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Image 1: Rhexenor-1.jpg


Contents
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Basic Data
  • 3 Career Highlights
  • 4 Service Pre-War
  • 5 Rhexenor participation in WW2 Convoys
  • 6 Sinking of Rhexenor
  • 7 Survival
    • 7.1 The Master's boat (No 1 Boat)
    • 7.2 The Mates's boat (No 4 Boat)
    • 7.3 The 2nd Mate's boat (No 3 Boat)
    • 7.4 The 3rd Mate's boat (No 5 Boat)
  • 8 Graham Allen and U-217
    • 8.1 U-217
    • 8.2 Graham Allen's Story
  • 9 Footnotes
  • 10 External resources
  • 11 Images
Introduction[edit]

In Greek mythology, Rhexenor was the son of Nausithous - Homer - The Odessy - Book VII:

And Odysseus marvelled at the harbour and the fine vessels, at the meeting place where the nobles gathered, and the long high walls topped with palisades, wonderful to see. When they reached the king's fine palace, the goddess, bright-eyed Athene, said: 'Here, sir stranger, is the house you asked me to show you. You will find the princes, favoured by Zeus, feasting there, but go in and have no fear. For a man is best to be bold, even a stranger from a foreign land. The first person you will approach in the palace hall is the queen: Arete is her name, of the same lineage as the king, Alcinous. Nausithous was founder, born of Earth-Shaker Poseidon and Periboea, loveliest of women, youngest daughter of valiant Eurymedon once king of the insolent Giants. He brought destruction on his reckless race, and was destroyed. But Poseidon lay with Periboea, and bore a son, valiant Nausithous, who ruled the Phaeacians, and Nausithous had two sons, Rhexenor and Alcinous. Rhexenor, who was married without a son, Apollo of the silver bow struck down in his hall, leaving a daughter, Arete.

There have been three ships named Rhexenor:

  1. Rhexenor (1) - 7,957 grt (the topic of this entry).
  2. Rhexenor (2) - 10,199 grt. Completed 1945 and scrapped 1975
  3. Rhexenor (3) - 8,529 grt. Built as Maron (3) in 1960, renamed Rhexenor (3) in 1975, transferred to Elder Dempster Line in 1977 and renamed Opobo, sold to Greece and renamed Elfortune in 1978.

The Rhexenor of this entry was built for Alfred Holt & Co. Liverpool and sunk by a torpedo fired by U-boot U-217 during WW2

Basic Data[edit]
  • Type: Cargo/Passenger ship
  • Registered owners,managers and operators: Alfred Holt & Co. Liverpool
  • Builders: Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering Co
  • Yard: Hong Kong
  • Country: Hong Kong
  • Yard number: 188
  • Registry: N/K
  • Official number: 152099
  • Signal letters: N/K
  • Call sign: N/K
  • Gross tonnage: 7,957 grt
  • Net tonnage: 5,004 ton
  • Deadweight: 9,900 ton
  • Length: 140.1 m
  • Breadth: 17.8 m
  • Depth: 9.9 m
  • Draught: N/K
  • Engines: Turbine, double reduction geared
  • Engine builders: Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering Co
  • Works: Hong Kong
  • Country: Hong Kong
  • Power: 6,000 shp
  • Propulsion: Single screw
  • Speed: 14 knots
  • Boilers: 2 double ended coal fired
  • Passenger capacity: 12
  • Cargo capacity:N/K
  • Crew: N/K

Image 2: Rhexenor3.jpg

Career Highlights[edit]
  • Mar 1923: Completed
  • 03 February 1943: Sunk by enemy action

Service Pre-War[edit]

No information currently available - contributions welcome.

Rhexenor participation in WW2 Convoys[edit]

The data in the following table comes from Reference #1.

