P. O. Butler though there is no doubt in my mind that it was of a high order.
On board S. S. NISHMAHA as was recorded by the Master in his letter dated 16th December, 1941, C. Yeo. Sigs. Lavington, E. R. A. Hicks and P. O. Butler were of great assistance in tending the sick and injured. Yeo. Woods deserves to be added to this list.
Lieutenant Milner gave valuable help by collecting and collating information for this report from numerous survivors, while on passage to, and after arrival in, Trinidad.
It is perhaps not realised that in the tropics it is feasible to support life on a Carley raft for a period as long as 78 hours. It is also clear from the experience that men of stamina above the average would survive for a much longer period. It is therefore submitted that it becomes important to insist on the provision of adequate victuals and other gear shown to be necessary.
Subject to considerations of space, damage while launching, etc., the following are recommended: –
One or more rum jars full, according to size of raft.
Mug for rationing.
Rain catcher for use in replenishing supply.
Concentrated, in tins with tear-off lids, similar to ammunition containers, if possible.
Gratings and nettings.
These should be made sufficiently strong and with spacing of mesh small enough to ensure that the voracious small fish already referred to are kept out.
Flags and staves.
As a means of keeping together, and to attract attention of ships, each large raft should have a flag and stave fitted with 3 or 4 guys.
Injured men who require support can be placed inside the raft at either end, but in order to keep their heads well above water it is necessary to devise some small seat. This would probably have to be fitted to either side of the grating and so as to fold down on to it.
Existing electric lights are very valuable for attracting attention.
The total capacity of the 11 rafts carried is not known, but it must have been little more than half the complement of the ship. Only one flottanet was seen in use, though several were carried.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
(Signed) A. O. Watson.
The Commanding officer,
R. N. Air Station,