MV Melbourne Star
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The Rescue

Practically the entire compliment of the Melbourne Star perished simultaneously, and the shattered remains of the ship went to the bottom in less than two minutes. As she foundered several of the life-saving rafts floated free to which a few of the survivors managed to scramble. Their plight was made even worse by the heavy sea and low visibility, and when the dawn came only 11 people were left alive on two rafts.

Carley Life Float

The survivors endured 38 Days adrift in the Atlantic.

At daylight the U-boat surfaced. An officer and a sailor with a machine gun slid down the ladder and onto the deck, then the submarine approached the two rafts in turn. The officer questioned the occupants demanded to know the name of the ship, her destination and the nature of her cargo. Able Seaman White acted as spokesman, "Melbourne Star, heading for Panama with general supplies" he replied, not revealing the true nature of the ships cargo. The U-boat then circled the wreckage for a while, offered no assistance to those on the Carley floats, gave the 'Nazi Salute' and were gone. The survivors were then left to their own resources, and the rafts drifted apart. There had been no chance to send off an S.O.S., and the first news of the Melbourne Star loss came through the usual boastful German radio broadcasts.

One of the rafts was never seen or heard of again. The other, which contained four men Greaser William Best, Greaser William Burns, Ordinary Seaman Ronald Nunn and Able Seaman Leonard White, they had on board eight tins of biscuits, some tins of chocolate, malted milk tablets, pemmican, 22 gallons of water and two gallons of massage oil for use against exposure. By the mercy of divine intervention the weather remained stormy for only three days, after which it became calm and they just drifted at the mercy of the breeze and currents. Improvising fishing lines they caught about fifty fish, which, eaten raw, probably saved their lives. The special oil was most valuable.

Every morning when daylight came they gazed round the heaving horizon, hoping for the sight of a ship or perhaps a feather of smoke moving in their direction. Each morning they were to be disappointed. The great ocean remained barren, shining like burnished steel in the glare of the sun. The days passed in dreadful monotony and anxiety. Many times they gave themselves up for lost, wondering, perhaps what would happen when their water was exhausted.

It was on Sunday 9th May 1943, 38 days after the Melbourne Star had been sunk, that they were sighted 250 miles from Bermuda by an American Catalina PBY Flying Boat which came down onto the water and taxied alongside. After a flight of two and a half hours they were landed in Bermuda. They were all covered in salt water ulcers and had to have medical attention; but considering the length of time they had been adrift were in unusually good condition.

Catalina Flight Report

On Sunday 9th May 1943, Squadron Plane No6, with Lieut. M. Kauffman as patrol plane commander, Lieut. R. Knorr as first pilot and Lieut. J. Elliott as navigator, was on an anti-submarine sweep two hundred and fifty miles from Bermuda, when a raft was sighted in the distance from which flares were being fired. As the plane approached, four men were seen on the raft making frantic signals. Lieut. Kauffman knew that there was no surface ships in the vicinity, and as the sea was relatively calm, he decided to make an open sea landing, despite existing instructions to the contrary. The landing was accomplished without difficulty and the four haggard survivors were picked up. They proved to be members of the crew of the British merchantman, the Melbourne Star,  which had been torpedoed and sunk 38 days before.

The first greeting from the survivors was “Want a fish?” and Lieut. Elliott was handed a fish which had been caught on a hand line just before the plane came into sight. En route to the base the Englishmen smoked every cigarette aboard, their first after thirty eight days at sea. Lieut. Kauffman and members of his crew were given commendations by the Commanding Officer of U.S. Navy Activity No1 for this rescue.

Catalina VP-63 Crew
Front Row

   Lieut. John Elliott  ~  Lieut. Rex Knorr  ~  Lieut. Maurice Kauffman
(Picture courtesy Julia Nunn)

Melbourne Star on course from
 Liverpool to Australia via Panama Canal

480 miles south-east of Bermuda (28° 5’N  57° 30W) Melbourne Star sunk.
250 miles from Bermuda the survivors rescued by Catalina Flying Boat.
230 miles, adrift with the help of wind and tides, distance travelled in 38 days.

Medical Report

On arrival in Bermuda all four survivors were given a full medical examination and then hopitalised for three weeks. Below is the Medical Report of AB Leonard White.


MEDICAL HISTORY IN THE CASE OF WHITE. Leonard.    Merchant Marine.

