BBC Says Record dive rescues $50m wartime silver from ocean floor


 passenger ship SS City of Cairo owned by Ellerman Line circa 1939

Sunk on 6 Nov 1942 by U-68 under the commmand of Korvettenkapitän Karl-Friedrich Merten. (Photo from



“A British-led team has recovered a $50m (£34m; €47m) trove of silver coins that has lain on the seabed since the steamship carrying it from Bombay to England was sunk in 1942.

The SS City of Cairo was torpedoed 772km (480 miles) south of St Helena by a German U-boat and sank to 5,150m.

The 100 tonnes of coins, recovered in the deepest salvage operation in history, belonged to HM Treasury.

The silver rupees had been called in by London to help fund the war effort.

But they never made it. The steamship’s tall plume of smoke was spotted by a U-boat on 6 November 1942 and it was torpedoed.

The remainder of the article is here:


Info on SS City of Cairo and her sinking from

Type: Steam passenger ship
Tonnage 8,034 tons
Completed 1915 – Earle’s Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd, Hull
Owner Ellerman Lines Ltd, London
Homeport: Liverpool
Date of attack 6 Nov 1942 Nationality: British

Fate Sunk by U-68 (Karl-Friedrich Merten)
Position 23° 30’S, 5° 30’W – Grid GF 3811
Complement 311 (104 dead and 207 survivors).
Convoy Route Bombay (1 Oct) – Durban – Capetown (1 Nov) – Pernambuco, Brazil – UK
Cargo 7422 tons of general cargo, including pig iron, timber, wool, cotton, manganese ore and 2000 boxes silver coins
History: Completed in January 1915.
On 1 Nov 1942 the City of Cairo (Master William A. Rogerson) left Capetown with 150 passengers, of whom nearly a third were women and children and followed the African coast until she reached a longitude of 23°30S, where she turned westward across the South Atlantic. She was unescorted, only capable of 12 knots and her engines burned smokily. On 6 November, the smoke trail was sighted by U-68 and at 21.36 hours one torpedo struck the City of Cairo. The master gave order to abandon ship and all the women and children left the ship safely, only six people were lost in the evacuation. Merten fired a second torpedo after 20 minutes, which caused the ship to sink by the stern about 450 miles south of St. Helena. Then U-68 questioned the survivors in the six overcrowded lifeboats and left the area.

The survivors were over 1000 miles from the African coast, and twice as far from South America. Because of their limited supplies, they set sail for St. Helena. The survivors calculated that they should reach St. Helena in two to three weeks and rationed the drinking water accordingly. Everyone was limited to 110 milliliters a day, even though they were exposed to tropical heat. Over the course of the next three weeks, some of the boats were found by other ships, but others disappeared. 79 crew members, three gunners and 22 passengers were lost. The master and 154 survivors were picked up by the Clan Alpine and landed on St. Helena. 47 survivors were picked up by the British steam merchant Bendoran and landed at Capetown.

One boat with 17 people on board had calculated that they reach St. Helena on 20 November, but by the 23, several were already dead and the island was still not in sight. They were certain that they must have missed St. Helena and, rather than circle around in a vain attempt to discover it, they decided to head west to the coast of South America, which they knew to be a further 1500 miles distant.

On 27 December, after a voyage of 51 days, two exhausted survivors (third officer J. Whyte and passenger Margaret Gordon) were picked up by Caravelas (C 5), only 80 miles off the coast and landed at Recife. The third officer was awarded the MBE and was repatriated on City of Pretoria, but died when this ship was sunk by U-172 (Emmermann) on 4 March 1943. The woman was awarded the BEM and refused to cross the Atlantic until the war was over.

Three survivors were picked up by the German blockade runner Rhakotis (Kapitän z.S. Jacobs) on a voyage from Japan to Bordeaux. On 1 Jan 1943 the ship was torpedoed and sunk by HMS Scylla (98) (Capt I.A.P. Macintyre, CBE, DSO, RN) about 200 miles northwest of Cape Finisterre. One of the survivors from City of Cairo died. The remaining two men were picked up by U-410 (Sturm) and landed as prisoners at St. Nazaire three days later.

