SS Empire Tower

SS Empire Tower was a British 4,378 GRT cargo ship built in 1935 and sunk by enemy action in 1943.

United Kingdom
Name: SS Roxburgh[1]
Namesake: Roxburgh, Scotland
Owner: B.J. Sutherland & Co.[1]
Port of registry: Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Builder: Burntisland Shipbuilding Company Ltd, Fife, Scotland[2]
Launched: March 1935[2]
Fate: sold 1937[2]
Name: SS Tower Field[1]
Owner: Tower Steamship Co.
Operator: Counties Ship Management, London[1]
Port of registry: London
Out of service: 19 October 1941[1]
Fate: ran aground & broke in two[3]
Name: SS Empire Tower[1]
Owner: Ministry of War Transport[1]
Operator: Counties Ship Management, London[1]
Port of registry: London
In service: December 1942[1]
Out of service: 5 March 1943[1]
Identification: UK official number 161579[2]
Fate: sunk by torpedo 5 March 1943[1]
General characteristics
Type: cargo ship[2]
Length: 372.0 ft (113.4 m)[2]
Beam: 52.4 ft (16.0 m)[2]
Draught: 24 ft 5 in (7.44 m)[2]
Depth: 25.2 ft (7.7 m)[2]
Installed power: 335 NHP
Propulsion: triple expansion steam engine;[2] single screw
Crew: 39 plus 6 DEMS gunners[1]

She was built by the Burntisland Shipbuilding Company Ltd. in Fife, Scotland. The North Eastern Marine Engineering Co. Ltd. of Sunderland built her 335 NHP three-cylinder triple expansion steam engine.[2] She had six corrugated furnaces with a combined heating surface of 117 square feet (11 m2) heat to heat her three 180 lbf/in2 single-ended boilers, which had a combined heating surface of 5,445 square feet (506 m2).[2] She was fitted with direction finding equipment.[2]

She was launched as SS Roxburgh for B.J. Sutherland and Company of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.[1] In 1937 the Tower Hill Steamship Company, an offshoot of Counties Ship Management, bought her and renamed her SS Tower Field.[1]

Damage and repair

On 10 May 1941 Tower Field was steaming in ballast from London to Newcastle when a German aircraft attacked and damaged her off the Outer Dowsing Buoy in the Thames Estuary.[3] She was repaired and returned to service.[3]

On 19 October 1941 she was entering Workington Channel off Hull with a cargo of iron ore when she ran aground and fractured her hull.[3] She broke in two but her cargo was discharged and she was refloated and repaired.[3]

The Ministry of War Transport took her over and renamed her SS Empire Tower but kept her under CSM management.[2] She returned to service in December 1942.[3]

Approximate position of Empire Tower's wreck


Early in 1943 Empire Tower, under Captain David John Williams OBE, joined Convoy XK-2 from Gibraltar to the UK.[3] On 5 March the German Type IX submarine[4] U-130 attacked the convoy and sank Empire Tower, Fidra, Ger-y-Bryn and Trefusis.[3][5] Empire Tower sank within a minute and Captain Williams, six gunners and 35 crew were lost.[3] The Royal Navy armed trawler HMS Loch Oskaig rescued three survivors and landed them at Londonderry,[3] Northern Ireland.

One week later, on 12 March, a depth charge attack by US Navy destroyer USS Champlin west of the Azores sank U-130 with the loss of all 53 hands.[4]


  1. Allen, Tony; Vleggeert, Nico (29 January 2010). "SS Empire Tower [+1943]". The Wreck Site. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  2. Lloyd's Register, Steamships and Motorships (PDF). London: Lloyd's Register. 1943. Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  3. Helgason, Guðmundur (1995–2010). "Empire Tower". Guðmundur Helgason. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  4. Helgason, Guðmundur (1995–2010). "U-130". Guðmundur Helgason. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  5. Slader, John (1988). The Red Duster at War. London: William Kimber & Co Ltd. p. 253. ISBN 0-7183-0679-1.

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