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Shipwrecks of Buffalo City: K.G.Meldahl

The K. G. Meldahl, on charter to British War Transport, departed New York on 20 Sept 1942 for Bombay, via Port of Spain and Cape Town, transporting several large crates containing aircraft and other materials, as well as about 750 tons ammunition.

Carrying a crew of 30 and two gunners, she left Cape Town on 7 November. Three days later, on 10 November, the K.G. Meldahl was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-181 (Lüth) off East London.

Several hours earlier (at about 03:40) the 2nd mate, who was on bridge duty at the time, had clearly seen a U-boat on the port side, three ships lengths off on a parallel course.

The alarm was sounded and the ship positioned so that the aft gun faced the U-boat, at which time the latter quickly submerged, whereupon K. G. Meldahl proceeded at full speed in a zig zag course, after having radioed Simonstown Radio about the incident.

However, the U-boat kept track of the Norwegian ship, and on her next try the torpedo hit in the engine room on the starboard side. Time given for this attack in a report presented at the maritime hearings is 09:22.

According to "Nortraships flåte" she had, in fact, been attacked earlier that day by the same U-boat, when about 160 n. miles southeast of East London, but that torpedo had missed. Only one attack is noted by J. Rohwe.

As she started to sink orders were given to abandon ship. The starboard lifeboat had been blown away so the majority of the crew took to the port boat and rowed away from the ship to avoid the suction. The 3rd mate got off on the aft raft.

The captain had run to get the ship's papers and by the time he got back the boat had already been launched, and the aft raft with the 3rd mate in it had been cut loose, so he jumped overboard when the after part of the ship was under water and swam over to the lifeboat.

She sank in about six minutes, duly photographed by the U-boat which had surfaced. Pictures were also taken of the lifeboats, before the U-boat came over to ask the usual questions about ship and cargo etc.

Captain Johnsen describes the boat as about 300' long, sea green in colour with a double deck and two guns, a 4" on the foredeck, a smaller one on the after deck, and two periscopes.

Those who asked the questions claimed to be Italian. The commander, the only one in uniform "looked German", but did not say anything. They were also asked if an SOS had been sent out, but this had not been done as the radio station had been destroyed. After having inquired whether they needed anything, the boat circled around for a while, then submerged.

The 30 survivors were subsequently distributed in three lifeboats and all supplies and equipment from three rafts were transferred to them. The port boat had a radio transmitter which was used every morning and night to signal the South African coastal stations.

In the morning of 13 November, an aircraft came over and dropped water and provisions down to them, and that same afternoon, after having been in the boats for 79 hours, they were picked up by a South African mine sweeper and landed in Port Elisabeth the next day. Two crew members were lost.

Source: War Soldiers,

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