These two men must have had one hell of a story to tell.

Badly Wounded Often Exchanged in World War Two

Excerpts from account of wounding and repatriation by Bill Williams of 50th Royal Tank Regiment from the BBC. The entire piece is here.

“At the end of the action (during which his tank was destroyed in an attack in Sicily July, 1943), I was collected by the German troops with one other survivor. They called, ‘Come, Tommy’… I could not raise my left arm and shouted ‘Wounded!’, which fortunately is similar to the German word and we were taken in to their lines.The soldiers were quite friendly… and took me to the dressing station where my wounds were treated….

Account of Bill Williams of 50th Royal Tank Regiment from

(Fast forward 18 months to January of 1945)

I was sent to an assembly area for repatriation, where I found quite a lot of Americans and Commonwealth troops.. After a few days we were loaded on to a train which took us through Germany to the Swiss border…. When we reached the border, a train the other direction with German wounded crossed the border at the same time.

Our guards were taken off and replaced by Swiss nurses who looked after us until we reached Marseilles where a hospital ship was waiting to take us to England. We landed at Liverpool and trained to a hospital at Loch Neigh which was rather a gloomy old place but it was home!” 


Below is an account from a British Merchant Marine officer about his wartime voyage through German waters to Sweden.



SS Arundel Castle which sailed from time to time during World War Two from Liverpool with her British merchant crew through the Baltic to Sweden to embark badly wounded British soldiers.

It seems odd that in the middle of total war between the Allies and Nazi Germany, that such formalities as exchanging badly wounded prisoners-of-war were not only negotiated but carried out. British Merchant Marine officer Peter Guy, cited in Convoy: Merchant Sailors At War 1939-1945 by P. Kaplan and J. Currie , describes an exchange which occurred in the late December of 1944.

He was aboard the British merchant ship Arundel Castle and their destination was Goteborg, in neutral Sweden where the exchange would take place.

“We were granted safe passage, and it was a treat to have portholes open and lights showing. On Christmas Eve 1944, we lay off Gibraltar after embarking the Germans at Marseilles, and everyone who was able gathered on the deck to sing a grand selection of carols….Later we passed through a narrow channel in the Skaggerak into the Baltic, and we could see the faces of the German gunners looking down on us from their gun positions. They weren’t impressed when some of our crew gave the V-sign. Arriving at Goteborg, we were surprised to get a welcome from a German brass band playing on the quayside…The saddest part was when close on a hundred of our lads who had lost their sight were led up the gangway. The exchange was all over in about three hours and we sailed home to Liverpool.”

It is important to note that both Norway and Denmark were occupied by the Germans at this time so the German gunners he refers to are stationed in those countries.


[Images courtesy of Wikimedia and Wayne Ray & the Windfield Photographic Collection and Archives) 


Nemesis: Admiral Sir Max Horton and the Defeat of the U-Bootwaffe, Part Two


The Admiral Who Won the Battle of the Atlantic,  Defeated the U-Boat Menace, and Played Golf Every Day.


(c) National Maritime Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton, RN (1883–1951)

Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, Distinguished Service Order & two bars, Legion of Merit from the United States of America, Order of St George,  Board of Trade Medal for Saving Life at Sea, Légion d’honneur, Croix de Guerre; Order of St. Vladimir, Order of St. Anna, Order of St. Stanislaus; Order of Orange-Nassau, Order of St. Olaf.

(the painting is oil on canvass by Arthur Douglas Wales-Smith. Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum.)


After years of loss, of ships sunk, men killed, of unrelenting vigilance and ceaseless patrol kept in all weathers, Western Approaches Command defeats the U-Bootwaffe. 

The following sequence of photos show U-249 surrendering to the Royal Navy. One can only imagine the relief felt by Sir Max and everyone else. It was over and they had won.




After surrendering at sea to HMS Magpie and Amethyst on 9 May 1945, U-249 was escorted to Weymouth Bay and met by the Boom Defense Vessel HMS Northlyn where Commander N.P. Weir and a contingent of Polish sailors boarded and accepted the boat’s surrender.





Oberleutnant Kock, the kommandant, and his officers talk with Polish sailors as the boarding officer Commander Weir looks on.





