Ivory Coast: HMS Dauntless Sailors Honour Forgotten Victims of U-boat Attack

HMS Dauntless Sailors Honour Forgotten Victims of U-boat Attack

Sailors from HMS Dauntless paid a rare visit to the Ivory Coast where they honoured the victims of a Christmas tragedy. The destroyer anchored off the fishing port of Sassandra, where some of the dead of a wartime flying boat tender were washed ashore when their vessel, the SS Dumana, was sunk by a U-boat in 1943.

This is the last resting place of six of the 39 souls who died when a flying boat support ship, SS Dumana, was sunk by a U-boat ace on Christmas Eve 1943.

Paying their respects, alongside locals, ex-pats and the Ivory Coast military are nine personnel from HMS Dauntless which made a rare visit to the African nation on the latest leg of her Atlantic deployment.

With the Type 45 destroyer anchored a short distance offshore, Dauntless’ Lynx ferried nine members of the ship’s company along the coast to the fishing town of Sassandra.

It was here that six of bodies of the crew were washed ashore after the Dumana was torpedoed as she sailed from Mauretania to Ghana.

Nearly 70 years later, maritime historian and local British businessman Craig Hitchcock oversaw the restoration of the graves, clearing away some of the undergrowth which had begun to devour them – work which also unearthed more war graves from 1918 to 1940. He made the journey from Abidjan, the Ivory Coast’s largest city, to pay his respects with the ship’s company.

After landing at a nearby jungle airstrip the Naval party made their way to the graveyard via all means of available transport, before forming up for a short march to the grave, all under the watchful and respectful gaze of a large crowd of locals.

Rev Sean Carter led a short service of remembrance before Dauntless’ Commanding Officer Capt Will Warrender placed a wreath on the grave.

“For the short duration of time we were ashore, a lot was achieved,” said the Rev Carter.

“We were able to honour the sacrifice and memory of the men of the SS Dumana who lost their lives in service to their country, and the graves having now been reclaimed from the jungle is great.

“I now just hope that in the future, ships visiting this area would seek to visit and maintain them.” 

Dumana was the 25th and final ship sunk by U515 and her captain Werner Henke, the 12th most successful U-boat ace of the war. U515 was crippled on her next patrol. Although Henke survived and was taken prisoner, he was subsequently shot dead in the USA while trying to escape captivity.

As for the men of the Dumana, as well as those buried in Sassandra’s graveyard, local authorities also dedicated an imposing monument on the edge of the beach one year after the tragedy.

The visiting Dauntless sailors stopped to pay their respects there, before joining locals for an impromptu photograph – Royal Navy sailors resplendent in their tropical uniforms are a very rare sight in these parts.

“It wasn’t anything like the sort of parade ground we’re used to, but I think we did alright and we brought a bit of spit and polish to the jungle,” said PO(AWW) Dan Lounds.

“It was great to see so many smiling people; it made us feel even more like we were doing something worthwhile.”

The whole visit was over in under two hours but as far as the T45 sailors were concerned it was time very well spent.

Capt Warrender said:

“As the first British warship to come to this area for a long time it was important that we reminded the locals that we are here, and that the presence of one of Her Majesty’s newest and most capable destroyers providing maritime security in the region, serves to underline the importance the UK places on the area.

“The nature of the work we do offshore is, as it is in the UK, often unseen by the locals so interaction like this helps spread the message that the Royal Navy is here and operating in these waters.”

After ceremonies in Sassandra were completed, Dauntless continued to Abidjan – and a visit with a very sporting theme.

The ship’s arrival coincided with a World Cup qualifying match between the Ivory Coast and Tanzania. Nearly half the destroyer’s crew of 200 headed to the Stade Felix Houphouet Boigny, many of them wearing the kit of the host nation… who promptly won 2-0.

The victory, coupled with the sight of a host of Premiership stars in action and an appearance on local TV, meant the sailors left the ground and the Ivory Coast with smiles on their faces and some great memories.

Aboard the destroyer, beyond a trade fair in support of UK Industry and official reception with in conjunction with British High Commission, the ship hosted a succession of community groups and military figures, plus 20 youngsters from a local karate club – who enjoyed a spot of sparring with the sailors.

LS(EW) ‘Ned’ Kelly, himself a keen martial artist said:

“They were a great bunch of kids – really happy and funny – and they aren’t half bad at karate either.

“I reckon there’s a couple of future champs amongst that lot. Bado, the club owner, should be extremely proud of them, for them lads to do what they do and come from the areas and backgrounds they have is amazing.”

Naval Today Staff , June 8, 2012; Image: Royal Navy