Torpedoed ship

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by echo_noire, Dec 29, 2011.

  1. echo_noire

    echo_noire Junior Member

    Hi all,

    Apologies if I'm asking questions that have been asked before but I am very new to this and have no idea what I'm doing!

    I'm trying to find out as much information as possible about my Grandad's service during the war. One of the stories is that he was a Desert Rat that was captured by the Germans and was eventually taken to a North African port (possibly Benghazi) where they were crammed into the holds of a cargo ship.

    Part way into the voyage the ship was torpedoed and went down by the bows but did not sink. The boat continued to float for several days until land was spotted. Apparently the Italian guards then panicked, threw down their rifles and jumped overboard to be shot by the prisoners as they surfaced.

    The ship ultimately washed up on the coast of a Greek Island where weather conditions were extremely poor and it was some days before the Germans were able to pick them up. My Grandad ultimately ended up in PG 65 in Italy in 1943 as I have a copy of a letter written by him at that time.

    Does anyone have any ideas how I can verify this story and possibly identify the ship? I believe this happened in 1942 but can't be certain. Unfortunately Grandad is no longer with us so this is all hearsay.

    Any help you can give me will be gratefully received!

  2. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    From a photo description from the AWM (some similarities in the story):

    Studio portrait of WX8372 Corporal (Cpl) Herbert Ernest (Bert) Mason, 2/28th Battalion.

    Cpl Mason enlisted on 4 September 1940 and arrived in the Middle East on 2 February 1941, he was reported missing on 27 July 1942 and was later confirmed as a prisoner of war (POW).

    On the 16 August 1942 Cpl Mason along with an estimated 2,000 other POWs from the holding camp at Benghazi were loaded into the holds of the Italian freighter Nino Bixio. About 200 Australians and 300 New Zealand and British troops were crowded into the No. 1 hold (front).

    At 3.00pm on the 17 August 1942 the Nini Bixio was torpedoed by a British submarine, one torpedo struck the engine room and another the crowded No. 1 hold. The ship did not sink and was towed to the Greek port of Navarino and the wounded taken off.

    The survivors were kept on the ship to to carry up the dead and assist with the identification. Of the 504 men in the No. 1 hold only 70 survived. Cpl Mason was killed, his body was not recovered and he has no known grave; his name is commemorated on the El Alamein Memorial.

    Also a fair bit of info on here - ANZAC POW Free Men in Europe - A. By Sea

    On 9 December, 1941, the "Sebastiano Veniero" (formerly the Dutch "Jason") with 2,000 POW among her cargo, was torpedoed by the British submarine "Porpoise" and was subsequently beached off Novarino.

    In the 12 month period of December 1941 - December 1942, six ships carrying a total of nearly 7,000 POW en route to Italy from North Africa were sunk, as shown in the following table:

    Date....Ship....Tonnes....Left.... For....Sunk by....POW....Killed....Aus....NZ
    05.12.41 Chakdina, 6000, Tobruk, Alexandria, U81 - 400, 16, -, -.
    09.12.41 Jason, 6350, Benghazi, Italy, Porpoise - 2000, 450, 2, 45.
    27.02.42 Tembien, 5584, Tripoli, Naples, Upholder - 469, 397, -, -.
    16.08.42 N'Bixio, 8600, Benghazi, Brindisi, Turbulent - 3000, 275, 39, 118.
    04.10.42 Loreto, 1055, Tripoli, Naples, S/M P.46 - 350.
    14.11.42 Scillin, 1579, Tripoli, Trapani, S/M P.21 - 28, 10, 2, 2.

    (I think that the Chakdina shouldn't be on this list, but I am probably incorrect....)
  3. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    Sebastiano Veniero. Ship attack by submarine

    On the 9th September 1941, an Italian ship on which were embarked approximately 1,200 South African and about 800 British Prisoners of War, was torpedoed off the coast of Greece. The ship's officers abandoned ship without making any provision for the safety of these prisoners. There were no officers amongst these prisoners.

    In due course the ship grounded during a gale in very rough sea which threatened to overturn her. Several British Merchant Seamen attempted to swim ashore with a life line but, owing to the heavy sea, were unable to do so and were pulled back in a state of exhaustion.

    Lance Corporal Friedlander volunteered to attempt to reach the shore with a life line and after ninety minutes in the sea was successful. A cable was then attached and pulled to the shore, by means of which some hundreds of prisoners and all the wounded were taken to safety.

