George Hamilton


Chief Officer of St Margaret

1. We were bound from Liverpool to the River Plate with 6000 tons general cargo, armed with 1 x 4"; 1 x 12 pdr; 2 Oerlikons; 2 twin Marlin, 4 PAC Rockets and Kites. Our crew numbered 43, including 5 Naval gunners, and we carried 7 passengers. Of our total personnel, two were injured and four are missing. We carried approximately ninety bags ordinary mail stowed in no 5 'tween deck; these went down with the ship, and there is no chance of compromise. We also had on board one bag special mail, which was put in the Confidential Book Box, and thrown overboard; again, there is no chance of compromise. The confidential Books and Wireless Codes were thrown overboard in weighted boxes. Degaussing was off.

2. We left Liverpool at 0800 hrs on February 2nd in convoy ON 165 and proceeded without incident until Friday 19th February when the convoy dispersed, and we proceeded independently. On 25th February a message was received reporting a submarine operating in the area, approximately 345 miles SE of our position. At 2100 on the 26th, a further message was received, but owing to some misunderstanding in was not deciphered until the middle of the watch, when it was found to read "if not south of position ....... alter course immediately, and make for St Thomas. If south of this position, ignore this message". When this message was deciphered, 0420 on 27th February, we were making for Pernambuco to refuel, and we had insufficient fuel to reach St Thomas. The Captain therefore decided to carry on the course of 180 degrees to make Pernambuco.

3. At 0942 on 27th February 1943 when in position 27 38N, 43 23W steering 180 degrees (true) at a speed of 9 and one half knots, we were struck by a torpedo. There was an east wind, Force 3, moderate sea with a heavy sE swell. The weather was cloudy, fine and clear, with good visibility.

4. One of the apprentices saw the torpedo break surface, as it was approximately six points from the box, but thought it was a porpoise. It struck on the port side in the engine room, with a very violent explosion, and a flash. A tremendous column of water was thrown up, flooding the after deck. The engine room flooded to the cylinder tops immediately, and the engines stopped. The main wireless was completely destroyed. The deck did not appear to be damaged, but the two ports boats, which were swung inboard at the time, were damaged. The ship settled on an even keel, but did not list. The Captain ordered "abandon ship" and No 3 boat got away in four minutes with 25 people, including all the passengers. The No 1 lifeboat, which was cracked and leaking badly, was lowered with seven or eight of the crew in it. Both port boats were lowered, but filled on becoming waterborne. No rafts, two rafts having previously been washed away through stress of weather. Everyone was clear of the ship by 1010. Our wireless operators sent out distress signals for 15 minutes, using the emergency set, before abandoning ship and although the emergency set radiated satisfactorily, no answer was received. The boats wireless set was placed in No 3 lifeboat with the receiving set.

5. No 3 boat was the only really seaworthy lifeboat, and contained 25 people, the remaining survivors being distributed between No 1 boat and two rafts. I transferred provisions and water from the waterlogged No 4 boat to a raft then set it adrift. After trying to effect temporary repairs to No 1 boat, we found it impossible to stop the leak, owing to the planks being split in the bilge streak, so after removing the provisions to the raft, this boat was also cast adrift.

6. At 1045, the vessel was struck by a second torpedo on the port side, in No 3 hold. This was a very violent explosion, which caused cascades of water to pour through the ventilators, the ventilator covers being blown off. We did not see a flash or flame. At the time the boats were about 2 cables away, and we watched the ship sink at 1055, vertically, bow first, with her stern out of the water.

7. Shortly after the ship sank, the submarine surfaced and closed the lifeboat, which contained the Captain, 2nd Officer, all the passengers and some of the crew. The Captain and 2nd Officer were taken on board the submarine and questioned. After a time. the 2nd Officer was sent back to the lifeboat, but the Captain was kept on board the submarine as prisoner of war. The submarine then closed my raft, and I was taken on board to be questioned. The Commander asked me where we were from, and were bound, but I refused to give him our exact destination, saying that we were bound from England to South America. All the time that I was on board, I was covered by bren guns, and after the Commander had finished questioning, one of his crew took a number of photographs of me. I was then ordered back onto the raft.

