On January 11th 1941 the Llanelli Star carried the following headline ‘LLANELLY SHIP CRIPPLES U-BOAT'. Gallant Exploit on High Seas’…. Wartime censorship prevented the full story being told, however the story of that bold Llanelli ship is now known. The Sarastone was a 2,472 ton Welsh ‘collier’ with a crew of twenty two. She was built in 1929 and was owned by Stone & Rolfe of Llanelli, and was captained by John Herbert from Swansea. The Sarastone had been worked hard during the pre-war years and had become prone to engine problems.
On December 7th 1940, the Sarastone laden with 4,060 tons of coal sailed from Barry to join Convoy OG 47 heading for Gibraltar. The ship was armed with a 12 pounder gun for her defence. By December 20th, the convoy was 240 miles west of Cape Finisterre and caught in a gale when the Chief Engineer reported to the Captain that her port boiler had to be shut down. The Sarastone’s speed had by then become reduced to only 2 knots and was barely making any headway, leaving Convoy OG 47 to slowly disappear over the horizon. To add to the plight of the ship the sole remaining boiler started giving trouble.
Captain Herbert decided to head for Lisbon to make repairs, which they would reach by the 24th. To add to her worries an Admiralty report to the convoy was received stating “Enemy Submarine reported south of your position”. The submarine was the Mocenigo, an Italian “Marcello” class vessel which had been shadowing convoy OG 47. During that night, her captain Alberto Agostini, attacked the convoy, sinking the Swedish steamer ‘Mangen’.
21st December dawned fine, the Sarastone was 300 miles from the nearest land, when Captain Herbert saw an object in the water apparently heading towards him, he quickly identified it as a submarine. He ordered his gun crew to ‘close up’ and then he turned his vessel’s stern towards the submarine. The Mocenigo opened fire as the Sarastone began her turn. The Sarastone held her fire until the submarine was within 1,800 meters and then a dual began. The Mocenigo made no attempt to use her stern gun, and in the duel the Sarastone quickly hit the submarine and left her unable to dive, flames and smoke poured from her hull. A second shell struck the submarine and the submarine turned away limping. The Sarastone had expended 23 of her 30 shells, she limped into Lisbon on Christmas Eve 1940.
Sadly the Sarastone was later sunk off Huelva, Spain, on the 29th of October 1941.The Mocenigo was sunk by US aircraft on 13th May at Cagliari.