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Andrew Hesketh

S.S. Apapa, 28 Nov 1917, torpedoed off Anglesey

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Andrew Hesketh

According to google somebody once posted on this topic, but the link takes me to 'Should Haig's statue be melted down' and a search of the site produces no results!!

Anyway I'm looking into the sinking of the Apapa. My knowledge currently is:

S.S. ‘Apapa’, built in 1914 at 7,832 tons for Elder, Dempster & Company, a mail carrying company based in Liverpool. ‘Apapa’ was defensively-armed and on 28 November 1917, 3 miles N by E from Lynas Point, near Amlwch, Anglesey, she was torpedoed without warning and sunk by a German submarine. 77 lives were lost and there were 64 survivors.

Amongst those lost was 2nd Steward Albert Taylor of the Merchant Navy who is buried in Abergele, North Wales, and whom I am researching.

I can find nothing else on Google so I wondered if anyone may be able to add to the story?

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Michael Lowrey

Andrew,

Apapa was sunk by the German submarine U 96 while the steamer was on a voyage from Lagos for Liverpool carrying passengers and general cargo.

I can get you a scan of U 96's KTB describing the sinking if that would help.

Best wishes,

Michael

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Andrew Hesketh

Michael,

Fantastic! I'll PM you my e-mail address.

Thank you very much.

Cheers,

Andrew

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eviltaxman

Andrew,

The original thread might have been mine. I was researching a memorial in a local church a year or so back where 2 brothers died on board the Apapa. They were......

Percy E Buchan

F Jessie Buchan

Like you, I could only find basic info - generally the same info as Michael has mentioned.

Les.

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Andrew Hesketh

We seek you here, we seek you there!

Thanks Les. Have you had the U96 details Michael refers to?

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eviltaxman

Only really the date/place info.. nothing else. I couldn't even find my men - the must have been civvies 'cause they're not listed on CWGC.

Below is all I've really got ---

The APAPA was a twin-screw steel steamship and was built in 1914 by Harland & Wolff in Glasgow, as were also the quadruple expansion engines. Capable of fourteen knots, she was one of the largest ships in the Elder Dempster fleet.

It was a clear moonlight night and she had just passed the Middle Mouse on her starboard bow when she suddenly shook from stem to stern. Many passengers were thrown from their bunks and it was obvious that she was sinking. At that time she was still on an even keel and the Captain ordered the engines to be stopped. Close examination showed that a torpedo had ripped a huge hole in the starboard side towards the stern of the ship, and Captain Toft then ordered that the boats should be lowered.

As the lifeboats were being loaded, a man was seen disappearing down a companion-way. His mission was one from which he never returned. His name was Mr. Harragin, of the Gold Coast Customs, and he was coming home with his wife to spend a well-earned rest in England. She was lying in their cabin, ill with black-water fever and he tried to carry her on deck, but she declared herself too ill and too weak to be moved. And so he stayed with her - just two of the forty passengers who lost their lives.

By this time many of the passengers were safely in the lifeboats and the ship had developed a list to starboard. Suddenly, there was a streak in the water and a second torpedo hit the ship, again on the starboard side but this time further forward. Some of the lifeboats were swamped and the ship lurched to starboard. As she did so, the stays supporting the funnel snapped and the funnel collapsed, falling onto a lifeboat that was loaded and was just about to be lowered into the water. It was this second torpedo that contributed to the large number of casualties. A few moments later the ship plunged stern first to the bottom of the sea.

63 survived but 77 died.

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eviltaxman

Here's a cropped shot of the plaque I was looking into...........

If you get any info regarding these two men, I'd be grateful if you could let me know.

Les.

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Malcolm

There seems to be a confusion in some parts re the date. The SNWM gives 28th November 1917 ( which seems correct) although two sites give 5th December 1917.

http://www.clydesite.co.uk/articles/5dec.asp has a photo of her.

Aye

Malcolm

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Andrew Hesketh

Les,

Thanks very much for that. If I get any more info I'll pass it on.

Malcolm,

Thanks for the link. I hadn't found that one. As to the date, I think the following settles it.

post-150-1151169339.jpg

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historydavid

The Apapa was sunk on 28th November 1917. She was a defensively armed liner and was owned by Elder, Dempster & Co Ltd of Liverpool but managed on a day to day basis by African Steamship Co Ltd

Best wishes

David

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Andrew Hesketh

Thanks for your input David.

