Search: Sort by:



Photo kindly provided by Emmanuel Hawthorne

Built 1942

Tonnage: 17,210 / 17,486 tons

Cargo: Oil

Route: Trinidad - Port Elizabeth - Durban

Sunk 31 MAY 42 by italian submarine Cappelini on pos. 00º45”S 29º50”W

5 Dead

44 Survivors 

Built for MoWT the British tanker Dinsdale was sunk in her maiden voyage some 600 miles off Natal

On 31 May 1942 Dinsdale was torpedoed SSW of St. Paul's Rocks, South Atlantic Ocean by the Italiam submarine Commandante Alfredo Cappellini. She sank the following day. When attacked five of the crew were killed and have no known grave but the sea. See 1942 Roll of Honour. A further eight crew members arrived at New York on the 23 June 1942 awaiting repatriation

15 June 1942 the Master and 43 crew, rescued by the Spanish steamer Monte Orduna were landed at Las Palmas before being taken on to Cadiz by the Spanish Ciudad de Valencia.

                                           THE SAGA OF THE SURVIVORS OF THE TANKER DINSDALE

By Manny Hawthorne

The “Dinsdale” was a new ship, designed to refuel submarines at sea, and, therefore top secret. Photographs were not allowed, and copies hard to come by, but I managed to get one. 
The ship left Belfast on trial. Suffered a little bit of a set back with sand in one of the engines and missed the planned convoy departure, therefore proceeding to Port of Spain, Trinidad, on our own. We loaded up fuel oil and petrol, left Trinidad for South Africa, but never got there. The first submarine we met wasn’t British or friendly. It was Italian with a number of German officers on board. At approximately 2200 hours on the 30th May 1942, a couple of dull explosions were heard.

The ship shuddered, but nothing else happened and we just carried on. Alarm bells rang and we took up “Action Stations”. My station was part of a team of an Orelikon 20mm cannon on the after boat deck and we had just taken up station when the third torpedo smashed into the Port mid ships. There was a tremendous explosion. A huge column of water, smoke, oil and flame rose from the ship’s side and seemed to hang in the air above the bridge.

The wing of the bridge, lifeboats and engineers cabins seemed to have disappeared. The ship shuddered and gradually lost all forward movement, and there was an unbelievable stink of oil hanging over the air. I had raced from aft, towards the explosion, but was told to go back to my station, which I did. The ship had stopped and had taken a test to Port by then. My lifeboat station at the Port wing of the boat deck had disappeared completely.
The submarine had surfaced about a mile away and signaled for us to “abandon ship”. We could not open fire because the back-flash of the guns could have caused an explosion of gas and none of the guns could bear, of cause the submarine and damage so, we abandoned ship as instructed.

Some people had been killed in the third explosion but the others all managed to leave in two large life boats and a smaller jolly boat, carrying nine men. The two larger life boats had about twenty three or twenty four in each. The one I was in included the Captain of the ship; Captain Card of South Shields. All the officers had discarded any suggestion of rank in their dress but were still in charge. The first mate was in charge of the other big boat. Captain Card’s name is remembered only because it was my job to deliver post to all the ships in Belfast harbor before I joined the ship. The three boats were linked together and withdrew some distance away from the ship which was still afloat. We heard two more explosions, one in the engine room, one mid-ships, and, in the morning of the 31st May, we watched her go down from about two miles (about a mile) away.

Meanwhile, the submarine had surfaced and spoken to the three boats. A German officer had asked the name of the ship and had laughed when someone yelled “Maggie May” from Liverpool. He also said that he knew what she was and where she was from. He also asked for any officers and, when told that all the officers had been killed, he informed us that we were about six hundred miles from the Coast of South America, told us what course to steer and then dived and left. The officers began to check items in the boat arrange some of us into watches and generally organize things. I wasn’t included into any watches because of age and job, but was told that I was part of the team responsible for bailing out water from the bottom of the boat. Times and rations were agreed upon after some arguments.

