The Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Mashona, was bombed and sunk off the coast of Galway by a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 aircraft on May 28, 1941, with the loss of 48 of her 219 crew.
Seventeen-year-old, Peter Clifford McGlade, a Boy 1st Class Royal Navy, whose body was washed up on Glosh beach on June 27, 1941, was the youngest military casualty washed ashore in Mayo. He is buried in Fallmore Graveyard.
Also among the HMS Mashona dead were Petty Officer Jubilee Jack Tweed (44) whose remains were washed ashore on Clare Island and found at 5.30 pm on July 3, 1941, by Michael O’Grady. He is buried in the local cemetery. He was the husband of Alice Tweed, of Shirley, Southampton.
Leading seaman Jack Springett Johnson (37) also lost his life on the Mashona and is buried in Kilcommon Erris Church of Ireland Churchyard. He was the husband of Minnie Lily Lillian Johnson, of Dagenham, Essex.
The body of Frederick George Wheeler (34), Electrical Artificer 1st Class on the Mashona, was washed up on Dooagh beach, Achill Island, and found by Michael O’Donnell, Cloughmore, at about 8pm, on June 27, 1941. A St. Christopher medal was attached to his identity badge. He is buried in Kildavnet Catholic Graveyard.
On a bitterly cold Monday, November 11, 1940, a lifeboat was seen off Annagh Head. In the lifeboat were survivors from the Norwegian tanker, Davanger. Laden with 10,000 tons of fuel oil en route from the island of Curaçao in the Southern Caribbean via Bermuda and Halifax to Liverpool, the ship was in a convoy when she was sunk by U-48 on October 11, 1940, with the loss of 17 lives, 300 miles west of Broadhaven Bay.
After escaping the inferno, 12 survivors battled through that first night in heavy rain and high seas, and as the winds decreased somewhat the next morning they spotted two lifeboats from a British ship which they hailed. Upon being asked what they wanted to do, the survivors in the other boats replied they were going to remain in the area to wait for help, but the Norwegians set sail, heading east for the Mayo coast.
On the morning of October 18, they spotted land and altered course for the North Mayo coast. Ballyglass Lifeboat crew were alerted by Annagh LOP and went out to help them row. Two hours later, at 2.50pm, the 12 survivors (11 Norwegians and 1 English) were landed at Ballyglass. They were in a distressed state after their ordeal in which they had to row 300 miles through heavy seas but were uninjured and after being given refreshments the shipwrecked sailors were admitted to Belmullet hospital. 50
Aghia Eirini Salvage
The rusting derrick and winch on the cliff edge near Cloghmore along Achill’s Atlantic Drive is a reminder of the biggest salvage operation that took place off the Mayo coast as a result of the Battle of the Atlantic.
The story began in Cardiff where the 4,330-ton Greek steamer, Aghia Eirini, took on a cargo of coal bound for Buenos Aires via Liverpool where she joined a 32-merchant Convoy OB 252 escorted by corvette HMS Arbutus and destroyers HMS Chelsea, Cottesmore, Verity, Veteran and Wolverine.
As the convoy made its way around the North West Approaches close to the Donegal coast in early December 1940 it ran head-on into Gale Force 10 and 11 winds. The freighter crashed broadside-on to the sea, taking on considerable amounts of water that caused her steering gear to fail.
Late on the night of December 7, Aghia Eirini’s master sent out a distress message as the steamer drifted out of control in mountainous seas. The message read:
“Aghia Eirini, position 52° 38’ N — 22° 52’ W at 10.51 GMT wants immediate assistance. 29 onboard. All holds full of water.”
At this stage, the ship was about 850 km west of Mayo.
Unknown to the crew, the distress message had been intercepted by U-99 under the command of Otto Kretschmer (1912-1998) one of Germany’s most decorated U-boat commanders who at that stage was stalking the Dutch ship SS Farmsum, straggling from the convoy, and also bound for Buenos Aires, with a cargo of coal.
After sinking SS Farmsum with the loss of 16 crew and 15 survivors, Kretschmer turned his attention to the storm-damaged Aghia Eirini.
Kretschmer recorded in his diary: “I plan ﬁrst to sink the enemy
steamer that I have in sight, and then operate against Aghia Eirini. This
ship, a Greek of 4,330 grt, I can probably sink with artillery ﬁre.” 50b
Kretschmer reached the last reported position of Aghia Eirini, at 0230 hours on December 8, but the Greek steamer was nowhere in sight. Believing the ship to be either drifting or sailing in the direction of the North Channel, U-99 headed in the wrong direction as Aghia Eirini drifted closer to its final fate beneath the cliffs of Achill.
