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To Talabot on the "Ships starting with T" page.
Manager: Wilh. Wilhelmsen, Tønsberg
Launched by A/B Götaverken, Gothenburg (Yard No. 492) on Nov. 5-1935. Completed March 20-1936.
Please compare the above voyages with Arnold Hague's Voyage Record below.
(Received from Don Kindell - His source: The late Arnold Hague's database).
Follow the convoy links provided for more information on each.
Errors may exist, and as can be seen, the record is incomplete.
Judging from the information found on Page 1 of the archive documents, it looks like Talabot was on her way to Norway when war broke out there on Apr. 9-1940, but was diverted to Liverpool, eventually arriving there, via various other ports, on June 3 (it'll be noticed that she had spent a month in Bombay). She remained in Liverpool for over 3 weeks, before proceeding to Cristobal and Brisbane. (Her 1941 voyages also start on this document and as can be seen she also had a long stay in Sydney at the beginning of that year as well as at Suez and Alexandria that spring - see the narrative below).
Early in Jan.-1941, 150 German bombers had been stationed on Sicily. Jan. 10 saw the beginning of heavy bombardments of Malta which lasted for several months, with the result that the island was practically isolated from the rest of the world and in desperate need of supplies.
According to Page 1, Talabot had been to Fremantle and Sydney in Jan.-1941, sailing from Sydney to Aden at the end of that month, with arrival Aden on Febr. 23. She left Aden again the next day in order to sail to Suez, where she arrived on March 1. (For this voyage, A. Hague has included her in Convoy BN 17, which had been dispersed Febr. 27 - link within Voyage Record - the Norwegian Corona, Lyder Sagen, Tonjer and Wilford are also named). From Suez, she headed to Port Said and Haifa, then back to Port Said and on to Alexandria, with arrival there Apr. 9.
Together with the Danish Amerika (under MoWT control), the British Settler and the Norwegian Thermopylæ, she left Alexandria again on May 6, arriving Malta on May 9; see link to Convoy MW 7A in the table above. 2 other ships, because they were somewhat slower at 12 knots, had started out the previous day, namely the Norwegian Svenør and Høegh Hood (Convoy MW 7B - external link); they also arrived Malta on May 9. Please continue now to my page about Høegh Hood and/or my page about Thermopylæ for more information on this, the subsequent long stay at Malta and the dangerous return voyage (Operation Substance). The pages will open in a new window; see also the external links at the end of this page. All the ships mentioned above, including Talabot, are listed in Convoy MG 1A, which left Malta on July 23-1941 and arrived Gibraltar on the 27th - again, please see my page about Høegh Hood.
The Danish/British Amerika, and Norwegian Thermopylæ and Talabot are also included in Convoy HG 34FA, departing Gibraltar on Aug. 6, arriving Liverpool on the 14th - the Norwegian ships, however, were bound for New York, arriving there on Aug. 15, according to Page 1. This convoy is not available among the HG convoys included in my own Convoys section, but I've linked directly to Hague's listing for it in the table above.
Talabot's subsequent voyages are shown on Page 2 of the archive documents.
The supplies to Malta, which was held by the British but cut off from the rest of the world, continued to be more crucial than ever at the end of 1941 and early 1942, and Talabot was just one of several Norwegian ships taking part in the dangerous voyages to this area. Like many other Norwegian ships, she also had a female crew member, who chose to stay on in spite of being well acquainted with the dangers involved in the Malta voyages, the so called "suicide convoys".
Talabot had arrived Alexandria from Haifa on March 3-1942. Together with the British Clan Campbell, Pampas and Breconshire she left Alexandria with general cargo on March 20, joining Convoy MW 10 (link within Voyage Record). The next morning, they were between Crete and Tobruk, surrounded by Admiral Vian's cruisers Cleopatra, Dido, Euryalus and Carlisle, as well as 16 destroyers (a Norwegian source adds 20 warships - the external website mentioned above also names Fleet Destroyers HMS Jervis, Hasty, Havoc, Hero, Kingston, Kipling, Kelvin, Lively, Sikh, Zulu, and six Hunt Class destroyer escort). They were spotted that afternoon by a German reconnaissance aircraft, with the result that the Italian Admiral Iachino headed out with the battleship Littorio, the cruisers Gorizia, Trento, Giovanni Delle Bande Nere and 10 destroyers, with the aim to intercept and eliminate the 4 ships. In the morning of March 22, the cruiser Penelope and another destroyer (Legion?) joined the British escort. Admiral Vian, though aware of the Italian battle force, had decided to press on*. A battle ensued, but when it was over and Iachino retreated, the merchants were still intact, though 3 of Admiral Vian's ships were damaged.
