MT British Resource sunk U-124/Mohr 13 March 1942, 46 men ablaze by benzene or drowned

M/T BRITISH RESOURCE, Attack & Survivor’s Narrative

 by Eric T. Wiberg,, March 2014

The motor tanker British Resource was built by the Greenock Dockyard Company in Greenock, Scotland and launched two days before Christmas in 1930 as yard number 421. Always called British Resource, she was registered to London and owned by the British Tanker Company of that city. Her dimensions were 440.6 feet stem to stern, 59.4 feet wide and 32.9 feet deep. Her tonnage was 7,209 registered tons. Her modern oil-fueled engine generated 653 net horsepower and was built by J. G. Kincaid and Company Ltd.

MV British Resource, 1931 – 1942, in its BP livery


On 25 July 1939 the British Resource ran aground at Busrah in Abadan, but was pulled off. Between the outset of war in September 1939 and March 1942 the British Resource had a busy time of it. In 1939 she called at Mombasa, Cape Town, Freetown, and Dakar, all in Africa, then discharged in Liverpool over Christmas. Unfortunately on 18 October she collided with the British ship Celtic Star and two men were killed. From there she called at Texas, Bermuda, the UK, Cape Town, the Middle East, West Africa, and various ports in the UK. Aside from engine trouble in September 1940 and September 1941 she seems to have had no other problems.

In early 1941 she called at Aruba, Bermuda again, and several British ports. From there it was Texas and Halifax and back to the UK, sailing independently. According to John Mozlak’s extensive research on one of her earlier wartime voyages she left New York on May 31st, 1941. Per she sailed for Halifax in Convoy HX 131 carrying benzine (also spelt benzene). Another loading port, in July 1941 was Baltimore. At the end of 1941 she loaded in Texas again and returned to the UK via Halifax. Overall the British Resource participated in convoys OB 124, BHX 42, SL 50, OB 287, HX 131, and EN 3.

The British Resource left the River Mersey (Liverpool) on the 8th of February 1942 in ballast for Curacao. There she loaded a cargo of what Captain James Kennedy described as 10,000 tons of “petrol and Aviation spirit”. Numerous other sources (,, state that her cargo was more likely the petroleum derivative benzene and white spirit. Since it is relevant to her demise, some details of these highly flammable and deadly cargoes is warranted.

Benzene is present in crude oil and distilled for uses in plastic, rubber and drugs. “According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR 2007), benzene is both an anthropogenically produced and naturally occurring chemical from processes that include: volcanic eruptions, wild fires, synthesis of chemicals such as phenol, production of synthetic fibers, and fabrication of rubbers, lubricants, pesticides, medications, and dyes.” (

“White spirit is used as an extraction solvent, as a cleaning solvent, as a degreasing solvent and as a solvent in aerosols, paints, wood preservatives, lacquers, varnishes, and asphaltproducts. In western Europe about 60% of the total white spirit consumption is used in paints, lacquers and varnishes. White spirit is the most widely used solvent in the paint industry. In households, white spirit is commonly used to clean paint brushes after use.” (

Curucao around the time the British Resource loaded there, showing the Shell refinery and the tanker port at Schottegat

However her cargo was described, the British Resource carried 10,000 tons of highly flammable and deadly liquid, as we shall see. She was armed with a 4-inch gun, a 12-pound gun and several machine guns (two Lewis, two Twin Hotchkiss and two Single Hotchkiss). The ship was also equipped with two P.A.C. parachute rockets. The human complement consisted of 51 persons, of whom 43 were British merchant mariners and eight were gunners; four naval gunners and four “military” or army gunners.

It is worth noting how young many of the British Resource’s crew were. Those 20 or under included Apprentice Bernard Allison, aged 16, Apprentice Keith Charles Finn, aged 19, Deck Boy Norman Hartnell, aged 17, Cabin Boy Dougall Hoyle, aged 17 (who had gone to see when a boy in his village had given him a white feather, symbol of cowardice), Arthur Ernest Jones, Able Seaman aged 20, Ronald Patrick Jordan, Carpenter aged 19, Alexander McLeod, Assistant Steward, aged 19, Ordinary Seaman (OS) George W. Newstead, aged 18.

