While all of us (well, or at least some of us) are waiting for the release of The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan , scheduled for August 30, 2019, we also offer to get acquainted with the mysterious and in every way mystical history of the steamer SS Ourang Medan “(Ed. – translated from the Indonesian” Man from Medan “, the abbreviation SS stands for steamship, ie steamer), which inspired the developers (Supermassive Games) and formed the basis of the game’s plot.
I think that there is not a single person who has not heard the legends of ghost ships such as the Flying Dutchman and Maria Celeste, the mysterious disappearances of ships and sailors in the Bermuda Triangle. One of the most mystical and incomprehensible stories is the case of the ship “SS Ourang Medan”. The events took place in the middle of the 20th century, but despite this, there is practically no documentary information on the incident and the history can be safely ranked among the marine legends, tk. it is unclear whether there is at least some truth in the whole story or is it just another myth.
Let’s deal with all the mystery and horror from the very beginning.
SS Ourang Medan Sends SOS, or First Oddity
Interestingly, it is not known for certain when exactly the incident with the SS Ourang Medan happened, either in June 1947 (according to historians’ research), or in February 1948 (it was during this period that the story first appeared in the Dutch -indonesian newspaper The Locomotive).
It all started with the SOS distress signal, which the British and Dutch tracking stations (at that time the post-war high alert mode was in operation), as well as the radio operators of the two American ships City of Baltimore and Silver Star, who were on duty in the Strait of Malacca (between Sumatra and Malaysia , connects the Indian and Pacific oceans).
There was also a chilling Morse code message:
“The captain and all the officers in the cockpit and on the bridge are dead. Maybe the whole team is dead. “
This was followed by a flurry of undetectable signals and deathly silence reigned on the air …
Experts were able to locate the source of the SOS and concluded that it probably originated from the Dutch cargo ferry SS Ourang Medan, which is estimated to be 400 nautical miles southwest of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
The Silver Star was closest to the ship’s intended location. Without delay, imbued with the seriousness of the terrible message, the captain and crew decided to change their course and go to the distressed SS Ourang Medan. So the ship “Silver Star” moved to the rescue.
Throughout the voyage, the Americans made constant attempts to contact SS Ourang Medan, but no one answered. Only an hour later, Morse code was played again on the air. From the entire message, only two words were made out:
On this, the connection was cut off completely.
“Silver Star” Finds “SS Ourang Medan” Drifting, Or The Second Oddity
After a few hours of crossing, the Americans were able to observe the free-floating SS Ourang Medan in the choppy waters of the Strait of Malacca. Having approached the vessel at a distance that allowed to examine it more closely, the Silver Star crew saw absolutely no signs of life on the deck, as well as any external damage to the vessel.
The captain of the Silver Star decided to equip a rescue expedition.
Aboard the SS Ourang Medan, or the third oddity
The message received from the ship, along with the initial SOS signal, turned out to be completely true. After boarding the SS Ourang Medan and examining the ship, rescuers found the bodies of the crew and the ship’s dog in an unusually dire state. All the victims, without exception, lay on their backs with eyes wide with horror, their hands froze in the dying struggle with invisible attackers, their faces were terribly distorted in agony and fear.
Even the face of the ship’s dog froze in a formidable grin. The captain’s body was found on the captain’s bridge, the corpses of the ship’s officers lay in the helm and navigational rooms. The dead signalman was in his place in the radio room and his fingers were on the telegraph keys. Dead bodies were also found in the boiler room.
In addition, the members of the search group noted that in the depths of the hold there was a terrible cold, although the temperature outside was above 40 degrees Celsius. Having examined all the nooks and crannies of the dead ship, the search engines, seeing evidence of the deep suffering of the crew members at the time of their death, could not, nevertheless, find on the bodies at least some traces of injuries or extraneous influence, as well as at least suggest the reasons for this tragic death of many people …
Also, no damage to the ship’s hull was found.
“SS Ourang Medan” Goes Down, Or The Fourth Oddity
The Silver Star captain decided to anchor the SS Ourang Medan on a tow line and transport it to the nearest port. But as soon as the cable was pulled into position, ominous clouds of smoke appeared above the deck of the SS Ourang Medan, presumably coming from the hold.