The 4 ships were now ordered to proceed independently, escorted by a couple of destroyers. Talabot and Pampas reached Malta, but enemy aircraft were now swarming towards Valetta. Out at sea, Clan Campbell went down and Breconshire was wrecked. While the inhabitants of Malta were still cheering for the two arriving ships at Grand Harbour, the air attacks started, and continued all through the subsequent discharging of cargoes. During one of the attacks on Valetta on March 26, Pampas was hit and set on fire, and a bomb detonated in Talabot's engine room, the resulting fire spreading quickly to the ammunition and other flammable cargo not yet unloaded. In an effort to get this cargo below the waterline, Captain Toft made the difficult decision to blow a big hole in his ship and let her fill with water. More details can be found in the captain's story below.
Talabot had unloaded a cargo at Haifa on March 1-1942 (again, see also Page 2), and was taken over on charter to the British Sea Transport Department that day and ordered by them to proceed to Alexandria to take on a new cargo for an "undisclosed destination". She left Haifa on March 2 escorted by a corvette, anchoring in Alexandria roads the next afternoon, then proceeded in the following day, March 4. Once there, even though the captain was told they would depart with sealed orders, the destination didn't remain secret for very long, as crates marked MALTA in large letters appeared on the quay next to the ship.
Loading commenced on March 7 and by March 19 she had taken on board 600 tons ammunition, 600 tons benzine, 200 tons paraffin and 880 tons coal, as well as wheat and flour. The captain requested, and received, extra armament for this voyage, and 4 Breda guns were installed, 2 on the forecastle and 2 on the bridge. The ship also had a 4" anti submarine gun, 3 machine guns, 2 rocket parachute guns (soldiers also brought with them machine guns, 5 of which were placed in position). He also got 6 extra British gunners, 4 signalmen and a liaison officer who had in his possession the Navy's secret signalbooks, and the escort consisted of "what was left" of the British Mediterranean fleet, commanded by Admiral Phillip L. Vian (of former Cossack / Altmark / Jøssingfjord fame). On board were also 21 officers, 29 soldiers and 3 Navy signallers as passengers, all of whom were distributed for various tasks during the crossing. He says that when they departed that Friday, March 20-1942 each of the 4 ships in the convoy had the exact same cargo, so that even if one or more didn't make it, the desperate islanders would still get a little of everything.
At the beginning of the voyage they were escorted by 8 cruisers and destroyers, but little by little several more joined them, until the escort consisted of 18 warships (this is 2 less than in my text above). Everything went well until the morning of March 22, when dive bombers and torpedo aircraft attacked. All of Talabot's guns were in use that morning, then there was a pause in the attacks until about 14:00 when the main attack came. 5 attacks took place with Talabot as target, the bombs raining around her, some exploding very close to the side of the ship. At about 4 o'clock that afternoon the admiral signalled that enemy surface vessels had been spotted, and that the escorts were going to attack, then left after having protected the merchants with a smoke screen. 6 destroyers were now accompanying the convoy. An hour later, Talabot was again attacked by aircraft, 6 Stukas, resulting in an injured gunner and signalman, and at the same time the captain spotted a torpedo aircraft coming in extremely low, but he says no torpedo was dropped, though the plane narrowly missed the ship with one of its wings, closely followed by the shells from Talabot's Breda guns, until it crashed in the sea about 100 meters away. While all this was going on, they could still hear the sounds of the naval battle taking place out of their view to the north of them, and some projectiles were seen to strike the water close by them.
At 7 o'clock, the Commodore signalled for them to steer in a true 260° course for 2 hours, then follow the instructions in "Operation B", and when Captain Toft broke the seal of the envelope containing the instructions for this operation he learned that each ship was to continue independently to Malta at maximum speed, with 1 destroyer as initial escort; another arrived later. The night was quiet, but as soon as day dawned they were attacked by bombers again. The night before, a damaged destroyer had come alongside Talabot, and this provided some extra protection so that together they managed to keep the aircraft at bay. Also, 2 British fighter planes appeared at this time to help in the defense. When another group of aircraft showed up just before they reached Grand Harbour they just waved and smiled, assuming they were friendly aircraft, but they were wrong. Intense firing ensued, but again they avoided being hit. At 09:45, the pilot came on board, but they were not made fast until around 5 that afternoon (23rd), all the while enduring continuous air attacks. Lighters were placed from the ship to the quay to be used as gangways for the stevedores and crew to go to the shelters during attacks.