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Stebie9173

From the Times 6-12-1917

Apapa1.jpgApapa1-2.jpg

Steve.

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Stebie9173

Times 10-12-1917

Apapa2-1.jpgApapa2-2.jpg

Steve.

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Stebie9173

By the way, Les. From the list is its possible that one of your "men" was a Lady i.e. Mrs Buchan..?

Times 19-12-1917

post-6536-1151190000.jpg

Times 20-12-1917

post-6536-1151190056.jpg

Steve.

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Stebie9173

The U-Boat appears to have been commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Jess, whose name appears on a list of German war criminals arraigned per the Times of 9-2-1920

He was also held responsible for the sinking of the Destro on March 26 1918 and the Inkosi on March 28 1918.

Later Times articles mention that the escort ship had left the Apapa to sail the last leg into port alone, at which point the U-boat got her.

Steve.

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historydavid

The number of deaths given in British Vessels Lost at Sea is 77, and relates only to the crew (it never gives numbers for passengers etc).

Best wishes

David

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Andrew Hesketh

Steve - that's fantastic! A very handy thing that Times Online subscription. :)

Thank you very much.

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historydavid

Ref my post No 16 above.

This extract is from The Merchant Navy by Archibald Hurd:

"But the worst tragedy of the month was the sinking of the Elder Dempster liner, the Apapa (7,832 tons), at 4 a.m. on the 28th, both because no fewer than seventy-seven lives were lost, about equally divided between passengers and crew, and because most of these deaths were due to the callous and quite unnecessary firing of a second torpedo at the ship just at the moment when the boats had reached the water, and had not had time to pull away."

This extract is from Disasters at Sea by Hocking:

"The Elder Dempster liner Apapa, Capt. Toft, one of the largest in the company's fleet at that time, was returning home from West Africa when she was torpedoed by a German submarine. The vessel had reached a position three miles N. by E. of Lynas Point, near Liverpool, when she was attacked at 4.10 a.m. on Wednesday, November 28th, 1917, when steaming at 13 knots. No sign of the submarine was visible to those on board. The torpedo exploded on the starboard side nearly amidships, extinguishing the electric light and making the work of mustering the passengers much more difficult, but fortunately the sea was calm, with brilliant moonlight. Capt. Toft managed to launch a number of boats without mishap, but ten minutes after the first attack a second torpedo struck one of the boats containing from 20 to 30 people and killed or drowned the majority. There were 249 persons on board the Apapa, of whom 129 were passengers, and 40 passengers and 37 crew were lost. Capt. Toft went down with the ship, but came to the surface and was rescued."

It would appear, therefore, that on this occasion, British Vessels Lost at Sea quoted the the gross number lost in the sinking, in error.

Best wishes

David

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Andrew Hesketh

David,

Thanks for the time taken to type that additional detail and also for clarifying the issue of casualties. Much appreciated.

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eviltaxman

Steve,

I wasn't too sure about the "Jessie Buchan" aspect when I first saw the plaque, but this confirm that my man is now a woman!! :lol: I think I can safely say that the Buchans were passengers and not crew. I can update my plaque details now, thanks.

David,

Thanks for the extra info - always welcome.

Andrew,

bet your glad you asked now ;)

Les.

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Malcolm

This is a damn fine thread - one of the best Forum ones of recent times. Well done all.

Aye

Malcolm

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Andrew Hesketh

I agree Malcolm. One of those were people throw in heaps of time and information to help a fellow member - shows the forum at its most positive.

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Michael Lowrey

OK, I've a look at U 96's war diary. The quality of the microfilming done in 1946 isn't up to modern standards; the material in the extreme left margin, including date and time, was often cut off. That's the case for this page. The original, held at the German military archives at Freiburg, should have the times.

Großer einlaufender Dampfer von achtern aufkommend. Vorgesetzt.

Getaucht. Dampfer dreht 20 Grad nach Land zu. Mit hoher Fahrt vorbeigezogen, Heckangriff.

