William Sarginson 1922-1941 – merchant seaman killed in WWII

From time to time, I am contacted from people who have ancestors in one of the trees I’ve created for my one name study into the surname Sarginson. A recent contact provided me with information about William who was born in Norton, Stockton-on-Tees and served in the merchant navy during World War Two. He was the fourth engineer aboard the SS Ashby cargo ship, travelling from Middlesborough to the Azores, when it was sunk by the German submarine U-43 in the North Atlantic on 30 November 1941. William did not survive and was presumed drowned. The SS Ashby had been built in 1927, 4,871 tons, by Cowpen Dry Docks & Shipbuilding Co., Blyth. This information and the following story was provided by William’s ancestor.

In 1938 Bill Linskey, a 17-year-old Geordie lad, stowed away on his first ship SS Albion Star. Once out to sea Bill gave himself up to the captain and after some deliberation he was signed on as a Trimmer, trimming coal in the ship’s bunkers. In April 1941 Bill joined the Ropner ship SS Ashby in Middlesbrough and sailed to Liverpool where the ship joined up with the 55-ship Freetown bound Convoy OS-12, which left Liverpool on the 18th November 1941. On the 29th November during the crossing, the ship became detached from the main Convoy after developing engine trouble and was forced to stop for repairs. One of the Convoy escorts stayed with the Ashby for several hours, but eventually had to depart to catch the rest of the Convoy up. With the repairs finished by the 30th November the Ashby was underway once again, when she was suddenly torpedoed by U-43 off the Azores and sank in two minutes taking 16 men with her. Bill and the other survivors spent seven days in an open boat before reaching Fayal in the Azores. In 1999 Bill was persuaded to write about his experiences during the war in a book titled “No Longer Required”. It is a book that pulls no punches. It made me laugh, and I’m not ashamed to admit it made me cry. I would like to read the following piece, which is the prologue from Bill’s book describing part of the Ashby incident as he stood talking to his friend Joe Beck on the deck of the Ashby.

“I’ve had one ambition from the time this war began: to find a German soldier, surrender to him, and spend the rest of the time in a PoW camp. “I said this to Joe Beck on the deck on the SS Ashby, outward bound for West Africa to pick up iron ore. The sun was shining; the sea was blue and apparently quiet. “That’s a worthy want, ” he agreed, ” I might join you. They’re out there under the water looking for us. When they find us, they’ll blow us up and if we’re lucky we’ll be able to swim like the clappers and surrender. “He was absolutely right. They were out there in their little sub and within the next hour they torpedoed our ship. They didn’t wait for me to surrender; they buggered off. Joe couldn’t have joined me; he was dead. The twenty-eight of us who survived in the lifeboat saw torsos, limbs and heads floating in red water. The sharks came soon but the Germans had long gone. The bodies disappeared quickly too.(One of those men was 4th Engineer William Sarginson from Norton).

The U-boat which sunk the SS Ashby was on active patrol. The U-43 had left Lorient under the command of Wolfgang Lüth on 10th November 1941 and after just over five weeks returned on 16th Dec 1941. It was commanded by Wolfgang Lüth who hit three ships on this patrol, two of these ships were in convoy, both were from convoy OS-12.

•On 29th November 1941 he sank the British 5,569-ton Thornliebank, part of convoy OS-12.

•On 30th November 1941 he sank the British 4,868-ton Ashby, from convoy OS-12.

•On 2nd December 1941 he sank the American 7,542 ton Astral.

SS Ashby was a 4,868 tons Steam Freighter voyaging heading for Freetown and Pepel with cargo in its ballast and a crew of 50. 17 crew members were lost in the attack, which was reported in square CE8234, position 36.54N/29.51W.

After sinking two British merchantmen from convoy OS-12 the U-boat U43, type IX, was driven under and depth charged for several hours but managed to escape unharmed. Its commander Wolfgang Lüth (15th October 1913 – 14th May 1945) was the second most successful German U-boat ace of World War II. His career record of 46 merchant ships plus the French submarine Doris sunk during 15 war patrols, with a total displacement of 225,204 gross register tons (GRT), was second only to that of Korvettenkapitän (Lieutenant Commander) Otto Kretschmer, whose 47 sinkings totaled 273.043 GRT.

Lüth joined the Reichsmarine in 1933. After a period of training on surface vessels, he transferred to the U-boat service in 1936. In December 1939 he received command of U-9, which he took on six war-patrols. In June 1940 he took command of U-138 for two patrols. In October 1940 he transferred again, this time to the ocean-going submarine U-43 for five war-patrols. After two patrols on U-181, the second being his longest of the war, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. He was the first of two U-boat commanders to be so honoured during World War II, the other recipient being Albrecht Brandi.

Lüth’s last service position was commander of the Naval Academy Mürwik near Flensburg. He was accidentally shot and killed by a German sentry on the night of 13/14 May 1945. On 16th May 1945, Lüth was given the last state funeral in the Third Reich.

Addendum – its a small world. I’ve just shown this post to my other half. His uncle Dougal Hamish Reid (1922-1943) was a Lancaster bomber pilot. One of his early missions was to bomb the U-boat pens at Lorient.

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