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#1 Oct 24, 2017 5:26 pm

New Historian
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SINKING OF THE CORNWALLIS, Barbados Harbour, 11th Sept 1942

Fascinating insight into history:

Some recollections on the Canadian National Steamship SS Cornwallis by Reginald M Gooding who gives a schoolboy’s version of the event and the adventure it brought to him and his buddy Dick Davies.
In the Barbados Museum, there is a single relic, the tailfin and propeller assembly of a torpedo.  The plaque above it says “German torpedo fin from one of the three [of six] torpedoes used in the attack of the CNSC SS Cornwallis, Carlisle Bay 11th September 1942.”On the afternoon of September 11th 1942 the German Submarine U-514, under the command of Kapitänlieutenant Hans Jürgen Auffermann, cruised at periscope depth just outside of Carlisle Bay, Barbados.
That Saturday [Friday] afternoon Dick Davies and I were in a dingy some distance to the west of the anchorage of the old yawl, “Pansy,” at that time the flagship of the Barbados Yacht Club fleet.  I don’t recall what we were doing out there, probably just going for a row out to the anti-torpedo nets which stretched across the bay from Neeham’s Point to Pelican Island, or going to take a closer look at the SS Cornwallis, a frequent visitor to the island, which was unloading cargo to lighters from her anchorage in the bay.  Certainly it wasn’t an unusual place for us to be.  We were both in the “fourth” at Harrison College, and inseparable buddies.  We spent our time sailing, rowing and diving along the coast.  In those days few kids know the waters and reefs between Rockley and Holetown better than we did.
Located as we were, we had a grandstand view of the events that started with a bang at about 4:30pm that afternoon.  I remember vividly our shock at the first explosion.  We new almost immediately that it had occurred at the anti-torpedo net, for on looking out to sea we saw pieces of the buoy and net blown high into the air.  We were still assimilating this very unusual occurrence in our peaceful bay when a second explosion blew up another section of the net.  Everything happened so fast and furious for the next half-hour or so that I am unable to remember the exact sequence of events.  The four inch gun on Needham’s point started firing.  The gun on the “Cornwallis” started firing.  The net blew up in two more places.  We had by then realized that the island was under attack, that it must be a submarine, and we were pulling like mad for the shore.  We decided instead to go aboard the “Pansy,” and that is where we were when the final torpedo found its way through the breached net and struck the “Cornwallis” about amidships.
Shortly afterwards we were on the Yacht Club beach, and the last I remember of that day was watching a US Army Air force plane circling the bay late that afternoon.
Next morning, needless to say, we were at the club bright and early and out into the harbour in Mr. Sketete’s (of Bentely Plantation) glass bottom dingy.  Dick and I were joined now by Desmond Harris and Alan Huckin, both students at Harrison College and close friends of ours.  Our first objective was of course the “Cornwallis.”  The captain of that vessel must have been a quick witted fellow for he managed to slip his anchor and run the ship on the ground opposite the northern end of the esplanade.  Thus saving her from sinking in the harbour.  She was now moored bow to shore with a large hemp cable.
We investigated the damage to the ship.  This included, as I recall, rowing into the large aperture and looking around inside the hull.  About then it must have occurred to us that with such a large hole in her bottom quite a lot of her cargo must have fallen out.  It wasn’t long before we had rowed out to the general area in which the ship had been anchored the previous afternoon.  With the aid of the view ports in bottom of the boat and our home made face masks (in those day there were no face masks available on the market, so we made our own from auto-mobile inner tube rubber laminated and glued with bicycle tyre repair cement) it wasn’t long before we located a large pile of material on the bottom in 11-12 fathom [20-22meters].  By diving, we determined that what we saw consisted primarily of cases of canned goods.
We had no SCUBA gear then, and although we were pretty good divers, continuous diving to that depth was a bit too much for us.  However, we were determined to have a crack at salvaging some of that cargo, and it wasn’t long before we were organizing our limited resources.  With the aid of my father, we fabricated from a steel drum, a grab.  The drum was cut lengthwise into two halves and these were hinged together.  On the opposite edges steel teeth were welded to the jaws which were weighted so that they would close tightly.  Lines were affixed to lower the apparatus and to open and close the jaws.
We had one other piece of equipment that was to prove indispensable to our salvage operation during the following weeks.  This was an old diving helmet, the type that just rests on one’s shoulders.  It had a lever operated reciprocating pump and about eighty feet [24 meters] of air hose.  I don’t remember where we had acquired this diving gear, but we had already nearly drowned or asphyxiated ourselves with it several times.  I’m sure that the pump was never meant to supply air at depths greater than thirty feet.  Of course we kids weren’t satisfied with this limit and went far deeper.
