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Image 1: San-emiliano-5.jpg

Image 2: San-Emiliano-6.jpg

  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 San Emiliano - Other Guide Entries
  • 3 Basic Data
  • 4 Armaments
  • 5 San Emiliano before WW2
  • 6 San Emiliano participation in WW2 Convoys
  • 7 Accounts of San Emiliano Convoys by Stan Mayes
  • 8 Photographs taken on Convoy HX 184 from the collection of Stan Mayes
  • 9 External resources
  • 10 Images
  • 11 Contributors

Motor tanker San Emiliano was launched on 20th December 1938 and delivered on 5th April 1939 by Harland and Wolff in Govan. The two photos above are understood to have been taken taken when the ship was on trials in the Clyde in April 1939. She was sunk on 6 August 1942 by German U-boat U-155 (Captain: Adolf Cornelius Piening) at Position: 07.22N, 54.08W - Grid EO 6134.

At the time of sinking San Emiliano was part of Convoy: E-7 (dispersed) following a route from Curaçao (29 Jul) - Trinidad (6 Aug) - Table Bay - Suez amd was carrying a cargo of 11.286 tons of aviation spirit. More information about the sinking can be found at Reference 1.

The total complement of the ship was 48, of whom only 8 survived.

This incident is covered in the television 'World at War' series ' Wolf Pack: U-Boats in the Atlantic 1939 - 1944' with film of some of the survivors being rescued.

San Emiliano - Other Guide Entries[edit]

Click on this link to view the Guide entry containing a survivors report: San Emiliano (survivors report)

Click on this link to view the Guide entry containing a US Navy Department report about the fate of San Emiliano and the U-boat that sunk her:

San Emiliano - Summary of Statements by US Navy Department

Basic Data[edit]
  • Type: Motor tanker
  • Registered owners,managers and operators: Eagle Oil & Shipping Co Ltd, London
  • Builders: Harland & Wolff Ltd
  • Yard: Govan, Glasgow Glasgow
  • Country: UK
  • Yard number: 1015G
  • Registry: Glasgow, UK
  • Official number: 167216
  • Signal letters: N/K
  • Call sign: GRGL
  • Classification society: N/K
  • Gross tonnage: 8,071
  • Net tonnage: 4,818
  • Deadweight: 12,152
  • Length: 479Feet 5 Inches
  • Breadth: 61 Feet 2 Inches
  • Depth: N/K
  • Draught: 27 Feet 0 Inches
  • Engines: N/K
  • Engine builders: Harland & Wolff
  • Works: Belfast Engine Works
  • Country: UK
  • Power: 4,300
  • Propulsion: N/K
  • Speed: 12 knots
  • Crew: 48 at time of sinking
  • Homeport: London


At an unknown date, San Emiliano was kitted out as a Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship (DEMS).

Standard references state that San Emiliano was equipped with one 4.7" gun, one 12 pounder, two Twin Marlins, two Hotchkiss, one Savage Lewis and four P.A.C. Rockets.

Stan Mayes states: the 4.7" gun was on the poop (see photo later in this Guide) and that in addition there were two 20 mm Oerlikons located in nests built on the bridge, and one 40mm Bofors gun installed near the funnel.

DEMS Gunners were on the ship...**** Snashall and I had gunnery courses and gained a certificate ..We were paid 6d per day for it while on ships Articles.. We performed our normal duties,but manned guns during action stations..also had lots of gun drill when at sea...

It should be noted that there were four Royal Navy casualties amongst those who died and these were presumably the DEMS gunners.

The photo below has been enlarged and enhanced (the full photo is shown later in this Guide) and shows the nests for the Oerlikons which can be accessed from the deck by rope ladders as well as from the bridge.

Image 3: San-Emiliano-Enhanced-bridge-shot.jpg

San Emiliano before WW2[edit]

San Emiliano discharged petrol at Santos in August 1939 and arrived in the river Amazon on 3rd September 1939 - the day the war began. She loaded a full cargo of fresh water from the Amazon for Curacao. It was common practice for tankers to take water from the Amazon for Curacao on their return from EastCoast South American ports. At present that is the limit of known information about her service prior to the war.

