MS PEIPING 1st-hand account by Artur Larsson, sunk U-66/Markworth 9 Sept. 1942 Sargasso Sea

Surviving the M/S PEIPING sunk by U-66 Under Friedrich Markworth on 9 Sept. 1942
Written by survivor Mr. Artur Larsson in Swedish, Sept. 2013
Kindly shared by his son, Johan Larsson, Sept., 2013
Kindly translated to English by Mr. Mickael Lundgren, Sweden, Feb. 2014

Following a request from my children, if I could do a recap of the events of the Second World War, when I was on board the m/s Peiping, torpedoed by a German submarine in the Sargasso Sea east of the Bahamas Islands and the events thereafter , as far as I can remember 71 years back in time. But I will make an effort!


PEIPING Photo courtesy of Sjöhistoriska Museet, Stockholm


We left Buenos Aires, Argentina, August 22, 1942 with a cargo of most raw ox hide, and wool and tallow for New York. Everything looked good, glorious weather we pass the equator Sept. 2 at longitude 23 ° west, according to estimates. But on September 9, we were at latitude. 23 ° 50 ‘ longitude. w 50 ° 10 ‘. As was usual at sea , we drank coffee at 10 o’clock. Well we had been sitting in the mess hall (dining room) for 10 minutes, when the ship was shaken by a terrible explosion that threw water masses over the ship.

We rushed amidships to the lifeboats and then saw that the starboard both lifeboats was blown off, so we had to man the port two lifeboats, one larger and one smaller, we had problems with the launch, the ship was moving forward so the lifeboat was about to capsize then we could not loosen the pulleys,  but he who sat in the bow took the ax and cut the lifeline that was trapped in the ship, the lifeboat straightened up and pulleys released and we could row away from Peiping still floated.

When we come together with the smaller lifeboat, which had the severely injured motorman Augustsson on board , the engineer Liljeqvist saved his life when he rushed down into the water-filled engine room, where Augustsson was floating, carried him up to the lifeboat, notice that Augustsson was a big and hefty man, it was an achievement of class. We had a consultation in both lifeboats if we could row back, because Peiping floated still and three of our comrades were missing, and possibly rations and cigarettes , at sea all smoked, so without smoking (it) would become difficult.

Because we needed the smaller boat for this, we must move the seriously injured Augustsson to the larger lifeboat , which was not easy in the swell, but as a result of this harsh treatment, we pulled one of his knees, that had been dislocated, right. We were six men who rowed back to the ship in the smaller lifeboat. My old shipmate Anderberg stayed in the lifeboat and held it to the side of the ship, while the rest of us climbed aboard. First I ran to my cabin, where I waded in meters of water, everything was floating around, bags, duffel bags (and) bedding alternately, I got hold on for me important goods, things that I stitched into the canvas and a few cartons of cigarettes and then I went to the bow. I saw the machinist dislodge the link that our ape “Jocke”[1]was attached to.
When I arrived amidships, I looked into the machine, there was an uncomfortable silence, the water gurgled over the machine top, and (to) know that three of our comrades were still down there. I hurried on, and tossed the cigarettes to Anderberg in the lifeboat and then I proceeded to the provisioning repository, where I and a friend got hold of a box of condensed milk, which I put on the 3rd hatch. When I turned around to receive a box of dried fruit; then bang again, it was the second torpedo that hit between the fourth and fifth cargo hold.
Now everything went fast when I jumped overboard half the ship was below the water and when we swam forward to the lifeboat, which Anderberg bumped from the ship because he was afraid to get in the slipstream when Peiping disappeared into the depths with a terrible crash , and her engine men Gustav Engström, ST (?) Allan Dahlgren and Nils Wigsten. When Peiping had sunk, we saw among the debris that floated up, our monkey “Jocke” sitting on an empty drum balancing on the waves. At the same time came the U-boat surfaced and headed to the monkey and with a boat hook tried to save it, but the barrel went round and our dear “Jocke” disappeared into the depths.

