Thursday, May 24, 2018

MalakandServing as an Engineer Officer with T&J Brocklebank in the late fifties and early sixties I had often heard tales of the destruction of their ship SS Malakand whilst in Liverpool docks during a particularly heavy blitz on the town on 3rd and 4th May 1941.

It was only many years afterwards that I have been able to piece together some accounts of the actual events of what was to extend the various fire and rescue services in the port, and immediate environs, to the absolute limit.

Even the published sources acknowledge that there are some inconstancies and omissions, and suspected dis-information in offi ial sources, in relation to the raids and the aftermath, in the wake of some fairly later critical assessments of the performance of the municipal authorities.

Whilst the main thrust of the German U-boat activity was centered, in what was to be accurately termed the Battle of the Atlantic, it was equally important from an Axis point of view that a concentrated and continual disruption be effected in the main UK cargo loading and dispersal ports around Britain.

Morale may be adversely influenced by continual and targeted bombing, but an equally effective method of affecting an enemy’s fighting capacity was to deny the supply and movement of vital foodstuffs and materials already landed, this in effect was an extension of the U-boat campaign being waged at sea.

Whilst a successful attack on a ship at sea may cost a ship, its cargo and tragically all, or most of her crew, the damage to a ship in a crowded port could inevitably spread to other ships in the near vicinity, with the added potential to affect warehouses and cargo already unloaded or ready to be loaded, all putting an added burden on the various fire fighting, salvage and other rescue agencies.

The port of Liverpool, by reasons of geography and tradition, was a key port for the transport of materials during WWII. Its western location was a convenient port for the Atlantic convoys and US traffic, and avoided the need for ships to travel around the north of Scotland to UK east coast ports, or traverse the hazardous passage through the English Channel to London.

Given that the town and immediate environs was not a large manufacturing area, a large proportion of the 900,000 inhabitants of Liverpool, and nearby Bootle, in 1939 were engaged in some aspect of port and ship operations, and was home to a signifi cant number of principal shipowners.

Taking May 1941 as an example there were no less than 241 ocean going merchant ships berthed in the many quays and docks.

Whilst the preponderance were under the British flag they were a significant number of ships under the foreign flags of nations under German control, aiding the allied effort either directly or indirectly, in addition to these were a number of neutral ships.

To service this trade, and all the other multifarious needs associated with a busy port, there were 48 tugs, 292 barges, bulk elevators, dredgers and lighters, and numerous other miscellaneous small craft, in addition there was a large fleet of naval warships, either under repair or based there.

This area was then naturally designated a prime target by the German air force, and the raids of the night of 3rd/4th May 1941 was to be the most severe bombardment from the air suffered by the towns on the east bank of the Mersey in the whole war.

It was claimed that 298 aircraft dropped 363 tons of high explosives and 49,706 incendiaries, included in that total were a number of 100kg bomb mines, which acted as mines in the water but were dropped without parachutes as normally employed in minelaying, causing an added difficulty to bomb spotters.

Whilst some scattering of bombs fell on outlying districts of Lancashire, the main weight of the attack was concentrated on a strip of land within two miles of the Liverpool dock wall, from Liverpool city centre to the southern parts of Crosby and Litherland, a full moon and light cloud giving near perfect conditions for the bombers, accounts reveal that the raid lasted for five hours.

The scale of the subsequent devastation was in part compounded by the failure of the fire service to cope with the scale of the disaster, a failure possibly attributable to organisational defects rather than any individual shortcomings. All the more regrettable in that the organisation had performed faultlessly in earlier raids in March of the same year.

Among the many ships loading or unloading at the time of the heaviest raids, were the Brocklebank steamers Mahout and Malakand, both loading about 1,500 tons of high explosive bombs in Liverpool’s Huskisson Dock.

One of the Quartermasters on the Mahout was Alex Henderson of Scousburgh in Shetland.

The explosives were arriving in ammunition trains carrying about 300 tons of 250lb and 500lb bombs for the RAF in the Middle East, each train load being split with half to each ship, a complication was that these had to be transported through the sheds before loading.

Those wagons not unloaded before dark were withdrawn out of the dock area for safety.

Given the extremely hazardous nature of the cargo in a confined space, as a built up dock complex it had been suggested that the ship should also be withdrawn out into the River Mersey at nightfall, a proposal that was vetoed in view of the danger from moored and dropped mines, with the very probable delays caused by tidal conditions.

Lying at the south quay in Branch No 3 of Huskisson Dock, the Mahout was still loading, with HE bombs and small arms ammunition in holds number 2, 4 and 6. Chief Officer Scoins, aided by members of the Lascar crew, dealt with the incendiaries which fell on the ship, other fires broke out in the shed ashore abreast number 4 hatch. The third Officer and the deck Serang with a ship’s shore party assisted the shed watchman in dowsing these, which were being fuelled by a burst gas main and leaking oil drums.

Huskisson Dock The Malakand, in Number 2 Branch, had already taken aboard ninety-two tons of soap from the Lever Bros barge Erasmic from Port Sunlight for export to the east, and now had 1,000 tons of bombs in number 1, 3 and 4 holds.

