The SS Abosso, a rich African mail steamer

A First World War loss - The torpedoing of the SS Abosso

By Pascal Kainic

The ship

The steamship "Abosso" was a passenger liner of the Elder Dempster Line, built in 1912 by the shipyard Harland & Wolff, Belfast. She could steam as fast as 13 knots, wih her triple-expansion engines and was 7782 gross tons, with dimensions of 425.6 X 57.3 X 31.4.

Elder Dempster & Company, Limited, was formed in 1852 as the African Steam Ship Company, Limited, with a contract to carry mails from London via Plymouth to Madeira, Teneriffe and the West Coast of Africa. In 1856, the home port became Liverpool. A rival firm, the British & African Steam Navigation Company was formed in 1868 with John Dempster and Alexander Elder among it's founders.

The "Abosso" was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-43, captain Hellmuth Jürst, on April 24th, 1917, 180 milles North 78° West of Fastnet, on a voyage from Lagos, Bathurst, Gambia (West Africa) to Liverpool, UK, with passengers and a general cargo of West African produce including tin ore, concentrates and some gold.

65 persons lost their lives, but the captain was amongst the survivors.

Answers to a typical questionnaire after an act of war (Admiralty) during the WWI:  

1. Abosso, British, London. African S.S Co. (Elder Dempster Managers). No charterers, Bathurst (Gambia), 14th April 1917. Liverpool. Voyage started from Lagos, West Africa

2. James Thomas Toft.

3. a) 50. 52. N., 15. 12. W., 24th April 1917, S/M not sighted
    b) 50. 52. N., 15. 12. W., 24th April 1917, 19.15 p.m (GMT)
50. 52. N., 15. 12. W., 24th April 1917, 10.30 p.m (GMT)

4. N° 81. E. (true) 12,5 knots (submarine was not sighted). Ship was in ZZ in afternoon but ZZ was stopped at dark at 9.00 p.m

4. a) No colour hoisted

5. Calm slight westerly swell, wind ESE

6. Submarine was not sighed

7. Not Sighted

8. No signal made

9. No manoeuvre as no submarine was not sighted

10. No vessel in sight

11. W/T. S.O.S, time position. Red flares used from lifeboats

12. Yes. Reply received, name of rescue ship, but not known on board "Abosso". Name of rescue ship was "Magic"

13. Yes. CS code, recoding tables N°1 & 2. Books thrown overboard by captain immediately after the ship was torpedoed

14. Yes. Locked up. Sank with ship. Route orders, instructions, re gun's crew, mail, West African mail from Lagos, Accra, Sierra Leone, Bathurst

15. No gunfire

16. 18. No gunfire

19.Thomas Allen R.F.R, G.L. 111, Lrg Seaman, no, not known

20 to 23. Gun not fired

24. By explosion of one torpedo. Master went down with the ship and was afterwards picked up

25. Submarine not sighted

26. Yes. 12,5 knots

27. No.

28. a) Not known
      b) One
      c) Afer end of engine room, roughly 12 feet
      d) Not known

30. All hands on board ( 300 - crew 173, passengers 127)

31. No.

32. Yes. Approximate numbers of missing. Crew 67, Passengers 44

33. Crew 173. Passengers 127, nationality not known. Both crew and passengers behaved well.

34. Picked up by H.M. T.B.D. "Majic", 83 passengers, 106 crew

35. Submarine not sighted

36. No

37. Not seen

51. Yes. Information received from Master of ship.

Signed: T.B. Findlay, Lieutnant R.N., H.M.S. "Majic"

The "Abosso" is one of the numerous ships lost in the depths of the Atlantic during the First World War...

The SS Abosso. A memorial

Details of a memorial plaque for S.S. Abosso - Loudon park cemetery, Baltimore (USA)

Comments (2)

1. treasures (link) 30/06/2012

For this kind of information, you should go to Kew Gardens at the Public Record Office in London suburb

2. Mike Guilfoyle 31/03/2011

Have you any information on a Ernest Parfitt Cook whose family headstone lies in Brockley & Ladywell Cemetery( SE London) & states that he was killed after his ship was torpedoed sailing from Africa on the 24 th April 1917?


Mike Guilfoyle
Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemetery-Foblc

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