Polish sailors board the boat and take charge of the German crew mustered on the foredeck. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)



Since Poland was the first country Hitler actually attacked and since the Germans regarded the Poles as Untermenschen or “inferior peoples” who deserved to die, it must have been humiliating to have Polish sailors board the U-Boat which is probably why the Royal Navy ordered them to take the surrender.





Oberleutnant Kock turns away from Commander Weir after signing the surrender papers – The UZO torpedo aiming device with binoculars attached can be seen between the two men. (Note that Kock is wearing his officer’s cap with a white cover, the non-regulation, but traditional cap worn only on a U-Boot by the boat by the Kommandant.)

(Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)


On 30 August 1939, two days prior to the German attack on Poland, the Polish Navy ordered three destroyers to sail for Great Britain. Those ships were designated OORP (ship of the Republic of Poland). Their allegiance was to the Polish government in exile in London and not the puppet regime in exile set up by Stalin.

It is worth remembering that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of non-aggression and friendship and a secret codicil to that treaty specified they would divide Poland between them once the Germans attacked. And they did.

Blyskawica (Lightning), Grom (Thunder) and Burza (Tempest) reached Scotland by 1 September 1939. It would be years before these men had any contact with home or family or loved ones.

From the following website which has lots of info of the Polish Navy serving with the Royal Navy in World War Two:

“Two submarines later joined the Polish naval force. The submarine ORP Wilk (Wolf) reached Rosyth on the 20th September 1939, its commander Boguslaw Krawczyk, being the first Polish Navy officer to receive the DSO. The Wilk and Orzel (Eagle) after refitting were assigned to the 2nd Submarine Flotilla based at Rosyth. The Orzel became well known to the British public on account of its daring escape from the port of Tallin in Esthonia, which Churchill described as ‘epic’.”

Polish ships remained under Polish command as well as remaining warships of the Republic of Poland while integrated into the Royal Navy. As the war went on, many of the early ships were lost. These were replaced by ships transferred to Polish Navy ownership by the British Royal Navy.

“A total of 2 cruisers, 6 destroyers, 3 submarines and 8 Motor Torpedo Boats were transferred to the Polish Navy during the War. “

 The Polish Navy served with immense gallantry alongside the Royal Navy.


 ORP Burza 3

 Polish Navy destroyer Burza which served with the Royal Navy.


(photo courtesy of

Nemesis: Admiral Sir Max Horton and the Defeat of the U-Bootwaffe

Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz lost the most critical battle of World War Two: the Battle of the Atlantic. As an admiral he was second-rate at best, incompetent at worst. As a strategist and a tactician he was uninformed and tunnel minded. Morally, he was a weak man of the lowest character. Why? As one of the top leaders of Nazi Germany, he was well aware of the foul deeds being committed by the Third Reich including the cold blooded murder of European Jewry. At Nuremberg, he perjured himself almost every time he spoke.

Admiral Sir Max Horton RN

Today Dönitz continues to be well known, even admired by some, while the man who bested him, his nemesis in the Battle of the Atlantic, is hardly known at all. That man was an English admiral, Sir Max Horton, perhaps the greatest fighting admiral produced by Great Britain in the 20th Century and one of the most important Allied commanders in the entire Second World War.

He wasn’t the nicest man in the world, Sir Max. Ruthless, indifferent to anyone’s feelings, “as hard as nails and close as a clam.” A man so self absorbed he barely knew the names of his staff officers. A know it all. A driver. Aloof. Vain. Blunt to the point of rudeness. “…a staff officer reported that a certain cruiser had been lost, and that his son was on board. Horton instinctively replied, ‘Yes, but what happened to the ship?” If he had any friends, inside of the Royal Navy or out, no one knew who they were. Yet as a fighting admiral he was one of the best — bold and daring, inspiring those who served under him with his confidence, his knowledge, and his unshakeable belief in victory.

In his outstanding memoir, Escort, Commander D.A. Rayner, RNVR, a very successful escort captain in Western Approaches Command and one of Horton’s favorites, writes:

…Max Horton’s own staff regarded him as something less than God but more than Man. If they had not done so they would have found themselves relieved. He had more personal charm than any man I ever met, but he could be unbelievably cruel to those who fell by the wayside.

