Loss of the M.V. Seaforth in 1941

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Angus Mac Kinnon
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Loss of the M.V. Seaforth in 1941

Post by Angus Mac Kinnon » Tue Oct 05, 2010 8:55 pm


Research carried out on behalf of Tom Gray through an enquiry
launched on the 'Strathallan' Website on 13th of February 2003

The motorship ‘SEAFORTH’ was a cargo ship belonging to Elder Dempster Lines Limited. Built by the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Limited of Dundee in 1938, the vessel details were as follows :

Builder’s Yard No. : 369
Official Number : 166259
Port of Registration : Liverpool
Length : 378’ 0”
Breadth : 52’ 7”
Depth : 21’ 3”
Net Tonnage : 3,211 tons
Gross Tonnage : 5,459 tons
Propulsion : 2SCSA Oil Engine
Engine Design Rating : 3,100 BHP
Engine Type : Doxford 4-Cylinder opposed-piston
Vessel Design Speed : 12.5 knots
Passenger Accommodation : 12 Passengers
Classification : “Sobo” Class

The ‘SEAFORTH’ was launched by Miss Rosemary Hughes Jones from the Builder’s Yard on 22nd November 1938. Fitting out continued until 23rd February 1939 when the vessel was sent out on her sea trials. During sea trials on 23rd and 24th February 1939 the engine recorded an output rating of 3,650 BHP, delivering the vessel a speed, during her trials, of 14.827 knots.

Following her successful trials and handover the vessel proceeded on her maiden voyage under her new commander - Captain J. R. Jones, who had taken the class name ‘SOBO’ on her maiden voyage in the Spring of 1937.

Almost two years later, and during the evening of 18th of February 1941, in position 58’ 48” North, 18’ 17” West, (South of Iceland and West of the Hebrides) whilst on a passage from West Africa to Liverpool, the ‘SEAFORTH’ was torpedoed by the German submarine U-103, under the command of Kapitanleutnant zur See Victor Schutze. Captain W. Minns, together with all of his officers and crew, a complement of 48 men, perished in this enemy action.

Ten passengers on board the British vessel also died in the incident. These passengers were :

Mr. Thomas Hughes : Elder Dempster Lines Limited
Miss Read : The Scottish Mission, Calabar
Mr. & Mrs. McKendrick : The Scottish Mission, Calabar
Mr. & Mrs. Greig : The Scottish Mission, Calabar
Mr. J. Trudjeon : Holman Brothers Limited, Takoradi
Captain E. G. Pyke : Gold Coast Regiment, Accra
Mr. & Mrs. G. W. Roberts : U.A.C., Takoradi

The above mentioned Mr. & Mrs. Greig were an Aunt and Uncle of Tom Gray who initiated the enquiry

The Loss of M.V. SEAFORTH

U-103 sighted the mastheads of MV SEAFORTH at 13:55 hours (Central European Time) on 18th February 1941, two days after the U-Boat commander’s 35th birthday. The British vessel was headed in an Easterly direction and periodically steering a zig-zag course between 40 and 50 degrees.

The weather was squalls, making it difficult for U-103 to maintain contact, but by 19:30 hours the U-Boat had hauled ahead of the British vessel and achieved a favourable position for launching an attack. However, as heavy seas prevented the U-Boat undertaking an underwater attack, KL Schutze awaited the cover of darkness to launch an attack on the surface.

During a heavy rain squall he fired two torpedos, one at 21:30 hours and the second a minute later at 21:31 hours. (Recorded in the U-Boat’s log as 20:41 hours) The first torpedo missed, probably due to the yawing motion of the U-Boat caused by the heavy running sea, but the second one struck the British vessel, amidships and there was a heavy explosion.

The British merchantman stopped and her crew commenced lowering the lifeboats. U-103 closed up to her victim on the lee side. As there was no indication of the vessel listing or indicating any signs of imminent sinking, KL Schutze decided to fire another torpedo into the merchantman from one of his stern tubes. This torpedo struck the SEAFORTH in her after hold. Several explosions followed and shortly later she sank rapidly by the stern.

The M.V. SEAFORTH lies approximately 365 miles West of the Isles of Lewis and Harris. In the log of this incident on board U-103, the position of attack is recorded as AL 3488 – the grid reference used by Germany during the war - corresponding to the previous position descriptions.

U-103, a Type IX B U-Boat, was on her third of a total of eleven war patrols having left her base at Lorient on 21st January 1941, to operate in an area West of the North Channel and Ireland. This boat had a particularly successful sea war, having sunk a total of 45 Allied ships amounting to 231,191 tons, and damaging three other Allied vessels, before decommissioning in March 1944.

It has variously been reported that she was scuttled along with many others at Kiel in May 1945 when it was clear that the war was over for Germany, but other reports suggest she was sunk at Kiel by the Allied bombing waves that took place over Kiel in mid-April 1945. During her service life from July 1940 until January 1944, U-103 had three different commanders.

Under the command of Kapitanleutnant zur See Schutze from July 1940 until August 1941, U-103 in three war patrols leading up to and including the loss of the M.V. ‘SEAFORTH’, and over a total sea patrol duration of 90 days, accounted for the following Allied shipping losses : [ in chronological order ]

MV Nina Borthen : 6,123 tons : Norwegian - Sunk
SS Zannes Gounaris : 4,407 tons : Greek - Sunk
SS Delphin : 3,816 tons : Greek - Sunk
SS Craigwen : 3,697 tons : British - Damaged (later sunk)
SS Nora : 1,186 tons : Estonian - Sunk
SS Thistlegarth : 4,747 tons : British - Sunk
SS Daydawn : 4,768 tons : British - Sunk
SS Victoria : 6,085 tons : Greek - Sunk
MV Glenmoor : 4,393 tons : British - Sunk
SS Mount Athos : 3,578 tons : Greek - Sunk
SS St. Elwyn : 4,940 tons : British - Sunk
SS Calabria : 9,515 tons : British - Sunk
SS Empire Jaguar : 5,186 tons : British - Sunk
MV Arthur F. Corwin : 10,516 tons : British - Damaged (later sunk)
MV Edwy R. Brown : 10,455 tons : British - Sunk
MV Seaforth : 5,459 tons : British - Sunk
MV Benjamin Franklin 7,034 tons : Norwegian - Sunk

Reflecting these successful missions, Kapitanleutnant zur See Schutze was awarded the Knights Cross on 11th December 1940, one of the first U-Boat aces to receive this highly prized award in WWII. (It was formally presented to him on 9th March 1941 by Grand Admiral Karl Donitz)

Kapitanleutnant zur See Schutze, was born on 16th February 1906, in Kiel, and died at Frankfurt am Main on 23rd September 1950.

Photographs :

- KL Schutze being presented with a ‘mock’ Knights Cross, at sea, by U-103’s OOW
- KL Schutze being presented with the real Knights Cross by Karl Donitz in Germany
- The launching of M.V. SEAFORTH from the Caledon Yard, Dundee in 1938
- M.V. SEAFORTH during her sea trials in February 1939
- Elder Dempster Reps and Captain J. R. Jones on board the new M.V. SEAFORTH
- A deck-scene shot on board M.V. SEAFORTH

Enclosures :

- The loss of M.V. GLENMOOR at the hands of U-103 and the wartime career of this most successful of German WWII submarines.

- An extract from the history of Elder Dempster fleet covering the loss of ‘SEAFORTH’

[ Compiled for Tom Gray in October 2003 : Angus Mac Kinnon - Troon ]
Angus Mac Kinnon

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