MV Athelknight sunk by U-172/Emmermann May 1942 survivors 28 days in lifeboats

M/T ATHELKNIGHT, Attack & Survivor’s Narrative

 by Eric T. Wiberg,, Feb. 2014

The 8,940-ton molasses tanker Athelknightwas launched by her builder, Robert Duncan and Company in the Port of Glasgow on Tuesday, 10th of December, 1930. It was the yard’s 394thship. Athelknight’s owners were the United Molasses Company of London. Her dimensions were; 475 long, 63.9 feet wide and 35 feet deep. The twin oil engines generated 709 net horsepower and were built by J. G. Kincaid of Greenock, Scotland – just down river on the Clyde. At the time of her demise in May of 1942 the Athelknight was owned by the Athel Line, part of the United Molasses’ fleet.

Athelknight, Source:, From the Library of Contemporary History, Stuttgart, also Bibliothek fur Zeitgeschichte, Stuttgart Collection Raul Maya (Montevideo)

There is an early vignette about the ship on what must have been one of her first long voyages to the Indies and back. The Cass City Chronicle, Michigan of 30 January, 1931 reports that the Athelknight’s 43 men arrived 50 days out of Surabaya, Indonesia missing any form of edible potato. Apparently all the potatoes in their “spud locker” had become inedible three days after leaving the Indies, leaving the men craving for a fresh supply during a very long voyage.

The following year the market for molasses was very depressed and the Athel Line was severely affected, having to lay up several of their ships. Athelknight was not immune to the cost cutting, but still sailed: “ATHELKNIGHT sailed from Birkenhead in January,1932 at slow speed via South Africa to load…. and then crossed the Pacific and through the expensive Panama Canal to Albany, which lies 130 miles up the Hudson river from New York. After a voyage lasting eight months ATHELKNIGHT returned to her lay-up berth and the crew to the dole queues.” (

In 1937 the Athelknightmade a voyage from Matanzas Cuba to Hull, England in October. Between 1933 and 1939 a number of Athelknight’s port movements are recorded in the local newspapers of Oakland, California, where she was presumably discharging cargoes of molasses loaded in Indonesia and surrounding ports, and Port Arthur Texas, where the ship must have been discharging molasses loaded in South American and Caribbean ports like Cuba. In Oakland voyages are recorded for May 1933, March 1934, July and September 1936, and March 1939. In Port Arthur they are reported for July of 1935 and January 1936, departing for South America.

On her final voyage from Scotland to Trinidad in ballast the Athelknight was under the command of Captain Hugh Roberts, of Edern, Llyn, Wales. Roberts had risen to his high position from a low one: that of mess-boy. He joined the Athelknight right before her sailing in Barry (Milford Haven), Wales. Not long before Captain Roberts had undergone gall bladder surgery to remove gall stones.   

Roberts’ first mate was Chief Officer David John Davis (also spelt Davies), who in turn was supported by Second Officer Douglas (Dougie) Crook. The Third Officer was William Henry (Bill) Cook and the Chief Engineer was William Brown MacDonald, who had served aboard the Athelknight for a number of years.

Captain Hugh Roberts of the Athelqueen, taken in February 1943 as he prepares to receive the OBE from the king in London.

On May 12th 1942 the Athelknight left Milford Haven in Convoy OS-28. She was in ballast heading to load cargo in Curacao Dutch West Indies, via a stop in Trinidad to obtain fuel and probably join a Caribbean convoy. The voyage proceeded uneventfully until the 21st of May, when Athelknight left the convoy just southeast of the Azores islands. The other ships were going to the Mediterranean, South Africa, South America and elsewhere. As they were steaming away in the night they could hear the convoy coming under attack and saw flashes and explosions as the ships New Brunswick and Montenol were struck and sunk by U-159 under Helmut Witte.

