Rescue

 

Detailing the experiences of those onboard the burning Empire Patrol and the various rescue attempts made by the British to save them. Personal accounts by sailors aboard the H.M.S. Trouncer, H.M.S. Devonshire and H.M. Submarine Spark are included.

 

Arthur Athans talks of the rescue attempt by the British Navy:

 

During our ordeal at the front, another drama was taking place at the stern without us knowing, the British aircraft carrier Trouncer arrived close to the stern of the burning ship trying to save some passengers. This was a failure and the Trouncer retreated sailing on the side of our ship. This was the first time we saw the aircraft carrier lowering rescue boats on very heavy seas approaching towards us at the bow.

 

The Officer lowered me down into the lifeboat and the rest of the passengers from the front of the boat were saved. Some climbed down the ropes and into waiting craft whilst others were thrown onto canvasses held by men on the lifeboats. Ladder were also used and others jumped and floated in the water before being picked up. We arrived at the side of the Trouncer exhausted, with burns all over my body and I was helped by the crew up the steel steps of the carrier.

 

During the evening and into the night people were ferried onto the Trouncer. Those already onboard looked anxiously for missing relatives.

 

I was placed on a stretcher and taken dawn to the hospital to receive first aid. Afterwards I was taken further down another floor together where all the survivors assembled. My sisters were saved and my mother arrived much later.

 

From Katina Verevis (nee Simonides):

 

I climbed down a rope ladder and into the launch that came from the Trouncer, but my grandmother and Despina Boyatzis floated in the sea for three hours before they were rescued.

 

And from Nick Loucas:

 

We were picked up in our raft early next morning and I remember being lifted from the raft in a stretcher and taken to what appeared to be a hospital. The room had a big red cross on the door.

 

Evangelia Mallis (nee Boyatzis) recalls:

 

After we were rescued safely by the Trouncer we stood by the rails watching the sea in the darkness to see if we could recognise relatives that were still missing. The rescue operation seemed to have gone on for hours.

 

Report by Terry Hulbert who was on board the H.M.S. Devonshire.

 

On the second trip to Sydney we were about fifty miles out from Port Said, when we got a S.O.S. from the steamship Empire Patrol, she was on fire, on board were 567people of whom 513 were Greek refugee's returning from camps in Abyssinia (Ethiopia). There were other ships in the area all picking up survivors. We also rescued several of them. After sweeping the sea in ever-increasing circles and not finding any more survivors, we continued on our way to Port Said.

 


A while later the lookout spotted something in the water. As we got nearer we could make out a young boy about 10 years old clinging to a carley float only six foot square, we picked him up and gave him a bath and a good meal. After a few hours, he was running around the ship, none the worse after his adventure. There are not many 10-year-old boys who can say they've been sailing on a 8” cruiser.

 

Leading Seaman Herbert Bunting of the H.M.S. Trouncer gives an account of the rescue of refugees on the Empire Patrol:

Leading Seaman Herbert Bunting

 

I was later sent to Belfast to join the H.M.S. Trouncer, an Aircraft Carrier loaned from the United States. Just as our training was completed the war in Europe ended, so we were direct to sail to the Far East to help in the Pacific war. We were travelling through the Mediterranean when we received a distress call. It was from the “Empire Patrol” a ship that was on its way to Cyprus taking Cypriot refugees from North Africa where they had been interred by the Germans. The ship was on fire and we were the closest vessel to them. (Webmaster: Note incorrect assumptions re the refugees).

 

The Aircraft Carrier H.M.S. Trouncer

 

The captain turned the Trouncer to go to their aid and as we approached the burning Empire Patrol, we could see heavy smoke and flames and people swimming in the sea. I was off duty at the time and when the captain ask for anyone who was a strong swimmer to jump into the sea to help rescue the refugees, I volunteered.

