SS Burutu lost 1918

Steel steamship built 1902 by Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd., Linthouse, Govan.
3863 grt, 2441 nrt, 360.0 x 44.2 x 14.4 ft.
Engines built Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd., Govan
1-Screw, T3cyl (27", 43", 72"-48"), 525nhp, 14 knots
Owned Elder, Dempster & Co., Liverpool, registered Liverpool
Voyage Freetown, Sierra Leone, to Liverpool with palm oil, kernels, tin ingots and copper and about 100 crew and 100 passengers.
In convoy at night, 3rd October 1918, showing no lights to avoid detection by U-boats, collided with outbound SS City of Calcutta.
Location described as 25 miles SW of Bardsey, or as 25 miles W of Fishguard. [these positions are over 20 miles apart]. Another report states North of Padstow.
Sank within 10 minutes with only one boat getting away. 25 crew and 25 passengers survived
148 estimated to have been lost, including Captain W. E. Potter (from Liscard).
Reports name 70[deaths at sea] or 77[Elder Dempster Roll of Honour] crew lost and she had 4 gunners aboard also.
Wrecksite info.

SS Burutu in service:

Report based on that in The Elder Dempster Fleet in the War 1914-1918 (Printed 1921) Chapter XI:

While making her way home from Lagos via Seccondee [Sekondi, Ghana], while alone off Monrovia on 6th April 1918, SS Burutu was shelled by a U-boat. She had DAMS [defensively armed merchant service] guns and returned fire and held her course, eventually escaping as darkness fell. She suffered damage but lost only one man, with some more injured. She put in to Freetown, Sierra Leone, for repairs before proceeding. Her then Captain, Henry A. Yardley, was awarded the Distinquished Service Cross. This good outcome was to be overshadowed by a later tragedy.

SS Burutu left Sierra Leone on September 19th, 1918, bound for Liverpool, carrying a full cargo of West African produce. She had 103 passengers on board and a crew of about 100 hands. When leaving, she was one of a convoy of nine vessels escorted by the auxiliary merchant cruiser Almanzora. On October 2nd, the convoy was joined by six destroyers and subsequently, later in the day, by patrol boats. On the same day six vessels of the convoy left, escorted by the destroyers, and the convoy thereafter consisted of the Burutu, the Deseado (which belonged to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company) and the Queen Louise, all escorted by the Almanzora and three patrol boats.

The convoy order on the night of October 3rd was as follows:- The Almanzora in the centre, the Deseado on her starboard beam, the Burutu on her port beam and the Queen Louise following the Almanzora. One patrol boat preceded the convoy and the other two scouted to either side. No navigation lights were shown.

The weather on the night of October 3rd was dark and squally with frequent rain squalls. There was a strong breeze from the S.W. with a rough sea. At about 10:50 p.m., when in the Irish Sea about 25 miles South-West of Bardsey, the Burutu collided with the Ellerman-City liner City of Calcutta, with the result that she sank within ten minutes. The City of Calcutta, a larger vessel, was on a voyage from Liverpool to Montreal in ballast and carried a crew of 151 hands and 5 passengers.

The loss of the Burutu was unfortunately attended with heavy loss of life, only 25 of the passengers and 25 members of the crew being saved. The Commander, Captain William E. Potter, and all the officers who were on duty at the time were drowned. A quartermaster at the wheel, an apprentice making his first voyage, and another quartermaster "standing by" were the only members of crew on duty who were saved.

The facts concerning this fateful collision, claiming as its toll a fine ship which had proved her superiority over enemy submarines many times during the war, are still somewhat obscure. It appears that Captain Potter, the 2nd and 4th officers and an apprentice were on the bridge, with a quartermaster at the wheel, three men on the look-out - one in the crow's nest, another on the fo'castle head, and a third on the boat deck. The Burutu was making a good 10 knots and was some four cables length from the Almanzora, when the look-out fo'ard reported a vessel on the port bow. Captain Potter immediately switched on the navigation lights, which were electrically controlled from the bridge, ordered the helm to port, and immediately afterwards to hard-a-port [helm to port means turn to starboard]. One blast was, at the same time, sounded on the whistle. She had just commenced to swing to starboard when she was struck on the port side between Nos 1 and 2 hatches by the City of Calcutta, bow on, the blow being at a somewhat broad angle. The engines of both vessels were stopped, and the Burutu's port side swung around alongside the City of Calcutta's starboard bow. The engines were then put astern and both vessels cleared. It is estimated that the time which elapsed between the reporting of the City of Calcutta by the look-out and the impact was about 40 seconds.