Western Approaches Plaque in Liverpool

From 17 November 1942 to 15 August 1945, Admiral Sir Max Horton was known by the innocent sounding acronym: CINCWA (sinkwa), Commander in Chief, Western Approaches — the largest operational command in the entire Royal Navy — over 121,000 men and women with over 300 escort ships. So why had Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself put Sir Max at the head of the most important command in the Royal Navy? Because CINCWA commanded all British forces contesting German U-Boats for control of the North Atlantic — the most critical battle of the war.

And the British were losing. Ship after ship being sunk by U-Boats — an average of four merchant ships each and every day by the winter of 1942/1943. By March, the United Kingdom had only a three week supply of food. Unless they could receive the goods being sent over the seas from America, Great Britain would be forced to surrender.

In a gray month, in a gray time, Sir Max came to Derby House in Liverpool, to a top secret command bunker built several years before on Churchill’s orders. It is now a museum. In the beginning, few liked the man — and that was the high point of his popularity. Not that Max cared. Desperate times call for ruthless men. You had served with him in the past? Perhaps as a young officer in the Great War? That mattered for nothing. If you weren’t up to snuff, Sir Max sent you packing. He rid Western Approaches Command of “incompetents – of whom there were plenty…”said one of his best seagoing escort captains, Commander Peter Gretton.

Wrens in Training

Just a few days after he walked through the guarded steel door of the bunker, everyone throughout the command began to feel the dragon’s breath. Sir Max inspected, asked questions. Lots of questions. If you didn’t know the answer, you were out. Dockyard superintendents slow getting work done; supply officers who could not get organized; escort captains not aggressive enough; training officers who didn’t know enough? They were dismissed. All of them. Immediately. On the spot. This did not happen gradually. It happened in the first few months and kept on happening if anyone slacked off.

No matter what one’s assignment, Sir Max impressed on each and every man and woman in his command that they had but one goal: bring the convoys safely through the wolf-packs in the North Atlantic by sinking U-Boats. Sir Max focused everyone on this goal. Nothing else mattered. And one of the best ways to sink U-Boats was by ceaselessly training the men and the women who comprised Western Approaches Command. No matter what task you performed, you could perform it better. Escort captains went to a special school. Anti-aircraft gunners trained in realistic simulation booths created by the British motion picture industry. Individuals were sent to one course after another. Entire escort groups were pulled out of the battle and trained and trained till they could not only execute every command, but correctly anticipate every command. Training, training, and more training. Realistic training. Everyone one cursed him for it.

Officers and ratings began to call him “Der Fuhrer.” And they came up with a slogan, parroted by all, “Max knows everything. Max knows everything.” And he did — or most of it anyway. He was the most competent, most informed, most knowledgeable, and most experienced officer in the Royal Navy. He knew it and so did everyone else.

If you commanded an escort ship, don’t tell Sir Max that a U-Boat got away from you because of some surprise maneuver. Sir Max knew everything about submarines — more than anyone in the Royal Navy and more than most in the German Navy. Max had begun his career in the Royal Navy in submarines, at a time when they were just curiosities. In 1914, the beginning of World War One, a young Max Horton had sunk the first capital ship ever sent to the bottom by a submarine.

Admiral Sir Max Horton (left) while serving in the Baltic

Don’t tell Sir Max that when your engine broke down in the North Atlantic it took eight hours to fix. Max knew how long it took to repair a ship’s engine. Unlike any other deck officer in the Royal Navy, Max knew all about engines. Mechanical things fascinated him. He could take an engine apart himself. He inspected engine rooms on ships and gave lessons to Royal Navy engineers.

Seamanship? Don’t tell Sir Max anything about that. He had been at sea since he was thirteen, served on vessels of every sort, and commanded vessels of every size in numbers ranging from one ship to a squadron. Max was one of the few men in the Royal Navy to command the battleship squadron of the British Home Fleet — ships he routinely trained to perform the most complex maneuvers — at full speed. At night. Radar had not yet been invented.