 

The Empire Patrol on fire

 


We did not have time to put lifejackets on and I knew, of course, that an aircraft carrier is a big ship but until I jumped in I didn’t realise how high the flight deck is from the water. I seemed to be falling for ages and ages and then I went down and down and down and down into the sea, it was utter blackness. I, eventually, stopped sinking and started trying to swim up to the light; I thought that I would never reach the surface again. I came up gasping for air, looked around and started swimming towards the people in the water. They had lifejackets on and I and the other volunteers swam them towards the lifeboats from the Trouncer. We were swimming for quite a while and the lifeboats had become full. I saw two women holding onto some floating debris and swam towards them. I tried to swim pushing them before me but was making no headway, so I motioned them to hang on whilst I swam for help, hoping to get a line from one of the lifeboats so that they could be pulled behind the boat and to safety. I seemed to have been swimming for ages, but when I turned round to check on the ladies, I was only about 10 ft away from them.

 

Leading Seaman Bunting in the water rescuing two women

 

I was getting more and more tired and felt myself weakening very quickly. I remember sinking below the waves. I knew I was drowning and it is true; all of your life does flash before your eyes. I got angry with myself and using all of the energy I had left, I kicked my way to the surface. I cannot remember what happened after this but I do remember waking up in the sick bay. I was told that two hours after the ladies were rescued and had boarded the Trouncer, one of them gave birth. I often wonder what happened to that mother and baby.

 

J J Gower of H.M.S. Trouncer gives his account of the rescue of refugees:

 

After a short stay at Malta our next port of call was Port Said, however just before we arrived a distress call was received.  We changed course and off Haifa we came across a large ship on fire from stem to stern, it was called “Empire Patrol”, it was carrying Greek refugees, mainly elderly and a large percentage female.  There were many hundreds of them, we were the only ship in the vicinity, when we arrived everyone was trapped either in a small space at the bow or stern of the ship the rest was blazing red hot. I was detailed to take my motor boat and rescue as many people as possible I made many trips loaded with survivors back to Trouncer, which was stood off around two hundred yards away.  We had other of our small boats helping too, and it got hotter and the screams got louder, my boat was getting overloaded and the sea was quite bumpy.  I was engaged under the stern where the old people had to be lowered by ropes, probably thirty feet, some could not grip, I had one old lady let go half way down to my boat, she crashed down completely smashing my boats canopy, breaking her leg and arm in the bargain.  As the fires got worse, everyone was jumping in the water and we were doing our utmost to fish them out before they drowned.  Some were clinging for dear life on pieces of wreckage.  It was awful.  It was now getting dark and finding these poor people amongst the waves was bad enough in daylight, but darkness was by following pleas for help, it was the twenty ninth of September 1945 when this happened.

 

Maurice Conway was a member of H.M.S. Trouncer's Damage Control Party and prepared this article:

 

Early on September 29th, 15 0 0, HMS Trouncer was headed towards Port Said en-route to the Pacific Theatre of War, fully equipped with aircraft, Fighters, Reconaissar and domestic. The Flight-deck was partially loaded with crates of spares and secured by wires to deck-fittings against the possibilty of bad weather.

 

The "Empire Patrol" was a typical 'rust-bucket' of the time,doing any jobs that came its' way, and on the day of the incident was carrying Greek, and, more specifically, CasIellorizians back to their homelands, from Port Said. The fire aboard the Empire Patrol was notified to the 'Listening World' and the nearest vessel was the Trouncer which immediately altered course towards the stricken ship. The intention of the Trouncer was to get as close to the Empire Patrol as possible, to putdown small boats and, by their use, pick up those who had jumped or fallen into the sea and then to provide comfort and first-aid to the needy whilst returning all survivors to Port Said.

 

In the event a lot of repatriates jumped from the freighter prematurely, either because of the fire and smoke making their situation intolerable or, because they believed that this big rescue vessel would be with them in a very few minutes. This jumping from the freighter too early resulted tragically, in an increase of the death-rolls over what would normally be expected from such a tragedy.

 

 

The Naval Review publication of May 1946 included an article titled, "Fire On Board The Empire Patrol". The article was compiled by a sailor who gave the pseudonym of "Baggage".