The U-boat approached us and our captain shouted, “if the submarine shoots at us we will jump overboard and hold on to the outside of the lifeboat”, then a sailor named Allan Svensson shouted: ” if they shoot so I will stand up in the boat” after all we had no chance. They could have killed us,
we had heard so much about cruel U-boat captains.
We were ordered to row up alongside the U-boat and we were properly treated. They handed out cigarettes and bananas for the injured, these were filmed from the submarine, presumably for propaganda purposes. Then they took the captain and the engineer to the U-boat and then theydisappeared, only to return after a few hours with the captain and engineer, who was pretty tight-lipped about what happened in the U-boat. Meanwhile, we investigated what was in the lifeboat and the raft floating around us. We set sail and headed to the island of Santa Lucia in the Caribbean, which, according to the chart, was closest to us, 494 [2]nautical miles, but we had to go where wind and current brought us. The only navigational instrument we had was the compass, which the small lifeboat had not, because of that we towed it in a rope after us, we did not want to be separated from each other.
We now had time to look after the seriously injured Augustsson, what I particularly remember was an injury to the bone shaft and the captain exclaimed, ” it looks bad Augustsson” Whereby Augustsson replied : “That injury I got during the first World War when we were in Liverpool[3](sic) and we got bombed by a zeppelin (airship), and those ” lime-juices”[4](nickname for Englishmen ) fixed me bad, no it ‘s up here, I have a such diabolical pain”. It was the hip – femoral neck – that was broken + other wounds. Motorman Bengtsson had two ribs broken, machinist Andersson right arm was hurt. The two were both in the engine room when the first torpedo came, it was fortunate that they survived. Incidentally, we were more or less healthy physically. Withthe blankets wehad available, we tried to ensure that Augustsson gotit as comfortable as possible. He took up almost the whole of one side of the lifeboat, he could not move.
Augustsson was a fighter not a sound was heard throughout the life boat voyage though he must have hurt many times. So passed one day after the other, it was the drinking water that worried us most, we did not know how long this involuntary journey would take 31 men thirsty in the scorching sun of the tropics. As a rationing determined to – 10 centiliter in the morning and the same in the evening. There were canned meatballs, but they were so salty that without abundant water we did not dare eat them, there was also rock hard ship’s biscuits and baking chocolate and “Pemican”, special mixed concentratesintended as emergency rations, it was surely these that saved our lives.
We sailed through the Sargasso Sea this huge vortex sea currents created, several days we lay in these islands of seaweed and algae among the forceps were tiny crabs that we tried to eat raw, but they were salty. Eventually we came out of the Sargasso Sea and got little wind that put us forward a little bit, but we didn’t move fast, for the most part it was calm, we tried to measure the speed by dropping a stick in the bow and the captain took the time to clock when it reached the stern. But the trade winds and currents set ourselves constantly against the West Indies.
Our captain cheered us up with, that unless we are unlucky and run into hurricanes which usually occur at this time of year, we should have a good opportunity to cope, if the water is enough because that is vital, the days went on, albeit slowly. Alldry throats waiting for the amount of water that rationing gavemorning and evening. We had hallucinations about the water I remember when I slept under the thwart in the lifeboat, and dreamed that I was on board Peiping and would go up in the mess hall for drinking water and hit his head on the thwart when I traveled and found that I was not in my bunk.
The bottom of the lifeboat was the only place one could stretch out to get a little rest, for the 23 men in such a small space for a full 16 days, it was distressing, that could everyone understand. We, in our boat, had no luck with the fishing, but in the other boat got them a dolphin-fish but we were content to suck on the small flying fish that flew into the sail during the night there was a little fluid in them.
But we wished it to rain, we saw rain squalls which emphasized passing quite close, but disappointed we saw them disappear. But our Lord was entreated of us, one evening we went into a thunderstorm and the rain poured down , we tried to fill the water kegs, but it was not easy, but  we did get a little, so the coffee we drank then became a real feast while, we had a kerosene stove which we fired with methane tablets. But above all, we could  sate our thirst . In the morning we took the rain water that got into the boat mixed with the bilge keel , it was not appetizing , but we mixed it with our rock-hard biscuit that we smashed with the ax . Together with those savory meatballs we stirred together into a mush. You can not be picky, we ate with relish and came in a better mood , we got a little rain later but it did not allow such extravagances as the first rain shower.
One day when we were really depressed , the sun fried not a breath of wind and no a shark was to be seen, we jumped in and swam , the captain tried to dissuade us, but it did not help much we had come to the point that we did not bother us. It was nice to have a little relaxation, and for the moment we forgot the mess we found ourselves in. We some ships  a few times , we fired flares, but they showed no sign of having seen us , very disappointing! Otherwise the day went hopelessly slow , what interested us most was the drinking water. When the captain every day with a stick put down in the water keg to see what was left , this was necessary, but then he started to lick the drops of water that came with the stick up and was about to trigger a mutiny .
To begin with, no one thought of it, but what time passed , we became more and more annoyed and a sailor Olsson “Halmsta Olsson” told the captain that we would not tolerate this  “slurping” in the future. Regarding the water issue, I remember a sad incident, someone claimed to have seen that one of the four Chinese tried to steal water from the kegs, which I do not believewas true? I remember that Captain shook his fist under the nose of the Chinese and said ” If you do that again I give you that.”[5]
It started to blow with rough seas as a result and after and, after the Captain’s calculations, we could not be far from the shore and since the islands in the Caribbean normally consists of steep cliffs and reefs on the Atlantic side, so he wanted to put out the sea anchor to slow the pace during the night, these decisions were not met by applause by most of us, everyone wanted to get to land as quickly as possible. Butas the skipper had decided it was and on reflection , andon reflection it was a wise decision, because ifwe had sailed on the rocks and reefs that were there in the dark, we would not have survivedthe night of Sept. 23.
I remember that the old seaman Wahlmark called “Räven”[6] because of his red mustache, he said, ” Now boys smell the shore”, but no one cared about this, they thought it was the fantasies. But “Gamle Räven”[7](46 years) had smelled right when it began to brighten in the morning of 24 September in the year 1942 we sighted on the port side of a mountain peak sticking out of the clouds, that we did not know then, it was the volcano La Soufriere on the island Guadeloupe, nearly 1500 meters high and visible from far away.
Had it been dark for another hour, we probably had not seen the island, but continued out into the Caribbean Sea and not seen the shore before South America, a distance equal to that we have already done. buthow hadwe got to where we were now? Well the day before in the evening we had with the help of strong wind and ocean currents sucked into the strait between the island Guadeloupe in the south and the island of Antigua in the north, we had not seen anything from the land, neither light of lighthouses or boats during the night.

