City of Johannesburg; Another War Victim
By James Donahue
Launched as the Melford Hall in 1920, the British merchant steamer,
part of the Ellerman shipping line, was renamed the City of Johannesburg in 1926 and put on a trade route between Liverpool
and South Africa, which was then British territory.
On its final voyage the 417-foot ship steamed from Calcutta to the
United Kingdom, with a southern stop at Cape Town. It was just off the southern coast of Africa, bound for Cape Town, laden
with 7,750 tons of pig iron, cotton, jute and tea, when the ship was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-504, commanded
by Hans-Georg Friedrich Poske, on Ocober 23, 1942.
Only two of the 89 crew members on the City of Johannesburg died in
the sinking. Captain Walter A. Owen and the 86 others had time to launch lifeboats. They were picked up by the passing vessels,
Zypenberg, Fort George and King Edward.
Commander Poske commanded U-504 until January, 1943, when he was succeeded
by Wilhelm Luis. Luis was in command when the submarine was sunk by British forces off the coast of Spain on July 30, 1943.
The entire crew of 54 men perished.
That particular submarine was responsible for the destruction of 15
ships on the high seas during the years it remained afloat.