MS City of Rayville

Name: City of Rayville
Namesake: either Rayville, Louisiana, or Rayville, Missouri, or both
Port of registry: United States Tampa
Yard number: 8
Launched: April 1920
Completed: January 1921
Fate: sunk by naval mine, 8 November 1940
General characteristics
Type: Design 1027 ship
Tonnage: 5,910 GRT
Length: 122.5 m (401 ft 11 in)
Beam: 16.5 m (54 ft 2 in)
Speed: 11 knots (20 km/h)
Crew: 38

The SS City of Rayville, also referred to as the MV and/or MS City of Rayville was a 5883-ton American steamship. She was built in 1920 by Oscar Daniels & Co. of Tampa, Florida.[1][2]


The SS City of Rayville was the first American vessel sunk during World War II, and was sunk by a German mine just off Cape Otway, Australia. This field of approximately 100 mines had already claimed the British steamer SS Cambridge, less than 24 hours previously off Wilsons Promontory.[3]

On 8 November 1940, City of Rayville sailed into the Bass Strait and at 7:47 pm, she hit a mine. The explosion was powerful enough to rip out the foremast, as shrapnel (including ingots of lead, the vessel's cargo being 1,500 tons—37,520 bars—of Port Pirie lead[4]) rained down on the ship's decks. The 38 crew members were able to safely abandon the vessel in lifeboats, although one mariner (James Bryan of Norfolk, Virginia)[1] re-entered the vessel to find his personal items and subsequently drowned. The vessel sank, bow first, in 35 minutes.[5] A period news account listed the victim as Third Engineer Mac B. Bryan, of Randleman, North Carolina.[6]

The lightkeeper stationed at Cape Otway Lightstation witnessed the sinking, and three boats from Apollo Bay went in search of survivors. The ship's lifeboats were found, and successfully towed back to Apollo Bay, arriving at dawn, 9 November 1940.

This preceded the attack on Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, by more than a year, and resulted in the death of the first US seaman in World War II.


The site of the wreck is approximately 14 kilometers (8.7 mi) south of Cape Otway, with the vessel at a depth of 70 meters (230 ft). The wreck's general location had been known since 2002, but it was finally pinpointed using advanced sonar equipment.


In memory of this event, a group of villas in the little village of Apollo Bay (15 kilometers (9.3 mi) from Cape Otway), is named Rayville Boat Houses. Moreover, the villas themselves are baptized according to the names of the local fishermen who rescued the victims: Lincoln Allen, Les Barrand, Harry Blyth, Bill Burwood, Roy Fisk, Jock Muir, Bill Ovens, James Slater and Len Stephens.[7] These villas have been built by Ross Stephens, one rescuer's father.


  1. 1 2
  2. "MS City of Rayville Victorian Heritage Register (VHR) Number S126". Victorian Heritage Database. Heritage Victoria.
  3. Gill, G. Hermon (1957). Royal Australian Navy 1939–1942. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 2 – Navy. Canberra: Australian War Memorial. p. 271.
  4., article 2
  5., article 1
  6. Associated Press, "U.S. To Return Survivors Of Lost Freighter", Chicago Daily Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, Monday 11 November 1940, Volume XCIX, Number 271, page 2.

Coordinates: 38°51′S 143°39′E / 38.850°S 143.650°E / -38.850; 143.650

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