I Was There! - I Was on the Bombed Steel Seafarer

The War Illustrated, Volume 5, No. 107, Page 167, September 30, 1941.

Although she was not blacked out, and her markings must have been clearly visible in the moonlight, the American vessel Steel Seafarer was dive-bombed and sunk in the Red Sea on September 5, as described here by members of her crew.

When 24 members of the crew of the Steel Seafarer arrived at an Egyptian port on board a vessel of the Royal Navy, the Seafarer's first officer, Mr. Ralph S. Pratt, gave a first-hand account of the sinking of his ship. He said:

The plane came over at 11,30 on Friday night Sept. 5. It dived down with its engines shut off, and opened the throttle with a roar when the bomb dropped. There were two explosions, in No. 5 oil tank and amidships. At the time we were steaming northwards and were not in convoy. The plane swooped over just between our masts. The bomb or it may have been an aerial torpedo seemed to hit and explode just under the water.

I was asleep at the time. The washstand fell down, and all the lights went off. Sliding into my slippers, I reached the bridge in thirty seconds. The plane had flown off. The ship was sinking rapidly with a list to starboard.

The Captain said: "We are hit aft." We got two of the port boats out and one starboard, which were sufficient for the crew. The first two boats got away in five minutes, the third in eight or maybe nine. There were slight injuries in getting into the boats, but none were serious. The Captain, myself, and one sailor, Robert Cartwright, stayed aboard until the decks were awash. The Seafarer went down in twenty minutes.

After twelve hours' rowing in a choppy sea we reached land at 11 o'clock next morning.

When we landed on the island the Egyptians were most helpful. They enabled us to send a signal giving our position and requesting another vessel to search for our missing boat.

The crew of a Royal Naval craft eventually picked us up. They gave us everything we wanted. The only thing I am sore about is that I had carried my money and my watch in my belt until the day of the attack, when I locked them up in a drawer, and have lost everything.

James Abernethy, the radio operator, who was one of the last to leave the ship, said:

The aerial crashed down and the emergency transmitter was put out of action. It was a miracle that no one was seriously hurt, although our quarters were a shambles, with chairs, radio sets, and dishes smashed by the force of the explosion. Reuter.

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