A 6148 ton motor merchant built in 1926 by Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd., Dundee for Alfred Holt and Co., Liverpool. She looked a fine ship with an unusual layout.
On 27 October 1942 she was sailing as the ship of the Vice Commodore in Convoy SL-125. She was carrying 6,000 tons of West African produce on voyage Lagos-Freetown-Liverpool. She was armed with one 4-inch gun, one 20mm gun and four machine guns. As well as the Vice Commodore and his six naval staff members she had a crew of 107 plus 7 gunners and 124 passengers, mostly service personnel, including 26 army personnel and 11 nursing sisters. A total of 246 persons.
At 22.33 and 22.38 hours U-509 fired torpedoes at the convoy when it was northwest of the Canary Islands and scored hits on Pacific Star and Stentor. Stentor was hit on the starboard side at the bulkhead between holds 2 and 3. The palm oil stored in the deep tank was thrown up by the explosion and immediately caught fire, pouring into the passenger accommodation and setting the forward holds and bridge on fire. The men on the bridge were either killed or badly burned. Eight minutes after being hit she sank by the bow. The lifeboat carrying the master capsized with the loss of most of the occupants. Three lifeboats had been destroyed or were on fire so the survivors abandoned ship in the remaining four boats and rafts. Three hours after she sank HMS Woodruff began picking up survivors and continued throughout the night until she had rescued 202 persons.
The master, William Williams, the Vice Commodore, Captain Richard Hart CBE, RNR, nineteen crew members, one naval staff and 22 passengers, including 3 army personnel and 4 nurses were lost.
Three days later HMS Woodruff transferred 100 survivors to HMS Ramsey which took them to Liverpool. The remaining survivors were landed at Milford Haven on 6 November. The ships surgeon, William Chisholm, was posthumously awarded the Albert Medal. He attended to the badly injured Vice Commodore and deliberately sacrificed his chance of safety by remaining with him until the ship sank.
U-509 did not survive the war as she was sunk on 15 July 1943 in the mid-Atlantic north-west of Madeira by aerial ‘Fido’ torpedoes from Avenger aircraft of the US escort carrier USS Santee. All 54 of her crew were lost.
Photograph belongs to Stuart Smith
Copyright John Clarkson, Preston, Lancs.