The Saint Dunstan was ordered by the Shipping Controller of the UK Government for cargo duties during World War One but was not launched until the war was over. Built by Northumberland Shipbuilding Co Ltd of Howden and launched on 29th April 1919 she measured 400.0′ x 53.0′ x 32.8′ and weighed 5681 gross tons, 3563 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansions steam engine by North East Marine Engineering Company Ltd of Newcastle delivering 597 nhp. Ordered and launched as SS War Keep she was immediately purchased by the Saint Line of Liverpool and named Saint Dunstan for whom she sailed successfully until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 when she was requisitioned for convoy duties by the Admiralty.
Convoy OB-202 left Liverpool on 22nd August 1940 bound for ports on the east coast of America. Saint Dunstan was among the 28 merchant ships escorted by three Royal Navy destroyers that steamed out of the North Channel and into the Atlantic en route to pick up more war supplies from The United States. Like many of the ships in the convoy Saint Dunstan was empty and hoping for a fast safe passage across the North Atlantic.
Unfortunately for the convoy, in particular Saint Dunstan and her skipper Thomas Cookes and her 62 crewmen they had not outrun the German U-boats lying in wait off the North Ireland coast and at 00.42am on the 24th they were attacked by U-57 commanded by Oberleutnant Erich Topp. As the moon broke through the dark night sky perfectly silhouetting the ships in the convoy Topp fired three torpedoes at the fleet of ships and succeeded in hitting three before he dived to escape the British warships that had been escorting the convoy. The attack is recorded in German records in position 55°45’N, 07°15’W. The same bright moon that had illuminated the convoy now also lit up the German submarine as two of the destroyers quickly turned and raced toward her. On board U-57 the alarm sounded, and they crash dived at an angle of forty degrees to escape the onrushing destroyers. U-57 was damaged as depth charges exploded around her but managed to survive and return to her home base at Lorient.
All three vessels hit were badly damaged. The SS Cumberland sank quickly while both the SS Havildar and Saint Dunstan were severely damaged. Saint Dunstan, hit by a torpedo which killed 14 of the crew, remained afloat but dead in the water. Almost a day after the attack it was decided to take off the remaining crew who abandoned ship in the ship’s boats to be picked up by the British rescue ship SS Copeland. They were later transferred to HMS Witch and were landed at Belfast.
Despite the torpedo damage Saint Dunstan remained afloat and was finally taken in tow and headed towards the Clyde hoping the reach harbour and allow her to be repaired. However on 27 August, while off the south east coast of Arran, she finally succumbed to an ever increasing ingress of water and foundered 3.5 miles east of Dippen Head.
The wreck of the Saint Dunstan lies in position 55°27.249’N, 004°58.717’W (WGS84) oriented 030°/210°. This large wreck lies in 82 metres with a least depth of 67 metres and to date, we believe, remains undived. The wreck of the Cumberland has also been discovered and lies in the North Channel in position 55°31.552’N, 07°15.222’W.