James Scannell recalls the MV Kerlogue’s Bay of Biscay rescue of drowning German sailors a few days after Christmas in December 1943.
During the 1939-1945 Emergency one of the ships engaged in keeping Ireland supplied with essential items was the 335 gross tons MV Kerlogue, 142 feet length, built in 1938 in Holland for coastal and cross-channel shipping and operated by the Wexford Steamship Company.
On 18th May, 1942, MV Kerlogue was put on the Lisbon run, commanded by Captain James Gaul of Clifford Street, Wexford, with officers holding ocean going certificates and experience.
For the next two years, MV Kerlogue carried agricultural produce from Ireland to Britain, where she received her Navicert or ship’s passport from the British authorities, then carried coal from Britain to Lisbon or a Spanish port, before returning to Ireland with grain, general cargo, fruit, or pyrites from Spain, after calling at a British port for inspection, making these journeys unescorted, alone and out of convoy.
The MV Kerlogue sailed from Lisbon on 27th December, 1943, a day later than scheduled due to the death of a crew member who could not be buried until after Christmas.
Around 9 a.m. on the morning of 29th December, 1943, MV Kerlogue was sailing northwards through the Bay of Biscay, about 360 miles south of the Fastnet and approximately the same distance from Brest, France, when she was circled by two German Focke Wolf Condor long range aircraft which signaled by flashing light ‘SOS lifeboats – follow’ and then flew in a south-east direction firing veray light flares indicating the direction they wished the ship to travel.
Her master Captain O’Donoghue altered his course to that indicated by the aircraft and by 11 a.m. arrived at the scene of battle which had taken place the previous day, encountering a scene of life rafts rising and falling on the rough sea with men on them or holding onto ropes attached to them, and others floating in the water.
The previous day the German Narvik-class destroyer Z27 and two Elbing class torpedo boats, T25 and T26, had been sunk. They had intended to escort Alsterufer, a German blockade runner which had left Yokohama, Japan, on 4th October, 1943 with supplies of rubber, tin, wolfram/tungsten, chinchona, fats, and iodine to France from Japan, and was near the French coast on 27th December, 1943, when she was spotted by an RAF Sunderland flying boat and was subsequently attacked and sunk by a Czechoslovak manned RAF Liberator bomber.