The man in the boat would pump as hard as he could to maintain pressure, and keep the water from rising too high in the diver’s helmet.  I can recall how, on more than one occasion, the pump man would tire a little or the pump pistons would leak a little more than usual and I would feel the water level up to my mouth, start creeping up to my nose.  The only thing left to do a that point was to take a last gasp of carbon dioxide loaded air, duck out of the helmet, and go for the surface.  It remains a mystery to me how none of us ever suffered from an air embolism during those escapes.  The worse that I remember was, realizing that I was about to become unconscious, starting for the surface with lungs nearly empty and wondering if I would make it.
I think that we started our salvage operation after school later that week.  Once learned how to handle the grab, it proved to be a great success.  We were soon bringing up cases of Australian lamb stew, condensed milk and large tins of barley.  There were also odd cases of several other products, but those three items dominated the haul.  Everything we brought up was covered with bunker oil and soon our boat and equipment, not to speak of ourselves, were black.  After several days we had a huge pile of cans at the yacht club.  Then the customs house people found out about us.  We were landing goods without paying duty, and were informed that everything we salvaged must go through customs.  By then we were becoming tired of the daily chore of cleaning oil from ourselves and everything else.  The limited variety of the salvaged goods was also becoming rather monotonous.  Even though a large percentage of our loot disappeared from the yacht club and the customs house, we still had enough lamb stew, canned milk and barley to last us for a long time.  In fact we were still well stocked with canned barley at my home when I left Barbados two years later [in 1945].
Until then we had been so busy salvaging cargo that we had taken only a cursory look at the damaged torpedo net.  I don’t remember if whether we suspected that there might be fragments of torpedo near the holes in the net, or if their discovery was entirely fortuitous.  I do remember sighting the first piece in the sand in about 12 fathoms [22 meters].  It proved to be the electric propulsion motor.  It weighed over three hundred pounds, and gave us a great hassle to grapple and raise it.  The only way we could do this was by lashing  two boats together, catamaran-like, and hauling the motor up between them.  During the next couple of weekends we managed to find and bring up one more motor, the tail and propeller assemblies from three of the torpedoes and a of more or less unidentifiable fragments. 
Hardly had we completed the salvage operation than we were notified that we would have to turn all of the salvaged torpedo parts over to the local naval authorities.  We were informed that they were to be sent to Trinidad, and from there we know not where.  I think we were given a receipt for all the articles, however, we really had little or no hope that we would ever see them again. 
During the following months while the “Cornwallis” was being temporarily patched, she became almost a permanent part of the harbour scene.  We kids visited her frequently, and become quite friendly with her crew.  We would climb up to her forecastle via the bow mooring cable.  Sometimes we would bring bottle of rum for the men, and receive bottles of coca cola in exchange.  A rare treat in those days.
Eventually the “Cornwallis” departed for Canada where she was to go into dry docks and receive more permanent repairs.  She never returned to Barbados.  Some time later we learned that another German torpedo had found its mark, but this time the luck of the “CNSC SS Cornwallis” had run out.
[We have corrected two facts here:
Once temporary repairs had been made in Barbados, the Cornwallis was towed to Trinidad in December 1942 where further repairs were made. The Cornwallis was later towed to Mobile, arriving on 24 Jan 1943 where she was repaired and returned to service in August 1943.
18 months later on 3 rd Dec 1944 at 10.00 hours the unescorted Cornwallis was torpedoed and sunk by German U-Boat U-1230 about 10 miles South West of Mount Desert Rock in the Gulf of Maine.  She was en-route from Barbados to St. John, New Brunswick in Canada carrying a cargo of sugar in bags and molasses in barrels. The master, 35 crew members and seven gunners were lost. Five survivors were picked up by the fishing vessel Notre Dame and landed at Rockland, Maine.]
At least a year must have passed when much to our surprise we were notified that the torpedo parts would shortly be returned to us.  Each of us received and official letter from a British Admiral commending us for our efforts in salvaging the torpedoes, and informing us that an analysis of the structure and materials of the salvaged items had yielded valuable information to the war effort.  Needless to say we were quite pleased, and the fact that one of the tail pieces and all the odd pieces were not returned did not bother us.
After considerable deliberation we decided to sell the two massive motors, which were mostly copper and brass to the Barbados Foundry as scrap.  I don’t remember how much we got for them, but I recall that it seemed like quite a magnificent sum.  We presented the two remaining tail assemblies to the “Barbados Museum.”
When I left the island in 1945 to go into the service, there was a card displayed with the two tail pieces which stated that they had been given to the museum by: Reginal Gooding, Richard Davies, Alan Huckin and Desmond Harris.  Over the years this card and one of the tail assemblies were evidently lost, but perhaps putting this story into print will help to preserve a small bit of Barbados’ history which was nearly forgotten.