FIRE ON BOARD THE EMPIRE PATROL.

 

H.M.S. Trouncer, an assault carrier, on passage from Malta to Port Said en route for Ceylon, was about to enter Port Said on Saturday, the 29 th of September, 1945, when at 13.15 a signal was received from the Senior Naval Officer, Red Sea and Canal Area, instructing her to proceed to the assistance of S.S. Empire Patrol, which was on fire about fifty-five miles away. The ship was at once turned and engine telegraphs were rung to full speed ahead, the engine room being informed of the need for haste.

 

Down below in the engine room, where the temperature on the maneuvering platform was 115°-120° Fahrenheit, every effort was made, and despite a head wind and sea and a water temperature of over 80° the ship was soon making eighteen and a half knots. The engines ran smoothly, and a tendency for the temperature of the lubricating oil to rise was checked by the judicious use of a hose.

 

The Empire Patrol's S.O.S. said that the crew were taking to the boats, and as the sea was not excessive few fears were felt for their safety ; in fact, since a merchant vessel, the S.S. Ocean. Glory, had been passed in that vicinity in the morning, it was thought probable that rescue operations were already in progress. Nobody on board knew what the Empire Patrol was, and a hasty search of the available publications revealed nothing, the only clue being from one of the watchkeepers, who said that he thought it was a small tanker which used to supply Tobruk. This, however, did not seem likely, as it was a clear day and no heavy smoke could yet be seen. So it was a considerable shock when another signal was received at 14.45 telling them that there were about five hundred refugees on board, who eventually turned out to be Dodecanese Greeks of varying ages from seven days to some eighty-five years.

 

There was now only an hour and a half to go before she would be reached, so very considerable preparations had to be made very quickly. A hurried meeting was called, broad directions and carte blanche in the use of ship's stores were given, and the various departments got to work. Boats were got ready for lowering and the engineers redoubled their efforts on the motor cutter, which was the largest and best boat for the work and whose engine lay in pieces doing an overhaul. Gangways were prepared and nets were dropped over the side for survivors to cling to, as from the wording of the signal it was thought that everybody would be in the water; also strong swimmers were calf e d for and some of them were sent with the boats. The hangar was cleared of aircraft, which were replaced by camp beds and bedding provided by the supply branch, and by anyone else on board who had one ; willing hands erected them, and soon the hangar resembled a large dormitory, while down in the galley the cooks started to prepare meals of sandwiches, with hot soup and tea. The sick bay was cleared and prepared for the more serious cases, even the possibility of maternity cases being catered for. The ship fortunately had three doctors on board, one being borne for passage, so the junior ones took charge of the hangar and sick bay, while the P.M.O. was in general charge. Fortunately the only occupant of the sick bay was just about convalescent, and he apparently considered that his experiences there qualified him as an assistant, so he turned out, became an S.B.A., and worked as hard as anybody throughout the night.

 

The S.S. Empire Patrol was a small ex-Italian liner of some four thousand tons which, being a fast ship, had been used during the war to carry cased petrol to Tobruk, so that the suggestion that she had been a small tanker was really not far wrong, though unfortunately she was more nearly back to her pre-war role. Fire had broken out in one of her holds and a mild panic started, which was possibly not surprising but which considerably hampered - the firefighters ; every effort was made to put out the fire, but it ran rapidly through the ship, which was wood panelled throughout, and soon got out of hand. The panic prevailed and, despite all orders and remonstrances from the officers and crew, many passengers flung themselves in the water ; boats were lowered and filled, but instead of keeping close to the ship as ordered they allowed themselves to drift away, thus making rescue work all the harder, while some of the life-saving rafts and boats could not be reached at all because of the fire. The panic, which was so hampering the efforts of the crew to safeguard their charges, did not die down until a signal was received from the Trouncer that she was hurrying to their assistance and would be there about 16.00. As soon as they realized that help really was coming the passengers quietened down and their behaviour from then on was generally very good.



