Albert Augustus Wolff in Athenia 1, sunk by German U-Boat, U-53 on August 16 in 1917

January 16, 2009

Hi my name is Sue, my Grt Grandfather was part of the Athenia crew. I are given to believe that he was on board when she was sunk.

We are also given to believe that he helped to save the life of a young girl by holding onto her for several hours, for which we are told he was honoured with a medal. I have no proof of this. Reading your blogs I feel you may be able to shed some light on this for me.

His name was Albert Augustus Wolff (despite his name he was British) can you help PLEASE.

Sue B


I regret I am unable to turn up anything about your Great Grandfather and the sinking of Athenia.

Here is a report of a medal struck to recall the Merchant Navy's service in WW2.


The Fourth Service

by: Mary Ann Simmons, 2002
medium: cast bronze
size: 88mm
cast by: Crucible Foundry
issue: The Medal, no. 41 (2002)
price: ¬£132.00 (non-member: ¬£198.00) 

description: Mary Ann Simmons is a jeweller and silversmith, who now works in Islington, London. Having studied jewellery design and making at George Brown College, Toronto, she worked with a small gold casting company and a private jewellery firm before joining a team of designers at Burkhardt Jewellers, suppliers to retail outlets worldwide. Her tricolour gold bracelet was featured on the cover of Canadian Jeweller. She also designed jewellery for films and television, and ran her own business fulfilling private jewellery commissions. Leaving full-time employment to study at London\'s Guildhall University, she gained a 1st class honours degree in 1997, and also won awards from the Jerwood Foundation and the Goldsmith\'s Company. By this point concentrating on silversmithing, she won a place at the Royal College of Art, where she completed her master\'s degree in 2000. Her millennium medal, Imminent Change (illustrated in The Medal, 36 (2000), p. 96), won the Royal Mint\'s first prize in the 1999 RCA medal competition. About her BAMS medal, The Fourth Service 1939-1945, which commemorates the role of the merchant mavy in the Second World War, the artist writes: \'My first encounter with information about the merchant navy was in listening to accounts of merchant navy sailors on a BBC Radio 4 programme. I was vaguely aware of the merchant navy, but, like many others, I knew very little about their status as a \"service\" and had never heard recounted any sailor\'s experiences in war. Of course, merchant seamen have existed for hundreds of years and many generations have found themselves serving as \"lifelines\" during wartime. The stories recounted on the programme, however, were stark accounts of life on active duty and the treatment many received on their return home. A visit to the Imperial War Museum\'s exhibition and library provided many and varied accounts of the toll of life, sacrifices made and hardships endured. \'From the moment war broke out the merchant navy was transformed from a private business concern to part of Britain\'s fighting forces. Merchant ships began supplying everything from food and munitions for the nation to transport for troops. With this role came the certainty that the merchant navy had become a military target. Training on their ships\' guns was provided, but the main duties were that of a merchant navy seaman rather than a military sailor. In addition, whilst a serviceman or woman could expect their pay to continue both while serving and when off active duty through injury, the merchant navy sailor\'s pay stopped the moment his ship went down. Some went back to Britain, after miraculously surviving the sea, to tax demands and bills and with no way to pay them. \'This treatment contrasts with comments made in the House of Commons by the then serving member of Parliament for Epsom, Archibald Southby, after the Second World War: \"The world will never be able to repay the debt it owes to the officers and men of the merchant navy.\" Yet true recognition has been slow in coming. \'According to the Imperial War Museum, \"Some 185,000 seamen including 40,000 Indian, Chinese and other nationalities, served during the war. 30,248 lost their lives, proportionally a higher death rate from enemy action than in any of the armed services.\" Despite these colossal losses, the merchant navy was granted permission to participate in the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph only as late as 2000, and the sad truth is that many merchant navy seamen are now dying without the recognition they deserve. Like the armed forces, they faced terrible dangers, some freezing in the arctic seas and dying of hunger, thirst and exposure after being cast adrift, and others injured in the line of duty. One account tells of nine men drifting for more than forty days, with in the end only two surviving. One of these two was eventually killed in action aboard another merchant navy vessel - a story by no means uncommon. \'The merchant navy is referred to as \"The Fourth Service\", and it is this that I have chosen for the title of my medal. The reverse depicts a map. The vertical and horizontal lines criss-crossing the reverse represent longitude and latitude lines. On the right side is the outline of land. Other lines drift lazily up and down the centre. To the left appear coordinates and an encircled X. On 3 September 1939, ten hours after the outbreak of the Second World War the passenger liner Athenia, bound for Montreal, was torpedoed by the U-boat U-30. A single torpedo hit the liner as it sailed 220 miles north-west of Ireland. Of the 312 crew and 1,102 passengers, ninety-three perished leaving the survivors to await rescue in the seas. It is this event that the encircled X marks. The upper left side of the medal shows a series of notches, which sailors used to count off the number of days they drifted at sea. On display at the Imperial War Museum is a lifeboat actually used by the nine merchant sailors previously mentioned with the notches clearly marked on the gunwale. \'I used the Athenia as a starting point because it marks the transformation of the passenger liner from pleasure cruiser to a legitimate military target. It also marks the dramatic change in circumstances for the merchant seaman. I modelled the medal\'s reverse around a map because, looking at the lines and numeric information, I thought of activity and action. The eye follows lines here and there, stopping at numeric information, and puzzling over strange, unfamiliar symbols. Turning the medal, one reads THE FOURTH SERVICE 1939-1945 carved around the circumference. The four compass points are carved between the words, symbolising the length and breadth of merchant navy involvement, both in terms of where the sailors travelled and where they came from. The obverse is the opposite. There is no information, numeric or otherwise. In contrast, simple concentric waves undulate over the surface. The pattern represents water and the quiet after activity. And, like a drop into water, the action has stopped, leaving radiating ripples. It is here one lingers to contemplate the purpose of the medal: to commemorate merchant navy men who served in the Second World War. As Captain A. Agar, V.C., R.N., wrote in Footprints in the sea (1959), \'They had nothing yet they never hesitated and we take our hats off to them.\' More information is available in G.H. and R. Bennett\'s Survivors: British merchant seamen in the Second World War, published by the Hambledon Press in 1999.