Another young Ordinary Seaman was John Owen, aged 18, John Eric Robinson, Second Radio Officer, aged 18, Cook Leslie Saunders, aged 19, and Cabin Boy Robert Strathie, aged 18. Perhaps most poignant were the two sons of the Manaley family of London, Steward Hugh Manaley, aged 17, and his younger brother Assistant Steward Charles (Charlie) Ramsey Manaley, aged just 15.

It would appear that all of the crew were British except Patrick John Broderick, age 33, the Chief Officer (First Mate), who was South African and in the merchant navy of South Africa. Also Percy Donald Duncan Melvin, aged 21 was from Canada, a Dominion of Great Britain at the time.

The British Resource must have arrived in Curacao early in March, as she departed the island at 10 am local time on Wednesday the 4th of March 1942 bound for Halifax. The most likely route for her to have taken was via the Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Ten days later, at about 3 pm local time on Saturday March 14th 1942 the ship had reached 36.04 North and 65.38 West, which is 1,500 nautical miles along her track from Curacao.

At that point the British Resource was 225 north-northwest of Bermuda, 485 miles southeast of New York and roughly 500 miles south of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Mohr was watching, as he wrote in his war diary: “18.07 [all times German]: 2 masts in sight bearing 225°T, 14 nm away.  Maneuvered ahead to the north.  Tanker zig zags regularly, no long legs.  Speed 11 knots. 19:45: Dived on general course line.”

Mohr writes: “21:18: Double shot, range 1,000 meters, 1st hit: after edge of forecastle, 2nd hit: forward mast. Tanker settles forward deeper and stops. Port lifeboat was put to the water.”

Captain Kennedy later wrote that “We were making a speed of 11 knots zig zagging day and night as ordered, changing the pattern every two hours. I received no submarine warnings and was not expecting to be attacked.” The ship was on course 6 degrees north when suddenly they were struck by two torpedoes from U-124 under Johan “Jochen” Mohr. Visibility was good, winds were described as light and variable, and the sea was calm. Though Mohr says that torpedoes his the “after edge of the forecastle” as well as the “forward mast,” Captain Kennedy says a single torpedo “struck in the Fore Deep Hold on the Starboard side.” He continues:

“There was a violent explosion and a considerable amount of water and oil from the bunkers was thrown up. No flash or flame seen. The ship settled down rapidly by the head so I ‘phoned the Chief Engineer [William Alfred Corlett, aged 50], who was in the engine room to put the engines full speed ahead and then come on deck. Together we entered the pump-room forward and opened the sea valves to try and restore a little of our lost buoyancy by running down Nos. 1 and 2 tanks. The submarine periscope was sighted about 5 cables on the starboard beam so we immediately engaged him with the 4” aft. I gave the helmsman a course to bring our stern to the submarine.”

The gun crew was led by Samuel John Rennels, aged 27, Second Officer. Kennedy says that he “too charge of the guns when the British Resource was torpedoed and fired on the submarine until he and the guns’ crew were eventually forced away from their stations by the flames and were compelled to jump overboard in an attempt to save their lives.”

Mohr writes: “AS [anti-submarine] armament recognized 3 cannons (about 5 cm) on forecastle, forward walkway and stern walkway.  1 cannon (15 cm or 10.5 cm) on stern. Stern cannon was manned and fired in the direction of the periscope.  No impacts heard.”

Captain Kennedy continues: “By now the engines had stopped, having lost the fuel oil suction owing to the ship being so far down by the head. As we were now a sitting target I ordered No.4 boat to be lowered and the Chief Officer and 30 men abandoned ship in this boat. At 1503 a second torpedo struck the ship in the way of No. 6 tank, starboard side, throwing a huge column of blazing benzene high into the air, setting the ship on fire from the fore mast, right aft. The water on both sides was immediately covered with burning benzine.”

Kennedy then has the tragic duty to relate that despite his efforts to save his men at the cost of his own life, the opposite in fact happened: “In spite of the port boat being 250 feet away from the ship it was filled with burning benzine and being a metal boat it soon melted. The occupants must have perished immediately.”

Mohr continues: ““21:33: Coup de Grace, range = 700 meters. Hit between after mast and engine room. Munitions locker exploded.  At the same moment the entire ship is in flames.  800 meter high smoke column, 200 meter high flames.  On board munitions explode at short intervals.” The American U-Boat historian Clay Blair wrote that the ship “….blew up, spewing flames 600 feet into the sky.” There were however at least six men still alive on the mortally stricken ship.

