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9 May 1941: Malta Convoy Ship Sunk – 18 Killed

09 May

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SS Empire Song

SS Empire Song

EMPIRE SONG LOST AS LARGEST CONVOY YET REACHES MALTA

A convoy of four merchant vessels with 30000 tons of stores arrived in Grand Harbour today, along with Breconshire (carrying military and Naval stores) and two Black Sea oil tankers.  The seven ships form the largest and most valuable convoy which has come to Malta since the start of the siege. 

The ships formed part of Operation Tiger, an urgent supply convoy from the UK to Malta and Alexandria. Five merchant ships, Clan Campbell, Clan Chattan, Clan Lamont, Empire Song and New Zealand Star sailed from the Clyde on 28 April and were escorted from Gibraltar by the Mediterranean Fleet.  At the same time, fast supply transport Breconshire from Alexandria, escorted by Havock, Hotspur and Imperial was also destined for Malta.

At midnight last night as the supply convoy neared Malta, New Zealand Star caught and exploded a mine in her protective snares (paravanes).  Three minutes later 9200 ton cargo steamer Empire Song caught two more mines in her paravanes which exploded, causing a fire in a hold containing ammunition stocks.  Destroyers Foresight and Fortune immediately turned about and began to rescue the crew.  As a volunteer party from Foresight set off by boat to save the steamer, Empire Song blew up along with her cargo of 57 tanks, 10 aircraft and several trucks, sinking the small boat with the loss of one volunteer.  18 of the crew of Empire Song are missing. 

Ordinary Seaman Albert Howarth RN was thrown into the water. Seeing a Stoker nearby who was struggling, he held him up for ten minutes until a life belt could be thrown, which he put round the Stoker, making sure he was hauled to safety.  It was only half an hour later when Howarth was himself rescued, that it was realised his own right foot had been blown off in the explosion. (1)  

Lance Corporal G R Myers was on board Empire Song: “The seven of us [Royal Tank Regiment] personnel were asleep in the paint store in the bow at deck level. I was blown out through the open door and sent headlong on my stomach to finish up at the bottom of the steps leading to the bridge, here I received a head wound of which I was unaware of at the time. Then the second explosion came, this also on the port side. By now the ship had taken on a slight list to port, the first officer came from the bridge and partly removed one of the forward covers to discover the hold was on fire….

We were loaded with Tanks, Lorries and Ammunition, so we had a problem. The ship slowed down and was still making headway but the list was increasing…The Captain had given orders to ‘abandon ship’ but called for volunteers to stay aboard to keep the ship afloat and make for Malta…seven of us stayed aboard and took up fire drill duties.

Two hours after the second explosion conditions on board were getting worse, smoke was pouring out from the hold ventilators and the pitch in the decking planks were starting to melt. The list had increased and the order ‘Abandon Ship’ was given. The list was so great that we didn’t have to jump but we just slipped into the sea with our Life Jackets on of course and we switched on our little red lights so that we could be located for pick up. Our main objective was to swim as far away from the ship as possible, this we did and luckily for us we had done so for in a huge explosion the SS Empire Song blew apart and went down in flame and steam… (2)

Foresight then headed directly for Malta with 130 survivors. Military survivors from Empire Song are named as Trooper J Allen, ULC N Audus, ULC A Cattrall, Trooper J Clifford, Trooper D Crow, A/P/Cpl E Gordon, L/Bdr D T Harker, Pte J R Howitt (RAMC), A/P/Cpl F Kelly, Gnr G Lister, Lt C F N Lowe, Bdr J Miller, AL/Cpl G Myers, Trooper A Peters, ALC I Roberts, Trooper L Trimby, AL/Cpl W White, L/Cpl R Whitehead.

Empire Song casualties named so far are: 4th Officer Barree Sanderson Evendon; Cook Francis Gomes; Topass Gulfan; Trimmer Abdul Jabar; Oiler Hasan Mian; Fireman Kurshid Mian; Fireman Muhammad Mian; Trimmer Sikandar Mian; General Servant Siva; Trimmer Sofath Ali; Trimmer Suzat Ali.

