MV Kerlogue

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MV Kerlogue passing through Dalkey sound[1]
MV Kerlogue. from an oil painting by Kenneth King
Career (Ireland) Irish Tricolour
Name: Kerlogue
Owner: Wexford Steamship Company
Port of registry: Wexford
Builder: Rotterdam
Launched: 1938
Fate: wrecked off Tromsø in 1960
General characteristics
Tonnage: 335
Length: 142 ft (43 m)
Deck clearance: 1 ft (0.30 m)
Crew: 11
A sketch of the rescue drawn by Hans Helmut Karsch, while interned in the Curragh

The MV[1] Kerlogue has become the exemplar of neutral Irish ships during World War Two. She was very small. She was attacked by both sides and rescued both sides. She was almost sunk by a German mine and was dive-bombed by the RAF, being left for dead. She rescued the Wild Rose of Liverpool and the survivors of the German destroyer Z27 and its escort.



Transport within Ireland was very difficult in the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish War and the subsequent Civil War. The road network[2] had been neglected since prior to the Great War. Vital railway bridges had been blown-up by anti-treaty forces during the civil war.,[3] It was therefore, often, faster and more economic to transport goods around the coast. Coasters fulfilled this need, in addition to the cross-channel trade with Great Britain. The M.V. Kerlogue was such a coaster.

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II Ireland found itself with an inadequate number of ships. The number of ships had been declining, from 127 in 1923 to 56 in September 1939.[4] Most of Ireland’s international trade was carried on British Flagged vessels;[5] with the outbreak of the war, most of these were no longer available. The United States ordered its ships not to enter the ‘war zone’.[6] Irish bound cargos were brought as far as Portugal. Ships, such as the Kerlogue found themselves on voyages for which they were not intended.

MV Kerlogue

The MV Kerlogue was built in Rotterdam, Holland in September 1939, just prior to the outbreak of the war. She was 142 feet (43 m) long and displaced 335 tons. At that, her freeboard (height of deck above sea level) was just 1 foot (0.30 m). She had a crew of eleven. Like other Irish ships, the word EIRE and the Irish tricolour were painted large on her sides and deck.

Wild Rose of Liverpool

On 2 April 1941 a British convoy was attacked by German bombers. Distress rockets were seen by the Kerlogue which altered course to assist. A burning oil tanker, without survivors, and a crippled collier, the Wild Rose of Liverpool, were found. The collier was slowly sinking; had no power and her lifeboats had been destroyed by the bombing. The Kerlogue took the larger Wild Rose in tow and rescued the crew of thirteen. The Wild Rose was beached on Rosslare Strand and salvaged.

On 7 October 1941, while sailing from Swansea to Wexford, the Kerlogue struck a mine in Cardigan Bay.[7]

RAF attack

On 23 October 1943, 130 miles (210 km) south of Ireland, with a cargo of coal, the Kerlogue was circled by an RAAF Sunderland flying boat. Three hours later, two Mosquito fighters of No. 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron attacked[8]. For twenty minutes they repeatedly dived on the Kerlogue firing their cannons. Another RAAF Sunderland came at six in the evening. By Aldis lamp, the Kerlogue requested an escort and medical assistance. The Sunderland replied that it could not be given. [9]

The Kerlogue limped back to Cobh. When her cargo of coal was discharged, shell fragments of British origin were found. It was that cargo of coal which saved the Kerlogue; without it, the shells would have penetrated her hull.

Captain Desmond Fortune, who would never walk unaided again, was succeeded by Captain Thomas Donohue. He had been captain of The Lady Belle of Waterford when she was bombed by the Luftwaffe. Donohue had spent eight hours in a lifeboat mid-Atlantic when the German U-607 torpedoed the SS Irish Oak.

