Wednesday, September 19, 2018

MalakandServing as an Engineer Officer with T&J Brocklebank in the late fifties and early sixties I had often heard tales of the destruction of their ship SS Malakand whilst in Liverpool docks during a particularly heavy blitz on the town on 3rd and 4th May 1941.

It was only many years afterwards that I have been able to piece together some accounts of the actual events of what was to extend the various fire and rescue services in the port, and immediate environs, to the absolute limit.

Even the published sources acknowledge that there are some inconstancies and omissions, and suspected dis-information in offi ial sources, in relation to the raids and the aftermath, in the wake of some fairly later critical assessments of the performance of the municipal authorities.

Whilst the main thrust of the German U-boat activity was centered, in what was to be accurately termed the Battle of the Atlantic, it was equally important from an Axis point of view that a concentrated and continual disruption be effected in the main UK cargo loading and dispersal ports around Britain.

Morale may be adversely influenced by continual and targeted bombing, but an equally effective method of affecting an enemy’s fighting capacity was to deny the supply and movement of vital foodstuffs and materials already landed, this in effect was an extension of the U-boat campaign being waged at sea.

Whilst a successful attack on a ship at sea may cost a ship, its cargo and tragically all, or most of her crew, the damage to a ship in a crowded port could inevitably spread to other ships in the near vicinity, with the added potential to affect warehouses and cargo already unloaded or ready to be loaded, all putting an added burden on the various fire fighting, salvage and other rescue agencies.

The port of Liverpool, by reasons of geography and tradition, was a key port for the transport of materials during WWII. Its western location was a convenient port for the Atlantic convoys and US traffic, and avoided the need for ships to travel around the north of Scotland to UK east coast ports, or traverse the hazardous passage through the English Channel to London.

Given that the town and immediate environs was not a large manufacturing area, a large proportion of the 900,000 inhabitants of Liverpool, and nearby Bootle, in 1939 were engaged in some aspect of port and ship operations, and was home to a signifi cant number of principal shipowners.

Taking May 1941 as an example there were no less than 241 ocean going merchant ships berthed in the many quays and docks.

Whilst the preponderance were under the British flag they were a significant number of ships under the foreign flags of nations under German control, aiding the allied effort either directly or indirectly, in addition to these were a number of neutral ships.

To service this trade, and all the other multifarious needs associated with a busy port, there were 48 tugs, 292 barges, bulk elevators, dredgers and lighters, and numerous other miscellaneous small craft, in addition there was a large fleet of naval warships, either under repair or based there.

This area was then naturally designated a prime target by the German air force, and the raids of the night of 3rd/4th May 1941 was to be the most severe bombardment from the air suffered by the towns on the east bank of the Mersey in the whole war.

It was claimed that 298 aircraft dropped 363 tons of high explosives and 49,706 incendiaries, included in that total were a number of 100kg bomb mines, which acted as mines in the water but were dropped without parachutes as normally employed in minelaying, causing an added difficulty to bomb spotters.

Whilst some scattering of bombs fell on outlying districts of Lancashire, the main weight of the attack was concentrated on a strip of land within two miles of the Liverpool dock wall, from Liverpool city centre to the southern parts of Crosby and Litherland, a full moon and light cloud giving near perfect conditions for the bombers, accounts reveal that the raid lasted for five hours.

The scale of the subsequent devastation was in part compounded by the failure of the fire service to cope with the scale of the disaster, a failure possibly attributable to organisational defects rather than any individual shortcomings. All the more regrettable in that the organisation had performed faultlessly in earlier raids in March of the same year.

Among the many ships loading or unloading at the time of the heaviest raids, were the Brocklebank steamers Mahout and Malakand, both loading about 1,500 tons of high explosive bombs in Liverpool’s Huskisson Dock.

One of the Quartermasters on the Mahout was Alex Henderson of Scousburgh in Shetland.

The explosives were arriving in ammunition trains carrying about 300 tons of 250lb and 500lb bombs for the RAF in the Middle East, each train load being split with half to each ship, a complication was that these had to be transported through the sheds before loading.

Those wagons not unloaded before dark were withdrawn out of the dock area for safety.

Given the extremely hazardous nature of the cargo in a confined space, as a built up dock complex it had been suggested that the ship should also be withdrawn out into the River Mersey at nightfall, a proposal that was vetoed in view of the danger from moored and dropped mines, with the very probable delays caused by tidal conditions.

Lying at the south quay in Branch No 3 of Huskisson Dock, the Mahout was still loading, with HE bombs and small arms ammunition in holds number 2, 4 and 6. Chief Officer Scoins, aided by members of the Lascar crew, dealt with the incendiaries which fell on the ship, other fires broke out in the shed ashore abreast number 4 hatch. The third Officer and the deck Serang with a ship’s shore party assisted the shed watchman in dowsing these, which were being fuelled by a burst gas main and leaking oil drums.

Huskisson Dock The Malakand, in Number 2 Branch, had already taken aboard ninety-two tons of soap from the Lever Bros barge Erasmic from Port Sunlight for export to the east, and now had 1,000 tons of bombs in number 1, 3 and 4 holds.

