SS Assyrian

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Name: SS Assyrian
Operator: Ellerman & Papayanni Lines Ltd, Liverpool
Builder: Blohm + Voss, Hamburg
Completed: 1914
Fate: sunk on 19 October 1940
General characteristics
Class and type: Steam merchant ship
Tonnage: 2,962 tons
Crew: 36

The SS Assyrian was a steam merchant ship, originally German-built, that sailed under the British flag during the Second World War.

Early years

She was originally built by Blohm + Voss, Hamburg as the German motor merchant Fritz, in 1914. She served during the First World War with the Woermann Line, but she was designated as a war reparations ship in 1919 and was acquired by the British shipping firm Ellerman & Papayanni Lines Ltd, of Liverpool in 1920.[1] They renamed her Assyrian and homeported her in Liverpool. They converted her to a steam merchant in 1925.[2]

With the convoys

During the Second World War she was used to carry supplies to the UK, often travelling in convoy to protect against German U-boat attacks. She took part in a number of these convoys, sailing to and from Liverpool to destinations such as Gibraltar and Bermuda.[3] She joined her last convoy, SC-7 which departed Sydney, Nova Scotia on 5 October 1940. She was used as the convoy commodore's ship, and came under the command of retired vice admiral Lachlan Mackinnon, with her master as Reginald Sanderson Kearon. She had arrived in Sydney from New Orleans and carried a cargo of 3,700 tons of grain.[2]

Convoy SC-7 and sinking

The convoy initially had only a single escort, the sloop HMS Scarborough. The convoy was overwhelmed by U-boats operating the new 'wolf pack' tactics. On 19 October, as the convoy approached the British Isles, a U-boat was spotted 100 yards ahead. The Assyrian went full ahead to ram her, for the first time made 10 knots. She chased the enemy ship for 40 minutes, but was unable to bring any of her small guns to bear. The U-boat eventually escaped, leaving the Assyrian ahead of the convoy, with no escorts around. She was sighted by U-101 under Fritz Frauenheim and at 01.22 hours he fired three bow torpedoes at the convoy, by then 102 miles west by north of Barra Head, Outer Hebrides, followed two minutes later by a stern torpedo. He was later to report four hits and four ships sunk.[2]

However two of the bow torpedoes missed, with the third hitting the Assyrian on the starboard side, stopping the engines and putting out her lights.[2] The stern torpedo went on to hit the SS Soesterberg.[2] Both of the Assyrian’s boats were damaged in the explosion and most of the surviving crew took to the life-rafts. A sinking merchantman drifted down upon the Assyrian, her pit props rolling off and further damaging the ship and sinking one of the life-rafts which had been launched. A small group including the ship's master, the Chief Officer and the commodore were stranded aboard the sinking ship. They set to building a raft out of whatever they could find and launched it as the ship went down. The raft fell to bits as it hit the water, but most of the occupants managed to cling to pieces of wreckage.

Out of a total complement of 51, fifteen crew members and two naval staff members were lost. The master, the commodore, three naval staff members, 20 crew members and nine passengers were picked up by the sloop HMS Leith and landed at Liverpool.[2] The Assyrian’s master, Reginald Sanderson Kearon, was awarded the Lloyd's War Medal for Bravery at Sea.[2]


Coordinates: 57°12′N 10°43′W / 57.2°N 10.717°W / 57.2; -10.717