by Marie-Claire McGann
Some of the crew of the Kerlogue: Tom Grannel, Tom ONeill, Dick Roche (able bodied seaman), G Roche (third engineer), Chum Roche (bo'sun)
Captain Desmond Fortune with President Hillary, note the flag with RAF bullett-holes, framed, in the top of the photoghraph. Note the crutch in the bottom left of the photograph. Capt. Fortune had difficulty walking following injuries suffered in te RAF attack
“They (the British) informed us that the attacking plane did not identify the ship as Irish and at the time of the attack Kerlogue was sailing off course…The British government for that reason will no accept responsibility for the attack but are prepared to make a payment ex-gratia to the injured men.”The Kerlogue was repaired in Cork following her attack and Captain Thomas Donohue took command. It was under his experienced captaincy (he also commanded the Lady Belle when bombed and the Irish Oak when torpedoed) that the Kerlogue made her greatest rescue. On a routine passage on the 29th December 1943, whilst sailing back to Dublin from Lisbon the Kerlogue was repeatedly circled by a German bomber, (actually a long-range reconnaissance aircraft) signalling ‘SOS’ requesting for help from the small ship. She altered her course to the planes request. At 11am the Kerlogue reached a truly ‘appalling scene’, the aftermath of a naval battle. A large destroyer, the 2,688-ton Z27, and two 1,318-ton torpedo boats had been sunk; more than 700 men. The sea all around was littered with flotsam, corpses in life jackets and desperate men on rafts or clinging to wreckage.
Hans Helmut Karsch, an 18-year-old German seaman from Dusseldorf made these drawings
Chief officer Valencie of the Kerlogue paints the scene best:
“As rafts rose into view on the crests of the giant waves we could see men on them and others clinging to their sides. At first we did not know whether they were allied or axis until somebody noticed the long ribbons trailing downwards from behind a seaman’s cap which denoted they were German Navy men.”Lieutenant-Commander Jaochim Quedenfelt who was the senior German officer rescued, described:
“The little ship bravely moving through the enormous waves to pick up more and more of my comrades”For at least ten solid hours until well after the light gave up on them the crew from the Kerlogue pulled men unto their boat. Bearing in mind the size of the Irish ship being a mere 142 feet long and a third of the size of her peers it is a remarkable feat of achievement for her to have saved 168 men (later 164 to arrive in Ireland as four died on board.) There was no doctor on board but the crew of the Kerlogue gave the men first aid treatment to the best of their ability. Frank Forde, in his book ‘the Long Watch’ notes that:
“…Cabins, storerooms and alleyways were soon packed with shivering, soaked and sodden men; others were placed in the engine room where it became so crowded that Chief engineer Eric Giggins could not move around to attend his machinery, and so by signs – as none spoke English – he got the survivors to move the instruments he could not reach…”Quedenfelt requested that the ship travel to La Rochelle or Brest to land his men, however the Kerlogue refused and headed back to Ireland. A notable factor was that the German Lieutenant-Commander did not force to be landed in France – and he so easily could have done considering the Germans numbers in comparison with the modest number of Irish crewmen.
“…To you and your crew my profound gratitude as well as my high appreciation of unhesitating valiant spirit which has prompted you to perform this exemplary deed, worthy of the great tradition of Irish gallantry and humanity...”A silver cup was later presented to Captain Donohue with the words ‘Bay of Biscay’ engraved upon it. The rescued Germans remained at the Curragh Internment Camp until the war was over. Two of them, Petty Officer Helmut Weiss and Lieutenant Braatz, are buried in the German War Cemetery at Glencree, County Wicklow.
“My late father was a seaman with the Wexford Steamship Company. He served the nation, like so many young men, through dangerous times in the war years. In every sense he and his colleagues put their lives on the line day after day, in ships which today would not be licensed to go on the high seas, to bring supplies to this nation. Many of his colleagues and friends and many people from Wexford and around the coast paid the ultimate price in serving this nation by losing their lives. The ships were so rickety, old and derelict that we would not go to sea in them today. Yet, these brave, perhaps foolhardy, men crossed the Atlantic, went to the Mediterranean and North African coast and kept Ireland supplied with vital provisions. My father's ship, the Kerlogue, was involved in one of the great rescues of the war. One of the proudest possessions I have is a decoration awarded to him and other members of the crew for rescuing German sailors in the Bay of Biscay in December 1943, when they hauled hundreds of young men from the water and carried them, under threat from the RAF and the Royal Navy, to safety in Cork.
The crew were each given a cup like this, this cup was given to the National Maritime Museum by a nephew of Chief Officer Valance (click to enlarge and view the inscription)
An edited version of this article first appeared in the wild geese in two parts: part one and part two. An edited and renamed version of this article was first published in "the wild geese"in two parts: