City of Rayville

Nationality: USA

Vessel type: Motor vessel

Date lost: 8 Nov 1940

Cause of loss: Struck a German mine

Number of Casualties: 1 fatality, 2 crewmen received shoulder and leg injuries, and a rib fracture

Discovery date: January 1999

Location/water depth: In shipping lane off Cape Otway at 82 metre depth

In late October 1940 the German ship Passat laid 40 mines in the narrow, busy sea lane between Cape Otway and King Island. The City of Rayville with a cargo of lead from Port Pirie entered Bass Strait heading for Melbourne, then New York.  At 7.47pm on November 8th the City of Rayville hit one of the mines.

The radio operator sent out an SOS with the ship’s position and lifeboats were launched. The heavily laden ship was to sink within 40 minutes. Thirty-seven crew were able to depart the ship, one went to his locker to retrieve his belongings only to lose his life.

The lighthouse keeper at Cape Otway raised the alarm and fishermen from Apollo Bay set out to attempt a rescue.  In darkness and battling strong north-easterly winds and choppy seas the first lifeboat was sighted at 10.20pm.  All crew and rescuers returned safely to Apollo Bay.

USA’s First Shipping Casualty of World War 2

The loss of the City of Rayville was America’s first casualty of World War 2, although the USA did not enter the war until over a year later after Pearl Harbour was bombed by the Japanese in 1941.


City of Rayville dive footage:

Objects of interest (artefacts, images or other collection items) associated with the shipwreck story.

  • Original letter from National Maritime Union to Mr Powling and fishermen thanking them for rescue.
  • Copy of letter from Secretary of State, Washington to rescuers.
  • Illuminated address from Shire of Otway with photographs of 9 fishermen rescuers.
  • Name board from ship
  • Engine room telegraph pedestal
  • Port hole
  • Various small items such as plates etc.
  • 2 life jackets
  • Coston-Sedley parachute signal pistol
  • Paddle-Bailer and fishing lure from survival pack from lifeboat
  • Copy of maps from Australian Archives Accession MP1587 Navy historical records files. C1945-1975 (relate to mine laid).
  • Ian C McKellar, Morrie Fenton, Defending the Eye of the Needle: a history of Cape Otway 1939 -1945, (Dec 2010), PenFolk Publishing, Blackburn Victoria.

AMMC Member Institution

Apollo Bay & District Historical Society

submitted by Ted Stuckey

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