Daily Event for February 7, 2014

She was born at Sunderland Shipbuilding Company Ltd. in Sunderland, England and launched on Mar. 23, 1898. Christened by a Miss Adam of Newcastle and named Yola. Her owners, Elder Dempster, had her designed for general cargo and livestock with accommodations for a dozen passengers. She was 356' long with a beam of 45' and registered at 3,504 tons. The triple expansion engine built by the North Eastern Marine Engineering Company could drive her at 11.5 knots. The line took delivery of the ship on June 2nd of the same year. That was how she was born and what she was, but how she died was a mystery.

There was one notable event during the career of the ship, in 1910 loaded 2,447,000 board feet of yellow pine weighing 2,836 tons at Jacksonville, Florida and delivered it to Montreal, Canada. According to reports this was a record for the time. Apparently the volume of the wood prevented her from carrying to her top capacity of 5,750 tons.

Her last voyage was from New York to London carrying a load of wheat. She sailed on Jan. 26, 1917 with thirty-three men onboard, she became another ship that never reached port. There was no word of her sinking, no bodies, no survivors and no wreckage was reported to have been found. She was not however listed as a war loss. At the time she was just posted as missing for unknown reasons by Lloyd's. Even post war investigation did not turn up a reason for her loss.

New research suggests that Yola was a victim of the infamous U-Boat commander Wilhelm Werner and SMS
U-55. The Kriegstagebuch (war diary) of U-55 survived the war (as did Werner), and on Feb 7, 1917 there is an entry which may explain the fate of the Yola.

Werner sighted a steamship about 75 miles WSW of Land's End which he estimated at 7,446 tons, much larger than Yola at 3,504 tons, but over estimating the tonnage of a ship was a common error for all commanders through both wars. He identified her as a grain carrier and also sighted an escort or patrol boat in the area. At first he was going to attack while submerged, but unable to get into a good position he surfaced and made his attack on the surface.

The moon was bright when he fired his torpedo, which hit the ship, but failed to sink her. A second torpedo broke her back and she went under. Because the KTB is unreadable the exact time between the firing of the two torpedoes is not known. He admits that he was not able to get the name of the ship, but reported seeing an empty drifting lifeboat, however because of the patrol boat he could not approach. Werner was now out of torpedoes and he made for home. One cannot say for sure that this was the Yola, but the details fit with the possibility. If Yola was making 11 knots or a little less since she left New York it should put her just about where U-55 reported the contact.

That is what we can learn from the war diary of U-55, but is it true? I have no doubt that Werner sank a ship as he said, but what about the rest of his story? Did he actually sight a patrol boat? And if he did, why then did it not make a report of the loss of a steamer? If it was close enough for him to see, than it was close enough to have heard the torpedo attacks or at least see the smoke. If it had been a ship of His Majesty's navy, it would have gone and investigated, if perhaps it was a merchant ship they may have moved off in the fear of being the next target. Another possibility exists, Werner just made it up. Perhaps he saw no patrol boat at all and just sank the ship and went on his way leaving the crew to their fate. He had done this before, and later he would do much worse.

Werner was one of the few U-Boat commanders charged with war crimes after the war. This was done for good reason, he on at least three occasions took the crews of merchant ships on the casing of his submarine and then submerged leaving them to drown. He also left men in open boats during a snowstorm, many of which died from exposure. He was also one of the few Germans who torpedoed a fully marked hospital ship, so he in no way suffered from an abundance of compassion toward his enemies. However it is only fair to point out that many of the ships he sank suffered no loss of life at all. I should also point out that several ships went missing in the same fashion as Yola in waters that he was patrolling and they have been credited to him. The fate of the crews, unknown, but no survivors were found.

It is my understanding that since she was not listed as a war loss that the posthumous war medal was not awarded to the crew. Perhaps this account, if ever read by a family member, will help to clarify what may have happened to the ship and her crew.
© 2014 Michael W. Pocock

Special thanks to Michael Lowrey for providing additional information for this page.

Roll of Honour
In memory of those who lost their lives in
SS Yola
"As long as we embrace them in our memory, their spirit will always be with us"

Adams, Charles
Able Seaman
Alexander, John
2nd Engineer
Angulio, Alberto
Costa Rican national
Belenger, Jose
Fireman & Trimmer
Spanish national
Bopi, G.
Italian national
Christensen, A.
Norwegian national
Dandy, Jack
Assistant Cook
Sierra Leone national
Davis, Willie
Ordinary Seaman
DeBono, Carmelo C. G.
Fireman & Trimmer
Maltese national
Ferguson, C.
Boatswain & Lamps
Grant, K.
Russian national
Isidoro, V.
Fireman & Trimmer
Spanish national
Joseph, G.
Ordinary Seaman
Jamaican national
Karlson, F.
Able Seaman
Swedish national
Lewis, W. R.
4th Engineer Officer
MacAlpine, William
3rd Engineer
MacKintosh, Alexander
1st Engineer
McKinley, Thomas
Ordinary Seaman
American (Age 17)
McLeod, A.
Owen, Hugh
Pechin, Emilo
American (Age 17)
Pereira, Joaquin
Portuguese national
Peter, John
Assistant Cook
Ceylonese national
Peters, R.
Pettigrew, R.
Roberts, Hugh
1st Mate
Sennara, E.
Fireman & Trimmer
Italian national
Strickland, Alexander
Thompson, J. G.
2nd Steward
Turner, Emmanuel S.
Fireman & Trimmer
Walkeden, G.
2nd Mate
Walker, William
Williams, Arthur J.
Pantry Boy
Sierra Leone national

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Possible location of the loss of SS Yola.
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