Chapter VI. ARMED GUARD VOYAGE NARRATIVES
The Navy Armed Guards are justifying their country's confidence in them by their tenacity, courage, and devotion to duty in day and night encounters with enemy submarines, planes and surface raiders.
The following stories of some of those who have distinguished themselves are selected at random from hundreds of voyage reports. These drafts from voyage reports selected from a multitude of similar happenings, clearly tell of danger, courage and an unbreakable will to win. They reveal the spirit of the Armed Guard crews aboard the ships carrying essential supplies to our Allies and to our own forces overseas.
On ___, our ship, part of a force that invaded ___, was the one ship that went in close to the beach with the original landing.
Beginning the first day of the invasion, this vessel was subjected to shelling from enemy land positions which continued for the following 7 days, during which time innumerable near misses were experienced.
The next day the Germans increased their counteraction by more frequent and heavier air attacks. Our ship was in the invasion area for a period of 8 days and during this time, we had 75 air raid alerts and 27 actual bombings from enemy aircraft.
The gun crew was on emergency watch for these 8 long days, obtaining very little, if any, uninterrupted rest and eating at irregular hours. The intensity of the strain upon these men was so great that it is impossible for me to describe some of the actual mental sufferings that they experienced.
On ____ at 1625, the Germans sent over a strong force of fighter bombers. Approaching from the Northwest, the planes singly dove and dropped bombs about the ships in the harbor and along the beach. The antiaircraft fire was opened from this ship, setting up an effective heavy barrage. One plane dove at us from the starboard side and when at an altitude of 1,000 feet, ran into our antiaircraft fire. The shells were seen hitting the plane and bursting in the cockpit. The fighter bomber banked off to the right and was seen spinning in smoke and flame, and crashing on the beach. This was the first plane brought down by this ship.
On ____ another group of fighter-bombers were over. While looking towards the sun, three unspotted fighter-bombers started diving towards the ship. Simultaneously as I ordered the 20 mm. men to open fire on the diving planes, a stick of bombs was dropped. Many shells from our guns were seen hitting the plane and entering the fuselage. As the plane went past our stern, it burst into flames while heading for the beach. The pilot was seen bailing out as the plane plunged earthwards and crashed with a violent explosion. This being the second plane brought down by the gun crew.
That same evening at 1750 the heaviest air attack of the campaign was encountered. Bombers and fighter-bombers came over in full strength. Bombs were dropping throughout the bay as well as on shore. The AA from this ship once again set up an effective barrage. At about 1805 a bomb dropped a few yards from the ship's starboard side. Water from the sea came rushing over the decks, drenching the gunners and myself. Shrapnel flew dangerously about the ship, miraculously only inflicting wounds necessitating first-aid treatment.
Approximately ten minutes elapsed when what looked like an enemy ME-109 came diving at our ship. The gunners filled her with 20's and the plane burst into flames, crashing into the side of our ship, exploding as it hit. Parts of the plane were strewn all about the ship and gushes of water once again flooded the decks. The gunners kept up their continuous fire, even though some of them were momentarily somewhat shaken. The explosion caused extensive internal damages; namely, buckling the ship's engine-room plates, allowing water to pour in, destroying the generators beyond immediate repair, resulting in no electricity throughout the ship, and there were no sanitary plumbing facilities left or adequate fresh water supply available for several days. The gunners continued to stand by their stations awaiting a return attack. Due to the fact that the ship was taking water rapidly, the Captain gave orders to beach the ship, which was done, as she was listing heavily to port. This made a total of three planes brought down by this ship's gun crew during the invasion.
When the ship was beached, most of the merchant crew was taken off and all that remained aboard were the Navy gun crew, most of the ship's officers, and a skeleton crew of a very few men. The gun crew stood at their battle stations, sleeping and eating there, in order that the ship might be protected and the cargo that was badly needed ashore could be safely discharged.
During the 27 actual bombings, all of which were directed at our immediate vicinity, the gun crew helped disrupt many of the attacks and also damaged two enemy aircraft which in all probability never returned to their base. Evidences of much strafing by enemy machine guns remain to be seen, as .50 cal. bullets are still lodged in the gun pits and numerous other places about the ship.
The persistence of the gunners and the effective barrage set up by them saved the ship from destruction. Members of the merchant crew could not give enough praise to the gun crew for the grand job they did. Often they said, and I quote: "We owe our lives to you, Navy gunners!"
These men have done a remarkable job by acting in an exceptionally exemplary manner throughout these continuous attacks. Their courage and conduct during the raids and while
awaiting future raids is beyond my power to disclose in words. Their devotion to duty in the face of almost certain death fully upheld all the traditions of the United States Navy.
Eight twin motor planes (JU 88's or He 111's) in two groups of four came in sight from the port quarter at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,000 feet. The two escort fighters (Hurricanes) (or Airacobra) which had just passed from the port quarter toward the port bow of the convoy swung around and dived on the planes knocking down one. All ships in the convoy opened fire (at about 1846) as soon as they saw the fighters attack -- there had been no warning of the approach of enemy planes. A second enemy fell from the opening barrage and the planes turned back to their port side.
At 1900 the twin motor bombers came back in from the port quarter and drew fire from the convoy while three torpedo planes came in low off the port bow. One torpedo plane was shot down and a second one was hit by 20 mm. fire and crashed into the side of the S. S. ____, ship No. 31, and one of the escort fighters was shot down by the bombers. At 1945 four high level bombers came in from the gathering darkness dead ahead of the convoy and concentrated their attack on columns 2 and 3.
The S. S. ____ (ship No. 24) was hit in No. 3 forward hold and started burning. She was last seen on the horizon about an hour later with her ammunition exploding. S. S. ____ (ship No. 25) received a hit amidships and was being abandoned -- informed later that the ship was saved. A bomb missed ship No. 34 about 30 or 40 feet by the stern and our ship (No. 35) had a bomb fall 40 or 50 yards off the port bow.
At 1920 two twin motor bombers came from dead astern at a range of about 5,000 yards and an 8 second shell fired from our 4"/50 stern gun burst between the planes. One of the planes was observed falling by several members of the gun crew and merchant crew. Firing continued at planes on the port bow of the convoy, but darkness made it impossible to determine the number of planes attacking. Firing ceased at 1930. Our ship stopped to pick up survivors from the
S. S. ____ taking aboard 17 merchant men and 10 members of the Navy gun crew. All survivors were subsequently left at ____ where it was learned the S. S. ____ had been saved. No strafing was observed from the enemy planes. Losses included one ship probably sunk, two ships damaged but salvaged, five enemy planes shot down and one allied fighter downed.
There were no casualties aboard our ship. Survivors of the S. S. ____ reported no casualties to any of their crew as of the time they were ordered to abandon ship.
While subject vessel lay anchored out, at 2045, there was a red air raid alert. We at once secured from Condition of Readiness No. 3 and set Condition 1, General Quarters. At 2100 approximately 16 enemy aircraft attacked the Port and surrounding areas, flying at various elevations between 2000 and 6000 feet. The shore batteries opened A. A. fire at once; searchlights were brought to play on planes.
We held our A. A. fire until naval and other craft in the harbor commenced firing. At 2115, we opened fire with our 3"/50 caliber D. P. gun, mounted on the bow and on one occasion we fired our Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 20 mm. guns. The night was dark, with very little moonlight; approximately 6 flares were dropped by the aircraft, at the mouth of the harbor; they were out of range of our guns and we made no attempt to shoot them out. The planes dropped bombs ashore, causing severe fires, emanating heavy black smoke. No bombs were observed by us to have been dropped in the harbor. One craft was clearly observed to have been hit by our 3-inch shell bursts, after which the plane lost altitude rapidly and fell into the sea. Twenty-seven rounds of 3-inch ammunition were expended in this action. Our 6, 20 mm. guns opened fire on one craft flying at approximately 2,000 feet elevation, and passing from broad on our port beam to within a few feet of our stern. Many direct hits were observed on this plane, immediately after which the plane fell in flames on the shore. The attack lasted about 1 hour; we ceased firing at 2145. No casualties. Twelve enemy aircraft were reported to have been destroyed by gun fire. There were no fighters
in the air during the action. The actions of the entire gun crew were commendable; strict fire discipline was maintained throughout the action; all fire was directed by the Armed Guard commander, from the bridge. The 3-inch gun crew, while in action, fired at the rate of 30 rounds per minute.
