by John H Marsh

DAWN on the third day found everybody up early and all eyes turned seawards. As the grey light spread over the sea's surface, two ships could be seen on the distant horizon. One was the Temeraire, the other the Manchester Division, which had come up during the night. As soon as it was light enough they gingerly closed the wreck, taking frequent soundings as they came. They took no risks, but anchored well out in deep water, the Manchester Division about two miles west of the wreck, and the Temeraire three miles south-south-west of it.
The Norwegian ship was a modern vessel and she carried a stout motorboat. This seemed most suited to tackle the hazardous task of trying to get the people off the wreck. It was accordingly arranged between the two rescue ships that the Temeraire's boat should try to get the crew off the wreck and should bring any she might succeed in rescuing to the British vessel, where preparations were made for their reception.
Volunteers were called for from the Temeraire's crew, and there was an immediate response. The motorboat was soon in the water, speeding toward the wreck.
A short distance from the wreck the motorboat lay to for a short while and those in her rapidly reconnoitred. Then, taking her chance between the swells, she dashed in. With bated breath watchers on the ships and the shore followed her every movement. They saw her surge up on the crest of a swell, until she was level with the bulwarks of the wrecked liner. Next moment she dropped out of sight in the trough. As she came up again, right alongside the vessel, a couple of figures were seen to jump from the rail into the boat. Ready arms canght them and steadied them. Several times this happened, until ten men had been taken into the lifeboat. Then, not willing to risk a heavier load in the sea that was running, the motorboat drew away from the wreck and made seaward. Before very long she was alongside the Manchester Division and the rescued men were being transferred, not without considerable difficulty owing to the rolling of the big ship, and the surging of the lifeboat.

The motorboat returned immediately to the wreck. During the next couple of hours she was to go alongside several times and to succeed in getting off every one of the 33 men who were still aboard. True to tradition, the captain was the last to leave his ship. The launch made its final trip about eleven o'clock in the morning. The tug, the Sir Charles Elliott, had turned up half-an-hour previously. She had at once closed the wreck, to see whether she could assist in the rescue operations that were going on. She dropped anchor some distance seaward of the wreck, then, skilfully handled by Captain Brewin, she paid out chain and dropped down, head to seaward all the time, towards the liner. In this way she was able to bring her stem within five or six feet of the liner's starboard side. The after deck of the wrecked ship was by this time awash, No.5 hold having flooded. One moment those on the stern of the tug were looking down on the liner's deck as they topped a swell. The next moment they were staring up from the trough at the sides of the vessel towering above them. They shouted to the few men still on the wreck to ask whether they could help, but before anything could be done the tug's anchor began to drag and she had hastily to get out of her perilous position and pull away into more open water.
The Temeraire's motorboat, which had been standing by, then went in again to take the last of the marooned men off the wreck. Before leaving his ship the master ordered the radio operators to send out a last urgent request for aircraft to bring food and water for his passengers and crew on the beach. At 10.55 a.m. the stricken liner's radio broadcast its final message. The message ended with the laconic announcement: "Signing Off".
The motorboat put the rescued men on board the tug, which with difficulty managed to get alongside the Manchester Division and transfer them. The captain, the chief engineer, and the senior second engineer remained on board the tug, to discuss with the tugmaster the possibilities of salvage and of rescuing the beach party. The motorboat returned to the Temeraire, having completed its dangerous mission successfully, at great risk to its crew.
The position of the beach party was now causing great anxiety aboard the rescue ships. It was obvious that it would be suicide to attempt to take them off by lifeboat while the surf continued to run so high. The captain of the Manchester Division decided, in case the wrecked liner's last messages for aid from the air had gone astray, to send out an urgent appeal, asking for water and provisions for the people on the shore. The message went out early in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, those on the tug were wondering what had happened to the Nerine, the minesweeper that had left Walvis Bay nearly six hours ahead of them and which was scheduled to reach the wreck at daybreak that day, well ahead of the tug. But there was no sign of her.