Now , we set course for the shore , but it went slow , we had no favorable wind, we tried to row but was too weak to handle the oars . Then we saw a fishing boat and we waved and shouted , but they seemed a little suspicious and it was no wonder since we must have looked hideous , but in the end they took courage and came up alongside , and they gave us water and they took over the oars and these athletic build creoles and of them we were told that it was we had the islandGuadeloupe for about us.
Despite this good help, we did not land on the island until15.00 on 24 Sept. 1942 after having spent 16 days in the lifeboat, it was wonderful to put your feet in the soft sand on this palm-lined cove called “le Grande Anse ” (the Big Bay ) and I especially remember the sharp black guy, how he took the wounded Augustsson in his arms and carried him like a child and laid him in the shade of a palm tree. It ran a little water from a swamp and we hurried there to drink , the captain shouted ” do not drink it can be toxic ” but there was no one who took notice of this, we just drank . The fish had a jar with raw Rhum , which they gave us afterwards , that was not what empty stomachs needed, but maybe good to disinfect stomachs with.
Suddenly there appeared a jeep with two French officials who spoke to the fishermen and we once again got into the boats and the fishermen rowed us around a headland into a small town named Deshaies. It had grown dark when we arrived and we were very tired but happy, we were billeted in a school at the beach, quite simple, stood on poles, with a roof composed of reeds . The people were very kind and helpful, they gave us fried chicken and fruit and then we had to lie on the floor in the classroom and I will never forget when the young French teacher went around and bathed our faces with perfume against mosquitos, it was angelic . Then I fell asleep to the sound of waves on the beach. in the morning we were pretty alert after a good night’s sleep, which we had not done for 15 nights .

