The Dutch motor ship Tysa was built by P. Smit of Rotterdam in 1938. Her owners were Van Unden Brothers Shipping (N.V. Gebroeders van Uden’s Scheepvaart en Agentuur Maatschappij) of Rotterdam. Another source listed her owner as the HVN Line or Hollandse Vrachtvaart Maatschappij (N.V. Maatschappij Vrachtvaart). In English this was simplified to the Netherlands Shipping and Trade Company. On her final voyage the Tysa was on charter to the British War Transport Service of London. She is described as a passenger-cargo vessel.
The Tysa’s dimensions were 128.95 meters long, 18.07 meters wide, and 10.82 meters deep. A 724 n.h.p. engine propelled the ship at 12.5 knots. On her final voyage the Tysa was en route from Cape Town South Africa for Baltimore, Maryland. Her cargo consisted of 1,600 tons of heavy chrome ore. It is not shown where the cargo was loaded.
Tysa’s Master was Captain Y. Leenders and the Chief Officer was Johan Pieter Cornelis Roggeveenn, aged 43, from Sheveningen. Out of a total crew of 43 consisted of five British gunners and one Dutch Gunner. Altogether there were seven Brits and the balance were Dutch nationals. One of the Dutch crew, John Peter Blasure, lived with his father in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Though the ship had been zig-zagging since leaving Cape Town, the men were put on extra vigilance when they heard the SOS issued by the Thomas McKean, which was torpedoed by U-505 under Axel-Olaf Loewe at roughly 8:00 am on the morning of Monday June 29th 1942 not 70 miles south of their position. There were seven lookouts posted: an Able-Bodied Seaman on the forecastle head forward, the Captain, First Officer and Third Officer on the bridge, a gunner on the bridge and two gunners on the stern.
Tysa turned to the northeast to keep off the track of the submarine, which they succeeded in doing. However a different submarine, the Italian Calvi-class Morosini would soon have them in its sites. The RPMs on the Tysa were increased to 110 revolutions per minute, and the zig-zagging was more violent. At 9:30 pm the moon came up brightly and the anxious men peeled their eyes to sight any sign of the enemy. The sea was calm, with a breeze from the northeast at about ten knots and visibility was very good.
At 11:15 pm the zig-zag course was altered to 333 degrees true, northwest by Captain Leenders. First Officer Roggeveen determined from shooting Polaris with his sextant that they were in position 25.30N by 57.49W. Ten minutes after the turn, at 11:25 pm, a massive explosion rocked the ship and the engines were immediately stopped. Hold number four had been blasted apart, and dusty iron ore covered that part of the ship. Both aerials and all derricks and masts were down in disarray on deck. The Tysa began to rapidly sink by the stern.
Aft on the poop deck the water tank for sanitary uses was toppled and had spilt its contents, the aft gun platform was askew an titled, and the deck above the messroom was burst upwards. Though thrown from their bunks in the aft accommodation, the men raced forward to join the Captain at the Promenade deck, many of them bleeding from superficial wounds. On the order to abandon ship Roggeveen lowered the port lifeboat from the boat deck to the Promenade Deck so the men could board it. Already there was a list to sternward. The First Officer then collected his navigation tables and instruments from the chart room and he and the Carpenter Johannes de Jonge, aged 37, and the Fourth Officer, Briton W. P. Woodridge, 23, boarded the boat. The total complement in the boat was 23 at the outset.
Ten minutes after impact three boats were away from the Tysa. There was a small boat launched called a gig, with five men in it and the Captain’s starboard boat with fifteen men. They were over 500 miles from the West Indies, which lay downwind and to the southwest of them.
As soon as they were clear a submarine in the distance started shelling the ship over their heads. The boats had rowed ahead of the sinking ship and were off the starboard bow. The submarine approached from the same point of the ship. The men urgently rowed to get out of the way of the shells, some of which hit the water where they had been. Soon the shells were hitting the bridge of the ship, sending white sparks and flashes. The witnesses estimate 40 shells were fired from 1,000 yards away. Before long the bridge was aflame and the ship’s bunkers ignited as well, sending a sizeable flame shooting into the air.
The Morosini then moved down the port side of Tysa, shelling her continuously every few seconds. Tysa was ablaze and glowing red. She sank at 1:15 am on Tuesday the 30th of June, approximately an hour and 50 minutes after the attack began. Roggeveen observed that “the ship started to sink away and amidst a cloud of vapor and a bluish glare she went suddenly under and darkness was again over the ocean.” The submarine moved off without addressing the men.
Thus began one of the most impressive survival voyages of this narrative, during which the Tysa survivors coincidentally met on the high seas with survivors of the Potlatch north of Saint Martin (the Potlatch was sunk by U-153 under Wilfried Reichmann in the same general area on the 27th of June, two days before Tysa, and her crew would land in the Bahamas after over 30 days).