https://www.bajanthings.com/cornwallis- … niversary/

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#2 Oct 24, 2017 6:57 pm

Dancer
Active

Re: SINKING OF THE CORNWALLIS, Barbados Harbour, 11th Sept 1942

Some good Caribbean history , New Historian.
Those Bajans gave you a bottle of ESA Fields ?   ....sad.
lol.

Good one.

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#3 Oct 30, 2017 6:50 pm

houston
Active

Re: SINKING OF THE CORNWALLIS, Barbados Harbour, 11th Sept 1942

New Historian wrote:

Fascinating insight into history:

Some recollections on the Canadian National Steamship SS Cornwallis by Reginald M Gooding who gives a schoolboy’s version of the event and the adventure it brought to him and his buddy Dick Davies.
In the Barbados Museum, there is a single relic, the tailfin and propeller assembly of a torpedo.  The plaque above it says “German torpedo fin from one of the three [of six] torpedoes used in the attack of the CNSC SS Cornwallis, Carlisle Bay 11th September 1942.”On the afternoon of September 11th 1942 the German Submarine U-514, under the command of Kapitänlieutenant Hans Jürgen Auffermann, cruised at periscope depth just outside of Carlisle Bay, Barbados.
That Saturday [Friday] afternoon Dick Davies and I were in a dingy some distance to the west of the anchorage of the old yawl, “Pansy,” at that time the flagship of the Barbados Yacht Club fleet.  I don’t recall what we were doing out there, probably just going for a row out to the anti-torpedo nets which stretched across the bay from Neeham’s Point to Pelican Island, or going to take a closer look at the SS Cornwallis, a frequent visitor to the island, which was unloading cargo to lighters from her anchorage in the bay.  Certainly it wasn’t an unusual place for us to be.  We were both in the “fourth” at Harrison College, and inseparable buddies.  We spent our time sailing, rowing and diving along the coast.  In those days few kids know the waters and reefs between Rockley and Holetown better than we did.
Located as we were, we had a grandstand view of the events that started with a bang at about 4:30pm that afternoon.  I remember vividly our shock at the first explosion.  We new almost immediately that it had occurred at the anti-torpedo net, for on looking out to sea we saw pieces of the buoy and net blown high into the air.  We were still assimilating this very unusual occurrence in our peaceful bay when a second explosion blew up another section of the net.  Everything happened so fast and furious for the next half-hour or so that I am unable to remember the exact sequence of events.  The four inch gun on Needham’s point started firing.  The gun on the “Cornwallis” started firing.  The net blew up in two more places.  We had by then realized that the island was under attack, that it must be a submarine, and we were pulling like mad for the shore.  We decided instead to go aboard the “Pansy,” and that is where we were when the final torpedo found its way through the breached net and struck the “Cornwallis” about amidships.
Shortly afterwards we were on the Yacht Club beach, and the last I remember of that day was watching a US Army Air force plane circling the bay late that afternoon.
Next morning, needless to say, we were at the club bright and early and out into the harbour in Mr. Sketete’s (of Bentely Plantation) glass bottom dingy.  Dick and I were joined now by Desmond Harris and Alan Huckin, both students at Harrison College and close friends of ours.  Our first objective was of course the “Cornwallis.”  The captain of that vessel must have been a quick witted fellow for he managed to slip his anchor and run the ship on the ground opposite the northern end of the esplanade.  Thus saving her from sinking in the harbour.  She was now moored bow to shore with a large hemp cable.