    Lance Corporal Friedlander's courage and endurance was responsible for the saving of hundreds of lives.
  4. echo_noire

    echo_noire Junior Member

    Thanks for this Dave, the Sebastiano Veniero seems to fit the bill. As I understand it some of the men jumped overboard to try and swim for shore and were drowned. It must have been horrific.
  5. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    NINO BIXIO (August 17, 1942)

    Italian troop transport (7,137 tons) sunk in the Mediterranean between Libya and Sicily, by the British submarine HMS Turbulent. She was carrying New Zealand prisoners of war and around 400 French P.O.W.s captured in North Africa. The Nino Bixio was hit by two torpedoes, one exploding in the prisoners hold and killing many. The injured were brought up on deck and attended to by medical officers. The badly damaged Nino Bixio was taken in tow by one of its escorting destroyers and towed to Navarino in southern Greece. There the dead prisoners were buried, the rest being shipped, via Corinth, to a prisoner of war camp near Bari in Italy. A total of 118 New Zealanders lost their lives.
  6. echo_noire

    echo_noire Junior Member

    Thanks for all the information. I don't suppose there's a way of verifying which ship he might have been on? I think it sounds more like the Sebastiano Veniero as Grandad was very clear that some of the guards left them to their fate.

    Is there any where that shows a list of survivors? Would his service record show this sort of information?
  7. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    SEBASTIANO VENIER (December 9, 1941)

    Italian motorship of 6,310 tons, built in Amsterdam in 1939 under the name Jason. Requisitioned by the Italian Navy and renamed Sebastiano Venier, the ship had left Benghazi harbour with around 2,000 British prisoners of war including black South African troops, New Zealanders and Australians, all captured by the Germans in North Africa. Five miles south of Navarino on the Greek Peloponnese, the ship was attacked by the British submarine HMS Porpoise. She was not flying a P.O.W. flag. Hit by a torpedo between the No.1 and No.2 hold on the starboard side, the force of the explosion hurled the heavy hatchway covers to mast height, the falling timbers killing dozens of men trying to escape from the hold. From the flooded No.1 hold only five men survived. Most of the panic stricken crew abandoned the ship taking all the lifeboats. The Italian hospital ship Arno appeared on the scene but ploughed its way through the men struggling in the water and kept on sailing, its priority being the rescue of the crew of a German ship sunk nearby. A total of 320 lives were lost among them 309 British P.O.W.s, including 45 New Zealanders. Eleven Italian soldiers also died. The ship did not sink but managed to reach the shore at Point Methoni near Pilos where it was beached. All prisoners who managed to reach the shore were confronted by hundreds of Italian occupation troops and were taken to a makeshift camp where during the next few months many died from frostbite and disease. In May, 1942, the prisoners were transferred to Campo 85 at Tuturano in Italy.

    9 Dec 1941
    HMS Porpoise (Lt.Cdr. E.F. Pizey, DSO, RN) torpedoes and heavy damages the Italian passenger / cargo ship Sebastiano Venier (6311 GRT) about 5 nautical miles south of Navarino. The damaged ship was grounded and wrecked off Cape Methoni.
    The Sebastiano Venier is transporting more then 1800 Allied POW's. Dispite the bad weather almost 1700 of these are rescued.
  8. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books


    Chakdina did not carry POWs from the Commonwealth, but rather Axis POWs back to Alex.

    Jason = Sebastiano Venier.

    You are missing Ariosto, 14 Feb 42, sunk by HMS P.38.

    All the best

  9. Chipi30

    Chipi30 Junior Member


    My great uncle, Private Reginald Chippett, No.6022433 of the Essex Regiment died on 14 November 1942.

    From family we know he was a POW in North Africa and died when he was transported on a POW ship that was sunk. The family were told it was an accident by the 'Americans'.

    He is named on the plaque for the Essex Regiment memorial (have photo) and named at the Alamein Memorial, Column 63.

    I believe he must have died on the SS Scillin however I have not been able to confirm this, can anyone help or suggest an alternative ship?

  10. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

  11. 591-research

    591-research Junior Member

    My great grand father's youngest brother was killed on the SS Scillin. His parents and siblings died not knowing this. Only recently when the CWGC amended all their records with death dates and so on, did we find out about our relative.

    It disgusted me to read about it and it disgusts me still to this day, how a British vessel could torpedo a vessel known to be carrying British POWs. Worse still was the cover up.
  12. Chipi30

    Chipi30 Junior Member

    Has anyone been able to obtain the list of POWs lost on the SS Scillin?

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