The Attack

May 1942:

"We had left the cover of our convoy four day earlier and were heading south when about 2100 hours our ship met its faith. I was leisurely spending my time with some of my passengers not aware of danger lurking so close.
According to war time regulations a total black out was ordered, so no lanterns where lit and all windows where covered. To sail under circumstances like this is psychologically very hard. One lives in a constant darkness, so to speak. But during daytime we flew our Swedish flag aft and amidships were a brightly painted large blue field with a large yellow cross.
Among my passengers there was a lady who contributed with a feeling of peace time and home in the salon of the ship, and that evening all was nice and quiet when suddenly a huge explosion just in front of the salon erupted. We were thrown upwards, furniture and wooden panelling crushed, and then total darkness.

I immediately knew what had happened; a torpedo had hit us amidships on our port side. I tried to reach the Bridge but as soon as I came out the door I was met by a barrage of machinegun and deck gun fire. The bullets went into the side of the salon and all one could do was to lay flat on the deck to avoid getting hit.
After a couple of minutes there was a pause in the firing, so I ran up to the Bridge. Chaos everywhere but no one hurt. The concrete reinforced Bridge house had only been hit by machinegun fire and had not been shot up too badly. When I inspected our radio room I saw most of the equipment had been torn loose and destroyed, so it was not much to one could do with it.
The firing started again, and the parabolic arches of tracer rounds was really a splendour to watch. Then a round from the submarines deck gun took a part of the Bridge wing with it, and it became scary to stay there.

Our ship had now dipped its nose rather much and started to list heavely, so when there was another pause in the firing I gave the order; "Prepare To Abandon Ship" and had our starboard life boats launched, as they were the least exposed to the firing. This was done in good order and in total darkness in a very short time and all who where about went into the two boats.
As the boats where launched I went back to the Bridge to begin procedures to destroy secret documents and collect all vital ships papers but was again pinned down because of the firing. When I eventually got out of there the two starboard life boats had left. (Later I was told they had been fired upon and decided to sail into the cover safety of darkness.)
After a while I found my First Machinist, who had just came from his cabin and we continued searching for others together and found our Chief Steward and our three male and one female passenger. They had all been in bomb raids before so they had been laying flat in the deck’s isles for cover.

Moving on we found our Indian mess boy who had taken cover under ladder aft on the ship, and I went looking through the cabins without finding anyone else. The firing stared again so I couldn’t get back for a while. Then, finding the others I ordered the No 4 life boat to be launched but coming back up on deck the barrage stared once more and it was very unpleasant to lay there with bullets flying over one’s head.
When the firing once again stopped attempts to launch the boat was made, but with the sea getting rougher and the small amount of able men it did not go smoothly. Eventually the passengers, my First Machinist, Steward and the rest got into the boat and I and my Carpenter did the lowering.
When the boat touched the surface I went down the line to unhook it because the Machinist and Steward had their hands full keeping the boat clear of the ship’s side. But as I pulled the handle a round from the deck gun hit the ship and shrapnel tore the bottom out of the life boat and it sank with us all in it.
The life boat was still attached to one line and it was dragged along the ship but we all managed to hang on. Carpenter, still onboard the ship managed to lower the No 2 life boat by himself and we all got into that one.

When we had come about 25 meters from the ship the last round from the deck gun was fired at No 6 Shelter deck and it ignited our cargo. From there on, all was quit.
We kept rowing away from the ship and hoped to get some rest and discuss the situation, but we soon noticed that the lifeboat was leaking and took on water very quickly, so we had to start baling with everything available just to keep us afloat. Now the real shortage of able men began to show because only a very few were in condition to bale water.
Eventually a couple of hours had passed with the ship still in sight. I had counted on the submarine to show up to look for oil and provisions around our ship, but this did not occur. So I decided to go back onboard, now under the calmer circumstances to assess the damages and, if practical, try to launch the fifth life boat placed on the No 3 hatch.

Myself and First Machinist boarded while the others stayed in the boat and kept baling to keep it afloat. The damages were severe, a large hole on her port side by No 2 cargo bay with hatches and booms torn loose. The water was standing up to shelter deck and slowly heaving into the engine room through another hole in the side. All aft was on fire and the stern was very low in the water.
We found no wounded onboard, and since it wasn’t possible with the few men I had available to launch the life boat without electricity for the winches it was decided to return to our boat and wait for dawn, hoping to make contact with the other two boats.

Just before dawn we received replies on our light signals, and it turned out to be my XO. After briefing him on the situation as I saw it, it was decided to make a joint effort to launch the last life boat. That was successful, but when it got into the water we discovered it had been shot up in long streaks just below its waterline.
It wasn’t possible to plug the damages with the material available so large bits of pork were fetched from the storage room from which long thick pieces were cut, and then nailed into the holes. The boat was now floating without leaks and people was transferred aboard with the necessary clothing and provisions.

The sea had started to get rougher and it was apparent the ship would not stay afloat for very much longer so we decided – after estimating nearest land to be about 750 nautical miles away – to leave the ship.

After about an hours sailing we saw the ship go down, nose first and engulfed in flames. The third life boat could not be located at first, but after sailing for 5, 6 miles we spotted her sail. Shortly after ew saw smoke from a steamer comming up from the south, who picked us all up. I counted my passengers and crew and saw all was rescued and mostly unhurt.
It was good to come aboard a ship again and to be able to stretch out to rest. Our stay in the life boats had not been long but rather exhausting, and for us in the shot up life boat the rescue felt twice as good. We were treated in the best of ways but on a steamer carrying ore there wasn’t much comfort for an extra 41 men and woman.
We sat on the hatches or where ever it was comfortable, but the worst part was, if needed making room for us in their own life boat because she had a crew of 50 of her own and only four small boats. There were many ships sunk in those waters at that time. One evening we heared distress signals from six ships within a radius of 300 nautical miles.
All and all, we were alright and eight days later we were put ashore in Trinidad.

Gunnar Runsten,
Captain M/S Tisnaren"