They unloaded cargo for 2 days, constantly interruped by attacks. On the 3rd day, the bombing started very early in the morning and increased in intensity as the day went on. At noon, 300 Stukas came out of Sicily and turned the harbour into a flaming inferno. The captain says they were in a shelter in the harbour at about 14:00 when he saw Talabot being hit by a bomb. He stormed out of the shelter in order to get to his beloved ship, barely being missed by a bomb, whereupon the engineer dragged him back into the shelter, but wild horses couldn't keep him in. Examinations showed that the bomb had hit Talabot on the port side of the boatdeck, had gone straight through the electrician's cabin, the shelterdeck and main deck, and had exploded in the engine room where a fire had started. All the cabins had been blown to pieces by the sheer force, another bomb had hit just outside the side of the ship, and in hold No. 1 the contents had been tossed around and dropped helter skelter.
The captain now goes on to describe how he frantically set about arranging for assistance and equipment to extinguish the raging fire on board, but although all kinds of methods were put to use nothing seemed to stop the spreading flames, which were soon endangering holds No. 3 and 4, holding bombs and torpedoes. Additionally, their efforts were hampered by the air attacks which continued with full force.
After a while, Captain Toft realized he had no choice but to ask a cruiser located on the other side to shoot a hole in the side of the ship and into the engine room so that it would fill with water. At the same time the surrounding area was evacuated, as there was imminent danger of Talabot blowing up. Word came from the cruiser that no such hole could be shot without permission from the admiral. Shortly thereafter a message was received from the admiral that he could not give such an order, but he could put explosives at the captain's disposal, as well as all the assistance he would possibly require, but he himself had to do the job. Meanwhile, the fire had spread to hold No. 1 where the benzine was stowed. The explosives arrived, Captain Toft went to his cabin to collect some personal effects; pictures of his wife and children, his diary etc. before leaving the ship. By then the deck was so hot that "it sputtered under the soles of my shoes".
The next morning Talabot was a total wreck, but the water level was well above the cases of ammunition so there was no longer any danger of an explosion. On March 27 the Norwegian flag was lowered and the British naval flag put up. 2 days later Talabot's men (and 1 woman) were ordered to sail for the U.K. on the British cruiser Aurora. The captain ends his story by saying: "One incident I shall never forget. Just before I was about to leave the ship for the last time, our brave little messgirl Margit suddenly came up to me. It was in the middle of an air attack and she was holding the ship's frightened little cat. Neither the cat nor we could accomplish any more. We were the last to disembark - Margit, the cat and I". (Margit Johnsen was from Ålesund, and got the honourable nickname "Malta-Margit". She had also experienced the sinking of M/S Tudor).
According to Arendal's Seamen's Association's 150th Anniversary Book (Kristen Taraldsen), Leutenant Denis Copperwheat of HMS Penelope had volunteered to place the explosives on Talabot, following Captain Toft's instructions. The book adds that Leutenant Copperwheat went down in a diver's suit and cut several openings in the side of Talabot, thereby enabling the removal of bombs etc; everything, including 16 torpedoes, was taken ashore undamaged. Denis Copperwheat later received the "George Cross" for this action.
Captain Toft went on to become one of the most highly decorated officers in the Norwegian Merchant Fleet. He was also awarded the British "Order of the British Empire" and "Lloyd's War Medal for Bravery at Sea" for his actions at Valetta (my page about Nyholt has a description of the latter, as well as names of others who received this medal). As mentioned at the beginning of this page, he later took command of Temeraire.
George Monk, England has sent me some information about awards - his source: Seedies List of awards to the British Merchant Navy which includes awards to Allied merchant seamen.
