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Sister ship City of Flint. Photo

Built: 1919.

Tonnage: 4,963 / 8,015 tons 

Cargo: 79 442 Bags of Coffee, oil drums, boxes of mica and wood.

Torpedoed by Italian Submarine Barbarigo on pos. 02º 59’S 034º 17’W

2 Dead.

46 Survivors.

Until May 1942, all occurrences with Brazilian merchants had been restricted to the Antillean Sea and off US east coast. However from then on, the axis submarines evidenced their presence at South Atlantic waters.The first victim in South Atlantic waters was Brazilian Lloyd merchant Comandante Lira. Although torpedoed and shelled, she managed to escape. Badly wounded she was the first ship to be assisted by the incipient task force 23. With a displacement of 5052 tons, the steamer was a cargo ship built in U S. in 1919. Enroute from Recife to New Orleans she was under  Master Severino Sotero.

At 06:50 pm on the 18th of May 1942, she was hit by one torpedo when at 180 miles of Fernando Noronha archipelago, at the coordinates 02º 59’S 034º 17’W. When several fires broke out, Master Severino Sotero decided to abandon ship, with order executed in appropriate manner. When the lifeboats were away from the site, the submarine emerged and shelled the steamer amidships at port and starboard and also strafed several times the fore deck and radio room.

A few rounds were fired over the lifeboats without injuring any of the survivors. In the near obscurity of the twilight, the gun could not be manned once the submarine came closer when the lifeboats were getting away .As a consequence of the shelling; a fire broke out at the merchant.

50 minutes later, one PBY 5 Catalina from VP 83 squadron based at Natal appeared on the scene and circled over the lifeboats and exchanged signals with the survivors. Meanwhile ships from task force 23 dashed to the site, what caused the submarine to dive without being secure of the sinking. Two lifeboats were spotted by the planes and soon picked up by cruiser Omaha. The third lifeboat was not so lucky and made ashore at Fortaleza, state of Ceara. At sea, a boarding party sent by Omaha, climbed the steamer and found some fires which were extinguished and after a damage report, concluded the vessel could be salvaged.

Some of Brazilian crewmembers still considered able to resume work were sent back, boarded the ship and helped at the task of recovery. They hauled overboard some of the cargo carried on the deck. When the job was finished the US Navy tender Thrush approached and towed the badly wounded ship limping to Fortaleza with assistance of Brazilian tug Heitor Perdigao, where they arrived on the 25th.


Above, Tender Thrush and Tug Heitor Perdigão. Both vessels rendered an invaluable support in towing the damaged Comandante Lira to Fortaleza where she docked for repairs and returned to active service. 

Recovered after the attack, the ship served in other missions and survived the war, being retired in the late 50s. Already abandoned and scrapped caught fire in the port of Laguna, Santa Catarina, on March 21, 1959.

In a rare picture, above a detail of starboard side of Comandante Lira following her arrival at Fortaleza 



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