On this day in 1942, chaos struck the Cape of Good Hope’s waters. October 8, 1942 was a day of horror for a number of maritime vessels, with many being sunk by torpedos.

Several crew members died that day, but some were lucky enough to safely reach the shores Cape Town.


In 1942, the Greek steam merchant vessel Koumoundouros was struck on the starboard side in the boiler room by a torpedo from the German boat U-68, 32km southwest of Cape Point. Another torpedo hit the stern of the boat, causing her to sink within minutes.

An estimated five crew members were killed and the surviving 26 were later picked up by Naval Vessels and brought to safety in Cape Town the next day.


The Dutch Gaastekerk merchant vessel was also hit by two torpedoes from U-68, 24km west of the Cape of Good Hope. The first torpedo hit the engine room, amidships, on the port side aft, causing the crew to send distress signals and abandon ship in lifeboats.
Another torpedo was fired about an hour later, it ignited the stern gun magazine and blew up the stern, causing the ship to sink rapidly. All 64 people on board survived the attack, and later landed in Cape Town.
American tanker Swiftsure was torpedoed about 40km southeast of the Cape of Good Hope by U-68. It was hit aft on the starboard side by one torpedo, which struck the eighth tank, destroying the ammonia lines to the ice machines and setting the ship on fire.
The crew fought the fire for 30 minutes, but then the eight officers and 25 crewmen had to abandon ship in three lifeboats. The boats circled the ship for several hours, hoping the flames would subside.
The survivors were picked up by a British minesweeper and taken to Cape Town, but the master and some crew members returned the next day to determine whether the ship could be salvaged. The tanker was still burning fiercely, an attempt to tow her to the coast failed and she finally sank about 62 hours after the torpedo hit.
Tragically, 16 of the 31 surviving crew members being repatriated on the Zaandam on November 2 died when the boat was struck by U-174.

British merchant vessel Sarthe was torpedoed approximately 56km south-southwest of the Cape of Good Hope, once again by U-68.

The ship had witnessed the sinking of Swiftsure about 12km ahead and tried to flee by altering the course towards the coast at full speed, but was too slow to escape and unable to evade the torpedo track spotted by a lookout.

The explosion stopped the vessel and destroyed the port side of the bridge and the port forward lifeboat. It wrecked the accommodation in that area, damaged the davits of the starboard forward lifeboat and split the foredeck.

The crew of 57 immediately abandoned ship without sending a distress signal as the aerials were brought down. About half an hour later, a coup de grâce struck the ship on the starboard side just forward of the bridge, broke her in two and blew debris and wreckage into the air that fell into the water around the lifeboats. The bow sank at once, followed a few minutes later by the after part that sank perpendicular.

The survivors were picked up by the South African whaler HMSAS Vereeniging (T 62) and landed at Simon’s Town later that day.

Clan Mactavish

This British merchant vessel was struck by a torpedo about 160kms west-southwest of Cape Town. In a sad twist of fate, the ship had picked up survivors from the Boringia which had been attacked by the same U-Boat the day before.
A reported 61 people died and 67 people survived by clinging onto upturned lifeboats which they later righted and were picked up by the Matheran and landed at Cape Town the next day.


This Greek merchant vessel freighter was hit on the starboard side forward, amidships, by one G7e torpedo from U-172, and sunk about 64km off Slangkop Point on the Cape Peninsula. About 28 crew were killed

No lifeboats could be launched because the ship sank within two minutes, and five survivors rescued themselves by clinging to a raft. A reported 28 members of the crew were killed and 5 survived and were eventually picked up and landed at Cape Town on October 12.

City of Athens

This British merchant vessel was torpedoed by U-179, causing the engine to stop. The boat began to sink about 80km north-west of Dassen Island off the West Coast. An estimated 99 crew members left on lifeboats and one crew member died.

After the ship sank, the survivors headed towards Cape Town and were sighted by HMS Active (H 14) which took them all aboard. The HMS Active spotted the U-179 that had launched the initial attack, and opened fire on the U-boat. The U-boat immediately crash-dived and was apparently sunk by the following depth charge attack as a large amount of oil came to the surface afterwards.

The survivors arrived at Cape Town on October 9.

Picture/s: Facebook / SAHRA Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage

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