Having barely managed to disconnect the cable and move to a safe distance, the Silver Star crew witnessed a huge explosion that lifted the ominous vessel, and then pulled it into the salt depths …
The ship sank so quickly that if the Americans had not rushed to give up the towing lines, they could well have shared the fate of SS Ourang Medan. The explosion brought the “Man from Medan” straight to the realm of myths and legends, making his mysterious death the most intriguing and mysterious in the modern era and forcing us to seek an answer to the question: so what happened to “SS Ourang Medan”?
Versions, hypotheses of the death of “SS Ourang Medan” and other oddities
Lack of documentary information about “SS Ourang Medan”
Although rumors of the grisly Silver Star find spread quickly along the trade routes of East India, the first official account of the incident was not released until May 1952, when it appeared in a Handbook published by the United States Coast Guard (Proceedings of the Merchant Marine Council “). It mentions evidence of the poor condition of the found Dutch sailors:
“Their numb, distorted faces are upturned to the sun … looking as if in fear … open gaping mouths and eyes wide with terror …”
It should be noted that the existence of the ship “Silver Star” is not subject to any doubts, absolutely everything is known for certain from the documents, including data on the change of ownership and even the name. However, no documentary evidence could be found regarding SS Ourang Medan. Researchers believe that if “SS Ourang Medan” really existed, then most likely it was from Fr. Sumatra. The island was at that time a colony of the Netherlands, the so-called Dutch East Indies.
This assumption is based on the etymology of the name of the ship, since in Indonesia the word “ourang” means the concept of “man”, and Medan is the largest city on the island of Sumatra. But these assumptions did not make it possible to come closer to the answer, where the vessel was registered.
Author and historian Roy Bainton, whose account of the events in question is considered to be the most comprehensive, found himself at a complete stalemate in his quest to find real traces of the SS Ourang Medan. He could not find a single mention of the ship in either Lloyd’s trade registers or in the Dictionary of Disasters at Sea, 1824-1962. He contacted in vain with the British Admiralty and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, checked the cargo records at the port of Amsterdam, made a request to the Singapore maritime authorities, but all this did not produce any results.
The culmination of the search was the 32-page German-language brochure “The Death Ship of the South Seas” (“Das Totenschiff in der Südsee”), published in 1954 by the publicist Otto Mielke. The publication contained quite a lot of information about “SS Ourang Medan”, in particular: the route “SS Ourang Medan”, data on the type of cargo and its tonnage, and engine power and even the name of the captain. This information was allegedly received from one of the members of the search group of the crew of the vessel “Silver Star”. Materials from the brochure also confirmed the date of the incident in June 1947.
Discrepancies in the dates and place of death of “SS Ourang Medan”
The event was originally dated to June 1947, which is also confirmed by research data in the 50s of the XX century. However, the first mention of the incident in the press happened in February 1948, when adjustments were made to the original version regarding the place of the ship’s wreck not near the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean, but in the Strait of Malacca in Indonesian waters.
The source of the information was the testimony of a German – a member of the SS Ourang Medan crew, who allegedly escaped from the ship by swimming and sailed to one of the atolls of the Marshall Islands. On his deathbed, he told his story to a missionary, who in turn told it to Silvio Shirley, who gave the sensational material to the Dutch press.
Version 1. Chemical poisoning of the team due to cargo
The information contained in the brochure by O. Milke gave a new impetus to R. Brighton’s investigation, since testified to the presence of potassium cyanide and nitroglycerin in the holds of the vessel. This deadly cargo could well be the cause of not only the death of the crew, but also the subsequent destructive explosion. Needless to say, this is a pretty dangerous brew in the highest security laboratory, but in the cargo hold in the endless sea waves, it was a potential nightmare.
Version 2. Transportation and testing of chemical or biological weapons.
The Dutch ship could be a smuggling carrier, and also a testing ground for nerve gas, or even more terrible biological weapons, manufactured by an ominous bunch of Japanese scientists whose experiments were so hideous that many atrocities in the name of Nazi science pale in comparison.