Convoy was proceeding in an easterly direction when seven twin-engined aircraft were observed approaching on port quarter at 1750, distance about 7,000 yards, altitude 4,000 feet. All hands were at battle stations (including merchant marine personnel and Army personnel assigned to various defense duties). As aircraft approached convoy, two broke away to the eastward pursued by two British Spitfires, the enemy craft laying smoke screens and exchanging fire with pursuers. They were identified by this officer as Heinkel 111K's. The remainder of the aircraft began a bombing run into the convoy by which time fire had been opened by ships on port wing of convoy and by the 3"/50 A. A. gun on this ship, which was believed to be the first large caliber weapon to open fire. The first round from this gun was observed to burst immediately in front of one of the enemy aircraft, which fell into the sea very shortly thereafter. The aircraft believed shot down was flying eastward outboard of port wing of convoy at about 2,500 feet. Fire was opened with a 4 second fuse setting by the gun captain, firing by local control in accordance with prior instructions and after the order had been given to commence firing.
All guns functioned properly with the exception of several 20 mm. jams due to failure of magazine crews to properly tension magazines before handing to loaders and a jam on the 3"/50 gun. No major stoppages were caused in the 20 mm. guns although the striker of one was discovered to have been fouled by powder grains from a broken round. The 3"/50 jam occurred on the twelfth round when a shell was not seated completely by the first loader. The gun captain was unable to force the round home and pulled down the operating lever which separated the case from the projectile, leaving the latter stuck in the barrel. It was extracted by the Armed Guard officer assisted by volunteers from the gun crew and Army
personnel who pushed the round out through the breech by the use of sectional handles.
At approximately 1900 enemy aircraft were reported flying in on port quarter by the Armed Guard lookout on the port side of the bridge. I was standing on topside bridge with master of vessel and saw 8 or 9 enemy planes on course 135°, 25° angle, at range approximately 5,500 yards. We were No. 32 in convoy. Our speed was 6 knots, which we maintained throughout the attack. The sea was calm and smooth; visibility about 10 miles. Scattered clouds; dusk fell quickly.
As I looked up at the planes the escorts opened fire and two allied pursuit planes closed in. One enemy plane, fell at this time. I sounded the general alarm and ordered forward and aft 3"/50 guns to open fire with 8-second fuzes. Aft gun burst was very close to enemy plane. Three planes attacked convoy from port quarter and rest came in on port bow and dead ahead. Machine guns and bombs were used in first phase of attack. We opened fire as they closed in using our 8 20 mm's. The second and third sections of the attack were medium level-bombing and torpedo. Red and white lights were shown and red flares dropped by the enemy as they opened second and third phases. First part lasted about 8 minutes, second and third about 6 minutes each, with about 3 minutes between. In the last two phases our ship was attacked on starboard bow and beam, as well as on port quarter, beam and bow. One bomb landed several hundred yards off port quarter and another about the same distance off port bow. Our forward 3" blew wing off a torpedo plane flying in just off the water at 0° angle, 2 points on port bow, range about 800 yards, causing it to crash about 300 yards from the ship. Our No. 4 and No. 5 20 mm. scored direct hits on an HE 115 as it crossed over our ship abeam from port at point blank range. This ship apparently crashed in water on No. 42's starboard beam, first dropping its torpedo which had no effect. In addition to the above three planes a fourth crashed between No. 33 and No. 43.
No damage was suffered or hits of any kind were scored on our ship. A. A. shell fragments and two 20 mm. projectiles with defective fuzes were picked up on deck next morning. No casualties were suffered by personnel or material except
that some steps were blown out of No. 8 gun tub, apparently by bomb concussion. Except for a few minor 20 mm. jams all guns functioned very well. We used about 1,600 rounds of 20 mm. ammunition and 83 rounds of 3"/50.
The navy gun crew functioned very well. The merchant crew assisted as 20 mm. loaders, second and third loaders on both 3" guns, in the magazines, at the hoists and as ammunition parties. All hands showed extreme coolness throughout and the help and cooperation that we received from the ship's officers and crew was invaluable. Attack ended at approximately 1930.
At 2058 a group of German torpedo planes, estimated variously as between 25 and 35 in number, and identified as HE 111's and JU 88's, approached out of the low-lying sun, almost dead ahead of our convoy. The weather was clear and the sea calm. The planes were first sighted about 2 or 3 miles ahead of our ship, flying just above the water's surface. The senior and junior Armed Guard officers were on the bridge, preparing to call the usual twilight general quarters alert, and immediately sounded the ship's general alarm, prior to any definite indication that the planes were hostile. Thus, all A. A. guns were manned and ready before the planes came within range. Upon reaching the convoy, the planes broke formation, passed between and around the forward escort vessels, and maneuvered and weaved singly into and through the group of cargo ships, circling and attacking various vessels from all directions. The aircraft dropped bombs, torpedoes and mines in what seemed to be a hurried and haphazard manner. The planes flew close aboard, strafing continually with their machine guns. They moved slowly and offered large, easy targets to the merchant vessels. The gun crew assisted by various members of the communications and merchant crews acting as loaders, downed five planes, four of which fell between 50 and 150 yards from the ship's side. The fifth plane left the ship, smoking and flaming, and was seen by the Master and many members of the ship's crew to fall several miles to the southwest. This plane did not pass through any other A. A. fire after leaving the vicinity of this ship. A sixth plane flew away from the ship, smoking and
flaming, and fell about 800 yards off our starboard quarter, after passing through the fire of the other vessels. Other planes were seen to fall from the fire of various ships of the convoy. (The senior officer controlled the 20 mm. fire from the bridge and the junior officer controlled the 3"/50 A. A. fire from the gun.) Fire opened at 2100 and ceased at about 2125 when the last remaining planes were driven off. During this time, 44 rounds of 3"/50 and 2,400 rounds of 20 mm. ammunition were fired at various ranges from 50 to 1,500 yards, and 3 rounds of 3"/50 ammunition, fuzed at 8 seconds were fired at a single high-level bomber flying about 4,000 yards directly overhead apparently for observation purposes. Two vessels of our convoy were hit and remained behind. No personnel casualties were suffered, although many bullets from the planes' machine guns and some from guns of our own ships were found about the decks. The gun crew secured from general quarters at 2225, and a special watch of 50 percent of the crew was set for the night, as the moon was full and bright, and a return attack seemed highly possible. Both officers remained topside. No further action was encountered.
Detailed report of the five planes referred to above shot down, is as follows:
- Approached ship 1 point on port bow, flying directly toward bow of ship, strafing with machine guns. Hit by shell from 3"/50 A. A. gun, at a range of 75 to 100 yards. Port engine and port wing blown off, plane veered to right and fell on port beam, distance about 50 yards.
- Approached ship broad on starboard bow, flying toward ship, then swinging right, and crossing bow at distance of 100 yards. Hit amidships by shell from 3"/50 A. A. gun, at range of about 100 yards. Plane broke up in air, burst into flame, swerved to left, and fell just forward of port beam, distance about 75 yards.
- Approached ship one point on starboard quarter, flying toward stern, strafing with machine guns. Hit by fire from 20 mm. guns, at a range of about 250 yards. Plane burst into flame, veered slightly to left, and fell on port quarter, distance about 150 yards.
- Approached ship two points abaft port beam, flying directly toward midships, strafing with machine guns. Hit by fire from 3"/50 and 20 mm. guns, at range of about 150 yards. Plane burst into flame, rose sharply on tail, lost a torpedo, and fell on port beam, distance about 100 yards. Two occupants of the plane were seen to jump or fall from plane as it rose on its tail.
- Approached ship broad on port quarter, flying toward ship, then swinging left, along port side at distance of about 150 yards. Hit by fire from 20 mm. guns at range of about 150 yards. Plane began to smoke heavily, showing small flame from starboard engine, veered to left, flew off in a southwesterly direction, low over water, intermittently gaining and losing altitude, until it burst into flame and fell into the water at a distance of several miles on port bow. This plane flew clear of other ships, and was not seen to receive further A. A. fire.
