back as 2004, I had intended to collect the material on the
Nova Scotia sinking from here and there on the site together
on this page. I didn't get around to that until 17 June 2008
which is why the picture and facts below were 'added before
the main story.
more or less what appeared in the 3rd edition of Fats About
Africa's worst sea disaster was the sinking of the Nova
Scotia, about 48km off Cape St Lucia by a U-Boat, on 28
November 1942. She was a small liner [of 6796 tons] belonging
to the Furness Withy Group and had been converted into a
troop carrier. She was a frequent visitor to Durban, being
employed mainly in ferrying troops from Durban up the East
Coast of Africa to Suez, and bringing Italian prisoners
of war back to South Africa.
had sailed on 15 November from Massawa, in Italian East
Africa, and had 765 Italian POWs, 134 British and South
African guards, and 118 crew aboard when torpedoed by U-Boat
177. The U-Boat's commander was Kapitanleutnant Robert Gysae,
who apparently spotted smoke from the Nova Scotia at 6:12am
on 28 November.
U-Boat submerged at 8:31am and, at 9:15am, fired three torpedoes
at a distance of 380 metres, sinking the Nova Scotia within
seven minutes. One lifeboat was launched successfully, leaving
the rest of the survivors clinging to rafts or bits of wreckage
in the oily and shark-infested water.
U-Boat surfaced to find out which ship she had sunk, but
the commander noted that he couldn't get an answer because
the survivors were all screaming and shouting at once. The
crew were apparently appalled at the scenes they saw in
the water [see U-Boats & a Settler, below], but they
took only two survivors aboard for intelligence purposes,
having been ordered not to assist the rest.
order dated from the Laconia incident the month before [see
HMS Cornwall, above], but German U-Boat Command did notify
the Portuguese authorities of the sinking of the Nova Scotia.
The ship Alfonso de Albuquerque reached the scene from Lourenco
Marques the next day, and managed to rescue 190 survivors.
One more was picked up by a destroyer on the third day and
another fortunate Italian floated ashore on a raft at Mtunzini,
on the Zululand coast, a fortnight after the sinking.
only woman survivor was Alda Ignisti[later Lady Taylor],
who was on her way to Durban with her daughter Valcheria,
after having been stranded in Eritrea by the death of her
husband Gastone Ignisti. A British army officer by the name
of Robert Taylor arranged passage for her on the Nova Scotia
to Durban because he feared for their safety. She later
recalled the utter confusion aboard the Nova Scotia after
the torpedoes struck, and said a British Officer had taken
Valcheria and jumped into the sea with her, just before
she herself jumped. After swimming for a long time to escape
the suction caused by the sinking ship, she was able to
look around and saw in the distance Valcheria in her red
jersey sitting on a lifeboat which drifted out of sight,
never to be seen again.
number of victims of the sinking were washed ashore on KZN's
beaches and the remains of 120, who were Italian POWs, were
laid to rest in a common grave in what later became the
Italian Military Cemetery at Hillary, outside Durban. Three
crosses originally marked the grave, but in 1982, using
a donation from Nova Scotia survivors then still living
in Mocambique, a circular tomb topped by a broken stele
rising from the waves was erected. On it is inscribed: "To
the memory of the Sons of Italy who were overcome by the
ocean in the sinking of the S/S 'Nova Scotia' XXVIII-XI-MCMXLII
The survivors sheltered in Mocambique".
14 July 2004
Nova Scotia. Picture courtesy Matt Powell.
at War [see sources page] quotes
some extracts from the log of the Alfonso de Albuquerque,
which picked up the survivors of the Nova Scotia. The ship
was sent to the rescue by the authorities in Lourenco Marques
who had been notified of the sinking by U-Boat Command.
the day Nova Scotia was sunk, 28 November 1942, the log
records that, at 22h45, the Alfonso de Albuquerque sighted
a British warship and gave them the position where the tradgedy
had occurred. The warship showed no interest and went on
29 November, survivors were picked up including a number
after nightfall. Five people were rescued when they managed
to fire off a red distress flare which was seen from the
Alfonso de Albuquerque.
