War-time Stories‎ > ‎

The sinking of Salviking

In 1943 Cyril Smith was serving as a Radio Officer with Marconi International Marine when he was informed that he would be transferred to Risdon Beazley Limited of Southampton at the request of the Royal Naval Authority. The Naval Officer in charge sorted out the transfer and Cyril was sent to Colombo to join the Salviking as First Radio Officer/ Purser. His No. 2 also came from the UK, he had a war time certificate to act as a Junior Telegraphist, a job he combined with that of Storekeeper. Salviking's task was to remove the wreck of the Destroyer HMS Tenedos, which the Japanese had sunk in a raid in 1942.

At approximately 1600 on the 12th February 1944 the Salviking was ordered to sea as the trooper Khedive Ismail (Managed by British India S N Co for the M.O.W.T.) had been torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I – 27. The troop ship was being escorted by the HM Destroyers Paladin and Petard, which succeeded in
sinking the submarine: However Paladin suffered damage from the submarine's hydra plane that had opened up a hole 20' long and 2' wide in her hull. Her crew had moved everything possible to the starboard side to bring the damage above the water and she was beached on a island in Addu Atoll in the Maldives.

Salviking set sail that evening after embarking six Royal Navy divers under the command of a Warrant Officer, who were to assist Salviking's two divers if required. The sea was flat, the moon made everything as bright as if it was daylight and every movement produced brilliant phosphorescence. Cyril continues “ It was the first time my No. 2 and I had both been called upon as Radio Officers to keep radio watch. At the change of the watch at midnight going into 14th February 1944 the Second Mate on watch shouted through the wireless cabin port hole that we were being attacked. He had quite clearly seen a torpedo going under the ship in the phosphorescence. He gave me a position but at the same time the submarine was adjusting the depth of the second torpedo which hit the Salviking in the stern partly destroying some of the accommodation aft. As the Salviking was only 1500 tons, voices could be heard from one end of the ship to the other. It became clear that everyone was heading towards the life boat which was launched together with a diesel engine boat.

The Captain did not go onto the bridge but went straight onto the deck to ensure everyone who could get off the ship was going into one or the other of the boats. Meanwhile I was sending a message which in those days was “SSS” and indicated we were being attacked by a submarine. A dog and a monkey were also attached to the crew and both were taken into the lifeboat! My No.2 had the job of taking an emergency transmitter in the first boat to get away. He had completed part of his job by putting the emergency transmitter into the boat but then came back to the wireless cabin to see how long I was going to be. The Chief Officer, acting on his own initiative and I was told against orders, went to search below deck for any survivors and was instrumental in rescuing the Third Engineer.

To cut a long story short, the submarine surfaced which caused considerable concern as we had no way of knowing whether she was German or Japanese. The Germans had a reputation of treating survivors much better than the Japanese at that time. After the event, on reflection, she appeared to look at us to check if we were alright and then disappeared. Many years later we learned that she was in fact the German submarine U-168 which the Royal Navy sank the following October with the loss of all hands.

For me, the night was full of anxiety since the only measure of the success of the distress signal would be the appearance of a rescue vessel. Sea conditions continued to be in our favour and the next morning an Indian Navy converted trawler appeared on the horizon which took us on board and took the diesel engine motor boat in tow. We headed for Addu Atoll some 60 miles away”.

The trip home was also full of adventure. They were sent via Bombay, where they were to join a returning passenger vessel. To pass the time Cyril and his No.2 went to the cinema, during the performance there was an enormous explosion and debris rained down on the building. As soon as it was safe to come out they emerged to a scene of devastation, they both volunteered to help but were told that there was nothing that they could do. The SS Fort Stikine, with a cargo that included a large amount of explosives, had caught fire and suffered two massive explosions. Twelve other ships were wrecked, either by the explosion of the ensuing tidal wave, thousands died.

After some leave Cyril joined the RB managed Salventure, again as 1st Radio Officer & Purser. He remained on that ship, based in Malta, until September 1946, when he retired from the sea.

A number of people died including some or all of the Navy divers and the DEMS gunners, I think that Billy gave me the names of the MN casualties, but I can't put my hands on the file!

30 This report is from Cyril Smith's records.

31 Like the other Admiralty salvage vessels that RB managed Salviking is often described as HMS Salviking, but crew members from these ships are adamant that the vessels flew the Red Ensign of the Merchant Service and their crews were civilians. This is confirmed by the fact that they signed Articles and had Discharge Books..