We investigated the damage to the ship.  This included, as I recall, rowing into the large aperture and looking around inside the hull.  About then it must have occurred to us that with such a large hole in her bottom quite a lot of her cargo must have fallen out.  It wasn’t long before we had rowed out to the general area in which the ship had been anchored the previous afternoon.  With the aid of the view ports in bottom of the boat and our home made face masks (in those day there were no face masks available on the market, so we made our own from auto-mobile inner tube rubber laminated and glued with bicycle tyre repair cement) it wasn’t long before we located a large pile of material on the bottom in 11-12 fathom [20-22meters].  By diving, we determined that what we saw consisted primarily of cases of canned goods.
We had no SCUBA gear then, and although we were pretty good divers, continuous diving to that depth was a bit too much for us.  However, we were determined to have a crack at salvaging some of that cargo, and it wasn’t long before we were organizing our limited resources.  With the aid of my father, we fabricated from a steel drum, a grab.  The drum was cut lengthwise into two halves and these were hinged together.  On the opposite edges steel teeth were welded to the jaws which were weighted so that they would close tightly.  Lines were affixed to lower the apparatus and to open and close the jaws.
We had one other piece of equipment that was to prove indispensable to our salvage operation during the following weeks.  This was an old diving helmet, the type that just rests on one’s shoulders.  It had a lever operated reciprocating pump and about eighty feet [24 meters] of air hose.  I don’t remember where we had acquired this diving gear, but we had already nearly drowned or asphyxiated ourselves with it several times.  I’m sure that the pump was never meant to supply air at depths greater than thirty feet.  Of course we kids weren’t satisfied with this limit and went far deeper.
The man in the boat would pump as hard as he could to maintain pressure, and keep the water from rising too high in the diver’s helmet.  I can recall how, on more than one occasion, the pump man would tire a little or the pump pistons would leak a little more than usual and I would feel the water level up to my mouth, start creeping up to my nose.  The only thing left to do a that point was to take a last gasp of carbon dioxide loaded air, duck out of the helmet, and go for the surface.  It remains a mystery to me how none of us ever suffered from an air embolism during those escapes.  The worse that I remember was, realizing that I was about to become unconscious, starting for the surface with lungs nearly empty and wondering if I would make it.
I think that we started our salvage operation after school later that week.  Once learned how to handle the grab, it proved to be a great success.  We were soon bringing up cases of Australian lamb stew, condensed milk and large tins of barley.  There were also odd cases of several other products, but those three items dominated the haul.  Everything we brought up was covered with bunker oil and soon our boat and equipment, not to speak of ourselves, were black.  After several days we had a huge pile of cans at the yacht club.  Then the customs house people found out about us.  We were landing goods without paying duty, and were informed that everything we salvaged must go through customs.  By then we were becoming tired of the daily chore of cleaning oil from ourselves and everything else.  The limited variety of the salvaged goods was also becoming rather monotonous.  Even though a large percentage of our loot disappeared from the yacht club and the customs house, we still had enough lamb stew, canned milk and barley to last us for a long time.  In fact we were still well stocked with canned barley at my home when I left Barbados two years later [in 1945].
