The steel steamship Bayano was launched from the yard of Alexander Stephen and Sons Ltd., Glasgow on 19th April 1913 for her owners Elders and Fyffes of Glasgow. She measured 416,6′ x 53.2′ x 30.1′ and weighed 5948 gross tons, 3500 net tons. She had two triple expansion steam engines by Stephens creating 584 net horsepower and employed by her owners carrying bananas from the Caribbean to Europe.
She was hired by the Royal Navy on 21st November 1914 along with the Changuinola, Montague, Patia and Patnea, also from the Elders & Fyffes fleet. They were converted into armed merchant cruisers and used to bolster the Northern Patrol, enforcing the blockade on supplies to Germany in the icy waters between Shetland, Iceland and Norway.
On 25th February, 1915 the German U-boat U-27 left her berth at Emden in the early hours of the morning under the command of Kapitanleutnant Bernd Wegener on a sortie that was to culminate in an attack on HMS Bayano in the Firth of Clyde two weeks later. The submarine’s patrol took her north around Orkney, which they passed late on 28th February, and then south west into the North Atlantic heading west of the Outer Hebrides finally arriving in their planned patrol area in the North Channel on 3rd March. For the next week they roamed the area penetrating the Firth of Clyde reaching north of Ailsa Craig and passing south beyond the Mull of Galloway with no success until they raised periscope, at 4.50 am on the morning of 11th March in the outer reaches of the Firth of Clyde.
At that precise moment Bayano was returning to sea and her patrol duties under the command of Captain Carr with a crew of nearly two hundred and fifty men. At 4:50am she was a few miles north of Corsewall Point, Galloway. The night was clear but overcast and very dark and the sea was calm. Two thirds of the crew were asleep, leaving the third watch in charge of the vessel as she steamed through the night. Kapitantleutnant Wegener later described what he saw when a large commercial steamship steaming at full speed out of the firth with lights dimmed. He was only 200 – 300 metres from the ship and immediately fired a single torpedo from his bow tube. He then watched as the torpedo struck the Bayano on the forward quarter and exploded.
Aboard the Bayano the huge explosion flung most of the sleeping men from their hammocks and killed many instantly in and around the engine room where the torpedo actually struck. The initial explosion was quickly followed by a series of further explosions as the ship’s magazine detonated, filling the doomed vessel with smoke and steam as water rushed in through the gaping holes in her hull. The survivors later told many stories of heroism aboard the sinking ship. The wireless operators who remained at their posts broadcasting SOS messages as the ship sank or the sailor who handed out lifejackets to his frightened colleagues as the sea rose around his ankles or the captain who went down with his ship after organising the evacuation of as many of the crew as possible.
Within a few minutes of the initial explosion the Bayano sank by the bow, her stern rising dramatically into the air before she finally vanished in a huge cloud of steam and smoke. There was a final explosion as she disappeared beneath the surface. The tremendous suction caused by the huge ship sinking dragged down many of the unfortunate seamen who had jumped into the sea. Wegener reported seeing three lifeboats launched and men scrambling to board them, before he crash dived and headed south into the Irish Sea to continue his patrol.
The first vessel to arrive on the scene was the collier SS Castlereagh of Belfast. Captain McGarrick described the horrific scene which confronted his ship and crew as a ” sea of corpses in lifejackets.” He stopped his engines to attempt to pick up survivors but was immediately alerted by the approach of a U-boat, the same U-27 that had sunk the Bayano some time earlier but this time Wegener declined to attack. McGarrick ordered full steam ahead and set off on a zig-zag course and later safely reached port.
Some hours later the SS Balmarino, bound for Ayr from Belfast, also arrived at the scene of the sinking. Captain Foster was attracted by survivors waving wildly from the remains of two of the ship’s liferafts and an upturned lifeboat. He stopped and picked up twenty four badly injured survivors suffering from exposure and hunger. The Bayano had been lost with over two hundred of her crew.
The wreck noted at 55°03.285’N, 005°26.231’W lying 155°/335° has not been positively identified as the Bayano as it lies in 105 metres with a least depth of 86 metres. However, the size of the wreck, surveyed at around 110 metres long, and the location of the wreck close to the attack position noted by Wegener strongly indicate this is indeed Bayano.