At 0923 hours, Aghia Eirini sent out another message:
“Aghia Eirini. Lost every try to come near the shore in spite of the
ship’s holds being full of water. The helm is out of action now again. Position at 0725 GMT 53° 07′ N – 18° 11′ W.”
Kretschmer saw a second chance to sink the Greek steamer, but before he could reach the new position, Aghia Eirini was already in sight of Achill.
Aghia Eirini’s final message before it crashed into the towering cliffs of Achill’s lower peninsula between Ashleam Bay and Cloghmore on
December 10, 1940, read:
“To the Admiralty. No hope to come near the shore. We are asking
for your immediate help. Helm out of use. Ship is full of water.”
As the distressed crew of 29 (2 Egyptians, 1 Portuguese, 1 English, 25 Greeks) scrambled to the safety of Achill little did they know that they had escaped U-99’s torpedoes.
The loss of the Aghia Eirini to Britain proved to be a gift for the economy of Achill thanks to the entrepreneurship of Achill Sound merchant, W. J. Sweeny who acquired the salvage rights, erecting a derrick and winch for the recovery operation, which can still be seen to this day. The Sweeney family are still in business operating successful hardware and grocery stores at Achill Sound.
Otto Kretschmer sank 44 ships before his capture by the Royal Navy in March 1941. After the war he served in the German Federal Navy, from which he retired in 1970 with the rank of Flottillenadmiral (flotilla admiral).
Robert Mackay Sutherland (27) was Second Radio Officer on the S.S. Serbino, a British cargo steamer en route from Mombassa and Freetown for Liverpool carrying a general cargo when she was torpedoed by U-82 and sunk on Tuesday, October 21, 1941, with the loss of 14 of her 65 crew. His remains were washed up on Dooyork and he is buried in Geesala cemetery. Like many radio operators, he was probably one of the last to leave the ship as he tried to radio for help.
S.S. The Sultan
Boatswain John Murphy (26) was lost when Glasgow-registered S.S. The Sultan was bombed and sunk in the North Sea by Luftwaffe aircraft on Sunday, February 2, 1941. One other member of her 14 crew, a gunner, was also lost in the attack. Survivors were rescued by the trawler, Lord St. Vincent. After Murphy’s body was washed up at Achill Island, he was interred in Achill (Holy Trinity) Church of Ireland Churchyard, Achill Sound.
S.S. Dione II
One of the most distressing sights Mayo coastwatchers came across during the entire Battle of the Atlantic occurred on Tuesday afternoon, April 15, 1941. Coastwatchers from Annagh were patrolling at Port Glosh when they noticed a strange craft bobbing on rough seas off Tirraun Point on the north end of Glosh beach. The craft was driven onto the rugged shore by a stiff westerly breeze.
During the war, the British Navy adopted the large merchant service self-launching life raft, which had a wooden frame and deck built over 45-gallon drums. It kept men out of the water, safe from both hypothermia, and, boiler and depth charge explosions, and with luck, they kept survivors alive until rescue came.
Before wading out to the raft, the coastwatchers called for help and Gardai and LSF men joined the effort to retrieve the raft which consisted of planking affixed to six barrels. Reaching the raft, a grim sight met the Erris coastwatchers eyes. The dead men sat upright on the raft just as if they were alive. They were in an advanced state of decomposition and evidently had been a long time at sea.
Only one of the bodies could be identified from papers in his pockets. Frederick Richard Thomas (37) Great Crosby, Lancashire, was a Second Officer, on the S.S. Dione II, a British steamer in convoy destined for Cardiff with a cargo of iron ore. She was slightly damaged by German Fw200 Condor aircraft on February 3, 1941, and sunk the next day in a submarine attack, northwest of the Aran Islands. In his pocket wallet, Gardai found a religious picture and sacred heart medal. He is buried in Termoncarragh cemetery.
Three young Irish merchant seamen were among the 28 crew members and one gunner who were lost on Dione II. Sailors Maurice Cooney (25), Youghal, Co Cork; James Kehoe (27), Campile, Co. Wexford, and George Christopher O’Hara (20), Cork, are all commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London. Five crew members were picked up by the British steam merchant Flowergate and landed at Glasgow on February 8.