Detailed report of the remaining (sixth) plane referred to above, known to have been damaged by our ship is as-follows:
- Approached ship broad on starboard bow, flying toward ship, then swinging to left along starboard side at a distance of about 200 yards. Hit by fire from 20 mm. guns, at range of about 200 yards. Plane began to flame and smoke, veered to left, and fell at a distance of about 800 yards on starboard quarter, after passing through A. A. fire from other ships.
Aside from the contact reported, the only incident out of the routine occurred when we had two emergency turns to port. A friendly plane and two escort vessels on the starboard side of convoy appeared to be searching an area, and several red flares and rockets were observed. The all clear signal was given at 2223. We showed no lights, made no fog signals, and carried out zig-zag plans as and when ordered by Convoy Commodore.
2050 -- High A. A. burst seen on starboard beam.
2055 -- Sighted tracer, evidently from Escort, about 3 points on starboard bow. The general alarm was sounded and immediately we sighted low flying planes coming out of the sun toward the convoy. There seemed to be approximately 20 or
25 planes identified as HE 111's and JU 88's. Our guns were manned and ready and I gave orders to hold fire until in range. The planes were all in between columns attacking the ships with torpedoes, bombs, and strafing with machine gun fire. The first to get to us came in on the starboard bow and was met by #3 and #5 20 mms. It hit the water just abaft the beam and kept firing the guns not put out of commission until it went under. One coming in on the port side was shot down by the port 20 mms. Our guns fired at and hit other planes during this first attack but I did not see them go down. This attack seemed to last from 7 to 10 minutes.
About 12 to 15 planes were astern of us circling and maneuvering very low over the water. At approximately 2120 they came in very low, and were met by a well-concentrated fire from the stern ships. Our 3"/50 scored a direct hit on one and demolished it. The stern and midship 20 mms were firing into two more, one on each quarter that were brought down. This attack lasted approximately 15 minutes. We also scored some hits on other planes coming in toward us.
During this second attack the captain and quartermaster at the wheel saw the conning tower of a submarine about 200 yards away on our port beam that went down again immediately. The captain ordered hard left with the intention of ramming but we missed it. It was a fortunate move though, as just at this time a plane which was shot down by another ship on our port side dropped a torpedo at us. The men on the aft gun deck stated that it missed by less than 15 feet.
Our entire gun crew did an excellent job. Firing was held in check until planes were in range and I gave the order to commence fire, not more than half our guns were empty at a time. The two 3"/50 guns which were firing one and two second time fuzes kept their barrages well laid. Each man deserves commendation for cool, accurate, and well-placed firing. Not a single plane was able to cross our ship even when coming in and firing directly at us.
The merchant crew also did a great job of assisting on the guns, loading magazines and distributing them. They deserve a great deal of credit for the work that was necessary to the success of defending our ship.
We expended 36 rounds of 3"/50 A. A. ammunition and approximately 1,800 rounds of 20 mm ammunition.
"At 1715, No. 34, a tanker, was struck in the engine room and in the bow, both port side, by torpedoes and sank. We sighted three torpedoes, two of which missed and the third hit the bow of No. 34. The conning tower of the submarine was sighted between columns one and two and although we had our 4"/50 caliber gun trained on it, could not fire because another merchant ship was directly in the line of fire. We fired tracers to show the position. After firing the torpedoes at the tanker, the submarine submerged heading toward the middle of the convoy.
"At 2200, there were two explosions on the starboard wing of the convoy. There was machine gun fire and a few shots from deck guns, but we could not see what happened although the whole area was lighted by snowflakes.
"At 2300, a signalman sighted a torpedo fired from the port side, which just missed our bow. About 10 seconds later another from the same direction missed our stern by a few feet and struck No. 24, a tanker; however, this ship was able to proceed. A seaman on lookout sighted this torpedo, and fired with tracer in the direction from which it came. I sighted a surfaced submarine about two points forward of the port beam at about 500 yards and ordered 'open fire.' We fired three rounds from our 4"/50 caliber gun. The first and third were over but the second exploded under impact. We fired tracer to show the location and a few minutes later there were shots from escort deck guns in that location. A shower of snowflakes was up during this action."
"At 1015 the antiaircraft alarm sounded, and an enemy single engine plane was sighted about 7,000 yards range heading toward the ship. The gun crew opened fire with its 3"/50 cal. gun. Three shots were fired. The plane seemed to be affected by the shell burst and altered its course. After the third shot the order to cease firing was given because the cargo boom was in the way. However, the plane headed for the
desert and eventually was forced down. The gun crew was later given credit for shooting down this plane."
"At 1100 enemy air attacks commenced and continued throughout the day. At 1127 the M. S. was hit, set on fire and sunk evidently from an aerial torpedo. At 0620 the convoy was attacked by two cruisers and three destroyers. A smoke screen was laid by the remaining escort and the convoy ships circled behind this screen. At 0715 two dive bombers circled over the ship out of range of the guns. The 12-pounder was fired once to test the fuse setting relative to the planes. One plane peeled off in about a 70° dive coming forward along the axis of the ship. When within range, the guns of the ship opened fire. The dive lasted about 4 seconds and the plane sheered off to starboard as soon as the bombs were released at an estimated altitude of about 1,500 feet. This altering of course was perhaps to avoid pig trough fire which the Armed Guard officers fired just as the bombs were released by the plane. The ship was hit amidships on the starboard side, and a section of about 15 feet square of the hull plating was blown out. The main mast fell to port. The superstructure was severely twisted and torn apart. The concrete on the bridge and the coal deck cargo filled the air with flying particles and dust. The boats on the starboard side having been lowered nearly to the water level were swamped by the blast. Abandon ship was at will for the most part. The Armed Guard were previously given instructions for abandoning ship by their officer. Ship's confidential papers were gathered together in the chart room and were thrown over the side by the Armed Guard officer. The amidships was smoking but not in flames. When the flames could be seen rising over the deck, word was passed by the remaining officers for all hands to abandon ship on the port side. The last men left on board were ready to jump off up forward as the Armed Guard officer and several of the gun crew left the ship midships."
"1015 -- Convoy sighted by enemy reconnaissance aircraft.
"1020 -- All wooden decks were wet down.
"1110 -- 50 aircraft reported headed toward the convoy on the port bow.
"1115 -- Combined attack by high and medium level and torpedo bombers on the escorting warships. One torpedo bomber passed through the center of the convoy across the bow of the M. S. ____, which opened fire on it. The bomber continued to fly at about 20 feet and came across our bow, at which I opened fire with the 20 mm. gun located on the starboard wing of the bridge. Hits were observed being made and the bomber dropped into the sea about 1,000 yards on our starboard bow and sank almost immediately. It was reported that 3 planes had been shot down in this attack.
"1125 -- The second combined attack was made, during which a float torpedo plane made a run on our ship on the starboard beam. We opened fire on him but he was able to drop his torpedo about 1,000 yards away and escaped with a climbing turn. About one half minute later we were hit by this torpedo and almost simultaneously we were hit by 2 bombs dropped from medium level bombers. Fire started immediately, which almost completely enveloped the midship section on the starboard side. The ship took a list to starboard almost immediately of about 20°. The captain gave the order to abandon ship and though 2 lifeboats were put over the side both capsized. All life rafts had been released and most of us just dove over the side.
"1130 -- The ship sank by the stern. It was reported that this float torpedo plane had been shot down by another ship.
"1220 -- The survivors were picked up by a mine sweeper, and by motor launches. At this time it was noticed that a cruiser had been hit and was listing to starboard and was proceeding at a reduced speed. It was reported that a total of 12 aircraft had been shot down in this second attack.
"1820 -- The convoy was attacked by dive bombers, but no hits were observed, although several ships had near misses, which did them little or no damage. One bomber was observed to have been shot down by carrier-based fighters.
"2007 -- About 40 enemy aircraft, dive bombers and torpedo planes, attacked the convoy, but no hits were observed and 2 aircraft were observed to have been shot down.
"2035 -- Destroyers on the screen dropped depth charges. No results were reported.
"2130 -- Most of the escorting warships turned back, leaving the convoy with an escort consisting of one antiaircraft cruiser, eight destroyers, four mine sweepers and six motor launches. Up to this time it is believed that our ship was the only one to have been sunk.