8. The submarine was obviously a German of about 500 tons, and of the U-33 class (type 9C U-66 - mk) It looked quite new and I could see no signs of rust or seaweed. I noticed one gun forward, and a small AA gun mounted on the conning tower. A Swastika was painted on the conning tower with a wolf through it. The commander was tall, lean, dressed in a rather shabby khaki uniform, and wore a red beard. He seemed very fit. I noticed that he spoke poor English. The crew all worse long khaki trousers, in an equally shabby state of repair. The Commander took our boats wireless transmitting set from the lifeboat, together with a few tins of provisions from my raft. Whilst I was in the conning tower, a Lieutenant asked survivors on the raft for some cigarettes, for which he gave them in exchange some cigarettes of a very inferior quality, of German manufacture. The submarine then steamed away on the surface.

9. After this, I transferred to the lifeboat to take charge, taking the two rafts in tow. I set sail at 1400, and steered a SS Wly course for St Thomas, which was approximately 1230 miles away. The (here some words are missing from the copy).....

each raft carried 10 gallons of water. We had a supply of smoke floats, rockets, red flares; the lifeboats had a red sail and there were yellow protection suits. There were now 26 in the lifeboat, ten on one raft, and nine on the other.  I put everyone on very short rations, in view of the distance from land, a typical meal being 1 and one half ounces of water, 3 horlicks tablets and 2 spoonsful pemmican.

10. We sailed through the night, making about 1 knot, but at 0300 on the 28th the tow rope parted, and the rafts broke adrift. I waited until daybreak before connecting them up again, owing to the heavy swell, as I wished to avoid damaging the boat, the rudder having already been damaged by the raft, necessitating lashing the gudgeons to the pintles. At 0530 I connected up again and set sail. I realised that even given the most favourable conditions, it would take 50 days to reach land, so I suggested to the crew that the rafts be cast adrift, and for the boat to carry on independently, as there would be a better chance of being picked up. The crew did not favour this suggestion, so I shelved it for the time being, and carried on as before. During the course of the day, one of the rafts showed signs of breaking up, so it was necessary to transfer the men from it into the lifeboat. After removing the stores, I cast this raft adrift. There were then 35 in the boat, with ten men on the remaining raft; the lifeboat was very overcrowded, and our limbs soon became stiff, due to the cramped conditions. I feel very strongly that the lifeboats have not sufficient space for the numbers of persons allocated to them.

11. At 0500 on 1st March, some of my crew reported having seen aircraft, and although I did not see anything I fired three rockets, and used three smoke flares, and several red flares. Of course, we received no response to these signals, and I considered the plane existed only in the imagination of those who reported having sighted it. The following morning at 0700, a single aircraft was sighted a great distance away in the SE'ly quarter,  followed 10 minutes later by a second plane.  I again sent up several distress signals but after being in sight for a quarter of an hour both planes disappeared without seeing us.

12. Shortly afterwards, another aircraft was seen in the NE'ly quarter and appeared to be closing us, so I fired our remaining rockets, which succeeded in attracting the attention of this aircraft, at a distance of at least 10 miles. The plane flew over the boat and gave a recognition signal, at approximately 0745, then flew away. I thought it would take some considerable time for a rescue craft to reach us, but at 0900 several funnels and masts were sighted to the NE. I now ordered the motor to be started, and lowered sails on the raft and lifeboat. I had deliberately reserved the petrol for such a purpose. When the ships came into full view we recognised them as United States warships. I manoeuvred the lifeboat and raft to the lee side of the American Destroyer Hobson, and at 1003 everyone was taken on board, after having sailed only 65 miles in 4 days. We were rescued in position 27 17N, 44,34W. The lifeboat and raft were destroyed by gunfire.

13. The Hobson landed us at Bermuda on Friday March 5th. The crew were put on board an HM Ship on March 15th and were landed at Portsmouth on March 22nd.

This is followed by a footnote added much later to the bottom of page 3:

Saint Margaret 4312 tons.

This ship was sunk in position 27 38N 42.23W on 27th February 1943. She was sailing independently at the time. The submarine involved was U-66, Kapt Lt Markworth. The log gives the time of firing the torpedo as 1731. Log book also reports that they took the Captain of the St Margaret aboard as a prisoner.

Markworth was eventually wounded by aircraft attack when returning from a patrol. 3 crewmen were killed and 8 wounded. Date was August 3rd 1943. He did not go to sea again.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

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