HMS Forester (c) IWM FL 9830

HMS Forester (c) IWM FL 9830

Both convoys arrived by noon today, heavy cloud and mist over Malta having helped ensure their safe arrival. A brief attack by enemy bombers off the coast caused no damage and one raider was shot down.  Gloxinia and Swona arrived to clear the entrance to Grand Harbour of mines before the convoys entered.  Some ships including the destroyer Forester disembarked military personnel at Kalafrana.  Troops from Alexandria included reinforcements for 1st Bn Cheshire Regiment, 1st Bn Hampshire Regiment, Royal Artillery and No 4 Mobile Laundry. 

The destroyers fuelled and sailed immediately. Since the ships’ arrival a few bombs have been dropped in Grand Harbour with little effect but so far there has been no determined attack. Unloading is proceeding rapidly. 

WOMEN TO REPLACE MEN IN WORKFORCE

To tackle current shortages of manpower, Malta’s Governor and Commander in Chief has issued a proposal to replace soldiers in certain roles with female employees. He plans to employ up to 100 women age 16 and over, with 25 to be recruited immediately, for the following roles and rates of pay:

  • Storewoman, messenger, cleaner, officers mess servant, officers servant, assistant cook 18/- a week
  • Dining hall servant, cookhouse fatigue, orderly 16/-
  • Officers’ and mens’ cooks 21/-
  • Head cooks 23/-
  • Plus increased rates as follows:
  • Laundress, washerwoman, seamstress to 18/-
  • Charwoman 16/-

Subject to War Office approval the above rates will include a 6/- bonus. The working hours of all grades to be 48 per week, except for cooks which will be 56 hours. 

AIR RAIDS DAWN 9 MAY TO DAWN 10 MAY 1941

Weather  Overcast with extremely poor visibility; some rain.

0935-1035 hrs  Air raid alert for four JU 87 dive-bombers escorted by 16 fighters approaching the Island.  Despite the poor visibility the raiders launch an attack on a convoy approaching Grand Harbour; the attack is unsuccessful.  Two Swordfish, two Fulmars, five Hurricanes and five Beaufighters are scrambled to attack the raiders.  One Beaufighter shoots down a JU 87, another is probably shot down by fighters.

1100-1145 hrs  Air raid alert for two enemy aircraft which approach from the north east heading for shipping outside Grand Harbour.  HM ships engage with anti-aircraft fire; no bombs are dropped.  A convoy of seven ships arrives safely.

1532-1550 hrs  Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.

OPERATIONS REPORTS FRIDAY 9 MAY 1941

ROYAL NAVY  Marsaxlokk is used as an oiling base by 8 destroyers and Breconshire.  All available anti-aircraft guns are mounted around the Bay.  Convoys MW 7A and 7B, consisting of Breconshire, four merchant vessels, and two tankers arrived safely. 

AIR HQ  0715-1530 hrs 5 Beaufighters standing patrol for a convoy passing southwards.

HAL FAR Three Fulmar aircraft arrived from the aircraft carrier Formidable.

KALAFRANA  Army and RAF drafts from UK disembarked at Kalafrana from Breconshire.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  HQ Company spent the day on the range firing automatics and rifles. Machine gun instructors course finished.  A draft arrived from Egypt consisting of 5 officers and 95 other ranks. 

1st Bn HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT  Disembarked at Malta ex Alexandria: officers 3, other ranks 57.

ROYAL ARTILLERY  Disembarked at Malta ex Alexandria: officers 1, other ranks 9.

(1) Ordinary Seaman Albert Howarth RN was awarded the Albert Medal for his action

(2) Lance Corporal G R Myers, 8th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment, courtesy of Malta Family History  

 

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Posted by on May 9, 2016 in 1941, May 1941

 

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