As the vessels separated, the Burutu listed heavily to port and began to sink rapidly, thus preventing the launching of some of the lifeboats. The port lifeboats, which were ready for lowering, were soon filled, but only No. 1 port lifeboat got away safely, and that was taken in charge by a boat which had put off from the City of Calcutta. As No. 2 port lifeboat, filled with passengers, was being lowered away, a rope snapped and the occupants were thrown into the water. The Burutu was now almost under water; no more boats could be got away, and the situation became desperate. Many passengers were still on deck, and at 10:59 the vessel took her final plunge. At 11:00 p.m. all was over - another ship had gone, and she had carried down with her 148 lives. Out of a complement of 198 only 50 people survived.

Contemporary newspaper reports:

From Westminster Gazette - Saturday 05 October 1918
ELDER DEMPSTER VESSEL LOST. A Lloyd's telegram says:
  A British steamer was in collision on Thursday night with the steamer "Burutu," which sank immediately; forty-two survivors were picked up, one of whom afterwards died; nine others were rescued by a patrol boat, and one died on board; one lady is among the survivors, all of whom are landed. (The "Burutu" is a British-African cargo liner of 3,902 tons; Elder, Dempster and Co., managers.)

Liverpool Echo - Monday 07 October 1918
  The feared loss of life as a result of the sinking of the Burutu after collision amounts to from 150 to 200. The following official list of survivors was supplied to us by the Elder Dempster Company this afternoon[25 passengers and 25 crew, native means West African]:-
Passengers:- R. Sidney Smith, M. T. Young, Arthur Howe, Raymond Conway, K. J. Douglas, Lieutenant M. Shaw, A. J. Goodwin, D. T. J.(?D. F. G.) Underwood, F. B. Walter, T. N. Knowles, A. S. Sandall. J. Fahey (? Vahey), J. Carlisle, E. H. Bullman. C. Armstrong, W. Craig, T. E. Kewley, Miss C. Duff, Edward Rock, E. Turner Smith, R. M. Blackwood, T. J. Jarvis (? J. Jarvey), H. P. Raymond, J. C. Orr. and D. M'Naught.
Crew:- C. Benson, W. Slingerland, E. Erikson, H. Praat, H. J. Wilson, H. Brown, J. Atherton. D. Stewart, Thomas Cole (native), George Williams (native), George Snowball (native), F. Hughes, J. H. Jones. J. Banks. F. H. Jennings, Tom Peter (native), Elias di Reis, James Gibson, James Warburton (native), H. Large, James Cobble (native), C. Dybell, J. Cavanagh, Blamer Johnson (native), and William Dixon (native).
ONLY THREE OFFICERS SAVED. The Burutu collision occurred at midnight when most on board were asleep. The chief steward and third and fifth engineers were the only officers saved. [A later report names Captain Potter of Liscard; Chief-Officer Clarke of Aigburth; and Chief-Engineer Geldard of Dingle among those lost]
CITY OF CALCUTTA. The steamer colliding with the Burutu (says the Exchange Telegraph Company) was the City of Calcutta, which made a huge rent in the Burutu's plates. The latter immediately took a heavy list, which prevented the launching of the boats. [Note. - The City of Calcutta is one of the City boats in the Ellerman combination, with tonnage of 7,636.]
SANK IN NINE MINUTES. A Liverpool survivor told the "Echo" representative that the ship sank in nine minutes, and went down head first.