Torpedoes? When commanding the British submarine fleet before his tenure at Western Approaches, one of his submarine captains described a torpedo attack on a German ship. The attack had failed, the man said, because the torpedo had a faulty detonator and did not explode. Wrong. Max knew everything about torpedoes. Admit that what you said was rubbish he told the captain who brought him this story and the captain admitted it was rubbish. Sir Max had the torpedo blueprints brought to him. With the young captain, he worked through them to establish why the torpedo had failed to explode. And there was a fault, but not in the detonator. Orders went to the submarine fleet the next morning instructing them on what changes to make.

Radar? Gunnery? Aircraft? Unlike most officers of his generation, Max had realized their importance long before the war. He invited 15 Group of RAF Coastal Command — responsible for patrolling Western Approaches — to share his headquarters — and they did. Wanting to learn their job, Max spent many long and boring hours flying in Coastal Command aircraft to best understand how to deploy them. Attention like this from a senior officer was unusual. Coastal Command was the red-headed step-child of the RAF — the ‘Cinderella Service’ those within called it. While a part of the Royal Air Force, they were under the tactical command of the Royal Navy. It could have been a bureaucratic nightmare. It wasn’t because men like Max Horton made it work.

For many hours of the day and night, Sir Max stared at a plotting map which took up an entire wall of the very large operations room in his bunker and the map told him with up to the minute accuracy the location of every ship, every plane, and every convoy in his vast part of the ocean. All of this was kept up to date by several dozen Wrens (women in the Royal Navy) who climbed long ladders and moved the magnetic markers to their new positions. The ladders were so tall that one Wren slipped and fell to her death.


Operations Room at Derby House

Alongside those markers were placed the presumed location of every U-Boat, this last information clattering in unceasingly from the U-Boat tracking room in London which kept the plot of their best estimate of the location of every German U-Boat and information from the “Trade Plot” in London where a handful of retired Merchant Navy captains using index cards kept the plot with the position of every merchant ship in the world. Dönitz hadn’t anything remotely close to this type of organization. Could never even have dreamed the British and later the Americans would have this. But we did. It required immense effort, money, and a huge number of people. But it was done.

Convoy battles usually took place at night. After dinner, Sir Max would come into the plotting room and watch the action develop. Wrote one of his officers:

His words were always direct. ‘Where is…?’ ‘What is…?’ ‘Why is…?’ ‘Why the hell not?’ Then having grasped the situation, his decision would come in a flash…He seemed to have an uncanny prevision of what the enemy would do next, which came of course from his long experience in submarines.

If you were competent, if you knew your business, if you did it to your utmost, and if you would admit your mistakes and learn from them, then you could do no wrong with Sir Max. He would back you to the hilt. He brought men to the fore who had an instinctive feel for how to kill a U-Boat and they became famous for their exploits.

Sir Peter Gretton RN

Donald Macintyre RN

Frederick John “Johnnie” Walker RN

There was Sir Peter Gretton, one of the best escort commanders of the war, likewise ruthless, intolerant of the smallest error, and dismissive of most officers in the Royal Navy. But Sir Max knew his man. Gretton won the Battle of Convoy ONS 5 in May 1943, inflicting such damage on the U-Bootwaffe that Dönitz was forced to recall all U-Boats from the North Atlantic. True, Gretton lost ten merchant ships out of Convoy ONS 5, but his escorts sank five U-Boats, an unacceptable loss ratio for the Germans. (ONS 5: Outward Bound North Slow. The 5th convoy using this routing.)

There was Donald Macintyre, who captured Otto Kretschmer, and the greatest of all — Captain Frederick John “Johnnie” Walker — who had been passed over for promotion to captain in 1938, effectively ending his career. He was thought to be a little too keen, Walker was. Talked shop a bit much. And specialized of all things in anti-submarine tactics, hardly something which would be needed when war came — until war did come and it was desperately needed. “Johnnie” Walker sank more U-Boats, 14, than anyone and developed many of the successful anti-U-Boat tactics used by the Royal Navy. He died of a stroke on 9 July 1944 brought on by the intense stress of combat.