Captain Kennedy describes all this frenetic activity as taking place between 3 pm and a second shot at 3:03 pm – three minutes. Mohr provide a more realistic time-frame of 25 minutes, between 21:18 German time when the first two shots were fired and 21:33 when the coup-de-grace or second round was fired. Given all that Kennedy and his men accomplished in that time, and that Mohr had the benefit of recording timing from the stability of his undamaged vessel, the latters’ timings can be deemed more reliable.

Johan Mohr, commander of the U-124



The caption for this photo reads: “U-124 entering harbor in Fall 1941. After a successful patrol. Now under the command of Kapitanleutnant Mohr, the boat carries his own insignia, the Green Frog, along with the Edelweiss, as was frequently the case ewhen a new commander took over an already successful boat. (Bundesarchiv).” This is likely taken on 1 October 1941, after Mohr had sunk 5 ships of 12,343 tons, as it was Fall 1941 and there were 5 pennants flown (one is not shown in this image).

Source: Stern, Robert C. and Greer, Don, U-Boats in Action, squadron/signal publications, Warships No. 1, 1977, Carrollton, Texas

Captain Kennedy was on the bridge with the helmsman and two radio operators, one of whom was Neil Murray Coleman, Third Radio Officer. He writes that “I ordered these three men to make for the forecastle head – the only portion of the ship not enveloped in flames…. [After throwing the codes overboard he] followed these men, jumping onto the deck and up through the fore peak hatch. I saw none of the crew on the way, and on reaching the forecastle head saw that the 3 men had already jumped overboard. I found a torn life jacket which I took with me then I slipped into the water from the anchor which was already awash and swam after them just as the burning flames met on the water round the bow of the ship. All this happened in two or three crowded minutes.”

Mohr continues in his KTB entry:  “21:37: Surfaced.  Name on stern:  BRITISH R…. London. From construction (normal stern, straight bow, pole masts between bridge and after mast identified as “BRITISH RESOURCE” 7209 GRT, loaded. Tanker still floats on burning oil.  In hours will be totally burned and sink.  In the vicinity rafts and 1 lifeboat also burned.  4 swimming people seen. 22:23: Continued westerly transit.  Reloaded.”

Meanwhile Captain Kennedy and his companions swam to windward to avoid the burning benzene. He recognized Second Officer Rennels among the men in the water, as well as some of the gun crew and some engineers. Then “Suddenly the submarine surfaced off the port quarter and began taking photographs of the blazing ship. The men nearby began swimming towards the submarine in an attempt to board it, but as they got within reach they were brutally waved away and the submarine went full speed ahead and steamed through them. ….The crew were all young and fair and the men in the water told me that they were speaking in German.”

It was a tragic afternoon for Kennedy and his companions, as “…one by one, the crew reached the limit of their endurance, lowered their heads and slowly dropped astern [of the drifting ship]. I bumped into several of my men – doubtless some of the crew of the Port lifeboat – I turned two of them over but they were beyond recognition, the flames had done their work only too well. Their lifejackets were burnt and useless, so I passed on.”

U-124 at base in France. Note the flower emblem on the conning tower.


The pathetic cacalcade of survivors continued to slowly peddle and wade after their flaming ship. After roughly three hours the sun began to set. Kennedy spotted an object low in the water behind the ship. Because of its distance from him it would require his exerting possibly the last of his strength to reach it, but he took the risk. Arriving at it, exhausted, he discovered that it was was “…the remains of a burnt out and partly submerged raft. The raft was still smouldering but we managed to put the fire out and thankfully crawled on to it, very tired indeed.”

By shouting into the falling evening Captain Kennedy and the Senior Radio Officer were able to attract the attention of three more men, including Third Radio Officer Coleman and the helmsman. He wrote “…we eargerly helped them on board, making them cover the splits in the barrel with their bodies to keep the water out. The heat was intense but it kept the water warm and for that we were thankful.”

Meanwhile at 02:40 German time on the 15th of March Mohr wrote in the war diary “Last fiery glow of the burning oil out of sight in the northeast.” Indeed Kennedy records that the British Resource finally sank at 3 am on Sunday the 15th of March, “…still a blazing mass and the water continued to burn for another hour, then the wind blew the pall of smoke away and the sky cleared.”

