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38)UMONA U-124



Built: 1910

Tonnage: 3,767 / 5,450 tons

Cargo: 1,700 tons of peas, beans, 1,549 tons of maize, 50 tons of pulses and 47 tons of jam 

Route: Durban - Walvis Bay (20 Mar) - Freetown - London 

Sunk 30 MAR 41 by U-124 on pos. 07º 07”N 13º 11”W

101 Dead

5 Survivors

In March 1941 Umona sailed from Durban for London, laden with 1,549 tons of maize, 50 tons of pulses and 47 tons of jam. She called at Walvis Bay in South-West Africa on 20 March and headed unescorted for Freetown to join an inbound convoy. Umona's complement was typical of many British merchant ships: her officers and stewards were British, her crew were Muslim Lascars and her carpenter was Chinese. By the time she left Walvis Bay she was carrying 14 passengers including seven distressed British seamen (DBS), i.e. British mariners who had survived the sinking of their ships and were going home.

Late of the evening of 30 March Umona was about 90 nautical miles (170 km) southwest of Freetown when the German submarine U-124 attacked her, hitting her with one torpedo at 2301 hours and another two minutes later. She quickly sank, killing her Master Frederick Peckham, 81 crew, seven DEMS gunners and 13 passengers. The radio officer on duty (Umona had three radio officers sharing duties in a watch system) stayed at his post as long as possible transmitting a distress message, then leapt into the sea.

Umona had managed to launch only one of her six lifeboats before she sank. It was commanded by her fourth officer, 20-year-old Edwin Clarke, but U-124 surfaced, captured Clarke and submerged. After sinking Allied ships Kriegsmarine vessels often sought to obtain intelligence from survivors, and particularly from officers.

Three other survivors managed to board a small liferaft. One was the duty radio officer who had sent the distress message. The others were a badly wounded DEMS gunner, EG Elliot RN, and a passenger called Frank Brothers. After they had drifted for four days they sighted a submarine and used the reflective surface of a tobacco tin as a heliograph to attract her attention. The submarine, which may have been U-124, came and gave them fresh water. The next day the weather worsened, and in the afternoon the radio officer died.

On 7 April, while escorting Convoy WS 7, the destroyer HMS Foxhound, rescued three Lascar crewmen, apparently from the lifeboat from which Clarke had been captured. Foxhound did not see the raft, which continued to drift. On 12 April the British cargo ship Lorca sighted the raft and rescued Brothers and Elliot. Foxhound and Lorca each landed their survivors at Freetown.

Destroyer HMS Foxhound H 69. Photo by IWM FL_13264.jpg

British cargo ship Lorca. Photo Courtesy of Richard Cox.

In all, 99 men and two women from Umona died, Edwin Clarke was unaccounted for after being captured and was presumed dead, and only five survivors were rescued.




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