H.M.S. Trouncer approaching the S.S. Empire Patrol  

 

Hopes in the Trouncer that rescue work was already in hand were soon dashed to the ground by the sight of S.S. Empire Glory steaming on her course. She had received the S.O.S., but as she was carrying explosives she had decided not to go near a ship on fire. However, at 15.00 smoke from the burning ship was seen and a quarter of an hour later the Empire Patrol herself was sighted ; after another hour's steaming the Trouncer came up to her and could see for herself the plight she was in. She was on fire from amidships as far forward as her forecastle, the lee side of which was burning, leaving a small island on the weather side on which some fifty persons were gathered, including the chief officer. Aft, she was burning as far as the after end of the after hold, being well alight with paint peeling off her sides. The remainder of the passengers and the crew, about three hundred in all, were gathered on the poop. Spread out over some four miles of sea were about two hundred passengers in boats, on rafts, and some with lifejackets only. The wind was about fifteen to twenty knots and there was a short but nasty little swell with a slight sea imposed on it. Worst of all, the rescue ship was the most unmanageable and difficult of all ships to work, a 15,000-ton single-screw aircraft carrier with overhanging flight decks and no open upper deck worthy of the name anywhere down near the waterline. Her only but admittedly great advantage was the possession of an aircraft hangar for use as a dormitory.

 

H.M.S. Trouncer alongside the S.S. Empire Patrol

 

Fortunately, the Trouncer had an unusually large complement of boats, consisting of one thirty-foot motor boat, one motor cutter, two American motor whalers and two pulling whalers; of these, one motor whaler was unserviceable with a bent shaft, and the motor cutter was under repair but was made ready by 17.00, a very good effort by the engineers. Also, an R.A.F. Air Sea Rescue Warwick had already arrived overhead to help, and by dropping smoke floats and signalling the position of survivors enabled a plot to be made of the area they occupied ; this information was invaluable afterwards when those in the water had to be picked up in the dark.

 

The Trouncer was a newly-commissioned ship, and they had not yet learned how long it takes to reverse the engines of a high revving turbine, and stop a 15,000-ton single-screw ship, with little astern power, moving at eighteen and a half knots ; so she ran past the Empire Patrol, dropping her boats as she went. This, however, had its advantages, as when she was stopped some three cables away cries were heard in the water and a group of survivors with lifebelts only were seen, a Carley Raft was dropped, and some of the volunteer swimmers took it out, collected the survivors and brought them back to the ship. By this time the Trouncer's boats had got some people off the burning ship, so she was closed again and the work of ferrying them across was commenced.

 

The small portion of tenable deck on the forecastle was gradually diminishing in size, but still the refugees would not jump into the water, despite the fact that a boat was waiting for them ; their fear of the water was greater than of the fire, and the danger cannot have seemed so great now that help was at hand. The chief officer, however, solved the problem by throwing them over one by one into the water, where they were received by swimming sailors and taken to a boat; this could not be brought too near for fear of their falling on to it or of their being crushed between it and the ship, as it must be remembered that all this was necessarily taking place on the weather side of the burning ship. Great bravery and endurance was shown by the swimmers, who were working in rough water conditions in a sea whose temperature close to the burning ship was almost .too hot to allow of continuous work ; one swimmer had, in fact, to be ordered from the water to prevent him throwing away his own life. Last of all, the chief officer followed, and soon after the last of the forecastle was on fire.

 

The Empire Patrol burning with the lifeboats attempting rescue of the refugees from the ship and the water

 

Aft, the boats worked under the quarter and on the lee side. A few survivors swarmed down a lifeboat's falls, some came down a jumping ladder, some were lowered by the ship's crew, and a very few jumped. There were no signs of panic and they were generally very well organized by the ship's company. It was, however, not at all easy; the boats were rising and falling considerably, there was a very awkward surge, and the people they had to handle were peasants, most of whom were old people or women and children who could not bear to be parted. One real surprise packet arrived in the form of a brown paper parcel, and the disgust of the boat's crew, who thought that they were being asked to take some Dodecanese capitalist's private effects, changed to relief when they found that they had in their arms a seven-days-old baby.