Reports of Survivors:
From Evening Despatch - Monday 07 October 1918
  H. J. Wilson, one the survivors of the crew, stated in an interview yesterday that there was no panic. The passengers, especially the ladies, took things quite coolly. The captain acted splendidly, giving his orders in a calm manner and without any excitement. When he (Wilson) went to his boat it was got ready for lowering, but it could not lowered because it got jammed in the fall.
  No.1 boat was lowered, with passengers and some the crew, and got away. No. 2 boat could not be lowered. Another boat was manned all right, but on being lowered, it collapsed, and the passengers and crew in it were thrown into the water.
  As the Burutu was sinking rapidly, he went to the after-deck and jumped into the water. He had to swim about 300 yards before was picked up by No. 1 boat. The Burutu sank in nine minutes, and went down head first. The passengers and crew who were on deck when it disappeared were sucked under. The steamer which ran into them did what she could to save life. A boat was lowered and manned from it, and the boat was put off in charge of the second officer. This boat got hold of boat No. 1, and brought her alongside their steamer. All the occupants were taken board.

From Yorkshire Evening Post - Tuesday 08 October 1918
  A graphic story of the sinking of the Liverpool passenger boat Burutu, resulting in the loss of over 150 lives, is related one of the survivors, a Glasgow passenger, who holds a position in a West African commercial house.
  This gentleman, who was coming home on leave, arrived at his firm's headquarters in Liverpool very scantily clad, mainly in his night attire. He had to leave the Burutu in such a hurry that he left his clothes behind. When the collision occurred, he was in the act of retiring, and, seizing a lifebelt from his room, ran on deck. He saw that the vessel was vitally damaged, having taken a heavy list to port.
  All the port side boats were useless, and the greatest difficulty was being experienced in lowering the starboard boats owing to the great distance from the water. Coming to the conclusion that there was no chance of getting away in a boat, he put on a lifebelt and dived into the sea, which, besides running heavily, was seething in consequence of the inrush of water into the damaged ship.
  Being a powerful swimmer was able to reach an object which proved to be an upturned boat, on to which he climbed, being joined later by a number of others. Their struggle for life, rendered more hazardous by being drenched by heavy seas which threatened to carry them away, extended throughout the bitterly cold night.
  It was not until after dawn at seven o'clock next morning that they were rescued by an Allied destroyer, which had gone out the night before in response to S.O.S. signals. In consequence of the rough seas, the destroyer was occupied half an hour in manoeuvring into position to pick them from the upturned boat. On their way to a South Wales port, two other survivors were rescued from a raft.
  On the Burutu were three ladies, Mrs. Belman, a passenger from Sierra Leone, Miss Duff, nurse from Nigeria, and Mrs. Doige[Doig], a stewardess. Their fate was described by the steward who was with them in the last few minutes before the ship sank. They stood by the deck rail waiting for help. Some distance away was a lifeboat in charge of Captain Howe[Arthur Howe, a passenger]. A passenger and steward advised them to jump overboard, saying that was their only chance of rescue.
  They hesitated, frightened of the risk they ran. Eventually Miss Duff plucked up sufficient courage to go over the side and was picked up by the boat after seven minutes' struggle in the angry sea. The other ladies, still hesitating, were carried beneath the waves when the Burutu went down.

