Introduction• As far as sailors are concerned the land bordering the Bristol Channel, and in particular its northern extremity, has always been a dangerous and deadly stretch of coast.• This part of the estuary has seen hundreds, perhaps thousands, of shipwrecks over the years but none is more famous or more tragic than the post-war wreck of the Liberty ship Samtampa and the subsequent loss of the Mumbles lifeboat Edward Prince of Wales.• The double disaster took place on the night of 23 April 1947. The Samtampa was a 7219 ton Liberty ship, built and launched in the USA in December 1943, one of many vessels intended to plug the gap caused by the German U-boat campaign against British and Allied shipping.• She, like all of her class, was built in a hurry, her hull being welded together rather than riveted - something that may have contributed to the eventual breaking up of the stricken ship.
The Samtampa - 23 April 1947Type: Cargo SteamshipPort of Registry: London OfficialNumber: 169787Previous Name: PALEG WADSWORTHTonnage: 7,219 tons grossBuilt: 1943, Portland, USALength: 423 feetBreadth: 57 feetDate of Sinking: 23 April 1947Location: Sker Rocks, Glamorgan
The Tragedy• The Samtampa, a former Liberty Ship, was on a voyage from Middlesborugh to Newport, in ballast. A strong westerly gale was in progress when she entered the Bristol Channel where the ship developed an engine fault.• It was decided by her Captain, H. Neale Sherwell to drop anchor in Swansea Bay to carry out repairs to the engine. The weather was deteriating by the minute and at 4.38pm the starboard anchor chain parted and twelve minutes later the port cable snapped.• The Samtampa was taken eastwards in the hurricane force winds and within twenty minutes she was on the rocky ledges near Sker Point.
The Mumbles Lifeboat• EDWARD, PRINCE OF WALES was launched just after 6pm to go to the rescue. William Gammon, who had been Lifeboat Coxswain for seven years, was at the helm of the lifeboat as they headed across Swansea bay to Sker.• At the same time the Porthcawl Coastguards and rocket team were attempting to get a line to the wreck from the shore. The wind speed was said to have been in excess of 100 miles per hour and in less than five minutes of the Samtampa hitting the rocks she started to break up.• Around two hours later she was a total wreck, the 10m waves having broken her into large pieces. The rocket apparatus became ineffective due to the extreme high winds and a line out to the stricken vessel failed. It is said that some of the rockets were driven back so far by the ferrocious wind that they landed in fields behind the rocket operators themselves.• All crew of the Samtampa were drowned - the full disaster was realized by the morning of 24 April. The Mumbles Lifeboat had failed to return, and instead was found smashed upside down on Sker Rocks. When the town of Mumbles, Swansea learned of the news, the whole town was in mourning
Edward, Prince of WalesType: RNLI Motor Watson Lifeboat OfficialNumber: RNLI 678Tonnage: 16 tonsBuilt:1924, CowesLength: 45 feetBreadth: 12 feetDate of Sinking: 23 April 1947 On ServiceLocation: Sker Rocks, Glamorgan
The Crew of S.S. Samtampa Twenty five of the crew of the Samtampa were from the North East of England.Ten of whom were from Middlesborugh, four from Whitby, two each from Stockton, Redcar and Staithes and one each from South Bank, Skelton, Bishop Auckland, West Hartlepool and Thornaby.
The Lifeboat Crew William Lewis Howell - Mechanic Ernest Griffin - Mechanic William Noel – SecondWilliam Gammon - Coxswain Coxswain R Smith - Mechanic W R S Thomas - Mechanic W R Thomas - MechanicWilliam Davies - Mechanic
CoastguardThe station officer of Porthcawl Coastguard received a report, at about 15.45, that a vessel wasnear the shore in Rest Bay. He went there straight away. He estimated the ship was about a mile offand heading out to sea but stationary and probably at anchor. She was making no signal ofdistress. He watched her for about ten minutes and could see no sign of her dragging. He could seethat her propeller was turning. He went to Porthcawl Golf Club and telephoned his station forMumbles lifeboat to stand by. When he went back outside he could now see that the ship hadhoisted a two flag signal. He could not read it but presumed it indicated distress. This was at 16.47.Shortly afterwards he received a call saying that the starboard anchor had carried away and thennoticed the vessel moving a little east of north.At 16.55 he called out the Life Saving Apparatus company. Tugs were also called for The StationOfficer then went along the shore to Sker Point by which time the ship was ashore. The rocketapparatus, which was kept about three miles away in John Street, Porthcawl, arrived promptly andthree attempts were made to fire a line over the ship, the first at about 18.15.With the tide on the flood the apparatus had to be moved back after each of the first two attempts.None of the rockets reached the wreck. The lines were 400 yards in length but the wreck was nearly500 yards from the waters edge. The District Inspector of the Coastguard was now on scene anddescribed the third rocket as "seeming to stand still in the air before being blown back." He was ofthe opinion that, even had a rocket reached the wreck and the breeches buoy rigged, it would havebeen impossible to haul any of the crew ashore alive.
