Location of the Nerissa Sinking using Radio Messages and Co-ordinates

By John Collins

The exact location of the sinking has always been a mystery to me until John mentioned that the radio messages would give the correct co-ordinates needed to dispatch the Veteran to pick up survivors. Several books have given different co-ordinates for the location of the sinking. John has given us a detailed analysis below of the events involved in the sinking of the Nerissa and the rescue of survivors.

Event

  • Nerissa torpedoed 22:30 hrs GMT (ship's time) on Apr 30, 1941, equivalent to 23:30 hrs BST (British Summer Time) used on shore and by the Navy vessels that responded.

Radio Messages

  • From F.O. I/C., G., Greenock 0004/1 to N.O. I/C. Londonderry

    "Nerissa Torpedoed 30/4. British 5583 tons, independently Halifax for Liverpool. Request you will sail RESTIVE and TENACITY to assist NERISSA torpedoed in 56 deg. 08' N., 10 deg. 27' W. at 2230/30."
  • From C. in C. W.A. at 23:57 hrs on 30th to Lincoln and Hurricane.

    "Proceed to assistance of 'Nerissa'. Torpedoed in position 56 08' North 10 27 West at 2230 hrs 30th April. Whitley aircraft is being sent to assist. Also address Veteran."
  • From Veteran at 08:13 on 1st May to C. in C. W.A.

    " Nerissa sunk. Am picking up survivors in 056 deg. 15' N., 010 deg. 20' W."
  • From Hurricane at 08:48 hrs on May 1st to F.O. I/C Greenock and C. in C. W.A.

    "My 05:27 E.T.A. Boom 16:15. Veteran has survivors of Nerissa."
  • From Veteran at 09:40 hrs on May 1st to C. in C.W.A.

    "90 survivors ex NERISSA five hospital cases. E.T.A. Lough Foyle 1600. Request survivors may be moved to allow me to catch O.B. 316."
  • From Veteran at 12:04 hrs on May 1st to C. in C.W.A.

    "If possible transfer survivors to LINCOLN and then proceed in execution of previous orders. (C. in C. W.A. 09:54/1 to VETERAN) Your 09:54 LINCOLN reports 17 hours from me. Have two cot cases and require to top up. Consider most expedient course as in my 09:40. Request approval.
  • From C. in C.W.A. at 14:02 hrs on 1st May to Veteran.

    "Your 12:04 of May 1. Approved, as intended."

Calculations using co-ordinates

  • Nerissa torpedoed at 56 08' N 10 27' W.
  • Veteran picking up survivors at 56 15' N 10 20' W.
  • Using a navigational calculation program, the distance between them was 14.8 km ( 8 naut. miles ) on a line running 29 05' east of north. This is a little south of north north-east and would be consistent with the flow of the Gulf Stream.
  • Please keep in mind that any small variation in either of the two sets of co-ordinates will produce a large variation in the distance between them. For example, if Nerissa's location was 56 09' N 10 27' W, the distance between the two sets becomes 13.3 km and the direction 32 59' east of north.

Location

The calculation program gives a distance to the northwest of 107 miles from Aran Island and 109 miles from Bloody Foreland which are the two closest points of Donegal.


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Miscellaneous terms, abbreviations and comments.

  • F.O. I/C Greenock. First Officer in Command at Greenock. Officer on duty at Greenock for sailings into Glasgow, Scotland.
  • N.O. I/C Londonderry. Naval Officer in Command at Londonderry. Commanding Officer of Navy ships at Londonderry, NI.
  • C. in C. W.A. [sometimes CIC WA]. Commander-in-Chief Western Approaches. Naval Commander over all ships coming to or from Britain including convoys and naval escorts. Does not command naval strike force ships.
  • Hurricane expects to be at the submarine exclusion boom across the narrows of Loch Foyle on the approach to Londonderry at 16:15.
  • O.B. 316 This is an outbound convoy that Veteran was assigned to accompany.
  • Veteran has "two cot cases". Two of the survivors need to be handled by stretchers.
  • Veteran needs to "top up". Veteran will have spent about 16 hours running at high speed to and from the sinking site. She needs to refill her fuel tanks to return to the convoy and cross the Atlantic to Canada.
  • Apparently C. in C. W.A. message of 09:54 suggested transfer of survivors to Lincoln. Veteran points out that Lincoln is 17 hours away and asks for an alternative plan.
  • From other records, Veteran came inside the Loch Foyle boom, transferred the survivors to Kingcup, refuelled and left to catch the convoy.

Ships mentioned

HMS Hurricane was a Royal Navy Havant class destroyer. Hurricane was launched on 29 September 1939 and sunk by U-415 on 24 December 1943. At the time of the sinking of the Nerissa, Hurricane (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN) was at sea having rescued 3 survivors of the "Henri Mory" torpedoed off Blaskett Island, Ireland (54 21 N 19 30 W) on 28 April and then on 29 April rescued the master, 170 crew members, eight gunners and 273 passengers from the British steam passenger ship City of Nagpur which was sunk in position 52.30N, 26.00W by the German submarine U-75. The survivors were landed at Greenock.

HMS Lincoln was the overaged (1918) US destroyer USS Yarnall turned over to the Royal Navy in Oct. 1940 and stationed at Londonderry. She escorted convoys in and out of the Western Approaches to mid-ocean. In Feb 1942 she was turned over to a Norwegian crew and saw duty operating on escort duty between Halifax, NS and St. John's, Nfld. In July 1942 she became HMCS Lincoln still with the Norwegian crew. In late 1943 she returned to the UK, and was placed in reserve in the Tyne River and later that year transferred to the Russian Navy for parts.

HMS Kingcup was a Royal Navy Flower class corvette (1940). She was later known to have escorted convoys across the Atlantic Ocean. She survived the war.

HMS Restive was a Royal Navy sea-going rescue tug.

HMS Tenacity was a Royal Navy sea-going rescue tug.

HMS Veteran was a Royal Navy Admiralty V & W class destroyer (1919). On May 1, 1941 under Cdr. W.T. Couchman, OBE she picked up 83 survivors from the British passenger ship Nerissa that was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-552 southeast of Rockall in position 55.57N, 10.08W. [JMC Note: Location differs from that given in radio messages at the time.] On 27 September 1942 HMS Veteran (Lt.Cdr T.H. Garwood, RN) was torpedoed and sunk by U-404 in position 54 34'N, 25 44'W while escorting convoy RB-1. When torpedoed she was rescuing survivors of the American passenger ship New York. She was lost with all hands together with rescued survivors from the American passenger ships Boston and New York. The convoy was attacked by three wolf packs totalling 17 U-boats.

HMS Veteran
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Aircraft mentioned

Whitley was the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley two-engined long-range bomber (designed 1934) that was also used by RAF Coastal Command for extended patrols over the Atlantic. On those patrols they carried bombs to be used on U-boats.