"They have no grave but the sea"
By: Paul Dubois
No photographs are known to exist of the SS Empire Amethyst, but she was much the same as the SS Empire Granite shown above.
The S.S. Empire Amethyst was built by Furness Shipbuilding Co. Ltd, Haverton Hill-on-Tees. Yard No. 330. She was launched on 8 July 1941 and completed in September 1941. Her gross tonnage was 8032/net 4675. The S.S. Empire Amethyst was a steam tanker which was registered to The Hadley Shipping Co. Ltd. and the charterer was the Ministry of War Transport.
An “Ocean” “Empire” steam tanker of standard design. Built by Furness Shipping Co. Ltd, Haverton Hill-on-Tees (Yard No.330). Triple-expansion machinery by Richards, Westgarth & Co. Ltd. Of Hartlepool, with cylinders 27”, 44” & 76” and a stroke of 51” giving a net 674hp.
23 January 1942 - the S.S. Empire Amethyst picked up five
survivors from the Innerφy (Inneroy) which had been
sunk by the U553 and took them to Halifax.
The crew consisted of:
The crew agreed to serve up to two years in duration to any parts or places within the limits of 75 degrees north and 60 degrees South latitude, commencing at Swansea. Higher ratings being paid up to £12.2s and 6d per month. Discipline onboard was strict and fines ranged from, five shillings for swearing or any abusive language, £1 freight charge for keeping pets and 40 shillings for reflecting any light upwards between sunset and sunrise. This included lighting matches anywhere on the upper deck.
The month prior to the launch of the S.S. Empire Amethyst, her fate began to unfold, when F K Walther Kölle started to prepare the U154 for her voyage to the Caribbean. This began on the 2nd August 1941. Kölle was a successful naval man who had served on vessels such as the Admiral Graf Spee. He sank seven of the thirteen vessels sunk by the U154.
On the 4 April 1942, the U154 sank the American
ship Comol Rico.
The S.S. Empire Amethyst was carrying a clean cargo of about 12 000 tons of motor spirit. It appears that her master G D Potter (Research indicates that this was probably his first command) intended to pass through the lesser Antilles (South Dominican Republic) and then straight east to Freetown. Due to the tanker being capable of a reasonable speed, she sailed unescorted.
From F K Walther Kölle’s log of his first sighting on 12th April 1942 he believed that the S.S. Empire Amethyst was initially escorted by a destroyer. This was in fact the Canadian Armed Merchant Cruiser, HMC Prince Henry which had been detailed to patrol the coast of French Guiana and the central Caribbean south of Santo Domingo.
U154 had spent a four-day respite for boiler cleaning at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and resumed her central Caribbean patrol on the 3rd April 1942. This was uneventful until she met and challenged the S.S. Empire Amethyst on the 12th April 1942.
The S.S. Empire Amethyst reported that at 0302h
in the morning she had intercepted a distress call from S.S. Delvalla
stating that it had been torpedoed at 16° 50’N , 72° 25’ W. The
Delvalla was sinking after being struck by two torpedo's fired from
Prince Henry increased to full speed and headed
for the position in the hope of picking up survivors.
At 1417 hrs, whilst stopped at St. Juan harbour,
the crew of the U154 noticed smoke on the horizon. The U154 immediately
moved in closer and noticed a “destroyer” (Prince Henry) together
with a tanker.
The night of the 12th April 1942 was ideal for attack, ¾ dark, 3nm visibility and a hazy horizon. Having only three torpedo’s remaining, Kölle decided to attack from the surface rather than to attack under water.
At 2000 hrs the chase began, with S.S. Empire
Amethyst zig-zagging between 140° and 100°, but generally heading
110°, towards Trinidad.
Fearing being detected, the crew of the U154 sought cover of some islands, thus the time that the S.S. Empire Amethyst sank was not recorded.
On the 3rd July 1944, the American destroyers Inch and Frost avenged the loss of the S.S. Empire Amethyst by sinking the U154 with the loss of all crew. Walther Kölle, who had left the U154 on the 30 September 1942, became a POW on the 14th June 1945.
Copyright © Paul Dubois