Desperate Wireless - MessagesThe 80 minutes of terror on-board as the "Samtampa" Steamship lost its battle against the elements, were relayed to the Swansea inquiry:15.54 Have both anchors down and hope to keep off shore. Still doubtful.16.30 Cables will not hold much longer. Please send assistance.16.35 Starboard anchor carried away. Drifting ashore rapidly.16.50 Port anchor carried away.17.07 Only a few yards to go.17.14 Breaking up. Leaving shortly.
Destruction of the SamtampaThe ship had struck the coast at Sker Point a rocky reef with a sandy beach at eachside. She went ashore about two hours before high water. The storm resulted in a tidewhich was about two feet higher than prediction. The wind at the scene was SW force 9to 11.Shortly after grounding the ship was seen to crack just forward of the bridge, and in afew minutes the whole bow section came away and was swept up onto the Sker whichforms a plateau about twenty five feet above the beach.The extreme after end then broke away and was also driven up onto the reef and layclose to the bow section. Some of the crew could be seen on the midship section. Theywere unable to make any attempt to use the lifeboats or the Galbraith line-throwingapparatus which was carried on the upper bridge. "In view of the heavy pounding whichthe vessel was sustaining it is probable that anyone on the bridge would require bothhands in order to hold on."As darkness descended a number of cars were driven from the Golf Club onto the dunesbehind the Sker in an attempt to illuminate the scene and offer assistance to thecoastguard.
Lifeboat Called OutWilliam Gammon, Coxswain of The Mumbles lifeboat, was informed at 15.41 GMT(5.41 BST - there being two hours of summer time) of the message broadcast bythe Samtampa at 15.14 that she was drifting towards the Nash. Herman J. Kluge,the station honorary secretary, was informed of the emergency at 15.47 andauthorized the launch.Gilbert Davies, the boats mechanic, fired the maroons from Lifeboat Cottage tosummon the crew. The lifeboat Edward, Prince of Wales was launched down theslipway at the pier at 16.10 some of the crew just having got home from work.Shortly afterwards the coastguard at Mumbles received the ships message of16.03 giving her position as 2.5 miles from Porthcawl Light.The lifeboat was not fitted with radio and the coastguard attempted to signal thisinformation to it by lamp. There was no signalman aboard the lifeboat and visibilitywas poor so the lifeboat turned back and closed the slipway. The information wasshouted to the coxswain and the boat turned seawards once more at about 17.10.
Choked by oil• Many of the bodies - lifeboat men and sailors from the Samtampa - were found with their mouths, ears and nostrils clogged by fuel oil. In many cases they had died after being choked by this oil rather than by drowning.• There is a theory that William Gammon took his tiny vessel inside the stricken Liberty ship, between the Samtampa and the coast, where the water was calmer and the chances of taking men off were greater. Then, so runs the theory, the Samtampa was hit by a gigantic wave that threw her on top of the lifeboat and capsized her.• After this time it is hard to know - certainly there were few marks on the hull of the boat while everything above deck had been smashed away, consistent with her being driven ashore upside down.• In all, 39 of Samtampas crew perished along with eight crewmen from the Edward Prince of Wales. It remains perhaps the worst maritime disaster to hit the south Wales coast. But such is the courage of the men and women of the RNLI that within 24 hours of the sinkings a new lifeboat crew had been formed and the service from Mumbles carried on as before.