We went out to the creek that ran next door and joked with the black gals who washed clothes in the rippling brook. This Day on Sept 25. 1942, 13.00,
we got, for the last time, embark our lifeboats, when a motor yacht took us in tow to the largest city on the island of Basse Terre, where we arrived at 16:30 the same day. There, we were taken into the monastery hospital at Pigal Saint Hyacente  What I particularly remember from it was that we got a laxative called English salt, to put the seam on our shriveled stomachs, but the catch was that there was only one toilet the one that found there first he stayed and the other had only monastery garden to take refuge and it can each understand, this fragrant environment snapped turned into a stinking inferno. After staying at the monastery hospital for 5 days, we were moved on 29 Sept. to a hotel up in the mountains in a village called Dolé, it was very beautiful on the volcano slope, there was a swimming pool in the park and the water came from the mountains and was over +30°C degrees.
The food consisted mostly of fish and bananas fried, boiled, I did not know you could do so much of bananas, but it wasgourmet foods after being 16 days in a lifeboat, but after 5 days in luxury, we were brought down to the quay in Basse Terre there were nuns from hospital to say goodbye and they took care of our ship dog “Don”, who shared our hardships during the lifeboat voyage. We left the island of Guadeloupe on October 3 in the evening with the French ship M / S Guadeloupe from Nantes in France and arrived in the town of Fort au France on Martinique October 4 at 7.30 in the morning, we were running a few hours by bus to an old fortress in the mountains. The garrison consisted of French Foreign Legionnaires. There were other ships, crews, including an Englishcrew who had been torpedoed like us. It was not a hospitable place, and we were delighted when wewere picked up in the morning and carried down to the harbor in Fort au France where the ship m / s Guadeloupe was anchored.

The ship stowed bananas for New Orleans in the United States and we would follow as passenger, except our four Chinese who have to undergo a special examination of the U.S. emigration authorities. This was not a passenger ship so there was not much space, together with three companions, I got to share asingle cabin, and others in temporary spaces. Sometimes I wondered if there were lifeboats for all, if something were to happen, but everything went well and we arrived in New Orleans in the U.S. on October 11, 4pm. Our 13 days in New Orleans were was agreeable.
We lived hotels in French Quarter and ate at a restaurant on the other side of Canal Street. It was just to order what you wanted and then sign the bill. Adjacent to the restaurant was the bar ” Dirty Marshal ” (“Den smutsige Sheriffen”) who became our regular locus. I bought khaki pants + shirt, instead of the tropic clothes I got in Guadeloupe. We were interrogated several times by FBI agents and questioned what we were doing in the United States, anyone that stood out was assumed to be spies. After two weeks, October 24, 1942 2pm, we left New Orleans by train to New York. We went in a so-called Pullman coach, the seats were transformed into beds at night.
It took two days by train to New York, where we arrived October 26 on my 23 birthday, we left New York with m / s Brageland as passengers to Buenos Aires in Argentina, served by Swedish vessels authorized by the warring countries of safe passage to Sweden. After bringing cargo to Rio and Santos in Brazil, we came to Buenos Aires on December 3 1942, where we stayed at Hotel America to December 21 then we – Anderberg and I  – went on board the m / s Nagara as passengers to Sweden. We came to Bahia, Brazil, on January 10 1943 but we were not allowed to proceed until 23 March. Then we departed to Horta in the Azores, where we arrived on 6 April and lay there to 11 May, when we got permission to go to Gothenburg via the Faroe Islands. We arrived in Gothenburg May 25, 1943 at, 10 am I think I was home in Strömmared on 26 May to a waiting delighted Mother.

Written downby Artur Larsson BrattorpIstorp 3 September 2013

[1] ”Jocke” is the nickname for ”Joakim”.
[2] It ishard to see what he has written, it canbe 794 nautical miles.
[3] He was there as a sailor on board a ship. Liverpool misspelled Liverpol.
[4] He writes “limejuicearna” and mixes English and Swedish.
[5] Yes, he said it in English.
[6] ”The Fox”.
[7] ”The Old Fox”.