No Grave But The Sea

Being up in Llandudno over the last week, I didn’t get the chance to post this on the planned day, November 8th, the 71st anniversary of my grandfather’s death. 11/11/11 will do as a close alternative

I knew a bit about my father’s side of the family, but knew little of my mother’s family, particularly about grandfather. All I knew was that he had died during the 2nd World War whilst serving in the Merchant Navy. I had initially found that his ship, the Empire Dorado, had sunk in November 1941 after collision with another ship. However when I spoke to my mother she told me that Grandmother had been notified of his death a year earlier, in November 1940. I went in to look at the Tower Hill Memorial, and was surprised that there are only three names listed as lost on the Empire Dorado including that of Grandfather.

In late summer of 1940 the Empire Dorado was waiting to join a convoy in Halifax NS. It was originally slated to join HX-64, but this was put back as there were insufficient escorts. The sailing was put back a few times but I think that she finally sailed on HX-67 departing Halifax on August 20th and arriving Liverpool September 4th. The full list for HX-67 is missing, but I’ve gone through all the subsequent lists up to HX-84 and it doesn’t appear on any of them, so it looks like she must have been on HX-67. She was due to return to Baltimore on OB-19 but again this was put back.

The Empire Dorado is not listed on any further convoys until she is listed as leaving Liverpool in November 1940. Initially due to sail on OB-237, she was put back and finally sailed as part of convoy OB-239 on 4th November 1940. This was an empty return convoy en route to North America for its next supply pick-up.

On 6th November, Naval Intelligence learned that the German Heavy Cruiser Admiral Scheer was operating in the North Atlantic, so OB-239 was recalled and turned to make for Oban expecting to arrive on 8th November. The Admiral Scheer Battle Group located the convoy HX-84 on 8th November and attacked. This developed into one of the biggest and most famous engagements of the North Atlantic Theatre. The two most famous incidents are the charge of the Jervis Bay and the saving of the San Demetrio.

The Admiral Scheer requested air support as the convoy had scattered and a flight of Focke-Wulf 200 Condor Heavy Bombers put out from Kiel to join the attack on HX-84, but before joining up with the Admiral Scheer they spotted convoy OB-239 at 55°07’N :: 16°50’W, making for Oban and attacked that. The Empire Dorado was hit by a bomb killing three crewmen including Grandfather, and causing significant damage. The bombers then went on to attack HX-84, damaging the Vingaland. The Empire Dorado was taken under tow by the Anti-Submarine tug Man o’ War and returned to the Clyde for repairs.

Following repairs, the Empire Dorado finally returned to Canada on ON-021 and picked up her final cargo. She was listed to sail on SC-52, but was again put back and set off on her final voyage on SC-53, leaving Sydney, CB, on 4th November 1941 with an unknown cargo. On 20th November, just over a year after having been bombed, she was involved in a collision with the Greek ship Theomitor – very near the location where she had been bombed the year before. She was taken in tow, but sank at 57°53’N :: 20°33’W on 22nd November. With plenty of notice that the ship was going to sink there was sufficient time to evacuate the crew, and this is why there are only three names listed at Tower Hill, the victims of the bombing attack a year before.

Sources:
Daily List (Royal Navy) November 1940:
http://www.naval-history.net/xDKWW2-4011-24NOV01.htm

Daily List (German Navy) November 1940:
http://www.wlb-stuttgart.de/seekrieg/40-11.htm

General Info on Wartime Merchant Navy:
http://www.gordonmumford.com/m-navy4.htm

Convoy Web (Near-Complete Listings of all Wartime Convoys)
http://www.convoyweb.org.uk/hague/index.html

Incomplete List of Atlantic Convoys:
http://www.warsailors.com/convoys/index.html

San Demetrio London on IMDB
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039797/

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