Until then we had been so busy salvaging cargo that we had taken only a cursory look at the damaged torpedo net.  I don’t remember if whether we suspected that there might be fragments of torpedo near the holes in the net, or if their discovery was entirely fortuitous.  I do remember sighting the first piece in the sand in about 12 fathoms [22 meters].  It proved to be the electric propulsion motor.  It weighed over three hundred pounds, and gave us a great hassle to grapple and raise it.  The only way we could do this was by lashing  two boats together, catamaran-like, and hauling the motor up between them.  During the next couple of weekends we managed to find and bring up one more motor, the tail and propeller assemblies from three of the torpedoes and a of more or less unidentifiable fragments. 
Hardly had we completed the salvage operation than we were notified that we would have to turn all of the salvaged torpedo parts over to the local naval authorities.  We were informed that they were to be sent to Trinidad, and from there we know not where.  I think we were given a receipt for all the articles, however, we really had little or no hope that we would ever see them again. 
During the following months while the “Cornwallis” was being temporarily patched, she became almost a permanent part of the harbour scene.  We kids visited her frequently, and become quite friendly with her crew.  We would climb up to her forecastle via the bow mooring cable.  Sometimes we would bring bottle of rum for the men, and receive bottles of coca cola in exchange.  A rare treat in those days.
Eventually the “Cornwallis” departed for Canada where she was to go into dry docks and receive more permanent repairs.  She never returned to Barbados.  Some time later we learned that another German torpedo had found its mark, but this time the luck of the “CNSC SS Cornwallis” had run out.
[We have corrected two facts here:
Once temporary repairs had been made in Barbados, the Cornwallis was towed to Trinidad in December 1942 where further repairs were made. The Cornwallis was later towed to Mobile, arriving on 24 Jan 1943 where she was repaired and returned to service in August 1943.
18 months later on 3 rd Dec 1944 at 10.00 hours the unescorted Cornwallis was torpedoed and sunk by German U-Boat U-1230 about 10 miles South West of Mount Desert Rock in the Gulf of Maine.  She was en-route from Barbados to St. John, New Brunswick in Canada carrying a cargo of sugar in bags and molasses in barrels. The master, 35 crew members and seven gunners were lost. Five survivors were picked up by the fishing vessel Notre Dame and landed at Rockland, Maine.]
At least a year must have passed when much to our surprise we were notified that the torpedo parts would shortly be returned to us.  Each of us received and official letter from a British Admiral commending us for our efforts in salvaging the torpedoes, and informing us that an analysis of the structure and materials of the salvaged items had yielded valuable information to the war effort.  Needless to say we were quite pleased, and the fact that one of the tail pieces and all the odd pieces were not returned did not bother us.
After considerable deliberation we decided to sell the two massive motors, which were mostly copper and brass to the Barbados Foundry as scrap.  I don’t remember how much we got for them, but I recall that it seemed like quite a magnificent sum.  We presented the two remaining tail assemblies to the “Barbados Museum.”
When I left the island in 1945 to go into the service, there was a card displayed with the two tail pieces which stated that they had been given to the museum by: Reginal Gooding, Richard Davies, Alan Huckin and Desmond Harris.  Over the years this card and one of the tail assemblies were evidently lost, but perhaps putting this story into print will help to preserve a small bit of Barbados’ history which was nearly forgotten.

https://www.bajanthings.com/cornwallis- … niversary/

Another excellent story!
U-Boats were everywhere. Countless Merchant Marines lost they're lives while shipping much needed products. They war would have been lost without the support of those sailors.

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#4 Oct 31, 2017 7:13 am

Slice
Active

Re: SINKING OF THE CORNWALLIS, Barbados Harbour, 11th Sept 1942

I am beginning to count on NH for my Daily history lessons.

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