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Built 1925

Tonnage: 4.358 / 8,450 tons

Cargo: 7,000 tons of government stores and coal

Route:  New York - Trinidad - Durban - Alexandria

Sunk 16 DEC 42 by U-159 on position  00º 24”N 31º 27”W

17 Dead

47 survivors

At 20.39 hours on 16 Dec 1942 the unescorted East Wales (Master Stephen Archibald Rowland) was hit on the starboard side amidships by the last torpedo of U-159 while steaming on a non-evasive course at 8.5 knots in clear weather about 130 miles west-southwest of St. Paul Rocks. The ship had been dispersed from convoy TRIN-27 on 11 December and on 15 December picked up 19 survivors and their lifeboat from Teesbank which had been sunk by U-128 (Heyse) on 5 December. The torpedo struck the engine room with a terrific explosion that put the engines out of action, destroyed the starboard motor lifeboat and collapsed the funnel, together with fore and main topmast.

The vessel listed slightly to starboard but came back on even keel when quickly settling by the stern. Distress signals were sent before the 38 crew members, seven gunners (the ship was armed with one 4in, two 20mm and two machine guns) and 19 shipwrecked abandoned ship in the port lifeboat, two jolly boats and two rafts in a heavy swell. The second officer first assisted to lower the port jolly boat with its 14 occupants and then went to the starboard jolly boat, which was lowered by the chief engineer assisted by some able seamen. Realizing that they had no navigating gear, the second officer told them to stand by while he went back to get his books and sextant.

Doing so he found the first radio officer still in his cabin and ordered him to get to the boat, but he appeared only after it had already pulled away and did not jump when he was told to do so. The radio officer eventually jumped overboard when the port jolly boat pulled back towards the ship to pick him up. However, about 3 minutes after being torpedoed the back of the East Wales broke and the forward half suddenly rolled over to port and sank rapidly by the stern, fouling the port jolly boat and dragging its occupants under with it. Neither the radio officer nor the master, the chief officer, seven crew members and five gunners in this boat were seen again. The swell from the sinking ship also washed the third engineer and third officer off one of the rafts and they both drowned.

The port lifeboat contained 28 men, the starboard jolly boat had 13 men in it and two rafts floated clear with 4 and 2 men respectively, all 19 survivors from Teesbank were safe. The U-boat surfaced astern of where the ship had been and ordered both boats to come alongside. Witte inquired for the master and if there was a navigating officer in each boat and after hearing that the master was missing and that they had no navigating officer he said: That is a pity.

He then asked the usual questions about the name of the ship, port of departure, destination and cargo to which wrong information was given. Upon hearing that some of the survivors were injured he ordered two bandages to be thrown into the boats and gave them the distance and course to the coast of Brazil. Before U-159 left Witte shouted: Merry Christmas! The name of your ship is East Wales and you were bound from New York to the Middle East with a cargo of war supplies, am I right? but got no answer.

The four men on one of the rafts were taken aboard the lifeboat which was fastened together with the jolly boat and the raft with two men on it to lay at sea anchor during the night. At daybreak, all stores and water were collected from the rafts and divided between the two boats. The raft was cut adrift after the two men were transferred to the lifeboat which then set sail with the jolly boat in tow at 2 knots. On the third day, the tow rope was let go as the jolly boat frequently over-ran the lifeboat but able seaman James J. Owen in charge of it was told to remain in sight. However, it was taken in tow again after briefly losing contact on the fourth day in slightly choppy sea with a heavy swell.

On 21 December, heavy rain was experienced during which approximately two gallons of rain water were caught and the men stripped and enjoyed a good fresh water bath. The same day smoke was seen on the horizon and two smoke floats lighted, neither of which was apparently seen. The same happened again the next day, but in the evening an illuminated ship was sighted and attracted by firing two red flares. At 22.30 hours on 22 December, all men and their boats were picked up by the Swedish motor merchant Gullmaren in 02°04S/35°27W and taken to Natal, Brazil, arriving in the evening on 23 December. The survivors were flown to New York via Bolivia and Miami in two US Army transport aircraft on 26 December.




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