Tag: disaster

Three Ships Month

February has become what is known as “3 ships month”, and unfortunately the 3 ships that I remember are all disasters that are part of maritime history in South Africa. This year I am going to commemorate them in one post as opposed to 3. 

11 February 1941: HMSAS Southern Floe.

The ship was a  Southern Class whaler, one of four ships taken over by the Navy from Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. Ltd., Durban. The four ships were renamed  HMSAS Southern Maid, HMSAS Southern Sea, HMSAS Southern Isles and HMSAS Southern Floe. 

In January 1941, Southern Floe and her sister ship Southern Sea arrived at Tobruk to take over patrol duties along the mine free swept channels and to escort any ships through them. 

HMSAS Southern Maid. (SA Museum of Military History)

On 11 February 1941, HMSAS Southern Sea arrived at the rendezvous two miles east of Tobruk,  but there was no sign of Southern Floe and a passing destroyer notified the vessel that they had picked up a stoker from the vessel, clinging to some wreckage. The stoker, CJ Jones RNVR, was the sole survivor of the ship, and he explained that there had been a heavy explosion on board and he had barely escaped with his life. There had been other survivors but they had not been picked up and Stoker Jones had spent 14 hours in the water. Although never confirmed it is assumed that the vessel had struck a mine.

18 February 1982. SAS President Kruger.

One of three sister ships (President Steyn, Pretorius and Kruger),  the “PK” was a Type 12 Frigate, built in the United Kingdom and was launched on 20 October 1960 from the Yarrow Shipbuilders, Scotstoun. She was the flagship of the South African Navy, and at the time of her sinking she was also holder of the “Cock of the Fleet”.

On 18 February 1982, the vessel was conducting anti-submarine exercises with her sister ship the SAS President Pretorius, the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse and the replenishment ship SAS Tafelberg. She was under the command of  Captain de Lange and at the time were using the opportunity to carry out anti-submarine exercises, with each ship given a patrol sector ahead of the Tafelberg. The President Kruger was stationed on the Tafelberg’s port side between 10 and 330 degrees, while the the President Pretorius had a reciprocal box on the starboard side.

At approximately 4 am, the whole formation had to change direction by 154 degrees which would result in an almost complete reversal in direction. To maintain station the frigates would change direction first to maintain their positions ahead of the Tafelberg on the new heading. President Kruger had two possible options: turn 200 degrees to port, or 154 degrees to starboard. The starboard turn was a much smaller one but was much more dangerous as it involved turning towards the Pretorius and Tafelberg.  The officer of the watch elected to make the starboard turn, initiating 10 a degree turn. that had a larger radius and would take longer to execute than a 15 degree turn, Critically while executing the turn, the operations room lost radar contact with the Tafelberg in the radar clutter. An argument ensued between the officer of the watch and the principal warfare officer over the degree of wheel to apply, it was however too late and the bows of the much bigger Tafelberg impacted the President Kruger on her port side.

The President Kruger sank 78 nautical miles (144 km) south west of Cape Point, with the loss of  16 lives. Because the impact was in the senior ratings mess most of the casualties were Petty Officers which impacted on the Navy due to the loss of so many senior ratings.

21 February 1916. HMT Mendi.

The 4230 GRT Mendi (Official number 120875), was owned by the British & African Steam Navigation  Company Limited. which was part of Elder, Dempster and Company. She was 370 ft long with a beam of 46 ft and was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Glasgow. She was fitted with triple expansion steam engines that gave her a maximum speed of 13 knots.

The ship was carrying 15 officers, 17 NCO’s and 802 members of the South African Native Labour Corps as well as 1500 tons of cargo and set sail under convoy for Plymouth. The SANLC men were quartered in the number 1, 2 and 4 holds. After calling at Plymouth she set sail for Le Havre on the 20th of February at full speed, escorted by the destroyer HMS Brisk. The weather was overcast, threatening mist with light winds and a smooth sea. However, after midnight the weather became thicker and speed was reduced until the ship was sailing at slow speed. The whistle was sounded  and a number of other ships whistles were heard. At 4.45 the escort signalled the Mendi and suggested that the slow speed made it difficult to keep station. The Mendi maintained her slow speed.

In the early hours of the morning of the 21st of February  The SS Darro,  inbound for the UK, ran into the hapless Mendi, striking her at right angles, damaging the bulkhead between number 1 and 2 holds where the troops were quartered. The Darro then backed out of the hole, presumably because her engines were now responding the the full astern command given shortly before the collision. She disappeared into the fog, leaving the Mendi to founder. On board the stricken Mendi orders were given to lower the boats to the rail and the 4 whistle blast signal for boat stations was given. The boats were then ordered to be lowered to the water and to lie alongside.    

Of the 802 SANLC troops on board some 607 men of the South African contingent perished, as did 30 members of her crew. The Darro lay off not too far from where the disaster was unfolding, on board her the lifeboats were lowered to the rail and all hands were on deck. In spite of these preparations and the sound of voices in the water no attempt was made to investigate what had happened or to rescue survivors although 2 boats did reach the ship and survivors were embarked. She remained in the area until until just before 9 am. and then set sail for a Channel port (possibly Southampton or Portsmouth) where 107 survivors of which 64 were from the SANLC were landed.  

