MV Dunedin Star
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This page is dedicated to the seven crew members who survived when the MV Dunedin Star was wrecked but later perished on the MV Melbourne Star and SS Empire Javelin of the Blue Star Line. Also dedicated to the two seamen serving on the Tug Sir Charles Elliott who lost their lives when returning to their home port of Walvis Bay, after having helped in the rescue of the Dunedin Star crew.

The Dunedin Star
1935 - 1942
11,168 ton Refrigerated Cargo - Passenger Liner

Skeleton Coast

In early November of 1942 the Dunedin Star sailed from Liverpool bound for the Middle East with a consignment of military supplies for the 8th Army, Cape Town was to be her first port of call. She carried 21 passengers and 85 crew, which included women and children and her master was Captain R B Lee. Unescorted and to avoid submarine attack  she sailed close to the West African coast.

Three weeks into her voyage, at 10.30pm on the 29th November 1942, her hull was mysteriously holed by a submerged object, the Dunedin Star being in danger of sinking was beached on Namibia's infamous Skeleton Coast - five hundred miles of raging surf and burning desert, the most violent and desolate shore on earth 400 miles north of Walvis Bay. During the next 25 days was to become the most traumatic rescues of WWII by overland rescue party,  ships and Ventura Bombers of the South African Air Force, all the passengers and crew were eventually rescued, the last of the survivors arriving in Cape Town on the 28th December 1942.

Regrettably, two of the rescuers from the Tug 'Sir Charles Elliott' perished during the rescue.

Capt. R B Lee
Master of the Dunedin Star

A court of inquiry in South Africa found Captain Lee blameworthy for the accident to his ship. He was then dismissed by the Blue Star Line. For a time he ran a pub to make a living  in England. Then Blue Star Line gave him another chance and he became master of an invasion vessel under their management. When its job was done and Blue Star Line's management contract ended he was not offered another ship. He eventually went to India. Soon after his arrival, whilst working ashore, he died.

It would be virtually impossible for me to narrate the full story of the rescue on this page, however, best selling books have been written, in great detail, these I have added links to below.

MV Dunedin Star
  Beached off the Namibia's 'Skeleton Coast'.
29th November 1942

Fearing that the Dunedin Star may break up Captain Lee made the decision to put the passengers and crew ashore.
The ships launch had made only two trips when what threatened to prove a disaster took place. The launch was disabled by the heavy seas, cast upon the beach, and left there useless for further operations. Nobody was injured, but 63 people, including eight women, three babies in arms, and a number of elderly men, were left on the open beach, without shelter of any kind, with only the food and water in the lifeboat to share between them, and no help likely to reach them for at least two days.

MV Dunedin Star Wrecked on Namibia's 'Skeleton Coast'
 400 miles north of Walvis Bay.

In 1942 Namibia was known as South West Africa

MS Temeraire
Norwegian Motorship
Master Capt. A Toft

Rescued the 43 survivors, including Capt Lee, from the Dunedin Star.

The Temeraire's motor lifeboat, under the command of 1st Mate Jacob Brochmann, was launched and 10 men were taken off Dunedin Star but the boat took in a lot of water causing the motor to stop. The crew then had to row for an hour and a half before the rescued could be handed over to British Freighter Manchester Division, which had also arrived to help. The lifeboat crew was now too exhausted to continue, so the boat was hauled back on board Temeraire. The following morning the tug Sir Charles Elliott arrived from Walvis Bay, again the Temeraire's lifeboat had to be lowered and the remaining 32 still on board Dunedin Star were taken off in 4 trips. The tug transferred 40 of the rescued crew to the Manchester Division and were transported to Cape Town. Captain Lee, the last to leave the Dunedin Star, with the Chief Engineer and the Senior 2nd Engineer were  put on the minesweeper HMSAS Nerine.

MV Manchester Division
Manchester Liners Ltd
Master Capt. Hancock

Dawn on the third day 2nd Dec. the British Freighter Manchester Division, which had come up during the night. During the rescue of 40 crew members from the Dunedin Star they were transferred to the Manchester Division. On the 3rd Dec. she continued her journey to Cape Town with these survivors.

HMSAS Nerine
200-ton Minesweeper
Commanded by Lt Van Rensburg

On Monday 30th Nov. at 2pm the Nerine, having first stacked the decks with Carley Floats filled with emergency supplies, left Walvis Bay on the 400 mile journey north to the site of the wrecked Dunedin Star. Arriving on the 2nd Dec. she immediately set to work assisting in the rescue during which Capt. Lee and engineers Tomlinson and McGee were put on board. The next day the Nerine discharged some of her supply floats, intended for the beached party, which disappeared, taken by the strong current. Moving closer to shore she again released the remaining floats and then headed home to Walvis Bay.
7th  Dec. the Nerine having re-fuelled and with further supplies, headed back to the castaways. On the 9th Dec the Nerine again arrived at the scene of the wrecked Dunedin Star. Her life boat was launched but was unable to get a line to the shore by rockets. With a rope tied to his waist, heroically, Radio Operator Denis Scully swims ashore and the rescue begins. Of the Dunedin Star beached survivors 14 crew, 2 women and 2 children were rescued. 10th December the operation was repeated again 8 more castaways were rescued. Denis Scully also returned to the Nerine at this time. 

The 320 ton Tug
  HMSAS Sir Charles Elliott
Captain Harry Brewin

The courageous tug, the Sir Charles Elliott arrived at the wreck site from Walvis Bay 2nd Dec. She had at once closed the wreck of the Dunedin Star. The motorboat of the Temeraire put the 43 rescued men on board the tug, which, with difficulty, managed to get alongside the Manchester Division and transferred them. Captain Lee, Chief Engineer Tomlinson and 2nd Senior Engineer McGee remained on the tug and were put onto the minesweeper Nerine.
After leaving the wreck on 3rd Dec. the tug had set her course for Walvis Bay. At midnight Capt. Brewin handed over the watch to the second mate, Mr. Tommy Cox, and turned in. He was awakened about six o'clock next morning by the sound of a crash and a feeling of intense jarring. The treacherous current, combined with a shifting coastline and inadequate charts, had lured one more vessel to destruction a short distance north of  Rocky Point.
Captain Brewin and his crew, fighting against the raging surf and the Benguela current, manage to get ashore. Tragically, Angus McIntyre 1st mate and Mathias Korabseb African Deckhand failed to make it ashore and were lost.
On the 8th Dec. Capt. Smith and his Land Convoy arrived, ferried the survivors to Lt Col. Joubert’s Ventura Bomber and  were flown back to Walvis Bay.

SAAF Lockheed Ventura Bomber  (1)
Captain Immins Naude

As co-pilot Lieutenant Paddy Nicolay, observer, Lieutenant Johann Doms,  radio operator, Sergeant Bentley Chapman.
3rd Dec. loaded with supplies, at 2pm they took off from Walvis Bay at around 4.20pm Capt. Naude found the shipwreck. After jettisoning the supplies, most of which were destroyed on impact, it was decided an attempt would be made to land the Ventura. About a mile and a half away he identified a flat strip and put the Ventura down. Inadvertently, the plane had landed on a sand-covered section of a salt-pan crust and penetrated the surface. The following day it was discovered that it would be impossible to move the aircraft as the wheels had sunk too deeply into the salt-pan.
17th January 1943 an Overland Convoy set off from Windhoek led by Capt. Naude to recover the Ventura Bomber. 29th January, Although the aircraft managed to get airborne, with Naude as pilot, after flying for just under an hour it developed engine problems and crash landed into the sea 200 yards from the beach at Rocky Point. All the crew managed to get ashore and were later rescued by the returning convoy that had taken them to recover the Ventura.

SAAF Lockheed Ventura Bomber (2)
Major J N Robbs DFC
SAAF Lockheed Ventura Bomber (3)
Lt Col. P S Joubert DSO, AFC
SAAF Lockheed Ventura Bomber (4)
Captain Matthys Uys AFC

It is without doubt,  the Ventura Bombers of the South African Air Force were vital in saving many lives of the survivors of the wrecked Dunedin Star. The skills deployed by the pilots can never be overstated, when making drops and landing their aircraft at makeshift runways at Rocky Point to pick up survivors who were then transported to Walvis Bay.

Throughout the rescue operation pilots and crew flew their aircraft, often making several flights a day to drop life saving water, food and emergency supplies to the shipwrecked on the beaches of the ‘Skeleton Coast‘. On occasions they were called upon to drop supplies to Captain Smith’s Land Convoy and report back the convoys progress to Walvis Bay.

The rescue operation did have its lighter moments however, it was reported - Just as the plane was about to leave on another supply run, a report was received, through Cape Town, from a ship some distance to the west of the wrecked liner announcing the presence of a submarine. The Ventura, as the only bomber available, was ordered to make a reconnaissance immediately. There was no time to unload the supplies and replace them with bombs. Capt. Uys took off, knowing that if he located the submarine on the surface and she chose to fight it out, he could drop only tins of water, condensed milk, biscuits and bully beef on her. No doubt the submarine commander, so far from home, would have been glad of those extra supplies.

Capt. J W B Smith
 South Africa Police

SA Defence Force Convoy

On 2nd Dec. Capt. Smith leaves Omaruru for Outjo where he is to meet up with an SA Defence Force Convoy which had been assembled and that he will take command. They set off the next morning 3rd Dec. on the long and grueling trek to the 'Skeleton Coast' and the wreck of the Dunedin Star.

During the next 21 days Captain Smith and his convoy were to rescue the surviving crew of the wrecked tug Sir Charles Elliot, 13 Passengers, 24 Dunedin Star Crew and the Ventura’s Capt. Naude and 3 crew.

23rd December at one o'clock in the afternoon the 11 trucks rolled into the capital of South-West Africa, Windhoek, where rescuers and rescued received a great welcome from the populace and were lionised for days. The magistrates, instructed by the Secretary for South-West Africa, made all arrangements for the accommodation, feeding, clothing, and financing of the rescued people, and for their train passage to Cape Town, where they arrived five days later.

G Adams  Carpenter  35
W Bates  Main Greaser 47
J Bowles  Chief Cook  47
D MacKinnon Able Seaman  27
J McGarry  2nd Cook  36
E Whipp  Assistant Engineer  26

On the 2nd April 1943 the MV Melbourne Star on her way from Liverpool to Panama was torpedoed and sunk. Among those lost were six survivors of the Dunedin Star disaster.
'View the Memorial Page'

J Davies Chief Electrician 33

On the 28th December 1944 the SS Empire Javelin of the Blue Star Line was engaged in carrying 1,448 troops and provisions from Southampton to Le Harve. Whilst 40 miles south  off the Isle of Wight she was torpedoed and sunk. Seven seamen perished with the SS Empire Javelin among them was Chief Electrician Davies survivor of the Dunedin disaster.

Angus McIntyre  1st mate
Mathias Korabseb  African Deckhand

On the 4th December 1942 the tug 'Sir Charles Elliott' after helping to effect a rescue of survivors from the Dunedin Star made for home. Unbeknown to those on board she was several miles off course and ran aground and began to break up. In an attempt to swim ashore in the treacherous surf both McIntyre and Korsabseb were to lose their lives. Memorials were erected on the beach by their shipmates which survive to this day.

The above pictures are by courtesy of the family of
John H Marsh
The full story of this epic drama is told in the best selling book ‘Skeleton Coast’ by John H Marsh first published in 1944.
 Click on 'Skeleton Coast' for full details.

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