Donald Roy MacRae - who was the Master of the S.S. Cortes when she was sunk on the 26th September 1941

December 21, 2009

Dear Mac,

I have been researching into the death of my Grandfather - Donald Roy MacRae - who was the Master of the S.S. Cortes when she was sunk on the 26th September 1941.

I am trying to find our additional information on what happened, where etc. as all I have found is that she was sunk by the German U 203.

Could you please point me in the right direction?

Casualty Details

Initials: D R
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Master
Regiment/Service: Merchant Navy
Unit Text: S.S. Cortes (London)
Age: 40
Date of Death: 26/09/1941
Additional information: Son of Mr. and Mrs. D. MacRae, of Kingstonon-Thames, Surrey; husband of A. L. MacRae,
of Criccieth, Caernarvonshire.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 32.

Ioan MacRae


The Tower Hill Memorial is in London and records the deaths of Merchant Navy Personnel.Your grandfather is
recorded on panel 32, but the names on the various panels are not able to be accessed by a computer.

One must actually visit the memorial to sight a particular name recorded.

My information cites U-124 as having sunk Cortes, just a small ship. It seems that another ship in the convoy Lapwing picked up 3 survivors from Cortes, but then U-203 sank Lapwing and the 3 survivors died.

In all 9 ships were sunk from Convoy HG 73.

Here are some details from the German U-Boat site, uboat.net.

Name Cortes
      Type: Steam merchant
      Tonnage 1,374 tons
      Completed 1919 - Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd, Dundee 
      Owner MacAndrews & Co Ltd, London 
      Homeport London 
      Date of attack 26 Sep 1941 Nationality:      British
      Fate Sunk by U-124 (Johann Mohr)
      Position 47.48N, 23.45W - Grid BE 4166
      - See location on a map -
      Complement 43 (43 dead - no survivors)
      Convoy HG-73 
      Route Lisbon - Liverpool - London 
      Cargo General cargo, including potash and cork 
      History Laid down as War Waveney for The Shipping Controller, completed in August 1919 as Cortes for
MacAndrews & Co Ltd, London.
      Notes on loss At 02.32 hours on 26 Sep, 1941, the
Cortes (Master Donald Ray McRae) in station #12 of
convoy HG-73 was hit aft by one torpedo from U-124
and sank immediately by the stern north-northeast of
the Azores.

      After both ships ahead of her were torpedoed, the
Lapwing in station #13 stopped and launched a
lifeboat for rescue work. Among the survivors picked
up were three men from Cortes, but they had to
abandon ship again when she was sunk by U-203
(Mützelburg) at 06.34 hours. The lifeboat of Lapwing
made landfall in Ireland two weeks later, but two
Arab firemen from Cortes had died of exhaustion in
the boat and the last survivor, bosun Alfonso
Pimentil, died later in a hospital in Clifden. The
master, 30 crew members, six gunners and six
passengers were lost.

I trust this helps a little in your quest.

Best wishes for Christmas and 2010.


Dear Mac

Thanks so much - I have just found the same information.

I understand from relatives that my Grandfather was one of the 3 survivors from the original sinking of the SS

Do you know where I could get a picture of the SS Cortes?

Thanks again - I really appreciate your time and assistance. We live in Dubai - but are going back in the New Year and the first stop is the memorial. I know my children want to lay some flowers - as do I.

Kind regards,
Ioan MacRae


The U-Boat net report states the 3 survivors were 2 Arab Firemen and the ship's Bosun.

Some further detail, but regret no photo. This lists 10 ships sunk not 9.


Convoy battles
Gibraltar - UK
19 Sep 1941 - 28 Sep 1941
      The Convoy 25 ships
      First sighting On 19 Sep 1941 by U-371
      Escorts When leaving Gibraltar on 17 September:
      British destroyer HMS Vimy (D 33) (LtCdr H.G.D. de
Chair, RN) until 22 September
      British escort destroyers HMS Duncan (D 99) (LtCdr
A.N. Rowell, RN) and HMS Farndale (L 70) (Cdr S.H.
Carlill, RN) until 20 September
      British sloop HMS Fowey (L 15) (LtCdr L.C.A. Leefe, RN)
      British corvettes HMS Begonia (K 66) (T/Lt T.A.R.
Muir, RNR), HMS Gentian (K 90) (Cdr R.O. Yeomans,
RD, RNR), HMS Hibiscus (K 24) (LtCdr C.G.
Cuthbertson, RNR), HMS Jasmine (K 23) (LtCdr C.D.B.
Coventry, RNR (retired)), HMS Larkspur (K 82) (Lt
S.C.B. Hickman, RNR), HMS Myosotis (K 65) (Lt G.P.S.
Lowe, RNVR), HMS Periwinkle (K 55) (LtCdr P.G.
MacIver, RNR) and HMS Stonecrop (K 142) (Lt J.V.
Brock, RCNVR)
      British fighter catapult ship HMS Springbank (Capt
C.H. Godwin, DSO, RN (retired)) until lost on 27

      Joined on 20 September: British destroyer HMS Wild
Swan (D 62) (LtCdr C.E.L. Sclater, RN) until 22
      Joined on 22 September: British destroyer HMS
Highlander (H 44) (Cdr S. Boucher, RN) until 26
      Joined on 28 September: British destroyer HMS
Wolverine (D 78) (LtCdr J.M. Rowland, RN)

      U-124 * Kaptlt. Johann Mohr, U-201 * Oblt. Adalbert
Schnee, U-203 * Kaptlt. Rolf Mützelburg, U-205
Kaptlt. Franz-Georg Reschke, U-371 Kaptlt. Heinrich
      * U-boats that fired torpedo or used the deck gun

      The battle

      One day after the convoy HG-73 had left Gibraltar, a
German Fw200 Condor aircraft (KG 40) located the
ships off Cape St. Vincent but was chased away by
the Fulmar fighter from HMS Springbank. Four Italian
submarines on patrol west of Gibraltar were ordered
to search for it: Leonardo Da Vinci (CC Ferdinando
Calda), Alessandro Malaspina (TV Giuliano Prini) *,
Morosini (CC Athos Fraternale) and Luigi Torelli (CC
Antonio De Giacomo).