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



List of Convoys

HXF.17 (Jan 1940: Halifax - Dover)OB.105 (Mar 1940: Liverpool - Formed OG.21)OB.108 (Mar 1940: Liverpool - Formed OG.22F)
OG.21 (Mar 1940: Formed at sea - Gibraltar)OG.22F (Mar 1940: Formed at sea - Gibraltar)SL/MKS.37 (Jun 1940: Freetown - Liverpool)
OB.207 (Sep 1940: Liverpool - Dispersed)TAW.11 (Aug 1942: Trinidad - Key West)KN.130 (Aug 1942: Key West - NYC)
NG.309 (Sep 1942: Nyc - Guantanamo)NG.309 (Sep 1942: NYC - Guantanamo)GAT.11 (Oct 1942: Guantanamo - Trinidad)

Sinking of Rhexenor[edit]

Readers are encouraged to read the accounts of the sinking written by the Captain, Mate, 2nd Mate and 3rd Mate that can be found on the website whose URL is below at Reference #2 where they have been transcribed from the original records by John Marshall.

Here is a brief summary of events based on these accounts:

  • Rhexenor left Freetown 26th January 1943 carrying 6,451 tons of cocoa bound Saint John.
  • There were 70 people on board consisting of 67 crew membes, 1 D.B.S. and 2 passengers.
  • Rhexenor was initially escorted by H.M.S. Bridgewater until Midnight on Saturday 30th January, then proceeded on her own at 14 knots following a zig-zag course.
  • At about 06:45 on 3rd February, Rhexenor was hit by a torpedo on the port side below the bridge, and soon started to settle by the head and develop a port list.
  • A survey revealed serious damage and as the vessel continued to settle orders were issued to abandon her with the last boat leaving at around 08:15.
  • Before the boats had got far, a submarine surfaced slightly on the port bow and, at about a quarter to half mile distance, commenced shelling the ship. The vessel caught fire fore and aft, listed to a full ninety degrees and sank on her port side at about 08:35.
  • The submarine approached each of the boats in turn seeking the Captain but was told he was still on the ship. Eventually it was concluded that Mr Graham Allen was the 4th Officer and he was taken on board the submarine which then departed.
  • The boats were about equidistant from Bermuda and Antigua - 1,200 miles in either case and it was decided to head for the West Indies. There were four boats in all, three with 17 on board and one with 19.
  • The boats tried to keep in sight of one another but became separated by 5th February

Image 3: 400px-Rhexenor-2.jpg

Image 3 shows Rhexenor just before she sank and was taken from U-217.

Survival[edit]

There had been no fatalities at this point and those on board were in four ship's boats, apart from 4th Mate Graham Allen who had been taken prisoner and was on board U-217.

The journeys of the ship's boats are all the more remarkable because of the limited navigational aids available. Each boat had basic charts but only the Master and Mate had a chronometer and sextant. None of the boats had motors - just sails and oars.

The Master's boat (No 1 Boat)[edit]
  • The Master was Leonard Eccles
  • After enduring bad weather an attempt was made to put out calls by radio but no help arrived. The voyage was estimated at 20 days and rations were distributed accordingly during the voyage.
  • There was one loss of life - L.J.Davies the second cook died on 17th February and was buried at sea.
  • After enduring great hardship the Master's boat landed at Guadeloupe on 20th February where the crew were given food and drink then taken to a hospital and later to an American gunboat.

The Mates's boat (No 4 Boat)[edit]
  • The Mate was M.J.Case - his report lists all those in his boat and there is a detailed account of how rations were dispensed
  • Relatively speaking, this boat appears to have had a better time of it but they still endured bad weather
  • The Mate's boat arrived at Antigua on 21st February

The 2nd Mate's boat (No 3 Boat)[edit]
  • The 2nd Mate was W. Meredith Thomas - his report also lists those in this boat and rations.
  • He reported that on average those on board lost 1lb in weight per day of the voyage. Interestingly the 2nd mate told the crew to expect a 40 day trip and beleived there were adequate rations for this.
  • Weather was mixed - some stormy periods
  • The 2nd Mate's boat was eventually spotted by Liberator planes and the crew rescued by Conqueror on 23rd February

The 3rd Mate's boat (No 5 Boat)[edit]
  • The 3rd Mate was S.A.G.Covell
  • Those in the 3rd Mate's boat appear to have suffered more than the others from the effects of exposure; Corby A.B. died on 13th February and was buried at sea.
  • There appears to have been less rations in the 3rd Mate's boat than in the other boats.
  • Towards the end of their ordeal Mr Covell has to perform an emergency operation on the hand of a crew member using a razor
  • On 23rd February the exhausted crew managed to beach the boat after a gruelling 11 hours rowing - the report does not say where they landed but another account says they landed at Jost van Goyen Island, Tobago and were later taken to Tortola which is in the Virgin Islands.

