The steel steamship Alwaki was launched from the Schiedam, Holland yard of Werf Maasdjik (Van de Kruy and Ree) in 1922 (Yard no 52) She measured 375.0′ x 52.2′ x 25.8′ and her tonnage was 4533 gross tons, 2754 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by Werf Maasdjik delvering 497 net horse power. She was owned by Van Nievalt, Goudriaan and Co, Stoomvert Mij NV, Rotterdam.
On 5th July 1940 the Alwaki, under the command of Captain Johan Martijn Schoegl joined convoy FN214 which departed Southend bound for Methil in ballast. Captain Schoegl had a crew of sixty men aboard and ten Iraqi passengers. They reached Methil two days later and joined a larger convoy OA179 heading into the Atlantic. Alwaki was ultimately bound for Durban and Calcutta when the convoy dispersed Mid-Atlantic. The convoy consisted of thirty merchant ships with two escorts.
Meanwhile German U-boat U-61 had departed Bergen, Norway on 6th July on her latest patrol destined for the waters of the Scottish west coast intending to attack any convoys heading across the Atlantic. She was under the command of Oberlieutnant Jurgen Oesten. After rounding the Shetland Isles Oesten arrived in the waters off Cape Wrath on 9th July and the following day spotted the convoy heading west after passing through the Pentland Firth. When the convoy reached a position approximately ten miles north east of Cape Wrath Oesten attacked. The convoy, steaming in two columns had in fact passed directly above the lurking U-boat and , when Oesten raised his periscope he found himself between the two columns. Alwaki was the secondship in the starboard column. He quickly fired two G7e torpedoes and dived to escape the attention of the escorting destroyers. In fact, Oesten’s position among the ship’s of the convoy, meant that the torpedoes didn’t have time to arm before they slammed into Alwaki penetrating her hull without exploding.
Captain Schoegl immediately ordered engines stopped and the crew began to inspect the damage caused. Although the ship and the men aboard had been lucky to avoid a catastrophe it was clear that the ship was in deep trouble. The torpedoes had ripped holes in the hull near the engine room and in hold number 2 and she immediately began to fill and developed a severe list to port. Thankfully, the crew and passengers were able to disembark safely in the ship’s lifeboats leaving a few of the senior crew aboard to attempt to save the Alwaki. They were joined by a boarding party from HMCS Laurent but their efforts were in vain. By 2:15pm the Alwaki had developed a forty five degree list and the coal in her bunkers began to shift further exacerbating the situation. The remaining crew and the boarding party then left the ship and, despite a final attempt by the tug HMS Bandit to take her in tow she finally foundered at 10:27pm that day. An enquiry was held into the loss which falsely concluded that the ship had likely been the victim of sabotage. It was only after the war, when German U-boat records were examined that the actual cause of her loss was known.
The wreck of the Alwaki lies in position 57° 43.008’N, 004° 29.483’W oriented 020/200 degrees. She lies in 72 metres with a least depth clearance of 56 metres. She was positively identified by divers in 2008 who recovered crockery with the owner’s name on it.
We would like to thank Lloyd’s Register Foundation – Heritage & Education Centre for allowing us to reproduce documents from their archive in this article.