Schuß aus V. Rohr. K III. Torpedo, Vorhaltewinkel für 8 sm. Erst beim Einwandern hohe und lange Promenadendecks erkannt. Daher vorn losgemacht. Nach 300 m. Laufestrecke Treffer ganz achtern. Passagierdampfer, Typ Highland Klasee = 7500 t.

Fangschuß K.III. Torpedo. Treffer Mitte. Dampfer sinkt mit starker Schlagseite übers Heck. Der Vorsteven bleibt, nachdem das Heck aufsteht, noch über Wasser, die See brandet über ihn weg.

.

A quick and dirty summary: U 96 spots a large inbound steamer, which is overtaking her from astern. The submarine dives and conducts an attack using her stern torpedo tubes which requires her to go to high speed to achieve the desired firing location after the steamer changes her course.

First torpedo is fired from torpedo tube #5 (one of two stern tubes). K. III. torpedo. Firing solution based upon estimated speed of target of 8 knots. However, the high and long promenade deck of the steamer was only recognized too late, which caused the solution to be more astern than ideal. A hit is achieved at a range of 300 meters well aft. Target identified as a passenger steamer of the Highland class = 7500 tons.

Second K.III. torpedo fired. (Fangschuß roughly = coup de grâce). Hit amidship. Steamer sinks with heavy list over the stern. The stem remains remains above water, with the sea burning...

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Michael Lowrey

OK, a few additional comments.

The submarine war is an area that was the subject of a great deal of propaganda from both sides, both during and after the war. The British tried to put the worst possible light on the U-boats, with the spin aimed at both domestic and international audiences. So it's best to treat the statements from, say The Times in this case with some caution.

The clear implication of The Times articles and secondary sources cited is that Kplt. Jeß' second torpedo was excessive as the steamer was obviously going down anyways and amounted to a war crime. Let's examine this a bit more closely.

Torpedoes were expensive; indeed, during most of the war, the big U-series boats based in Germany like U 96 carried mixed torpedo loads that included older and smaller models (45 cm types fired on rails from the standard 50 cm torpedo tubes were fitted!) for use against less valuable targets. U-boats virtually always fired torpedoes one at a time against a target in World War I. And Apapa was certainly a valuable target -- she was about the 150th largest ship sunk by U-boats during the war (out of 6,500 vessels+ sunk).

U 96's KTB (war diary) paints a rather different picture of the situation: Kplt. Jeß admits to misjudging his attack and rather than hitting the big steamer amidship, the first torpedo struck home well aft. The obvious implication of the second torpedo shot was that he did not feel, based upon the information available to him, that it was a given the steamer was going down.

Also, the inevitability of a sinking cannot be presumed merely because the Apapa was in the process of being abandoned. A number of ship were abandoned only to be reboarded later and salvaged.

What's missing is additional primary source material, specifically, the report on the sinking filed by Captain Toft, which should be in ADM 137/4005 at Kew.

Kplt. Heinrich Jeß's commands:

U 79 (big minelayer with limited torpedo attack capacity): March 25, 1916 - February 20, 1917

U 96: April 11, 1917 to August 31, 1918

U 90: September 1, 1918 to war's end.

U 96 sinks 31 ships of 95,228 grt and damages an additional three vessels of 16,220 grt during the war, all under Jeß' command. Jeß also sank 11 ships of 21,754 will in command of U 79 and one ship of 3,587 grt while on U 90.

Best wishes,

Michael

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Stebie9173

Michael,

I did not intend to imply any war crimes from my postings. I was adding the Times articles to add to the sources available, which are often pitifully few. As fairly seasoned researchers our belief in newspaper articles (of ANY era) is hopefully tinged with a fair bit of sceptism.

They do remain as a contemporary resource which to a large extent have survived the ravages of time a fair amount more than the comtemporary official records (of which we also treat with a healthy dose of sceptism - War Diaries, I'm looking at you....)

The modern approach to research is far more prone to a balanced view of all sides to the war, and an appreciation of the position that soldiers, sailors, and especially their commanders, were put in.

As you say, the submarine commander no doubt acted on the information available to him, and the standing orders of the day.

The report of Captain Toft would certainly help add to the picture, though inevitably the passage of time will likely prevent us ever seeing the full picture on most events this far in the past.

As usual, the truth is often somewhere in between the extremes.

Best wishes,

Steve.

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