SS Thomas T. Tucker Shipwreck

SS THOMAS T. TUCKER SHIPWRECKnIt’s not called the Cape of Storms for nothing…

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nWith a nickname like Cape of Storms, it’s unsurprising to learn that Cape Point has an ill-fated history. Fearsome, rocky outcrops, plunging cliffs, gale-force winds and tempestuous storms are just some of the conditions intrepid sailors and their crew have had to endure when braving our coastline. Some vessels have met success; others not. Today, rusted remnants of the ones who didn’t make it remain, offering a fascinating glimpse into the past.

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nTwo of Cape Point’s best-kept secrets are the Thomas T. Tucker and Sirkelsvlei trails. Both start and end at the Olifantsbos parking area, which is clearly indicated along the main road, our blog today looks at the story of the SS Thomas Tucker shipwreck.

Photo by Rory Alexander

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The waters surrounding Cape Point are littered with wrecks, but perhaps the most dramatic belongs to the SS Thomas T Tucker, wrecked in 1942. n

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The S.S. Thomas T. Tucker was constructed at the Houston Shipbuilding nCorporation in Houston, Texas. The vessel was launched on 31 August 1942, at a length of 422.8 ft. n

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It was on its maiden voyage from New Orleans, Louisiana to Suez, Egypt with 8172 tons of cargo for British forces in North Africa. While approaching Cape Point on November 27, 1942, the vessel ran aground near Olifantsbos in an unfortunate turn of events.

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nSailing through South African waters at a time when U-boat attacks were at a fever pitch, the crews were concerned about attacks.

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When one of the ships in the convoy reported having come under attack, the convoy started to zigzag in an attempt to evade torpedoes.n

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The crew of the S.S. Thomas T. Tucker thought they were nearing Cape Town (mistaking Albatross Rock for Robben Island) and although they were in a dense fog, the captain thought they were in Table Bay.

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nNot knowing that their compass was off by an astounding 37⁰, the crew relaxed and during this time, the vessel ran aground.

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The S.S. Thomas T. Tucker was a Liberty ship. “The goal of the Liberty ship program was to produce ships at a rate quicker than the Axis Navies could sink them, and a total of 2751 Liberty ships were built from 1941 – 1945.”n

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The S.S. Thomas T. Tucker was less than 3 months old when it ran aground and broke apart.n

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According to Michael Walker in his book Shipwrecks of the Far South, the S.S. Thomas T. Tucker had a cargo of “six Sherman tanks, spares, lorries, barbed wire and other war materials for the hard pressed Allies in the North African campaign”

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nThere is speculation that the large amounts of iron on the vessel, which included the tanks and trucks, were responsible for causing the ship’s compass to be off by 037⁰.

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nThere were no casualties from the accident, much of the hull is still visible in the surf, and over the years scrap metal has spread out across the otherwise pristine Cape Point beach.

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nSome interesting information about the vessel…

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nClass and type: Cargo shipnDisplacement: 14,245 long tonsnLength: 135 mnBeam: 17.3 mnDraft: 8.5 mnPropulsion: Two oil-fired boilers, triple-expansion steam engine, single nscrew, 2,500 horsepower (1,864 kW)nSpeed: 11 to 11.5 knotsnRange: 23,000 milesnCapacity: 10,856 metric tons deadweight (DWT)nComplement: 41 mennArmament: Stern-mounted 4-in deck gun for use against surfaced submarines, variety of anti-aircraft guns

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