U-boat attacks off Inishtrahull

Convoy HX305: the 'Empire Heritage' and the 'Pinto'

Convoy HX305, which included the Empire Heritage and the Pinto departed New York City on August 25, 1944 and arrived in Liverpool on September 10.

Seamus Carey, who is a director of the Inishowen Maritime Museum and a member of Inishowen Sub-Aqua Club has dived on the Empire Heritage site.

Speaking to Inish Times, Seamus Carey said: “More ships joined from Halifax on August 27 and more also joined from Sydney, Cape Breton Island, on August 28. There were eventually 98 ships in the convoy.

“The SS Empire Heritage was built in 1930, by Armstrong Whitworth and Company in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as the Tafelberg, for Irvin and Johnson’s Kerguelen Sealing and Whaling Company Limited in Capetown.

“She was a 15,000-ton steam tanker designed as a whale factory ship for South Africa. At the time, she was the largest floating factory ship in the world and the largest ship ever to have flown the South African flag.

“Whaling operations continued up to the 1939/40 whaling season. After that most of the British and Norwegian whaling fleets were requisitioned by the Admiralty, the whale-catchers for convoy escort duties and the factory ships for oil and cargo transport duties. War broke out in September 1939, but the Tafelberg left the Bristol Channel in October 1939 and headed to South Georgia, in Antarctica, via Aruba, as part of outbound convoy OB-26. She returned to the UK at the end of the whaling season, in July 1940,” said Seamus.

In January 1941, Tafelberg struck a mine as she sailed through the Bristol Channel.

A hole was torn in her hull, which forced the crew to beach her until she could be taken in tow.

Seamus said: “However, after several weeks of lying damaged, the constant exposure to the elements eventually broke the Tafelberg's hull in two, and the two halves of the massive ship had to be fitted with watertight bulkheads so they could be towed around to Cardiff to be rebuilt.

“She was virtually a total loss, but was requisitioned by the Ministry of War Transport for war service as a tanker and transport ship. Tafelberg was rebuilt and relaunched as a bigger ship than before at 15,702 tons.

“Tafelberg was renamed Empire Heritage and put under the management of Christian Salvesen and Company Limited of Leith, the famous Antarctic whaling company.

“In early 1943, the Empire Heritage returned to sea for her first voyage across the Atlantic. She sailed in the ON (UK to North America) and HX (Halifax, Nova Scotia and later New York to the UK) convoys until November 1943 when she sailed from New York to Hampton Roads, in Virginia, and then across the Atlantic and through the Mediterranean to Port Said in Egypt, where she remained for a couple of months, moving between ports in Egypt, Turkey, Iran and India,” said Seamus

It was not uncommon for seamen who had survived the loss of one ship to go on and join another shortly afterwards, so many of Salvesen’s men served on more than one of the ill-fated factory ships during the war.

There were ten Shetland Islands whalers aboard Empire Heritage when she was lost.

The Second Mate on Empire Heritage had served on the Salvestria, which was hit a mine in July 1940, and on the Strombus, which was hit a mine in October, and the Southern Empress, which was lost to a torpedo in October 1942.

According to Seamus, the doctor on Empire Heritage had been sunk when the New Sevilla was torpedoed as she made her way to South Georgia for the 1940/41 season.

He added: “The captain of Empire Heritage, James Campbell Jamieson, from Sandness, in the Shetlands, was a long serving employee of Salvesen’s, and shortly before his loss on that ship he had been awarded the OBE at St James’s Palace in London

“In March 1944, she returned to Hampton Roads and then back to New York to commence her service on the Atlantic convoys, returning to the UK in May 1944.

“On July 25, 1944, Empire Heritage joined convoy ON-246 across the Atlantic, arriving in New York on August 9, where they were loaded up with 16,000 tons of fuel oil, bound for the Clyde, and 1,942 tons of deck cargo including brand new Sherman tanks and trucks, bound for Liverpool, and destined for the war in Europe.

“On August 25, Empire Heritage left New York and set off back across the Atlantic with convoy HX-305. The Convoy Rescue Ship, MV Pinto, joined convoy HX-305 from Halifax. Convoy Rescue Ships were recruited by the Admiralty specifically to accompany convoys to rescue the crews of sinking vessels. Ships could be replaced but experienced Merchant Navy personnel could not,” said Seamus.

Most of the rescue ships came from coasting companies who were engaged in coastal work around the UK coastline.

They were chosen from amongst the larger types of coasters so that they could better withstand ocean weather conditions and have more capacity for larger crews and survivors.

Seamus added: “Many had passenger accommodation and had a speed of 11 to 12 knots. They would normally be positioned astern of, or in the rear of, a convoy. In the event of a ship in the convoy being sunk by U-boat, mine or bomber, the rescue ship would immediately approach the stricken vessel to rescue the crew. Their extra speed would enable them to catch up with 10-knot convoys after any rescue work. They were not rescue tugs and owed no duty of salvage to a ship.

