Irish Ships and Shipping

The story of the "Kerlogue"

By ©Jack O'Leary 2003

The 29th of December 2003 is  the  60th anniversary of a rescue that has  gone  down  in  Irish Maritime History, for that was on that date in 1943 that Wexford's little coaster Kerlogue” hauled 168 injured and shipwrecked German sailors from the icy waters of the Bay of Biscay . It was a choppy, dirty trip, as the Kerlogue sailed towards Ireland from Lisbon . Tom O'Neill who was a young A.B. had just turned in after the four to eight watch.
He had barely gone asleep when the captain Tom Donohue, a Dungarvan man shouted in the door "Get up boys, it's the Germans". All hands tumbled out of their bunks as fast as they possibly could and ran up on deck to see a German warplane approaching the ship. The swooped towards them but instead of strafing them with cannon fire as was feared the plane
signalled them and dropped flares away to the starboard bow of the coaster.

They could hear no gunfire but aware of the possibility that they were heading into a war zone the captain changed course, northeast towards the flares. When the coaster reached the area lit up by the flares they were astonished to find the sea all around them covered by men, hundreds of them, clinging desperately to life rafts in very rough seas.

Three days earlier, a German flotilla of ten ships   including three destroyers sailed from Brest to meet with a merchant ship from Japan with a cargo of materials vital to the German war effort. As they waited to rendezvous with the blockade-runner two Royal Navy Cruisers, "H.M.S Enterprise" and "H.M.S.Glasgow" who were also out searching for the merchant ship. (Which was sunk on the 27th by a Royal Air force plane) appeared on the horizon.  

Commander Joachim Quendenfeldt of the destroyer T26 order his men to open fire, despite knowing that he and the other destroyers were out gunned and would not even reach the British cruisers at that distance. Within minutes the battle was over. Both of T26s engines were out and a shell had hit the bridge, meanwhile the other two German destroyers had been sunk.  Quendenfeldt had no choice but to abandon ship. Two boats were lowered, although one of them capsized, and 12 life rafts were thrown overboard. T26 then went down.
By now there were upwards of 500 men, burned, shot, or wounded by shellfire, struggling to hold on to whatever was available. The remaining lifeboat picked up as many wounded as she could carry. As darkness fell British planes flew over and dropped life rafts and flares to aid the struggling sailors. (The cruisers had sped away to avoid prowling U-boats.)

That was the sight met by the "Kerlogue" when she arrived on the scene, except that by the time of her arrival there were just about three hundred German sailors left in the water. The "Kerlogue" crew immediately began to haul the sailors aboard. They stood in the scuppers from mid-ships to aft and using grappling hooks and their bare hands hauled them in.
There was still a heavy sea running and the "Kerlogue was rolling heavily As the ship dipped they grabbed on to a body and hauled them in as she rose. It was long backbreaking and heartbreaking work. Many of the men hauled aboard were found to be dead and had to be slipped back into the sea to be replaced by others. And that's how it went on, for ten hours!

The rescued were tended to by Capt. Donohue and Engineer Gary Roche and made as comfortable as possible. They packed the German sailors in wherever they could. Fourteen on the eleven-foot long bridge, giving helmsman Tom Grannell very little space to manoeuvre his ship among the floating bodies. Fifty-seven in the engine room, so many that the engineers were unable to move to tend the engines. They had to make signs to some of the able bodied Germans, who then carried out the procedures. All alleyways, stores etc. were filled to capacity.
Then, after ten hours Capt. Donohue had to call out "No More!"
  The ship was packed tight; it was impossible to get any more aboard her.  The "Kerlogue" turned away to the north, leaving half of the men still in the water, facing certain death.  A head count later revealed that there were 168 German sailors onboard the "Kerlogue"!

The crew of the Wexford ship were all totally soaked to the skin! All their spare clothes had been given to the rescued and in a very short time all the ship's stores had been used up. As luck would have it, she was carrying a cargo of oranges, Capt. Donohue ordered that it be broken open and the crew made hot orange drinks for the Germans.
This was all they had to sustain them until they arrived in
Cork . To avoid being spotted by passing Allied planes, all of the Germans were kept out of sight, below decks during daylight hours, only coming up for fresh air at night. On the first day one of the badly burned Germans died and after a short service his body was committed to the sea. Two days later, on New Years Day one more died and that night another passed away.
By now they were close to
Cobh so it was decided to bring the bodies ashore. At Cobh the "Kerlogue was met by the emergency services, who treated the injured before they were hospitalised. Once they were declared fit they were transferred to the Curragh Internment Camp for the duration of the war.

And that was how Wexford's little "Kerlogue” and her crew wrote their own chapter in Irish Maritime History. 


At the time rumours sprang up that the Germans had attempted to take over the Kerlogue", they could easily have done so with their superior manpower, but this was strongly denied by Captain Donohue. It has also been said that thereafter whenever German warplanes came across the "Kerlogue” on passage they swooped on her, dipped their wings in thanks and flew off.The crew of the "Kerlogue" on that famous occasion were, Captain, Tom Donohue, of Dungarvan, Chief Officer Denis Valencie, of Dublin 2nd OfficerPatrick Whelan, of Wexford. Chief Engineer Roy Giggins, of London , 2nd Engineer, Joseph Donahue 3rd Engineer Gary Roche, both of Wexford. Bosun, John "Chum" Roche and A.Bs Tom Grannell, Dick Roche and Tom O'Neill, all from Wexford  town.  

She was re-named Munken and capsized off Lindesnes on 7/7/1960 - info from James O'Sullivan, grand nephew of Capt. Donohue 



Some of the Kerlogue crew before the rescue-G.Roche, J.Boyce, T.Grannell, T.O'Neill, J.Roche

Tom O'Neill is the last surviving member of that crew and lives in Bemadette Place in Wexford Town . He has visited Germany on many occasions as an honoured guest of some of the   men   rescued   by   the "Kerlogue". The last time he was there was to attend the launch of a yacht, owned by one of his hosts.  She was named "Kerlogue"!!

©Maritime Matters Wexford press 2003

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