The disaster shook the nation, but was gradually forgotten as the years passed. The Nationalist government conveniently erased it from history but it has become more prominent once again as veterans groups get together to remember those volunteers from the SANLC who died in a war that they knew nothing about. 

DRW © 2020. Created 08/02/2020

Updated: 15/02/2020 — 08:57

Remembering Coalbrook

To be continued…….

The Coalbrook mining disaster happened on 21 January 1960 at the Coalbrook coal mine of Clydesdale Colliery over a year before I was born. However, I remember my parents talking about it, but further than I never heard of any official commemoration or coverage and it was usually mentioned when yet another disaster occurred in the mining industry in South Africa. Unfortunately it has also been relegated to memory, and the purpose of this blogpost is to help keep the memory alive of those who did not return, and who are still entombed underground, in the place where they met their death.

From what I can read it is also classed as the worst mining disaster in the history of South Africa and the seventh worst mining disaster in the world (as at May 2014) (https://www.mining-technology.com/).  437 men lost their lives in the disaster, most of these being African mine workers. A number of rescue attempts were made but the operation was called off after 11 days with no bodies being recovered and with no hope of finding survivors.

In December of 1959 a collapse occurred at the mine that was really a precursor of what was to come. Management did not take sufficient heed of this warning and the miners reluctantly returned to work. However on the 21st of January the mine suffered from a “….cascading pillar failure where a few pillars fail initially and this increases the load on the adjacent pillars causing them to fail. This cascading failure caused pillar collapse over an area covering 324 hectares.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalbrook_mining_disaster) In essence the cutting down of support pillar sizes had brought down the roof! 

The human tragedy outweighs the economic one. Each miner probably supported a family or was connected to a family. They had wives and children, parents and grandparents, each was affected by the loss of those men who laboured in dangerous conditions to produce the coal that fired the power stations that supplied the country with electricity. 

Unfortunately the men who died were quickly forgotten, although in their communities they would  be mourned and remembered. In 1996 following the closure of Coalbrook South the new owner of the village and workshops erected a memorial using a coal cutter from the mine as a backdrop to an inscription on a stone plaque which reads:

IN MEMORY OF THOSE 435
MINERS WHO LOST THEIR LIVES
IN THE COALBROOK-MINE DISASTER
ON 21-01-1960
“AFTER ALL THOSE YEARS YOU ARE
STILL IN OUR HEARTS AND THOUGHTS”

The new and much larger memorial consists of an amphitheatre situated at the site of the south shaft. The  names of the 437 men entombed in the mine are engraved on stone plinth placed around the inside perimeter and two granite tablets at the entrance commemorate the disaster. 

Sadly the memorial at Holly Country near Sasolburg has been mired in controversy, issues raised include misspellings of names, poor workmanship, incorrect information and a blatantly plagiarised inscription.  It appears that even 60 years after the fact Coalbrook is still mired in controversy.  

The images used in this post were kindly supplied by Piet Lombard and are used with permission.

I have had to rely on a number of sources in this short commemoration. The primary source being 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalbrook_mining_disaster

http://www.theheritageportal.co.za/article/1960-coalbrook-disaster

http://schuitemaberend.blogspot.com/2011/04/coalbrook-mine-disaster-1960.html

There are a number of images of the memorials and area at: 

Coalbrook Mynramp

 

DRW © 2020. Created 21/01/2020 

Updated: 15/02/2020 — 08:57

Remembering the Titanic 2019

Every year in mid April we commemorate the loss of the Titanic.  It is a well known story that has been analysed, filmed, written about, speculated on and done to death. My own interest in the ship came about when I read about the spot where she had gone down, that ships avoided for fear of encountering bodies. In later years I would raid the local libraries for books about the ship and try my best to obtain a model of her.  I have however lost my interest in the ship and now concern myself with other things because realisically there is not much more that I can add to the story of the ship and its people.

The last interesting discovery that I made was in Liverpool where the Transatlantic trade was dominated by the Mauretania and her sister. Titanic and her sisters would not use that city as a base, but rather use Southampton. However, Titanic was registered in Liverpool and there is a memorial to her in that city. 

The memorial commemorates the 244 engineers who lost their lives in the disaster. It was designed by Sir William Goscombe John and constructed circa 1916 and is a Grade II* listed building.

The memorial is inscribed:

IN HONOUR OF

ALL HEROES OF THE

MARINE ENGINE ROOM

THIS MEMORIAL WAS ERECTED

BY INTERNATIONAL INSCRIPTION

MCMXVI 

and

THE BRAVE DO NOT DIE

THEIR DEEDS LIVE FOREVER

AND CALL UPON US

TO EMULATE THEIR COURAGE

AND DEVOTION TO DUTY

More images of the memorial are available on the relevant page at Allatsea

While it is easy to remember the passengers who lost their lives in the disaster; the crew tend to get forgotten, especially the men who remained at their posts right up till the end. Irrespective though, over 1500 people lost their lives on this day in 1912 in a disaster that has somehow become the “poster boy” for maritime disasters, and the only North Atlantic liner that almost everybody knows about. 

DRW © 2019. Created 15/04/2019

Updated: 04/12/2019 — 20:26
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