Single Project

DAMÃO

DAMÃO
SHIP NAME: DAMÃO
LOCATION: -5.11, 52.76

In the early hours of 28 April 1918, the Portuguese steamship DAMÃO captained by C. Rocha was zig-zagging in bright moonlight through the Irish Sea as part of convoy HN62, transporting a cargo of lead and zinc spelter. The ship also carried 55 Portuguese and eight British people. The convoy had left New York City on 13 April and was heading to Liverpool. As the ships were around 20 kilometres west of Bardsey Island, the German submarine U 91, commanded by KapLt Alfred von Glasenapp, initiated an underwater attack on the civilian vessels.

Glasenapp slowly drove between the ships from the front and positioned his submarine between the two largest steamships, the British-owned ORONSA and the Portuguese DAMÃO. From a distance of 530 metres, he fired a torpedo at the ORONSA, but he did not wait to see the results. Instead, the chief engineer of U 91 turned the submarine around and headed towards the DAMÃO. Hearing the impact of their torpedo, Glasenapp quickly gave order to launch a second torpedo, this time firing at the DAMÃO from 430 metres away. This second torpedo hit the cargo ship behind the funnel. Despite the resulting explosion, the ship did not sink immediately. In fact, according to the official report to the British Admiralty filed by the ship’s master, the crew returned to the DAMÃO before they finally gave her up after another four hours.

Of the 63 people on board the DAMÃO, all but four escaped into the lifeboats and survived the sinking of their ship. The ship’s Third Engineer and three firemen died from the explosion of the torpedo. The survivors were taken on board the VANESSE.

The DAMÃO was originally named BRISBANE and was constructed for the Deutsch-Australische Dampfschiffs-Gesellschaft (German-Australian Steamship Company). The ship was built by the British Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd and launched in 1911. The vessel was 135 metres long and 17.4 metres wide with 5,668 GRT. The BRISBANE was equipped with cooling facilities as she was intended for regular travel between Germany, Australia and Dutch East India (today Indonesia).

In June 1914, the BRISBANE was on her return journey from Sydney to Hamburg via Java. By the time she was passing through the Arabian Sea, war had broken out in Europe and the ship sought refuge at Mormugão harbour in Goa, then a Portuguese colony.

Although Portugal was a neutral country, the British government demanded all German and Austrian vessels in Portuguese harbours to be seized. Eventually, in February 1916, Portugal conceded and detained the German ships, confining their crews to prison camps. Among the crew of the BRISBANE were twelve officers. They were held at Bicholim camp. Many of the crew remained in detention until late 1919, when Germany and Austria were eventually able to pay for their repatriation. The BRISBANE, now re-named DAMÃO was handed over to the nationally-owned Portuguese shipping company Transportes Maritimos Do Estado.

Following Germany’s declaration of war against Portugal, the DAMÃO was made available to the USA and Britain to support the allied war-effort. As part of this joint effort, the DAMÃO found herself part of convoy HN62 when she left port in New York and went on her final journey in April 1918.

Sources:

Barreiros, E. and L. Barreiros. 2009. I Guerra Mundial 1914 – 1918 Índia Portuguesa Prisioneiros de guerra Alemães e Austríacos, em campos de concentração em Goa, CFP Boletim do Clube Filatélico de Portugal 410.

Bundesarchiv, Militärarchiv, Freiburg. Unterseeboote der Kaiserlichen Marine. BArch RM 97/1032. U 91. Kriegstagebuch. 10 Apr. 1918 –6 May 1918.

Bundesarchiv, Militärarchiv, Freiburg. Unterseeboote der Kaiserlichen Marine. BArch RM 97/1032. ‘Abschrift aus dem Privatkriegstagebuch “U 91” (Kapitänleutnant v. Glasenapp).’

Cota, J. P. N. 2011. The Repatriation of the WWI German and Austrian internees in Portuguese India, CFP Boletim do Clube Filatélico de Portugal 432, 19-30.

‘Liste von deutschen Schiffen in portugisischen Häfen.’ Hamburgischer Correspondent und neue hamburgische Börsen-Halle, 1 Mar. 1916. 17.

‘Shipping.’ The Brisbane Courier, 12 June 1914. 6.

Sondhaus, L. 2017. German Submarine Warfare in World War I: The Onset of Total War at Sea, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

The National Archives, Kew. ADM–Records of the Admiralty, Naval Forces, Royal Marines, Coastguard, and related bodies. ADM 137/4015. Enemy submarines: particulars of attacks on merchant vessels in home waters. 16–30 Apr. 1918. ‘Form S. A. Revised. Portuguese Steamer “DAMAO”’, n.p.