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The Scalaria at The Red Sea Wreck Project

The S.S. Scalaria was a 5,683 GRT Tanker built at Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson (Yard No. 1173), Newcastle, UK, for the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company (Shell Tankers, manager). As with all “Shell Tankers” she was named after a mollusk, in this case the twisting bivalve mollusk “Scalaria.

The ship was launched on 22 July 1921 and completed the following September with a length of 125.3 meters, beam of 16.2 meters, and 9.4 meters in draught. Propulsion was provided by a triple-expansion steam engine provided by Wallsend Slipway Engineering Co., Point Pleasant, Wallsend-on-Tyne, UK, and had a single shaft which gave her a top speed of 11 knots.

From the time of her launch in 1921 unitl the outbreak of World War II, the Scalaria carried cargoes of oil between Cardiff, Glasgow, Bristol, Dundee, Dover, and ports on the South African coasts. Soon after the war started on 03 September 1939, the ship, along with the entire Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co. fleet, was requisitioned for war use by the British Ministry of Transport (MoWT). The ship was recalled to England and modified with defensive armament by the addition of a single 4″ gun, a 12 pounder, 2 twin Lewis AA guns, 4 Hotchkiss guns, and a single Breda AA gun.
After the Scalaria was armed, she was crewed by 52 personnel, 4 of which were British Naval Gunners, and deployed to the Red Sea to be used as an oil storage hulk at Ras Gharib.
The Loss of the S.S. Scalaria:
On 19 October 1942, the ship was anchored at Ras Gharib under the command of Captain J. Waring, and taking on 7,000 tons of crude oil. Late that evening, or early on the morning of the 20th, the ship was attacked by a German Heinkel 111.
The following is an account by the Captain concerning the attack:
“At 22:15 I made the rounds of the ship, saw the gunners at their posts. At 22:30 I retired to my room, but was awakened by an attacking Heinkel 111 approaching from the land, roughly westward. The aircraft circled at approximately 100 ft, then dropped a torpedo which struck the ship on the starboard side aft of the bridge in no. 3 tank. There was a terrific explosion which caused the ship to shudder violently and carried away the stern moorings, causing the ship to swing round from north to south. All the woodwork in my room collapsed and the iron frame twisted, jamming the two doors. By sheer force I burst one door open and on reaching the deck saw the whole of the after starboard side of the deck was ablaze, with burning oil pouring from the ships side and drifting aft. At this point the Heinkel lined up for another attack, this time releasing a bomb. Some of the men were trapped aft and ran up onto the poop, others on the fo’c’scle slid down ropes over the bow. I was about to shout to these men when a bomb struck the foredeck with a terrific explosion. I was badly burned and injured by this bomb and saw it was no use trying to get the men to come amidships as the whole foredeck was now blazing furiously”.
Captain Waring, along with the Chief Officer and the Bo’sun, were able to lower the amidships lifeboat, and although they tried, were unable to rescue those of the crew in the water.

The Captain’s account continues:
“As we drifted I called out to the men on the poop to jump or throw us a rope but they were too slow. By the stern buoy we could see more men calling out and we picked up six more crewmen. Even with this extra manpower we were unable to row against the wind sea and current. I was thankful to see a launch approach from the shore which picked up all remaining survivors.”

Second Officer Frederick Alfred Armitage’s account of the attack and actions that followed:
“I was 2nd officer on the tanker Scalaria. At about 11pm I was thrown out of my bunk by a terrific explosion. Altogether we were hit by 4 bombs. The ship was like an inferno. I noticed the 3rd officer unconscious. I picked him up and made my way forward. We joined others on the fo’c’le and lowered the anchor cables, went over the side and hung onto them with the ship blazing above our heads.”
Note: For his bravery in the face of enemy action, Frederick Armitage would later receive the Medal of Brazen Endurance (MBE) and the Lloyd?s War Medal for Bravery at Sea.
In all, 11 men lost their lives, and the ship settled to the bottom in shallow water
at position 28°20.626′ N/033°07.236′ E, and would later be salvaged from the waterline up.

Diving Information

The the remains of the bow and stern of the ship lie only a few meters from the surface and are separated from the rest of the wreck. The area in-between is covered with piping and ladders, as well as sections of hull plating. The ship’s three boilers still remain in the aft section indicating where the Engineering compartments were. The ship’s triple-expansion engine is also in place, with various engine components easily recognizable, as is the main engine reverse direction steam control handwheel. The rest of the rest is a pile of assorted and mangled debris including valves, portholes, and assorted deck fittings and equipment.

About Author

Lee has been in the marketing industry for the last 15 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. You can connect with Lee via Twitter by following @DiveMedia

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