William Patton served with the Merchant Navy during World War Two. At the time of his death, he was listed as a New Zealander but he came from Northern Irish stock.
He was on board the SS Biela, in a convoy crossing the Atlantic Ocean bound for Buenos Aires when it was sunk on 15th February 1942.
The sinking of the SS Biela
The War Mastiff was a 5,298-ton Steam merchant ship completed in September 1918 by Short Brothers in Sunderland. It was renamed SS Biela for new owners Lamport and Holt Ltd. of Liverpool in 1919.
The tragic events of February 1942 were not the SS Biela’s first experience of war. The vessel came under attack from a German plane 230 miles west of Ireland on 18th November 1940. It survived the bombing with some damage.
At 1338hrs on 14th February 1942, U-98 captained by German ace Robert Gysae spotted the SS Biela. The British ship was part of convoy ON-62 travelling from Liverpool to Buenos Aires. The Nazi U-Boat fired four torpedoes, three missing the target. The third of the four failed to launch from the tube onboard U-98.
All crew lost in the Atlantic
After missing their target, the Germans lost sight of Biela chasing it in bad visibility in the direction of Cape Race, Newfoundland. Soon, the ship was spotted again at 1753hrs only 1,000 metres from the enemy craft.
Master David Anderson on the SS Biela sent out a distress call, giving its name and stating it was being pursued by a U-Boat. At high speed, both vessels zig-zagged for more than 100 miles before U-98 struck again. The first torpedo struck SS Biela and the merchant ship listed at 0026hrs. By now, the ship had broken away from convoy ON-62 and was unescorted around 400 miles from the Canadian coast. The crew sent a further distress signal and began to disembark in lifeboats and rafts.
Captain Gysae fired a further torpedo, which broke the Biela in half and sunk it at 0046hrs on the morning of 15th February 1942. It’s thought the Germans interrogated survivors in lifeboats. Those survivors were never seen again. The ship’s captain, forty-four crew, and five gunners were lost. Twenty-two-year-old William Patton was among those who died in the Atlantic Ocean.
Remembering William Patton
His name and story live on in a small cemetery on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down.
Also my nephew William Patton who was lost at sea through enemy action. February 1942.
Memorial on Copeland Island
The memorial is that of Richard Emerson and his wife who were uncle and aunt of William Patton. The Copelands are three small Islands just off the Donaghadee coast in Co. Down. The cemetery contains many beautiful historic headstones and memorials.
William Patton who was lost at sea in February 1942 is also remembered on Panel 17 of the Tower Hill Memorial in London, UK.