In order to understand the conditions in Convoy TAW12J in which the Standella was struck with two other ships, it would be instructive to read about the Empire Corporal and Michael Jebsen (both sunk), as they were struck at roughly the same time by the same U-boat, U-598 under Gottfried Holtorf on the 14th of August 1942.
The Standella was a 6,197-ton motor tanker built in 1936 by Harland and Wolff, Limited of Govan, Glasgow (not the same yard which built the Titanic, which was constructed in Northern Ireland). She was owned and operated by the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company Limited of London – the same owners which controlled the Anglo Saxon, whose two sole survivors washed ashore in the Bahamas in 1940.
The Standella was led by John M. Loyn who managed a total complement of 72 officers and crew. These included British and Chinese and British gunners. Her cargo consisted of 6,346.25 tons of gasoil, 1,954.04 tons of gasoline, 200 tons of C-3 lubricating oil and 50 drums of white spur oil. Standella was en route from Curacao, Dutch West Indies to Reykjavik, Iceland, via Trinidad, where she joined the 40-ship convoy TAW 12J. The convoy had left Guantanamo on the 12thof August and the following day lost two ships, including the Convoy Commodore and one of the escorts, the British destroyer HMS Churchill.
U-598 under Gottfried Holtorf fired three spreads of torpedoes starting at 05:54 am on the 14th of August when the convoy was between Cay Santo Domingo and Magallenes Bank in the Ragged Island chain, Bahamas. After passing 20 yards ahead of the Empire Corporal the torpedo struck the Standella in the bow, causing a 50-foot column of water to erupt there. The ship had been steaming on course 297 degrees true (northwest) a lookout forward, two on the bridge and three aft. Visibility at the time was good with a smooth sea, light breeze just before sunrise.
Six Chinese crew whose accommodation was in the forecastle at the front of the ship, were killed (Ping Chan, Yet Lo, Fat Chan, Mui Lum, Fook Wong, and Jok Wong) and ten others were badly injured. The engine officers immediately stopped the engine, and Captain Loyn ordered the Chief Officer to bring back a damage report. Finding his report unsatisfactory the Master went to see for himself.
He found the bow to be completely demolished: the forecastle deck had fallen several feet, the pump room and store room were flooded, there was a hold on the port side below the waterline (the water held back from the rest of the ship by a cofferdam bulkhead of steel), the windlass had fallen several feet, plats, deck and frames were broken, but the anchors were still in place.
Number one cargo hold was flooded, and the ship slightly down by the head, but aside from that she was deemed stout enough to continue. Given all of these inputs the Captain decided nevertheless to proceed at half speed in the direction of the convoy, which by now had steamed out of sight. Within an hour the officers were confident enough to increase RPM to full speed, and by 7:30 am, in a great show of seamanship, the vessel took up a position in the rear column of the convoy. Acknowledging the Standella, HMS Churchill signaled “I will be with you later – am sub-hunting.”
At 11 am that morning the Churchill, in a bold move, came alongside the slow-moving tanker and transferred its doctor, Surgeon Lieutenant O’Brian came aboard the tanker to tend to the injured men. The doctor stayed on board until 5 pm, during which a frenetic search for any living members of the crew up forward was conducted in terrible conditions and tropical heat.
The Standella stayed with the Key West-bound convoy until the following night (15thAugust) when at 9 pm local time the tanker was instructed by HMS Churchill to peel out of the convoy and proceed to Havana independently for repairs. Arriving off that port at midnight, Standella cruised off the port waiting for a pilot, probably very nervous about either sinking or taking another torpedo near such an important port. The next morning at daylight the pilot boarded her and the ship was berthed at 10:30 at the oil berth. On the 16th – that day – five of the men were admitted to hospital in Havana.
Captain Loyn was generous in his praise of Third Officer J. Right and Third Radio Operator R. M. Ballock for their bravery and determination in extricating bodies from the forecastle head. It was a difficult and dangerous job which had to be called off in sunset because of the danger, but the men succeeded in extracting four bodies from the wreckage in that time. Certificates of death were issued by the physician sent from the Churchill. Cubans came aboard and under the direction of the Third Officer resumed the search for the two missing Chinese crewmen.
All of Standella’s cargo except the undamaged drums of oil was pumped ashore in Cuba. The fuel oil in the deep tank forward was deemed contaminated, however, and this was pumped into an oil barge so that the cargo could be separated from the salt water and partially salvaged. The 250 drums were delivered to Tampa Florida after the local Lloyd’s agent in Havana provided the ship with clearance to sail. She arrived in Tampa after extensive repairs on the 8thof September, 1942.
Although torpedoed twice by U-126 under Siegfried Kietz while in convoy TS 42 off Freetown Sierra Leone on the 2nd of June 1943, the Standella again survived and made it to her destination of Freetown the same day. She survived both attacks and the war and was broken up in Hong Kong in September 1959, more than twenty three years after hear launch in April 1936.