of the Estrellano by U-37 - A Survivor's Story
"She went down so fast,
that those of us who
got clear, were saved the trouble of jumping. We just simply swam away
courtesy of the Allen Collection (via
The British steam merchant ship "Estrellano" while traveling in Convoy
HG-53, was attacked and sunk on 9 February 1941 off
"At 04.30 hours on 9 Feb, 1941, U-37 fired two G7a torpedoes at two
ships in convoy HG-53 about 160 miles southwest of Cape St. Vincent and
sank both ships, Courland and Estrellano.
At 05.00 hours, one G7e torpedo was fired, but it missed the ships in
station #61 and #31 and did not hit a ship beyond them, as Clausen
Five crew members from Estrellano (Master Fred Bird) were lost.
The master, 20 crew members and one gunner were picked up by HMS
Deptford (L 53) (LtCdr G.A. Thring, DSO, RN) and landed at Liverpool.
One crew member died of wounds aboard the sloop and was buried at sea
on 10 February."
The book, "Beware
Raiders!: German Surface Raiders in the Second World War
by Bernard Edwards also depicts the attack and sinking:
"The Estrellano, a 1983-ton Mediterranean trader owned by the Ellerman
& Papayanni Line of Liverpool, and commanded by Captain F.
came to a sudden halt when Clausen's torpedo found its mark.
blast blew a great hole in her hull in way of No. 4 hold and reduced
much of the port side of the superstructure to a tangled mass of metal.
As the sea poured into her breached hull, the ship took a
list to port. Sending a brace of distress rockets soaring
the night sky to warn the other ships, Captain Bird ordered his crew to
abandon ship without delay. This was not easy, for the port
lifeboat had been wrecked by the blast and, as the ship was listing to
port, great difficulty was experienced in swinging out the starboard
boat. Brute force born out of desperation got the boat out
the men were boarding when the Estrellano
suddenly went down by the stern. She remained afloat for only
two minutes after being torpedoed.
The crowded lifeboat, still hooked onto its davits, went down with the
ship, capsizing when it hit the water. The occupants were
into the sea to join the others who had jumped from the ship's rail.
Their ordeal, frightening though it may have been, was not a long one.
by the bursting rockets, was quickly on the scene, hauling Captain Bird
and twenty-one of his crew from the wreckage-strewn water. Five others
were missing, never to be found, while one of the rescued, the young
cabin boy McIntyre, died on board the sloop from his injuries.
Immediately after the torpedoing of the Estrellano
Commodore Dawson signalled an emergency turn of of 40 degrees to
starboard, and the convoy swung sharply away from the danger. U-37
followed them around and crossed astern of the ships. Half an
hour later Clausen fired a single torpedo from his stern tube, which
narrowly missed the Commodore's ship Dagmar
Once again the darkness was rent by rockets bursting overhead. The Deptford
raced in to drop a pattern of sixteen depth charges, but by this time
Clausen had gone deep and was stealthily withdrawing out of range."
(taken from "Beware Raiders!: German
Surface Raiders in the Second World War
Published by Leo Cooper, 2001 ISBN 0850528038, 9780850528039
One member of the crew, gunner John Sanders, kept a brief
"illegal" diary documenting the attack and sinking.
son, Iain provided the information documented on this page.
John Sanders, March 1941
John Sanders was born on 12 February, 1901 in San Fernando, Durango,
John's father was British, from a jeweler's family in Birmingham. He
emigrated to the US via New Orleans in 1886.
At time of John's birth he was the foundry manager
and mettallurgist to an
American-owned copper mine in San Fernando.
In about 1912 the family moved to a small ranch in San Elizario, Texas,
where his father died in 1913.
The family then moved to Los Angeles, California.
On 3 January 1916, at the age of 14 John entered World War I as a cadet
midshipman with the sail-trading/training line Devitt & Moore,
John received 3 medals for service during the war. He could
become an officer due to eyesight problems, but spent the years 1919-23
sailing about the world.
In 1928, after an excursion prospecting for timber concessions about
the Rio Humaya, Durango, John settled into a career in life insurance
in Los Angeles, California.
John was a member of the Hollywood branch of the Canadian
of the British Empire Service League up to 1939, when returned to the
After the sinking of the Estrellano, he joined the Army Intelligence
Corps. He arrived in Algiers in May 1943. In August
was stationed in Italy, where he remained until October 1945.
John married in 1949 settled in to working in life assurance, for
Colonial Mutual Life, an Australian firm.
In 1970 he semi-retired to The Isle of Skye, UK with his own similar
business. John died on 11 May 1976 in Duntulm, The Isle of
John Sanders served aboard the Estrellano as a gunner.
Here is Certificate of Proficiency.
