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Saturday, March 23, 2019
Hirano Maru

A special memorial has been unveiled in a churchyard in Wales to the almost 300 crew and passengers of a Japanese cargo liner that was sunk by a German submarine just a month before the end of the First World War.

The passenger-cargo liner Hirano Maru, 7,936grt, of the Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) Line, Tokyo, sailed from Liverpool on Oct 1, 1918, on her scheduled voyage back to Yokohama via South Africa. Japan was a firm ally of Britain.

The following day, the Hirano Maru, which was carrying 320 passengers and crew and a general cargo, joined the convoy OE-23 and headed down the St George’s Channel. The convoy escort was the US Navy destroyer Sterett.

On her second war patrol, the German submarine UB-91 had torpedoed the US Coast Guard cutter Tampa on Sept 26 heading for Milford Haven. The cutter had been on escort duty with a Gibraltar convoy and she sank with the loss of everyone on board, 111 Coastguardmen, four US Navy sailors, 11 Royal Navy personnel, and six civilian passengers.

In a gale off the Welsh coast at around 0530 on Oct 4, when most of those on board were asleep, the Hirano Maru was torpedoed by the UB-91 and sank within minutes.

The Sterett went to the aid of the ship, but also came under attack from another torpedo from the U-boat, which missed, but it was some time before the destroyer was able to resume the search for survivors.

Of the 29 survivors, only 11 were passengers and almost 300 passengers and crew died. Bodies were washed ashore on the Welsh and the Irish coasts and 10 were buried in the churchyard at the Welsh village of Angle. The grave was marked by a simple wooden memorial, which rotted away over the years.

Last year, local historian David James, a member of the West Wales Maritime Heritage Society, started the campaign for the new memorial. Local people contributed towards it as did the NYK Line.

The new granite stone memorial was unveiled at the Pembrokeshire churchyard exactly 100 years to the day that the ship was sunk. Around 100 villagers watched as the new memorial was unveiled by the Duke of Gloucester. The guest of honour was Yoshiko Nakamura, the granddaughter of Lt Colonel Shintaro Yamamoto, one of those who was lost.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - December 2018 Issue
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