"2200 -- One 4-engine bomber was reported to have attacked the convoy, and to have been shot down.
"2225 -- Flares were dropped by aircraft in an attempt to locate the convoy, but were dropped too far astern to illuminate the ships."
"____ 12th, single enemy plane sighted 1320. Number of ships opened fire, but since we were too far away we fired no shots. Innumerable depth charges were heard from 2100 to 2300.
"____ 13th, Hoisted signal at 1120 indicating that an attack was certain. At 1310, 4 or 5 planes were sighted flying high over the convoy. While these high-altitude bombers were circling overhead, 15 to 20 planes attacked the convoy from the starboard side. The planes flew very low, making fire from our side of the convoy quite dangerous to our ships. Ships broke regular formation, and made two 45° turns. The brunt of the attack was made on the last 2 columns on the starboard side (columns 9 and 10). The attack lasted about 1 hour and 45 minutes, during which time we lost 8 ships and the enemy lost an undetermined number of planes -- would estimate enemy loss conservatively at ten to fifteen planes. At 1810 the second attack came; planes attacking the convoy from every direction. In this attack the planes didn't come in as low, nor did they concentrate on any particular section of the convoy, which made it possible for us to drive them off without a single ship being lost. The attack lasted approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes. Would judge that the enemy lost between 6 to 8 planes.
" 14th, depth charges were dropped quite near our ship all night. We rang the general alarm at 0445, fearing the proximity of subs. Shortly after 0500, a tanker directly astern of us began to fall back and sink very slowly. An air attack came at 1240, with three groups of planes (five to six in each group) directing attack at aircraft carrier, three columns over
from our port side. This was, perhaps, the most daring attack made by the enemy -- planes flying directly into the heavy gun fire, four or five of them going down in flames. The enemy then withdrew, apparently giving up further attack of the carrier and scattering their attack over the entire convoy. Planes, for the most part, flew rather high, occasionally diving low through the clouds, but were not nearly as successful as on the previous day. Our losses in the attack, which lasted about 2 hours, totaled three merchant ships.
"____ 15th, sighted about 1015. Convoy was speeded up to 9 knots. Flag hoist at 1430, but no planes were sighted.
"____ 16th, 10 to 12 high-altitude bombers attacked convoy at 1235. Fighter planes were immediately launched from the aircraft carrier which were particularly effective in keeping the planes from diving low over the convoy. The attack lasted about an hour, during which time we suffered no losses.
"____ 17th, aircraft carrier, two subs, cruiser, and a number of destroyers turned back as the convoy approached . Flag hoist 1500, but no activity.
"____ 18th, at 1220 about 12 very low-flying bombers attacked the convoy directly astern, dropping both bombs and torpedoes. The planes came in very close to the ships, flying at a comparatively slow speed. The left-hand side of the convoy (columns 1 to 5) were attacked the heaviest, however we were able to do some very effective firing, and the attack did not last long. Torpedoes were sighted off both port and starboard sides of the ship traveling very little in excess of the speed of the convoy. We lost one ship during the attack, and an estimated figure for the number of enemy planes brought down would be 6 to 8.
"____ 19th, arrived 2005. Sea rough. Passed word to 'anchor as convenient.'
"____ 20th, air attack came 1330 with planes flying very high, scarcely visible above the clouds. A number of bombs were dropped, but no hits were scored. Attack lasted less than an hour. We did comparatively little firing, since planes stayed out of reach, for the most part. Pilot came aboard 1710.
"____ 21st, anchored 0825 near docks."
"A formation of 40-50 torpedo planes were sighted approaching at an altitude of 50-100 feet off the starboard bow. As the formation came in, it split, one group coming in from more nearly ahead and the other from the beam. The escort put up a heavy barrage and when the planes came within range, the convoy joined in the fire. The planes did not break formation or swerve from the attack, however. The attack lasted about 1 minute.
"The S. S. ____ was hit by a torpedo which reportedly blew away the bow peak and right after that by another in No. 2 hold, just forward of the bridge, on the starboard side. She started going down by the head very rapidly, and listing to starboard. The forward port lifeboat, the after starboard lifeboat, and one life raft were gotten clear. As the boat I was in went past the stern, the propeller was out of the water, barely turning backward, and the rudder was mostly out of the water, turned to the left. A few men fell into the water and we pulled them into the boat. All of the gun crew is known to be saved. We rowed to the U.S.S. ____ and were taken on board."
"At 0900 (0800 G. C. T.) the S. S. ____ in position 104 was observed to be hit by a torpedo fired from a submarine (there were no planes in sight). She immediately took a starboard list and sank in less than 5 minutes. Two lifeboats were observed pulling away from her as she went down. Approximately 3 minutes after the S. S. ____ was hit and before she sank the S. S. ____ in a position slightly astern and to the port of the S. S. ____ was hit by a torpedo fired from a submarine. She appeared to have been hit in No. 5 hold as she was down by the stern immediately but did not sink for some time. (Observed to be still afloat at 0945.) At the time of this attack the escorting vessels covering this sector of the convoy were out on the horizon, fully 3 miles from the scene of action. It was at least 15 minutes before any destroyers or corvettes arrived on the scene of the attack and dropped depth charges. There was a great deal of indiscriminate firing in the water by merchant ships and the convoy formation deteriorated rapidly as ships altered course to port -- away from the locality of the submarine attack.
"At approximately 0945 (0845 G. C. T.) enemy aircraft were reported approaching convoy and two planes were observed circling convoy for some time. The undersigned did not observe whether fighter planes from the carrier went up at this time or not.
"At 1510 (1410 G. C. T.) and without any previous warning from S. S. ____ or any escorting ships, the Navy gunner manning starboard 20 mm. gun observed enemy plane approaching ship from starboard bow at an altitude of about 2,000 feet, but descending in a shallow dive to get below the clouds. Fire was opened immediately by starboard 20 mm. gun, followed by port 20 mm. gun and both .50 caliber machine guns. Very effective hits were obtained and starboard engine of plane was trailing smoke as she passed out of range. This plane dropped one load of 3 sticks of bombs which landed about 75 feet abeam of after gun platform. It is believed that this plane was a Junkers 88. At least one other plane and probably two passed overhead almost immediately after the first plane, as one load of bombs was observed to land just ahead of the S. S. ____ and another just ahead of the S. S. ____ Planes were not seen due to low ceiling.
"At 1540 (1440 G. C. T.) approximately 40 torpedo carrying planes were observed on the horizon bearing about 2 points forward of starboard beam. Escorting ships in that area were about 3 miles from the starboard side of the convoy. They opened up with a heavy AA fire but due to the distance of our ship from the escorting ships it was not discernible whether any enemy planes were shot down or not. At any rate, the planes continued their approach to the convoy in formation. They were flying very low -- between 50 and 100 feet, and as they came within range of the guns on the merchant ships they went through a hedge-hopping maneuver. From our ship it was impossible to tell at what point the planes released their torpedoes or how many torpedoes each plane released. The planes came into the convoy past column 9 but none were observed to come as far as column 7. After releasing their torpedoes the planes banked to their left and departed off the starboard quarter of the convoy. Every ship to the starboard of our ship opened fire with everything they had and there was a solid barrage of machine-gun tracers surrounding the enemy
planes. Burst from shrapnel shells were very numerous. The number of planes which may have been destroyed by this fire was not discernible from our ship. We opened fire on the nearest planes with our 20-mm.'s and .50-calibers, but as they were out of range only a few rounds were fired. Two rounds of shrapnel were fired from our 4"/50 and a 'near miss' was scored near the tail of one plane. Damage done was not ascertainable. No fighter planes from the aircraft carrier took off during this attack. The cruiser ____ was not in position No. 51 nor could it be observed anywhere during this attack. Pursuant to convoy instructions that balloons were only to be flown on orders from ____, no balloons were flying."
