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From SN Guides
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.
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.
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.
To date no photo of this ship has been identified.