“From 1941 onwards, Convoy Rescue Ships were fitted with HF/DF direction finders so that 2 rescue ships could take cross-bearings of radio transmissions by U-boats and report them to the convoy escort leader who could then pinpoint the position of the U-boat. This added valuable extra protection for the convoy.

“MV Pinto was built by Harland & Wolff Limited, Govan, Glasgow, in 1928, for MacAndrews and Company Limited, London. She was 270.1 feet long and 1346 grt. She was fitted with 1 x six-cylinder diesel engine of 356 HP and had a speed of 12 knots. She traded on the traditional McAndrew's routes, UK, Dublin and Le Havre to Lisbon, Gibralter, Cadiz, Bilbao and Spanish Mediterranean ports.

“On July 9, 1943, she was requisitioned for service as a Convoy Rescue ship and was converted at Glasgow by Barclay, Curle and Company Limited. On December 8, 1943, with her conversion completed, she sailed from Clyde on her first voyage in Convoy OS N61 / KMS 35. During the next 9 months she escorted 10 convoys,” said Seamus.

Pinto started her final voyage from the Clyde with Westbound convoy ON 247 to Halifax, on August 2, 1944. She arrived in Halifax on August 13 and joined Convoy HX 305 on August 27.

The convoy was unmolested for the trans-Atlantic voyage until September 8, when the convoy was North of Tory Island. At 23.59 on September 7, the Pinto reported having detected a contact on her HF/DF gear, but no other ship confirmed a contact.

Seamus said: “At 03.51 hours on September 8, U-482 fired a spread of acoustic torpedoes (GNAT) at convoy HX-305, North-NorthEast of Tory Island, and heard a detonation and sinking noises as 2 torpedoes struck the Empire Heritage.

“She was hit on the starboard side just abaft of the bridge and at the stern. The ship settled by the stern and soon thereafter capsized before sinking. She is reported to have broken in half and sank within two minutes.

“The Convoy Rescue Ship, Pinto, went to the aid of the Empire Heritage’s crew and closed up on her to pick up survivors. At 04.37 hours, the U-boat fired a Gnat at what was described as a “stopped” ship, which sank shortly after the hit.

“The “stopped” vessel was the Pinto, which was rescuing the survivors of the torpedoed tanker when attacked,” said Seamus.

According to Seamus, two of the Empire Heritage’s crew members had been picked up by the Pinto, when she was hit.

Seamus said: “Reports from escort vessels indicate that Pinto sank within 90 seconds of being hit.

“The Anti-Submarine Warfare trawler, HMS Northern Wave, (FY 153) came up try to locate the U-boat and drive her away or sink her. She could not start any rescue operations until other escort vessels arrived to take over her anti-submarine role. This was almost one hour after the Empire Heritage had been attacked and 25 minutes after Pinto had sunk.

“The wind was NNW Force Six, freshening to Force Seven at daylight. Northern Wave commenced picking up survivors at 05.15 and finished at 07.45. She rescued 51 survivors from the Empire Heritage and 41 survivors from the Pinto.

“29 crew members, eight gunners, one surgeon, two sick berth attendants and one signalman were rescued from the Pinto. Northern Wave proceeded to Derry with these men but she had to stop at Moville, where her ASDIC dome was removed before she was able to go up the river to Lisahally. The most seriously injured were landed at Moville and taken to Derry by road transport. “Northern Wave” landed the remainder on September 8,” said Seamus.

Another five survivors were picked up, a couple of hours later, by the frigate, HMS Inman, (K 571) and landed at Derry on September 13.

There were 158 men aboard Empire Heritage when she was attacked.

Seamus said: “In addition to her normal crew there was a large number of passengers as well as signalmen and gunners. The passengers were DBS, Distressed British Seamen, who were survivors from other ships that had been lost and were travelling as passengers on their way back to Britain to be assigned to new ships.

“In total 110 men were lost from Empire Heritage, the majority of the crew and passengers. 22 of the crew from the Pinto were also lost along with the two survivors from the Empire Heritage who had just been taken aboard. Records are uncertain about the actual numbers lost from each vessel as there were merchant seamen, Royal Navy DEMS gunners and signalmen, service medical staff and DBS men on board at the time.

“In August and September 1944, Clyde Shipping Company Limited's Convoy Rescue Ship, Goodwin, was stationed at Moville, to cover passing troop convoys. She was at anchor in Moville Bay but under 5 minutes’ notice of getting underway.

The Northern Wave was a trawler, built by Deschimag, in Bremerhaven, Germany, July 1936. 14 steel hulled, coal fired fishing trawlers were built on order in Germany for a London company which could only get blocked credits out of Nazi Germany by using the money to buy something in Germany. The company bought trawlers, each one christened with the first name of Northern. Hence, they became known as Northern Class trawlers although they were not purpose built for the Royal Navy,” said Seamus.