She was under the command of 41 year old Captain HC Kinley, from the Isle of Man, who had left the sea in WWI to join the Royal Flying Corps.

Another ten shore relief officers and 61 Lascar crew members made up the ship’s complement.

Around 2300 hours on the night of the 3rd May, a partly deflated barrage balloon snagged on the ship’s foremast, after falling it landed on number 1 hatch at the same time as a few flares drifted low over the ship, followed by a shower of incendiaries. Some landed astern of the ship but unfortunately one landed only a short distance from the hydrogen filled balloon.

One of the standby Chief Officers, HG Allan on his first day on duty after sick leave, who two months earlier had been rescued from the sea in the Atlantic after his ship had been torpedoed, went forward with others to smother the incendiary bomb with sand but was hampered by the remains of the balloon which was still flapping about.

It next swept over them and exploded in a sheet of flame setting the hatch cover on fire with flames reaching as high as the crows nest.

Mr Allan was hurled across the hatch and half way down the fore deck, losing his helmet and with his hair on fire, luckily otherwise uninjured he was able to organise the extinguishing of the fire.

Having only just successfully accomplished this, they were next dismayed to see two HE bombs landing on the shed next to the ship, the sides of which were about six feet in from the edge of the quay. Further incendiaries soon set the shed ablaze, which spread to the ship, aided by the stiff breeze. The ship’s starboard lifeboats and wooden decks abaft the bridge were soon alight, and eventually the heat and smoke soon made the upper works untenable.

In view of the fast developing situation, the captain sent the majority of the crew ashore out of danger, the third Officer went to the Auxiliary Fire Station at the end of Branch number 1.

The captain then considered cutting the mooring ropes in an effort to get the ship away from the source of the fires, but the direction of the wind would have taken her north with every likelihood of spreading the fire to the other side of the dock, the fire had taken such a hold on the ship that it was too dangerous for anyone to go down into the engine room to try and flood the ship, contrary to an often popularly held notion it is not normal for ships to have “sea cocks”, which can be immediately opened to effect scuttling.

His mind was soon to be made up however, when the lifeboats and other sections of the bridge on the port side took fire and the fires raging in the shed were now approaching the single gangway on the after deck, the only course now was to give the order for the remaining officers to abandon ship, according to the captain’s report this was at 0030.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - May 2016 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic
h3 class="g-title">Latest Issue - Look Inside! Game Changer

Most Popular

  • Five Die in Fire on Container Ship +

  • Weather Casualties +

  • Three Canadian Princes +

  • Red Funnel Congratulates New Female Captain +

  • The "Hood", My Father - The Ship and Battle - The Bell +

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • “Third Party Assistance” in Land Attack on Saudi Tanker +

    Abqaiq The Saudi Arabia flag tanker Abqaiq, 302,977dwt, was hit by a shore-launched anti-ship rocket fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia in Read More
  • Record Flies as Second Jack-Up Barge Arrives +

    Albatross What is believed to be the largest ship to visit the harbour in the history of Blyth, in Northumberland, arrived Read More
  • Bibby's Triple Success With Major Contracts +

    Bibby Polaris Three separate multi-million dollar contracts with a major oil and gas company have been won by the Aberdeen-based subsea services Read More
  • New Crane Gives a Lift to Cargo Handling +

    Liebherr Materials Handler Ayr has become the first port in the UK to take delivery of the new model of the Liebherr Materials Read More
  • Five Die in Fire on Container Ship +

    Maersk Honam Five crew members were lost when the Singapore-flag container ship Maersk Honam, 151,400gt, caught fire in the Arabian Sea at Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • New Training Ship for US Merchant Marine +

    NSNV One Under the 2,232 page omnibus spending measure signed into law by President Donald Trump, the US Maritime Administration is to Read More
  • Giant Cranes Pass Through Puget Sound +

    Zhen Hua 28 A large heavy lift ship carrying four of the largest container cranes for the US West Coast sailed through Puget Read More
  • First Part of Ships’ LNG Conversion Completed +

    North Star The first of four conversion periods that will see the two Orca class rollon, roll-off vessels of Tote Maritime Alaska Read More
  • Four New Landing Stages for New York Ferry +

    NYC Ferry Construction of the new NYC Ferries landing stages on New York’s Lower East Side began at the end of February. Read More
  • Icebreaker Delivers Two Supply Ships to US Antarctic Base +

    Polar Star The US Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, arrived at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, after completing her mission Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • No Mistaking New Line’s Ships +

    ONE Livery The one ship that can’t be missed is the first for a new container line formed by three Japanese owners. Read More
  • Fatal Collision Blamed on Sudden Turn +

    USS John S McCain The collision between the US Navy destroyer John S McCain and the Greek owned oil/chemical tanker Alnic MC, 50,760dwt, in Read More
  • Nine New Cranes for Four Terminals +

    Zhen Hua 21 The first four of nine giant cranes for the DP World Australia container terminals at Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle Read More
  • Six Lifting Decks on New Car Carriers +

    Beluga Ace The first of the new Flexie series of car carriers building for the Japanese shipping company Mitsui OSK Lines, Ltd Read More
  • Eight More for Evergreen +