This was a harbinger of things to come, as the German submarine U-172 under ace skipper Kapitänleutnant Carl Emmermann was on the prowl on the Athelknight’s track as she steamed southwestward. On the evening of the 27th of May 1942 (all times local, not German), the Athelknight was as close to being in the middle of nowhere as one could get in the North Atlantic. At 27.50 degrees north and 46 degrees west, the ship was essentially equidistant from all island groups: 1,000 nautical miles east-southeast of Bermuda, 1,000 miles southwest of the Azores, 1300 miles west-northwest of the Canary Islands (but downwind from both of those groups), and 1,100 northeast of Saint Bartholemew, or St. Bart’s in the West Indies.

Emmermann and his crew had left Lorient France on 11 May only 17 days before. They were just over 2 weeks into a patrol that would last 72 days and take them to the mouth of the Panama Canal and back. In that time U-172 would dispatch nine ships worth over 40,000 gross registered tons – they hadn’t even started. Since his first patrol of 12 days was simply a positioning patrol from Kiel Germany to Lorient, Athelknightwould be Emmermann’s first offensive attack in enemy waters – with 25 more to follow it would not be his last, and he would go on to accrue 152,080 and earn the coveted Knights Cross with Oak Leaves amongst other awards.

U-172 commanderKapitänleutnant Carl Emmermann celebrating the award of Knights Cross at sea during patrol.


At 10:19 pm local time on May 26th 1942 while a bit south of the track ordered in its voyage instructions Athelknight was struck without warning by a torpedo from U-172. The torpedo hit on the starboard side near tank #6, roughly amidships underneath the bridge, damaging #6 and #7 tanks and the pump room. The submarine was probably trying to disable the radio room as quickly as possible and it achieved this with shells. The weather was clear, light wind from the south – there was good visibility and only a slight swell. The ship was making roughly 10.5 knots in a westerly direction.

Athelknight was armed with a 4.7” gun mounted aft, a 12-pound gun (the missiles were each 12 pounds), an Oerlikon and two Marlin machine guns, two single Marlins, and some parachute rockets with kites. The gunners were never able to find and hit the submarine as it always stayed beyond the quarter-mile range of the guns. There were four Royal Navy and four army gunners to man the ships weaponry and 44 merchant sailor officers and men, for a total complement of 52 men on board. All were British. Athelknight had been zig-zagging defensively to throw off submarine attack most of the time according to Chief Officer Davis.

According to Davis “The track of the torpedo was not seen, the explosion was not loud (did not even wake me), there was no flash, but a column of water was thrown up, flooding the decks. The lids were closed but no screwed down, and there appeared to be only slight superficial damage to the deck. No. 6 tank was full of water ballast, the fore and after bulkhead was pierced by the explosion, and the water from the starboard to the port side of No. 6 tank. A hole was torn in the shell plating on the starboard side, and the jagged plates were bent outwards.”

Captain Roberts was also in repose at the time of the attack. He wrote a diary after the war which has graciously been shared with his family. By his account, “At the time I was reading a book in my room, a thing I rarely did at sea in time of war. The engines were stopped and orders given to abandon ship. The boats were being lowered when the submarine began to shell the vessel, and no gun flashes could be detected.” From other accounts it is clear that Captain Roberts raced to the bridge, ordered the engines stopped and for the men to wait at their stations to abandon ship.

Third Officer William H. Cook picks up the narrative: “10:15pm. Torpedo hit on starboard side in No. 6 tank. Captain came on bridge and ordered engines to ‘Stop’. Chief Engineer came on bridge for instructions and Captain said we would stand by with engines stopped & boats swung out. Sub gave us about 10 mins. or ¼ of an hour before she struck us on port side with shell under the port midships boat. Submarine kept ahead about 2 points on port bow ¼ of a mile so that we could not use our aft gun.”

“When sub started shelling Capt. Roberts flashed a torch from the lower bridge but sub carried on shelling so Captain ordered ‘Abandon Ship’. We had tried to get a wireless message out but everything in the W/T room was smashed. Captain’s boat was the first away and Senior Sparks and I were still on the top bridge. I had gone back for my patrol jacket and cap from port wing. Chief Officer was aft tripping rafts and attending to lowering of Second Mate’s boat.”