January 18, 2009

I recently sent an email about S.S. Athenia, I don't know if I made it clear he was on the Athenia in 1917 when it was sunk. If that would help you further???



I had not realised that Albert Wolff sailed in Athenia 1, to be sunk by German U-Boat, U-53 on August 16 in 1917, although I cannot find any details about Albert, here are some details about his ship.


7,835 gross tons, length 478ft x beam 56ft, one funnel, four masts, twin screw, speed 14 knots, accommodation for 12-1st class passengers. Launched on 20th Oct.1903 by Vickers. Sons & Maxim for Donaldson Bros, Glasgow, she started her maiden voyage from Glasgow to Montreal on 21st May 1904. In 1905 she was fitted with additional passenger accommodation for 50-2nd and 450-3rd class passengers and her tonnage increased to 8,668 g.t. Her first voyage as a passenger ship started 25th Mar.1905 when she left Glasgow for St. John. N.B and continued sailings to St. John and Quebec / Montreal. In 1913 she transferred to Donaldson Line Ltd and in 1916 went to Anchor-Donaldson Line. On 16th Aug.1917 she was torpedoed and sunk while 7 miles north of Inistrahull Island, Northern Ireland by the U.53 while on passage Montreal to Glasgow with the loss of 15 lives. [North Atlantic Seaway vol.3 by N.R.P.Bonsor] [Donaldson Line by P.J. Telford]

Athenia (1)  1904  1917 torpedoed and sunk off Inishtrahull, Ireland; loss of 15 lives.  
On Aug. 16, 1917 the Anchor- Donaldson Line's passenger ship Athenia was torpedoed and sunk by the
SMS U-53. She went down about 19 miles north of Clonmany, Ireland with the loss of fifteen lives. Another sad
ending in a long war.
Name  Athenia
Type  Steamer
GRT  8.668 tons
Country    British
Built  1904
Builder  Vickers, Sons & Maxim, Ltd., Barrow
Operator  Anchor-Donaldson, Ltd., Glasgow

U-boat attacks on Steamer Athenia

 Date  U-boat  Loss type  Position  Location  Route  Cargo  Casualties
 16 Aug, 1917  U 53 (Hans Rose)  Sunk  7 miles N of Inistrahull
 55.33N, 07.23W
 Montreal - Glasgow
 general cargo & passengers

Best regards,

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