Massawa 1943 salvaging ships

Original caption: “Already in Drydock after being salvaged from the muddy Massaua harbour, the ship at left is undergoing repairs, while the former Italian ship ‘Tripolitania’, also raised from the bottom of the harbour, stands at right. Passed by Censors.” 18 February 1943

“Don’t think he’ll do it – but he did”

“Massawu, Eritrea – The British laughed when Captain Edward Ellsberg, famed submarine salvage expert, announced that he was going to raise the sunken dry dock in Massaua harbour, scuttled by the Italians before the British took over. ‘Impossible – You’ll never do it,’ they said.

‘Wanna bet?’ the Captain calmly asked. They laughed again. ‘Put up or shut up,’ the Captain said. The British ‘put up’ – to the tune of $2,000.

Making a collection among Americans stationed at the harbour, Captain Ellsberg matched the sum and got to work.

Today the dry dock stands, good as new, in the harbour of Massaua – a miracle of salvage. Scuttled German and Italian ships, pulled up from the Red Sea, are rejuvenated there and pressed into United Nations Service. Allied ships will also use the dry dock as a repair station.

And the Americans who backed Captain Ellsberg doubled their stakes in the venture.

Following series shows American salvage crews operating in the harbour.”



  1. Having had his Cruiser HMS Coventry sunk by German bombs off Tobrouk, my Grandfather Cmdr (E) ST Stott took over from the much published and publicised Captain E Ellsberg and finished the job when Ellsberg took off. “Stotty” recruited local labor and managed to raise the more difficult casualties left to him. A year later, when the job was finished he caught the next transport, arriving directly home to Liverpool. After two weeks quietly and peacefully at home he received a telegram from the Admiralty in London, and in the words of Hollywood queen, Mae West, read “come up and see me some time”. He caught the train to London and was given a new ship to look after, building in Liverpool, HMS Venerable, an Aircraft carrier. (That same ship, sold on after the war, became the Argentine carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo, which was a significant threat to the British force in the 1983 Falklands war) . Granddad took venerable to Hong Kong, from Sydney, in a high speed dash, with another carrier and the remains of the British Pacific fleet, to get there and liberate Hong Kong before the Americans had a chance to lay any claim to the area, The ship made 1kt over her trials maximum speed but was making black smoke, which was considered very bad practice. The Admiral from his flag ship signaled “stop making black smoke” Granddad replied 22.5Kts black smoke, 21.5kts white smoke, after a few minutes the signal came back 22.5kts! ( or “OK well have the speed Stotty”) The people held captive in Hong Kong had suffered greatly and the sight on going ashore troubled Grandad a great deal.


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