Graham Allen and U-217[edit]

U-217[edit]

Brief details of this U-Boat can be found at Reference #3. She was commissioned on 31 January 1942 and Captained by Oblt. Kurt Reichenbach-Klinke. During the course of her active service she sunk three ships totalling 10,651 GRT.

U-217 was herself sunk on 5 June 1943 in the mid-Atlantic with the loss of all hands (50) by depth charges from Avenger aircraft of the US escort carrier USS Bogue at a location not far from where Rhexenor went down.

Graham Allen's Story[edit]

Just after Rhexenor was abandoned, those in the ships's boat were questioned by the crew of the submarine. They said that the captain and the chief mate had gone down with the ship whereupon they ordered the chief steward and the 4th mate, Graham Allen, to come aboard the U.Boat. The chief steward was soon returned to his lifeboat and Graham, with a gun pointing at him was ordered to show them where the captain was. Graham continued to insist that the captain had gone down with his ship and, rather to his surprise, instead of being put back in his boat, as had happened to the chief steward, he was retained in the U.Boat.

This practice was normal for a U.Boat coming towards the end of its patrol/cruise. If in the early stages of a patrol, they would have been less inclined to take prisoners, and if escorting war-ships were around they would not have had the opportunity. So it transpired that Graham set off in one direction, whilst his erstwhile shipmates went off in the opposite direction.

There now follows an account by Graham Allen of what happened on the submarine in his own words:

For about the first 10 days the U-Boat remained on the surface day and night, except for two practice dives each day. On three occasions we made a rendezvous with an outward-bound sub. for refuelling. On each of these occasions some members of each crew exchanged visits by rubber dinghy. I particularly remember one of the days when such an exchange was made-it was my 21st birthday! At least I was given a drink to celebrate the occasion-creme de menthe of all things.

At all times I was allowed anywhere on board except in the engine room, and I slept in the forward torpedo room, where most of the ratings had their bunks. Many evenings I sat with the Captain and Chief Engineer and talked and argued on many subjects. I was continually told that I had been very foolish not to have identified the master of the RHEXENOR, and it was evidently a sore point that the sub. was returning home after 3 months with only one ship sunk, and proof of that in the form of a 4th mate instead of a master. The Captain explained his tactics in sinking the RHEXENOR and showed me his charts. He had followed our ship for sufficient time to work out which zig-zag we were using. (There was a copy of the official British zig-zag book on board, also the signal books etc.!) And then, knowing the mean course, had got ahead of us. He had then waited in exactly the right spot to torpedo the RHEXENOR at day-break.

I should say that all of the crew were quite reasonable, except for the 1st Lieutenant who was the Gestapo representative and at all times wore a white pullover with German eagle and swastika emblazoned across it. At every opportunity he was as rude as possible, and although it was obvious that the Captain and the rest of the crew disapproved of his manner, not one of them ever dared to cross him.

On the morning of Feb.20th we could hear the dull thud of depth charges many miles away. At this point the sub. was steaming on the surface at night only. However the depth charging became louder and louder, and that night the Captain told me he would not be surfacing. I supposed from his manner, and from the general tension and activity on board, that he was making every attempt to avoid being discovered. But it was of no avail. The Captain informed the crew and myself that we had evidently been detected, and we remained submerged and stopped for what seemed like an eternity.

Everyone off duty was ordered to to lie down in order to conserve oxygen. During the next day the depth charges were exploding very near. The noise was deafening and the sub. was badly shaken. Later this day the air became so poor we could only breathe by taking great gulps at each breath. The following night I was told that there was no option but to surface and make a get-away if possible in the dark. By this time the tension in the submarine was almost unbelievable, and something I shall never forget. However, we then surfaced and made our escape.

On Feb.23rd we arrived at Brest, where lined up on the quay was a reception party with brass band playing and a line of young women along the front, each with a bouquet of flowers. As U.217 came alongside I was ordered below, so as not to see the ensueing ceremony. Soon each member of the crew came below with a flower in his buttonhole and a lipstick smear on his cheek. They all seemed pleased with their reception. And so I commenced my time as a prisoner of war, and finished what proved to have been a very eventful voyage.