 

Rescue work inevitably proceeded very slowly, sunset was approaching, there was no help in sight to pick up the many survivors already in the water, while all the while the fire was slowly creeping aft. So in an attempt to hasten matters it was decided to try to lay the Trouncer alongside ; the attempt succeeded, and her forecastle was laid alongside the Empire Patrol's port quarter, hammocks being used as fenders and many hoses being rigged in case of the fire spreading. Unfortunately, the forecastle towered over the burning ship's poop, hawsers snapped in the swell, and transfer operations would clearly have been too difficult, besides hampering boatwork; it was accordingly decided to leave it to the boats, and the two ships again drew apart, the Trouncer lying close to windward and giving a lee.



At 18.00 the first help appeared in the form of a merchant vessel, the British S.S. Afganistan, a most efficient ship; she was told where to find survivors and, after a short search, picked up lifeboats holding thirty-five survivors; she established R/T communication with the Trouncer, keeping her informed of her movements.

 

In the Empire Patrol the fire was still creeping aft and long before they had all left it was bursting out of the scuttles in the hull below the waiting people. By about 19.45, however, she was completely cleared, the master being the last to leave the ship, and soon after he left it broke through the deck, almost dramatically, and the whole ship was a mass of flame.

 

A Carley float with four female refugees being directed by crew from H.M.S. Trouncer

 

The Carley float alongside H.M.S. Trouncer with crew assisting with the exhausted female refugees

 

Hoisting boats in the existing weather conditions was a slow job; it was now dark, though light from the burning ship was a great help. The boats on the lee side had to be hoisted first and then the ship had to be turned to make a lee on the other side. However, by 21.00 it was done and the next stage in the operations was begun. In the meantime two Air Sea Rescue R.A.F. boats had arrived ; the first was manned by a volunteer crew and had to get its orders by megaphone, and neither had R/T or WIT, so it was difficult to direct them ; they, however, assisted in the search.

 


The SS Empire Patrol Ablaze at Night

 

The Trouncer now proceeded to search for more survivors, using their plot based on the Warwick's information; Carley rafts and boats were soon found by her searchlights and more ships arrived to help. No more boats were lowered, the ship being maneuvered alongside survivors, who were pulled on to the gangway. Then two lifeboats were seen pulling manfully towards the ship towing a Carley raft which at first sight appeared to be empty but was later found, to the consternation of those on the gangway, to contain one female of such a size that she could not be got into a boat, and indeed almost filled the raft. It was almost as hard to get her into the ship, though it is understood that the chief boatswain's mate took charge ; a veil has been drawn over his methods, and he has never confessed whether he was reduced to using a parbuckle.

 

While the Trouncer was stopped a boy was sighted in the water astern, and H.M. submarine Spark, who had just arrived, was asked to pick him up ; this she did, and then effected the most beautiful alongside between the Trouncer's sponsons and under her overhanging wireless masts. After transferring the boy she proceeded on her way, as she could not be delayed. The way she was handled, however, will always be remembered by those who saw it.

 

The search went on throughout the night, but very few more were picked up. The Afganistan kept station most excellently on the Trouncer's beam until she was directed to take her survivors into Port Said about midnight. Air Sea Rescue aircraft dropped flares round the searching ships, which now consisted of H.M.S. Klo with a covey of ten M.F.V.s, H.M.S. Mermaid, and a salvage tug from Port Said called the Titan. At dawn an organized search was begun, assisted by aircraft, and soon more survivors were being picked up ; H.M.S. Devonshire and two A.S.R. launches* joined the party and the whole area was combed until about 11.40. At this time the search was abandoned and all ships except the Mermaid, who stood by the wreck, which by this time had drifted about twelve miles to leeward, proceeded into Port Said.

