This was the last of three similar ships built for the Messageries Maritimes for their Far East service: Felix Roussel, George Philippar & Aramis. It was launched on June 30th 1931 from Forge Ateliers Mediterranean, Seyne. Its first sailing was on October 21st 1932 from Marseilles to China & Japan.
On June 22nd 1933 the ship suffered a breakdown on the coast of China by the Chuzan Islands (grounded?) and was towed by the French cruiser Primauguet to Japan for repairs.
During 1935 the engines were uprated to provided 15,600hp with a speed of 19knots. It returned to service on April 20th 1936.
May 24th 1939: The Aramis, displaying large Tricolours on both sides, was held up by a Japanese destroyer seventeen miles north of Hong Kong. She was boarded, her papers examined and then allowed to proceed. Vice-Admiral de Coux, the French naval commander in the Far East, who was on his way to Shanghai, intercepted the Aramis en-route to obtain the captain's report, following which a protest was made to the Japanese Government. The P&O liner Ranpura was also stopped in a similar fashion. The Japanese were attempting to prevent aid from reaching Chiang Kai-chek by the imposition of a 200 mile blockade from the coast of China and the stopping of the two liners was an aftermath of the Kulangsu dispute with regard to the port of Amoy.
On September 4th 1939 the Aramis was sent to Saigon to be transformed into an auxiliary cruiser under the name of X1. This was one of several vessels acquired by the French Navy for this purpose. The armament fitted included eight 6 inch guns, two 75mm & two 37mm anti-aircraft guns and eight machine-guns. Tests were carried out in the latter half of January 1940 and the X1 was sent to Hong Kong for dry docking. After release from drydock the ship began patrols on March 1st between Hong Kong and Singapore. On March 22nd near Hong Kong the Russian ship Selenga was seized and towed to Cape Saint Jacques, arriving here on April 2nd.
More patrols occurred from April 17th to May 5th, then from May 8th to June 1st patrols took place in the Gulf of Siam and the Sea of China. The ship returned to Saigon and was disarmed by August 1st though remained in naval service in Indo-China through December 1st 1940. After this point it was returned to its owners.
On April 10th 1942 the ship was requisitioned by the Japanese in Saigon, taking possession of it by June 2nd and renaming it Teia Maru.
September 2nd 1943 the Teia Maru was one half of an exchange of civilians between Japan and the United States and its allies. The Teia Maru would sail with 1,500 Westerners who had been interned in the Orient, they were exchanged for 1,330 Japanese nationals being transported from the United States and several other countries by the Swedish liner Gripsholm. This was the second such mission for the Gripsholm. The Gripsholm left New York on September 2nd 1943 and called at Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, and Montevideo, Uruguay (September 23rd) before heading east to Mormugao (Goa), Portugese India, due about October 15th to meet up with the Teia Maru. The Gripsholm also carried Red Cross and other care packages and medical supplies for transfer to the Teia Maru.
For this special trip the Teia Maru's grey paint had been embellished with seven giant white crosses, one was illuminated by light bulbs, as was a similar cross high up on the stern. Identification was also laid out so as to be visible from aircraft flying overhead, there would be no doubt as to the mission these two vessels were on.
For those passengers heading west on the Teia Maru the ship's accomodation was reasonable unless you were in steerage, which was poorly lit, badly ventilated, where space was a premium and there was no room for one's luggage. The Japanese had assigned accomodation according to age and health, the most able bodied men ending up in steerage, the elderly, infirm, women & children receiving what had once been the more luxurious accommodations. Temporary bunks were also added in many of the public spaces, whilst the large cabins allowed many to use mattresses to sleep on the floor.
Meals on the ship provided quite a variety, though strict rationing made the portions small and the indifferent quality was to be expected during a time of war. Multiple sittings took place in the dining rooms, making meal times a very hurried affair.