It says something of Admiral Horton that for his greatest captain, he arranged a funeral equivalent to the man’s deeds. Sailors drew the coffin, affixed to a gun carriage, through the crowded streets of Liverpool to the Cathedral. The coffin was escorted on foot by six Royal Navy captains, an unprecedented tribute and in another astonishing tribute, Sir Max himself delivered the eulogy.

When the war ended, Sir Max, who already had a long list of decorations, received even more. The one he valued the most? “Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit of the United States of America.” This was the highest decoration the United States could give to non-Americans and few received it.

Yet with all of his honors and awards and victories, dispatches and orders, even a cover story in Life Magazine, Admiral Sir Max Horton remains a mystery. This is a great frustration to those of us who study World War Two, particularly the Battle of the Atlantic. Sir Max never wrote his memoirs or, to my knowledge, wrote anything about himself.

The strain of his immense responsibilities robbed Sir Max of his health and in 1951, just six years after the end of the war, he died. He was sixty-seven. His ill-health precluded his life-long dream of living in the warm climate of Southern France. The only biography of him, from which many of the above quotes are drawn, is Max Horton and the Western Approaches: A Biography of Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton by Rear Admiral W.S. Chalmers, RN, a family friend. This is very much an “authorized biography.” Max Horton did have a brother who was married and that family inherited all of his personal papers which, to my knowledge, they have never released. Chalmers only saw what he was shown and was under some very strict ground rules about attribution.

While Sir Max was reputed to not have a friend in the world, he did have friends. We just don’t know who they were. Chalmers quotes from numerous letters Horton wrote to friends but never tells us who the letters were written to. Presumably he was not allowed to disclose that information. I can say this is the only biography I have ever read which never discloses who any of the subject’s personal correspondence was addressed to.

Admiral Horton had an extensive acquaintanceship throughout the British Empire. A man in his position would certainly have known a great many people. He entertained to the degree his rank and social position required it. On several occasions during the war the King and Queen came to luncheon at his formal living quarters in Derby House. A letter he wrote afterwards to a friend clearly indicates he knew them already.

But his background? Parents? His childhood? The source of his inner strength? His heroes? His inner life? Of Sir Max as a man? We have no idea. We do know this: the men and women under his command in Western Approaches never came to love him. They never came to like him. But they came quickly to respect him and even more, have the greatest confidence in him — for Sir Max radiated confidence.

The war ended at last. Slowly people went back to their civilian lives. The hundreds of RN ships that had defeated the U-Boats were broken up and sold for scrap. The HQ bunker in Liverpool sealed up and practically forgotten. Sir Max passed on. And the veterans of Western Approaches Command? To the end of their lives they were proud to have served under Sir Max. Why? They knew something which has only become clear in the last years: in the moment of supreme peril against a deadly and determined foe who was serving a régime of unimaginable depravity, Admiral Sir Max Horton was one of the handful of extraordinary men who led the Allies to victory.


Barnett, Correli. Engage The Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War. USA: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991. Print

Beesly, Patrick. Very Special Intelligence: The Story of the Admirality’s Operational Intelligence Centre 1939-1945. Wales: Greenhill Books, 2000. Print

Chalmers, William Scott. Max Horton and the Western Approaches: A Biography of Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1954. Print

Gannon, Michael. Black May. USA: Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 1998. Print

Gretton, Peter. Convoy Escort Commander. Bungay, Suffolk, UK: Corgi Books, 1971. Print

Hague, Arnold. The Allied Convoy System 1939-1945: Its Organization, Defence, and Operation. Canada: Vanwell Publishing Limited, 2000. Print

Hendrie, Andrew. The Cinderella Service: RAF Coastal Command 1939-1945. England: Pen & Sword Aviation, 2006. Print

Kaplan, Philip and Jack Currie. Convoy: Merchant Sailors at War 1939-1945. Singapore: Naval Institute Press, 2000. Print

Rayner, Douglas A. Escort: The Battle of the Atlantic. London, UK: William Kimber & Co Ltd., 1955. Print

Wilcox, Richard. “Admiral Sir Max Horton.” Life. 2 August 1943: 73+. Print

[Images courtesy of Wikipedia, Sea Your History, Trip Advisor, Unit Histories, and This article can also be found in my Written Work section.]