"The after lookout sighted the exposed part of a submarine's conning tower in the center of the convoy and just a few yards off our starboard quarter. In fact, she was so close aboard that neither the 4-inch gun mounted on the stern nor the machine gun mounted on the poop deck were able to be brought to bear on it. Evidently realizing that we had sighted her, the submarine changed course and came across the port quarter. When she was about 25 yards away from the ship, fire opened with the 4-inch gun. The second shot struck her squarely on the conning tower and as the shell exploded, the top of the conning tower was blown off. As she appeared to sink, the water boiled up in a great froth of air and bubbles. After observing the spot where she sank, we saw an oil slick forming and occasional bubbles rising to the surface. At this point one of the gunners reported the torpedo missed us but a few feet."
The master of a ship makes the following comment:
"I want to commend the Navy gun crew carried on my ship for their actions becoming to the traditions of the United States Navy. At the time of the first explosion, each man obeyed his standing order of taking up his gun station. They remained at their guns until ordered to leave. I would recommend these boys for ratings of some sort for their action in the emergency."
"At 0440, four 4-motored Junker 90 or Focke-Wulf airplanes came upon the convoy off the port quarter and flying within
150 feet of the water. Evidently the two escort vessels guarding the port flank did not see the planes, because not until after the two after .50 caliber machine guns and two .30 caliber opened up did the escort vessels commence firing. The concentrated firing from our guns diverted the planes, and kept them from flying directly over the convoy, causing them to drop their torpedoes which passed harmlessly by our stern. The four planes circled the convoy, attacked the starboard flank, but were successfully repelled."
"Gun crew IE shot down two enemy planes, helped bring down a third, put one rear gunner out of action and hit several others, causing slight damage."
"At 0925 enemy patrol plane Dornier scout bomber approached port wing at 6,000 feet. All nine of the antiaircraft guns opened fire before any other ship in the convoy. AA fire turned planes, which circled convoy and dropped two bombs in the sea and departed."
"Two members of the gun crew who were lost behaved in an exceptionally exemplary manner ; one, although seriously injured by falling debris, took charge of his gun crew and refused to abandon ship until dragged away. The other completely refused to abandon ship and remained at his station until the ship sank, firing one shot at the emerging submarine."
"The convoy of 23 ships passed through the Straits in a double column during a storm. That evening a signal was made for a course change which apparently was not received by the end ships. Consequently 12 of them were separated from the convoy and next day radio messages were received stating that they were proceeding to various ports. We passed through heavy ice fields. Ice became heavier and while making an emergency turn in a blizzard to get out of the ice, stern lights were lit and regular fog signals made. The next night the ships became separated but reformed the following morning. Later another ship joined us, which was separated from a group of
8 ships which was supposed to have joined us. A few days later a Focke-Wulf Condor appeared in the morning and circled the convoy. Loud, heavy gunfire was heard over the horizon and shortly afterwards an escort appeared moving at high speed. It was learned later that three enemy destroyers had been intercepted. About 1100 another plane appeared and apparently relieved the other. This one circled the convoy until about 1600 and disappeared. The planes, sending radio signals, flew at very low altitude and outside the range of the guns. The next day the plane appeared at about the same time and went through the same tactics but didn't stay long. At 1235 the Commodore's ship was torpedoed and sank in less than a minute. We were next in the column and could see a number of survivors in the water. Thirty-one of them were saved by the rescue ships which were stationed astern of the convoy. At least two more torpedoes passed through the convoy without hitting anyone. Next day a bombing attack was made by a single plane. No damage was caused. Later that morning torpedoes crossed ahead of the leading ships and the escorts apparently sank a submarine close on the starboard side. Complete report was made of the foregoing to the naval attaché.
"About 2300 the ship tied up to the main dock and began discharging cargo. At 2400 there was an air raid and bombs were dropped down the river. During daylight there is a constant air patrol above. Soldiers are employed to unload the ships and the cargo is loaded directly into freight cars and taken from the dock which is the principal target of the air raids.
"The following night there was an air attack and numerous dog fights ensued during which at least three planes were shot down by the patrol planes.
"The next few days the weather was overcast with snow flurries. Early in the morning the convoy was attacked by four torpedo-carrying aircraft. No ships were hit. About 1300, enemy surface craft were sighted. The four accompanying destroyers immediately laid a smoke screen on the side from which they were approaching and the merchant ships equipped with smoke pots lit them off. There were three German destroyers and they made five attempts to attack the convoy but were driven off each time. During the battle a small
ship was hit and sank. Later the convoy passed through a heavy ice pack and escaped in a heavy snowstorm.
"At 1000 the following day a large east-bound convoy was sighted, and in the afternoon a reconnaissance plane circled the convoy until we were enveloped by heavy snow flurries. The following day two friendly cruisers were sighted, one of which sent up a scouting plane. Floating mines were sighted, which passed clear of the convoy.
"We took aboard five members of the crew of a torpedoed ship."
"On a third aerial attack a plane flying very low over the ship was struck by .50 cal. tracers, which could be seen entering the fuselage. It was later learned that this same plane was found beached with over a thousand rounds in the plane with seven dead Japs."
"The sub called lifeboats alongside, inquired what ship and if any men injured, gave them their position, course, and a stock of medical supplies and proceeded off on the surface heading southeast. The sub was described as Italian, large, over 1,000 tons, with a 4-inch or slightly larger gun mounted on deck forward, machine guns on forward part of conning tower, and a heavy antiaircraft gun mounted aft of conning tower. It was painted light gray and appeared new, a Rams Head insignia was painted below conning tower. The crew appeared to be mixed Germans and Italians, some of whom wore Alpine skull caps and had a Rams Head insignia embroidered on the side of their shorts. The officers appeared to be young Germans, clean shaven and healthy looking."
"I boarded the ship after it had been loaded and awaiting further orders. We left in convoy, but the convoy was soon split into two sections. Soon after leaving, the master advised me that he had received advices that a ship had been sunk on our course in an area which we would reach sometime that afternoon. The usual full dawn watch was maintained by the gun crew from 0400 to 0630; thereafter five men remained on watch on the gun deck covering an arc of watch of approximately
300° clockwise from 30 degrees on the starboard bow. In addition to the watch maintained by the gun crew, the ship maintained a lookout watch as usual, consisting of a man in the crow's nest, a man stationed on the port bridge wing and the officers on watch on the starboard bridge wing.
"About 1415, a member of the merchant crew on the forecastle deck yelled 'Torpedo.' An unknown submarine released two torpedoes, one missing the ship's stem, the other, the stern. A third torpedo struck on the starboard bow in No. 1 hold. The submarine or its periscope was never sighted but a 'slick' appeared on the surface on the starboard, going astern. I ordered fire to be opened at the continuously moving forward end of the 'slick' within a minute after the torpedo had struck. Five rounds were fired. The ammunition used was common ogival pointed impact projectiles. The first and second shells exploded but there was no indication of a hit. The range was 800 yards and the projectiles clearly hit in the 'slick.'
"The ship's boats were being lowered by 1418 and practically all of the ship's crew were in the boats. The master had been disposing of his papers by throwing them over the side in a metal container which he had devised for that purpose. The container weighed about 80 pounds with hundreds of holes drilled in it and made a very convenient box for the keeping of the papers and the disposition of the same. The depth of the water was more than 100 fathoms.
"From my station on the gun deck I requested of the master how long the ship could be expected to remain afloat. By his gestures it appeared that in his opinion there was very little time. At the first impact, the ship started to sink rapidly by the head, so that I ordered the gun crew to abandon ship. All took to the boats except five who aided the chief mate in salvaging sextants and other instruments. Two assisted me in disposing of the registered papers entrusted to me by taking a canvas bag issued for that purpose, with the secured papers therein, and dropping the same over the side. By 1425, the ship was completely abandoned and the life boats and rafts which were loosed were rowed to a position about 300 yards on the port quarter.
"By 1430 the ship had ceased settling and it appeared certain that she would remain afloat for some time, according to the
master. I called for volunteers among the gun crew to return aboard with me. Every man volunteered including most of the merchant crew and all of the merchant crew in No. 3 boat, in charge of the second mate. Time being short, I did not pick up all the gun crew members from the other boats, but returned to the ship in boat No. 3 with 4 members of the gun crew and approximately 10 of the merchant crew, including the radio operator, boarding her at about 1440. The gun crew members and myself concealed ourselves to some extent around the ready service box aft. The radio operator repaired his radio and got off the call. It was the first time the radio had been used since leaving ____. Other members of the merchant crew secured supplies, etc., from the ship and stood by below.