30 November, at 05h45, the log records that the vessel was
steaming through hundreds of dead bodies floating on the
sea. It also notes that men had been found fighting for
space on liferafts and that the hatred between survivors
of different nationalities was strong and that only one
raft was found which had people of differing nationalities
aboard it. The log says that it was even necessary to separate
the different nationalities once they were aboard the Alfonso
de Albuquerque. The writer estimated that a quarter of those
who survived the initial sinking of the Nova Scotia were
killed by sharks.
on the Nova Scotia
is very little in print about the Nova Scotia. The best source
I found was a chapter in Ian Uys's book Survivors of Africa's
Oceans. Some years ago, I sent Tullio Mascellari what information
I had on the tragedy and in May 2008, I received word from
him that he had published a book on the subject; so far only
available in Italian. More details on his
writes about his book:
am the writer of the book concerning the Nova Scotia disaster,
which happened on November 28th, 1942 in the Indian Ocean.
I am an Italian citizen born in Eritrea during the italian
colonization. I returned to Italy in 1949.
October 2004, I visited Eritrea, as a tourist, after a long
time. In a small church at Adi Quala I saw a gravestone
containing the names of 652 italian prisoners of war who
died during the sinking of the Nova Scotia. This sight affected
me so deeply that I decided to make an investigation on
this happening, in order to write a book.
of italian people, particularly young people, ignore this
fact or have forgotten it. My aim is to recall it. The Nova
Scotia was a British ship, the Captain and the crew were
British as well, but on board there were a certain number
of South African soldiers returning home from North Africa
for Christmas leave, and about 780 italian POWs and civilian
internees who were carried to Durban. Many of them died
in the sinking of the ship. A Portuguese vessel was sent
from Lourenço Marques for the rescue. She picked
up 192 survivors, Italians, British and South Africans,
who were carried to Moçambique."
BOOK: L'Onda Gridava Forte by Valeria Isacchini - 2008
is published by Mursia and can be ordered from any of the
following online sources:
strong hints that an English version of the book is needed
urgently. We'll have to see.
settler from the U-Boat
in various places on the site, I refer to Hermann Kolditz
who was apparently a crewman on the U-Boat which sank the
Nova Scotia. In the 3rd printed edition of Facts About Durban,
German U-Boat officer, who claimed to have caught his first
sight of Durban through the periscope of his U-Boat during
World War II**, ended up settling here. My informant,
Doug Thomas, worked with Hermann Kolditz at Unilever in
Durban, where the former U-Boat officer was in charge of
dried soup production. Doug told me Hermann had been a member
of the crew of U-177, which had been responsible for sinking
a number of vessels, including the Nova Scotia just 120
miles off Durban.
was extremely lucky to survive the war, given the heavy
losses suffered by the U-Boats in its latter stages. He
settled in Durban, but took his own life on 19 January 1967,
after attending a retirement party at which Doug Thomas
was also present. Doug told me there had been no warning
signs and I can only speculate that the traumatic experiences
of the war might have played a role.
Diary page # 5
Doug Thomas said Hermann Kolditz had told him that the
U-Boat had surfaced among the survivors to find out which
ship they had sunk. Kolditz recalled that the German crew
had been appalled by scenes in the water as the survivors
tried to scramble aboard the U-Boat to escape sharks in
the water. He said that the U-Boat had been unable to
stop to offer assistance and I initially surmised that
this must have been because of the fear of discovery by
allied forces and particularly, by the flying boats operating
from nearby Lake St Lucia. I later found that the Laconia
incident, above, had played its part.
last resting place of Hermann Kolditz is in the German Cemetery
in New Germany, just outside Durban, and is marked by a
stark black stone carrying his name and the dates of his
birth and death; Hermann Kolditz, 19.7.1919 - 19.1.1967.
The stone carries no epitaph and it was left to Doug, who
accompanied me to the grave, to supply one: "Hermann
the German was a real gentleman," said Doug.
There is apparently no official record of a U-Boat ever having
come close enough to Durban to view it through a periscope
but I have heard of another source who, while visiting a German
university after WWII, met an ex U-boat crewman who showed
him photographs of Durban he claimed had been taken through
a U-boat periscope.
Pieter Snyman, Springbok-soldier 1940-43
Download a copy of a short PDF of Pieter Snyman who served in the SADF during WWII and was a survivor of the Nova Scotia. There is much of interest apart from the Nova Scotia episode.
Harry S. Metcalfe, RIP
Reader Derek recently visited Christ Church (an Anglican church) in Mayfair, Johannesburg, and found a plaque commemorating Harry Metcalfe who died after the torpedoing of the Nova Scotia. The plaque records the fact that Harry had been third engineer on the vessel and that his parents had placed a tabernacle and sanctuary lamp in the church in his memory. [Added: 25 Jan 2011]
Picture courtesy Derek (DRW)
Click to view enlargement