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Marsa

From SN Guides

Contents

Introduction

Marsa was acquired by Court Line in 1943 and the name was retained.

She had a service life of 15 years during which she took part in a large number of convoys. Her working life ended in 1943 when she was sunk in an air attack during which she was hit by a number of “glider bombs”. These were probably the earliest radio controlled missiles and were guided by by an operator in the aircraft that fired them using a kind of joystick. Although they managed to sink Marsa, it is fortunate that they were overall pretty ineffective and subject to failure and unreliability.


Basic Data

  • Type: Cargo ship
  • Registered owners,managers and operators: Cory & Strick (Steamers) Ltd. - Managers Frank C.Strick & Co. Ltd. London
  • Builders: J Redhead & Sons Ltd.
  • Yard: South Shields
  • Country: UK
  • Yard number: 493
  • Registry: N/K
  • Official number: 160601
  • Signal letters: N/K
  • Call sign: N/K
  • Classification society: N/K
  • Gross tonnage: 4,405
  • Net tonnage: 2,738
  • Deadweight: N/K
  • Length: 370 ft
  • Breadth: 52.3 ft
  • Depth: 25.9 ft
  • Draught: N/K
  • Engines: 3 cylinder triple expansion steam engine
  • Engine builders: J. Redhead & Sons Ltd
  • Works: South Shields
  • Country: UK
  • Power: N/K
  • Propulsion: Single screw
  • Speed: 10.5 knots
  • Cargo capacity: N/K
  • Crew: N/K


Career Highlights

  • 29 Sep 1928: Launched
  • 3 Nov 1928: Completed
  • 1943: Acquired by United British Steam Ship Co. Ltd. - Managers Haldin & Phillipps but not renamed
  • 27 Nov 1943: Sunk by air attack


Service Pre WW2

No information is currently known about Marsa’s service history prior to WW2 at present.


Participation in WW2 Convoys

The data in the following table has been extracted from External Resource #4 which indicates that Marsa participated in 89 convoys.


A key to the routes for these convoys can be found on this page: World War 2 Convoy Names