    Evergreen| The Evergreen Marine Corp of Taiwan, has ordered eight 11,000 teu container ships from the South Korean shipbuilder Samsung Heavy Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • Busy Period for Japanese Navy +

    JS Asahi Japanese News It has been a particularly busy period for the Japanese with a number of new vessels being accepted Read More
  • Historic Port Visit to Vietnam +

    USS Carl Vinson US News In a significant move in March, the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson made an historic port Read More
  • Russian Minesweeper Fleet Expands +

    Alexander Obukhov Russian News By 2027 the Russian Federation Navy is expected to have acquired a total of ten Alexandrit class minesweepers Read More
  • New Patrol ship for Danes +

    HDMS Lauge Koch Danish News On 11 December, in a ceremony held at Naval Station Korsør, the Royal Danish Navy commissioned the third Read More
  • Royal Navy ‘Cannibalising’ Ships for Parts +

    HMS Artful UK News Once again, the Royal Navy was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the closing months Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • "Rogaland" Performs for Dunkirk +

    Rogaland I am not normally drawn to such films as the latest Dunkirk release, but on my recent viewing it proved Read More
  • Weather Casualties +

    Hebridean Isles The issue of ferry operation, subsequent to the UK leaving the EU, will rather, regretfully, but unavoidably, continue to feature Read More
  • Superfast Stena +

    Superfast VII Superfast VIII The issue of ferry operation, subsequent to the UK leaving the EU, will rather, regretfully, but unavoidably, continue to feature Read More
  • Sanctions Eased for Mangyongbong 92 +

    Mangyongbong 92 Ever since the 1950s when I was aware of the Soviet merchant marine’s Baltic SS Co vessels which linked Leningrad Read More
  • Estonian Arrow +

    Arrow Viv Llewellyn’s image of the IOM Steam Packet’s chartered Arrow at Poole indicates how advantageous her long term charter to Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • The Benefits of Wheel Spokes +

    Will Everard The Anna (see the print edition for details), like all Dutch craft, has a band around the outside of her Read More
  • Double Dutch Ketches +

    Gallant The Dutch 27.7m steel ketch Gallant, was built as a ‘logger’ in 1916 for the North Sea herring fishery. Read More
  • Focus on Freshspring +

    Freshspring Severn Sea The Scandinavian connection this month, continues with the welcome reappearance of the magnificently versatile Severn Sea 147gt of Bideford seen Read More
  • Fame for Sandgrevstur +

    Vestborg and Sandfrakt I followed up the casualty Fame which featured in my last Coastal Commentary. Read More
  • Hollow Shore Sails +

    Alberta The Hollow Shore yard had been bought by the Testers who totally rebuilt several smacks including Primrose, Lily May, Ethel Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • "Future of the Fjords" +

    Future of The Fjords Norway is a country which takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and is at the vanguard of changes to reduce Read More
  • Wight Shipyard Co Wins Second Export Order +

    Ultramar In 2017, I had the pleasure of visiting Wight Shipyard Co’s famous Columbine Yard in East Cowes (Isle of Wight) Read More
  • Red Funnel Congratulates New Female Captain +

    Alice Duncan Red Funnel, the Isle of Wight’s awardwinning ferry operator, welcomes the promotion of Alice Duncan to the position of captain. Read More
  • Historic Name in Shipping Lives On +

    MV Coho Way back in 1818, the founders of the Black Ball Line inaugurated the first scheduled freight and passenger service across Read More
  • 2018 Spring Quilliam Lecture +

    Qilliam Lecture Poster "Quilliam Today" is is this year's title for the Spring Quilliam Lecture on Thursday 5th April in Arbory Church. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • "QE2" Comes to Life Again +

    QE2 in Dubai There will be many readers who, for the last decade, have followed the fortunes of the Queen Elizabeth 2. Read More
  • Supersub "Migaloo" +

    Migaloo The future of superyachts and how they may develop over imminent years, keeps superyacht commentators, like me, amused for hours. Read More
  • Superyacht Solution to Housing Shortage +

    Bluebird Diana Yacht Design is doing its bit to help solve the housing shortage. Read More
  • The Bridge +

    Queen Mary 2 QM2 vs the Super Yachts race results between the St Nazaire Bridge and the Verrazano Bridge in New York Read More
  • Just A Storyline? +

    Marco Polo Notwithstanding a number of attempts to emulate “The World” by other operators, any past thoughts of competing with the only Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

National Maritime Museum of Ireland Interior

Taikoo Dockyard & Engineering Co

On 1 January 1867, John Swire & Sons, having been established as merchants in Liverpool since 1816, opened the first Read More
HMS Hood

The "Hood", My Father - The Ship and Battle - The Bell

In writing about HMS Hood and her service career, I am not going to attempt to cover it fully, as Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

HMT Swansea Castle

The Role of British Fishermen in World War I

In WWI, Germany’s policy of wholesale mining of the North Sea and Atlantic was implemented from the day War was Read More
Prince Robert

Three Canadian Princes

Few especially built ships for a trade have become the orphans of economic circumstances faster than a trio built for Read More
  • 1
  • 2