This devilish organization bore the modest name “Detachment 731”, it was founded in 1932 by a brilliant Japanese bacteriologist named Shiro Ishii and his associates. In its secret departments, research and development was carried out, the sole purpose of which was to create the most deadly forms of chemical and biological weapons that could ensure Japan’s victory over any potential enemy.
Scientists demonstrated the results of some of their developments during the Sino-Japanese War in the area occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army in the area of the Chinese city of Harbin.
It can be assumed that the US government, or another world power, decided to use the slow-moving and stealthy Dutch bulk carrier to transport a secret deadly cargo for both security and cover reasons. Hardly anyone would be interested in an old vagrant steamer with a low-paid foreign crew; and the crew, probably not giving up on smuggling, will try not to get caught by the authorities.
Most likely, sea water got into the hold with a deadly cargo, which could well lead to a violation of the integrity of the package and the appearance of toxic fumes, which caused the death of the sailors. Well, the transported nitroglycerin has already caused an explosion.
By the way, the version with the presence of chemical weapons on board the vessel also explains why the bulk carrier was not entered in the Lloyds register and all possible documents on the existence of the vessel “SS Ourang Medan” were destroyed. In fact, it was a ghost ship for a one-time covert operation to transport illegal substances. It is likely that the sailors who boarded the SS Ourang Medan were destined to die in any case: after the successful delivery of chemical weapons to the port of destination, they would simply be killed so that the secret would not float out and the ship would be flooded.
Version 3. UFO or Psi factor
In A Case for UFOs, published in 1955, author, astronomer and explorer, Morris K. Jessup, suggested that the SS Ourang Medan crew were attacked by aliens for unknown reasons. I think that this topic has become very popular during the development of the US space program, as well as all kinds of phobias in the US on the topic of aliens and their abductions.
Other radical science fiction enthusiasts have suggested that the Dutch crew faced a swarm of vengeful ghost phantoms at sea, or even a ghost ship full of militant undead. But it is difficult to reject the arguments of the supporters of the paranormal versions. As proof of their theory, there is a complete absence of a natural cause for death, as well as the supposedly petrified expressions of the faces that were engraved on the faces of the doomed sailors. Add to this the unnatural coldness in the cargo hold.
Version 4. Fire
There is also a fairly popular version that there was a fire on board the ship. The crew was poisoned by carbon monoxide. However, Silver Star rescuers saw no sign of the fire. In addition, carbon monoxide gas would hardly have killed sailors on the open and wind-blown deck.
Version 5. Pirate attack
Although this version of the development of events is proposed, it is unlikely, since brigands (of whom there are indeed many in the Strait of Malacca) would hardly have been able to destroy people without leaving any traces of violence.
Version 6. Myth, or an ordinary sea bike that distorted the original events
In the course of research of old archives of English newspapers for November 1940 (The Yorkshire Evening Post, The Daily Mirror), the story of the ship “Ourang Medan” was found. For example, back in 1940, the same Silvio Shirley told the same story as in 1948, only some details of the events were remarkably different.
“SS Ourang Medan is a steamer, not a motor ship.
– According to newspapers in 1940, the message from the ship in Morse code says:
“SOS from the steamer Ourang Medan. Requesting ships with a doctor in shortwave transmission range. Urgently”.
“Perhaps the second mate is dead. The rest of the team are killed. No doctor needed. SOS please support with fire. “
From this message it becomes clear that the ship was attacked (most likely by pirates).
– the story of 1940 is told by a member of the ship’s crew from the rescue expedition. There is no mention of the chilling horrors that happened to the team.
– The location of the ship has been changed again. In this first certificate of the ship’s distress, it all happened off the Solomon Islands. Those. first there, and in 1948 1300 miles north of the Marshall Islands and finally the final version, another 4000 miles west to the Straits of Malacca. You yourself understand that it is very problematic to make a mistake considering such considerable distances.
We are not ready to voice our own opinion on this topic, because everyone is free to accept any of the versions to their liking or suggest a new one. At the moment, the most interesting is whether there will be versions on the topic from the developers of the game and what they will tell us about their Man of Medan.