The experience of the Nerine well illustrates the difficulties with which navigators have to contend along that coast.
Taking no chances, her commanding officer, Van Rensburg, kept well out from the coast all the way north. The ship made fairly good time. Dawn on the third day, when she should have reached the wreck, found her out of sight of land, with an overcast sky which prevented her navigator checking his position. The direction finder with which the minesweeper was equipped was brought into action, and about nine o'clock the wrecked liner's radio was heard advising Walvis Bay that the ship was to be abandoned. The direction finder indicated that the Nerine was abeam of the wreck. Course was at once altered towards land.
After two hours land was sighted ahead. There was no sign of the wreck. Unknown to those on board her, the strong current had been carrying the Nerine northwards all the time, so that she made her landfall some distance beyond the wreck. Thinking she was still south of it, her commanding officer turned again and resumed a northerly course, keeping the coast well in sight. After a further hour he realised that he must have overshot the wreck, and turned back on his course. Two hours later the navigator was able to get a sight which showed that the minesweeper was 19 miles north of the position.given by the liner.
Pressing on all speed, the Nerine sighted three ships shortly after 3 p.m. An hour and three-quarters later she was abeam of the wreck, two miles to seaward of it. She found the Manchester Division and the Temeraire at anchor, and the Sir Charles Elliott under way about half-a-mile from the wreck.
Closing the tug, the minesweeper transferred Lieutenant F. J. Driver to her and asked her to put him aboard the Manchester Division for a conference with the latter's master to decide what further action should be taken. The captain and the two engineers were still aboard the tug.
When the tug tried to come alongside the Manchester Division the freighter was found to be rolling so heavily in the swell that it was impossible for the tug to get near without risking serious damage to herself as well as the big ship. The attempt was therefore abandoned. Instead, through megaphones, the masters exchanged messages. The captain of the Manchester Division said that he was unable to render further assistance but would stand by as long as possible if he was needed. The Nerine had reported that she had only sufficient fresh water for a limited stay, and the master of the British ship offered to attempt to pass water to her through a pipeline if the swell moderated sufficiently. Unfortunately there was no hope of finding shelter from the rollers that swept unhindered, in never-ending succession, out of the broad South Atlantic onto this unprotected coast.

Now there was another hitch in the rescue operations. The chief engineer of the tug, checking his bunkers, found that he was running short of coal. There was just enough left to get back to Walvis Bay, with a few tons to spare. The captain of the Manchester Division offered to supply the tug also with coal, but warned Captain Brewin that the operation, in that sea, would be very difficult and risky. In the circumstances, and as there was no hope of her being able to give salvage assistance, and no immediate likelihood of being able to help the people on the shore, the tug's master asked the captain of the Manchester Division to radio Walvis Bay requesting permission for him to return at once. Meanwhile he took Lieutenant Driver back to the Nerine, and also transferred to her the captain and the two engineers of the wrecked ship.
Before long permission came for the tug to return to Walvis Bay, and also instructions for any other ships that were standing by, if they could render no further assistance, to resume their voyages. The Temeraire accordingly weighed anchor and made for sea, followed soon after by the tug. They left the Manchester Division and the Nerine to stand by the castaways.
Late in the afternoon the Manchester Division was able to transmit by heliograph to the people on the abeach an encouraging message that had reached her from Combined Headquarters at Cape Town. It told them that aircraft would drop provisions to them and that a police party would reach them on the following day, or at latest, in two days' time. They were to keep together meanwhile and remain in the vicinity of the wreck.
Combined Headquarters also sent a message to the Nerine suggesting that she float water and food to the marooned people by means of rafts attached to grasslines. Lieutenant van Rensburg decided that the surf was too heavy to attempt this at the moment, but he brought his ship to anchor in 60 feet of water about two miles west of the wreck, ready for an attempt next day.
The castaways, depressed when they realised that the day was drawing to a close without any attempt having been made to rescue them, though their shipmates from the wreck had been succoured, would have been left on the verge of despair when they saw the Temeraire and the Sir Charles Elliott leave, had it not been for the cheering message flashed to them from the Manchester Division. When darkness had fallen and they were endeavouring to make themselves as comfortable as possible for the night, a pin-point of light flashed rapidly again from the direction of the freighter. It was to tell them that the aircraft would drop food to them the following morning. It told them also that the police convoy which was coming overland to help them had started out, but could not reach them for another five days.

Copyright Michael Marsh(2020)

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