San Emiliano participation in WW2 Convoys[edit]

The data in the following table was provided by Billy McGee from the personal data of the late Arnold Hague.

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

List of Convoys

OB.297OB.323OG.24,ON.5ON.20ON.36ON.54ON.79OS/ KMS.27

Accounts of San Emiliano Convoys by Stan Mayes[edit]

Following leave from Adula, I reported to Tilbury shipping office and was told I was promoted to AB. My previous four and half years service coasting had been considered. A few days later I signed on my second Deep Sea ship and more convoy experience. San Emiliano of Eagle Oil Co London. I made four return voyages accross the Atlantic in this tanker (in those days we always called it the Western Ocean - never Atlantic. Many of you will remember it). Each cargo was 12,000tons of high octane and the four trips totalled 7 months 23 days from 18th Sept 1941 to 23rd April 1942. The Captain was J.Tozer and the Chief Officer during my first two trips was Mr A.Hawkins OBE who had been Second Officer in San Demetrio at the time of her epic voyage in November 1940. I do not know the ON outward convoys we were in,only the HX - UK bound convoys ....

San Emiliano Voyage 1

I joined the ship in Tilbury dry dock and all crew of Deck,Engine and Catering were local -Tilbury Grays Gravesend and Medway Towns. Sailing down river to Southend, we joined in with an East Coast convoy for Loch Ewe. As the convoy passed off the Norfolk coast during the hours of darkness the ships came under attack from E boats. This area was known as E boat alley - they were fast German craft and were armed with torpedoes and heavy machine guns. San Emiliano was hit by four shells causing damage to the flying bridge. All ships arrived safely at Loch Ewe and we later sailed and joined in with a convoy from the Mersey. Heading Westward it was a reasonably quiet trip only hearing the occasional sound of depth charges. All ships entered Halifax and our ship underwent repairs to the flying bridge. Halifax was a huge convoy port - geographically ideally situated - and a hundred ships could always be seen at anchor in Bedford Basin a large natural harbour. With repairs completed we sailed in a small convoy for New York where we arrived on 15th October 1941. Loaded cargo at Elizabeth NJ and sailed in convoy on 18th for Halifax where we joined convoy HX 156 of 43 ships on 22nd October. San Arcadio and San Alvaro were also in this convoy - both these tankers were sunk later in the war. Also in the convoy were two CAM ships - Catapult Armed Merchantman - Empire Foam and Empire Day. A large catapult was fitted over the ships bows and a modified Hurricane fighter plane was fired from it. They were mainly used for spotting surfaced U boats when they would then give the convoy escorts the position. There was no return for these courageous pilots - when they had used all their fuel they crashed into the sea close to an escort and hoped for rescue. Our convoy HX 156 was escorted entirely by six US destroyers although the United States was still neutral at this time - they did not enter the war until 7th December when Pearl Harbour was attacked. The Americans escorted our convoys to within 500 miles of the UK where the Royal Navy would take over the final leg home. The average British public were unaware of this great help in providing protection for our ships but merchant seamen knew of it and will be eternally grateful. It was an uneventful HX 156, until 31st October when an attack on the convoy was made by U 552. The US destroyer Reuben James was hit by a torpedo and she exploded into a huge fireball which lit up the sky. I witnessed her loss just before dawn from our position in convoy about a mile from the tragedy. Reuben James broke in two and there was a heavy loss of life - 95 crew were killed but 45 were rescued before she sank. The sinking occurred 600 miles SW of Iceland. Reuben James was an elderly 4 funnelled destroyer. The Americans gave us 50 of these old ships in exchange for the use of Trinidad and Bermuda as Naval bases. No further attacks were made on the convoy and when it was dispersed off the Mersey our ship continued sailing South to our discharging port of Swansea.