The journey started in Shanghai, then heading south to Hong Kong (Stanley Bay) where more repatriates boarded including some returning to the Phillipines. San Fernando was reached on September 26th where water, sugar and other cargo was loaded and an exchange of passengers took place prior to setting off for Saigon. To reach Saigon the ship navigated one of the channels of the Mekong River before docking and taking on more cargo, mostly foodstuffs and more passengers, mostly missionaries. By October 3rd the ship was anchored offshore from Singapore where more supplies and water were taken onboard.
From Singapore the ship went around the western side of Sumatra, taking ten days to reach the port of Goa on October 17th. Here the luggage was unloaded in an orderly fashion and stored in a warehouse pending arrival of the Gripsholm. Passengers were later allowed ashore but with movement restricted by Portuguese guards to a limited area. The Gripsholm arrived a short while later. On October 19th in an orderly fashion the exchange of passengers took place, those now on the Gripsholm had been required to sign a promissory note in the amount of $325 to cover the costs incurred by the US government. Exchange of cargoes continued for several more days.
Transferred to the Teia Maru were 1,600 short tons of humanitarian supplies valued at over US$1.3 million. The cargo included 140,000 thirteen pound food parcels, 2,885 cases of medical supplies, 7 million vitamin capsules, 950 cases of comfort articles for men and women, 24 million cigarettes, and clothing. These items were eventually unloaded in Manila for Philippine camps, and in Yokohama for distribution to camps in Japan and elsewhere in the Far East. Food, clothing, and comfort supplies were paid for or supplied by the United States government; medical supplies and tobacco by the American Red Cross, and books and recreational supplies by the YMCA. Religious materials came from the National Catholic Welfare Conference.
The Teia Maru was the first to leave Goa on or about October 21st and was noted back at Yokohama on November 14th 1943. On its return journey the Gripsholm would reach New York on December 1st. After this adventure the Teia Maru returned to more mundane troopship movements some of which are recorded below.
On February 1st 1944 the Teia Maru left Moji in fast convoy HI-41 consisting of six ships and one escort. They arrived at Singapore on the afternoon of February 11th 1944.
On March 11th 1944 convoy HI-48 departed Singapore with Teia Maru and eleven other ships with four escorts. Arrival in Tokuyama was on April 8th 1944.
On May 13th 1944 convoy HI-63 departed Moji with the Teia Maru and ten other vessels accompanied by four escorts. Many of the transports carried troops bound for Burma. Arrival in Manila was on May 18th 1944, three ships were detached here, the remainder head out for Singapore on May 20th 1944. An attack by the USS Raton (SS-270) on May 24th 1944 sinks one escort and damages one other ship, the Teia Maru escaped unscathed. The convoy arrived in Singapore on the evening of May 27th 1944.
The Teia Maru sailed from Singapore on June 5th 1944 and arrived at Moji on June 19th 1944 with over one thousand prisoners of war including some transferred from the recently completed Burma - Thailand railway.
The increasingly desperate Japanese position in the Phillipines demanded the movement of many troops and supplies from Japan. This required a considerable number of ships, some of which formed up as Convoy HI-71 in Japan during early August 1944. The convoy comprised a core of nineteen ships, eight of which were the military escorts. The convoy left Moji on August 8th (or 10th?) 1944 bound for Mako, Manila & Singapore. By the time the Luzon Straits had been reached the weather had deteriorated with winds of typhoon strength causing the convoy to break its tight formation. On the stormy night of August 18th 1944 the submarines USS Rasher (SS-269), USS Bluefish (SS-222) and later the USS Spadefish (SS-411) attacked with considerable success the HI-71 convoy in the South China Sea west of Luzon. At least six ships were sunk and two damaged, included in those sunk were two large vessels, the escort carrier Taiyo and the troopship Teia Maru at position 18º16'N, 120º21'E. The Teia Maru had been hit on the starboard side shortly after 11pm off Cape Bolinao, Luzon. The damage caused fires to break out, presumably great loss of life occurred. The Teia Maru would be the second largest merchant ship sunk by US submarines during World War II.
Builder: Forge Ateliers Mediterranean, Seyne
Page added July 19th 2007