Since it can be very confusing which boat was which, where each boat was situated, and who was in command, the following diagram might be instructive:


                                                       BRIDGE MID-SHIPS

                        #2 Boat (damaged by shells)              #1 Boat (motor, radio set, damaged by hull)

                        1st Mate’s boat                                    Captain’s boat

                                                          POOP DECK AFT

                        #4 Boat (rudder damaged)                 #3 Boat (no damage)

                        3rd Mate’s boat (run by 1st Mate)        2ndMate’s boat (run by Capt/3rd Mate)


Third Officer Cook continues his narrative “Sparks [Senior Radio Operator Leonard Douglas Hill] and I went on lower bridge and shells were falling near the port boat which three or four men were attempting to lower. I told them to leave off and come with us to my (port after) boat but they took no notice and Sparks and I went aft to my boat. Second Mate’s boat was clear of ship. Chief Officer had already started lowering my boat away, and we cast off with 12 men aboard, mostly my boat’s crew, but some of them had gone in Captain’s boat. Not everyone had made for his own boat at the order “Abandon Ship”. The Mate said that he would go back to his boat, but didn’t. He came down into mine. We pulled away and the sub was firing QF [quick fire] tracer shells over the boat.”

The Captain continued: “One of the first shells hit the ship’s side above the 3rd Mate’s boat and the boat fell into the water with only five men in it. I had to haul my boat forward as jagged plates where the torpedo had hit were damaging it. When I went over the side into the boat I found it full of water, it had been badly damaged and obviously would not keep afloat very long. Shells were constantly pounding the bridge. Sparks, or the Radio Officer had sent out the SOS message but he could not say if it had been successful, and anyhow, no one was likely to come near.” In fact, the radio antennae had been knocked down and no one is recorded having heard the SOS. The men in the damaged boats were on their own on the wide expanse of the sea.

A photo purporting to be of the Athelknight burning, however a jagged torpedo hole on the starboard side near the bridge is not showing, so it is likely another vessel of the thousands attacked in WWII. The photo does illustrate the large poop deck – 140 feet long – and the distance between the lifeboats forward (#1 starboard, #2 port) and those aft (#3 and #4).


During darkness the men in #4 boat (port side aft) under the command of First Officer Davis supported by Third Officer Bill Cook tried to rescue the men in the #2 boat (port side midships), and braved serious shellfire which went over their heads mostly. The situation was so “hot” and dangerous that three men were injured: Cook in the left hand, McAlinden in the faced, and Sheehan in the finger. Also a crewman named Dewar was lost overboard, and was fortunately hauled back in by Cook and Davis.

Realizing that the shrapnel and shell fire made it too dangerous to rescue the five men in the damaged boat (Gaisford, Moore, McGrath, Poulsen and a gunner named Oliver), Cook ordered them to jump into the sea and they would be rescued by the men in the good lifeboat. But, as they had ignored him when he told them to abandon the boat and go aft earlier, they were too panicked to do so. It was a deadly mistake for all but one of them. Meanwhile Davis and Cook felt that they had done all they could and backed away from the ship to await developments. Unfortunately three men were not all that were damaged by the shellfire: the pintle holding the boat’s rudder to the hull was damaged by shellfire, ultimately rendering the rudder useless.

Towards dawn Cook’s boat headed towards what they thought was the other lifeboat, but it turned out to be the submarine maneuvering, so the lifeboat kept its distance. The Captain’s boat was not so fortunate. Because of the sinking state of the motor boat (#1, midships, starboard side), the 19 men in it were able to encounter boat #3, under the 2nd Mate, D. Crook. All men were just able to transfer to boat #3 boat before the motor boat sank. With it went the portable radio set.

Then, at around 3 am before dawn, Emmermann brought his submarine close to the # 3 boat. Second officer Crook described the German commander as “short, dark, thick-set, with bow legs, and he spoke English with a strong German accent.”’

