2. Abandon Ship

Do not rush. Sudden sinkings have been rare. But casualties brought about by panicked men dashing needlessly into peril have been frequent.

Fourteen men were saved out of the torpedoed Naco's crew of 42. Walter Swank reported: "The men who kept cool and used their heads were those who managed to be saved."

If Ernest Cartwright, one of the three survivors of a freighter shelled more than fifty times, had rushed to get into the port lifeboat, he would have lived less than two minutes. Before they could reach the water, the men in that boat were killed by shellfire.

With no alternative, Cartwright dived overboard. In the waterborne starboard lifeboat he found six more shipmates, four of them dead. These men had rushed to their death. They had been unable to pause long enough to choose the lesser risk, which was to remain aboard. The freighter itself did not sink for two hours -- long after the U-boat had ceased firing.

The chief mate of a torpedoed Panamanian freighter, Hawkins Fudske, entered a lifeboat


too soon and was killed by an exploding shell. Yet the men were able to reboard their ship the next day and take her into Mobile, Alabama.

Captain Frank. C. Girardeau and all but nine of his men were able to reboard their abandoned ships, after a night spent in the lifeboats, and have her towed into port.

SUCTION. -- A slowly sinking vessel may submerge without creating a suction. Vincent Halliburton, from the torpedoed Ceiba, reported: "While standing on the boat deck, I felt the ship disappear from under my feet. I started to swim and I picked up a raft."

Few men caught within the suction area of a swiftly sinking ship, except those wearing life suits, have survived.

Hans Sundby, carpenter from the torpedoed Norwegian freighter Erviken, reported:"I had the guy to the davit across my shoulders and this prevented me from swimming and caused me to follow the vessel downwards. When I got so far down that I found a terrific pressure against my head, especially the ears, I got free from the wire. I shot up with tremendous power. The suit save my life by bringing me so quickly to the surface on account of the air trapped inside it."

MAN OVERBOARD. -- Do not jump into the water. Unless, like Ernest Cartwright, you have


no alternative, or you have to do so to reach a liferaft. If you are wearing a lifejacket containing cork, you are in danger of breaking a rib or your collar bone.

A seaman jumped overboard from the freighter on which Fudszke lost his life, and was killed by a shark, though the vessel reached port with forty-two men.

FIDLEY GRATING. -- A man aboard the torpedoed Collamer, on watch below, lost his life because of a permanent grating on the fidley skylight.

ENGINE ROOM LADDERS. -- Rudolph C. Wellman, second assistant, suggested: Rope ladders should be hung in the engine room and fireroom so that men will know their location and be able to escape if the regular ladders are blown away."

EMERGENCY ESCAPES. -- Thoroughly acquaint yourself with the emergency escapes. Four men on the Prusa were lost because they forgot about the emergency escape through the steering engine room. A steam line was severed in the regular passage, making it impossible to leave that way. Yet these men, who were seen in the quarters alive, and apparently uninjured after the explosion, had only to go through the steering engine room up through a manhole onto the poop deck, as two other men did.


BRATTICE CLOTH. -- For years brattice cloth -- non-inflammable -- has been used by miners to shut off a tunnel in the case of fire or a drift when about to shoot a heading. It is now being purchased for many ships, and is of service in partitioning off open alleyways to prevent the passage of flame.

Discuss the feasibility of making a large wind-sail of brattice cloth to surround the Jacob's ladder leading up from the engine room to the skylight.

LIFE SUIT. -- Hans Sundby of the Erviken reported: "The engineers at work had made the mistake of having their suits in their cabins instead of the passage to the engine room."

SEAWORTHINESS. -- Be sure your lifeboat is seaworthy. This may seem needless advice. Yet in the past bottoms have come out of many lifeboats. One lifeboat of a United Nations freighter, torpedoed 200 miles from Bermuda, leaked so badly that for eleven days the men were unable to stop bailing.

EQUIPMENT -- Do not take it for granted that all the equipment required by law is in your lifeboat. Norman Leo Sampson, the third assistant of a torpedoed freighter, reported that nine of his shipmates were trapped in a lifeboat with no oars. The boat drifted into a sea of blazing oil.

WHISTLE. -- Every man should have whistle


made fast around his neck, so that if he is in the water, he can blow thek whistle to draw attention.

A severely burned British seaman from a torpedoed gasoline tanker was on the keel of an overturned lifeboat for five days. He was washed off five times, chiefly at night. Since he had a whistle, his shipmates were able to locate him, otherwise he would have been lost.

