Mystery in The Thames


Castro Can Wait is based on one of the most bizarre, and to this day, unresolved examples of industrial sabotage in post-Missile Crisis era.

On October 28, 1964 the cargo ship Magdeburg lay on its side in the Thames estuary with its cargo of 42 British-made Leyland buses completely written off. An article in The Times stated, along with picture of the stricken vessel: ‘An East German cargo ship carrying 42 buses to Cuba was beached on its side…the crew of 54 and passengers all escaped safely.’

The report goes on say that the boat had collided with a Japanese cargo ship, the Yamashiro Maru in thick fog off Broadness Point, near Gravesend, Kent. After this initial collision, both boats were then hit by another oil tanker, the Characrest. Luckily there were no fatalities but three of the ship’s stewardesses were forced to climb down rope ladders to the safety of passing tugs who then ferried them to Tilbury. An accompanying photograph taken on a bright late autumn morning clearly shows the Madgeburg on its side, with its cargo of gleaming Leyland buses half submerged in the water. Each of the buses, states the report, were valued at roughly £8,000 each.

So was the Thames boat collision that foggy October night really the work of CIA agents operating in British territory? Late Washington Post journalist Jack Anderson certainly seemed to think so in an article written ten years later. In it, his sources confirmed that CIA officers had arranged for the boats to crash with the co-operation of M15. An un-named ex-CIA man admitted: “We were sabotaging the Leyland buses going to Cuba and that was pretty sensitive business.”


The theory is further reinforced by the fact that the pilot of the Magdeburg, Gordon Greenfield, claimed that the Japanese ship had broken international law by navigating the wrong way and giving him misleading signals. Furthermore, the pilots’ logs, which are meant to be stored at Trinity House and in the Port of London Archives, remain missing. Said Greenfield in his official statement: “The Yamashiro Maru appeared to sail towards the south of the middle channel, but I interpreted her exchange of signals to mean that she was about to turn to starboard in order to pass me on her port side. At this time there seemed to be no danger of a collision.”


However, Anderson’s Washington Post colleague Joe Trento, author of The Secret History of the CIA, remains sceptical about linking the Magdeburg disaster to the CIA. “I can’t imagine the CIA doing this; it simply wouldn’t happen in a friendly country like Britain. If they had wanted to destroy the boat, they would have waited until it got to the Atlantic.” While accepting that the Magdeburg sinking may have been just another bad weather marine accident, Trento doesn’t discount the theory that it was the work of CIA-trained Cuban terrorists – dissatisfied exiles who were prepared to topple Castro through random acts of violence.

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