On the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorating the invasion of Europe in 1944, I would like to turn my attention to a wreck which took place away from the main departure points on the south coast, shortly after noon on 6 June 1944.
As a map of Mulberry Harbours, published by the War Office in 1947, shows, the Thames was also a focal point of activity, and ships, men and materials also came from further afield.
In the run-up to D-Day aircraft struck at the Pas-de-Calais, drawing enemy attention away from the actual invasion site, part of the overall strategy of Operation Fortitude. A convoy left London and Southend including the SS Sambut, an American-built Liberty ship loaned to Britain under Lend-Lease, carrying troops, vehicles, and ammunition. Cargo was stowed inside other cargo to maximise space: lorries were filled with motorbikes in some cases, gelignite in others.
Unfortunately, shells fired at random from German gun batteries on the Calais side struck the Sambut off Dover at 1215. Lorries and petrol cans on deck caught fire, followed by a gelignite explosion in the hold. Within 15 minutes the order was given to abandon ship, and by 1245 the ship had been completely abandoned, although not without the loss of 136 crew and military personnel out of 625 on board. She was the first Liberty ship to be lost in Operation Overlord, half way through D-Day itself: other Liberty ships would follow as the Normandy campaign wore on.
She has several features in common with other 20th century wartime wrecks. Her combustible cargoes contributed to her loss, of course, but blazing wrecks in navigational channels also endanger other ships and direct enemy attention towards operations. As with the War Knight off the Isle of Wight in 1918, so with the Sambut off the Goodwin Sands in 1944: she was scuttled by her own side, as the Royal Navy fired a torpedo to sink her.