The British Naval Attache in Dublin reported to the Director of Naval Intelligence that it was "unfortunate from a British point of view" that Fortune had been involved in the Kerlogue incident as he was "always ready to pass on any information in his possession".[10]

Z27, T25 and T26

View from Z27 of T25 and T26 being shelled, sketch by Hans Helmut Karsch

On 29 December 1943 the Kerlogue, 360 miles (580 km) south of Fastnet Rock, with a cargo of oranges, was circled by a German long range reconnaissance aircraft signalling ‘SOS’ and heading southeast. The Kerlogue altered course to southeast. She came upon an appalling scene. The Narvik class destroyer Z27 and two Elbing class torpedo boats, T25 and T26, had been sunk. More than 700 men, most of them dead, were in the water. The Germans had intended to escort Alsterufer, a blockade runner. The allies had begun Operation Stonewall, a coordinated attempt to intercept blockade runners. In the course of the battle, the cruisers HMS Glasgow and Enterprise had fought eight[note 1] German destroyers; with their 6-inch (150 mm) guns sank the German ships while beyond their range of fire (more than ten miles)[11]

The Kerlogue spent ten hours plucking survivors from the water. 168 were rescued. Four died on board. This was remarkable, given that the Kerlogue was only 142 feet (43 m) long. The cargo of oranges saved the rescued from dehydration. Captain Donohue ignored the German request to bring them to Brest or La Rochelle. He also ignored British radio orders from Land’s End to go to Fishguard. He berthed at Cobh on 1 January 1944.

In the post-war period, this last rescue was rarely mentioned; until 27 April 1994, when then-Senator Dick Roche (now Minister for Europe) spoke of his father’s role:

“... 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 ... ... ” [12]

The survivors of Z27, T25 and T26 Interned in the Curragh

The rescued Germans remained at the Curragh internment camp until the war was over. The German Ambassador expressed his thanks:

“…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...”


The Kerlogue was sold to Norway in 1957 and was wrecked off Tromsø in 1960.

On 27 May 1994 the German Navy expressed its thanks in a ceremony at the Old Mariners’ Church attended by President Mary Robinson. Some sketches of the rescue, drawn while in the Curragh were presented and remain on display. There is an annual commemoration in Dublin on the third Sunday of November for those who died on Irish ships during the war. On the third Sunday every May, in Belfast an annual commemoration for seafarers is held.

See also


  1. MV is an abbreviation of Motor Vessel or Merchant vessel
  2. Wills, page 34. "Irelands roads were amongst the most dangerous in Europe"
  3. "Railways in Crisis". Ask About Ireland. An Chomhairle Leabharlanna. Retrieved 2009-08-27. 
  4. Forde, page 2
  5. McIvor, page 85
  6. Burne, Lester H (2003). Richard Dean Burns. ed. Chronological History of U.S. Foreign Relations: 1932-1988. 2. Routledge. pp. 537. ISBN 9780415939164. 
  7. "Dáil debates - Volume 103 -". 23 October, 1946. Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  8. Polish 307 Squadron Records for October 1943
  9. From records released under the thirty year rule:
    • Flight-Lieutenant K Sampson RAAF: "12:55, Sighted Eire merchant vessel Kerlogue in 50°03' north, 9°16' west. On course 240° at 8 knots (15 km/h)."[citation needed]
    • Two Mosquito planes, X and S, of No. 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron: "16:17, 48°55' north, 9°13' west. Sighted and attacked with cannon 1,500 ton merchant vessel flying French flag and word EMPO clearly discerned on starboard side - the word France also on her bows. The vessel, which returned fire with cannon without effect, was left circling with smoke issuing from it. Also a quantity of oil was seen surrounding the vessel and drifting away."[citation needed]
    (the unarmed Kerlogue was 335 gross tons, not 1,500)
    • Flying Officer C Clark RAAF: "18:05, Eire merchant vessel Kerlogue sighted in 49°49' north 9°11' west, steering 315° true at 5 knots (9.3 km/h). Circled merchant vessel, she flashed SOS and requested L to escort them as they had been attacked by aircraft and needed medical assistance for injured crew. Aircraft replied that escort could not be given and patrol was resumed"
  10. Kennedy, Michael (2008). Guarding Neutral Ireland. Dublin: Four Courts Press. pp. 253. 
  12. Oireachtas Debates, Seanad Éireann 27 April, 1994



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