The Aftermath• The inquiry into the "Samtampa" disaster failed to reach any definite conclusions. It was found that one of the anchor cables of the stricken vessel was 4 shackles short, but it was considered that rectifying this problem would probably have made little, if any, difference to the outcome that night. Nevertheless recommendations were made that all ship anchor cables be made of the standard length in the future. Rather, the tragedy was believed to have resulted from the ship becoming "unmanageable" due to the extreme weather conditions.• The bodies of the officers and men of the "Samtampa" that could be recognised lie buried in the towns they left for the sea, but the 12 men who could not be identified were laid to rest at the New Cemetery in Porthcawl.• Two years after the disaster on Saturday 23rd April 1949, a white marble memorial was unveiled in the presence of many of the relatives of those who lost their lives, who had travelled from all parts of the country to pay their respects.• The memorial was erected by public subscription, the fund having been inaugurated by Mr. W Ernest Jones, who was Chairman of Porthcawl Council at the time of the tragedy.
S. S. SAMTAMPA CREW CASUALTY ROLLCaptain H. Neal Sherwell (Ship’s Master) from New ZealandW.A. Atkinson, Chief Engineer, from SwanseaPatrick Douglas Allam, Chief Steward, from Burnham-on-SeaJames John Bell (29) Boatswain of 3 Lane Ends, Staithes. He had lost 2 brothers at sea during the war.Arthur Callaghan (30) Donkeyman Greaser of 27 Tunstall Street, North Ormesby, in Merchant Navy duringthe war.Francis Cannon (30) Donkeyman Greaser of Feversham Street, Middlesbrough, the son of a sailor. A brotherhad been lost at sea during the war.Ralph Chester (17) Deck Boy of 59 Palliser Avenue, Brambles Farm, Middlesbrough, on his 3rd trip sincejoining the Merchant Navy. He had been at home for his 17th birthday and his brother’s wedding on EasterMonday 1947.Joseph Croft (19) Assistant Steward of Ashbourne Road, Stockton- on-Tees. He went to sea straight fromschool. His mother had thought he would give it up after the war but “it was in his blood.”Stanley Dartis (19) Ordinary Seaman of 37 Station Road, South Bank, Middlesbrough.
S. S. SAMTAMPA CREW CASUALTY ROLL L.F. Davidson (24) Able seaman of 15 Abbots Road, Whitby. He had been in the Merchant Navy since theage of 15. Unmarried.William John Davis (53) Able Seaman of 83 Durham Street, Middlesbrough.John B.D. Ellis, Apprentice of StockportP. FernsHarry Garside (23) Westbourne Street, Stockton-on-Tees, youngest son in a family of five, on his first voyagein the Merchant Navy less than a year after leaving the Royal Navy. Married with no children.Joseph Gilraine (22) of Ernest Street, Middlesbrough. He had just recovered from Jaundice and his widowedmother did not want him to make the trip.Joseph Griffiths (24) Assistant Cook of 96 Berwick Hills, Middlesbrough, on his second trip since his return tothe Merchant Navy. He had been a prisoner of war in Japan for 3½ years and married for seven weeks to aSouth Bank girl.Donald Hill (26) Able seaman of 7 Wards Yard, Whitby. He had served throughout the war in the Royal Navyand had been in the first flotilla of minesweepers which swept the way for the D- Day invasion force.C. Jackson (32) Ship’s Carpenter of Upgang Lane, Whitby.B. Jones, Chief Cook.
S. S. SAMTAMPA CREW CASUALTY ROLL Herbert Lees (24) a ship’s engineer of 16 High Street, Skelton, formerly from Birkenhead, came from aseafaring family. His father was killed in an enemy air raid during the war. Married with 2 children. His brothernow lives in British Columbia.Isaac Longster (35) Able seaman of Church Street, Staithes. He had lost 2 brothers at sea during the war.D. Lowe, First Officer.Reginald N. Lythel, Second Steward, from Park Road, BatleyP. Marshall, Third Officer.B. McDonald, Fourth Engineer.Patrick McKenna (47)Donkeyman of 169 Marton Road, Middlesbrough. His first voyage back at sea after an absence of 20 yearsbecause he could not get over the death of his wife.William Mensworth (35)Ship’s Fireman, son of Mrs M. Mensworth of Hardwick Street, Blackhall, served in the war on a munition shiptorpedoed in a Russian convoy.Gordon L. Murray (Second Officer) from Crayford, KentArnold Nicholson (19) Galley Boy of 32 Thrush Road, Redcar. A well known member of Redcar LiteraryInstitute, he had been at sea for nearly 4 years and this was his 4th trip.