"At about 1510, a 'slick' was discovered on the starboard side going astern at about 1,200 yards. One round was fired which appeared to hit in the slick. The projectile did not explode. The ship listed sharply to port, and I ordered the gun crew men to abandon ship. The second torpedo hit was made on the starboard bow abaft of the first hit. The vessel began settling rapidly by the head as the boat was pulled away. She sank, stein first, disappearing beneath the surface at 1540.
"By 1600, all four of the boats, containing an approximately equal number of men, set sail to the southward. All reached ____ on the morning of Wednesday, ____ safe and sound. The conduct of the merchant men during action and in the lifeboats was excellent and morale high. The gun crew men acted quickly and fearlessly and are worthy of consideration for advancement.
"About 5 minutes prior to the first torpedo hit, an Army bomber was observed to have crossed our course northward. After the first abandonment of the ship, a plane was observed heading on a course toward us, but did not approach any closer than 5 miles and did not acknowledge the distress signals displayed by the lifeboats.
"Special mention should be made of the full and enthusiastic cooperation received from the master and all officers of the ship, and the willingness of the crew to assist."
"The high degree of cooperation given to the Armed Guard by the merchant officers and men is worthy of special notation. Their intelligent concept of the seriousness of the war, together
with their keen desire to serve their country has resulted in a relationship motivated by a common policy of increasing the wartime efficiency of the ship. The supplementing of naval gun crews, on board this ship, with merchantmen is no longer any problem. Since the first of the year, the number of men taking instruction in gunnery, and qualifying has steadily increased, with the result that the Armed Guard maintains an unlimited supply of merchant seamen ready and willing to serve on the guns. Many of the merchantmen are standing an additional 2 hours a day on gun watches. For example, every member of the engineering department stood a 2-hour a day machine gun watch in addition to their regular duties. Both the chief officer and chief engineer have assisted the Armed Guard in various jobs at the expense of their own time and duties. As a result it can be stated that the relationship between the Armed Guard and the merchant crew on board this ship has been excellent.
"The loyalty, conduct, aptitude, and efficiency of the enlisted personnel has been excellent. Infractions of discipline have been few, and of such a nature as to be easily handled on board. The long, tedious hours of watch, the confinement, and the lack of time and facilities for recreation has not injured the morale of the men. At present their morale is excellent and they are showing a great interest in their work and responsibilities. Since the first of the year there has been a marked improvement in the merit of the work done by the men, and a much keener understanding of their responsibilities. At present three seamen second class have been acting as gun captains, executing their positions in a commendable manner, and making up for their lack of experience with hard work, ambition, and study. The living facilities for the enlisted men are good, and the messing facilities very good. The health of this unit as a whole has been very good, and with the exception of one chronic case of rheumatism there was no one confined to sick bay for a period of more than a few days."
"The chief engineer was one of 13 members of the 25-man crew announced by naval authorities as rescued from the two life rafts. The 12 others are believed to have gone down with the ship, which sank in 30 seconds after having been almost broken in half by a torpedo explosion.
"There was no previous warning of a submarine's presence, related the engineer, and the ship sank so rapidly that those of the crew who could simply jumped overboard. Thirteen finally were assembled on the two rafts.
"The Chief told this story :
"'About 5 minutes after the ship went down, approximately 1 p. m., a submarine surfaced about 300 yards away and its commander, who spoke broken English, asked for the captain of the ship. Told that the officers were killed, he asked the chief engineer aboard the submarine. Then the submarine commander, a dark-complexioned, sunburned, unshaven and stockily built man of about 25, wearing shorts, no shirt and blue cap with yellow insignia, talked to the survivor on the after deck. "I think this is a surprise to you," said the submarine commander. "Anything can happen in war," was the reply. "I am sorry this had to happen to you," continued the submarine officer. "I'll give you two loaves of bread." Here followed the presentation of two loaves of dark-brown, hard bread, three meat cans full of water and the submarine commander's attempt to wish his victims a "happy voyage." He extended his hand, but the chief did not take it, merely saying, "Thank you for your bread and water." The commander appeared to become quite angry and walked toward the conning tower, but came back again and asked the chief to shake hands, with the same result. A third try likewise was rebuffed. (The chief believes it probably was the commander's purpose, for propaganda reasons to have a handshaking photographed by one of the three other men on the conning tower). The chief asked the commander how far away they were from the coast, and the commander replied, "Go west to the coast." The submarine then went away in an easterly direction. The men on the two rafts were rescued by a naval vessel the next afternoon."'
"A Navy gunner told how he survived the torpedoing of his American merchantman off the Atlantic coast and was picked up by a rescue ship, and then 3 days later manned the rescue ship's stern gun and almost certainly sank a U-boat with a direct hit.
"At 8: 10 a. m., a lookout sang out that he saw the submarine to starboard, but he made a mistake and suddenly we saw the
sub's conning tower a few yards away on the port side. The sub had to crash dive to keep us from ramming her. Perhaps 20 minutes later we saw her 200 yards off the port side, but she submerged before we could fire. Then in about 40 minutes, we saw her again, 200 yards to port. We opened fire. Our first shot was long. I took a new range and ordered fire. By this time I could only see her periscope. I aimed to hit her amidships, and the second shell struck that position. A great black column of smoke, 50 feet high, went up after the explosion. We didn't see that sub again; I think we got her.
"After the submarine sinking, the rescue ship was escorted into port by Navy planes. The narrator said he had crossed the Equator nine times, but the most fun he ever had out of sailing was to crack a shell into the U-boat."
"We were struck by two torpedoes. The first hit apparently amidships and on the port side. The second hit just forward of the bridge about 10-20 seconds after the first. There was little confusion. I went to the bridge which I had left to check the lights and watch. On the bridge I looked for the submarine but could see nothing. I attempted to use telephones to get to the gun crew on the gun deck but phones were dead. I could see the gun was manned. The gun crew had attempted to load the 5-inch gun but it had been torn loose from its base and was in no condition to be fired.
"It became evident that the ship was sinking rapidly, so I ordered the bridge watch to go to boat stations (the ship's whistle did not work). I got my life belt and went to my station. On the way I met the captain who seemed to be dazed. I told him to get a life belt and come along. I waited for him to get his belt, then led him across the deck to the midships house. We waded in water about knee deep on the main deck. The boats on the port side were both smashed by the explosion. I saw Chief Mate Barris, launching a raft in which he had seven men. Then I went for my boat station. The captain and I were the last men on the boat deck and I tried to hand him a line. He missed and it swung out carrying me. As I swung
back, I tried to grab the captain by the belt, but he resisted and someone pulled me down with the boat just as the ship slid under. We were riding practically on top the boat deck and thought the funnel was going to hit us as it toppled. Boat No. 3, in charge of the third mate, rammed us and we had quite a time warding it off, but finally they pulled away. We searched the wreckage and pulled in two or three men, then met the other boat and told them to search one direction for survivors while we search the lights in another direction.
"The first torpedo struck at approximately 1903-1904 and when we pulled away from the ship and had picked up the second survivor, I looked at my watch and it was just 1915.
"We found the raft and tied onto it, then rested oars and floated the rest of the night. There was no disorder in the boat and Mr. ____ held control very well. The men rowed when told with no grumbling. There was no sign of hysteria at all. At about 0630, we sighted the Navy air patrol. We took the men off the raft and cast it loose. By this time the other boat had come up and we tied together.
"At about 1000 we sighted smoke on the horizon. It hung there for a long time until about 1300 when it began to approach. Then from the opposite direction we noted a freighter approach. It stopped for us."
"In the confusion resulting from the torpedoing several rafts were cut loose while the ship was making full speed and were consequently lost far astern. According to the survivors' testimony, the rudder was hard right, so that when No. 2 lifeboat was lowered it was caught in the propeller, and completely demolished. The nine survivors dove off the ship on the starboard side and over the stern, and succeeded in either reaching the two rafts on which they were later found, or were picked up by those already on the rafts, who were paddling around trying to help those in the water. All members of the crew had police whistles which were being blown from all directions by men floating in the water. Unfortunately, darkness prevented their being located, and finally the rafts drifted away and the sounds of the whistles were soon lost. The ship was
seen to hesitate and then plunge to the bottom. The survivors were later picked up."
