The Young Merchant MarinerOn the moonless blustery night of June 14-15, 1943, the M/S Høegh Silverdawn, under the command of Captain Edgar Waaler, steamed at 13 knots through choppy waters of the Indian Ocean off the Cocas (Keeling) Islands. There was a south west gale force wind and visibility was only one half mile in the squalls.Now six days at sea, having departed Fremantle, Australia on June 9, the merchant ship carried 9000 tons of general cargo including frozen meat, oil well machinery, and war materials, that included shells, tractors, guns, aviation fuel and 5 USA armored cars, bound for Basra, Iraq. During the Second World War the port of Fremantle was a major port for commercial shipping and the home of the largest base for Allied submarines in the Southern Hemisphere. Basra was an important port through which flowed much of the equipment and supplies sent to Russia by the other allies.On board the M/S Høegh Silverdawn were fifty-eight people, eleven of whom were passengers. Among the crew were five Canadians, three of whom were from Nova Scotia. Maxwell Mosher was the youngest, an Ordinary Seaman, aged 15, from Martin’s Point, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Normal practice while at sea was to have six gunners on regular duty through the day but not during the night; however, these watches were not considered necessary and were discontinued as there had been no enemy action in the area for six months. On this night there were two lookouts equipped with binoculars on pill boxes over bridge.The German Raider Michel, the last of the WWII surface raiders operational, under the command of Captain Gunther Gumprich, was navigating in the Indian Ocean to the Western Australian coastline. On the night of June 14-15, the Raider was also near the Cocas [Keeling] Islands.At 03:30 am on June 15, the 2nd Mate of the M/S Høegh Silverdawn, reported to the Captain that they were being followed by an unknown ship. Before he could get back to the bridge to sound the alarm the Michel began its attack. The first shells struck midships, hitting the bridge and destroying the radio shack. The bridge was on fire. The Radio Operator on duty was seriously injured, as was the 1st Radio Operator who had his cabin next to the radio station, while the helmsman and lookout were killed. The firing continued for an hour and the ship was struck by two torpedoes, one in No. 3 Hold and the other in No. 4 Hold blowing the hatches off and setting the holds on fire. The ship was lit up by star shells and all exits to the deck and access areas to the guns were blasted with machine gun fire. Two explosions occurred in No. 2 hatch, the first blowing upward and the force of the second was lateral, bursting the hull of the starboard side at this hatch. Black smoke poured from this hole. Flooding was slow but after the explosion in No. 2 hatch it was rapid. The engines were secured after the opening salvo so that the boats could be launched.The raider come up in front of the ship and kept firing at the lifeboats and people on both sides, destroying both starboard boats and killing or injuring several passengers and officers. Only three of the crew came aft after orders had been given to take to the boats. While the No. 4 boat was being launched, a tackle was shot off, and the boat was lost. The boat on the poop-deck had disappeared, so they now only had the No. 2 boat left, and it too was heavily damaged. Seventeen crew, including the captain, and five surviving passengers got away in the damaged lifeboat. The Raider attempted to ram the lifeboat but lost sight of it when the lifeboat became awash due to holes from shell fire. The holes were patched and the lifeboat secured. Three of those who escaped in the lifeboat would die during the thirty-one days in the lifeboat. On July 15, the lifeboat reached the Indian coast. One life raft also cleared the ship with three survivors. They were rescued on June 26 by M/S Franklyn P. Mull. Twenty-two survived, thirty-six became casualties including the fifteen-year-old Maxwell Mosher of Martin’s Point, Lunenburg.
RememberingMosher, MaxwellOrdinary SeamanAge 15Lunenburg, Nova ScotiaChase, Gordon Lyle Ordinary SeamanAge 20Dartmouth, Nova ScotiaLindsay, WalterOrdinary SeamanAge 20Dartmouth, Nova ScotiaKeenleyside, Paul F. Radio Operator Age 32Toronto OntarioO'Brien, Claude Mess Room BoyAge 19QuebecYonkers, Thomas TrygveMess Room BoyAge 48Born: CanadaResidence: New York, USA Casualties of M/S Høegh SilverdawnJune 15, 1943