S. S. SAMTAMPA CREW CASUALTY ROLLK.K. Richardson, Second Engineer of Westbrook Grove, West Hartlepool.J. Riley (Third Engineer)John T. Souter Jnr. Ordinary Seaman of 69 Redcar Road, Thornaby-on-TeesCharles Frederick Shinner (20) of 74 West Dyke Road, Redcar, on his 5th voyage. He hadpreviously worked at Dorman Long’s and taken a prominent part in local athletics.John Strangeway (22) Assistant Steward of 42 Hunter Street, Middlesbrough. He had been atsea since the age of 15.J. Thompson (32) of 21 Anne Street, Middlesbrough.W.E. Thompson (Radio Officer)Robert Weatherill (29) Donkeyman of Sayers Yard, Whitby, married with two children, PettyOfficer in Royal Navy during the war.George Webster (21) Fireman of Lancaster Road, Linthorpe, Middlesbrough. He had made hisfirst sea trip, to Normandy, on D-Day.J. Wilson
Edward Prince of Wales Crew Casualty RollCoxswain:William J. GAMMON.2nd. Coxswain:William NOEL.1st Mechanic:Gilbert DAVIES.2nd Mechanic:Ernest GRIFFIN.Bowman:William THOMAS.William HOWELL.Ronald THOMAS.Richard SMITH.
The memorial window at All SaintsChurch, Oyster mouth, marking thesacrifice of the Mumbles crew.Designed by Tim Lewis it was dedicatedin 1977.
Peter Dover-Wade Remembers• I remember well the night of the storm and that on hearing of the tragedy, my friend and I, both sixteen year old naval Cadets and keen cyclists, decided to ride over to Nash Point near Porthcawl, to see if we could see anything.• How we ever found the site, I can’t remember, but I knew we’d arrived when amongst the sand dunes imprinted on the sand in oil, were the outlines of bodies. We could see the S.S. Samtampa aground and nearer the shore upside down on the rocks, the Mumbles lifeboat with oil everywhere.• The day of the funeral, being naval Cadets we paraded as a unit and followed the very long RAF wing transporter, which bore the eight coffins of the gallant lifeboat men. I have a recollection of the vehicle breaking down and of ropes being produced for us to pull. We made our way to Oystermouth Cemetery, where the burials took place, but those details are lost in my memory.
Pat Symmons RemembersMy fiancé and I were coming back to Mumbles on the train that evening fromhis parents’ house in Danygraig. The weather was so bad that the sea wascoming right over the top of the train. The driver decided in the circumstancesto stop at West Cross. A little later, he decided to resume the journey as thewind was abating a little.Over several days, the lifeboat had been called out twice to the Samtampa,which was in serious trouble near Porthcawl, but once the news camethrough that the lifeboat crew themselves were in danger, my father, PercyHore, a Coast Guard, who was later awarded a B.E.M., went in a car withCommander Hurst, Head of the Cambrian Division, to Porthcawl, but whenthey arrived, the wind was so bad, it nearly tipped the car over. They thenhelped to try and rescue people, but they were all dead, having been coveredin oil and suffocated. My father recovered the body of his friend, WilliamGammon, the Coxswain. Dad, also covered in oil, did not come home untilearly the following morning and subsequently had to claim for a new uniformas his was ruined. I think the youngest member of the lifeboat crew was Mr.Allen, who was only in his 20s.I remember the day of the funeral. It was raining as the procession wound itsway along the Mumbles Road and up Newton Road to the cemetery.
Carl Smith Remembers A small boy, not then three years old, waspuzzled when his father, who had been amember of the church since a lad, arrived homelater that afternoon with Rev. David Wilkinson,curate of all Saints. The two were in theircassocks but soaked to the skin and drippedpools of water round their feet. After a glass ofgrannies rhubarb wine, the curate made his wayhome to Norton. It was another ten years beforethe child understood the significance.