LIFE LIGHT. -- Life lights are manufactured for both jackets and life rings. With good visibility these lights will provide a possibility of attracting rescuers within as radius of at least four miles. Within the visibility range of shore, they offer a three-way chance of drawing attention -- from land, sea, and air.

ABANDON-SHIP PACKAGE. -- If you are on watch, you should have your life suit, extra clothes, and abandon-ship package with you, so you will not have to lose time returning to your quarters.

WIRE BASKET. -- Have the ship's wire baskets or stretchers easily accessible, so that injured persons may be lowered to a waterborne lifeboat. A wire basket may save a simple break from becoming a compound fracture, with its resultant gangrene and possible death.

PAPERS. -- After signing the ship's articles, place your papers and valuable in a deposit box


ashore. This will relieve your mind of any concern for their safety.

The officers should leave their licenses remaining in the frames aboard ship.

CLOTHES. -- Do not sleep undressed. Vincent Santiago, A.B. aboard the Leslie, slept almost the entire trip with his clothes on. The first night he took his clothes off, the Leslie was torpedoed. For three months McPherson, second mate of the Exminster, wore his clothes to bed. The first night he donned pajamas, the Exminster was torpedoed.

Even in the tropics have cold-weather clothes in your abandon-ship package, or ready to put on without delay. During five hours of drifting, eleven men clinging to liferafts from the stricken U.S. destroyer Jacob Jones succumbed to the cold and slipped into the sea. Yet George Pantall and Thomas Ryan Moody survived. They each had the judgment to don three extra suits of heavy winter underwear.

When a tanker, of which Captain Theron P. Davenport was the master, was torpedoed off the coast of Georgia early in April, the crew had ample time to gather their gear before abandoning ship. Yet most of the men neglected to take along sufficient clothing. Consequently, during the ten hours they were adrift, many of them were severely and needlessly sunburned.


OILSKINS. -- Two men, at least, should bring along oilskins. They will be of vital use to the men on watch.

EXTRA FOOD. -- You should provide a means to open the potato locker quickly. Get a sack of potatoes in your lifeboat, and a sack of onions, if possible, or turnips. Because of their high water content, these vegetables will serve a double purpose in y our rations. Canned tomatoes are important. Do not pass up the bottles of jam. The sugar in them will provide energy.

Emergency provisions should be stored in many small watertight containers rather than in one large one. This will lessen the chance of losing your supplies through a container being punctured by shot and the contents being destroyed by salt water.


Jackknife. Do not neglect to take along a knife.

Flashlight. If you have a flashlight and batteries, take them with you. The Robin Moor's boat had four torches, in addition to the one required by law.

Rosendo Ramos from the torpedoed Republic, reported: "If each man had a flashlight for use after the lights went out, he could probably have found other ways of escape after the ladder was broken."


Mason Jar. A Mason jar will keep your matches and other small items dry.

Toilet Paper. Take a roll with you.

Flare Pistol. Be sure your lifeboat is equipped with a flare pistol.

Rockets. If time permits, get two or three of the rockets which are stowed on the bridge.

PLUG. -- So no one will have difficulty finding the plug, mark it -- PLUG. Paint an arrow in white pointing to it.

GREENWICH TIME. -- If possible, set your watch to Greenwich time. The mate in your boat may not have a chance to set his watch. He will not be able to calculate longitude with any accuracy without Greenwich time when taking sights.

ORDERS. -- Get your orders from the mate. But if your are on your own, be sure to get one boat into the water. That can take care of a freighter's whole crew.

PANIC. -- Night puts an added burden on you and you must take extra precautions, because at night there is sure to be more panic than in the daytime.

TIME. -- The experience of B.A. Baker, the Prusa's third mate, will give you a gauge by which you can judge your own time in an emergency. After she was torpedoed, the Prusa sank in exactly nine minutes.


Baker was asleep hen the torpedo hit. He went to the bridge and got his sextant, chronometer, and navigation books. He stowed them in the boat and helped lower the boat. Then he went back and tried to get the radio operator to leave. Returning to his room, he obtained a sweater, and then jumped overboard. He swam about 200 feet to the lifeboat. The Prusa sank as he was being pulled into the boat.


Forward section of tanker E.H. BLUM, split in two
The forward section of the 11,600-ton tanker, E.H. Blum, split in two either by torpedoes or mines, presents a vivid example of buoyancy. A salvage crew towed this section to Norfolk, Virginia. The 300-foot after section was raised from 32 feet of water and brought into port, where the two parts hve been welded together. (Acme)


Table of Contents
Previous Chapter (1) *  Next Chapter (3)

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation
Copy editing by Loren Wilton