The following three photographs are of Graham Allen's disembarkation from U-217 at Brest.

Image 4: Graham-allen1.jpg Image 5: 250px-Graham-allen2.jpg Image 6: 250px-Graham-allen3.jpg

Footnotes[edit]

The following additional information was provided by SN member Hugh Ferguson:

I had known about the photograph (Images 3 to 5) for many years; in fact for twenty years, since first acquiring the book "A Pictorial History of U-Boats" by Edwin P Hoyt. The man shown in the photograph walking up a gangplank from U-217 onto the quay at Brest is named as Graham AlIen. He was taken on board U-217 as a POW on 3rd February 1943 following the sinking of his ship, the Blue Funnel Rhexenor, in mid Atlantic. As one does with books I had not opened those pages for many months and upon now doing, it occurred to me that in not one of the three pictures is the subject looking at the photographer. Could it possibly be that even to this day he did not know that he was being photographed?

To discover if this was indeed the case, I would need to contact him and, despite the fact that we were once colleagues as pilots in the port of Aden, it was 43 years since I had last spoken to him or known anything of his cir***stances. Knowing that Graham was not a member of any of the Blue Funnel associations my only hope was that one of the other members may have known of his whereabouts. That proved to be the case and I can only say that it is always quite a thrill to find oneself in communication again with an old colleague and friend after being incommunicado for half a lifetime. Having exchanged greetings I asked Graham if he knew of the photographs. He did not, and expressed disbelief that they were in fact of himself. I assured him that there was not the slightest doubt and that to provide absolute certainty, the caption mentioned him by name. He was dumbfounded and I am sure that at that moment you could have knocked him down with the proverbial feather! I had, of course, promised to send him copies of the pictures (including one of the ship actually sinking), but in this instance I resolved to entrust the precious book itself to the Royal Mail so that he may view the whole thing at his leisure and of course have the opportunity of showing it to his family and friends.

Graham was, as you may imagine, delighted to have this dramatic record of himself brought to his notice after such a very long interval and the pleasure it has given me to have played a part is absolutely tremendous. Anyone who has not yet read the account of the sinking of the Rhexenor (see Roskill's 'Merchant Fleet at War'), should try and get hold of a copy, it is an enthralling story. Graham told me that during his sojourn in the sub, he celebrated - if that is the word for those cir***stances - his 21st birthday, and sometime before arrival in Brest was subjected to a severe depth-charging by, presumably, British warships. One of the pictures shows him smiling; that, he said, was just the sheer relief at being on dry land again! In fact, it can be seen that the rest - who are all Germans - are smiling. Their pleasure was not to last for long, U-217, under the same commander, Kapitan Leutnant Reichenbach- Klinke, was sunk in a position not so many miles from the grave of the Rhexenor by aircraft of the US Navy Sq on G-9 from the CVE (carrier vessel escort), USS Bogue. The end of the U-217 began at 7.30 am on the 5th June 19, when five Grumman Avengers and one Wild cat were catapulted into the air. They were on their return leg to the carrier when at 8.30 they sighted a submarine heading west at speed. The U-217 began firing as they dived on her, but the Wildcat opened up with its six .50 calibre guns and saw four or five men throw up their arms and fall into the sea. Now it was the turn of Lieutenant Alex McAuslan in his Avenger to come in with his depth charges, which straddled the U-boat halfway between bow and conning tower. In the cascading spray the U-Boat began settling by the stem with her bows high in the air. McAuslen circled for 55 minutes watching the oil from the stricken submarine, rising vertically to the surface. There were no survivors.

External resources[edit]
  1. The Arnold Hague Convoy Database: Convoy Web
  2. John Marshall's "Farewell to the China Boats" website: [Rhexenor]
  3. U Boat.net website entry for U-217: [U217]
  4. Ubootwaffe.net website reference to Rhexenor: [Ubootwaffe.net]
Images[edit]
  1. From the Allen Collection
  2. Ernest G. Best postcard collection of merchant vessels, naval vessels and sailing vessels (out of copyright)
  3. Taken by U-217
  4. Provided by SN Member Hugh Ferguson and enhanced by Benjidog
  5. Provided by SN Member Hugh Ferguson and enhanced by Benjidog
  6. Provided by SN Member Hugh Ferguson and enhanced by Benjidog
 
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