SHIP NAME: APAPA
SHIP NAME: APAPA
The most recent surveys have confirmed that this wreck is the APAPA.
The SS APAPA was travelling from West Africa to Liverpool when she was sunk by U 96 off Point Lynas, Anglesey on 28 November 1917 with the loss of 77 passengers and crew.
The ship was built in 1914 for the Liverpool-based Elder Dempster Company. This company was involved in transporting goods and passengers to and from West Africa.
Departing from Lagos for Liverpool with 119 passengers and 132 crew on 27 November 1917, the APAPA made her way under a convoy escort of 6 destroyers towards the Welsh Coast. When this was reached the escort departed for Milford Haven, leaving APAPA, and two other ships bound for Liverpool, to proceed alone.
Two days later, having lost contact with the other two ships, APAPA zigzagged, as per anti-submarine procedures, and rounded the Skerries. Weather conditions included a heavy swell, with a westerly wind.
APAPA was 2 miles off Point Lynas when she was hit by a torpedo on her starboard side towards the stern. The German captain of U 96, Heinrich Jeß, had sighted the ship’s high promenade too late as it bore down on his U-boat, misjudging the ship’s speed and firing it too far aft, and his crew did not expect the torpedo to do any serious damage due to its inaccuracy.
Nonetheless, the ship had been heavily damaged, and the second engineer later asserted that not long after the hit, ‘4 or 5’ explosions took place in quick succession. An onrush of water swamped the engine room, and it was only through repeated efforts that he managed to save one of his greasers from drowning. Following this, the engineers were evacuated.
A general evacuation was ordered. Having undertaken two drills previously, the evacuation proceeded without fuss. The engines were shut down, and the ship drifted onwards at 14 knots for a third of a mile.
Later asserting that he could not be sure if the first torpedo had done any damage due to underestimating the ship’s speed, and with a crew low on morale and eager for a sinking, Heinrich Jeß fired a second torpedo. Lifeboats were being lowered into the water by this time, and the explosion caused by the second torpedo destroyed No.9 lifeboat and injured passengers in other boats.
When the ship suddenly listed to starboard at a precipitous rate, panic set in, with passengers jumping into the water to avoid being crushed. Many drowned, though some did get picked up by the surviving lifeboats.
As the ship listed, the funnel’s supports came loose, and it fell on top of the fully laden No.5 lifeboat before it could be lowered into the water. Lifeboat No.3 was trapped in the ship’s wireless wires, with still others caught in the suction. The ship then quickly disappeared beneath the surface. The captain remained on the bridge as she sank. He would surface and be rescued later. Survivors were taken to Holyhead.
Bodies from the APAPA washed ashore
The body of Albert Taylor (aged 50), 2nd Steward, was found near Miller’s Cottage, Tywyn, by Owen Roberts, and Sergeant John Worthington – a workman and policeman respectively. The body was laid to rest with two relatives in attendance.
West African trader Harold Hunting (28), civil engineer E. O. Roper (50), John Thomas, a West African residing in Liverpool who was head fireman on APAPA (32), T. Walter Jennings (age unknown), Mrs Ida Mabel Johnson (44), wife of Sierra Leone Colonial treasurer, Harold Starling (39), chief steward, and Isaac Pembroke (actually name Peppel), fireman, of Sierra Leone (age unknown), were also found floating off the coast.
Those buried in Wales include Albert Taylor (Abergele Cemetery), Harold Hunting, John Thomas, Thomas Jennings, and Isaac Peppel (Glanadda Cemetary, Bangor).
Condemnation in papers
At the time, the sinking was condemned in newspapers across Britain, with the firing of the second torpedo seen as unnecessary. Rumours spread that the lifeboats may also have been shelled. Only with access to the German war diaries and other testimonies for U 96 can we ascertain that the captain and crew were completely unaware of the evacuation and did not feel that they had sunk the ship with the first shot. Witness accounts at the inquest confirmed that no shots had been fired on the lifeboats.
West African Crew
As on other Elder Dempster line ships, there were a large number of West African crew working on the APAPA, who also accounted for a quarter of dead crew. Among the victims was John Thomas, 32, who was the head fireman in the engine room. He had previously survived the sinking of the FALABA on 27 March 1915. His body was identified by his cousin, James Thomas, who also worked as a fireman on the APAPA. John was originally from Lagos and lived in Liverpool. There he met Amelia Andrews and they married in St Peter’s Church on 22 March 1917. Amelia attended John’s burial in Bangor Glanadda Cemetery and she wrote the epitaph for his gravestone, which reads, “Sleep on beloved one”. The North Wales Chronicle reported John’s funeral, but like many of the newspapers of the day it made John’s and Amelia’s marriage an issue of curiosity: “On Saturday the interment took place at the cemetery of the two coloured firemen – John Thomas (whose wife, a white woman, was present) and Isaac Pepple”.
Luxury on board
Ship plans, crew lists and artefacts recovered from the wreck give a fascinating insight into the luxurious conditions for passengers on board the APAPA. There were 77 rooms for first class passengers, a gymnasium, bars and a veranda. A large team of stewards catered for the needs of the passengers and a violinist, cellist and pianist played music to the passengers. Artefacts recovered include a hexagonal ceramic glazed tile from a swimming baths which is identical to those used on the TITANIC. Blue and white fine china crockery with the Elder Dempster logo have also been found.
Sources: 'Liner torpedoed off the Welsh Coast.' North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality. 7 Rhag. 1917. 2. Roll of Honour for the APAPA. Merseysiderollofhonour.co.uk. Web. 1915 Crew lists for the APAPA on Royal Museums Greenwich, 1915 crew lists website. The Elder Dempster Fleet in the War 1914-18. Liverpool: Elder Dempster & Co. Ltd., 1921. Missions to Seamen. ‘Report.’ Christiana & Her Children. 1914. London: Longmans Green and Co., 1917. 3-9. Archive.org. Web. 2018.