She was under the command of 41 year old Captain HC Kinley, from the Isle of Man, who had left the sea in WWI to join the Royal Flying Corps.

Another ten shore relief officers and 61 Lascar crew members made up the ship’s complement.

Around 2300 hours on the night of the 3rd May, a partly deflated barrage balloon snagged on the ship’s foremast, after falling it landed on number 1 hatch at the same time as a few flares drifted low over the ship, followed by a shower of incendiaries. Some landed astern of the ship but unfortunately one landed only a short distance from the hydrogen filled balloon.

One of the standby Chief Officers, HG Allan on his first day on duty after sick leave, who two months earlier had been rescued from the sea in the Atlantic after his ship had been torpedoed, went forward with others to smother the incendiary bomb with sand but was hampered by the remains of the balloon which was still flapping about.

It next swept over them and exploded in a sheet of flame setting the hatch cover on fire with flames reaching as high as the crows nest.

Mr Allan was hurled across the hatch and half way down the fore deck, losing his helmet and with his hair on fire, luckily otherwise uninjured he was able to organise the extinguishing of the fire.

Having only just successfully accomplished this, they were next dismayed to see two HE bombs landing on the shed next to the ship, the sides of which were about six feet in from the edge of the quay. Further incendiaries soon set the shed ablaze, which spread to the ship, aided by the stiff breeze. The ship’s starboard lifeboats and wooden decks abaft the bridge were soon alight, and eventually the heat and smoke soon made the upper works untenable.

In view of the fast developing situation, the captain sent the majority of the crew ashore out of danger, the third Officer went to the Auxiliary Fire Station at the end of Branch number 1.

The captain then considered cutting the mooring ropes in an effort to get the ship away from the source of the fires, but the direction of the wind would have taken her north with every likelihood of spreading the fire to the other side of the dock, the fire had taken such a hold on the ship that it was too dangerous for anyone to go down into the engine room to try and flood the ship, contrary to an often popularly held notion it is not normal for ships to have “sea cocks”, which can be immediately opened to effect scuttling.

His mind was soon to be made up however, when the lifeboats and other sections of the bridge on the port side took fire and the fires raging in the shed were now approaching the single gangway on the after deck, the only course now was to give the order for the remaining officers to abandon ship, according to the captain’s report this was at 0030.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - May 2016 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Nexus

Most Popular

  • LNG Not the Driver for New Ferry Orders +

  • Big Boost for Liverpool Container Services +

  • Tall Ships at Liverpool +

  • Royal Navy Commissions New Survey Ship +

  • Rolls-Royce Marine Sold to Norwegian Group +

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • Bridge Sections Transported on Giant Barge +

    Lowestoft Barge One of the largest barges ever handled at Lowestoft was safely moved out of the port early in July on Read More
  • Tougher Penalties for Laser Misuse +

    Phil Buckley Tougher new penalties for the misuse of laser devices has been welcomed. Read More
  • Rolls-Royce Marine Sold to Norwegian Group +

    Rolls-Royce Autonomous Ship The UK-based major engineering company Rolls-Royce is selling its Commercial Marine business to the Norwegian technology group Kongsberg Gruppen ASA. Read More
  • Launch of New Ship For Antartic Work +

    The launch party Shortly after noon on July 14, the new polar research ship Sir David Attenborough was launched at the Birkenhead shipyard Read More
  • Barrow Takes Port of the Year Title +

    Barrow Port Barrow has won the prestigious Port of the Year Award at this year’s 10th annual UK Ports Conference in London. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Cleaning Up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch +

    Garbage System 001 This month, a new floating clean-up system to tackle what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was due Read More
  • Panama Canal Ban on LNG Ships to Go +

    Panama Canal On Oct 1, the Panama Canal Authority will lift its daylight and encounter bans on LNG vessels to offer more Read More
  • Setting New Standards on Hawaii Service +

    Daniel K Inouye What is claimed to be the largest container ship to be built in the United States was named at a Read More
  • Wartime Wreck Checked For Oil Leak +

    Coimbra In mid-June, the US Coast Guard carried out a special survey to see if a fully-laden tanker sunk by a Read More
  • LNG-Fuel Ferry in Service +

    Spirit of British Columbia The BC Ferries’ Spirit of British Columbia returned to service on June 6 after a major mid-life upgrade which included Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • Wreck of Cruiser From 1905 Battle is Located +

    Kea Trader The South Korean company Shinil Group said it has found the wreck of a Russian cruiser that was sunk 113 Read More
  • Ship Salvors Recover Debris From Reef +

    Kea Trader A new independent bathymetric survey of the wreck of the container ship Kea Trader, 24,720gt, on a reef in New Read More
  • Final Hurdle Overcome in COSCO Takeover +

    COSCO The Chinese line COSCO Shipping Holdings has been given permission from the Chinese anti-trust authorities for its proposed US$6.3bn takeover Read More
  • Giant Collier Third to Trade With Japan +

    Port Kembla The first liquefied natural gas import terminal in New South Wales, Australia, is to be built at Port Kembla by Read More
  • ONE Commitment Enters Service +

