Shipwrecks: Past & Present

Shipwrecks of April 4

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Shipwrecks of April 4

Over $16,000,000 in copper, vanadium, and zinc is on the wreck of the Dutch freighter Alphacca. The West Irmo is believed to have carried a valuable cargo of silver. Both went down the same day, April 4, 1942. If you are seeing this in a post, other than on, read more about these wrecks and other ships lost on an April 4 at

Today’s Shipwrecks™
for April 4

compiled and edited by Dr. E. Lee Spence

1655: The British fleet under Robert Blake burned the Tunis ships in Porto Farino.

1740: The “South Carolina Gazette” of April 4, 1740, reported a sloop commanded by Captain Dunn, bound from Philadelphia for North Carolina, as run aground “on the Long Bay.” (Note: The report did not state which part of Long Bay, so the wreck could have taken place off either South Carolina or North Carolina.)

1783: The schooner Eagle, Captain Leaycraft, bound from Newbern, North Carolina, with a cargo of pork, etc., was chased ashore on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, by a privateer on April 4, 1783. The Eagle’s cargo was taken out and it was thought that the vessel would be saved.

1798: HMS Pallas, 32 guns, Captain Henry Curzon, lost anchor in a gale and drove on the rocks under Mount Batten, Plymouth.

1808: HMS Alceste, 38 guns, Captain Murray Maxwell, HMS Mercury, 28 guns, Captain James Alexander Gordon, and HMS Grasshopper, 18 guns, commanded by Thomas Searle, captured seven merchant vessels, destroyed two gunboats and drove seven other gunboats ashore at Rota.

1810: Boats from HMS Success, 32 guns, Captain John Ayscough, and HMS Espoir, 18 guns, Captain Robert Mitford, captured and burned two vessels at Castiglione, Calabria.

1810: His British Majesty’s brig Cuckoo, 4 guns, Lt. Samuel Nisbett, wrecked on Haaks, off Texel.

1854: The American brig Globe, Captain Leavitt, of New York, let go both anchors and put out all the chain but dragged and got on the lee shore “near Dog Rocks” (Bahamas) in an ENE wind on the night of April 4, 1854.

1865: The C.S.S. Nansemond, commanded by First Lieutenant Walter R. Butt (or Captain C.W. Hays), was burned by the Confederates at the evacuation of Richmond, Virginia, on April 4, 1865, to prevent her from falling into Federal hands. (Note One: She was a screw steamer, had a wood hull and was built at Norfolk in 1862. She was about 80 tons. Her battery consisted of one 8-inch smoothbore pivot aft, and one 8-inch smoothbore pivot forward.

1865: The C.S.S. Patrick Henry (ex-Yorktown) was burned by the Confederates at the evacuation of Richmond, Virginia, on April 4, 1865, to prevent her from falling into Federal hands. (Note One: She was built in 1859 at New York, New York, as a side-wheel merchant steamer and was 1,300 (or 1,403) tons. She was issued certificate of steam registry at New York on November 11, 1859. She drew 10.2″ aft and 9.4′ forward. Her battery consisted of four guns.) (Note Two: She had been seized by Virginia State authorities and afterwards purchased by the Confederate government. She was fitted up as a schoolship, and a naval academy was organized. Everything from physics to swordsmanship was taught aboard the vessel. The exercises were occasionally interrupted by the detachment of the senior class which participated in such actions as the capture of the U.S.S. Underwriter. Her midshipmen were continually drafted for service aboard the Confederate gunboats. They also served in the trenches at Drewry’s Bluff. According to one source the last act of the Confederate Navy was when sixty of the school’s midshipmen, armed with rifles, escorted part of the Confederate “treasure” when it was delivered to Abbeville, South Carolina. On May 10, 1865, Submarine Engineer Benjamin Maillefert reported that he had demolished and removed a large portion of the wreck of the old schoolship, which he described as “at Richmond.”)

1865: The C.S.S. Richmond, Commander Kell (or William A. Webb), First Lieutenant Dalton, was scuttled and blown up at Fort Darling [or abreast of Chapin’s (Chaffin’s) Bluff] by the Confederates at the evacuation of Richmond, Virginia, on April 4, 1865, to prevent her from falling into Federal hands.