Carl Emmermann of U-172. Source:

Crooks continued: “All the time we lay alongside [the sub] we were covered by ‘Tommy’ guns mounted on the conning tower. The crew wore tropical kit, wearing kharki shirts and shorts, some had forage caps, and some a kind of ski-ing cap with a peak.” Captain Roberts relates how he was ordered on board the sub’s deck and interviewed whilst a German sailor covered him with a machine gun: “I was then ordered aboard by the Commander who asked if we were an American ship. When I said we were British he still maintained we were American and that we were from Freetown. …. he asked if we had provisions, I said yes, but could do with more, whereupon he gave some orders, and a bag containing half a dozen loaves of bread were passed into the boat. When he ordered me back to the boat, he also remarked that he was sorry for us, and I replied that he could not possibly be sorrier for me than I was for myself and all ahead of us.” Roberts was thinking of the huge distances he and his men were from land – Crook says that before motoring away the commander waved his megaphone to the west, “as if telling us to make in that direction.”

Captain Roberts continued: “Before he left I asked him if he would tell our other boats to get in touch with us so that we could place some more of our men in them. He said he would, but apparently he did not do so. When he left us he circled out of our sight at a fast speed and later resumed the shelling of our ship, causing the starboard side bunkers to catch fire which later enveloped the whole after end. This fire continued all night, we lost count of all the number of shells fired, but the number was considerable.”

The actual emblem of U-172 under Emmermann.

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

Emmermann had expended considerable time and shellfire on the Athelknight by this time, which is understandable given that it was his first kill. Also, since the boat was only on its 17th day in a patrol that would last 72 days, the commander did not want to expend a valuable torpedo unless it was absolutely necessary. The Athelknight was a worthy quarry, at nearly 9,000 tons and a tanker, so shortly after dawn U-172 fired a torpedo into the starboard side of the engine room. Seconds later the ship performed a death roll to starboard, raised its bows to the sky and sank stern-first. Emmermann motored off to the westwards.

In the words of Roberts, the bow had been left “standing like a massive pillar out of the sea which very slowly sank beneath the waves, leaving just three comparatively small blobs on the vast surface of the ocean, our boat, the Mate’s boat and the submarine.” Barely above the surface they also found the #2 boat, which had been badly shelled. The men in the two floating lifeboats took a grim tally of the third: Able-Bodied Seaman (AB) Sydney Richard Gaisford, age 34 and AB Martin McGrath, aged 37, were both dead from shrapnel wounds. Their bodies were left adrift in the water-filled boat for birds to peck at.

Fireman Christian Poulsen, aged 24, was terribly injured on the left side of his jaw was well as on his left shoulder: he was probably in the port side lifeboat facing forward when hit from seaward. Ordinary Seaman Clarence Patrick Michael Moore, just 18 years old, was struck in the abdomen by shrapnel. He died at 7 pm on the first day after being given morphine to ease his pain and was buried at sea. Poulsen lasted longer, until 4 am on the fifth day in the raft. He, too was interred in the deep. The fourth injured was an anti-aircraft gunner named Oliver who had shrapnel wounds to the right forearm, which were initially thought to be gunshots.

Captain Robert’s earlier gall bladder operation was to undermine his health and his command – after twelve days in the lifeboat he fell gravely ill and surrendered command to Second Officer Crook. Another injury was to the finger of Donkey motor operator J. Smith – he was to have his finger amputated when gangrene set in.

The immediate task after taking the three injured men aboard one of the boats was to better distribute them between the working vessels. #4 boat was put in command of Chief Officer (First Mate) Davis, with 3rdMate Bill Cook in support. The #3 boat was in command of Captain Roberts, supported by 2nd Mate Crook. Since #4 had only 12 men and #3 had 39 (from two boats), it was decided to split them evenly: Davis’ boat had 25 healthy men but no rudder. The Captain’s boat had a working rudder and 25 men, but two of them were on death’s door. The total tally from the ship after the badly injured died was 48 men, 25 in the damaged boat and 23 in the working one, for a total of 48 living souls out of the original 52. All 8 gunners were alive.

