Avila Star castaways found by Portuguese Navy ships

Castaways found by the Portuguese Navy ship Lima

Castaways found by the Portuguese Navy ship Lima
(Picture: Revista de Marinha)

NRP Lima

Captain: Capitão-tenente Sarmento Rodrigues
Type: Destroyer
Tonnage: 1563 Gt
Owner: Portuguese Navy
Homeport: Lisboa
Built: Yarrow, England (1933)

NRP Pedro Nunes

Captain: Capitão-de-Fragata Artur Paulo Correia Monteiro
Type: Sloop
Tonnage: 1217 Gt
Owner: Portuguese Navy
Homeport: Lisbon
Built: Navy Arsenal , Lisbon (1935)

On the night of the 7th to the 8th of July, the Portuguese destroyer Lima – in transit from Lisbon to Ponta Delgada – noticed distant light that proved to be a lifeboat whose castaways told Commander Sarmento Rodrigues, form the Portuguese Navy, where other survivors should be. In the following hours they picked up a total of 110 people in three boats. They belonged to the ship Avila Star, torpedoed by the German submarine U-201, on June 6, 1942.

Almost all were injured, some with fractures. Exhaustion was general. The clothes were torn and filthy. “Naphtha dripped everywhere from the rags that were replaced. Officers, sergeants, and sailors give up their beds, lend their clothes, multiply themselves in charities for the castaways, whose state was pitiful”, reports the Revista da Marinha (Navy Magazine), in its January 1943 edition, in an article with several pages and photographs.

As the castaways assured that there were two more lifeboats the Portuguese continued its research, but with fuel running low, the Lima had to abandon the mission after a few days. Searches continued using Naval aircraft and three weeks after the sinking, another lifeboat was discovered. It that was “bombed” with provisions tied to life jackets so they could float. The Sloop Pedro Nunes picked them up three days later, on the 25th. Ten of the 39 occupants had died.

“The state in all was indescribable. Inanimate, almost dying. The ladies were crying. Many were removed inert, under the benches where they lay. One of them reached the deck of the rescue ship almost dead. Others owe their lives to the extraordinary effort that the 2nd-lieutenant medic Nobre Leitão put in for long hours, in which even a blood transfusion had to be made, with the most rudimentary provisions for such”, explains the Revista da Marinha. The report does not mention, however, that at Pedro Nunes there was another death. Two others also died already in Lisbon, at the Hospital.

Although the search continued the fifth lifeboat was never found. Of the 199 Avila Star passengers and crew, 73 did not survive…

The Avila Star was hit by two torpedoes fired by U-201, just after midnight on July 6, 1942. As the lifeboats were being lowered, a new torpedo exploded, killing several crew and passengers in one of them. In total, seven lifeboats went down, but two were broken and the occupants were redistributed to the other five. Only four were found.

C. G.

Avila Star(GB)

Captain: John Fisher
Type: Steam Passenger 
Tonnage: 14,443 GT
Owner: Blue Star Line Ltd
Homeport: London
Built: John Brown & Co Ltd, Clydebank (1927)


National Archives UK, Kew (GB)  §  Arquivo Histórico da Marinha  §  Arquivo Histórico do MNE  §  uboat.net  §  Shipping Company Losses of the second World War, Ian M. Malcolm §  Lista dos Navios da Marinha Portuguesa, datas 1939 a 1945  § Alan J. Tenant, British and Commonwealth merchant ship Losses to Axis submarines 1939-1945  §  Revista de Marinha  §  Diário de Notícias  §  O Século  §  Vida Mundial