SS Turbo at The Red Sea Wreck Project


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SS Turbo at The Red Sea Wreck Project

The S.S. Turbo was a 4,782 GRT steam cargo ship built at J.D. Laing Shipbuilding (Deptbord Yard No. 635), Sunderland, UK, for the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co., Ltd., London. She was launched 11 July 1912, and completed the following month, with a length of 117 meters, beam of 15.5 meters, triple-expansion engine provided by Dickinson’s and single shaft for a speed of 10 knots. Outfitting of the ship was provided by R.C. Craggs of Hartlepool, UK. Although listed as a cargo ship, which she was, the construction of the ship was actually for transport of bulk liquids (water, fuels, oils, etc.).

The S.S. Turbo served in the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company fleet of ships for her entire career, apparently surviving World War I and continuing service during the inter-war years.

At the outbreak of World War II on 03 September 1939, all British shipping came under Government control. The ships of the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company were not exempt to this and the S.S. Turbo was taken over and defensively armed with a single 12-pounder gun.

The first mention of the ship’s involvement in the war effort is at 0545 on the morning of 01 March 1941 in the Mediterranean while under the command of Captain J. Hill, on passage from Port Said to London. A submarine was sighted approximately 4 miles away off the port bow which opened fire on the ship. Captain Hill maneuvered the ship so that the submarine was astern so as to provide as small a target as possible. Captain Hill ordered that fire be returned at this time. As quoted from “The Merchant Navy”: The situation was a trying one, for the Turbo’s crew consisted of fifty-three Chinese and only nine British. Soon after the duel opened, the Chinamen almost got out of hand, but owing to the firmness of the master and the influence of British members of the crew, they were induced to keep at their stations.”

Gunfire was exchanged for over half an hour, with the submarine gradually closing the distance between it and the Turbo. The submarine fired 20 rounds, none of which came near hitting the ship. However, as the submarine drew closer, the gunfire from the ship became more accurate, resulting in the submarine breaking off the chase. The Turbo continued on and safely completed her journey.


SS Turbo at The Red Sea Wreck Project

The next mention of the Turbo is while on passage from Haifa, Israel to Alexandria on 20 August 1941 under the command of Captain J. B. Jones.

Here is his account of the attack which occurred on that day:

“”Weather on the afternoon of the 20th was fine with light air and we steamed at 7.5 knots steering a westerly course, zigzagging on no. 10. At 1745 A.T.S. 35 miles from Damietta, we sighted two twin engine bombers heading towards us from the west out of the sun, which was then 2 points off our port bow. They were light blue, 50 ft above the water and flying one behind the other.

When they were in range we commenced firing with the Hotchiss, two of which were fixed on the bridge, one forward and one on the f’o’csle head. We could not bring the 4” gun to bear at this stage.

The first plane when about ¾ mile off the starboard bow, dropped a torpedo which I saw approaching and I swung the ship hard astarboard. The vessel answered the helm and the torpedo ran harmlessly along the starboard side.

Meanwhile the second aircraft made a wider circle round the starboard side until he was ¾ mile on our starboard quarter, then he released his torpedo. The ship was still swinging to starboard. I saw the white wake and a second later it struck the vessel halfway between the bow and stern on the starboard side. There was a terrific explosion, a cloud of black smoke and a column of water was thrown at least 95ft, but there was no flame. There was a strong smell of cordite.

We could now bring the 4″ to bear and were able to get off one round as the plane flew off. We continued to fire the Hotchiss guns using all our ammunition except for 25 rounds. The planes continued to circle at a distance of 2 miles then flew off. 10 minutes later two of our own fighters appeared. The attacking planes were Italian S79 type Bombers adapted to carry Torpedoes.

The ship rocked so badly after the explosion that I thought the ship was going to break in two, so I stopped the engines. The pump room and nos 3, 4 and 5 holds were flooded, the deck was buckled on the starboard side between 3 and 4 tanks and there was a large hole in the ships side some 40ft fore and aft. There were cracks in the starboard side running from the main shear strake down to the bilge keel.”

The Turbo, although heavily damaged, was able to make safe harbor at Port Said where part of her cargo was off-loaded. She then transitted the Suez Canal to the Port of Suez where the remainder of her cargo was discharged.

Although the Turbo was damaged beyond repair, it was decided that she could still be used as a stationary bulk fuel storage facility, and on 01 April 1941 she departed Suez in the tow of the Gladys Moller, a sister ship of the Rosalie Moller

In heavy weather on 04 April 1941, the Gladys Moller, with the Turbo in tow, neared Ras Banas when the Turbo suddenly broke in half. The forward section was ordered sunk by gunfire as it was a navigational hazard. The after section on the Turbo remained afloat but could not be boarded. On the night of 05 April, the Gladys Moller lost sight of the after section and the next morning the Turbo was gone.

Lloyds war losses records“While proceeding towards Aden, as a hulk, SS TURBO broke her back in a heavy sea. Gladys Moller stood by, stern could not be boarded, during the night of the 5th all contact with the stern was lost and the bow section sunk by gunfire on the night of the 5th by an unknown vessel under instruction form the Admiralty at Port Sudan.”

Diving Information

The wreck was previously known as the “Half Wreck” (for obvious reasons) and its location is credited to the Egyptian boat captain of the Lady M known as “Crazy Ahmed”. The wreck had also previously been mis-identified as being that of the Atlas until Mr. Peter Collings, through his research, was able to correctly identify it as being the wreck the S.S. Turbo. The wreck now lies in 28-meters of water lying near the reef on its port side at position 25.16N/35.25E. The starboard side of the ship is at a depth of around 18 meters with the stern pointing in a northwesterly direction. The superstructure is still intact with penetration being possible to the engine room and other engineering and work spaces down to the 3rd deck. Handrails, portholes, gauges, valves, and dials are all still in place.

Lee has been in the marketing industry for the last 20 years and now specializes in teaching marketing techniques to people in the scuba diving industry. He is founder of Dive Media Solutions which, in addition to providing complete marketing, media, communications and IT solutions exclusively for the scuba diving industry, also produces The Scuba News which Lee is the Managing Editor of, along with providing 1-2-1 tutorials with dive centers and diving manufacturers around the world. You can connect with Lee via Twitter by following @mrleetw

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