Wales: RNLI – Mumbles lifeboat disaster of 1947 remembered – 230413 1430z


(Photo: RNLI) Today’s Mumbles Lifeboat

Today’s Mumbles lifeboat:

“Today we take a moment a remember those lost in the 1947 Mumbles lifeboat disaster, in which all eight of our lifeboat crew members perished alongside the 39 people onboard the stricken steamship Samtampa they had attempted to rescue after she ran aground.”



The Mumbles lifeboat disaster of 1947

Friday 20 April 2012, 10:00 Phil Carradice

“As far as sailors are concerned the land bordering the Bristol Channel, and in particular its northern extremity, has always been a dangerous and deadly stretch of coast.

This part of the estuary has seen hundreds, perhaps thousands, of shipwrecks over the years but none is more famous or more tragic than the post-war wreck of the Liberty ship Samtampa and the subsequent loss of the Mumbles lifeboat Edward Prince of Wales.

The double disaster took place on the night of 23 April 1947. The Samtampa was a 7219 ton Liberty ship, built and launched in the USA in December 1943, one of many vessels intended to plug the gap caused by the German U-boat campaign against British and Allied shipping.

She, like all of her class, was built in a hurry, her hull being welded together rather than riveted – something that may have contributed to the eventual breaking up of the stricken ship.

By 1947 the Samtampa was owned and operated by the Houlder Line. On 19 April she left Middlesborough, in ballast and therefore high out of the water, bound for Newport. Her captain, Neale Sherwell, was a New Zealander, an experienced and able seaman. In all, she had a crew of 39.

Severe gales

By the afternoon of 23 April, the Samtampa was in the channel off the Devon coast. With a severe south westerly gale blowing and being in ballast, she was light and soon unmanageable. Both anchors were out but the stricken vessel was being blown, slowly and inexorably, towards the Welsh coast.

Her captain had little option other than to radio for assistance. The nearest lifeboat station at Mumbles, to the west of Swansea, was alerted.

As darkness gathered, the Mumbles lifeboat Edward Prince of Wales, under the command of coxswain William Gammon, was launched in what was to prove a fatal and unsuccessful rescue attempt. Unable to locate the Samtampa, Gammon brought his tiny craft back to the slipway at Mumbles in order to find the exact location of the vessel. Then he and his crew set out, once more, into gigantic seas and a wind that had now assumed virtual hurricane proportions.

Shortly after 7pm the Samtampa was driven onto the rocks of Sker Point, close to Royal Porthcawl Golf Club. The tragedy was that watchers from the shore could see what was happening, could even hear the cries of the doomed men, but were powerless to help in any way.

The hull broke into three sections almost immediately. The bow section drifted several hundred yards out to sea and most of the crew huddled together on the central bridge section or at the stern. They were already beyond help.

The Porthcawl Lifesaving Company made three attempts to fire rockets out to the ship, with the hope of setting up a breechers boy. But, with the wreck lying about 500 yards beyond the waters edge and the wind – now between Force 10 and 11 – howling into their faces, the lines fell well short. Before long all three sections of the wreck were under water.

The Edward Prince of Wales was last seen by Coastguard watchers at 7.10 pm. She was not equipped with radio and attempts to communicate with her by signal lamp were hindered by mountainous seas and rain squalls. It was not until the following morning that her wrecked hull was found about 450 yards south east of the Samtampa.

The events surrounding the loss of the Edward Prince of Wales will never be fully known. The RNLI, after looking into the disaster, said that she had been capsized and driven ashore onto the rocks at high water, about 8pm on 23 April. She was never seen by the watchers on Sker Point so it is hard to confirm these findings.

Choked by oil

Many of the bodies – lifeboat men and sailors from the Samtampa – were found with their mouths, ears and nostrils clogged by fuel oil. In many cases they had died after being choked by this oil rather than by drowning.

There is a theory that William Gammon took his tiny vessel inside the stricken Liberty ship, between the Samtampa and the coast, where the water was calmer and the chances of taking men off were greater. Then, so runs the theory, the Samtampa was hit by a gigantic wave that threw her on top of the lifeboat and capsized her.

After this time it is hard to know – certainly there were few marks on the hull of the boat while everything above deck had been smashed away, consistent with her being driven ashore upside down.

In all, 39 of Samtampa’s crew perished along with eight crewmen from the Edward Prince of Wales. It remains perhaps the worst maritime disaster to hit the south Wales coast. But such is the courage of the men and women of the RNLI that within 24 hours of the sinkings a new lifeboat crew had been formed and the service from Mumbles carried on as before.” – BBC Blog

(Video credit: LivingData)

“The story of the Samtampa is one of the worst maritime disasters in living memory and happened in April 1947 after originally setting out from Middlesborough to Newport, and developing engine trouble after entering the Bristol Channel.

“Her Captain, Neale Sherwell, decided to drop anchor down just off Lynmouth to carry out repairs on the engine… The weather was deteriorating by the minute. First the starboard anchor was dragged, then the port cable snapped. Unfortunately, the hurricane force winds took the old Liberty ship eastwards and within minutes she was on the rocky ledges near Sker Point.”” – Prince Kenfig

Downwood Film Productions – Dangerous Coast

(Video credit: downwoodfilms)

The west coast of Britain is one of the most dangerous coasts in the world, and on 23rd April 1947 a 7,000 ton liberty ship, the S.S. “Samtampa”, entered the Bristol Channel in a strengthening gale. The “Samtampa” quickly got into difficulty, and the Mumbles lifeboat was called out to render assistance. Several hours later, the “Samtampa” lay wrecked on the rocks of Sker Point, Porthcawl in Glamorgan, with the Mumbles lifeboat capsized nearby, there were no survivors.
Many of the scenes in this remarkable and memorable film have been carefully recreated, including the “Samtampa”, the lifeboat “Edward Price of Wales”, the Coastguard and bystanders at Sker Point as the ship ran aground, attempts to launch rockets over the wreck, and the subsequent burning of the doomed lifeboat.


It is 190 years since Sir William Hillary asked the nation to lend our utmost aid to those in trouble at sea.It was an impassioned appeal to the nation, calling for a service dedicated to saving lives at sea, that ultimately led to the formation of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Help those in peril on the sea: RNLI founders call still resonates

What drives postmen, engineers and teachers to put their own lives at risk to save those in peril on the sea?

RNLI: What drives these volunteers to put their own lives at risk?

An account of the incredible history of Irish lifeboats, and the even more incredible men and women who are respond in the case of disaster.

For Those In Peril on the Sea



Key facts about the RNLI

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea. Our volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland from 236 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen and Lough Ree. Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 180 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team, which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk.

The RNLI relies on public donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. As a charity it is separate from, but works alongside, government-controlled and funded coastguard services. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 our lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 140,000 lives. Volunteers make up 95% of the charity, including 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 3,000 volunteer shore crew. Additionally, tens of thousands of other dedicated volunteers raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in our museums, shops and offices.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0845 122 6999 or by email.

The RNLI is a charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SC037736). Charity number CHY 2678 in the Republic of Ireland


BBC News -Mumbles lifeboat disaster is remembered (Video)

SS Samtampa


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