Sister of the ship Hunan II
On July 1st.1943 At about 02.00 hrs the U-boat, Wolfgang Luth in command of U-181, spotted 3 merchant ships in Port Louis, Mauritius, and waited for them to leave harbour. On the morning of July 2nd, two ships left harbour, Hoihow II being the second vessel, which the submarine chased for about 10 hours. At 21.07 hrs. the Hoihow II, which was without an escort, was struck by two torpedoes, and sank by the bow within 3 minutes. Position 105 miles WNW of Mauritius. The Master, 90 crew members, 47 passengers and 7 gunners were lost. The U.S. ship Mormac Swan rescued three crew members and a passenger, landing them in Montevideo on July 25th.
Amongst those who lost their lives were:- Master, William MacKenzie Christie, Staff Commander, John L. Gamble. Chief Officer, John Worsley. Second Officer, Robert Leonard Breen Ryde. Third Officer, James Horace Van Millingen. Chief Engineer, George Richard Wensley. Second Engineer, Francis Colin McNaughton. Third Engineer, George B. Constable. Fourth Engineer, Dharma Rajah Papyah. Wireless Officer (Siemens) H.A.Thorne. Wireless officer (Siemens) A.G.Berry.
Built for the China Coast - Indo-China trade
Events / Stories
The following is an account of Captain Christie's last days. It is a letter to Captain Christie's wife from F W B Skottowe who was the only surviving passenger and who comforted Captain Christie aboard a life raft following the sinking of the Hoihow.
Cable & Wireless
Zanzibar 16th June 1944.
You will be acquainted with the main story of the sinking of Captain Christie's ship from Mrs. Gamble. It occurred at 11 p.m. on July 2nd 1943, 105miles WNW off Mauritius. It was all very sudden and the ship disappeared within 90seconds after the second torpedo struck her. No one had time to get clear and we all went down with the ship. Together with one other European and three native members of the crew I was fortunate enough to get into the raft.
When day broke on the 3rd we discerned far off what at first appeared to be driftwood. As the morning advanced we drifted nearer and discovered it to be Captain Christie, who had been night long clinging to a wooden companionway. It was some time before we could get close enough to throw him a rope and get him aboard our raft. He was very exhausted and clothed only in a raincoat and life-jacket. I'm afraid there was little comfort or room for the six of us on the raft. He had contracted several sores during the night in his efforts to hold on to the companionway, and these I was able to dress with the first aid outfit, Later, after we had got over a sea anchor and had all had a drink of water we exchanged stories.
He told me that at the time the first torpedo struck he was just getting into his bunk, He immediately snatched a torch, dived into a raincoat and life-jacket and rushed onto the bridge. The torpedo had struck just forward of the bridge and exploded in the forward hold. The bridge itself was wrecked and the officer of the watch had gone. The wireless room was blown to pieces and he was unable to get a message off. Realising that the ship was lost he called out the order to cut the life-boats away. As he did so the second torpedo struck amidships, and the ship dived down by the head. His last recollection, as he went down was the funnel towering over him and threatening to engulf him. When he surfaced he still was holding the torch which had stuck in the 'on' position and still was working. He threw this away as he did not want to attract attention of the submarine which had surfaced and might have taken him prisoner, had they discovered him to be the captain.
He was able to cling on to the companionway which had been blown loose, and later drifted close to the raft, to which Mr. Gamble and others were clinging. He refused to join them, again owing to the possibility of being taken prisoner and questioned. He had had the greatest difficulty in keeping astride the companionway and capsized several times during the night, and could have lasted but a short time longer, had he not drifted to us on the raft.
This was Saturday and he told me that the ship would not be overdue until 2p.m. on Sunday, the time at which she was due to arrive at Tamatave. No anxiety would be felt on our behalf until that time as it had been impossible to get a wireless message off. We could therefore not expect any search to be made until Monday morning at the earliest, and we accordingly resigned ourselves to at least two more days and nights on the raft.