"The alert Navy gun crew of a United States cargo ship hit and almost certainly sank an Axis submarine off the coast of Cuba, the master of the vessel said today.
"The raider was taken by surprise and did not have time to fire torpedoes or get its deck guns into action. Its machine gun went into action and about 30 bullets struck the ship without doing any damage.
"The American ship's engines were not running so the submarine apparently had not been warned of its presence by listening devices and was caught by surprise as it came to the surface.
"The raider was sighted as it broke water some 400 yards from the ship. The alarm was given for the gun crew, and within a minute all five men were at their stations and firing. The master sounded the general alarm for the entire crew and ordered full speed ahead, steering to allow the gun crew at the stern to bear on the raider.
"The first shot from the merchantman was a near miss. The second, fired at about 200 feet pointblank range, struck the submarine at the water line, just forward of the conning tower, as the craft seemed to be crash-diving. At this shot there was a muffled explosion and the submarine turned over sideways as it went down. The whole thing didn't last over 3 minutes."
"According to the survivors the ship, after being hit, took an immediate list to starboard estimated at from 20° to 35°. All ship's lights were immediately extinguished by the force of the explosion. The starboard lifeboat and forward raft were demolished by the explosion as well. In practically every case the survivors proceeded to the boat deck and found No.1 boat completely wrecked and No. 2 lifeboat already fully loaded. Several of the men questioned aided in lowering No. 2 lifeboat after which they attempted to launch life rafts. During all this time no attempt had been made to secure the main engines, which were still turning full speed ahead. One survivor told of going to the bridge where he saw and heard the captain trying frantically to have the engines stopped.
"The ship had aboard a Navy gun crew of about eight men. Witnesses stated that all members of the gun crew reported to their stations immediately after the explosion. The gun was trained to starboard and a diligent search was made with glasses for a submarine on the surface. When the forward part of the ship was awash orders were given to abandon ship. United States Navy gun crew members were the last men to leave the ship."
Encounter With Enemy Submarine
At 1220, a gunner's mate third class spotted submarine conning tower two points abaft port beam, distance approximately 2,500 yards. Conning tower disappeared, but periscope extending 3 feet above surface was exposed for 1 minute. Observation confirmed by gun crew members and ship's first officer.
The position of the S. S. _____ was estimated to be _____ and had been zigzagging.
Gun crew and general alarms were sounded and wheel turned hard right to have submarine bearing astern. This relative position was maintained for about 5 minutes and then the ship swung right 45°. Five minutes later, a smoke pot was lit and thrown overboard, and in several minutes 2 more pots were lit an held aboard. This course was held for 15 minutes, full speed ahead without zigzag. During this period, an S S S S radio dispatch was sent and a plan of action discussed with master.
At 1245, the ship turned right 180°, approximately traversing previous course, 1 mile to leeward.
At 1257, periscope, 2 feet above surface, distance 1,400 yards sighted slightly port to dead ahead, traveling right angle to port at estimated speed of 10 knots.
Immediately, 3"/50 forward gun went into action with control from flying bridge position.
Forward 20-mm. guns would not bear at target because of kingpost gear arrangement. Results of:
3"/50 -- round 1: 400 yards over, right 1 mil.
3"/50 -- round 2: 150 yards over, right 3 mils.
3"/50 -- round 3: 100 yards short, no deflection.
3"/50 -- rounds 4-11: All splashes in vicinity of periscope.
3"/50 -- rounds 12-15: On target, no change, rapid fire action, range 900 yards. Gunnery officer could not observe results because of intervention of forward port kingpost. All rounds reported in close vicinity of periscope with possible hit. Gun crew noted explosion on round 14.
Forward port 20-mm. gun opened fire just before end of action with 47 rounds expended in vicinity. No hits.
One torpedo wake, portside, was observed.
At 1300, gunnery officer gained portside of flying bridge and the periscope was not apparent. Cease fire ordered with all possible guns bearing on area where periscope was last observed. The ship continued port swing and in due time resumed course.
In the early stages of the voyage a few floating mines were sighted which were sunk by gunfire of the escorts. About 2330, one enemy aircraft was seen on the horizon. This plane later streaked across in front of the convoy at a distance of about 2 miles but was driven off by gunfire of the escorts. At 2130, one enemy attacked the convoy. On this run the aircraft dropped three light bombs and was observed to suffer a hit. On a second attempt by the same plane he was shot down into the sea. On ____ we were circled practically the entire day by enemy planes. At about 0025 the convoy was attacked by five large enemy aircraft. Three of these planes were observed to release two torpedoes apiece, three of these found their mark and three of our ships were lost. Two of the enemy aircraft were observed to crash and two more wee observed to suffer hits. The wake of a torpedo was observed broad on our starboard bean at a distance of about 1,500 yards. The ship was immediately sent to full ahead and the wheel put hard over to the right. The torpedo passed astern at a distance of about 25 yards. Later on the remaining enemy aircraft dropped several bombs from a high altitude which fell harmlessly into the sea within the convoy. In the afternoon and evening of ____ we were again circled by enemy aircraft which were driven off by gunfire of the escort when they attempted to attack.
While in ____ we went to General Quarters on 31 different occasions. Enemy aircraft were observed about half of the alerts. Several bombing attacks were carried out but most of
them from a fairly high altitude. No bombs fell within 500 yards of our ship although enemy aircraft passed close enough for us to open fire on several occasions.
We left ____. Continuous gun and lookout watch was maintained throughout the entire trip.
There were several depth bomb attacks during the early part of the trip. At 0450 two large enemy aircraft were observed on the horizon. At about 0750 the ____ released her fighter plane which pursued and shot down one Focke-Wulf. The fighter plane survived the encounter with no damage but when the pilot attempted to bail out and land his parachute failed to open and he fell into the sea. He was picked up seriously hurt and later died of injuries received. The remaining enemy aircraft was driven off by gunfire of the escorts. The remainder of the trip was uneventful. A few depth charges were released. No mines were seen during the return voyage. I received perfect cooperation from the entire merchant personnel at all times.
Resume: S. S. ____ went alongside at ____, to unload cargo. Unloading operations were completed ____. During this period there were 42 air alerts, during which antiaircraft guns were manned on this vessel. During this same period German planes came over eight times. 2400, ____, formation of enemy planes (possibly five ME-110's) attacked ships in harbor and alongside. One plane flew directly over this ship and dropped bombs. Two bombs landed 50 feet off our port quarter, 2 fell into the water 100 feet off our port bow, and 1 landed on the dock, 50 feet directly off our starboard beam, blowing up tank parts and making a bomb crater about 30 feet wide and 10 feet deep. These were said to be 500-kilo bombs. During the action there was a hang fire on our forward gun on the second round. The plane that attacked this ship came out of the clouds and was first seen at a position angle of approximately 45°. Consequently there was very little time to bring the gun into action. No casualties and no damage was sustained by this ship. One enemy plane was shot down by fighters. Three more enemy planes reported downed.
1500; ____, formation of German planes attacked ships at anchor in the stream. One German plane reported brought down. Damage inflicted on ships, undetermined. 1630, ____,
air alert sounded. One enemy plane sighted and fire opened by this ship, ____ fighter planes appeared immediately and drove off enemy plane. 1000, ____, enemy dive bombers, escorted by fighter planes, attacked ships at anchor in stream. Air battle, in which at least 50 planes were engaged, followed. One enemy plane was seen to go down and crash in the mountains. More reported downed. Damage inflicted on ships at anchor, undetermined. 1710, ____, this ship opened fire on enemy reconnaissance plane. Shore batteries and H. M. S. ____ joined fire. Plane was seen to turn away. A formation of enemy bombers (possibly six JU-89) with fighter protection attacked harbor installation and ships in stream. Two enemy bombers flew over from the port side but no bombs were dropped. ____ fighter planes were very active. One ____ Hurricane was shot down ; pilot was seen to parachute to safety. ____, anchored in stream several miles below ____. 1115 same date, five JU-89's with fighter protection attacked ships in stream. This ship was the first to be on the alert and fired a warning shot while enemy planes were still out of range. Enemy planes appeared very suddenly from over the mountains to launch their attack. Bombs landed near several anchored ships, but only the ____ was damaged by bombs which landed near her stern.
