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The Last Voyage of AS George Gershom Ottolangui

In the courtyard of the Bevis Marks synagogue on the wall to the left of the main doors, there is a plaque commemorating those members of the congregation who lost their lives in the Great War 1914-1918, and in the Second World War 1939-1945.

In the WW2 section appears the name Gershom Ottolangui.

We never knew who he was, because we had no-one of that name in our direct family. Now I have found out, after more than a little research that he was George, born in 1921 to Monty Ottolangui & Fanny nee Caplin, of Bow. He was not from our direct family line but was our fourth cousin.  

George was lost at sea on the Merchant Navy vessel S.S. Empire Heritage aged 23 on 8th September 1944. He is also remembered on Panel 41 of the Merchant Navy Memorial in Trinity Square on Tower Hill. He was not a crew member of the S.S. Empire Heritage but was on board as a passenger being a “Distressed British Seaman” which probably means that he had been rescued from a different ship which had sunk. His rank was Assistant Steward.

This is the Merchant Navy Memorial on Tower Hill in London, commemorating the more than 50,700 Commonwealth merchant seamen who lost their lives in the two world wars. The Tower Hill Memorial commemorates more than 35,800 casualties who have no known grave.

The Merchant Navy Memorial, Tower Hill

His father Monty was the son of George Monty Ottolangui, and grandson of Aaron Ottolangui and Reyna, nee Bensabat. Monty who died 8th October 1989 and his wife Fanny are buried in the S&P section at Hoop Lane Cemetery in Golders Green at location SPF-119-50.

Here is the story of SS Empire Heritage.

S.S. Empire Heritage

S.S. Empire Heritage was built as a steam tanker ship in 1930 by Armstrong Whitworth & Company in Newcastle-upon-Tyne but actually started life under another name as Tafelberg, first used in South Africa as whale factory ship until January 1941 when it was hit by a mine and put out of service. A year later, the wreckage was refloated and the ship salvaged, repaired, re-purposed and renamed SS Empire Heritage by the British Ministry of War Transport (MoWT) and returned to service in February 1943.

An unintentional casualty of war in its first life, it would be the victim of a vicious enemy attack in its second incarnation. In early September of 1944, the ship under the command of the master, Captain J.G. Jamieson O.B.E., was en-voyage from New York to Liverpool carrying a heavy cargo of war supplies including 16,000 tons of oil and a deck cargo of Sherman tanks, half-tracks and trucks. By 8th September 1944, 15 miles northwest of Malin Head (the most northerly point of Ireland) its journey would end, torpedoed by the German submarine U-482. After two direct hits the vessel went down fast to the seabed some 70 metres beneath the waves, with all the cargo and a loss of 113 lives.

An escort ship, SS Pinto, attempted to rescue the survivors but was also hit and sank in the same attack. Survivors from both ships were eventually picked up and rescued by HMS Northern Wave and taken ashore at Derry, Northern Island.

The wreck of the S.S. Empire Heritage is designated as a war grave and is the final resting place of George Gershom Ottolangui. The wreck of S.S. Empire Heritage and its cargo lay silently beneath the waves until 1995 when rediscovered by divers. The tanks and trucks are still visible scattered on the seabed next to the wreck. Photographs of the wreck and its cargo can be viewed on the website https://coastmonkey.ie/ss-empire-heritage-malin-head The full story and rather a nice underwater video can be found at https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?10301

The German Type VII submarine (U-boat) was the most commonly deployed U-boat in the Atlantic War. A total of 703 were built, of which only one survives

The surviving Type VII U-Boat at the Laboe Naval Memorial near Kiel.

 U-482 was fitted with a Schnorchel underwater-breathing system and its crew of 34 mariners, was commanded by a German naval career officer from an aristocratic family, Kapitan-Leutenant Hartmut Graf von Matuschka, Freiherr von Toppolczan und Spaetgen, who was born 29th December 1914.

Kapitan-Leutenant Hartmut Graf von Matuschka, Freiherr von Toppolczan und Spaetgen,

His career began around April 1934 and he rose through the ranks to Kapitan-Leutentant by 1st April 1942.  He was decorated with the Iron Cross 2nd class, then the Iron Cross 1st class and the German Cross in Gold in September 1944.

At the outbreak of war Graf von Toppolczan was an adjutant at Gotenhafen Naval HQ, and in 1940 he left the staff at the Coastal Artillery detachment there to serve on the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.

He joined U-boat arm, the Ubootwaffe, in March 1943, commissioned U-482 in December 1943.

He died with the rest of his crew when U-482 was lost at sea on 25th November 1944.

A younger brother of Kptlt. Graf von Toppolczan’s died on active service in 1943. He was an Oberst (Group Captain) in the Luftwaffe when lost in action. Another brother survived the war and reached an advanced age.

Between 16th August 1944 and 18th November 1944, U-482 had completed two missions, spending a total of 50 days at sea, during which time it made attacks on 4 Allied convoys sinking 4 merchant ships and one Royal Navy corvette, HMS Hurst Castle, for a total of 32,621 tons.

The loss of U-482 was first attributed to being sunk by British Support Group 22, then in the 1990’s the Admiralty asserted that it had hit a mine in the North Channel, but U-Boat researchers believe that U-482 had been sunk on 25th November 1944 in the North Atlantic west of the Shetland Islands, in position 60.18N, 04.52W, by depth charges from the British Royal Navy frigate HMS Ascension, after being located by a Norwegian Sunderland aircraft of 330 Squadron RAF/Group on 24 November 1944, with the loss of all hands.

This is the memorial to the S.S. Empire Heritage and her crew on Panel #41 at the Merchant Navy Memorial on Tower Hill.

Panel #41
George Ottolangui is the 10th name from the bottom

By bryanell2020

Occasional genealogist and full-time Ottolangui family historian. 8th generation descendant of the 17th century Ottolenghi family of Livorno, born in London, graduated in Birmingham, lived around the United Kingdom, Israel, and in Rome, Italy. For a short while in Buenos Aires, and currently residing in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where I have been since 2005.

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