View Full Version : RMS Macon

Brian Probetts (Site Admin)
15th July 2012, 06:00 PM
By Bob Steadman dob 6.4.1951
Torpedoed Shelled and Sunk - July 25 1941
Nov 1940 Ofiical Number 166308. Convoy OB 245 Nov 18 1940. From Liverpool destined for Freetown NW Africa Did not sail becauuse of mechanical prolems Convoy OB 249 Nov 24 1940 From Liverpool. Sailed for Freetown but had to terminate voyage because of water seeping into fuel lines. Convoy OB 253 Dec 2 1940 From Liverpool .Did not sail Because of -faults. Convoy OB 256 Dec 8 1940 .Again did not sail because of “engine faults“.
January 27 1941 sailed for Freetown NW Africa but only days into this particular voyage she once again developed seriouse engine trouble and put into the Azores february 18th with boiler failure. There she was to remain until July 22nd after which time she resumed her voyage with a complement of 45 plus two stowaways . She was to sail again on her own, but two days into the voyage was torpedoed, shelled 49 times, and finaly laid to rest by the Italian Submarine Barbarigo off the coast of North West Africa 25 July 1941.
The torpedo had struck her Port Side at 22,30hrs by way of nbr 3 hold and engine room, thereby blowing the hatch covers off nbr 3 hold and destroying her two port lifeboats. Two lives by this time had been lost,both the Chief Officer who died in the Nbr 3 Hatch explosion and a fireman ,dads friend “Yank” who was in the stoke hold of the ship. The order was later given by the Captain to “abandon ship“.
When Nbr 1 and Nbr 3 lifeboats were approx 80 yards away the Barbarigo surfaced in order to finish her with guns, a magazine had been hit causing a massive explosion which finally sank her. My Mother was later to receive a telegramme informing her that my father was “pressumed dead.”
The Barbarigo was reportedly sank by the R,A F South of the Azores and west of Bay of Biscay all hands lost (Eerily enough near to the Macons final resting place). Both my Father Bob Steadman P.O Chief Donkeyman (Dis Nbr R178308) and my second cousin Tommy MCgowan were both crew members of the SS Macon. They both survived. Dad in Nbr 1 lifeboat, -and his cousin Tommy in Nbr 3 lifeboat.
Crew agreement number bt 381/1639 ref kew records
Official Record National Archives
MACON official number 166308.
25.7.1941: Torpedoed and sunk by Italian submarine BARBARIGO ( Capitano Murzi), in the Atlantic SW of Madeira, in position 32.48N 26.12W while sailing independently on a voyage from Liverpool to Freetown and Port Harcourt via Porta Delgado, Azores, for boiler repairs, with 2 stowaways and 4000 tons general cargo, dispersed from convoy OB 290 comprising 42 ships. The Master, Capt Alexander English, 15 crew and 1 stowaway were rescued by HM sloop LONDONDERRY, transferred to British ship LIBRARIAN and landed at Freetown. British ship CLAN MACPHERSON rescued 27 crew including my father were landed at Cape Town. The 1st officer and a fireman ( Yank ) were lost when torpedoed .The Chief Engineer and Chief Steward died later in lifeboat Nbr 1)
Report by Fourth Officer William Close who was on watch
Quote:- “The torpedo struck the port side... a loud explosion and hatch boards falling all around. The two port boats were wrecked...but everyone, except two men got away without too much difficulty in the two starboard boats. The Chief Officer and one fireman were missing. The fireman was killed in the stoke-hold and we thought the Chief Officer had fallen down the hatch that had the covers blown off. I was in a boat with the Master [Captain A. English] and nineteen others, and the Second and Third Mates were in the other boat with a similar number. We pulled away from the ship which did not sink, but was set on fire by shellfire from the submarine. They did not appear to see us although we saw them. We believed later from pictures shown to us that the sub was Italian. The two boats became separated, and the Master decicded to try and sail back to the Azores, although this was against the prevailing winds. Apart from the Master and myself, no one had any experience of small-boat sailing...The weather was generally good and I do not recall actually living in the boat as an unbearable hardship. Water was the greatest concern and I constantly thought of spring wells and running water...The thought that we might not be picked up or make land and that we might die in the boat was one I did not dwell upon. I can remember thinking that it would cause great distress at home and that surely Providence would not allow this to happen, though towards the end I was beginning to lose this confidence.
We lost two men after about a week. Both became subject to delusions and one died in the boat. The other made some remark about going out for a while and stepped over the side before anyone could stop him. I was sailing the boat at the time and began to go about, but the Master said to carry on as the man in his disturbed state would affect others, which was a difficult decision but probably the right one.
We did sight one ship, a neutral, in daylight, but although we burned flares she did not see us. About 22.30 on the tenth day I was sailing the boat and sighted a darkened ship. We burned flares and were quickly picked up by HMS Londonderry, a convoy escort. We were extremely fortunate as the escort was well away from the convoy on the outside wing.
I think that had we not been rescued about that time things could have got much worse. We were still in fairly good shape but had started to reduce the water ration, and another ten days would have been serious indeed. We had made good about 120 miles towards the Azores which was less than half the distance, so the prospect of making land safely was remote.” unquote
The Nbr 3 lifeboat my father was in had experienced very hot weather, and the water was rationed by the second officer. An ingeniouse way was found to distill fresh water from sea water by using a bucket as a brazier and boiling sea water in an oil can, allowing the water vapour to distill through a rubber tube and drop into a water beaker. Its only fault was that it had tasted “oily”
Confirmation of these events are given in “Elder Dempster, A Fleet History” Cowel & Duffy