9 May 1943.


1. Within Command
2. Work
3. Negligence not apparent
4.After torpedoing of his ship, patient was left adrift for thirty-nine (39) days, sustaining exhaustion from over exposure.

PRESENT ILLNESS: This patient, along with three shipmates, was found on a life raft by one of our Patrol planes after having been adrift for thirty-nine (39) days following torpedoing of his ship. The men subsisted on rations of biscuits, chocolates, Bovril Pemmican. In addition, the men improvised fish hooks from the keys on the tin cans, made fishing lines from bits of string and were able to catch fish. On the days that fish were caught, no biscuits or chocolate were served.
This man was quite well except for the first day when there was nausea and vomiting following ingestion of oily water. About three (3) weeks ago, there first appeared round papules and pustules about 1c.m. in diameter over elbows, shoulders, buttocks and back. Weight loss - fifteen (15) pounds.

This man was the leader of the group and was responsible for the intelligent planning of rations and morale of his shipmates which was excellent at all times.

PHYSICAL EXAMINATION:  BP - 90/50. Temperature 98°. Pulse 80. Respirations 20. Condition is remarkable in spite of the thirty-nine (39) days adrift. Appears considerably dehydrated. Lymphatic: No adenopathy. Skin: A considerable number of comedones are seen over the trunk and back of neck. Round popular lesions about 1c.m. in diameter found over the elbows back and buttocks. Eyes normal. Ears normal. Nose: No congestion or discharge. Mouth: Tonsils surgically removed. Gums and buccal mucosa: In good condition. Neck: No masses. Chest: lungs physiological. Heart: Physiological. Abdomen: normal.  Extremities: See under ‘skin’. Both colcannon bursa hypertrophied. Fluids present in the left one. Impression: Exhaustion from over exposure.

28 May 43 Summary
Placed on full diet immediately following admission and tolerated it very well. Gained twenty (20) pounds in the two weeks period following admission. Urinalysis showed traces of albumin on one occasion but this cleared up. Khan test negative. Received dental treatment.

28 May 43 To duty, well.
Lieut., (jg) (MC) USN
Captain, (MC), USN
Medical Officer in Command

Melbourne Star
April 2nd 1943
Ted Logan

The ‘Melbourne Star’ took a circular route
On its trip back to England, to throw off pursuit.
Then patched up, rearmed and with a repaint
Made ready for service, no fears or complaint
A cargo of dry-goods, and hardware that sells,
More ominous though, torpedoes and shells. 
The destination was Sydney, the ‘Melbourne Star’
Was to complete the trip through Panama.
A convoy was joined that went to New York,
Then to rely on its speed, and no careless talk,
That might alert U boats that monitor the scene,
In the North Atlantic and the Caribbean.
There was a German U boat, Number 129,
That may have been warned, or there by design.
Skulking in wait some five hundred miles
South-East of Bermuda; there were happy smiles
When a fast cargo liner came into view
In the periscope’s field, which delighted the crew.
Torpedoes were fired, their tell-tale tracks
Imminent warnings of these attacks.
Striking amidships, just below,
The magazine hold taking the blow.
A dreadful expression of the perils of war
The ship exploded with an almighty roar.
There were a hundred and thirteen souls on that ship
As it was making this final trip.
Seventy one in the crew, army gunners eleven;
Passengers thirty one; all gone now to heaven.
There was no time to lower a boat,
Only four survived on a Carley float.
It bobbed up in the water and was their salvation
With no time to broadcast their location.
The German U boat surfaced, and the officer on deck
Spoke to the survivors, wanting to check
The name of their vessel, what cargo they carry,
Then slowly submerged it was danger to tarry.
For thirty-eight days the Carley float
Drifted slowly across the remote
And lonely North Atlantic waste.
The four surviving seafarers taste
And eat the raw fish that they caught
With emergency foods from the float in support.
Then wonder of wonders!  A flying boat
Which obviously has spotted their Carley float –
A Catalina appears overhead.
They yell and they wave, show no one is dead.
The ocean is calm and clement the weather,
The aircraft sets down as light as a feather.
The aircraft’s crew helped them aboard
With pats on the back, they smile and applaud.
Then back to Bermuda, safety at last,
Pleased that their month long ordeal was now past.
Never forgetting the ‘Melbourne Star’ and shipmates departed.

The reproduction of the above Poem is Subject to Copyright Law

'The Survivors'

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