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Empire Mersey Sunk By U-Boat 618

Discussion in 'Merchant Navy During WWII' started by Jim, Aug 23, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Third Officer Joe Wharton left New York with the British merchant ship Empire Mersey, as part of Convoy SC104. His ship encountered U-618 in the dark Atlantic night.

    Third Officer of the Empire Mersey, Joe Wharton, who survived a torpedo attack and a dip in the icy Atlantic, and who lived to meet the Commander who sank his ship.

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    “At about 02:30 am on the morning of the 14th October, some 400 miles south of Cape Farewell, Greenland, the Empire Mersey met her fate. With an unholy crash, the ship shuddered and lurched over to port. Slowly she recovered, but started to go down by the head. 'Sparks' sent out the SOS and the order was given to abandon ship. My boat was being lowered down into the water with heavy seas running. Inadvertently, the forr'd fall was let go, and the boat crashed down into the water with the after fall still secured. We were all flung into the water and it was every man for himself. I was wearing a pair of long-johns, a sweater and a uniform, together with a duffle coat on top of which I had my lifejacket. My thoughts were dreamy ones of home, my mother and sister, how they would be asleep in bed, and here I was, with some 5000 fathoms of water beneath my feet, on the point of drowning in the north Atlantic. To hell with that for a game of soldiers. I kicked off my boots, tore off my panic bag and paddled about desperately until I came across the canvas cover containing the boat mast and sail, which I clung to grimly. Around me in the water were some other crew members, crying for help, some were just floating in the water dead, but the red lights on their jackets were still burning. I was joined by one of the sailors, Batchelor. After what seemed an age, we were carried alongside the 2nd Mate's boat, and hauled aboard.

    In the galley of U-373, a young cook concocts the dish of the day. A lighted hob was a fire risk and had to be put out if action stations were sounded. On British vessels at least the crew knew that they were in for corned beef sandwiches.

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    The boat's crew whistled to attract the attention of the rescue ship. She made some kind of lee, and our lifeboat came up on her port side, where she had the scrambling nets out. Searchlights were playing over the whole scene and as we were washed alongside, one of the survivors made a grab for the net but just a fraction late. Before he could get a firm footing, the boat had fallen away, leaving him dangling. Up came the boat, broaching hard against the side of Gothland, crushing his head to a pulp. Due to exposure and cold, having been in the icy water, I was unable to stand, let alone climb the scrambling net. A rope was passed under my armpits and I was hauled aboard, seized by two able hands and then carried down below to the fuggy warmth of the sick bay. After being stripped of my sodden clothing, I was towelled down with a rough Turkish towel. The air was blue, not to mention my skin!”

    A U-boat's gun crew check their weapon. As RAF Coastal Command's tactics and aircraft evolved to be better suited to antisubmarine work, the gunners' job became more critical.

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  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Commander of U-618 Lieutenant Commander Kurt Baberg

    In command of U-618 was Lieutenant Commander Kurt Baberg. As Convoy SCI04 trailed across the Atlantic from New York to London, his boat sank the Empire Mersey.

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    “We still had no further reports of sightings or reports from the shadowing boats, and I had left the bridge for a short time to consult maps with the first mate, to decide on which new course we would follow. There was a shout from above, 'Commander to the bridge, we're right in the middle of the convoy!' As far as the eye could see, dark shadows of freighters were visible all round, quite a distance between each, and amongst them, the slender silhouette of a destroyer. Visibility was poor again when U-6l8 broke through the convoy's escort screen, undetected. The convoy of ships was sailing in a three column formation, widely spaced. We didn't feel at all bad, right in there, relatively secure, for the ships which towered high above the water could hardly spot us. Their attention and that of the surveillance craft was directed outwards, where they would have expected any attacks to come from. We moved on in the middle of the convoy for about 90 minutes, following every tack and change of course, so that we could find a good firing position. At about 02.00 hours we finally fired the 'tin fish' from the rear tubes, which should then have been followed up by a salvo from the front tubes. But nothing happened, despite perfect firing conditions, and we decided to wait a while before making the next attack so that we would reload the empty tube at the rear, which we did in what seemed like record time. Half an hour later, we steered back on course for attack, held back the 'tin fish' at the rear as reserve, and at about 02.30 hours, fired off a volley of four torpedoes at a group of steamers, overlapping in the central and starboard column.

    Joe Wharton meets Kurt Baberg (left). As Joe said on meeting Kurt for the first time in Wilhelmshafen at U-618's eighth reunion, 'Seafaring is international, and sailors of all nations belong to the same family'. In this case, language is no barrier.

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    We saw two of the torpedoes hit one of the ships (about 6000 tons of her) in the outer column. Black smoke rose to the top of the mastheads from the exploding shells, and then quickly fell away. A few minutes later, nothing was to be seen of this freighter, it was the Empire Mersey (5971 tons of her). We heard that the other two torpedoes had hit, but we couldn't be certain we'd sunk another ship. It was a long time after the war that I found out that the U-618 had sunk the Empire Mersey in the early morning of 14.10.42. The Third Officer on that ship was Joe D Wharton, now a retired Captain of a merchant ship, with whom I had my first contact early in 1986.”

    Commander Kurt Baberg (centre) and the crew of the U-618.

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