hospital ship SS St David

tgar
30th July 2011, 10:48
Hello!
I've been finding out about the names on our local war memorial. One man, Alexander Kerr, is said to have gone down with the hospital ship SS St David during WW2. Can anybody tell us anything about this ship? Or the man himself?
tgar

Hugh MacLean
30th July 2011, 11:18
'ST DAVID', Irish Sea Ferry. Fishguard & Rosslare Railways & Harbours Co. 2,702 tons. Speed 21 knots. Built in 1932. Employed as a Hospital Carrier. Bombed by enemy aircraft and sunk of Anzio on 24th January 1944.

Captain Evan William Owens lost his life along with 12 of his crew, 22 Royal Army Medical Corps (including 2 nursing sisters from the Reserve QAIMNS, Sarah Dixon and Winnie Harrison) and 22 patients. 159 people were picked up, six were injured.

Alexander Kerr is not named among the crew so I can only assume that he is one of the 22 Royal Army Medical Corps casualties: this man: http://www.cwgc.org/search/casualty_details.aspx?casualty=2070909
I can supply further information about the ship if required.

Regards
Hugh

tgar
30th July 2011, 11:35
That's excellent, Hugh! Thank you very much.
Have you any information about the actual attack on the ship - what happened exactly? And, dare I ask, does anyone have a photo of it?
Many thanks,
tgar

KenLin39
30th July 2011, 16:02
Photo of an old St David via the link below. Ken.

http://www.photoship.co.uk/JAlbum%20Ships/Old%20Ships%20Sl/slides/St%20David-03.html

Hugh MacLean
30th July 2011, 17:14
At 08:00 on 24 January 1944, the ST DAVID returned to the Anzio beachhead, anchoring some five miles out. There they were joined by the hospital ships ST ANDREW and LEINSTER. At 17:15, the three hospital ships were ordered back to sea for the night. From 18:10 onwards, the ST ANDREW, ST DAVID, LEINSTER and the outer screen of destroyers, which were in close proximity, were subjected to heavy aerial attack by enemy bombers and torpedo-carrying aircraft belonging to II./KG 100. At 18:25, a distress signal from LEINSTER stated that she had been hit by a bomb and was on fire. The ST DAVID turned towards the stricken ship, offering assistance. Seven minutes later, she received the following signal from the LEINSTER: 'No assistance required, fire extinguished, am proceeding.' The group of ships resumed their former course and headed towards the open sea.

The three hospital ships were well clear of all shipping and the outer destroyer screen by 19:00. Shortly after, an enemy aircraft flew over the ship from starboard to port, releasing four flares, which illuminated the whole area. The same aircraft, which was about 5,000 feet above sea level, then dived almost mast high before releasing two bombs. The ST DAVID was about 25 miles south-west of the Anzio beachhead, steaming at 14 knots and steering a course south 42 degrees west. The wind was south-westerly, force 3 and there was a heavy south-westerly swell. All three ships were illuminated, clearly displaying the neutral markings of a hospital ship. Despite this, at 19:22, the ST DAVID was struck in No. 3 hold, near the after end of the promenade deck, by one bomb. The ship shuddered violently.

The aircraft turned and began a third run towards the ST DAVID and two more bombs exploded alongside No 2 hold. All the lights went out and the engines stopped. The ST DAVID settled rapidly by the stern, listing 20 degrees to port. Without hesitation Captain Owens ordered 'abandon ship' and the evacuation of the patients began. However, the water ambulances situated along the starboard side fouled the ship's side, making them impossible to lower, despite the second officer's repeated efforts. The port side presented a very different picture. No. 2 water ambulance, weighing nearly two tons, was lowered into the water with a large number of patients, including six stretcher cases, and some of the ship's personnel. Unfortunately, the ambulance's rudder and propellor became fouled by ropes and, because of the heavy swell, it proved very difficult to release the vessel from the falls, owing to the weight of the hooks and the spring clips that retained them. Time was not on their side, and they only just managed to free the ambulance before the ST DAVID sank, stern-first, just five minutes after the initial hit.

Nos 4 and 6 ambulances, also situated on the port side, were not so lucky. The heavy hooks could not be released in time and both were dragged down with the sinking ship, taking an unknown number of people with them. No. 8 lifeboat, stowed on the third-class deck, was successfully launched, while four rafts also floated clear. Chief Officer B. Howell-Mendus and 19 others were in No.2 ambulance. Taking command, he circled the wreck site and picked up 17 survivors, while boat 8 (which was launched with 10 occupants) picked up about 10 others.

During the initial attack, the aerials had been blown away, thwarting any attempt to send a distress signal. At first, the masters of the ST ANDREW and LEINSTER thought that Captain Owens had extinguished his Geneva light to avoid attack. It was not until the chief officer signalled, 'ST DAVID sunk, SOS', by torch, that they realised their misunderstanding. Thirty minutes later, they lowered lifeboats and began the rescue. By 21.15 all the survivors were on board (about 100 in the LEINSTER and over fifty in the ST ANDREW).

Captain Owens had been last seen swimming in the water. He was not seen again, losing his life with 12 of his crew, 22 Royal Army Medical Corps (including 2 nursing sisters from the Reserve QAIMNS, Sarah Dixon and Winnie Harrison) and 22 patients. 159 people were picked up, six were injured.