The remainder of the day we spent taking stock of our position, checking up our supplies and endeavouring to rig up what little protection we could with the few pieces of canvas and rope we found. We were of course, exceedingly uncomfortable sitting in cramped positions, tossed about in choppy seas, with occasional waves coming over the top of us. When night came we felt very cold; and Captain Christie was very chilled. I massaged his heart and hands and by huddling into me he was able to get a little warmth.
Unfortunately, the second European, who throughout the day had been very quiet, showed sudden signs of madness. Shock must have caused a mental derangement. At times he was homicidal, and seemed to be suffering from the delusion that we were retaining him for some reason or other. I will not detail the circumstances under which we spent the best part of the night. There was no moon and in the darkness I can only add that we had a weariness and worrying time endeavouring to quieten the poor fellow.
We were exhausted when daylight came and he seemed to regain a degree of sanity.
The weather had worsened during the night, and on Sunday big seas were running. Waves continuously broke over us and we found it very exhausting to maintain our precarious positions. We spoke little, all our efforts being needed to keep going. Poor Captain Christie began to feel very sore and uncomfortable with the necessity of keeping to one sitting position, and his legs were cramped. I again did what was possible under the circumstances to massage him and relieve the pain. In the early afternoon we had the distressing experience of seeing the second European jump over the side and swim away. There was nothing we could do as the raft was rapidly drifting, and we were far too exhausted to go after him with any reasonable chance of coping with a madman and getting him back to the raft.
With five of us now left there was a small amount of extra room, sufficient for Captain Christie to half lay down, first on one side and then on the other. This afforded him a measure of relief. We all felt rather shaky and opened one of our few tins of milk which we mixed with water, and all had a good drink. The night passed as miserably as before and we were glad when daylight came. Just before dawn a series of squalls came down on us to add to our troubles.
This was Monday and we were buoyed up with the hope that perhaps rescue craft would be looking out for us. We discussed little else but kept anxious eyes open for the slightest sign of aeroplane or boat. But as the day wore on heavy clouds came up and we knew that our chances of being spotted were very slight. When evening came I got out our ration of biscuit, but Captain Christie complained of pain in his throat and was unable to eat. He told me that his asthma was troubling him.
That night he developed a cough and when the morning came he seemed very exhausted. He told me that unless we were picked up soon he felt he could not last much longer. Sometimes he spoke to me of you and his home in Bombay saying that if he managed to survive this time he was done with the sea and meant to stay at home. During all this time we had not exchanged names. He called me 'Pal' and I called him 'Skipper'.
Tuesday came and the seas were high. We were tossed about and had little respite from the waves. We were becoming physically exhausted and Captain Christie was obviously all in. We made him as comfortable as possible on one side of the raft and one of the Indians and myself remained constantly massaging him or making as comfortable as possible. He was, however, unable to eat and was beginning have difficulty in swallowing. He spoke little as it was necessary to preserve His strength, nor was there very much for us to talk about. Obviously we could only hope to be rescued by great good luck and we had reluctantly to give up any idea of a search being continued.
The sun, which we had welcomed each day for its warmth was hidden behind heavy banks of clouds, and so we were cold and shivering. I think Captain Christie knew he would last very little longer. He asked me if I would write to you should I be lucky enough to survive. I had little hope of doing so however, and could see no prospects of help for any of us. The coming night promised to be stormy, so much so that I passed a rope around him and myself, tied ropes on my wrist and the raft for fear of being washed off. I was deeply distressed as I knew that now the Captain was dying. In the blackness of the night there was nothing I could do to delay the inevitable end. He must have become unconscious some time during the night and when day dawned he was rapidly sinking. For a brief time while he became unconscious but was unable to swallow anything, and without speaking anymore he slowly weakened and died soon after daybreak.
I buried him in the early afternoon.
I still did not know his name nor did he know mine.
This has been a very sad letter to write - I have not attempted to soften anything, as I am sure you would like to know the entire truth. I can only add that throughout he was very kind and considerate, deprecating the trouble he caused and constantly keeping our spirits up.
There is just nothing more to add except to express to you very sincere sympathyand deep sorrow that he did not survive.