John Sanders' Certificate of Discharge showing his service on the
December 9th 1940 - Liverpool
Sailed for Gibraltar in convoy. Carrying ammunition & stores
for fleet -
mostly shell & cordite charges for 15" & 5.25" guns
Heavy weather - very cold. W.W. gales
Dito. Ship, bottom heavy, & behaving badly. Mystery ship with
single aircraft intended to assist in repelling
night attack by submarines fall out and return to base.
Weather moderating, still very cold.
Submarine attack at 21.12. Convoy immediately performed emergency turn
& set off at full speed. One ship torpedoed & sunk at
Rescue ship detailed to pick up survivors. Escorting sloop
searching for subs, firing many star shells.
on duty mustered on after deck wearing life jackets. Gun's crews at
This order preserved until after midnight.
The men were splendid - very calm & cheery although expecting
the thud and roar of a torpedoes explosion at any moment.
Dec. 25th Christmas!
Arrived Gibraltar 4.23 - very dark, proceeded to anchorage. No one came
aboard except pilot.
Steward & cook did did best they could with what stores remain
- not much.
I brought out sweets received from Miss Crow before sailing. Bright
wrapping of chocolate & holly paper etc. Looked shiny and went
to make dinner table look little Christmas.
Shifted to anchorage heavy inside mole to discharge ammunition
& stores as & when required by men-o-war.
Jan 17. "Gib"
S.S. Capetown Castle & Monarch of Bermuda came in late
afternoon with troops for Middle East.
Sailed for Portugal 2 p.m. Lovely weather.
Passed Cape St. Vincent. Still fine but indication of change, A.M.
P.M. Gale whipping up.
Feb 5. Gib
Arrived from Oporto early morning, anchored & later shifted to
Feb 6. - 14.30
Sailed with convoy, followed out & through straits by Striking
Force Renown, Malaya, Ark Royal & escorting destroyers. Admiral
Sommerville in command.
At night fall the Striking Force took up position well ahead of convoy
- steering west.
Fine weather - moonlight. Striking Force not seen after 10:30
Striking Force no longer with us. H.M. Sloop Deptford
& two destroyers only escort. Fine weather - flat sea.
Fine weather continues. Proceeding slowly Sou Westerly course.
Feby 9. (Sunday)
Morning watch on deck. Went on bridge eight bells (4 A.M.)
Gentle breeze - flat sea except for gentle swell - Strong moonlight,
blotted out now & then by drifting cloud.
(This next part was completed after his rescue)
4.13 Leading ship 2nd column to port torpedoed.
415 Hit by torpedo abaft main mast.
418 Ship sunk under our feet.
Feby 9. 1941
705 Picked up by boat from H.M.S. Deptford.
62 Rodney St.
25 - 2 - 41
Dear Uncle -
Thanks awfully for the three packets of mail which I received here on
arrival yesterday evening, together with two others from Mr. Cross.
I was jolly glad indeed to know that you are all intact & in
This is just a wee note to let you know that I'm back. But, I regret to
say, this time without my ship, and alas, without some of my shipmates.
The old ship went down less than two minutes after being holed by a
torpedo early the 9th inst. She went down so fast, that those of us who
got clear, were saved the trouble of jumping. We just simply swam away
from her & were picked up by one of our escorts two & a
hours later. I feel none the worse for the wetting.
I will be very busy the next couple days - attending to various
formalities & re-outfitting etc. I hope to get around to see
& Mr. Cross next week. Meanwhile, please forward anything that
come along, to this
I'll write you again as soon as I get a chance.
P. S. Please extend my hearty greetings & best wishes to Mr.
Cross & Mr. & Mrs. Billington.
3 - 3 - 41
Dear Uncle -
Thanks awfully for your letter which came this morning. I'm glad to
know that all is well in the good ship "Yaverland".
It's jolly good of Mr. Cross to want to put me up & I'll be
come aboard if you are sure my doing so will not cause too much
inconvenience. If so, I can easily stop at some hotel nearby.
I want to leave here before the week-end but it begins to look a bit
doubtful. An overcoat which I'm having made may not be ready. Luckily
I've a suit which I left here. My new uniform suit will not be ready
for another week.
My keeping afloat was not so difficult as you think. We were all
wearing life jackets. For a few seconds, while trying to place as much
distance as possible between the sinking wreck & myself, I was
almost sorry I had it on. My speed, as the ship gurgled &
her way down seemed to be less than nil.
Some of my shipmates were dragged under & came up, but others
didn't. It was touch & go for all of us & a bit grim to
Thanks also for the letter from overseas which came Saturday.
Please give my kindest regards to Mr. Cross & Mr. &
is a photo, "of items stained by the Atlantic salt, having been in
Dad's pocket during his swim courtesy of Herr Clausen..." as provided
by his son, Iain Sanders.
to the U-182 Page
to the USS MacKenzie Page
Thanks to Iain Sanders for all documentation provided on this