    ONE Commitment The first of the magenta-coloured container ships of the Ocean Network Express (ONE) entered service in May. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • Royal Navy Commissions New Survey Ship +

    HMS Magpie British News The latest survey vessel to join the Royal Navy was commissioned into service at her homeport of Devonport Read More
  • F-35 Stealth Fighters Land in UK +

    F-35 British News The first four of Britain’s next generation F-35 Lightning supersonic fighter jets touched down in the United Kingdom Read More
  • Upgrade Planned for Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier +

    Admiral Kuznetsov Russian News Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, will be refitted to prolong the warship’s operational life. Read More
  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

    HMS Astute British News Ahead of the American led missile strikes against suspected chemical weapon manufacturing plants in Syria in early April, Read More
  • Busy Period for Japanese Navy +

    JS Asahi Japanese News It has been a particularly busy period for the Japanese with a number of new vessels being accepted Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Victoria Of Wight’s Voyage Home +

    Victoria of Wight Wightlink’s new £30million flagship Victoria of Wight sailed from the Cemre shipyard in Yalova, Turkey on 16 July for the Read More
  • Greek Ferry Sector Steps Up in Fire Tragedy +

    Paros Jet The Greek ferry sector was in the news during the wildfire tragedy that swept the coastal area near Athens during Read More
  • LNG Not the Driver for New Ferry Orders +

    Stena E-Flexer In the last issue of Sea Breezes, I wrote of the breathtaking development of Irish Sea ferry operations over the Read More
  • Condor Looks to the Future +

    Condor Clipper Condor Ferries has faced some speculation in recent months as its owner, Macquarie European Investment Fund 2, winds down and Read More
  • W.B. Yeats Further Delayed +

    W.B. Yeats The delivery of Irish Ferries’ new €144 million cruise ferry W.B. Yeats from German shipbuilder Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG) has been Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Sunderland to Esbjerg Race +

    Oosterschelde On the north east coast of England, it was Sunderland’s proud claim that more ships had been built here than Read More
  • Tall Ships at Liverpool +

    Belem At the end of May, a Tall Ships fleet met at Liverpool. Read More
  • New Bridge Challenges Melissa +

    Melissa The organisers of the charter barges working from Ipswich are worried by plans to build a road bridge across the Read More
  • German Schooners +

    Thor Heyerdahl Two German schooners based at Hamburg are regularly making voyages under sail with general cargoes across the Atlantic. Read More
  • RFA Pearleaf +

    RFA Pearleaf Thanks to Orkney Image Library for this view of the RFA Pearleaf. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Naming Ceremony for Forth Tug and Pilot Boat +

    Forth Puma and Craigleith In my Message From The Bridge in the August edition of Sea Breezes I highlighted the Firth of Forth. Read More
  • SMS Avonmouth Relocates to Bigger Premises +

    City of Cardiff In my long-ago deep sea days with Blue Funnel, Avonmouth was an occasional port of call before heading to our Read More
  • Big Boost for Liverpool Container Services +

    Port of Liverpool More positive news from Peel Ports Group. Read More
  • Kerne Preservation Receives Queens Award for Voluntary Service +

    Steam Tug Kerne I was delighted to hear that in the Queen’s Honours List, published at the beginning of June 2018, the Merseyside Read More
  • UK P&I Launched Safety Competition +

    UK PandI Logo UK P&I Club, a leading provider of P&I insurance and other services to the international shipping community, has launched its Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Turnkey Explorer Yacht +

    Explorer 67 An exciting opportunity for an owner looking to build one of the finest explorer yacht projects available has presented itself. Read More
  • Great Perseverance +

    Meira Behind the construction of every great yacht there is a story and in the building of Meira, it is one Read More
  • Keel Laid for Hapag-Lloyd’s First Expedition Cruise Ship +

    Hanseatic Inspiration A keel-laying ceremony was held on June 20 2017 for Hanseatic Nature, the first of two expedition cruise ships being Read More
  • Superyacht Season - Cannes +

    Numarine 26 XP Loved and hated in equal measure by those who exhibit at the Cannes Yachting Festival, as it is correctly known, Read More
  • Superyacht Season - Southampton +

    Targa 43 OPEN The season begins with Southampton, now celebrating its 50th year which, following the demise of the London Boat Show becomes Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

Largs Bay

One Voyage Too Many - The Last of the Bay Boats, 1957

Largs Bay, a twin screw turbine steamer of some 14,000 grt, had a long rather complicated history after being built Read More
Galeb

"Galeb" - From Banana Boat to Presidential Yacht

One day in October 2017, I sat at an outside table at a restaurant on the fringe of the harbour Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Peter Crawford

Peter’s “Scillonian” Life on the Ocean Wave

Peter Crawford, is relief captain and first mate of the MV Scillonian, the sturdy little ship which is an essential Read More
HMS Lincoln

HMS Lincoln and Her Unusual Defensive Weapon

A “run ashore” the night before going to sea the following day is very much part of a seafarer’s life. Read More
  • 1
  • 2