On the afternoon of October 24th, 1940, when looking out across the Halifax waterfront, twenty Allied ships could be seen along the ocean waters, heading for the open Atlantic. Escorted by HMS Ascania, these vessels were part of HX-83, the 83rd convoy to leave Halifax for England. Unfortunately for one of these 20 ships, named Scottish Maiden M/V, the journey away from Halifax would bring nothing but ill-fated events.
Scottish Maiden was a 6,993-ton British tanker, built in 1921 by Vickers Ltd. It was headed for Avonmouth, England, along with several of the other ships in HX-83. Captain John William Albert Gibson commanded the 43-man crew.
HX-38 and Scottish Maiden ran into difficulties only three days into the journey.
During the Atlantic crossing, two other convoys–one from Sydney and one form Bermuda–joined HX-38, increasing the total number of ships to 36. While the merging of both convoys was successful, howling westward winds and heavy rain made navigation difficult. Steering was challenging and visibility was poor, so the convoy was forced to reduce speeds. All night, the stormy weather carried on.
Suddenly, a startling bang rang through the air. Scottish Maiden and Kars, a British armored motor tanker in the convoy, collided. Both ships suffered damages forward above their water lines, but were in good enough shape to continue with the convoy.
Like the relentless winds and rain, Scottish Maiden’s bad luck only continued. On Tuesday, November 5th, HX-83 was approached by German submarine, U-99. Commanded by Captain Otto Kretschmer, U-99 had developed a reputation as being one of the most successful German submarines of the war. It was on its 6th patrol in the Atlantic Ocean when just 225 nautical miles west by south of Bloody Foreland, County Donegal, Ireland, it sent a torpedo at Scottish Maiden. Astoundingly, the torpedo, which was the only one left on U-99, came from almost 4,000 yards away, and sailed over three other ships, struck its target’s stern. It was the 4th ship U-99 had sunk in its 10-day patrol.
Sixteen of the 43 crewmembers were killed in the attack. Captain Gibson and the 27 other survivors were rescued by Royal Navy’s HMS Beagle (H-30) and were taken to Liverpool, England.