Ships hit by U-boats

Helen Moller

British Steam merchant

Helen Moller under her former name Sierentz

NameHelen Moller
Type:Steam merchant
Tonnage5,259 tons
Completed1918 - C. Connell & Co Ltd, Glasgow 
OwnerMoller & Co Ltd, Shanghai 
Date of attack5 Jun 1944Nationality:      British
FateSunk by U-183 (Fritz Schneewind)
Position4° 28'S, 74° 45'E - Grid LN 8325
Complement73 (4 dead and 69 survivors).
RouteColombo (1 Jun) - Fremantle 
History Completed in October 1918 as British fleet oiler War Cateran (5261 tons) for The Shipping Controller, managed by Gow, Harrison & Co. 1919 sold to France, converted to a steam merchant and renamed Sierentz for Louis Dreyfus & Co, Dunkirk; 1933 sold to Britain and renamed Helen Moller for Moller & Co Ltd, Shanghai. 
Notes on event

At 20.23 hours on 5 June 1944 the unescorted Helen Moller (Master Charles Frederick Paull) was hit on the port side in the after end of #2 hold by one torpedo from U-183 while steaming on a non-evasive course at 10 knots about 300 miles south-southeast of Addu Atoll, Maldives. The explosion blew the hatch covers off #3 hold and broke the back of the ship, lifting the forepart about 30 degrees with the fore topmast falling onto the bridge and crushing the wheelhouse. The stern raised out of the water with the propeller still turning at full speed because the engineer on watch failed to secure the engines. The master ordered the crew of 64 and nine gunners (the ship was armed with one 4in, four 20mm guns and two machine guns) to abandon ship after two minutes. Only two of the four lifeboats were undamaged and it took some time to launch them as they were improperly lowered by the Lascars. Furthermore three rafts were released before the ship folded over at #3 hatch with the forecastle actually hitting the collapsed gun platform on the stern and both parts sinking vertically. A minute later the stern shot 40 feet out of the water before it sank completely at 20.35 hours. The master, two crew members and one gunner were lost.

The boat in charge of the chief officer rowed around to pick up survivors swimming in the water and went alongside the other boat which was in charge of the second engineer officer. It was waterlogged and filled as fast as it was bailed, so one of the rafts was towed to it and secured to the lifeboat. The idea was to transfer some men on the raft to lighten the boat until it could be bailed out, but most of the men were Indian and Chinese and had difficulties to understand what they had to do. Petty Officer Eric Seivers in the boat of the chief officer decided to swim to the other boat despite an injured back and without life belt support, accompanied by pantryman S.K. Ahmad who volunteered to act as interpreter. They eventually managed to get the boat dry, so the raft could be abandoned and then held 26 men. Meanwhile the other boat collected the remaining two rafts, but one had been damaged by the propeller and when they tried to get back to the second boat they could not reach it and lost contact during the night. Unknown to them the men in that boat had spotted the U-boat nearby and evaded by rowing away and then set sail for Addu Atoll. At daylight a search of the sinking position was carried out by the chief officer but no further survivors were found, so they set sail for Ceylon after recovering the provisions from the rafts. At 08.15 hours on 8 June, the 37 crew members and six gunners in one boat were picked up by the British motor merchant Empire Confidence in position 02°49S/74°30E and landed at Colombo on 11 June. At 09.20 hours on 11 June, the other lifeboat was spotted by a Catalina flying boat and aircraft kept contact with them until the 26 occupants were picked up by the British auxiliary patrol boat HMS Okapi (Paymaster Lt A.M.H. Baker) at 11.45 hours on 12 June. They were landed at Addu Atoll and later transported to Colombo.

On boardWe have details of 52 people who were on board

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