'Beyond the Call of Duty': The loss of British Commonwealth Mercantile and Service Women at Sea During the Second World War by Brian James Crabb.

Regards
Hugh

Hugh MacLean
30th July 2011, 17:40
London Gazette 25 July 1944 - For services when the ship was bombed and sunk.

Knorring, George Richard - Quartermaster - Commendation
Owens, Evan William - Captain - Posthumous Commendation

Ungazetted award by Lloyd's
Owens, Evan William - Captain - Posthumous Lloyd's War Medal for Bravery at Sea

Citation for the Lloyd's War Medal below.

Regards
Hugh

Hugh MacLean
30th July 2011, 20:18
Photo of 'ST DAVID' below.

Regards
Hugh

tgar
30th July 2011, 20:57
This is brilliant! Thanks for the photos to both Hugh and Ken. Also many thanks to Hugh for the detailed account of the attack. It's exactly what I'm looking for.

One last question: is there any way to find out if Alexander Kerr received any medals?


Thank you both again,
tgar

Hugh MacLean
30th July 2011, 21:14
Tgar,
You would need to obtain a copy of his service record. Details here: http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/WhatWeDo/Personnel/ServiceRecords/MakingARequestForInformationHeldOnThePersonnelReco rdsOfDeceasedServicePersonnel.htm - cost = 30.

Regards
Hugh

tgar
30th July 2011, 21:40
OK. Many thanks Hugh,
Tgar

Dickyboy
30th July 2011, 22:06
Thanks all for posting this. Another wartime disaster, with real heroes, as well as the dead, that has little or no mention in history. Not a big enough disaster to get remembered for posterity I suppose.

tgar
30th July 2011, 23:20
Well, my idea is for us to remember them!
I daresay that when the war memorial went up in the village, everybody knew all about the people on it - where they'd been and what they'd done and so on. However, they are now mostly forgotten and I think it's a great pity. Hopefully, I'll be able to come up with some info on each of these men (and one woman).
I may have to come back to you at some stage if I find any more naval references - hope you won't mind!
tgar

david freeman
31st July 2011, 18:24
Was this the same landings as at Saleno in SW Italy. Here my uncle aboard the Hospital Ship (NEWFOUNDLAND-operated I think by Furness Withy) was bombed and injured-repatriated to North Africa and then home. I may be confused? There was also aHMRCN Vessel the Newfoundland- this was not a hospital ship.

Hugh MacLean
31st July 2011, 19:06
Yes, David. On the 9 September 1943 the US Fifth Army (including the British 10th Corps) attacked a thirty-mile beachhead, stretching from Salerno to Acropoli: it was code named operation 'Avalanche'. The hospital ship 'NEWFOUNDLAND' arrived at Bizerte, Tunisia on 8 September 1943. She was bombed by enemy aircraft and damaged off Salerno on 13th September 1943 and sunk by gunfire on 14th September.
Regards
Hugh

david freeman
1st August 2011, 15:54
Yes, David. On the 9 September 1943 the US Fifth Army (including the British 10th Corps) attacked a thirty-mile beachhead, stretching from Salerno to Acropoli: it was code named operation 'Avalanche'. The hospital ship 'NEWFOUNDLAND' arrived at Bizerte, Tunisia on 8 September 1943. She was bombed by enemy aircraft and damaged off Salerno on 13th September 1943 and sunk by gunfire on 14th September.
Regards
Hugh

Thank you for the information. Family records a bit hazey, and uncle is 92 Regards David Freeman(Jester)

Gregor S
29th October 2011, 23:04
Hello tgar. Alexander Kerr was my father's uncle and I have been researching details of the circumstances of his death for some time. I stumbled over this website / thread today and it has given me a lot more information. I was wondering if you ever pursued a copy of Alexander Kerr's service record? I have downloaded the forms but without a copy of the death certificate I wouldn't think a request will be successful? Thanks.

Gregor S
29th October 2011, 23:52
Tgar, since my previous post I have managed to find a summary of Alexander Kerr's service record. His medals are listed at the bottom.

http://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/search/view_record.asp?db=ww2&id=344807



Gregor S

tgar
31st October 2011, 18:40
Hi Gregor,
unfortunately, I can't access the record... have sent you an email - hope it gets to you.
tgar

jfk
6th March 2013, 12:48
A big thank you to Hugh MacLean for all the information regarding the St. David. It fills in a few more details of the event. My uncle was a member of the RAMC and he died aboard ship that day. The last the family heard is that he was seen with a Canadian nurse trying to help a wounded patient onto a boat. He was the eldest son of three boys, John Keenan, I was named after him. My grandmother never got over his death, when I was a child she used to religiously watch 'All Our Yesterdays' on her black and white TV for any possible footage of him and the ship. Just a few years ago, my 88 year old dad came across some footage of his brother on shore leave in a documentary on the army in Singapore, I wish my grand mother had seen it.

Your piece, Hugh, highlighted a poignant coincidence; you note the date of the sinking as 24th January 1944 ... my youngest daughter was born on 24th January 1992. The distant memory of that day will now be imprinted on the family beyond my generation.

Hugh MacLean
6th March 2013, 13:26
You're welcome JFK - glad to have been of some help.
Regards
Hugh