She was an ironclad ram of the same general appearance as the Virginia. The Richmond was about 200 tons, was 180′ in length and drew about 16′. She had two engines. Her battery consisted of one pivot 7-inch Brooke rifle forward, one 10-inch Brooke smooth-bore aft, and one 6.4-inch Brooke smooth-bore on each side. It appears that she also had two howitzers on her spar deck.

1865: The C.S.S. Shrapnel was burned by the Confederates at the evacuation of Richmond, Virginia, on April 4, 1865, to prevent her from falling into Federal hands. She had served as a “regular mail boat” and tender. One report described her location as “near Richmond.”

1865: The C.S.S. Torpedo was burned by the Confederates at the evacuation of Richmond, Virginia, on April 4, 1865, to prevent her from falling into Federal hands. She had belonged to the Confederate submarine defense service for the James River. Although her deck was burnt off and her hull, boiler, and machinery were considerably damaged by the fire, she was not destroyed. She was sent to Norfolk Navy Yard in May of 1865 as a prize of war.

She was a screw steamer and had an iron hull and wood deck. Classed as a tender, she was rigged as a tug. Her armament consisted of two “small” Parrott pivot 20-pounders. The vessel was 70′ in length, 16′ in breadth, and 6’6″ in depth of hold.

1865: The C.S.S. Virginia II, Commodore J.K. Mitchell Flag Officer, J.W. Dunnington Lieutenant commanding, was blown up by the Confederates at Fort Darling at the evacuation of Richmond, Virginia, on April 4, 1865, to prevent her from falling into Federal hands.

This Confederate flag ship had been built at Richmond in 1864 and like her namesake was an ironclad. She had eight inches of iron on her ends. She was about 250 tons, drew 13’4″ aft, and 12’8″ forward. Her armament consisted of one pivot 11-inch Brooke smooth-bore aft, one pivot 8-inch Brooke rifle forward, and one 6.4-inch Brooke rifle in each broadside. Two howitzers may have been placed on the spar deck. One report mentioned her as having a double-banded 10-inch smooth-bore.

1865: The C.S.S. Fredericksburg, commanded by Thomas R. Rootes, was burned by the Confederates on April 4, 1865, below Richmond, Virginia, to prevent her from falling into Union hands.

She was an ironclad steam ram and had been built in Richmond. She was about 200 tons and drew about 11′. Her battery consisted of one pivot 11-inch (or 10-inch) Brooke smooth-bore aft, and one 8-inch (or 7-inch) Brooke smooth-bore forward, and one 6.4-inch Brooke smooth-bores on each broadside.

1941: The German minesweeper Lawina, 198 gross tons, with a cargo of nickel, was sunk on April 4, 1941, in latitude 54°31’01” north, longitude 10°24’06” west, near the coast of Ireland.

1942: The unarmed, American tanker Byron D. Benson, loaded with 91,500 barrels of crude oil, was torpedoed on April 4, 1942, by the German submarine U-552 about 8 miles off Currituck Inlet, North Carolina. Her location was also given as latitude 36°08’ north, longitude 75°32’ west. Nine of her 37 crew-members were burned to death. One account gave the date of the sinking as April 5, 1942, and the location as 3 miles east of the mouth of the Pasquotank River in North Carolina.

The 3,000 hp, oil burning, steam screw tanker Byron D. Benson was built at Tampa, Florida, in 1921. She was 7,953 gross tons, 4,932 net tons, 465.4′ in length, 60.2’in breadth, and 27.8′ in depth. She was owned by the Tide Water Associated Oil Company of Delaware. Her official number was 221861, her signal letters were KDWN and her home port was Wilmington, Delaware.

