Encounter With German U-27

Reprinted from Downhome, March 2020
by Lester Green

2 Attacks, 2 Ships, 1 Southwest Arm seaman who didn’t come home

Crew on deck of Geran U-27 (Source http://www.kuk-kriegsmarine.at)

On March 11, we commemorate an event that happened 105 years ago. We remember how the claws of destiny would place three vessels in close proximity. The German submarine U-27 would determine the outcome of the two British vessels when it encountered the ships off the coast of Scotland.

Families from the Southwest Arm region of Newfoundland would be drawn forever into this story by the outcome at setting of the sun on that tragic day. Future generation would gather around their kitchen tables and recall the story of this encounter with German submarine U-27.

The Opposing Ships

Many Newfoundland Royal Naval Reservists were deployed overseas in the early stages of the First World War. Upon arrival overseas, these young men were assigned to an armed merchant cruiser (AMC). The vessels were used to form blockades against trade to and from Germany. The AMC used signalling to request the merchant ships to stop for inspection. A landing party would be dispatched and board the ship to inspect the cargo. If contraband was found, the ship was ceased in the name of the King. The crew would later receive a share in the form of “prize money.” This blockading by the navy was initially known as the Northern Patrol but during the war it was more commonly referred to as the 10th Cruiser Squadron.

The Bayno, a merchant ship launched in 1913, was owned and operated by the company Elders and Fyffes. She was requisitioned and assigned to 10th Cruiser Squadron by the British Admiralty, and became known as the HMS Bayano.

The Ambrose, built in 1903 was owned and operated by the Booth Line company. The ship was also requisitioned, then commissioned as the HMS Ambrose and assigned to the 10th Cruiser Squadron.

On May 8, 1914, the Imperial Germany Navy commissioned the construction of a submarine known as SM U-27. The crew consisted of four officers and 31 sailors under the command of Kapitanleutant Bernd Wegener. Over the course of the war, U-27 was responsible for sinking 10 merchant ships and two destroyers.

Fates Intertwined

Among those serving aboard the Bayano was Simeon Whalen. He was born at Caplin Cove, NL, on December 3, 1890, to William Thomas and Martha Mary Whalen. He enlisted on January 2, 1914, with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reservist. On November 14, 1914, he was deployed overseas and assigned to HMS Excellent, a shore based accommodation, for further training. After 30 days training he got his transfer orders to HMS Bayano.

Another Royal Navy seaman from the Southwest Arm area of Newfoundland, Caleb Cooper of Queen’s Cove, was serving aboard HMS Ambrose. He’d enlisted with the Royal Navy in February 1912, at the age of 18. In November 1914, he was deployed overseas and transported to England. He received further training at HMS Vivid, Devonport, England. On December 9, 1914, he was transfer to the HMS Ambrose, where he joined two other sailors from the Southwest Arm area. Seaman Josiah Avery, the oldest son of William and Myria Avery of Fox Harbour, first enlisted with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve in the spring of 1913. He was recalled to St. John’s at the outbreak of the war and , after training, was sent overseas on the SS Franconia. He was sent to a Seamanship, Signaling and Telegraphy school at HMS Vivid before being assigned to HMS Ambrose on December 9, 1914.

Seaman Joseph Edward Smith

Josiah’s first cousin, Seaman Joseph Edward Smith, was also aboard the Ambrose.  The son of Thomas and Mary Ann Smith, he also grew up in Fox Harbour, known today as Southport. Seaman Smith initially enlisted with the Naval Reserve in January 1913 and was ordered to HMS Calypso on August 4, 1914. He travelled overseas aboard the SS Franconia in November 1914, along with 33 other seamen from the Southwest Arm area. He was assigned to HMS Vivid at Devonport for further training and then assigned to HMS Ambrose.

Tragedy Awaited

Early on the morning of March 11, 1915, the Bayano was the transferring coal from Glasgow to Liverpool, England when it was sighted by the German submarine U-27 off Corsewall Point, Galloway, Scotland. Kapitanleutnant Wegener placed the HMS Bayano in the crosshairs of the periscope and gave the order to release U-27’s torpedoes.

Seaman Caleb Cooper

The torpedo laid a direct hit on the Bayano. Most of the 220 sailors aboard were asleep and had no warning and no chance to escape. Within minutes the Bayano took 194 of its crew to a watery grave. Among the list of sailors lost to the sea was Seaman Simeon Whalen.

The destruction caused by U-27 was not yet completed that day because its periscope was soon focused on a new target: the HMS Ambrose. The Royal Navy Log Books for HMS Ambrose, published on the Naval History website (www.naval-history.net), contain a vivid description of the ships encounter with U-27. From the log:

1.20pm: Attacked by submarine, torpedo missed bows by 20 yards. Hands to General Quarters. Opened fire at the periscope astern.

1.30pm: Increased to 91 revolutions.

2.05pm: Attacked by another submarine, torpedo passed astern, opened fire on Port quarter.

2.22pm: Attacked by another submarine on Port quarter, opened fire, suspected to have sunk her

Seaman Josiah Avery

The crew of the Ambrose believed that U-27 was sunk because no further attacks were made on their ship. Records would later reveal that U-27 was not finished, but continued to cause havoc on merchant ships.

Later Seaman Smith, Seaman Avery and Seaman Cooper would learn about the fate of the HMS Bayano and their fallen friend, Seaman Simeon Whalen.

On 19 August 1915, U-27 was finally sunk when the decoy ship, HMS Baralong, encountered the submarine on the surface and sprayed it with gunfire. Kapitanleutant Bernd Wegener and his entire crew were killed.

Encounter with German U-27 – pdf – Downhome Article


Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, November 2022.

These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material