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S S Empire Patrol..The Rescue

The following by J J Gower (HMS Trouncer)

We changed course and off Haifa we came across a large ship on fire from stem to stern, it was called “Empire Patrol”, it was carrying Greek refugees, mainly elderly and a large percentage female.  There were many hundreds of them, we were the only ship in the vicinity, when we arrived everyone was trapped either in a small space at the bow or stern of the ship the rest was blazing red hot.

 I was detailed to take my motor boat and rescue as many people as possible I made many trips loaded with survivors back to Trouncer, which was stood off around two hundred yards away.  We had other of our small boats helping too, and it got hotter and the screams got louder, my boat was getting overloaded and the sea was quite bumpy.

 I was engaged under the stern where the old people had to be lowered by ropes, probably thirty feet, some could not grip, I had one old lady let go half way down to my boat, she crashed down completely smashing my boats canopy, breaking her leg and arm in the bargain.
 

HMS Trouncer prepares to take on survivors

As the fires got worse, everyone was jumping in the water and we were doing our utmost to fish them out before they drowned.  Some were clinging for dear life on pieces of wreckage.  It was awful.

 It was now getting dark and finding these poor people amongst the waves was bad enough in daylight, but darkness was by following pleas for help, it was the twenty ninth of September 1945 when this happened. 

We stayed in the area until next day when we were joined by other vessels.  We rescued many hundreds in fact the aircraft hangar was absolutely crowded with survivors, many injured and burned. 

Then came the sad part, burying the dead at sea the sailmaker Able Seamen Pink had the unenviable task of placing the dead bodies in weighted canvas bags and sewing them up, he told me the last stitch was through the nose.  The reasoning being if they jumped as the sailmakers needle passed through, they weren’t dead.  I will leave you to decide if he was telling the truth. 

Once all the bags were laid out at the stern, the burial service was carried out with their own Priest or whatever religion it was, but there was lots of bowing and wailing as each body was put on a board which was raised at one end and the poor deceased person slid into their final resting place at the bottom of the sea.  All other survivors were landed at Port Said…”

All Ships;
“31 degrees 56 Minutes North 32 degrees 04 Minutes east…ship on fire stem to stern taking to boats”

From F.O.L.E:-
To “Trouncer”
“Proceed forthwith to assistance of “Empire Patrol”. On fire and crew taking to boats in position “31 degrees 56 Minutes North 32 degrees 04 Minutes east.

“Empire Patrol” left Port Said at 0800 Saturday. 500 refugees, including women and children.
79 male, 210 female, 182 children, all Greek refugees.

From; The Commanding Officer HMS Devonshire
Dated; 1st October 1945
To; Senior Naval Officer Red Sea and Canal Area
Copy to: Commanding Officer HMS Trouncer.

1. The attached narrative, Track Chart, and copies of relevant signals transmitted and received, in connection with the final search on 30 September 1945 for survivors from S.S “Empire Patrol”, is forwarded.
2. It is regretted that time, and “Devonshire’s” movements prevented mt contributing to the co-ordination reports for the period after ”Devonshire’s” arrival in the area of operations.
3. During that period, the work and co-operation of “Trouncer”, “mermaid”, and surface and air craft of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, was excellent; and, from the high proportion of passengers and crew saved, under difficult conditions, it is evident that all, that under the command and inspiring leadership of the Commanding Officer, HMS Trouncer, had done a magnificent piece of work during the previous evening and night.

