Completed – September 1921 Builder – Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson (Yard no. 1173) Owned & Operated by – The Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company
(Shell Tankers, manager) Dimensions – 125.3m x 16.2m
Draught – 9.4m
Displacement – 5,683 grt Propulsion
Triple-expansion steam engine, provided by Wallsend Slipway Engineering Co., Point Pleasant,
Date of shipwreck – October 19th 1942
Constructed: 1922 (Newcastle, England)
Length of ship: 125m (411ft)
Wreck location: Ras Galib, Egypt.
Depth range of wreck: surface to 10m
The loss of S.S. Scalaria
From the time of her launch in 1921 until the outbreak of WW 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 September 3rd 1939, the ship, along with the entire Anglo-Saxon Petroleum fleet, was requisitioned for war use by the British Ministry of Transport. The ship was recalled to England and modified with defensive armament. 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 a storage bulk at Ras Gharib. On October 19th 1942, the ship was anchored at Ras Gharib under the command of Captain J. Waring and taking 7,000 tons of crude oil. Later that evening, the ship was attacked by a German Heinkel III. Altogether the S.S. Scalaria was hit by 4 bombs, causing huge explosions and setting the whole ship ablaze. In all, 11 men lost their lives. The ship settled to the bottom in shallow water and would later be salvaged from the waterline up.
The Captains account reads: “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 around 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”.
Aided by the Chief Officer, and although badly wounded, Captain Waring lowered the amidships lifeboat. The bo’ sun and chief steward made it into the boat as Warring and the chief officer slid down the falls. With only the Chief Officer and the bo’ sun uninjured they were unable to progress forward to rescue other crew members in the water due to the weight of the boat and strong currents.
Captain Waring: “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.”
2nd Officer Armatage accounts: “I was 2nd officer on the tanker Scalaria. At about 11 pm 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 force and lowered the anchor cables, went over the side and hung onto them with the ship blazing above our heads.”
For his bravery, Armatage was awarded the MBE and the Lloyds Medal.
Discovering the Wreck
It was amongst the plates, gratings and piles which had been the engine room that we found absolute proof that would keep any sceptics quiet. The engine manufacturers plate lay upside down amongst the debris-covered in concretion and half-buried. Exhumed and cleaned, it was to read “WALLSEND SLIPWAY and ENGINEERING CO LTD – NEWCASTLE ON TYNE 1921” “ENGINES NO 843”.
The Wreck Today
The stern, like the bow, is upright and reaches to within a few feet of the surface. Her propeller has been long since salvaged. Where the centre island had been, the wreckage stood almost to the surface with more large sections of her holds standing upright. There is evidence of the massive explosions in the form of huge sections of steel folded outwards, forming overhangs for fish to shelter.
Three huge boilers mark the aft section of the vessel. With the engine house gone, the triple expansion engine lies bare – big ends con rods and a huge reversing wheel are easily located and recognised.
The bow and fo’c’sle were found upright, broken off from the main section. Iron framework and ladders helped define the section of the ship. From here back to the centre island was a dispersed area of huge proportions with her valving and pipework twisted, distorted and mangled. Portholes, deck fittings and winches lay scattered in a chaotic scrapyard of metal.
Although heavily salvaged, there is still much of the wreck to be seen, including the reversing wheel