 

The totals saved were reported to be as follows: -

 

H.M.S. Trouncer 420

H.M.S. Mermaid 40

S.S. Afganistan 35

H.M.S. Devonshire 7

R.A.F. A/S/R. launches 7

 

The following is an extract from a letter dated 4th Oct. 1945, written by E.R.A. William (Bill) Hay then a member of the crew of H.M./SM. 'Spark', from Alexandria Egypt, the Submarine was on it's way home to the U.K. from the Pacific region after the end of World War 2, and operations with the 8th Submarine Flotilla.


HMS Spark (S Class Submarine)

 

'We stayed at Port Said for one day, it's not far from Alexandria, about 16 hours steaming. We intended leaving at 2 p.m. arriving at Alexandria at about 8 o'clock in the morning. On the morning of the day we sailed I was on the bridge having a 'breather' before breakfast when I saw a ship sailing out of the harbour, scores of women lined the ship's side and were waving, some of the lads thought they were WRENS homeward bound. After the ship passed out of sight no one gave it a second thought. That morning was spent preparing for sea, two smaller boats were coming with us. As we were at 'harbour station' one of the 'sparkers' came out of the W.T. office and told us that the ship we had seen that morning was on fire and that she was full of Greek refugees bound for Greece, ships were steaming to her assistance and apparently they had the fire under control.

 

We were underway and it was pretty choppy. About 6 p.m. we received the news that all on the 'Empire Patrol' the ship that had sent out the S.O.S. were taking to the lifeboats, rescue vessels were on their way and should reach the scene of the disaster. The Skipper wanted to go but had received no orders to do so and we were steaming in the opposite direction to the unfortunate vessel.

 

At 7 o'clock we received the order 'full ahead', we were off to see if we could be of any assistance. We had been 'nursing' the engines all the way from the Islands, and they badly needed an overhaul. Boy did we 'cane' those engines. I thought they were going to jump off the deck, we managed to attain almost the same speed as when the boat was new and we did speed trials, not a bad achievement considering the 'dirty' weather.

 

We steamed steadily for about 4 hours then a faint glow was seen on the horizon we started to get all kinds of gear ready. Geordie and I went on deck to rig an airline up so that we could blow up the rubber dinghy. It was a makeship affair as normally these dinghies are inflated with C.Ga gas or Freon, I'm afraid we didn't have much luck with it. The night was terribly dark and we were rolling a great deal, waves were breaking right over the casing and we were travelling at high speed, we were both soaked to the skin. We were now much closer to the accident scene and slowed down, we started to use our 6 inch signalling lamp which is like a baby searchlight. The people had by now been in the lifeboats over 4 hours, so were probably scattered all over the ocean. I could see the lights of several ships in the distance and several were using searchlights one of them was an escort Carrier and had planes up dropping flares into the sea. I went below to see if I could rig up another gadget for the dinghy and hadn't been below 5 minutes when the lads told me they had spotted someone in the water, it was a little boy on a small raft he was face down and paddling with both hands. The gunlayer went over the side with a line and brought the raft alongside. Geordie lifted the poor little lad onto the casing, he couldn't talk and was unable to stand, just fancy a child of 8 or 9 years of age, all those hours in the water alone. He was taken into the boat and undressed. Several burns were found on his body, he received first aid and wrapped up in blankets and looked a lot better in no time at all. While all this was going on the Skipper received a severe reprimand for leaving the other two submarines and acting without orders, we were ordered to continue our passage to Alexandria. As it was of little use keeping our surviver on board, we went alongside the Carrier and put him aboard, I believe the majority of the survivers were aboard the Carrier, just think how relieved some poor woman would be when she found her son was safe.

 

After we had transferred the child we continued on our way. Our trip had not been in vain, and I think it was a fitting end to the Commission, saving life instead of taking it. A few hours later a wireless message came through that the young boy's mother was on board the Carrier so they were reunited, giving us all even greater joy and satifaction, that our efforts had been so rewarding.

 


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