List of Convoys

Convoy No. Route Convoy No. Route
HG.2 Oct 1939: Gibraltar - Uk Ports OB.32 Nov 1939: Liverpool - Formed OG.6
OG.6 Nov 1939: Formed at sea - Gibraltar FN.59 Dec 1939: Southend - Tyne
HG.11 Dec 1939: Gibraltar - Liverpool OA.75G Jan 1940: Southend - Formed OG.15
OG.15 Jan 1940: Formed at sea - Gibraltar FS.73 Jan 1940: Tyne - Southend
HG.19 Feb 1940: Gibraltar - Liverpool FN.107 Feb 1940: Southend - Methil
OG.24F Mar 1940: Formed at sea - Gibraltar OA.118 Mar 1940: Southend - Formed OG.24F
FS.126 Mar 1940: Tyne - Southend HG.29F May 1940: Gibraltar - Liverpool
64.X Jun 1940: Verdon - Casablanca SL/MKS.39 Jul 1940: Freetown - Liverpool
WN.5 Aug 1940: Clyde - Methil FN.268 Aug 1940: Southend - Methil
OA.209 Sep 1940: Methil - Dispersed FS.329 Nov 1940: Methil - Southend
WN.30 Nov 1940: Clyde - Methil OB.262 Dec 1940: Liverpool - Dispersed
EN.41/1 Dec 1940: Methil - Oban FN.357 Dec 1940: Southend - Methil
SL/MKS.63S Jan 1941: Freetown - Liverpool WN.85 Feb 1941: Clyde - Methil
FS.418 Feb 1941: Methil - Southend EN.85/1 Mar 1941: Methil - Oban
FN.426 Mar 1941: Southend - Methil OG.56 Mar 1941: Liverpool - Gibraltar
SL/MKS.74 May 1941: Freetown - Liverpool BB.42 Jul 1941: Belfast Lough - Milford Haven
OS/KMS.1 Jul 1941: Liverpool - Freetown WN.185 Sep 1941: Oban - Methil
SL/MKS.86 Sep 1941: Freetown - Liverpool FS.607 Sep 1941: Methil - Southend
EC.82 Oct 1941: Southend - Clyde EC.86 Oct 1941: Southend - Clyde
FN.531 Oct 1941: Southend - Methil OS/KMS.10 Oct 1941: Liverpool - Freetown
SL/MKS.98 Jan 1942: Freetown - Liverpool BB.138 Feb 1942: Belfast Lough - Milford Haven
ON.78 Mar 1942: Liverpool - Halifax KN.105 May 1942: Key West - Hampton Roads
BX.25 Jun 1942: Boston - Halifax HS.16 Jun 1942: Halifax - Sydney CB
SC.89 Jun 1942: Sydney CB - Liverpool ON.116 Jul 1942: Liverpool - Dispersed Off Boston
FS.894 Aug 1942: Methil - Southend SC.96 Aug 1942: Halifax - Liverpool
WN.328 Aug 1942: Loch Ewe - Methil EN.134 Sep 1942: Methil - Loch Ewe
FN.804 Sep 1942: Southend - Methil ON.132 Sep 1942: Liverpool - NYC
FH.10 Oct 1942: St John NB - Halifax HF.7 Oct 1942: Halifax - St. John NB
SC.107 Oct 1942: NYC - Liverpool FS.961 Nov 1942: Methil - Southend
WN.360 Nov 1942: Loch Ewe - Methil HM.88 Dec 1942: Holyhead - M haven
BB.248 Dec 1942: Belfast Lough - Milford Haven EN.172 Dec 1942: Methil - Loch Ewe
FN.881 Dec 1942: Southend - Methil FN.887 Dec 1942: Southend - Methil
KX.8 Jan 1943: Milford Haven - Dispersed 05.47N 15.23W MKS.7 Feb 1943: Algiers - Liverpool
HM.124 Feb 1943: Holyhead - M haven KMS.11G Mar 1943: Clyde - Bone
KMS.12G Mar 1943: Clyde - Bone SL/MKS.129MK May 1943: Rendezvous of SL129 with MKS13 - Liverpool
MKS.13G May 1943: Gibraltar - Rendezvous with SL.129 EN.249 Jun 1943: Methil - Loch Ewe
FN.1057 Jun 1943: Southend - Methil FS.1133 Jun 1943: Methil - Southend
WN.436 Jun 1943: Loch Ewe - Methil KMS.20G Jul 1943: Ex OS51/ KMS20 - Gibraltar
OS/KMS.51KM Jul 1943: Liverpool - Convoy Split MKS.21G Aug 1943: Gibraltar - Clyde
FS.1207 Aug 1943: Methil - Southend WN.472 Aug 1943: Loch Ewe - Methil
FN.1122 Sep 1943: Southend - Methil EN.281 Sep 1943: Methil - Loch Ewe
OS/KMS.56KM Oct 1943: Liverpool - Convoy Split GUS.20 Oct 1943: Alexandria - Hampton Roads
KMS.29 Oct 1943: Gibraltar - Port Said KMS.29G Oct 1943: Ex OS56/ KMS29 - Gibraltar
MKS.30 Nov 1943: Port Said - Gibraltar MKS.30G Nov 1943: Gibraltar - Rendezvous with SL.139
SL/MKS.139MK Nov 1943: Rendezvous of SL139 with MKS30G - Liverpool


Sinking

According to the entry about D/S Mathilda in External resource #5:

She (Mathilda) was in Convoy SL 139/MKS 30, consisting of 66 ships and 7 escorts, when a 3 day battle between U-boats and escorts started on Nov. 18-1943, at the end of which 1 U-boat returned to France with damages, 3 U-boats were sunk, and one of the escort vessels had to be towed to the Azores with damage from a Zaunkönig torpedo.

No merchant ships were lost in the U-boat attack, but a new weapon was to be used for the first time on a convoy on Nov. 21. When the convoy was in position 46 46N 18 21W, 20 German bombers approached, carrying 40 "glider bombs" with them. Fortunately, most of them landed in the sea, but a straggler was hit and sunk (the British Marsa), and a ship in the convoy was damaged (British Delius).

External resource #1 gives the position of sinking as 46.40N/18.18W.

External resource #6 provides the background to this event in an account of the history of the apparently unsuccessful German Heinkel He 177 strategic bomber:

It was on the afternoon of November 21, 1943, that the He 177 flew its first major operation. On that day Major Mons, the commander of the Second Gruppe of Kampfgeschwader 40 (II./K.G.40), led 25 of these bombers against the large convoy SL139/MKS 30 as it was moving northwards in a position some 680km to the north-east of Cape Finisterre, Spain. Each of the He 177s carried two glider-bombs.

Surviving German records of what happened during the attack are sparse. But fortunately the British records of the afternoon's events go some way to making up for this. The weather was far from ideal for a glider bomb attack, and the patches of low cloud almost certainly interfered with missile guidance in some cases. However, the weather was not the only thing that the crews of HJK.G.40 had against them that day. Many of the He 177s missed the main convoy and, instead, concentrated their attentions on two straggling merchantmen, Marsa and Delius.