San Emiliano Voyage 2

We had arrived at Swansea at end of first trip on 8th november 1941. When joining the ship at Tilbury in September, the crew had signed a 6 month Running Agreement and so could not pay off unless they had a special reason. After discharging cargo we sailed on 10th November for Milford Haven and here joined a convoy for Bangor Bay NI and later into an Atlantic convoy (Number unknown). A few unsuccessful attacks by U boats but experiencing atrocious weather conditions and the convoy arrived in New York on 1st December. San Emiliano berthed at Bayway NJ to load high octane. On our visits to New York we found the people to be very friendly and sociable and many kind and generous people came to the ships with invitations to visit their homes and we were taken to theaters and restaurants and were given food parcels to take home to our families. On one occasion myself and three shipmates were taken to see a performance by Frank Sinatra and as it was in his early career as a singer we experienced the mass hysteria of his numerous young fans. Unforgettable. Normally a tanker is on a quick turnround but not so during the war years as ships remained in port until enough ships assembled to form a convoy. And so it was in New York with 3, 4 or 5 days to enjoy shore leave after loading cargo. Sailed in convoy from N Y on 5th December and as we approached Halifax on 7th December we heard of the attack on Pearl Harbour. The following day in Bedford Basin, Halifax ships began asembling to form a convoy for the UK - HX 164. A loaded tanker British Destiny was anchored near us but did not join the convoy and some months later I was told of the reason by the brother of a seaman on British Destiny at the time. The ship had loaded petrol in Curacao and, on arrival at Halifax, the Captain had stopped shore leave as many of the crew had been logged in Curacao for various misdemeanours. During the night 8 of the crew launched a lifeboat and went to Halifax. They were arrested and in prison and being short of crew the sailing was cancelled. HX 164 was uneventful although most of the convoys were being attacked at this time. Dispersed in Irish Sea on 23rd December, part of the convoy sailed on to Bristol Channel ports and again we went to Swansea - arriving 27th December - until 3rd January 1942. Chief Officer A. Hawkins was relieved by Chief Officer T.Finch.

San Emiliano Voyage 3

Swansea to Milford Haven and joined a convoy North through the Irish Sea and later met many other ships from the Mersey to form a large convoy for Halifax - which again was uneventful and a quick passage brought us to Halifax on 14th January. Stored ship and sailed independently for Aruba a 9 days uneventful trip. Aruba is an island in Dutch West Indies and crude oil is taken there from Venezuela in a fleet of 2,000 ton tankers (mosquito run), refined and then loaded into larger tankers. We arrived at Oranjestad Aruba on 24th January and sailed again on 26th independently for Halifax. After passing through Mona Passage we began receiving calls from ships reporting the sighting of U boats ahead of us off the East Coast US. Some ships had been sunk in that area including Canadian passenger ship Lady Hawkins on 19th January by U-66 - about 250 passengers and crew had been killed. Admiral King of the US Navy was against the use of convoys and many ships were sunk with hundreds of crew dead before a convoy system operated off the US East Coast. The crews of U boats called it Happy Times as there was little opposition to their activities. On receiving a call from a ship a few miles from us we diverted course and entered Hamilton Bermuda. Two days later sailed in company of two other tankers - escorted by a US destroyer - for Halifax, arriving on 9th February and sailing again on 11th in HX 175. British Destiny also in this convoy. With little attention from U boats but severe weather conditions, we arrived in the Mersey on 1st March and berthed at Stanlow. This ended the 6 month Articles. This Running Agreement forced rule was a travesty on the part of the shipping companies in forcing a seaman to remain with a ship for 6 months - especially tankers carrying extremely hazardous cargoes. Also there was a considerable gain financially for shipowners in not having the expense of signing off and on so frequently and in not having to pay crew fares so often. At end of the 6 month Articles in San Emiliano the crew were asked if they would sign on again. Many agreed on condition it was single voyage only and the company concurred. My pals and I signed on for another trip. If we had signed another 6 month Agreement there is no doubt it would have been our final voyage as San Emiliano was torpedoed and sunk with heavy loss of life - only 7 survivors from a crew of 50 - a few weeks after we paid off.