Fortunately for the forlorn men, who numbered less than half a dozen out of the ship’s original complement of 51 (in all 46 men perished), the Allies had received their SOS and quickly dispatched help. By 8 pm, some five hours after the attack, Kennedy writes that “…a large American Flying boat arrived and dropped a number of flares and signalled with a flashlight. We took the red glasss off our lifejacket lights and signalled back to him. This ‘plane circled for about 4 hours and then giving us a parting greeting flew off.” This must have been an immense boost to the men’s morale, particularly considering the trauma they had both witnessed and experienced.

Indeed the coordinated US and British response to the British Resource casualty was immediate, strident, and highly effective. First word of the attack was recorded at 3:27 pm in the Headquarters of the Fifth Naval District in Nofolk, Virginia. It records simply “SSS from SS British Resource giving position 36-01N 65-49W.” The Enemy Action Diary for the Eastern Sea Frontier records at 3:38 pm, during that actual attack, that “British Resource… sent an SSS [submarine sighted and/or attack]. This position is approximately 160 miles N by W from Bermuda.”

The Naval Operating Base in Bermuda war diary for 13 March records that “At 1900 an S.S.S was received from a British tanker 200 miles North of Bermuda. The night patrol plane immediately was sent to the secene. Two hours later plane reported tanker on fire, and nearby survivors identifified by dim flashing light [life jacket lights described by Captain Kennedy]. Corvette CLARKIA ordered to proceed out, pick up survivors and attack submarine. Plane continued to guard survivors through the night and searched for submarine which was twice located on the surface and presumably driven down.” Despite this latter entry, Mohr makes no mention of having been attacked or driven down by airplanes.

Captain Kennedy picks up the narrative, writing that “At 1000 the ‘plane returned, we waved an oilskin coat and they saw it and came and circled low over us. The ‘plane then flew off and returned again shortly after noon, dropping a sleeping ba supported by lifebelts and a dinghy. The sleeping bag contained bread, water, butter, a sccan of corn and some cigarettes. They signalled to us the cheering message that a ship was coming.”

The NOB Bermuda diary corroborates this, on Sunday the 15th March recording that “Additional planes were sent to the scene at daylight. Corvette CLARKIA reached scene in afternoon and picked up Captain and four other sufrvivors from a raft. Planse covered CLARKIA and continued search for submarine, but no further contact was made. All others on tanker believed lost.”

It would seem the reason a plane did not try to land and rescue the men right away at first light was because there was a heavy sea running. Mohr, though he was heading west, records conditions that morning as: “heavy rain and thunder squalls, summer lightening, short large Sea.” Also it appears that the Allied naval forces didn’t want just to rescue survivors, but to attack the submarine which was the root cause of the casualty.

Kennedy relates his elation and sudden rescue thus: “At 2000 [8 pm] just before dark the ‘plane returned and signalled that a corvette was on her way, and almost immediately H.M.S. CLARKIA steamed over to us and picked us up, taking us to Bermuda where we arrived on the 16th March. We were all very tired and suffering from burns but were very thankful to see the land again.”

NOB Bermuda’s diary for Monday, 16 March reads “H.M.S. corvette CLARKIA entered the port with the five survivors of the British tanker…. The CLARKIA was ordered to turn over the survivors to the Royal Navy. Royal Navy (Commodore-in-Charge, H.M. Dockyard) agreed to make necessary report to immigration authorities and to the Shipping master in the Colonial Secretary’s office.” The Commodore-in-Charge at the time is thought to have been either Admiral  Sir C. E. Kennedy-Purvis, KCB (outgoing in 1942) or Vice Admiral Sir Alban T. B. Curteis, KCB (incoming).

The commander of HMS Clarkia was Lieutenant Frederick John Gwynn Jones, RD, RNR, and he had quite an extraordinary time rescuing merchant sailors of varioius nationalities during the early part of the war. Overall, according to he and his men on the Clarkia (K 88), which Jones commanded between 4 April 1940 and 30 August 1942 rescued 143 sailors from six ships: 45 from Accra, 32 from Vinemoor, off the UK in 1940, 16 from the Norwegian Brandanger, 5 from the Empire Citizen both off Iceland in 1941, 5 from the British Resource and 30 from the British Consul off Trinidad in August, 11 days before he handed over command of the Clarkia and assumed command of HMS Mansfield (G 76). Whilst in command of HMS Rowley (K 560) Jones was given partial credit for sinking U-1208 in the English Channel on 27 February, 1945.

