Collection (1941-1942) consisting of a photograph album of the S.S. ZamZam, an Egyptian-owned ship, its crew and passengers, including 120 American missionaries (from 21 different denominations), tobacco buyers and other passengers traveling from New York to Alexandria, Egypt, via Capetown, South Africa, who survived sinking by the German raider Tamesis 17 April 1941, including newspaper and magazine clippings, photographs, periodicals, correspondence, and photocopies of an autobiographical account.
S.S. ZamZam underwent many changes in ownership and naming during its lifetime. Originally named Leicestershire, the ship, a Bibby Line freighter, was built in 1909 by Harland and Wolf in Belfast, Ireland. Leicestershire was requisitioned in August 1914 by the Indian colonial government for troop transport. The British government once again requisitioned the ship in November 1917. Under their control, the ship conveyed troops between multiple ports in England, India, Russia, and Australia. At the end of the First World War in 1918, the ship was returned to the original owners, who took steps to modernize the vessel, including converting from coal burning to marine fuel oil propulsion and increasing the ship's hauling capacity by turning the coal bunker into cargo space. In 1930, Leicestershire changed ownership when it was purchased by the British National Expedition Company, Ltd. and renamed British Exhibitor. In 1933, the company went bankrupt and the ship was sold to the Egyptian Company for Travel and Navigation, who renamed it ZamZam.
The ship's final change of ownership was in May 1934 when ZamZam was transferred to Societe Misr de Navigation (MISR Line) of Alexandria, Egypt. In 1939, while laid up in Alexandria for scheduled maintenance and repairs, an Italian air raid caused damage to the ship's stack, captain's quarters, and pilot house. By December 1940, ZamZam was repaired and able to resume service. Under Captain William Gray Smith, the ship transported passengers and cargo on the Alexandria-Cape Town-New York route via the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, South Atlantic, and Caribbean Sea in order to avoid military conflict.
In March 1941, after a brief delay, ZamZam departed Hoboken, New Jersey for Alexandria with projected stops in Baltimore, Maryland; Trinidad; Recife, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa; and Mombasa, Kenya. Though the exact numbers of passengers and crew often differ, one count has 141 crewmembers and 202 passengers, including 137 Catholic and Protestant missionaries with their families, 6 North Carolina tobacco buyers, 24 men of the British-American Ambulance Corps, several Royal Air Force wives, and British, American, and Canadian businessmen. Along the journey, the ship received orders from the British Admiralty to sail a pre-set course from Recife to Cape Town. Despite protests from the captain, ZamZam was ordered to travel under blacked-out conditions and thus departed from Recife on April 9 sailing without lights or national ensign and in radio silence. In the early morning hours of April 17, the German raider Atlantis, disguised as the freighter Tamesis, began shelling the S.S. ZamZam. Passengers and crew quickly rushed to the lifeboats and ultimately all were taken aboard the German raider. After removing any useful supplies, the Germans placed time bombs aboard ZamZam and sank the ship.
Carpenter, S.D.M. Resurrection of Antimony. Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2009.
The original scrapbook was compiled by David Hocutt, and presented to Rosa Hocutt Powell in commemoration of the shelling and sinking of S.S. ZamZam. Formerly a Muslim Pilgrim ship, ZamZam was named for a holy well in Mecca. The scrapbook documents the ZamZam's voyage and the American passengers that were aboard through newspaper headlines and clippings. An in-depth compilation of the ship's journey is found in the June 23, 1941 issue of Life Magazine.
S.S. ZamZam left Baltimore, Maryland on 23 March 1941 with 120 missionaries, two Life Magazine staff, six Wilson, North Carolina tobacco buyers, twenty-four British-American Corp ambulance drivers, twenty-six Canadians, twenty-five British, five South Africans, four Belgians, one Italian, one Norwegian, two Greek nurses, and 129 ship's crew. They were scheduled to travel to Alexandria, Egypt via the Cape of Good Hope. In the beginning, the trip went smoothly. However, the ship sailed with no flag, no lights, no identifying marks and in radio silence. The ship was spotted while crossing the Atlantic by an Italian plane, who then notified the German Nazi Party.
On 14 April 1941, ZamZam heard radio communication from a Norwegian ship, Tai-Yin, that it was being attacked by a German raider. ZamZam quickly changed course and sailed on. On 17 April 1941, ZamZam was shelled for 10 minutes by the German raider, Tamesis. After realizing their mistake, the Germans immediately stopped firing and proceeded to rescue the passengers and crew of ZamZam. The next day the survivors were transferred to a larger German ship, Dresden.
Dresden then headed north, taking the survivors to Bordeaux, France, where they landed on 20 March 1941. The survivors were questioned, and many of the missionaries were immediately released to return home to America. However, some of the ambulance men were held for further questioning. The Americans were then transferred to Lisbon, Portugal and prepared for their journey home. They departed on 6 June 1941 but bad weather forced the planes to turn around. Weather subsiding, the planes left for America once again, and the surviving Americans arrived back home on 10 June 1941.
After the sinking, the whereabouts of S.S. ZamZam were unknown until the Germans released the survivors to Lisbon, Portugal. The American public speculated widely and newspapers repeatedly reported on the whereabouts and condition of the Americans that were on the ship. Many major newspapers covered the ship's voyage through report, some of which are contained in the collection.
Also included in the collection is a large clipping from The Duplin Times (Kenansville, North Carolina) dated September 17, 1936, about the Centennial and Homecoming at Johnson's Baptist Church.
Gift of Mary Hester Powell
Encoded by Apex Data Services
Processed by Christine Mayo, April 2003
Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.