World War 2 (1939 - 1945)


Image reproduced by permission of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

William Angus Macphail

Service: Merchant Navy
Ship: SS Stone Street - steam merchant of 6,131 tons*
Rank: Chief Engineer

William Angus Alexander Macphail was born on 14 May 1887, son of John and Marion Macphail of South Woodside Road, Kelvin, Glasgow. In the First World War, he served as a merchant seaman.

Between the wars he served on several merchant ships and in the Second World War he served as an engineer, initially on Atlantic crossings and, when civilian vessels were requisitioned by the Navy, on troop ships where he was involved in escort duties on the Arctic convoys.

His last ship, on which he was the chief engineer, was the SS Stone Street, Master Harald Anderson. The Panamanian flag freighter, Clara, was turned over to the War Shipping Administration by the Italian Societa Anonima Di Navigazione at 10:00 on 18 June 1941 in the port of Savannah, Georgia. At 12:00 noon of the same day, the WSA assigned the ship to the Waterman SS Company under a GAA. The ship was renamed Stone Street and in common with many of the seized Italian vessels she was old, badly maintained and had problems with her engines and steering. She left Halifax for Murmansk on 23 December 1941 in convoy HX-166 but on 30 December was forced to return to Halifax because of an explosion in the evaporator which killed William Macphail and the first and third engineers. An investigation after the accident concluded that the accident was caused by the chief engineer attempting to remove scale from the coils by filling the evaporator with cold water, closing the return and shooting a charge of steam into the coils.

William’s death is recorded on the Scottish National War Memorial and he is buried in Placentia Newfoundland along with his shipmates who were killed in the same explosion. The Macphail family lived at Walton House, Kilmarnock Road.

Amborski, L.E., The Last Voyage: Maritime Heroes of World War II, (Ambor Press, New York 2001)

After repairs were carried out, the SS Stone Street returned to convoy duty. Her last voyage was with Convoy ON-127. Convoy ON-127 was a trade convoy of merchant ships during the Second World War. It was the 127th of the numbered series of ON convoys Outbound from the British Isles to North America and the only North Atlantic trade convoy of 1942 or 1943 where all U-boats deployed against the convoy launched torpedoes. Carrying a cargo of ballast, SS Stone Street had been at position 13 in the convoy, outward bound from Liverpool to New York. 1,300 miles West of Ireland, 600 miles East of Newfoundland, she was ordered out due to continual smoking and straggling because of boiler troubles. At 14:36 hours on 13 September 1942, when she was about 12 miles starboard of the convoy, U-594 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Friedrich Mumm, fired a spread of three torpedoes at the Stone Street and reported two hits. One torpedo hit the engine room on the port side and another barely missed the bow. The ship developed a 45° list to port with the engines and screws still running and sank at 15:50 hours.

After the attack only one lifeboat and one raft could be launched and the ship was abandoned. Other lifeboats had been damaged or were inaccessible because of the wreckage. After the ship sank, a small submarine surfaced followed by U-594. The smaller one capsized the lifeboat throwing the occupants into the water. They were taken aboard the U-594 and asked many questions, given whisky and cigarettes and then put aboard the raft. The Master, who had been injured when escaping from the wreck, was kept aboard as a prisoner of war and not repatriated until 1945.

Survivors later found the lifeboat which was intact, righted it and some got into the boat while others stayed on the raft. Not all survived but 40 men were picked up 6 days later on 19 September by the SS Irish Larch.

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