SOS Really did Work
The “TECTUS” was a 65,000 ton dry bulk carrier bound from Denmark to South Africa, my wife
and I had joined her in Sonderjylland, Denmark 21st March 1984, together with the Captain and
several other Officers. Aabenraa was a typical immaculate Danish small town, the sort that puts
the UK to shame!
We had a day to enjoy the town and the people so we made the most of it.
On joining I found the “Sailor VHF” transceiver to the Radio room had been defective for some
time and I scheduled repairs for the first quiet spell at sea which did not occur till we were South
of the Canaries.
After the morning watch that day then the afternoon was set aside for maintenance and the
Sailor VHF Radio, so after lunch off I went to the radio room to get started.
As was the norm the Automatic Alarm system was monitoring the distress frequency of 500 khz
outside normal watch-keeping hours but never-the-less I put the main receiver on that same
frequency too as was also the norm. I had spent some time fault-finding and had narrowed the
VHF fault down to within a whisker of identifying what was wrong when the morse signal
SOS SOS SOS CQ CQ CQ DE ETC
(SOS All stations this is) suddenlly came blasting through the main receiver, a quick mental check
of the position given against our noon position and I guessed we were some 15 or so miles away-
- it later turned out to be 12.5 miles away when the second mate checked it on the chart.
A Ghanaian ship had spotted a lifeboat from a Spanish fishing boat and picked up six survivors.
The fishing boat had sunk the previous evening after an engine room fire and explosion.
Eighteen hours in the open boat had not done the survivors much good and the rescuing
Ghanaian ship was taking them helter-skelter to port for medical treatment.
However there were another six personnel not accounted for!
All this information was passed to the Captain, whilst on the way to the bridge.
The Captain started search procedures there and then.
NO autoalarm signal had been sent so we were the only other ship aware of the situation and
searching as the Ghanaian ship was leaving the area.
I contacted Las Palmas radio and became the link between the search area and Las palmas Radio
which then became the controlling Coast Radio Station and also with the search Helicopter sent
out from the Canaries to assist with the search.
The buzz quickley ran around the ship with most off-duty hands turning out as lookouts.
The wives abandoned sun-bathing duties and joined the lookout squad with my wife also giving
me a running commentary as to what was happening out on deck.
I was grateful for this as I was stuck in the Radio Room and the bridge had decided it was far too
busy to keep me posted on what they were up to.
Eventually, I heard squeels from the girls outside, an inflatable liferaft had been spotted and we
were altering course towards it, about the same time, via Las Palmas radio the SAR Helicopter
had advised they had spotted three bodies in the water and requested we pick them up.
Before I had a chance to pass the dread news to the bridge, someone in the liferaft was spotted
waving , then two more heads appeared out of the canopy so, with the six already aboard the
other ship, our three in the liferaft and the three unfortunate victims reported by the Helicopter all
personnel were accounted for.
I was pleased to advise the Helicopter that we had found three live ones and were concentrating
on recovering them first!
We recovered the three guys from the liferaft, one of whom turned out to be the fishing boat
Skipper (together with their delapidated liferaft) and found them to be in better condition than
was reported of the six other survivors on the Ghanaian ship, plus they were understanably
jubilant at their rescue and enjoyed the hospitality of the crew which was, needless to say,
We did search for the three bodies without luck and with light failing so that the search was
abandoned, but we had rescued three guys and that alone was good enough for us, putting us
all on a high for a few days afterwards.
That day I felt that I had really achieved something and it certainly made up for those fruitless
“man overboard” searches that left you feeling so empty and guilty for sailing away when a
search had to be abandoned, that was the worst feeling and invariably drove the ship into
depression for a while.
The next day it took just ten more minutes to locate that pesky fault on the VHF and probably
another thirty minutes to complete the repair, but was I ever glad that I had picked that particular
afternoon to start the repairs and was around to receive the SOS that led to the rescue of those
three Spanish Fishermen.
I often wonder how long those guys would have been in their liferaft had I not done so!
SOS, together with good radio watchkeeping practice, certainly worked that day!
Mike G. Ridehalgh
Japan first built small Landing Craft in the 1930’s but the first deepsea going LST (Landing Ship Tank) were three
small British built tankers converted in about 1940. The first purpose designed landing ship like the “Empire Gull”
(above) were built as a direct aftermath of the WW11 Dunkirk evacuations of troops from France 26th May to 3rd
June 1940 where many thousands of men were saved but a great deal of equipment were lost.
This made it obvious that ships were needed capable of transferring both men and machines onto and off beaches
and the LST concept came into being.
Sir Winston Churchill met with President Roosevelt in August 1941 and it was decided to hand the rough
requirement specifications over to the American bureaux of shipping who inturn engaged American John Niedemair
to design the vessels .
He produced initial drawings by November 1941 and had conducted model testing at the “David Taylor” research
facilities in Washington by January 1942.
The first keel was laid in June 1942 and completed by October 1942---less than 12 months from concept--such was
the urgency that these vessels were required.
Early ships were diesel powered but only had a sevice speed of 8.5 knots and a maximum of about 10 knots.
The later ships (as pictured above), had two triple expansion steam engines and had a service speed of 10.5 to 11
knots and a reported maximum speed of 14 knots. The basic design made them very adaptable for other than
landing duties, conversion was easy to submarine mother and repair vessels, hospital ships, offshore command ships
and research vessels (notably the LST(Q) HMS Ben Lomond) which conducted infamous Bubonic Plague tests off the
UK NorthWest coasts).
Others had the accomodation offset for use as a mini aircraft carrier with light spotter and recognisance aircraft.
The ships saw WW11 service in North Africa, the Mediteranean European landings, the Normandy beaches,
throughout the American Pacific campaign, then later in Korea, Suez, Malta, Aden, the Arabian gulf, Borneo and the
Most significantly British Lt. Colonel Frank Bustand saw their ability to be used as “Roll On” and “Roll Off” ferries,
established the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company, using seven LST’s on charter from the MOD and started a North
Sea ferry service leading directly to the concept and design of today’s modern ferries everyone of which has an LST
in there somewhere!
So the world’s Merchant ferry fleets are a direct result of John Niedermair’s original design ideas!
The replacement LSL (Landing ship--Logistics) came into service 1963/4 and one, the LST “Sir Galahad” was to be
bombed and burnt out many years later in the Falklands conflict.
Mike G. Ridehalgh
THE LST SHIPS
FORT PERCH ROCK MARINE RADIO MUSEUM
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