1942: On April 4, 1942, HMS Copinsay gave up her attempt to tow the SS West Irmo, which had been torpedoed the previous day by the German submarine U-505, and blew her up with a depth charge, so she wouldn’t be a hazard to shipping or fall into the hands of the enemy. Ten men were lost and 99 were saved. The West Irmo was bound from Marshall, Liberia, to Takoradi on the Gold Coast of Africa, when she was torpedoed and was believed to have been transporting silver. Her position was variously given as latitude 02°10’ north, longitude 05°35’ west, latitude 02°12’ north, longitude 05°45’ west, and latitude 02°10’ north, longitude 05°50’ west, with the last two positions are believed to be more accurate than the first.

The West Irmo, which was owned by the American-West African Line in New York, was a oil burning, steam screw freighter of 2,800 hp. She was built at Seattle, Washington, in 1919 and was 5,775 gross tons, 3,585 net tons, 409.8′ in length, 54.2′ in breadth, and 29.2′ in depth of hold. Her home port was New York, New York. Her official number was 218025, and her radio call letters were KIFB.

1942: The Dutch freighter Alphacca, bound from Beira, Mozambique, to England via South Africa and Sierra Leone, was sunk on April 4, 1942, by the German submarine U-505, commanded by A. Loewe. According to the Alphacca’s captain, she went down in latitude 01°30’ north, longitude 07°40’ west. Her cargo included 2,003 tons of copper ingots, 25 tons of vanadium, and 400 tons of zinc.  At today’s (April 4, 2013) price of $3.85 per pound for copper, about $13.00 per pound for vanadium, and $0.82 for zinc, the total value in those three metals is now well over $16,000,000.

1942: The American tanker Comol Rico, Captain Peter Hansen Lang, with 8,068 tons of bulk molasses, was sunk east of the Dominican Republic shortly before midnight on April 4, 1942. She had been traveling without escort on a non-evasive course at 9 knots, when she was hit by a single torpedo fired from U-154, commanded by Walther Kölle, just one day after leaving Humacoa, Puerto Rico bound for Boston, Massachusetts. Her location was reported as 20°46’ North 66°46’ West – Grid DO 7296. Her location was also described as about 225 miles north of San Juan.

The Comol Rico was armed with one 4-inch, two .50-caliber and two .30 caliber guns.

Lookouts spotted the torpedo 150 feet from the tanker and the helmsman put the wheel over hard left, but it was too late and the tanker was struck amidships. She sank within 7 minutes.

The survivors, consisting of 8 officers, 28 men and 6 armed-guards, left the crippled ship in a lifeboat and three rafts. Just as the boats left a 2nd torpedo struck the Comol Rico, blowing away her whole side, killing an officer and two men on watch below.

The survivors spotted an approaching passenger ship and sent up flares, but the ship, when about three miles off, perhaps fearing her own safety, turned and steamed away. On April 6, a US Navy aircraft spotted the survivors and directed USS Sturtevant (DD 240) to pick them up. Three days later, the 39 survivors were landed at San Juan.

photo of SS Comol Rico

SS Comol Rico

The screw steamer Comol Rico (ex-Kishacoquillas) had a steel hull, 5,034 gross tons, 3,080 net tons, 390.0’ in length, 54.2’ in breadth, and 27.6’ in depth. She was built at Hog Island, Pennsylvania, in 1919, for the tanker service. Her register showed her as carrying a crew of 42 (not counting her master). She was American Bureau of Shipping rated. She was fitted for burning oil and was 2,500 horsepower. She was owned by the Commercial Molasses Corporation of Delaware, whose address was 230 Park Avenue in New York. Her home port was New York, New York. Her official numbers were 218039. She had a radio transmitter and her signal letters were KIFJ.

This is by no means meant to be a complete list of the vessels lost on April 4, as there have been thousands of ships lost for every day of the year. All of the above entries have been edited (shortened) come from various editions of Spence’s List™. The original lists usually give additional data and sources. Those lists are being updated and are or will be made available for a fee elsewhere on this site.

© 2013 by Dr. E. Lee Spence for composition, content and compilation.


  1. career choices  April 26, 2013

    I checked out your other site. Its impressive.

  2. 2Old2Late  April 25, 2013

    I never learned to swim

  3. SpookyStalker  April 25, 2013

    Where do you live?


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