All 14 vessels were requisitioned by the Admiralty and refitted as mine sweepers and later several were refitted as convoy rescue ships.

After being taken over by the Royal Navy, these robust ships served as rescue and escort ships on the Murmansk run through the Arctic Sea as well as in the North Atlantic.

Seamus said: “The ”Northern Wave was taken over by the Admiralty in August 1939 and equipped for anti-submarine warfare duties (ASW). Displacement: 655 tons. Armament: 1 x 4" gun, 2 x Oerliken anti-aircraft guns and a load of depth charges.

“ASDIC, or Sonar, was the primary underwater detection device used by Allied escorts throughout the war. It was a transmitter-receiver sending out a highly directional sound wave through the water. If the sound wave struck a submerged object it was reflected back and picked up by the receiver.

“The transmitter head extended beneath the ship in a large metal done to minimize the noise of the water rushing past the ship. This dome had to be removed before entering a port with shallow water.

“HMS “Inman” (K471) was a Captain-class frigate of the Royal Navy. She had been built as a US Navy destroyer escort by the Boston Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts. She was launched on November 2, 1943 and transferred to the United Kingdom under Lend-Lease on January 13, 1944 and immediately commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Inman (K571). She served on patrol and escort duty for the remainder of World War II, escorting 15 convoys, and was then decommissioned and returned to the US Navy on 1 March 1946. She was sold for scrap in November 1946,” said Seamus.

The submarine, U-482, was a type VIIC U-boat, fitted with a snorkel so she did not have to surface to charge her batteries.

She stayed at periscope level and put up her Snorkel tube to take in air to run her diesel engine.

U-482 was attached to the 9th U-boat Flotilla, based in Brest.

Seamus added: “With the invasion of France, on D-Day, the U-boats were leaving Brest and being stationed in Norway.

“U-482 left Bergen on her first operational voyage on August 16, under the command of Kapitanlieutenant Hartmut Graf von Matuschka. She took up station to attack convoys coming and going, from and to the Atlantic. She had been crawling around, submerged, and lying on the sea bed near Inishtrahull Island.

“On August 30, she sank the American oil tanker Jacksonville, approximately 50 miles North of Malin Head. There were only two survivors of the 78-man crew. The survivors were rescued by the destroyer-escort, USS Poole and landed at Derry. They were transferred to Belfast for treatment of 'burns and other injuries'.

“On September 1, she sank the corvette HMS Hurst Castle with an acoustic torpedo. Hurst Castle was part of the escort for convoy CU-36 which was West of Malin Head. 16 of Hurst Castle’s 105 crew were lost. The survivors were picked up by HMS Ambuscade (D 38) and landed at Moville,” said Seamus.

On September 2 September, the Norwegian cargo vessel, SS Fjordheim, was on a voyage from Swansea and Belfast Lough to Halifax, in Westbound Convoy ON 251, with a cargo of 4000 tons anthracite.

At 23.40, ship´s time, a torpedo from U-482 struck her on the starboard side aft, between hatches No.´s 4 and 5, blowing the hatches to pieces and filling the deck with water and coal.

Seamus said: “She immediately started to sink by the stern, all four lifeboats were manned and launched and had got away from the side of the ship, when, six minutes after the torpedo had struck, the boilers exploded and she sank. Three out of her crew of 38 were killed.

“32 men were in the boats, one more was picked up from the water by one of the ship’s boats. Two were found by the cargo ship, Empire Mallory, which had launched a boat to help in the search. The 33 in the lifeboats were picked up by the escorting Canadian frigate, HMCS Montreal (K-319) and transferred on September 7 to the convoy rescue ship, the British S/S Fastnet.

“The two picked up by Empire Mallory were transferred to the rescue ship on September 13. All survivors were landed in Halifax on September 17. On September 8, U-482 met up with convoy HX305. The U-boat’s log of the attacks is available at http://www.uboatarchive.net/,” said Seamus.

On 24 November 1944, U-482 was located West of the Shetland Islands by a Norwegian Sunderland aircraft (330 Sqn RAF/G).

According to Seamus, she was attacked and sunk by depth charges from the Royal Navy frigate, HMS Ascension, in position 60.18N, 04.52W, on November 25 and all 48 crewmen were lost.

Seamus added: “The wreck of the Empire Heritage was rediscovered by divers in 1995. The wreck is 66 metres down and has become one of Europe’s best dive sites because of the clarity of the water and the spectacular images of tanks and trucks scattered around on the seabed.”

If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Donegal Live editorial team any time. To contact Donegal Democrat and Donegal People's Press, email editorial@donegaldemocrat.ie To contact Donegal Post, email editor@donegalpost.com To contact Inish Times, email editor@inishtimes.com.

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