The US Naval Intelligence Officer, M. K. Metcalf was unusually effusive in his praise of Roggeveen, writing on the 21st of September 1942 to various Admirals and the War Shipping Administration. He observed of Roggeveen that “through foresight and exemplary seamanship… [he] contributed materially to the rescue of 47 survivors of the SS Potlatch. It is recommended that, if possible, appropriate official recognition be made of a feat which reflects the highest traditions of the Merchant Marine.”
The highlights of the eight-day voyage are that they set out at 5:30 am on the 30th of June and arrived off Dog Island, between Anguilla and Saint Martin in the West Indies, at 4:30 pm on Tuesday the 7th of July. At first the Captain’s starboard boat had 15 men in it and the gig, or small boat five. The Captain’s boat had a motor and the Mate’s had sails and a mast, so the two boats took turns leading the small flotilla and towing the little gig, which had trouble with its rudder often popping out. Together the three boats headed south and west until the 4th of July.
On the 2ndof July the gig was abandoned. Since the Fourth Officer had joined her, the number on board grew to six, and after redistribution there were 24 men in the Mate’s boat and 19 in the Captain’s. The gig was simply slowing them down. There appears to have been enough food and water to last with rationing. This consisted of 1/3rd a tin of water per man per day, cake with corned beef, chocolate, pemmican stirred in water (a sort of meat paste) and condensed milk. At 9:30 pm on the 3rd of July the Mate’s boat passed the Master’s for the last time, and exchanged flashlight signals in recognition.
When Roggoveen failed to sight the Captain’s boat the next dawn, they decided not to wait but to press on for the islands while supplies lasted. By Sunday the 5ththey were 97 miles from Antigua. The following day at dawn they made the following extraordinary discovery:
“At dawn red flares were seen at starboard bow, altered course and closed at 5:30 a.m. with a lifeboat with 2 rafts attached of the American steamer “POTLACH” which was sailing with 49 men in a WSW direction. Shouted to them the distance from land, that I should make a landfall on the following day and that I would report them as soon as possible, continued our voyage. Position 19.50N / 61.52W.” The wind was east about 18 knots with an easterly swell and clouds. Again the men press onwards.
At 1:00 pm Tuesday July 7th the men sighted land, probably for the first time since they had left Cape Town weeks before. Realizing that if they overshot these off-lying cays that the wide Caribbean greeted them, the struggled to sail as close to the wind as possible and round the harsh breaking waves at the northwest coast of West Cay which protected Dog Island. At 4:30 after strenuous rowing and anxious sailing the men threaded their way onto the beach in Bad Bay and together pulled the boat out of the surf, where they made a tent with sails.
Soon the light keeper, described as “Indian” living on a shed with his “squaw”, joined them and told them about a fresh water spring inland. Soon the crew returned with pails of water and all of them drank refreshingly. Roggeven tried to send fire signals to Anguilla and then the men slept on the beach in wind and rain.
The next day, 8thJuly, the cook, Y. Y. Severin, 35 and his assistant, Henderikus Fankious de Goey, 24, prepared a large meal of Pemmican and condensed milk. After breakfast the men walked to a small shed in Large Bay to seek help. At 10:00 am they attracted the attention of a local fisherman which sailed into the bay. They convinced him to take them to Saint Martin, administered by both the Dutch and the French, which lay roughly 12 miles to the south.
The 24 men arrived in Marigot, on the French side, at 3:00 pm and were well looked after by first French and then Dutch administrators. The Dutch governor invited them to Philippsburg, the capital, but some men had to remain on the Dutch side until 15 British survivors could be tended there first. These were the survivors of the British ship Willimantic, who had navigated their way into the harbor under the guidance of Second Officer Frank Delany on the 5th of July (she had been sunk 24 June by U-156 under Werner Hartenstein).
The Tysa crew arrived on the Dutch side on Thursday the 9th of July and stayed in the government hotel and private homes. That morning a US seaplane was dispatched from Saint Thomas to learn about the disposition of the crews and any other survivors. True to his word Roggeveen told them about the 49 survivors from the Potlatch which they had encountered, as well as the Captain’s boat.
Captain Leender’s boat with nineteen men in it was met at sea and rescued by the US merchant ship George Washington on the 8thof July, the same day the Chief Officer landed in Saint Martin. They were taken to New Orleans, Louisiana, where they arrived on the 13th of July. Fortunately all the men were informed of the safe arrival of the others. All 43 officers and crew o of the Tysa survived their sinking by an Italian submarine midway between Bermuda and Anegada.