Gunner William Allen (14358464) served with 301st Field Regiment East African Artillery during World War Two. He was the son of Samuel Allen and Elizabeth Allen of Kildrum, Shankbridge, Ballymena, Co. Antrim. He was the husband of Fanny Jane Allen.
William died on 12th February 1944 on board the SS Khedive Ismail aged 30 years old. The gunner from Ballymena, Co. Antrim would become one of many lives lost in one of the Second World War’s most tragic events.
SS Khedive Ismail left Kilindini Harbour, Mombasa, Kenya on 5th February 1944. Part of Convoy KR-8, the turbine steamer was bound for Colombo, Ceylon. On board were 1,324 passengers including 996 members of 301st Field Regiment Easter African Artillery. Those on board the ship also included 271 Royal Navy personnel, 19 WRNS, 53 nurses and their matron, 9 members of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. Another passenger was war correspondent Kenneth Gandar-Dower.
Sinking of SS Khedive Ismail
HMS Hawkins and P-Class destroyers HMS Paladin and HMS Petard escorted Convoy KR-8. By the afternoon of Saturday 12th February 1944, SS Khedive Ismail had spent a week at sea. Southwest of the Maldives, many passengers were having a relaxing journey. Below decks, an ENSA concert entertained many of the ships’ contingent while others sunbathed on deck. At around 1430hrs, a lookout spotted the periscope of Japanese submarine I-27 to the ships’ port side. DEMS gunners opened fire in defence.
Lieutenant Commander Toshiaki Fukumura struck the Khedive Ismail with 2 torpedos from a spread of 4. A fire broke out on board the troops’ ship, engulfing the stern in smoke and flames. The ship went down in 2-3 minutes with the loss of 1,297 on board. HMS Paladin lowered rescue boats while HMS Petard launched depth charges at the submarine forcing it to the surface. The pair of destroyers opened fire engaging in battle with the Japanese commander. The larger B1 submarine tore a 15-foot hole in the hull of the Paladin.
Khedive Ismail went down too quickly for the launch of lifeboats but some passengers made it to Carley floats. The Japanese submarine submerged beneath the survivors. HMS Paladin took action to prioritise the sinking of the submarine ahead of rescue attempts. Eventually, depth charges sunk the submarine but at the expense of the lives of many who had survived the initial sinking.
Only 208 men and 6 women of a total of 1,511 on board the SS Khedive Ismail survived the sinking and the 2.5-hour battle. It was the third largest loss of life on Allied shipping in World War Two. It was also the largest loss of female personnel in the history of the Commonwealth of Nations.
William Allen has no known grave. His name features on column 4 of the East Africa Memorial, Nairobi, Kenya.