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Built: 1925

Tonnage: 4,563 / 8,600 tons

Cargo: Cargo: War supplies to 8th Army including aircraft and tank spare parts, ammunition, heavy machinery, tents, food and clothing in addition to 450 drums of diesel oil and aviation fuel on deck.

Route: New York – Table Bay - Alexandria

Sunk 01 APR 42 by Raider Thor on pos. 16º 50’S  17º 10” W 

5 Dead

42 POW

The Willesden left New York on 1st March and was well into the South Atlantic bound for Cape Town and Alexandria. On 1st April 1942 the Thor’s aircraft took off at 0630 for another early morning reconnaissance flight and at 0805 sent a report that a steamer was 65 miles to the southwest of the Thor. The steamer was “of considerable size, about 6,000 tons, one funnel, two masts, funnel and bridge separate, speed about 12 knots, probably on a northwesterly course.

Course was altered to intercept the ship and at noon the aircraft took off again to obtain further information, this time reporting “steamer on a southeasterly course”. This caused some confusion on the bridge of the Thor as to whether they were dealing with the same steamer. However, Captain Gumprich wrote in his war diary: Decision – to approach at full speed. Regarding tactics for the offensive, I intend to advance like that of 30th March, but without a warning salvo.

Dusk has fallen very quickly and the red glow of the blazing steamer can be seen in the distance. It is imperative to sink her as fast as possible. She is therefore sunk by torpedo. Next I take on board the rest of the crew who are coming alongside in boats, six of them wounded. As the ship must have been visible far over the horizon as a blazing torch, I set full speed to make off to the southwest.

The British gunners also returned fire as Thor opened up with her 5.9-inch guns, setting the freighter’s deck cargo of oil drums alight, and the rest of their shipmates took to the boats. But they could only manage six shots before they too had to leave the blazing ship, into which Thor had pumped 128 shells.

One torpedo later, the 12-hour action was over, leaving one of Willesden’s crew dead and six wounded. One of the wounded later died of his injuries and was laid to rest at sea with full military honours.

By Hilfskreuzer (Auxiliary Cruiser / Raider) - Thor (




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