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Naval Action - 14th October 1918

14th Oct 1918 Naval Action  A naval engagement took place in which the German submarine SM U-139 attacked the Portuguese civilian steamer São Miguel and the Portuguese Navy naval trawler NRP Augusto de Castilho in the Atlantic Ocean.

On the island of Madeira, the Portuguese patrol boat NRP Augusto de Castilho was under the command of the First Lieutenant Carvalho de Araújo. He received the mission of escorting the Portuguese civilian steamer São Miguel, which was property of the Empresa Insulana de Navegação. It was sailing from the port of Funchal in Madeira to the port of Ponta Delgada on the Azores archipelago, with 206 passengers and several tons of cargo on board. The NRP Augusto de Castilho was originally the fishing trawler Elite and was built in 1909. It had been requisitioned by the Portuguese government and transferred to the service of the Portuguese Navy which adapted it to serve as an escort ship following Portugal's entering into the war in 1916. The ship was equipped with two small Hotchkiss cannons, one of 65 mm on the bow and another of 47mm on the stern.

After leaving Funchal at sunset on 13 October, São Miguel came under fire at 0615 on the 14th October from the German submarine U-139. This was one of the better equipped submarines of the German Navy, armed with two powerful 150 mm cannons and six torpedo launch tubes. It was under the command of the famous Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière. In order to protect the São Miguel and after using all the smoke boxes available for creating a smoke curtain while repeatedly firing the stern cannon, de Araújo gave orders for the NRP Augusto de Castilho to turn to port. Turning through half a circle it advanced towards the German U-139, taking gunfire from the submarine, thus giving São Miguel time to escape at full speed.

After two hours of fierce but one-sided fighting the Portuguese ship surrendered by lowering the national flag and raising a white flag. There were several fatal casualties on deck, its artillery was damaged and ammunition expended. it had also lost its telegraph and the ship's engine. However, the German submarine continued firing, hitting the patrol ship with a direct shot which killed de Araújo and injured Midshipman Armando Ferraz for a second time. After receiving orders by the Midshipman to abandon ship, the Portuguese survivors were able to embark in two life boats. The ship was then boarded and sunk by the Germans, with explosive charges, carrying with it the body of de Araújo and of all the Portuguese sailors who had perished during the battle. One of the life boats arrived at Santa Maria Island after 48 hours with 29 of the survivors, one of the injured sailors having died during their journey. The other life boat, with 12 survivors onboard arrived at the island of São Miguel Island, on the 17th October. This was U-139's last action as a few weeks later the submarine surrendered to France on 24 November 1918.

John Doran

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