Clan Macpherson
Rescued Nbr 3 Lifeboat Crew of RMS Macon 9 Aug 1941 who had been 15 days adrift
. The Clan Macpherson herself was later torpedoed and sunk on 1st May 1943 when en - route from Calcutta,to UK via Freetown,by the German submarine U-515 (Seeraber Wolfpack) and sunk when 75 miles off Freetown, West Africa. 4 crew had been lost from a total of 143.
U-515 was herself sunk at 15.10hrs on 9 April, 1944
in the mid-Atlantic North of Portugal, in position 34.35N, 19.18W, by rockets from 4 Avenger and Wildcat aircraft . 16 sailors were killed and 44 survived the attack.

When a British Merchant Ship was sunk, the sailors pay was stopped
on the day of the sinking,and he didn’t receive any more pay until he joined another ship. The seaman was given 30 days survivor’s leave, dated from the day of the sinking,his leave was unpaid. It only meant that he didn’t have to report back to the Pool for 30 days. If he spent 10 or 15 days in a lifeboat or life raft, the time he spent adrift was counted as “survivor’s leave“. There were many merchant seamen who joined the “ROYAL” Navy because it was short of experienced seamen. They joined under what were known as T124X and T124T agreements (Articles). These men sailed in naval uniform under the White Ensign,with naval officers, and subject to all naval discipline. They received naval rates of pay. At the end of the war, they were not allowed to claim any compensation or any benefits, because they had been “Discharged as Merchant Seamen.”
In August 1942,“One of the greatest sea battles of World War 2 involved ” Operation Pedestal” this was fought by a large fleet of naval vessels and 14 merchant ships throughout five days of continuous warfare - from air and sea, as the fleet endeavoured to get essential supplies to Malta. The massive Tanker SS Ohio being the primary target which was severly crippled but did not sink. The loss of this tanker could well have changed the outcome of WW2. .N.b Barbarigo was one of the attackers in the Mediteranian, August 9 1942 ( ref. Yesterday Channel, December 15. 2011 )

Official Italian Records
Barbarigo 1938 - June 16 1943

This submarine can be found on utube
The boat belonged to the class “
Marcello ( ltura%2fstoria%2falmanacco%2fPagine%2fSmg%2fmarcel lo_02.aspx)”.
LOG ;-
“….. . The 25 of the month (May) were diverted in aid to the German
battleship ( da_battaglia) Bismarck ( rck_(nave_da_battaglia)) (would have had to attack any enemy ship had been approached) but for via of the stormy sea it did not catch up the place of the battle before the sinking of the battleship ( a_alla_Bismarck); informed then of the sinking of the Bismarck, re-entered to the base 30 May …
The 13 July was sent to the west of the strait of Gibilterra (new commander was the lieutenant commander Francisco Murzi) …, 25th July. Sighted a steamboat to the horizon, the unit was placed to the pursuit and to hours 00,34. From the distance of 1000 meters, it launch a torpedo that it hit under the funnel, causing the arrest but not the sinking of the steamboat. After that the crew had been placed in except, the Barbarigo with 49 gun shots reduced the ship to a property left at death one with fire to edge and in via of sinking. The steamboat was the British Macon, “

In Memoriam Merchant Navy . 1939-1945

No cross marks the places where now we lie
What happened is known only to us
You asked, and we gave our lives to protect
Our land from the enemy curse
No Flanders Field where poppies blow;
No Gleaming Crosses, row on row;
No Unnamed Tomb for all to see
And pause -- and wonder who we might be
The Sailors’ Valhalla is where we lie
On the oceans bed, watching ships pass by
Sailing in safety, now thru’ the waves
Often right over our sea-locked graves
We ask you just to remember us.


15th July 2012, 06:22 PM
MACON (MoWT/Elder Dempster Line)

London Gazette 3 February 1942 - For services when the ship was torpedoed and sunk and for his conduct during nine days in an open boat.

English, Alexander - Captain - OBE(Civ)


Red Lead Ted
15th July 2012, 07:52 PM
Thank you for clarifying a point i raised a whie ago regarding Merchant Seaman getting there pay stopped when there ship was lost at sea. I had it on good authority that ,That was the case were as you point out they were given 30 days survivers pay and 30 days to join either a Merchant or R.N. Ship. Terry. :thumb_ship2: