Lost at sea November 6, 1951.
Anyways, I noticed that today was the anniversary of the sinking, so I thought I'd post something based on reality about it. Enjoy- and watch out for those space aliens.
The Sao Paulo was a first generation dreadnought completed for Brazil by the British firm of Armstrong Whitworth in 1910. After a largely uneventful career she was laid up at Rio de Janeiro in 1946. Drydocked in 1948 for an examination and cleaning of her hull, she was found to be in sound shape with no hull deterioration. But she had been worthless as a fighting ship for decades, so she was moored and forgotten, her secondary and light weapons removed for use on shore.
Over the next 3 years barnacles and sea grass grew unchecked on her hull, and usable parts were pulled out of the ship and used to repair Brazil's other old warships. Soon her furnishings started to vanish for use on shore, then postwar shortages made her brass, copper, and other nonferrous fittings, scuttles, deck glands, cleats, and fasteners a rich target for both official and unofficial scavengers. Doorways, hatches, and even some of the heavy steel shutters for the 4.7-inch casemate guns went missing. But she other than these detail items, the ship was still intact, watertight, and sound.
In 1951 the British Iron and Steel Corporation (Salvage) purchased the vessel, intending to tow her back to Britain to break her up to feed Europe's insatiable demand for scrap metal. Arrangements were made for two seagoing tugs, Dexterous and Bustler, to sail to Rio from Britain and then return with Sao Paulo in tow. Agents were hired to expedite dockyard service at Rio to prepare the vessel for her final voyage, and Mr. William Painter, managing director of the Ensign Rigging Company, was charged with making the ship ready. The sea-going tugs were expensive ships to hire, especially for a round trip of that length, so the battleship had to be made ready before they arrived.
Painter had his work cut out for him, but he was highly experienced in dead ship tows so he knew exactly what had to be done. The list included closing all the hatchways and deck opening left open from the removal of their hatches and doors; securing the 12-inch gun turrets so they would not swing around in a seaway; and of most concern the casemate openings, both those with the shutters intact and those with them missing, were made completely watertight. Painter also has to inspect every compartment of the ship, making sure there was no standing water anywhere to slop around; seeing that there was no quantity of unsecured coal in the bunkers that might shift when the ship rocked; ensuring watertight doors were still watertight, the manhole covers in the double bottom were secure, and that all the missing portholes were sealed up.
Flooding of such a magnitude that the ship would flounder was not a big concern, as the hull was indeed watertight. But stability is a key point with a ship, especially a dead ship tow, as even a little water sloshing around in the wrong places could be a big problem. A dead ship sits high in the water without the weight of fuel, ammunition, crew, water, stores, etc, and has a lot of windage. A strong wind from the beam could start her rolling, especially in heavy seas, and shifting weight from standing water above the waterline could upset the minimal stability and exaggerate the roll, which could lean the ship too far, or build on itself until the ship rolled clean over. All those openings in the superstructure and deck above the waterline, especially the casemate openings, were possible points of entry for waves and rain to enter the ship above the waterline.
Mr Painter's crew consisted of a "runner" crew, men who specialized in working ships under tow for the one-way voyage home. They included Painter's mate Mr Adams, and 7 able seamen trained as riggers: C R Tait, T McCormick, F J Cornish, W R Ellis, T Mouseau, R Mitchell, and De Voss.
Painter set about his work with energy and drive, but soon became exasperated with the locals. The Brazilian Navy dockyard workers, though competent enough, had no sense of urgency, especially not for some old piece of scrap metal bound only for the breakers. The local custom was for a more laid-back approach, not entirely conducive to the rapid and efficient execution of a project of this sort. The dockyard started work on September 5, but the ship was not ready when the two tugs arrived despite Painter's best efforts, so the master of the tug Bustler and his chief engineer pitched in to help. Exactly how well the ship was prepped for her tow will never be known for sure, as there is no direct evidence, only the verbal testimony offered after the ship's loss. But in the end the old battleship was issued a certificate of seaworthiness on September 18 by the local surveyor from the Bureau Veritas, and legally that is all that mattered: the ship could leave port.
Water ballast was added low in the ship for stability, two lifeboats were installed, and life vests for the crew were added. A portable radio set installed to allow Painter to communicate with the tugs via a pre-arranged communications drill, a portable generator was fitted, and and running lights were rigged to make the tow visible to passing vessels at night. The rudder was secured amidships, and the boilers, propellers, and other machinery was secured to keep it from moving. The shafts were disconnected from the inside, boilers were drained, and rough, make-do quarters set up for the running crew.
A British citizen, stranded in Rio with his young wife and infant child, volunteered to work the two in exchange for passage home, with his wife doing whatever cooking could be done on board the dead ship. But the accommodations were far to primitive to allow a mother and child to stay on board, so the family was left behind. Also left behind was one of the runners, an able seaman named De Vos, who was seriously hurt in an accident aboard and was in the hospital. Two crewmen from the tug Dexterous deserted and were not on board when the tow departed.
On September 20 the great hulk left Rio, eased out of harbor by Bustler, Dexterous, and some Brazilian Navy tugs. Once clear the Navy tugs cast off, leaving Buster and Dexterous to take their charge to Britain. Bustler's captain, Captain Jonathan Adam, was in charge, off one bow with 350 fathoms of 5-inch steel wire strung between the tug's towing winch and the battleship's anchor chain. Dexterous was off the other bow, with 70 fathoms of 10-inch nylon rope secured to 230 fathoms of 5-inch steel wire.
Bustler was a large rescue/ salvage tug originally built for the Royal Navy in 1941-42, and sold in 1946. Being over 1000 tons and 205 feet long, and making over 3000 HP, she probably could have managed the tow by herself had it not been heading well North in the Atlantic in the Fall. Dexterous was a smaller but strong tug of 650 tons, sent along in anticipation of rough weather.
.For 45 days the tow plodded across the Atlantic, Painter making frequent reports through his wireless. The running crew stayed busy watching the trim; better securing doors and manhole covers; dealing a couple times with free water sloshing around on the tank tops; and keeping the generator running. Twice the tugs noticed that the battleship had a list, which were soon corrected; one was caused by a 12-inch turret slewing out of position, the other by some water slopping around in the double bottom. The only other event of interest was when Dexterous slipped the tow for two days in the middle of October to put into Dakar to refill with bunker oil; Bustler was diesel powered and did not need to refuel.
On November 3 a strong gale from the North-West hit, slowing the ships down to almost a stop. After struggling through this for a day, the tugs jumping and bouncing around in the heavy seas as they tried to make headway, Captain Adam decided that his little flotilla should hove to at 9 AM on November 4. This simply meant that the tugs would stop trying to make progress, and instead turn into the wind so their heads were into the sea, holding position while the storm ran its course. The three ships pitched in the heavy seas, but hove to the rolling was reduced. The old battleship seemed to be riding just fine, with no problems. She was rolling and pitching as any ship would do in a storm, but there was nothing unpredictable, violent, or sluggish about her movements, which could be clearly seen from the bridge of both tugs. At 2 PM Painter reported over his wireless that he had just completed a walk around of the ship, and had found everything to be alright. Here reported that some of the temporary closings on the secondary casemates were leaking a little water, but he described it as "negligible."
The storm worsened, with the wind shrieking and visibility dropping, and squalls of ever increasing violence and duration. But all three ships were doing well, and the tugs had more than ample power to keep the battleship's head into the wind as it bobbed along 300 fathoms behind them. .
But at dusk an exceptionally strong squall hit, lifting high walls of water around the ships and reducing visibility to almost zero. The tugmasters sensed something was wrong; that the behavior of their ships had changed. As a lull came in the squall, visibility opened up, and they saw the problem: the great battleship was now very close behind them, the tow lines slack. The battleship was an uncontrollable mass caught in the trough of the heavy sea, now broadside to the wind and waves. The ship rolled violently, dipping her rails under water and then rolling back to dip her other rail into the sea, tripod mast whipping back and forth, 12-inch turrets first pointing at the sky then swinging wildly around to point at the depths on each roll. The tugs put on throttle to take up the slack, but the battleship wallowed sideways to the sea, not responding to the pressure on the tow lines. The high windage of the light hull and high superstructure caused the high winds to push her backwards, green water washing over her main deck, dragging the tugs backwards also. As they were pulled back, the two tugs were also drawn together, helpless as the giant pulled them across the seas like giant cat with two mice on a string. The tugs closed within feet of each other, about to be crushed together and likely fatally damaged. As agreed to beforehand, the Dexterous, being the smaller of the two tugs, was supposed to slip her tow line and escape, while the larger Bustler would hold onto the battleship until the storm passed. As the tugmasters signaled agreement and Dexterous' crew fought to slip the tow line, it parted suddenly where it connected to the tug, throwing all the strain onto Bustler before she was ready for it. The strain caused the second tug's tow line to part also an instant later, casting the battleship at the mercy of the storm. The second tow line parted at the far end, so when it sank it went under the tug and was cut by the propeller, leaving both tugs without a tow line.
The squall picked back up, closing in visibility and forcing the tugs to hove too again rather than trying to stay with their drifting charge. Bustler rode out the storm alright, but the smaller Dexterous was damaged by the waves. Both tugmasters tried to radio Painter on board Sao Paulo as soon as the lines parted, to tell him what had happened and that they would recover the battleship when the storm passed, but there was no answer. Signal lights were flashed in the direction the battleship should have been in, but went unanswered. Bustler started transmitting a warning to other vessels that a battleship was adrift and separated from her tugs, and fired up her search radar as quickly as she could, but while the other tug was clear on the screen there was no echo from the battleship. The tug captains assumed the battleship was laying in the trough of a wave and was lost in the sea clutter, and though she would be tossed around like a rag doll the Sao Paulo would ride out the storm safely to be found when the weather cleared.
The storm passed the next morning, and Bustler returned to the location where the towlines had parted- Dexterous was too badly damaged and had to go to Ponta Delgada for repairs. But the battleship was nowhere to be found. The tug was joined by ships from the Azores, along with aircraft from the United States Air Force, the Royal Air Force, and the Portuguese Air Force operating from the Azores and Gibraltar. They searched over 140,000 square miles until November 10, but so sign of the missing ship and crew were seen. No lifeboats, no life jackets, no bodies, no debris, nothing. No trace of the ship was ever found- she was simply gone.
Court of Inquiry was held by the British Ministry of Transportation pertaining to the loss of the ship October 4-8, 1954, the delay being caused by an inability to get any information from the Brazilian Navy. It was not until the British Ambassador to Brazil personally presented the Brazilian authorities with a questionnaire that any answer was received, and then the information given over was small both in volume and substance. After all, the ship had been sold years before and was no longer their property or problem.
The Board of Inquiry consisted of Mr. R F Haywood QC, assisted by Captain A M Atkinson and Mr. W J Nutton, and sought to determine if the tow had been properly prepared; if it was prudent to begin the tow at the time of year it was; if the tugs acted properly in performing the tow; the cause of the tow line parting and the loss of the battleship; and if the tugs acted properly after the tow line parted.
The court found that the tow had been properly prepared. The tugs had the proper equipment and were of more than adequate size to do the job.All lifesaving arrangements had been properly prepared, with two lifeboats on board the hulk, ample life vests for the runner crew, and a dozen each red and blue flares ready for signaling. There was, however, conflicting information about the size of the lifeboats, and no information about the equipment on board them. The battleship had been issued a certificate of seaworthiness, and was properly ballasted & trimmed slightly down by the stern to the satisfaction of Mr Painter, and both tug captains. When last sighted the day of the storm the battleship showed no changed to trim, and Mr Painter had personally reported that his inspection of the ship showed everything was fine.
The timing of the tow was not faulted, for there was every reason to believe the ship would easily ride out any storm. Both tug captains testified that even after the tow lines broke they had no concerns that the battleship would ride out the storm just fine.
The tugs were found to have acted correctly, hanging onto their charge until the tow lines broke while preparing to slip one free, a prudent course of action with the tugs in imminent danger of colliding. It was also found that both tugs acted entirely correctly after the tow was lost, following the probable line of drift as soon as possible when the storm died down; signaling other ships to look out for the battleship; alerting authorities immediately so an extensive search could be carried out; and even continuing to search after the official search was called off.
The cause of the tow line parting was easily determined to be the strong storm, which had turned the big ship sideways, causing too much strain on the lines. An ex-crewman of the tug Dexterous, the vessel's cook on that voyage, asked to be able to testify on this matter, and was allowed. But his testimony consisted of nothing but a long rant against the officers and particularly the chief engineer of the tug (against whom he obviously had a personal grudge), and a claim that the tug could have easily hold the tow if that officer had not intentionally knocked out a pin to separate the tow line. The judges, three professional seamen with decades of sea experience, did not give much weight to the 'expert testimony' of a man who had been below deck when the tow parted, and who had zero experience in tugboat operations outside of the galley.
This left the only unanswered question the cause of the battleship's loss. Direct evidence was lacking; the Brazilian Navy offered only the original plans to the ship, and no direct evidence as to how well the ship was prepared for tow. No verbal evidence, testimony, or depositions were available from any member of the Brazilian Navy who had actually helped prepare the ship, nor from the Brazilian Navy dockyard workers who had performed the work of patching & sealing the openings on the deck, superstructure, and hull.
And on these openings the court centered their attention. The secondary casemates that were missing their metal shutters had been sealed up with wooden timbers, but no photographs existed and no one who actually did the work could be found to testify. The agent who had purchased the ship for scrap presented a letter from Mr Painter, in which the experienced rigger wrote that he had "never had a job with so many hitches", but not listing anything specific of concern.
There was conflicting verbal testimony about the quality and completeness of the work done to these openings, but no direct evidence. The surveyor from the Bureau Veritas testified that everything was strongly and securely sealed up to his satisfaction, and pointed out that both Mr Painter and Bustler's captain, Captain Adams, had signed off on the work prior to the ship departing Rio.
Conflicting this testimony was Able Seaman De Voss, the injured man who had been left behind in Rio, who stated that the anchor chain pipes has not been covered leaving the chain locker subject to flooding; some of the portholes that were missing or could not close had not been boxed in or shut; and that several doorways in the superstructure were missing their hatches and could not be closed. He also claimed that some peaked skylights on the weather deck were missing their storm shutters, and that the battleship had 15 inches of loose water on the main deck, leading to a 5 degree list to starboard.
The surveyor further testified that these openings had in fact been closed before the ship was towed away, with metal covers being welded over those openings with missing ventilators or hatches, and doorways being either forced shut or the sealed. He said that his final walk through of the ship showed no standing water at all anywhere on the vessel. He had completed his inspections on the day the ship departed Rio, making only a recommendation that a 100 ton-per-hour pump be put on board the battleship as a precaution. He was told that this would not be possible, but that some kind of pump would be put on board in case of emergency, so he handed over the certificate of seaworthiness and considered the matter closed.
Obviously the testimony of these two men is conflicting. Those believing the surveyor claim seaman De Voss was simply bitter about the loss of his friends and using the benefit of hindsight, while those believing De Voss claim the surveyor was simply covering up for a rushed & incomplete job done by the Brazilian Navy. Perhaps both men were telling the truth as they know it, as De Voss was not on board the day the ship departed, having been injured and brought to the hospital the day before, so work would have continued after his departure.
One of the tugboat captains testified that he had noticed a hatchway opened on the forward part of the battleship the day before the storm, and that with the amount of water breaking over the ship's bow no one could have gone forward in the storm to close it. But he could not be certain it had been open when the storm hit, and had seen no indication that the ship had changed her trim or any other evidence that water was on board the Sao Paulo.
A theory was put forth that the roll period of the ship might have coincided with the wave period of the storm, so that as the dead ship lay in a trough the roll built on itself with each successive wave until the ship flipped right over. The court did not discount this possibility entirely, but found it highly unlikely that such an unusual coincidence could occur, especially in such violent and unpredictable seas. They found it much more likely that the dead ship healed over in heavy seas and took on some water, which increased the list. The lee side secondary casemates would have been exposed to direct wave action, which could have caused the wooden covers to be swept away, resulting in ever increasing flooding until the ship capsized or sank.
In the end, the court was not prepared to put blame on anyone. They found that the riggers, tug captains, and surveyor had all been reasonably satisfied with the state of the ship, the repairs, and the tow preparations. The court found that the manner in which the secondary gunports and casemates were closed was reasonably sufficient, considering even the lowest of them was over 14 feet above the waterline. They found that the ship had a valid seaworthy certificate, and that all involved with the tow were reasonably satisfied with the battleship's trim, ballasting, and stability. The judges also found that all involved had acted correctly during the tow, and after the tow was lost. Finally, the court concluded that the battleship Sao Paulo had most likely floundered less than an hour after the tow line parted because of the heavy rolling the dead ship suffered when she turned broadside to the running sea resulted in heavy flooding through damaged openings in the superstructure and casemates. The court's final report left the exact cause of the loss open to conjecture, and said that no recommendations could be made in regard to similar tows in the future.
So a great battleship, once the most powerful in the world, was lost at sea for indeterminant reasons when she was unable to ride out a massive storm while adrift. An unsatisfying answer to a maritime mystery, but the only answer we will ever have.
As a postscript, a little information on the tugs involved.
HMRT Bustler was laid down 4 December 1941 at the Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith, Scotland. The lead ship of a class of 8, she was an ocean going rescue/ salvage tug designed for the Royal Navy and intended for the Battle of the Atlantic. She was fitted with two powerful 8-cylinder diesel engines driving a single propeller, with a speed of 16 knots and a crew of 41 officers and men. The tug was fitted with strong towing gear, and was highly responsive to helm and throttle control; on her sea trials she was recorded as going from full ahead to dead stop in less than 3 seconds, and going from dead stop to full revs astern in 1-3 seconds. She was intended to make crossings with North Atlantic convoys, acting as a rescue ship to take off survivors, or to salvage a damaged ship if possible. Armed with one 12-pounder AA gun; one 2-pounder AA gun; two 20mm AA guns; and four Lewis machine guns, the tug was thrown into the war immediately upon completion in June, 1942.
Bustler had an active war career in the North Atlantic and Gibraltar convoys, being involved in several rescues, tows, and salvage efforts, including towing the Empire Treasure over 1900 nautical miles in gale force winds after the merchant ship lost its propeller. She was credited with savings many hundreds of lives, and many tens of thousands of tons of cargo and much needed shipping. The little vessel was awarded the Normandy 1944 Battle Honor, as she towed the giant spool that unwound the Pluto underwater pipeline across the English Channel to feed gasoline to the Allied armies that invaded occupied Europe. During the course of the war she lost 4 crewmen to drowning in the performance of their duties.
After the end of hostilities, she continued her Admiralty service, towing 5 ex-German u-boats out to sea to be scuttled as part of Operation Deadlight, and delivering a 6th to France
Leased to Metal Industries (Salvage) LTD in 1946, she was an excellent seagoing charter tug in high demand for large tows and salvage efforts, including freeing the RMS Queen Elizabeth when the great liner ran aground. In 1959 her lease to Metal Industries (Salvage) LTD ended, and the Bustler became part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (Navy owned but civilian manned), where her duties included towing the last British battleship HMS Vanguard to the breakers. She served until 1973, when she was sold to a Yugoslavian company. Renamed twice, she servied until broken up in 1989.
HMRT Bustler is unique in that she lost not one, but two battleships that she was towing. In 1947 Bustler and the tug Melinda III were towing the battleship HMS Warspite from Portsmouth to the breakers yard on the Clyde when a storm hit. Bustler's tow line parted and Melinda III cast her line off for her own safety, leaving the battleship to come ashore and end up on the rocks at Prussia Cove.
HMRT Dexterous was laid down November 1941 by Cochrane & Sond Shipbuilders Ltd, Selby, UK, in November 1941. Comissioned September 1942 into Royal Navy service as a rescue tug, this much smaller vessel also had an eventful war. Crewed by a Free-Dutch crew, she accompanied several convoys are rescue ship. On May 10, 1943, while searching for convoy HX 235 she encountered U-403, which was overtaking her quickly from astern on the surface. The two engaged in a dramatic running battle for over 15 minutes, the u-boat using her deck gun and the tug her 12-poundcer AA gun and a pair of 20mm Oerlikons. Neither side scored a hit, and the submarine fled when escorts from the convoy answered Dexterous' distress call.
The tug was sold into merchant service in 1947, then sold to a Dutch firm in 1957 and broken up sometime in the mid-60s.
via -David and JC's Naval, Marine and Military http://ift.tt/1NgprEt
John Currin served 15 years in the Royal New Zealand Navy and has retained an interest in naval, marine, military and happenings around the world.