MV Melbourne Star

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The Attack

On March 22nd 1943 the Melbourne Star sailed from Liverpool on her way to Sydney through the Panama Canal. She carried 77 crew, 11 gunners and 31 passengers and was commanded by Captain James Bennett Hall, whose name will be remembered as having been in command of the Andalucia Star when that vessel was sunk by U-boat on the 6th October 1942, 180 miles south-west of Freetown. Among the crew on board the Melbourne Star were those who had been in her during her historic voyage to Malta in August 1942.

The ship carried a heavy cargo of torpedoes, ammunition and other munitions of war, and once clear of the most dangerous submarine area sailed unescorted.

We know few of the details of her loss, except that at about 3am on Friday April 2nd 1943, when 480 miles south-east of Bermuda (28° 5’N  57° 30W) in bad weather that was raging all over the North Atlantic, she was struck by two torpedoes almost simultaneously. The double explosion detonated portions of her dangerous cargo, for three-quarters of the vessel were destroyed in a flash. The explosions were so sudden and devastating that neither passengers nor crew could muster at their boat stations, even if any boats had been left intact. Practically the entire compliment perished simultaneously and the shattered remains of the ship went to the bottom in less than two minutes. As she foundered several of the life-saving rafts floated free to which a few of the survivors managed to scramble. Their plight was made even worse by the heavy sea and low visibility and when the dawn came only 11 people were left alive on two rafts.

During the inquiry the Admiralty realised that the Melbourne Star’s position had been betrayed. Under questioning, the survivors revealed that, about ten hours before the attack, a four-masted merchant ship had passed them, travelling eastward, with the huge white letters of neutral, ‘PORTUGUESE’, painted on its side and a large Portuguese flag flying above the ship’s name at the stern. There seemed to lie the culprit. From their intelligence information, they knew that, on that date, the nearest ship resembling the description would have been sailing just off Lisbon. They decided the vessel the men saw was most likely a German 'surface raider' - a ship that masqueraded as others, with telescopic masts to alter its shape and a selection of flags and insignia to complete the disguise. It would certainly have radioed the Melbourne Star’s position to the nearby U-boat 129. The survivors had been unable to remember the name of the ship but were sure it began with an ‘A’ and ended with an ‘E’. When given the names of five registered Portuguese vessels, one man immediately recognised the name:-

The Submarine U-Boat 129

Korvettenkapitän Hans Witt wearing his Knights Cross.

Born 25th Dec 1909 Bautzen, Saxony Died 13 Feb, 1980 Hamburg.
Hans Witt spent his first years in the navy on school ships, including the Gorch Fock and the Schlageter. In October 1940 he entered U-Boat training. With U-Boat 129 he completed three patrols in the western Atlantic and the Caribbean. Later he spent a year as a member of the BdU staff.
In the last months of the war he was to become one of the most highly decorated U-Boat commanders (like Schnee, Cremer, Emmermann and Topp) who took command of the new Elektro U-Boats (Types XXI and XXIII) in an attempt to turn the tide in the battle of the Atlantic.


On the 11th Mar 1943, U-Boat 129 left Lorient under the command of Hans-Ludwig Witt and returned over eleven weeks later to Lorient on 29th May 1943.

Hans-Ludwig Witt hit three ships on this patrol.
On 2nd Apr 1943 he sank the British 12,806 ton Melbourne Star.
On 24th Apr 1943 he sank the American 6,507 ton Santa Catalina.
On 5th May 1943 he sank the Panamanian 7,277 ton Panam, part of convoy NK-538.

U-Boat 129 sunk 19 ships  for a total of 100.773 GRT

U-Boat 129 Was taken out of service at Lorient 4 July, 1944. Scuttled there 18 Aug 1944. Raised and stricken in 1946, and broken up.

'The Rescue'

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