      On 19 September, the Morosini made the first contact
with the convoy but one of the electrical engines
broke down and the submarine returned to base. The
same day, U-371 sighted the convoy as well but the
U-boat was en route to the Mediterranean and ordered
to continue its mission. In the evening on 20
September, Torelli found the convoy and was badly
damaged by depth charges from HMS Vimy when she
tried to attack the convoy during the night of 21/22
September, forcing the submarine to abort its
patrol. On 23 September, Da Vinci sighted the convoy
again and kept contact for U-124 and U-201 which
were directed to it by the BdU, coming from the
battle against convoy OG-74. The next day, a Fw200
aircraft located the convoy and sent homing signals.

      During the following night, only U-124 reached the
convoy and reported unsuccessful attacks on a
cruiser sailing ahead of the convoy HG-73, possibly
misidentifying the fighter catapult ship HMS
Springbank and a destroyer, before sinking the first
ship. The U-boat was joined by U-203 the next night
and together they sank five ships, while U-201 also
reached the convoy but was chased away by the
escorts. In the night of 26/27 September, all three
U-boats attacked again sinking two more ships and
HMS Springbank, while the outbound U-205 made
contact but lost the convoy in bad visibility.

      On 27 September, Allied flying boats arrived to
screen the convoy HG-73 and they kept the most
U-boats at distance, only U-201 managed to attack
the following night, sinking another steamer. Three
of the four participating U-boats were now out of
torpedoes and the BdU ordered U-124 and U-201 to
return to base, while U-203 shadowed the convoy for
U-205, but this U-boat had been bombed and damaged
in the evening on 28 September and the operation was
broken off at dawn on 29 September.

      The three attacking U-boats claimed the sinking of
10 ships with 62.000 tons, one corvette possibly
sunk and another ship damaged. This reflects the
reappearing problem of overestimating the targets in
the Gibraltar convoys, the commanders mistaking
coasters with the engine aft as tankers and claiming
normal ship sizes for North Atlantic convoys, while
the average size of the ships in the convoy HG-73
was about 2200 GRT for example.

      On this occasion the cooperation between the U-boats
and air reconnaissance of the Luftwaffe worked as
intended, the Fw200 aircraft of KG 40 being in
contact with the convoy after it left Gibraltar, on
24 and 26 to 28 September, sending homing signals
and helping the U-boats to get into a favorable
position for the night attacks. Moreover, the
Italian submarines were complimented by the BdU for
their shadowing work in the early phase of this
battle. None of the submarines reported a successful
attack on the convoy, but a Fw200 reported two ships
in sinking condition and one burning ship behind the
convoy on 24 September, so they were wrongly
credited to Malaspina * which did not return from
her patrol. Allied sources mention no ships being
lost or damaged in this area on that day.

      * Unknown at this time was that Malaspina had
already been lost on 10 September, bombed and sunk
with all hands by the Australian Sunderland aircraft
W3986 (10 Sqdn RAAF/U, pilot F/L A.G.H. Wearne,
RAAF) while outbound in the Bay of Biscay in
position 46°23N/11°22W. The submarine was reported
missing after leaving Bordeaux on 7 September and
for some time it was thought that she had been sunk
by the British destroyer HMS Vimy during the night
of 21/22 September in the vicinity of convoy HG-73,
but this attack was in fact directed against
Torelli. Her fate was revised in March 2004 by Dr.
Axel Niestlè and Eric Zimmerman.

      Reassessment of ships hit from HG-73
      See our new article Convoy HG-73: Reassessment of
U-boat attacks during the nights of 25/26 and 26/27
September 1941 by Rainer Kolbicz published on 3 Aug

Article compiled by Rainer Kolbicz

Ships hit from convoy HG-73

      Date U-boat Commander  Name of ship Tons Nat.
      25 Sep 1941 U-124 Johann Mohr   Empire Stream 2,922
      26 Sep 1941 U-124 Johann Mohr   Cortes 1,374  br
      26 Sep 1941 U-124 Johann Mohr   Petrel 1,354  br
      26 Sep 1941 U-124 Johann Mohr   Siremalm 2,468  nw
      26 Sep 1941 U-203 Rolf Mützelburg   Avoceta 3,442  br
      26 Sep 1941 U-203 Rolf Mützelburg   Lapwing 1,348  br
      26 Sep 1941 U-203 Rolf Mützelburg   Varangberg 2,842
      27 Sep 1941 U-201 Adalbert Schnee   Cervantes 1,810
      27 Sep 1941 U-201 Adalbert Schnee   HMS Springbank
5,155  br
      27 Sep 1941 U-201 Adalbert Schnee   Margareta 3,103
      10 ships sunk (25,818 tons).

       We have a picture of this vessel.

      9 ships sunk for a total of 20,663 GRT
      1 auxilary warship sunk for a total of 5,155 GRT

Locations of ships hit from convoy HG-73.

Mackenzie Gregory

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