Unlike almost every other merchant marine casualty from which Allied sailors were landed in Bermuda, the Bermuda National Archives have been unable to locate local news stories about the survivors of the British Resource when they landed on the island. The probable reasons for this are three-fold: the survivors were landed by an Royal Navy ship and not another merchant ship, they were few in number and thus would have had a muted impact locally, and thirdly, given the dastardly and horrific way in which so many men died: ablaze in burning benzine, run over by an enemy U-Boat or simply drowned from exhaustion, it is unlikely that the naval authorities wished to publish such demoralizing accounts. Small wonder.

Lloyd’s of London did however recognize two of the British Resource’s officers for exemplary conduct. Their War Medal for Bravery at Sea was instigated in 1940 to honor “seafarers who performed acts of exceptional courage at sea.” In the course of WWII only 541 were awarded, and two of them went to British Resource men: First Radio Officer Frederick Ronald Clark, aged 31, and Third Radio Officer Niel Murray Coleman, who survived with Captain Kennedy. Without those twe men staying at their post when most of their colleagues had abandoned ship, it was unlikely that rescue would have come so swiftly, if at all.

Coleman and Kennedy were further honored by the King with the title “Officer of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.” The citation recounts the loss of the ship, the 30 men in the lifeboat, the remaining men’s terrifying dash to the bow through flames, and a harrowing 26 hours on a frail life raft. Specifically the citation reads: “The Third Radio Officer [Coleman] showed great bravery and devotion to duty. He remained in the Wireless Roomm and held a broken wire in position while sistress messages were transmitted. He did not leave until forced to do so by the enveloping flames.”

As for Captain Kennedy, the citation reads: “The Master displayed outstanding courage throughout. He did his best to fight the submarine and tried to safeguard the lives of the crew by getting the majority away ina boat at an early stage.”

Meanwhile back in the UK young Tony Jordan, aged 11, waited for his older brother Ron to return home from the British Resource. Young Tony, who had withstood the bombings of Coventry, was devastated by the loss of his sibling, but still erected a plaque with the names of both Ronald Patrick Jordan, Carpenter, and commander Georg-Wilhelm Schulz of U-124 on it on a bench at the British Museum of Road Transport. Apparently Ron was drafted aboard the British Resource when Captain Kennedy was short a carpenter, but when war broke out he was forbidden by wartime laws from leaving the ship.

Peter Manaley lost two brothers aboard the British Resource; Charley aged 15 and Hugh 17. Peter’s son Rick writes “My mum said that my dad was 8 years old at the time and it was on his mind all his life.”


Blair, Clay, Hitler’s U-Boat War, Volume I: The Hunters, 1939 – 1942, page 517

Clydebuiltships: of construction and early career

ConvoyWeb site: all the voyages of the British Resource from 1938 to her demise in 1942. British Admiralty records as well as Eastern Sea Frontier Enemy Action Diary and the HMS Clarkia logs from the Naval Operating Base (NOB) Bermuda

Forbes, Keith Archibald, commander of NOB Bermuda

Hogel, Georg, “U-Boat Emblems of World War II, 1939 – 1945,” Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA, 199, page 68

Jordan, Maynard,

Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea – found at

London Gazette, Third Supplement, Friday 26th March, 1943. Published 30 March, 1943 – for OBE citations for Capt. Kennedy and Coleman, see

Mason, Jerry, for KTB of U-124 translated, and perspective of the German attackers generally:,

McGee, Billy, info. On details of the dead crew

The National Archives, Kew: a great deal of detailed information was gleaned from the Captain’s reports at “Shipping Casualties Section, Trade Division, ‘Report of an Interview with the Master, Captain J. Kennedy, M.V. “British Resource” 7,208 Gr.Tons’”. TNA Kew, London for news articles about the ship

Ships Nostalgia site for reminisce and chat about the shipo –

Stern, Robert C. and Greer, Don, U-Boats in Action, squadron/signal publications, Warships No. 1, 1977, Carrollton, Texas

 “Survivors Statements” from NARA, in Washington DC, as found by Michael Constandy, Formal citation: Survivor’s Statements (1941-1942) Series : Papers of Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, compiled 1941 – 1974.  Record Group 38: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1875 – 2006  Entry P-13.  National Archives at College Park – Textual Reference (Military) 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740 the pre-eminent source of information on U-boats,

Wikipdia, http://en.wikipedia.orgBenzene definition: Specifications and an image of British Resource