Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Andalucia Star: a survivor's tale, part 2

Yesterday's posting expressed my gratitude to Michael (Miguel) Webb. He'd sent me his his father Gordon's eyewitness account of the German U-Boat attack that sunk the Andalucia Star

Gordon F. Webb's letter to his parents (Michael's grandparents) of 1 November 1942, recalled the moment he thought he was going to die. Gordon Webb wrote:

"On Tuesday, 6th October, 1942, I was on board the Andalucía Star about 200 miles from Freetown. My watch on the bridge started at 20.00 so I sat down to dinner at 1920 with Wesley, my cabin companion. At 2100 we had not seen anything worth mentioning during our hour of watch.

"I handed my post over to Rudkin and went down to a concert being held in the lounge. The concert ended at 2140. I looked for Alan Cooper in the smoking room but did not find him there.

"I went to my cabin, meeting Wesley on the way. Just before entering our cabin at 2150, the first torpedo struck the ship on the portside, just aft of the smoking room, followed by a second torpedo almost at the same time and place.

"My first impression was of surprise, and I thought that it couldnt be true. Wesley and I immediately rushed to the cabin. A few seconds after being hit, the lights flickered and then went out.

"I put on my life jacket, picked up my emergency bag and raincoat, and walked up the passage to the lounge. On my way there I heard Mrs Cruickshank crying that her husband was trapped, so I tried to batter down the door; but a few seconds later he walked out with their child. The place I had been battering was the cabin wall.

"I passed through the lounge on deck and down to the main deck by the portside door, as the starboard door was jammed. By this time the ship was righted again but was sinking by the stern. My most vivid impression was of the sickening smell of the cordite from the torpedoes.

"I crossed the deck to the starboard side to our lifeboat Number 1 - and waited there till we were told to board it. Once we were in, the boat was slowly lowered till we touched the water; then the falls were let loose.

"Fortunately the sea was calm and the rest of the passengers and crew were slowly lowering themselves into the boat which was riding in the water still attached to the painter.

"It was 2210 and the Andalucía Star was slowly settling in the stern when the third torpedo struck the starboard side, just ten yards in front of us.

"I thought my last moment had come when the lifeboat heaved out of the water and nearly turned over. The explosion raised a big column of water that came roaring down on us, mixed with meat and cork from the refrigerating chamber where the torpedo had struck.

"Our boat was half filled with water, but still floating when we loosened the painter and started rowing away from the sinking ship. We rowed away astern of the Andalucía Star, and then round to the portside where we waited till the ship sank.

"She slowly turned over on the portside and her stern disappeared under the water until her bows were the only thing showing. 

"All traces of the Andalucía Star were gone at 2240."  

(More to follow in my next post...Part 3).

(My grandfather Leslie Coleman, a ship's chief steward, sailed frequently on the Andalucia before World War II. He was saddened by the loss of three crew members and a passenger and the sinking of one his favourite ships).

Paul Coleman, London, August 2010

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