S.S. Empire Amethyst

"They have no grave but the sea"

By:  Paul Dubois

SS Empire Granite
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.

SS Empire Amethyst - Yard No 330

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.

Reg/ Official number : 164848
Call sign : BCPL
Gross tonnage : 8032
Net tonnage : 4676
Dimensions : 463.5’ x 61.2’ x 33’
Poop Deck measured : 105’
Bridge Deck Amidships : 43’
Fo’c’sle Deck : 38’

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.
01 February 1942 - the S.S. Empire Amethyst left Halifax as part of a 30 ship convoy (Convoy HX 173), arriving at Liverpool on the 14 February 1942.
20 February 1942 - the S.S. Empire Amethyst commenced her voyage from Swansea to New Orleans with 47 crew. The only disruptions to the crew being when the 39 year old fourth engineer J Pearson was discharged on the 26 February 1942, and replaced by 21 year old, J F James. On the 4 March 1942 the 19 year old test steward, J R Hunt, was taken off at Belfast due to illness.

The crew consisted of:

Master of Ship : G D Potter (44)
1st Mate :  A Tully (26)
2nd Mate : C S Fletcher (23)
3rd Mate : N K Letman (22)
1st Radio Officer : R J Lilley (30)
2nd Radio Officer : E K Dubois (18)
3rd Radio Officer : J M Rowan (21)
Carpenter : K Leonard (49)
Bosun : W E Evans (37)
AB : G Lewis (41)
AB : S Hall (32)
AB : P M Dahl (46)
AB : H G Williams (17)
AB : I J Morris (25)
AB : J Fox (30)
AB : S Davies (24)
AB : D J Jenkins (25)
AB : A W McFarlane (47)
OS : L C Evans (26)
OS : E Lloyd (35)
Cadet : K W Crosby (20)
1st Engineer : J P Chambers (63)
2nd Engineer : R J Barber (30)
3rd Engineer : E W Dutton (39)
4th Engineer : J F James (21)replacement, 26/02/42.
5th Engineer : F J Burke (27)
Pumpman : C Nicholson (63)
Donkeyman : B Cutajar (47)
Greaser : C T Yeoumans (32)
Greaser : L Lloyd (35)
Fireman : W S Kieft (34)
Fireman : F J Haywood (31)
Fireman : P Towell (27)
Fireman : A R Mayne (33)
Chief Steward : J F Beynon (38)
2nd Steward : V Coleman (25)
Test Steward : J R Hunt (19)off loaded 04/03/42.
Cabin Boy : I Hughes (18)
Cabin Boy : M Llewellyn (19)
Ships Cook : B T Jones (23)
2nd Cook : D G Morgan (22)
Tower Hill Memorial SS Empire Amethyst

Tower Hill Memorial

Whilst not officially part of the crew, the military supplied six gunners who were known as Deck Hands:

Gunner : J Wright (23)
Gunner : H Ellock (25)
Gunner : F L Evans (25)
Gunner : F W Ridgeway (21)
Gunner : J Stevens (21)
Gunner : J Marston (21)

Service Record - Ernest Kenneth Dubois

Record of Death of Merchant Seaman Ernest Kenneth Dubois

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.
On the 5 April 1942 another American ship, Catahoula, was sunk by the U154.
On the 6 April 1942, the S.S. Empire Amethyst set sail from New Orleans, heading for Freetown.

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 the U154.
Although the crew were taking to life-boats, she continued sending signals, so the U154 fired a third torpedo in order to silence the signals. This torpedo struck 63 seconds after being fired and the Delvalla sank at approximately 1142 hrs.

Prince Henry increased to full speed and headed for the position in the hope of picking up survivors.
While en route to the scene a Catalina aircraft was sighted and ordered to begin a search for lifeboats down wind from the position of the sinking. This aircraft sighted two rafts loaded with Delvalle’s survivors within an hour of searching and Prince Henry took them onboard. The survivors reported that a motorboat and a lifeboat were still unaccounted for. At 19:05 the Catalina dropped a flare indicating the position of the lifeboat. The motorboat which was heading for Haiti was not located.
Prince Henry then headed for Jamaica, arriving at Kingston on the 13th April 1942.

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.
At 1600 hrs, they lost sight of the “destroyer”.
The U154 then moved in front of the S.S. Empire Amethyst, whilst Kölle tried to work out the general course Potter had chosen.

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.
At 0024 hrs on the 13th April 1942, the S.S. Empire Amethyst made a sharp turn and in the dark the U154 lost sight of the tanker.
At 0127 hrs Kölle ordered that the engines be switched off, so that they could listen for the tanker, but it had gone.
At 0218 hrs the U154 continued on a heading of 110°.
At 0430 hrs, position EC6286, the U154 had once again located the S.S. Empire Amethyst. The tanker was full steam ahead, but no longer zig-zagging.
At 0552 hrs, EC6299, the U154 fired the first torpedo which hit under the bridge of the S.S. Empire Amethyst.
Moving in for the kill, the second torpedo was fired and this struck forward of the engine room. After the second hit, the S.S. Empire Amethyst exploded in bright flames which were visible from 30nm away.
The U154 having to take avoidance action in order not to be engulfed by the flames.

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.

SS Empire Amethyst Route

Special thanks to:
Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Middlesbrough Borough Council, National Maritime Museum, National Personnel Records Center/Missouri, United States Coast Guard, US Navy, German Navy, Bundesarchiv,
N Robson, Dr F Pearce and Shipping Today and Yesterday Magazine.

Copyright © Paul Dubois

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