From North Wales Weekly News - Thursday 10 October 1918
Sinking of the Burutu. COLWYN BAY BOY'S EXPERIENCE. Wrecked on his First Trip.
  It is not often that a fifteen-year old ship's apprentice has had such thrilling experiences to relate as have fallen to the lot of Harold Large, second son of Mr. and Mrs. C. N. Large, of Sea View-terrace, Colwyn Bay, who is one of the surviving crew of the steamship Burutu. which was sank in collision with the City of Calcutta on Thursday night. Joining the Mercantile Marine about 9 weeks ago, Large, last week, was making his return voyage from the West of Africa to Liverpool by the Burutu. On Thursday night the weather was somewhat boisterous and athough the night was pitch dark, the vessel was precluded from showing any lights. With six others, Large was keeping watch, when, just about 25 miles off Fishguard, a tremendous crash was heard, betokening that she had either been torpedoed or had collided with some other craft. The next thing that Large remembers, is that, as a result of the impact, he was hurled from his position on the bridge into the sea. For three and a half hours he was in the icy-cold water, clinging to stray spars, and for upwards of half an hour swimming for his very life without the aid of anything whatever. Just as he was about to give himself up for lost, a boat picked him up and he immediately ascertained that the Burutu had collided with the City of Calcutta, going down in eight minutes with between 150 and 170 souls. With the exception of a fright, Large felt none the worse for his experience. He lost everything, including his new kit, which cost him over £30. The survivors were taken to Fishguard, from whence Large arrived home on Saturday afternoon.

Awards for saving life

From Liverpool Daily Post - Friday 08 November 1918
  At the monthly meeting of the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society, held in the Underwriters Rooms yesterday, Mr. Francis C. Danson presiding, the following awards were made for courage and humanity in saving life:- An illuminated certificate of thanks to Captain Henry V. Rigby, steamship City of Calcutta; also silver medal and certificate of thanks to Archibald Beveridge, second officer, and bronze medal and certificate to each of the lifeboat's crew for gallantly rescuing forty-two of the survivors of the steamship Burutu, sunk collision on the night of October 3.

From Northern Whig - Thursday 15 May 1919
GALLANT DERRY OFFICER. Saves Two Lives at Sea.
  The King has been pleased, by the recommendation of the President of the Board of Trade, to award the silver medal for gallantry in saving life at sea to Lieutenant John Charles Orr, Royal Irish Rifles.
  On the night of 3rd October last, the steamships Burutu and City of Calcutta were in collision in the Irish Sea. The Burutu sank about ten minutes after the collision, and many lives were lost. Lieuteuant Orr, who was a passenger on the Burutu, assisted several persons onto a boat to which he was clinging. One of these was the steward's boy, who was without any clothing, and Lieutenant took off his coat and gave it to the lad, and throughout the night endeavoured to keep up the circulation of each of his companions by chafing their limbs. Unfortunately during the night two of those on the boat were washed away by the mountainous seas, the others being kept from falling off mainly through the exertions of Lieutenant Orr. Next morning the United States destroyer Stevens came up and the Lieutenant fastened on his two remaining companions the lifebuoys which were thrown to them, and saw them hauled on board. He was left for the moment alone on the upturned boat, the destroyer's propeller struck it by mischance, and cut it in two. Fortunately Lieutenant Orr was soon able to get on board the destroyer means of a line. Undoubtedly his gallantry and persistent service were the means saving two lives.
  This gallant officer is the youngest son of Mr. J. C. Orr, editor of the Londonderry Sentinel. He was in the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Victoria, British Columbia, and volunteered on the day after the declaration of war. He had previously served for two vears in the Canadian Militia. He came to England as a sergeant with the First Canadian Contingent, and was at Neuve Chapelle, where he was injured. On recovering, he obtained a commission in the Rifles. His brother, Lieutenant C. H. H. Orr, Royal Irish Rifles, was also wounded during the war.


From Pall Mall Gazette - Friday 30 May 1919
  The sinking of the Elder Dempster liner Burutu in the Irish Sea in October last, with the loss nearly 150 lives, came before Mr. Justice Hill in the Admiralty Court to-day, in a damage action brought by the owners of the steamship City of Calcutta, of Glasgow, against the owners of the Burutu. The defendants counterclaimed.
  The Burutu, from Sierra Leone to Liverpool, carried over 100 passengers and near 100 crew, and in the dark of what was said to be an unusually dark night, two unlighted convoys met. A witness, whom the collision knocked overboard, said the Burutu went down in ten minutes, head first, with stem out of the water.
  His lordship held that the collision was inevitable. The claim and counter-claim would both be dismissed, and there would no order as to costs.
  Another newspaper headlines this as: "Simply due to U-boats - necessity of going in convoy without lights"