The bread which had been given to them was black and a Russian amongst the crew said it was made of potatoes and maize. Each boat had a good supply of biscuits, milk tablets, pemmican (preserved meat paste), condensed milk, chocolate, and drinking water. On the fourth day of the voyage a very heavy rainfall permitted the men in one boat to store an additional 14 gallons of water, and on the other boat to have unlimited portions of rainwater, as they were unable to capture and save the rain. Rations were implemented right away, more severely on the Captain’s boat – and morale remained high despite the privations.

Though the boats had originally planned to stay together, using light signals, while they sailed westwards, this proved impracticable as #3 was undamaged and #4 lacked a decent rudder and the steering oar proved very cumbersome and tiring. As a result, by day three the boats had separated and did not see each other again. It would be months before they learned of each other’s fates on different continents.

Bill Cook, Third Officer on board #4 with First Mate Davis kept a log of the ensuring 26 days in an open boat on the wide North Atlantic. They rowed till 10 pm the first night then lowered sail and tried with limited success to sleep. The next day they managed 3-4 knots under sail but steering was patchy at best as they lost the steering oar overboard. By day six they had run out of rolling paper for cigarettes but still had 4 pounds of tobacco, which they rolled using pages from the nautical almanac, which was useless without a sextant. On the 4th of June – day 9 – they filled their tanks with 14 gallons of rainwater.

By day 16 the men suffered greatly from constipation, a common ailment in the circumstances. By the 13th of June the men were unhappy with the short rations, but Cook threatened to cut of anyone’s fingers that tried to steal provisions including water. By the 17thof June – day 22 – men were drinking salt water, but were forbidden to swim in it, since Cook feared they lacked the strength to pull themselves back on board.

Then on Sunday the 21st of June – day 26 – came salvation. The British steam ship SS Empire Austen, which had only been launched at Lithgows Limited in Glasgow on 24 March that year, fitted out in May and was on her maiden voyage, saw the men in the boat at 2 pm. By 3:45 pm all 25 men were safely aboard the rescuing ship and the gunners on the Empire Austen had a chance to hone their craft by sinking the by-now stinking lifeboat.

Empire Austen was bound to Cape Town, South Africa, almost a month’s voyage away. Though the men of the Athelknight were keen to let their government and families know that they had been sunk but were safe, getting the word ashore was a challenge. Though they hailed a ship off West Africa (the SS Begum) using an Aldis, or signaling lamp, and though the ship confirmed they would send word to Naval Control at Freetown that Empire Austen had 25 survivors of the Athelknight, it was not until Empire Austen arrived in Cape Town on the 18th of July, nearly a month later, that the British Admiralty put the word out.


SS  Empire Austen as the SS Freecrest after the war. Source:


The British report records that “U-boat fired 2 torpedoes and about 150 shells, killing 3 members of crew. Shooting very erratic. Master boarded U-boat and was given bread by the Captain. No SSS distress message made as both main and emergency wireless set were destroyed first explosion. Master’s boat with 24 persons unaccounted for.” The men boarded the troop transport SS Warwick Castle under the command of Captain Henry Richard Leepman-Shaw for Glasgow, where they arrived safely. A few months later, on 14th November 1942 off Portugal the Warwick Castle was sunk by U-413/Poel with the loss of 896 lives.

The position where the men had been picked up was 435 miles southwest of where the Athelknight had been sunk, quite a feat of seamanship for a small boat with no steerage. However the men were still 625 miles from the nearest West Indian islands, which at an average speed of 2 knots would have taken them over two long weeks to make landfall – in all probability most if not all of the men would have perished at sea had they not been rescued – something that Captain Roberts asserted when he learned of the men’s fate and the stocks of provisions left to them.

The 23 survivors of the #3 boat had the luxury of a steering tiller and working rudder, but the work of helming the vessel around the clock on the same meager rations as other crew who were comparatively idle posed a problem. As a result 2nd Mate Crook provided the helmsmen with a milk tablet to suck on while they worked. Also they set aside a locker at the back of the boat for the exclusive purpose of providing helmsmen a place to rest securely before or after stints.

