The Harpagas


The Harpagas had, in the early morning of 20 May 1941 dropped out of the convoy and successfully rescued all 48 of the crew of the Norman Monarch. She then chased to rejoin the convoy.

After the attacks of the late morning the Convoy had scattered and the Harpagas got ahead of the other ships and was first to meet the Icelandic escort and in fact was able to direct the escort to locate the bulk of the convoy.

At 20:20 GMT she was herself torpedoed. She listed immediately and because of this the crew were unable to lower life boats on the port side. One lifeboat rested on the ship’s side and turned over, all the men in this boat were lost. Because of the difficulty in launching the boats most people had to jump into the water. The ship carried three passengers, parents with one child, they were too terrified to jump and all three perished as the Harpagas sank within 10 minutes.

The Harpagas crew benefitted from their previous kindness. The life boats from the Norman Monarch had been lashed to its afterdeck, a quick thinking Bo’sun (Lawton) along with McPhee from the Norman Monarch cut these free and they floated clear as the ship went down; people in the water were able to get into the Norman Monarch boats’ and rescue others. These were the only life boats that got away.

The kindness of the Harpagas crew however was judged to have backfired horribly on the Norman Monarch crew. Having been rescued earlier, wet and cold their clothes had been taken to be dried. Their life jackets had also been taken so they were now pitched into the Atlantic without buoyancy. Twenty six crew of the Norman Monarch died including their Captain, 22 crew were rescued. However the casualty rate for the Harpagas was as high loosing 25 crew, four gunners and all three passengers.

The Convoy Reforms

While the Harpagas was being attacked the Icelandic Local Escort ships were rushing around gathering the convoy together again. H.M.S. Burwell had met the Commodore's ship Hindustan at 19:00 and the Commodore had ordered ship's in sight to set the same course. H.M.S. Burnham found Alister's ship, the Dorelian at 20:45 some way behind the reformed convoy, presumably having been delayed as a result of the fracas with its boats following the mystery explosion. Burnham set Dorelian on the correct course to rejoin the convoy. Burnham also found the tanker Elusa and then the reforming convoy under the protection of Burwell and had it slow down to allow the two stragglers to rejoin.


The survivors from the Harpagas were adrift in the Atlantic on two life boats and a raft.  They had managed to stay together and after five hours at 01:35 GMT were able to attract the attention of H.M.S. Burnham with a red flare. The Master and 17 of his crew were rescued along with the Norman Monarch survivors and taken to Reykjavik arriving on 25th May. They were "lucky", because they had been ahead of the other ships and the convoy with escort now reformed came by their boats.

From The Tower Hill Memorial

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