I Was There! - Our Ships were Sunk by the 'Graf Spee'

The War Illustrated, Volume 2, No. 23, Page 92, February 9, 1940.

Only after the sinking of the "Graf Spee" was it clear that it was she, and not the "Admiral Scheer", which sank the "Clement" (see page 382) and the "Africa Shell". A later story of the sinking of the "Clement" from the Glasgow "Bulletin" is given here.

The Booth Line steamer "Clement" was sunk by the "Graf Spee" in the South Atlantic on September 30.

Mr. Edward Flower, a Scots engineer on the "Clement", said after his return to Britain:

"We were on a voyage to Bahia, in Brazil, and when off Pernambuco we sighted the battleship. At first we took her to be a British warship, but were quickly disillusioned."

He described how an aeroplane from the raider flew over and opened fire.

"The warship then closed up with us", continued Mr. Flower, "and ordered our crew to come aboard. Our crew numbered 54. When we had been transferred to the battleship, a torpedo was fired into the 'Clement'.

"After the explosion the 'Clement' continued afloat, and the Germans, evidently desirous of conserving their torpedoes, finished her off with shell-fire.

"We were on board the German warship for four days and were well treated. We had plenty of food, but it was of indifferent quality. The bread was dark and inclined to be sour and the potatoes provided were of the tinned variety and definitely sour only to be eaten when one was desperately hungry.

"We gathered that the crew were enthusiastic for Hitler, and they told us that 'Britain would lose the war'.

"The crew were mostly young men and not well-trained in seamanship. I have had experience of German crews and noticed this point particularly.

"At the end of four days a tramp steamer was encountered and we were transferred to this vessel, which landed us at Rio de Janeiro."

The British tanker "Africa Shell" was sunk off Portuguese East Africa on November 16, 1939, and members of the crew told their story when they landed at Lourenco Marques.

The "Africa Shell" was stopped by the raider firing a shell across her bows. One officer and ratings came from the raider in a cutter and boarded the tanker. Officers of the "Africa Shell" said that the German boarding party wore British lifebelts and looked emaciated.

A German officer addressed Capt. P. G. Dove in perfect English with the words: "Good morning, captain. Sorry; fortunes of war."

The German party ordered all hands to the lifeboats, and stripped the tanker of all foodstuffs and even bottles of wine.

The "Africa Shell's" captain was taken aboard the raider as a prisoner, the rest of the crew, consisting of two officers and four European and 21 Indian and native seamen, rowed in two lifeboats to the shore.

Afterwards the "Africa Shell" was sunk by two bombs, which blew a large hole in the stern.

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