Wednesday, September 19, 2018
TSS Awatea

Somewhere off the North African port of Béjaïa, deep on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea, lie the remains of the greatest ship ever built for the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. Her wreck has been there since Armistice Day 1942, 75 years this November. Unfortunately for TSS Awatea, troop-carrying while on New Zealand Articles, 11 November 1942 brought no armistice only fiery Armageddon in just the seventh year of her life, 11,300 nautical miles from home.

Fitted out at Glasgow as an LSI, a landing ship infantry, the Awatea sailed on 26 October 1942 from Gourock on the upper Firth of Clyde with approximately 1,300 troops embarked. They comprised elements of the US Army’s 1st Ranger Battalion together with the British Army’s Number 6 Commando, a battalion-sized infantry assault unit whose commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel Iain F McAlpine. Beneath her davits, in place of the Awatea’s ‘Birmabright’ 80-seat aluminium lifeboats, sat ten motorised landing barges lashed to the ship’s side outboard of her boat deck. In the Firth of Clyde LSI Awatea took station in Convoy KMF1, outbound for the Mediterranean and Operation Torch – the Allied landings in North Africa. Eventually to comprise 20 deeply-laden transports, KMF1 was led by the headquarters ship HMS Bulolo flying the flag of the operation’s Eastern Naval Task Force Commander, Vice- Admiral Sir Harold M Burrough.

At dusk on Saturday 7 November, LSI Awatea and the six fast troopships belonging to her sector - all of them requisitioned passenger liners - altered course and commenced high-speed steaming for the port city of Algiers. They had stopped engines at their assault position, some distance to seaward of Algiers, by 10.30pm. Because of inexperience with the handling of scramble nets and landing barges, Admiral Burrough reported in his 8 December 1942 despatch that ‘landing craft for Red 1, 2, 3 and 4 Beaches were very late in getting away from Awatea and one group had to be left behind.’ At 4 next morning, 8 November, the Awatea shifted to a new position 12 miles west along the coast. Disembarkation of troops and stores continued there until late that Sunday night.

By 12.45pm next day, Monday 9 November 1942, the Awatea had returned to anchor in the roadstead off Algiers. Late the following morning she weighed and proceeded into Algiers harbour, berthing there at 1.30pm. Throughout that afternoon and the evening of 10 November, LSI Awatea embarked a Royal Air Force servicing commando along with stores including 1,360 four-gallon tins of high-octane aviation spirit. They were all to go ashore as part of a seaborne assault on Jijel, another port city known then as Djidjelli, located east of Algiers on the North African coast. Objective for the landing was seizure of Djidelli aerodrome so that RAF fighters might use it as a forward base.

Escorted by HM escort destroyers Bicester and Wilton, LSI Awatea departed Algiers at 11.10pm, steaming through the night to be at the assault’s release point by 6am on Wednesday 11 November. A heavy swell was running; daylight revealed high surf on the landing beaches and so the assault had to be cancelled. Steaming once more at high speed, the Awatea returned along the coast to ‘a place called Bougie’ where she anchored off the breakwater by 10am in company with three other fast transports and numerous ships of the Royal Navy. Today Bougie has the name Béjaïa. From 11 that morning, Armistice Day 11 November 1942, LSI Awatea commenced discharging all troops and cargo using her landing barges.

The unloading work was interrupted at 1.30pm by enemy aircraft, all antiaircraft guns aboard the transports and escorts going into action to produce a concentrated barrage into skies sunny and clear. LSI Awatea had a defensive armament comprising one 4-inch quick-firer mounted on the roof of her poop deckhouse, a single Bofors 40- mm gun, 10 single Oerlikon 20-mm guns and a mixture of rocket-firing weapons, 12 in number. Two bombs fell into the sea close-by the Awatea then a second attack began at 2pm. This was made by four CANT Z.1007 Alcione three-engined bombers of the Italian Regia Aeronautica. One of the aircraft flew along her starboard side, machine-gunning the upper decks fortuitously without hitting aviation fuel still to be unloaded. Attempting to climb away astern of the ship, a shell from the Awatea’s 4-inch exploded beneath the Italian plane, sending it crashing into a hillside. The ‘all clear’ was sounded at 2.30pm, no ships having been hit. At 4.25pm, as soon as the last troops and fuel tins were gone, and with all her landing barges hoisted back aboard, the Awatea received orders leave Bougie immediately and proceed to Algiers then Gibraltar. She got underway at 4.30pm.

Inferno
Six minutes later, the senior officer commanding LSI Awatea’s destroyer escort ran up the flag signal ‘air warning’ on his halyards. From the destroyer’s compass platform a signalling lamp flashed urgently in Morse: ‘assume first degree anti-aircraft readiness.’ With all boilers set away, the Awatea’s geared turbines rapidly worked up to 105 rpm on both shafts. Guns’ crews went to ‘action stations, repel aircraft’ greatly heartened by their earlier success. This time, however, the Awatea no longer had the benefit of massed fire from an anchorage filled with heavily armed transports and warships. Nor the intervention of RAF Spitfires whose pilots had shown Battle of Britain zeal in breaking up earlier attacks. And this time, it was the Luftwaffe.

At 4.40pm, suddenly from low cloud, a formation of up to 30 German Junkers Ju 88 twin-engined dive bombers appeared above the Awatea. Dive bombing commenced with the ship straddled by a forest of near-misses then, from 4.53pm, taking direct hits. A stick of bombs fell into Numbers 1 and 2 holds, both of which were empty, and detonated in the ‘tween decks. With nothing to absorb their force, the explosions vented through the ship’s hull low down on the starboard side, tearing away whole strakes of rivetted plating. Blown aloft, part of the steel covers for Number 2 hatch landed on the starboard wing of Awatea’s bridge, completely wrecking it. Another hatch lid, similarly cannoned upwards, demolished the after end of what had once been the Awatea’s first class promenade deck. Widespread fires erupted in the forward part of the ship. Near-misses to port and starboard blew-in the Awatea’s superstructure at its fore end, shattering the accommodation there. An attempt was made to turn back for Bougie, no more than two miles astern, with the hope of beaching her. She began swinging in response to ‘hard-a-port’ but all telegraph, telephone and telemotor communications from the bridge were soon lost.

Heinkel He 111 torpedo bombers followed the Ju 88s. They descended from both sides in a co-ordinated cross-cross attack with LSI Awatea again the sole target. At 5.25pm two thumping explosions were felt, seconds apart, as aerial torpedoes struck the vessel’s port side between Number 2 funnel and the mainmast. The engine room’s aft transverse watertight bulkhead collapsed, releasing an avalanche of flood-water onto the main machinery. Beneath the cataract went all three sets of British Thomson-Houston 450kW geared steam turbogenerators supplying the ship with electricity at 220 volts DC. All lighting and all fresh water supply pumps ‘blacked’ as a result, bringing firefighting efforts to an end. The Awatea, her head to the west, took a 40-to-45-degree list to port.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - September 2017 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