Captain Roberts, who was only physically able to command the boat for the first 12 days, writes: “The boat was fitted with a canvas cover, which could be used as protection against wind and weather, sun and rain, but with the latter, it also helped to gather small quantities of rain water to quench the thirst. We tried fishing with a line but could catch nothing. One small fish about half pound weight was jabbed with a sheath knife and shared out and eaten raw. Flying fish, were also found and eaten raw.”

Probably the men owed their survival to Crook, who kept fastidious discipline over the supplies: “He [Crook] maintained the strictest discipline in the boat… “If anyone was caught tampering with the fresh water, I promised personally to chop his bloody fingers off.”” (Daily Telegraph, Sept. 15, 1995). There was only one day – the 2nd of June – where they had no wind to propel them, and they never had to row. After the day in the doldrums they picked up a favorable Trade Wind pushing them southwest.

Few sharks were seen, no storms are recorded except for the single steady rainfall, and morale on board appears to have been maintained throughout. The 2nd Engineer, P. Watson earned special citation for keeping men at their tasks and devising an ingenious binnacle light in an empty tin. The Chief Steward, E. B. Boniface also earned merit from his superiors for trying to keep the badly injured men alive and pain-free in their final hours.

Water dipper from lifeboat submitted to the BBC by Edmund Crichton whose father served as an engineer on the Athelknight and kept this souvenir as he boarded the Empire Austen.

Finally, with no food left and no ability to consume it with parched throats, the men landed in a cove in Saint Bartholomew’s Island (St. Barts), in Vichy-controlled French West Indies. In the words of Captain Roberts: “The youngest on board was only sixteen, and the eldest, an old Kinsale seaman was well over sixty five. When we touched the beach at Bartholomew, the Islanders did not come near until we were actually ashore. The boat’s crew with the exception of myself and the Kinsale man managed to get over the side of the boat and crawl ashore. We had to be carried and were laid down inside some boat shelters where we were given coffee.”

“It was about noon when we landed and two hours later a Police Boat arrived and we had to re enter our lifeboat to be towed to the harbour about four miles away. We stayed there for two days, some, like myself in a hospital under the tender care of a very old Breton nursing sister, others in Hotels. A small Dutch West Indian schooner then took us all aboard for the sixty miles trip to St Kitts. On our arrival, the Port Medical Officer came on board and examined us all. Most of us were prevented from moving hand or foot, and the ambulance had a busy time bringing us up the hill into the hospital at Basseterre, under the care of Dr. Steddefer, the hospital Superintendent, who had fled from Hitler’s Germany before the summer of 1939.”

Roberts continued “It was found that I had lost 54lbs weight on the 28 day boat trip, I was in bed for ten days and when I was allowed up, had to be assisted to my chair. We had to leave hospital to make room for another ship’s crew who had been 13 days in their boats. The reminder of my time on the Island was spent at the Doctor’s home. Seventy shipwrecked mariners eventually left the Island by a Cuban ship for San Juan, Puerto Rico, where an American Naval store ship took us to Newport News, then by rail to New York.”

The crew they made room for were from the Anglo-Canadian, which had been sunk by U-153 on 25 June 1942 – there were 49 survivors, so it is not surprising that they took over the hospital facilities. The ship which took them from St. Kitts to San Juan was the Cuban SS Libertad, which was sunk by U-129 under von Harpe on 4 December of 1943 of Cape Hatteras.

SS Libertad, which carried survivors of the Anglo-Canadian and the Athelknight from St. Kitts to San Juan in late July, 1942. She was subsequently sunk by U-129 off Hatteras.


Captain Roberts continues recounting the final chapter of their saga across much of the length of North America: “We eventually left there by rail for Halifax where about 280 of us boarded the Trooper Strathmore, landing at Glasgow before the end of September. In New York I received a cable from the owners informing me that the Mate’s boat had been picked up by a South African bound ship after 24 days adrift, at that time they were 350 miles behind us so they were extremely lucky, as I understand that most of their stores had been used up.”