Account of sinking by the Master of Marsa

The Master of the 4,405-ton Marsa, Captain T. Buckle, - now takes up the story:

"At 15:39, I saw what I thought to be an He 177 approaching from ahead; it flew on a parallel course and when about two degrees abaft the starboard beam, 2,000m away from the ship, released a glider bomb which shot 200-300m ahead of the parent aircraft, when it was turned at right angles towards the ship. I turned stern-on to it, and the bomb landed about 50m astern, exploding in the water and sending up a column of water 9-10m high.”

"The aircraft then flew round the stern and, again keeping parallel to the ship, released another bomb on the port quarter, nearly 400m away. I waited until the bomb was turned inwards, then put my stern on to it again, and after the explosion, which threw up approximately the same amount of water, turned the ship back on to the convoy course. The second bomb came from the starboard wing of the aircraft and seemed to fall a little before shooting ahead.”

"I then observed another aircraft approaching from the same direction. It went through exactly the same tactics, releasing a glider bomb off the starboard beam, but further away this time, about 3,000m. I again turned stern on to it, but this bomb was turned a second time, and I had to swing hard to starboard to avoid it. It exploded off the starboard side, about 100m away, after which I resumed the convoy course.”

"A second bomb was released from this aircraft when it was about 3,000m away, and I swung hard to starboard as soon as it was released. It followed the ship round, landing 70m away on the port beam and for the first time during the attack we felt the blast. again turned the ship on to the convoy course, when a third machine approached from astern on the port side and, when 4,000m abeam, released two bombs on the port quarter. These bombs did not appear to be under control and as soon as they left the aircraft fell straight into the sea with their rocket tubes smoking. I do not think they were jettisoned however, as there was a 45-second interval between the two. We were attacking the aircraft with our 12-pounder and as the bursts seemed to me to be close to the aircraft, this may have caused the bomb aimer to lose control to some extent.”

"A fourth aircraft approached from ahead on the starboard side and dropped another two bombs, which were released about 4,000m away on the port quarter; the first one did not explode, although I saw smoke coming from the tail. The second exploded violently about 70m away on the port beam. For five or six seconds we saw a large flame coming from the port engine and then the aircraft was enveloped in a dense black cloud of smoke. When I last saw the aircraft it was at an angle, which may have been done deliberately to blow the flame away, or it may have been losing height. It went into cloud and I did not see it again."

Three points stand out clearly from this report. First, the captain's extreme coolness and skilful seamanship under what can only be described as very trying conditions. Secondly, the gross unreliability of the early radio-controlled missiles; and, lastly, the fact that the fourth He 177 appeared to burst into flames on its own accord - a phenomenon not entirely new to those who have followed the He 177 story thus far. But now time was running out for Marsa. At 16:00, a fifth Heinkel ran in to attack. When abeam the ship's funnel, the crew released their glider-bomb.

Captain Buckle's report continued:

"I brought my stern round, but as it travelled round the stern I lost track of it [the Hs 293], consequently I was unable to take any further avoiding action, and it struck the water between the davits of the port lifeboat, exploding in the engine room near the main discharge. The detonation did not appear to be particularly loud. The blast, however, was terrific. I was walking from the starboard to the port side of the bridge at the time, endeavouring to trace the bomb's path, when a gunner and the Second and Third Officers were blown in through the door for which I was heading, while two gunners in the port after Oerlikon [a 20mm. automatic weapon] nest were blown down to the boat deck. They were not hurt, owing to the fact that the deck was swamped by a huge wave, into which they fell.”

"The ship was hit near the water line. I could not see the extent of the damage to the shell plating because it was underwater, but the deck was indented for the full length between the two boat davits, and the engine-room flooded so rapidly that I think there must have been a hole in the ship's side. The Second Engineer was shot across the engine room and, by the time he reached the ladder, had to climb up through water. The after port lifeboat, No. 4, was completely destroyed. The ship settled 0.5m by the stern and remained in this position - she did not list. All the fore-end of No. 4 hold was blown away and the beams and hatches thrown into the air. I think No. 4 bulkhead was started, as I could hear a hissing noise, which may have been water percolating from the engine room into No. 4 hold. The steering gear was out of action, either as a result of damaged castings, or the steam supply failing."

At this stage it was clear that Marsa could not be saved; an escort came alongside and took off her crew. The second straggler, the Delius, also came under attack from the Heinkels; she too suffered a hit, but was able to reach port under her own steam.


External resources

  1. Miramar Ship Index: [1]
  2. Information extracted from Lloyds Registers
  3. Norman Middlemiss: Travel of the Tramps - Twenty Tramp Fleets ISBN: 1871128021
  4. Convoyweb (Arnold Hague Convoy Database): [2]
  5. Warsailors website: [3]
  6. Aviastar Website: [4]


Images

To date no photo of this ship has been identified.

Contributors

  1. Basis data provided by John Powell and Clive Ketley
  2. Additional research and construction of entry by Benjidog


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