G Langley
Captain
S S “Empire Patrol”
Search for survivors on 30th September 1945

Narrative of HMS Devonshire

“Devonshire” arrived in the area at daylight and made contact with “Trouncer” and “Mermaid”, still searching for, and picking up, scattered survivors.
1. “Devonshire’s” track chart, from 0700 – 1445, and copies of major signals transmitted and received, are attached.
2. At 0735 an air-sea rescue float was sighted and examined. At this time “Trouncer” was to the eastward, “Mermaid” to the south eastward , and “KLO” with M.F.V’s spread between them. Abandoned wreckage lay between “Devonshire” and “Mermaid”.
3. I decided to search round the area of abandoned wreckage through positions over which aircraft were patrolling. At 0820 four survivors were rescued from a raft to which attention had been drawn by aircraft.
4. At 0900, after examination of wreckage and rafts to the northward, I decided to carry out a systematic  search of an area in which, after consultation with “Trouncer”, I concluded that further survivors might be found. The search was commenced at 0900 with “Mermaid” and “KLO”, the latter with M.F.V’s to the southward and south-eastward.
“Trouncer”, who was picking up a further survivor joined the search at 1005.
5. The search was not as systematic as I intended, owing to the necessity for examining closely any objects sighted. Nothing of significance was sighted, however, after 1020, and at 1115, after consultation with “Trouncer”, I concluded that the possible area was clear and decided to abandon the search.
6. “Trouncer” was detached to close “Empire Patrol” and “Mermaid” to return to Port Said in accordance with their previous orders, while, “KLO” was ordered to sweep with M.F.V’s to the end of the searched channel and then return to Port Said.
7. When “Mermaid” was ordered by S.N.O.R.S.C.A (Senior Naval Officer Red Sea and Canal Area) to stand by “Emperor Patrol” in lieu of “Trouncer”, I ordered “Mermaid” to close me and transfer survivors to me. This was done between 1200 and 1215, by which time “Trouncer” had closed to transfer “Empire Patrol” Officers to “Mermaid”.
8. By 1345, “Devonshire” had shaped course for the end of the Searched Channel, on a track between those of “Trouncer” and “KLO”, while “Mermaid” was closing “Empire Patrol”, and Air-sea rescue craft returning to base. “Empire Patrol” bore 076 degrees – 14 miles at 1254.
9. At 1308, a small square raft with three more (male) survivors was sighted and picked up at 1315. I had not expected to find any survivors or wreckage so far to the south-eastwards, and, after interrogating the survivors ( who included a D.E.M.S rating) I concluded that there would likely to have been to the south-eastwards of all else. They had been first to abandon ship, when trapped right aft by the fire, and, being high out of the water, on top of the raft, provided a sail area above the average.
10. I decided to carry out a further search round the area, and to the north westwards, where contact was made with previously examined wreckage at a distance of 1 ½ – 2 miles.
11.  from the position that the last survivors had been rescued. From this I concluded  that they had only just been missed in the morning search, and were in fact the most south-easterly body.
12. I decided therefore to abandon further search, and shaped course again for the end of the outer channel which was reached at 1445
13. Aircraft were ordered to return to base at 1443.

1940 EMPIRE PATROL, Royal Navy mine depot ship.

H.M.S. Trouncer, an Aircraft Carrier loaned from the United States.

HMS Mermaid Mermaid was a   sloop of the modified Black Swan class, a type of vessel that was slower than a destroyer but similarly armed. Three hundred feet long and capable only of a top speed of 21 knots, all the speed necessary for escorting convoys and hunting U-boats, she lacked the panache and agility of a destroyer.

The conflagration which destroyed the ‘Empire Patrol’ after World War II took with it more than just the lives of many Greek refugees. For most of the survivors, their prospects of returning to normal peacetime homes went down along with the ship and their worldly belongings, and any physical evidence which would have revealed who was to blame. Fifty years on, ‘Embers on the Sea’ provides the first clear analysis of what went wrong before and during the journey, in the lax rescue operation, and at the British Naval Inquiry which followed.

MS Trouncer (Escort Carrier)
Transferred to the Royal Navy under lend-lease.
Returned to the United States Navy on 3 March 1946.
Stricken by the United States Navy on 12 April 1946.
Sold into merchantile service as Greystoke Castle.
Renamed Gallic in 1954.
Renamed Berinnes in 1959.
Scrapped in Taiwan in November 1973.
Formerly USS Perdido

Credit: The National Archives, ref. ADM. 1/17324

The National Archives
Kew, Surrey,
England
TW9 4DU,
 UK

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