Ungazetted awards to the following:
Chief Engineer Kjell Larsen - Hon OBE (Civ) = "Honour of the British Empire"
Crew List - No Casualties:
He says their job was to make sure that no convoy reached Malta, no matter what the cost, and the costs were high. He later found out that every pilot in his squadron Junkers 87 and 88 died in the "horrible war"; he himself was an observer and only took part in a few of the attacks. With regard to the attacks just before Easter 1942 on the 4 ship Malta convoy he states that the pilots had reached such a state of nervousness, that they needed more than the usual moral support. Hübner himself was 25 years old at the time, but most of the pilots were 20. "Biondo", the blonde Erich from Frankfurt had just turned 18. Hübner says the very young leutenant Steyersepp came to him, pale and red-eyed after having commanded 1st Squadron for 2 weeks. All his predecessors had been shot down over Malta and he was really worried, with a strong premonition this would be his last flight. Hübner promised to come along, for luck, and they went to the commando room where an officer and the general were preparing the raid of the day, with a large map in front of them. At that time the convoy had already received heavy damages, but 2 supply ships had escaped the latest attack and were heading for Grand Harbour (this of course, would have been Talabot and Pampas), and they "had to be sunk, no matter what the cost". With this order, they took off.
Another pilot is mentioned in this account, referred to as "Torpedo"-Damasche, the reason for this nickname is unclear. The name Sepp is mentioned, possibly another pilot, or a nickname for Steyersepp(?). Brief impressions and memories from the raid are described, feeling like "a blind man at the edge of a cliff", the freezing coldness of the aircraft, seeing their goals; a large supply vessel followed by another, the stony expression on Sepp's face and the sweat on his brow, the sun and Malta's brown cliffs, the cruisers and the destroyers and the flashes from the fire below, their own bombs falling too short of their targets and the 2 Spitfires chasing them back into the clouds, to return to Trapani on their last liter of petrol. 4 of their best pilots did not return, among them "Torpedo"-Damasche, the happy one.
Hübner describes subsequent, massive attacks, 100's of aircraft each time. He remembers little details with great clarity; a man on a bicycle on the open area in front of the governor's palace, dashing into a narrow ally, clusters of people looking up at the aircraft, the flashes from the guns on the cruiser and the illuminated faces of the gunners. He says they were greatly impressed by their accuracy and courage. Both supply vessels were eventually sunk, but a few weeks later they learned that the ships had nevertheless managed to do their job; their cargo of bombs had been unloaded, then placed on aircraft which in turn came over Trapani airport and dropped them on the Germans there, causing great damage.
I've been told that Talabot was refloated in March-1949, towed out to deep water and scuttled, however, it looks like this information is incorrect. This posting to my Ship Forum states the following:
I don't think that this is right. In Bonnici & Cassar's "The Malta Grand Harbour and its Dockyard" (Valletta 1994) is written:
"TALABOT sank at her berth, but her main deck being just visible beneath the surface. After the war her hull was cut up on the spot but a section of her double bottom was not recovered; another four decades had to elapse before the TALABOT was finally put to rest."
"[In 1946] TALABOT was cut down to the double bottom but a sizeable section was left on the seabed; whether this was deliberate or a shortcoming on the salvager's part is not known."
"As the new Crucifix Wharf neared completion it was imperative to clear the central fairway of remaining wartime wreckage and unexploded ordnance.... For a while there was disagreement between the Maltese and British Governments over methods and means and the USSR sent the salvage tug AMETIST to survey the wrecks. The dispute was eventually resolved and Royal Navy divers assisted in the recovery of the heaviest item of all - part of the double bottom of the TALABOT. The Dutch TAKLIFT 1 lifted the remnant on July 26 1985. It was towed to the Menqa for demolition."
"The climax of the entire operation came on Friday July 26 1985 when part of the double bottom of TALABOT weighing about 500 tons was brought to the surface. The double bottom had been identified earlier on and 20 Maltese and 5 Royal Navy divers removed excess mud and passed steel wires underneath it before lifting could commence. A number of 250lb bombs and 4-inch gun shells were found. the lifting job was entrusted to the Durch sheerlegs TAKLIFT 1..... When the double bottom reached the surface, onlookers were disappointed - they had expected something remotely resembling a ship not what seemed like a huge platform! After the remnant was towed to the Menqa for demolition, the ghost of TALABOT was finally laid to rest and Crucifix Wharf opened to shipping."
External links related to the text on this page:
Back to Talabot on the "Ships starting with T" page.
Wilh. Wilhelmsen had 6 ships by this name through the years, this was the second one. The first Talabot (1887-1905, built Newcastle 1881) was the first steamship in the fleet and originated the "T" nomenclature. Lost Sept.-1914, voyage Grangemouth-Gefle.