Less than five months later Captain Roberts and his First Officer Davis were reunited under very different circumstances than dingy lifeboats. They met at Buckingham Palace to be awarded Orders of the British Empire medals for their accomplishments in bringing 50 men to safely against immense odds – after all innumerable other shipwrecked sailors had not survived similar ordeals, during the war and either side of it.


Capt. Hugh Roberts (left) and First Mate D. J. Davis, both of Wales, at Buckingham Palace, February 3, 1943 to receive their Orders of the British Empire from His Majesty the King. They had been separated in different boats and traversed thousands of miles before being reunited.  

Chief Mate Crook also distinguished himself aboard later ships. Aboard the Scottish Heather he was again mate when the ship was torpedoed. In his obituary they describe what happened next: “Scottish Heather was torpedoed by U-225 on the night of the 27th and most of her crew, including the Captain and the Chief Officer, took to the lifeboats. Crook was about to get into a boat himself when he realised that the ship was not going to sink. He called for volunteers, and took command of the ship. They raised steam, got under way, recovered many of the survivors, including the Captain and Chief Officer, and eventually reached the Clyde.” (“Daily Telegraph,” Sept. 15, 1995). Crook does not seem to have been a quitter.

U-172 met its end in gallant fashion after a 27-hour fight against overwhelming odds, including attack from the air, from the surface, and in the form of roughly 200 depth charges – each of which was capable of destroying a submarine. The arsenal arrayed against her included Avenger and Wildcat aircraft from USS Bogueand the US destroyers USS George E. Badger, USS Osmond Ingram, USS Clemson, and USS Du Pont. Amazingly, 46 of her men survived, while 13 were drowned. Emmermann was not aboard at the time. Posted to shore, he ended the war in an infantry role, defending Hamburg as Commander of “Marine-Batallion Emmermann.” He lived until 1990 and the age of 75.

U-172 survivors in the water, 13 December, 1943. They had put up a 27-hour fight to the end.



Acorn Archive, Hearts of Oak: A good site for Athel Line tankers:

BBC: “War Sinking Survivor’s Keepsake” 23 Sept. 2010: for photo of water dipper from Crichton, whose father was an engineer on Athelknight and kept it as a souvenir.

Cass City Chronicle, Michigan 30 January, 1931 for an article about early Athelknight crew missing potatoes:

Clydebuilt Ships: Specs on and history of the ship at

ConvoyWeb site: Details of the perished crew and families:

“Daily Telegraph,” Sept. 15, 1995 had a mention in British Admiralty records of 18 July 1942 re: Empire Austen rescuing Athelknight survivors.

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

Lawson, Dame Sir, www.warsailors.comfor info on the convoys in which Athelknight served

Mason, Jerry, for KTB and perspective of the German attackers:

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

Mille Sabords, French website with images of U-boats and crews, photo of Emmerman:

Mumford, J. Gordon – Excellent detailed history of Capt. Roberts and colleagues and the overall casualty and awards at:

The National Archives, Kew: a great deal of detailed information was gleaned from the Captain and Mate’s reports at “Shipping Casualties Section, Trade Division, ‘Report of an Interview with the Chief Officer, Mr. D. J. Davis, and 2ndOfficer Mr. D. Crook, M.V. “Athelknight” 27 August 1942’”. TNA Kew, London, UK – for early voyages, port calls, “shipping news” about Athelknight in Oakland CA and Port Arthur, Texas (1933 – 1939) – Keyword “Athelknight” 1930-1948

“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 (very sparse information was gleaned from this)

Swiggum, S. and Kohli, M, The Ship’s List, for details of the Athel Line and Athelknight earlky voyage/s

Tovey, Ronald, “Tugs of Swansea Docks” website, good material on Capt. Crook’s obituary, the pre-eminent source of information on U-boats, and

Wikipdia,– Empire Austen dimensions, launch Specifications and an image of Athelknight:

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