1500, ____ proceeded to sea in convoy bound for ____. 0500, ____, air alert sounded. Enemy seaplane was seen scouting convoy off on the horizon. This plane later was joined by three JU-88's. 0800 S. S. ____ launched her Hurricane fighter, which immediately pursued and attacked the enemy. One JU-88 was seen to leave the engagement trailing smoke. Destroyers later signaled; enemy aircraft crashed into the sea. Our fighter returned and circled the convoy for about 45 minutes.
"On the recent torpedoing of our Motorship ____ in Atlantic waters, we wish to refer to the activities of the officer in charge of the Armed Guard, as reported to us by the master and other officers of the ship and by surviving passengers.
"The captain reports that ____ was earnest and conscientious in carrying out his duties and in drilling the personnel of the Armed Guard; that he directed their efforts to such an
extent that when the emergency arose, they were instantaneously at their own gun positions and fired their battery as long as the ship was afloat; that he remained on board to the very last and as the ship sank and the bridge decks were awash, he and the master of the vessel together swam to gratings or life rafts and were later rescued.
"Information from the master and other personnel on board is that the gun crew comported themselves in a way that lends credit to the naval service, and is deserving of commendation."
The chief officer stated there were about 30 escort vessels including a plane carrier which had 14 Hurricanes aboard. There was also either a cruiser or a large destroyer together with other destroyers, corvettes, mine sweeper and two AA ships.
The first attack occurred on the 13th. On this day, as on the following days a submarine attack took place in the morning followed by an airplane attack in the afternoon. The airplane attack on the 13th was made by Heinkel 115 torpedo planes. There were about 40 in a flight. First 25 would attack and then 15 or 20 more. The first day they concentrated on the two right-hand columns of the convoy, of which subject vessel was No. 13. The second day the attacks were concentrated on the plane carrier which was about 1,000 yards on the port beam of subject vessel. The sequence of attacks was as follows: On the first 2 days there were low level attacks. On the third day there was a high level attack; on the fourth day there was a let-up and no attack was made. On the next day by a low level attack. The commodore of the convoy ordered the course altered under the attacks, as of the 13th when course was altered 45° to port, 45° once more and 45° to starboard. The convoy kept form. As the attacking planes came in, the senior escort which was a new British destroyer would go toward the attackers and then turn broadside. While the damage done in the various attacks was heavy, chief officer believes that it would have been much greater if it had not been for the presence of the aircraft carrier. He also considers the manner in which the convoy kept formed was important.
He praised highly the performance of the Navy gunners throughout the action. The Navy gunners were assisted by
members of the deck and stewards' departments who aided in reloading magazines, passing shells and also manned the forward Oerlikon gun. The chief officer states that the commanding officer of the gun crew maintained strict discipline with his crew and drilled them constantly. He believes that this is largely responsible for the fine performance that the gun crew turned in.
The actions by the Ensign in command of the gun crew were considered by chief officer to be particularly noteworthy. On the day following one of the high level attacks, a low level attack was made. Apparently foreseeing that this would be the case, the commanding officer of the gun crew prepared his 4"/50 stern gun with 6-second, 4-second and 2-second time fuze shells. (These shells were 4" shrapnel put aboard by the British for this particular convoy.) Three German planes attacked on the starboard quarter. At the ensign's order the 6-second and 4 -- second shells were fired and then as the planes closed in the 2-second shells were fired. Chief officers comment was "we saw no more of the planes." At another time the ensign was standing on the bridge when he spotted a torpedo which had been dropped by one of the planes and which was heading for the subject vessel. He shouted "hard right"; the Master ordered "hard right rudder" and the torpedo missed. Chief officer believes that this quick thinking by the Ensign saved the vessel from being hit.
While the chief officer did not see any plane brought down by an Oerlikon gun, he believes that the tracer bullets had a psychological effect on the enemy pilots. In one instance the tracer struck an attacking plane and clung to the motor. The pilot apparently became nervous and dropped his bombs without aiming and they fell into the sea harmlessly.
Outstanding Acts of Heroism by Armed Guards
In reporting the first engagement between an armed United States merchantman and enemy raiders, the merchantman went down, her colors still flying and guns blazing. She was battered from stem to stern, her main boiler was hit and her speed was reduced to one knot. Shells struck the radio mast and destroyed
the aerial; the steering engine room was hit by shrapnel and incendiary shells; the main deck house was set afire; the ship was slowly flooding from numerous hits below the waterline, but her guns continued to blaze defiance.
High among the names of men whose action was praised by survivors was that of Lt. (jg) Kenneth M. Willett, Sacramento, Calif., listed as missing.
The engagement started a little after noon. Lt. (jg) Willett came out on deck as the first shell exploded. Immediately he was seriously wounded in the stomach by shrapnel from a bursting shell, but continued to his station at the 4" gun. He directed his crew and manned the gun himself with deadly effect, pumping shells into the smaller, more heavily armed of the two raiders. He kept up a sustained and rapid fire at close range, hitting his target along the water line with most of the 35 shells fired. Because of his great personal valor and gallant spirit of self-sacrifice, he was able to maintain a determined and heroic defense of his ship until forced by a magazine explosion to cease his fire. Still refusing to give up, Lt. (jg) Willett, obviously weakened and suffering, went down on deck and was last seen helping to cast loose the life rafts in a desperate effort to save the lives of others. The ship was shelled repeatedly from stem to stern, but before she plunged stern first, wrecked and blazing into the sea, her guns had inflicted serious damage on both enemy raiders and caused the probable destruction of one of them.
Lt. (jg) Willett has been awarded the Navy Cross posthumously for extraordinary heroism and courageous devotion to duty.
Ten survivors have arrived at the port of New York from a torpedoed and destroyed vessel. She was attacked in the Caribbean with a loss of 39 lives, including all officers aboard.
Survivors arriving there spoke of the devotion to duty of Lt. (jg) Kenneth Muir, commanding officer of the gun crew. The only survivor who gave any details concerning Lt. (jg) Muir's reported heroism was a wiper. He had been on the ship since last May, and had daily contact afloat and ashore with Lt. (jg) Muir. He said that the ship sank in 1 minute, after two torpedoes struck her forward and amidships, both on
the port side. Four other survivors are in Trinidad. In the general confusion, he said that Lt. (jg) Muir's coolness was outstanding. The wiper's hasty account of the action follows:
"I don't know how he could be so calm. In the light of saltwater flares that lit up the stern of the sinking ship, men in the water could see that one of his arms had been blown off at the shoulder. I can't remember which one, it was all so quick. He rushed three men to the stern and made them leap clear of the ship, then he went back for more. We couldn't hear what he said, but he was urging them to leap off her. He must have been in great pain, too. But he did not leap. He went down with some of his gunners.
"I was going to join the Marines soon. But now I'm going to stay in the merchant marine. I'm mighty proud to have served on a ship with a guy as fine as Lt. (jg) Muir."
Lt. (jg) Muir has been awarded the Navy Cross posthumously for extraordinary heroism.
Awards to Armed Guards
In recognition of their aggressive actions and results attained, officers and men of the Navy Armed Guard have received the following awards since Pearl Harbor:
Four Navy Crosses have been presented for extraordinary heroism, distinguished service and devotion above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy.
Seventy Silver Star Medals have been presented for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy.
Seventeen Navy and Marine Corps Medals have been presented for heroism in rescuing survivors from merchant ships after action.
Two thousand six hundred and fifty four letters of commendation have been presented and spread upon the service records of Armed Guard personnel for courageous conduct and devotion to duty in action against the enemy.
In addition to the above awards, five Destroyer Escorts have been named in honor of Armed Guard officers. These vessels are:
U.S.S. Borum, named for Lt. (jg) John R. Borum, USNR.
U.S.S. Brennan, named for Ens. John J. Brennan, USNR.
U.S.S. Herzog, named for Lt. (jg) William R. Herzog, USNR.
U.S.S. Hunter Marshall, named for Ens. Hunter Marshall, USNR.
U.S.S. Kenneth M. Willett, named for Lt. (jg) Kenneth M. Willett, USNR.
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