Exhibit of the Week: Night U-boat wolfpack attached the SS Aguila
Frank Cook, from Saltburn, donated to Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre a hand drawn picture of the SS Aguila that was sunk by torpedo in August 1941.
The Aguila was a British steam ship that carried fruit, cargo and passengers. She was built in Dundee in 1917 and was owned by the Yeoward Line, operating out of Liverpool to Lisbon, Madeira and the Canary Islands. Aguila is the Spanish word for eagle. This was their second ship named Aguila, the first built in 1909 was sunk by a U-boat in 1915.
Aguila had nine furnaces and three boilers feeding steam to a three-cylinder triple expansion engine giving her 12 knots of speed. She was 315 feet long, 414 feet wide and weighed 3,600 tons.
From October 1939, Aguila continued her voyages from Liverpool with convoy protection only on her outward voyages.
In August 1941, she was loaded with general cargo and 86 Royal Navy personnel bound for Gibraltar and six civilian passengers. The RN personnel included 21 Women’s Royal Naval Service (Wrens).
The Wrens were all volunteers for duty in Gibraltar, 12 as cypher officers and ninw as wireless operators. Twelve of these were Scarborough based.
Aguila was one of 23 merchant ships that formed Convoy OG 71 that left Liverpool on August 13. Her master, Arthur Firth, was at the helm. Initially the convoy’s only escorts were the Norwegian Navy destroyer and two Royal Navy ships but two days out five more RN corvettes were added.
On August 17, German aircraft spotted the convoy and the next day it was attacked by a U-boat wolfpack. U-201 torpedoed and sank the Aguila at 3.10am on August 19. The corvette, HMS Wallflower, rescued 10 survivors including Captain Firth and one of the RN contingent.
The tugboat Empire Oak rescued six of Aguila’s crew but on August 22, U-564 sank the Empire Oak with the loss of all six of the men from the Aguila.
The wolfpack attack continued until August 23 and the convoy lost eight of the 23 merchant ships and two escorts. After the loss of so many RN personnel in one sinking the Navy stopped using civilian ships to carry its personnel.
The Press focused on the loss of the 21 Wrens. Other Wrens donated a day’s pay to a memorial fund that went toward a new ship for convoy escort duties. HMS Wren was launched in 1942. Some of the fund was given to the RNLI that in 1951 named a new Liverpool-class lifeboat ‘Aguila Wren’. It was stationed in Aberystwyth from 1951-64 and then in Redcar from 1964-72.
Aguila’s lost crew are commemorated in the World War Two section of the Merchant Navy War Memorial at Tower Hill in London. The National Memorial Arboretum has an Aguila memorial of a giant wren on a granite obelisk dedicated to the 21 Wrens. The Scarborough Wrens are commemorated by a statue of an angel hovering over the sea and there is a memorial bench on Scarborough’s Lighthouse Pier.
The 21 Wrens who lost their lives aboard the Aguila are:
Bacon, Phyllis, age 21
Barnes, Margaret Watmore, age 18
Benjamin, Cecilly Monica Bruce, age 20
Blake-Forster, Cecelia Mary
Chappe-Hall, Margaret Eulalia, age 26
Cooper, Madeleine Alice, age 31
Grant, Mary, age 26
Joy, Alix Bruce, age 24
Macpherson, Florence, age 35
McLaren, Victoria Constance
Miller, Kathleen, age 34
Milne Home, Isabel Mary, age 23
Norman, Mildred Georgina, age 21
Ogle, Christine Emma, aged 34
Reith, Josephine Caldwell, age 28
Shepherd, Elsie Elizabeth
Slaven, Catherine Johnston, age 19
Smith, Beatrice Mabel, age 30
Waters, Ellen Jessie
Wells, Rosalie, aged 33
l Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre is situated at 45 Eastborough and is open Wednesday to Sunday 11am to 4pm.