Two squares of chocolate, two malted milk tablets, one spoonful of pemmican (a sort of fish paste), two ship’s biscuits (hard as wood) and two ounces of water, twice daily, ten o’clock and seven o’clock in the evening. The ship’s biscuits were recommended to be soaked in the most of the water. Everyone was warned not to drink salt water and arrangements were made to catch rainwater in the boat sails. For the most part, the sea remained fairly calm. The first few days passed uneventfully. Nights were cold most days were hot and sun burn was the problem. Some days the sea became rough and we had to bail out water from the bottom. 

Sometimes it rained and the sails were used to catch the water, but it wasn’t successful. The dye came out of the sails and what was caught was not drinkable. Days and nights passed very slowly. There were some fights between people in the boat. All the personal knives were eventually collected and, apart from two (I think) were thrown overboard. About the eighth day the people in the jolly boat decided to break away from the rest and head for the West Indies. They were never seen again. One stoker became sick through drinking salt water and died. His body was slipped overboard and for a few days afterwards sharks followed the boats. I cannot say whether I became hungry; there was no experience of actual hunger. Thirst yes, and during the day hot, and the days becoming monotonous with nothing different happening. 

Someone standing by the mast was yelling about seeing a ship. The prepared oar was raised as high as possible. The attached flare is burning red and being waved. We have been seen. The ship seems to take a longtime coming, but, suddenly it’s there. Lit up with many big lights and a huge flag mounted over her after-deck. We have been rescued by a Spanish ship. I cannot remember climbing up and over the side but steel plates are underneath my feel and shipmates.

The remainder of the rescue was simple. We were transported to Los Alamos in the Canaries, then to Spain where we were officially interned. That was nothing much and we made our way to Gibraltar and, finally to Southampton and on to Belfast. 
Enough is sufficient, your father was older than me, I was sixteen, just (!) and a Cabin Boy.
As previously written, after quite some time following their survival by the Monte Orduna, 45 crewmembers were returned home. In Belfast and especially in Carrickfergus (where my dad was from) there was a real heroes welcome & celebration, for the heroes were home; not lost at sea but alive, safe and returned home! 
With sincerity and great respect for all who have served and serve, and continue to the best of my knowledge and ability, I have written this story from information provided to me. For any errors, omissions, and / or anguish, I do seriously apologize.

The story my father told me of the sinking of the RFA Dinsdale and being lost at sea (as was reported in the newspapers) was, as I could only imagine, horrific and extremely demanding. Though my father did speak often of this event and others surrounding his service during the war, when he did, I was all ears. For this particular event, he did explain that during the time in the lifeboat there were very limited rations and after only a few days, they ran out of fresh drinking water. The long days and nights were extremely difficult. Maintaining discipline was especially challenging. Unfortunately one of the ship mates, being under such duress, completely broke down and subsequently drank the salt seawater. As a result, he became very sick and uncontrollable; therefore he had to be physically restrained. Sadly, he eventually died. Due to circumstances, without any other option, his body was placed in a bag made on the spot, sewn and thrown overboard, buried at sea. His surname is believed to have been McNally, and regretfully I cannot recall ever being told his given Christian name.

The sighting of the Spanish ship “The Monte Orduna” occurred during my father’s watch, when, through the darkness he saw light coming from the distant ship. When my father made the sighting, he quickly notified Captain Card who in turn thought my father was in distress and losing his mind. After a great deal of persistence on my father’s part, the Captain took up the binoculars and he too became excited at seeing the welcome light! 
Happily, on board “The Monte Orduna” there was plenty of food and fresh water for all. However, at the Captain’s orders, everyone had to refrain from eating and / or drinking for 24 hours. Then slowly, after careful conditioning, everyone was allowed to resume normal eating and drinking. In my father’s words, “we all enjoyed an unbelievable feast”.

With great excitement after a long time searching, my efforts led me to make contact with possibly the only living survivor of the RFA Dinsdale, a resident of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, Mr. James Wilson. Coincidentally - much to my amazement - Mr. Wilson (Jim) was on the same lifeboat as my father and Captain Card. It was exhilaration to come into contact with Mr. Wilson (Jim); I am sure we will continue to exchange letters and stories for some time. 



(C) Since 2007 -