San Emiliano Voyage 4

Following cargo discharge at Stanlow, we moved ship to Birkenhead for two days of engine repairs. Here we signed the single trip Agreement on 3rd March and sailed on 5th for New York in convoy ON 76. At Bayonne NJ we loaded high octane on 30th and 31st March and later joined convoy HX 184 off Halifax making a total of 30 ships. Again a reasonably quiet voyage and arrived at Swansea on 23rd April 1942 where my pals **** Snashall and Pat Cousins of Tilbury and I paid off ship after four voyages.

Photographs taken on Convoy HX 184 from the collection of Stan Mayes[edit]

The link at External Reference #2 provides details of the ships sailing in this convoy including the order and times of sailing. The convoy was led out of Halifax, Nova Scotia by the Blue Funnel passenger vessel Agapenor (7,587 grt) Agapenor which was built in 1914 and subsequently torpedoed and sunk off Freetown in 1942 with the loss of 7 lives. Agapenor left Halifax at 11:00 on 8 April 1942, the last member of the convoy at 13:42 and the convoy is reported as arriving at Liverpool on 20 April 1942. In reality not all the ships in the convoy were destined for Liverpool and San Emiliano was bound for Swansea. According to External Reference #2, she was towards the rear of the convoy.

The two photos below show San Emiliano with decks awash during the crossing.

Image 4: San-Emiliano-1.jpg

Image 5: San-Emiliano-4.jpg

The ship in the background of the photo below is the Elders and Fyffes ship Cristales (5,368 grt) - the Commodore's ship for convoy HX184. Cristales was torpedoed by U-124 on 12 May 1942 according to External Reference #3 - two weeks after the arrival of convoy HX184. She was part of convoy ON92 and sunk by gunfire from HMCS Shediac (K110) Fortunately all 82 on board survived, picked up by HMCS Shediac.

Image 6: San-Emiliano-3.jpg

The photo below shows Stan Mayes AB (left) and **** Snashal AB (right). The tanker in the background is British Power. On an enlarged version of the original photograph you can see the two funnels of a Danish passenger ship Amerika beyond the aft deck of British Power; she was sunk shortly afterwards whilst sailing in a later convoy. British Power survived the war.

Image 7: San-Emiliano-2.jpg

The photo below is an enlargement of the previous one to highlight the Degaussing cables. Degaussing reduced the risk of ships being detected by magnetic mines and was initially fitted externally as shown here. The thick cables carrying the degaussing current are to be seen strapped to the diagonal metal trough.

Image 8: Degaussing-1.jpg

The photo below shows Stan Mayes and **** Snashal on duty at one of the 4.7" guns on San Emiliano.

Image 9: San-emiliano-7.jpg

External resources[edit]
  1. The website: Allied Ships hit by U-boats - San Emiliano]
  2. Warsailors Website: Convoy HX 184]
  3. website: U-Boat Operations U-124]

  1. Copy of photo from SN member Benjidog - source of original not known
  2. Copy of photo from SN member Benjidog - source of original not known
  3. Original photo from SN member Stan Mayes enlarged and enhanced by Benjidog
  4. Original photo from SN member Stan Mayes enlarged and enhanced by Benjidog
  5. Original photo from SN member Stan Mayes enlarged and enhanced by Benjidog
  6. Original photo from SN member Stan Mayes enlarged and enhanced by Benjidog
  7. Original photo from SN member Stan Mayes enlarged and enhanced by Benjidog
  8. Original photo from SN member Stan Mayes enlarged and enhanced by Benjidog
  9. Original photo from SN member Stan Mayes enlarged and enhanced by Benjidog
  1. SN Member Benjidog created the initial entry based on information found from various Internet sources and other material provided by SN Member Stan Mayes.
  2. The table of convoys in which San Emiliano took part in was provided by Billy McGee from data compiled by the late Arnold Hague.
  3. Additional H&W information provided by Tom McCluskie
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