Researching the SS Empire Bowman for one of the George Cross recipients - previously Albert Medal. Interview with Capt. C. H. Cranch


I am researching the Empire Bowman for one of the George Cross recipients - previously Albert Medal for a series of books on all the Gcs - see also my website www.gc-database.co.uk and would like to include a picture of the SS Empire Bowman - I wonder if you have one and can tell me more about the incident on 30th March 1943, 500 miles off Brest, France  but also about its history as I like to put in as much background as I can.

Marion Hebblethwaite

Dear Marion,

Thank you for your message.

I am having no luck in finding a photo of either SS Empire Bowman, or U-Boat U-404, who sank her. Later in this message is a little information about Empire ships in general, and in all, 186 ships in this category were sunk in WW2,  where Empire Bowman was built in 1942, ( the fact that she was sunk in 1943, did not give a great deal of time for photographs, and may be is why I am unable to unearth any photo of her )  and where the 4 who died when the ship was sunk, are recorded on the Tower Hill Memorial.

SL126, was a slow convoy from Sierra Leone [ ie from Freetown in West Africa ] to UK ( from May 43, they tended to meet up off Gibraltar with Convoys MKS ( these were slow convoys from the Mediterranean to UK )  I believe there were 37 ships in the convoy with 6 escorts. I cannot find their steaming formation, which is unusual, as a rule, I can turn that up.

A number of U-Boats were involved in attacks on SL126, they were: U-267, U-571, U-181, U-404, U-662.

U-404, over the night of 29/30 May 1943, accounted for Empire Bowman ( 6,852 tons ) and Nagara ( 6,159 tons )
U-662 sank Empire Whale ( 6,159 tons ) Ocean Viceroy ( 7,121 tons ) and torpedoed Umaria ( 6,852 tons ) did not sink immediately, was finally sunk by gunfire from the escorts of SL126.

U-404 had been laid down on the 4th. of June 1940, she commissioned on the 6th. of August 1941. In all she sank 14 ships to total 71,450 tons, 1 warship of 1,120 tons, the destroyer HMS Veteran, and damaged 2 other ships.

When she sank Empire Bowman, she was commanded by Kapitanleutnant Otto von Bulow*, she herself was sunk in the Bay of Biscay on the 8th. of July 1943 by 2 US Liberators from A/S Squadron 4, and a British Liberator from Squadron 224, all her crew of 51 perished.  (* but Otto was lucky, he had left U-404 only on the 19th. of July )

The prefix name Empire was given to ships which the Ministry of Shipping ordered built for the British government during W.W.II, this prefix was also given to ships that were purchased by the MOS, taken as war prizes, and ships requisitioned for the MOS, which later merged with the the Ministry of Transport to become the Ministry of War Transport (MOWT) in 1941.


Yard No: 437
Shipbuilder: Charles Connell & Company Scotstoun
Built: 1942
Ship Type: Cargo Ship
Tonnage: 7031 grt
Length: 431 feet
Breadth: 56 feet
Owner: Ministry of War Transport
Status: Torpedoed & Sunk - 30/03/1943

Remarks: Sunk by U404.

Names of those who died in Empire Bowman, inscribed on the Tower Hill Memorial at Panel 38.

Tower Hill Panel 38.

MATHESON, Able Seaman, ARCHIBALD, S.S. Empire Bowman (Glasgow). Merchant Navy. 30th March 1943. Age 35. Son of Angus and Annie Matheson.

McCLURE, Carpenter, JAMES, S.S. Empire Bowman (Glasgow). Merchant Navy. 30th March 1943. Age 28. Son of William and Mersany McClure; husband of B. L. McClure, of Rainham, Essex.

McHUGH, Trimmer, CARL, S.S. Empire Bowman (Glasgow). Merchant Navy. 30th March 1943. Age 19. Son of Patrick and Margaret McHugh, of Greenock, Renfrewshire.

McMILLAN, Fireman and Trimmer, NATHANIEL, S.S. Empire Bowman (Glasgow). Merchant Navy. 30th March 1943. Age 55.

Marion, I guess that is about all I can do for you,

Best wishes in your project.

Mackenzie Gregory.

Tower Hill, London memorial for WW1 and WW2 merchant sailors who are missing presumed killed and whose only grave is the sea.

Hello Mac,

More info. from one of my contacts
Empire Bowman sailed in Pdt 22, from Bombay/ Marmagoa (6/1) / Karachi via Freetown intending to reach Loch Ewe.  Her cargo was 8,485 tons consisting of groundnuts (5,958), manganese ore (2,250), seeds (242), tea (198), mica (34) and silk (14).
I can get a copy of the full interview with her Master, Capt. C. H. Cranch describing the events of her loss which I can send to you if you wish (warning: rather large attachments).
Rgds Billy


Thank you, yes I would like the Captain's interview please.


Hello Mac,

Attached is a copy of the survivors report by Captain Cranch of the sinking of the Empire Bowman which mentions Bastian. Attachments have been reformatted so should not take to long.

If you wish to use it on your site please credit to a Mike Holdoway who runs the OS & OS/ KMS Convoy Series website and who is presently building a site on the SL Convoy Series of which the Empire Bowman was lost.

Rgds Billy McGee

Survivors report by Captain Cranch of the sinking of the Empire Bowman

Survivors report by Captain Cranch of the sinking of the Empire Bowman

Thanks to Mike Holdoway who runs the OS & OS/ KMS Convoy Series website

Here is a photo of the Tower Hill Memorial London.

Tower Hill Memorial Liverpool

Dear Jim.

Your post:  More about the Tiger Convoy

Five 15-knot transports made up the Tiger Convoy. Three had "Clan" names: the Clan Chatton, the Clan Lamont, and the Clan Campbell. The others were the Empire Song and the New Zealand Star. They carried 295 tanks and 53 Hurricanes. The convoy entered the Mediterranean Sea on the night of 5th and 6th May 1941. In the Skerki Channel, on the night of 8 May, the Empire Song hit two mines, which set ammunition afire. The New Zealand Star had a mine explode on a paravane with little damage. The Empire Song exploded, but her crew had been removed by a destroyer, prior to that moment.

The Empire Song had carried 10 Hurricanes and 57 tanks, all of which were lost. 238 tanks and 43 Hurricanes eventually arrived at their destination. These included 135 Inf. Mk.II Matildas, 82 Crusader Mk.I tanks and 21 light tanks, probably Lt.Mk.VIC. A torpedo bomber, probably an SM79, staged an attack on the Queen Elizabeth, but she narrowly avoided the torpedo. The next day, Beaufighters from Malta flew cover for the convoy. The destroyer Fortune, with Force H, was hit, but reached Gibraltar. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Here you refer to Vol 11 of the Official History. What Official History is that please? it it the British History of WW2, or is it a German Source?

I would be grateful for your clarification thank you. 

Best wishes from Australia.
Mackenzie Gregory.

Dear Mackenzie,

In this case, the book is the British History of the Second World War: The Mediterranean and Middle East. I had already summarized To Benghazi, and then I did Vol.I. Now I am working my way through Vol.II. I have the complete set, but I imagine that I will stop at the end of the North African campaign in 1943. There are two Australian volumes I want to buy, as well as the South African book, Springboks in Armour.

There are many good books.

I also had previously written about the mechanization of the British army in the late 1930's.

Jim Bender

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