Freetown, Sierra Leone. At anchor

The SS Bennekom, sailed convoy OS.10 heading for Freetown. She would never arrive there.

The stopover in Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, is a necessary evil. It is the only port in the region the British can use. Even though this natural harbour – not much more than a place to drop anchor- is not really capable to process the many convoys rounding the Cape of Good Hope. Nevertheless Freetown is of enormous strategic importance: very few ships can travel around the cape without extra supplies. Even the large passenger ships are usually built to sail between Europe and the United States with the possibility to be supplied upon arrival. Rounding the Cape is much further, so a supply port halfway is necessary.

The crew of Abbekerk gets a new addition. Steward Bernard Finn, 16 years of age, boards the ship. Bernard started to sail 2 months ago when he left England on the Dutch ‘SS Bennekom’ in convoy OS.10 heading for Freetown. The Bennekom would never arrive there.

Around midnight, October 31, we heard a loud bang. It was a torpedo that hit us amidship and set the ship on fire. We were cut off from the lifeboats by the fire and exploding ammunition and had only one raft for all of the deck and engineroom crew. The raft was cut loose and drifted in the water. Empty. Then another bang and the ship broke her back and started sinking fast.
I remember everybody in the water and I still on board alone. Later when I was in the water I got hold of a rope and was later washed on the raft by a wave.

Bernard Finn

devonshire-cruiser-1942-04-14-freetown-harbor-supermarine-walrus-landing-imperial-war-museum-a9602

A convoy anchored in Freetown. In front Cruiser HMS Devonshire. (source Imperial War Museum)

Bennekom was torpedoed by U96. Nine of her crew were killed and 47 were swiftly saved by HMS Culver en later put ashore at Bathurst (Gambia). From there Bernard travels to Freetown for his next ship: Abbekerk.

WS12.z. Stays at Freetown as short a period of time as possible and everybody stays on the ship. Even on the overcrowded troopships. It still takes four days before the convoy can leave. The formation of the escort has changed a little now that they reach somewhat safer waters. The Royal Sovereign which had been staying offshore joins the convoy again.

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