NOTE: See detailed first-hand account of Peiping’s loss by Artur Larsson 9 March 2014 this blog.
The 6,390-ton Swedish motor vessel Peiping was built by A/B Götaverken in Gothenburg Sweden in October of 1931. Her owners were the Swedish East Asiatic Company ( A/B Svenska Ostasiatiska Kompaniet), also of Gothenburg. On her final voyage she was under charter to the Furness-Prince Line of New York, New York. Her dimensions were 138.7 meters long by 17.4 meters wide and 8.7 meters draft. Here 700 kilowatt engines (also made by Gotaverken) drove two diesel engines turning two propellers at an impressive 14 knots.
On her final voyage the Peiping had loaded a cargo of 9,950 tons of general merchandise including hides, wool, dyes and tallow. Though a neutral with the flag of Sweden clearly painted on the ships’ sides, and though she was struck in daylight, her attack Freidrich Markworth in U-66 claimed to have sunk her because while he stalked Peiping at night the captain had extinguished all lights to disguise the ship. He also claimed that the Peiping was not on a list of ships registered as trading with neutral countries.
Peiping was steering a course of 326 degrees true northwest at 13 knots in roughly 6,000 feet on the morning of 9th September when unbeknownst to her U-66 was sharing the calm waters. The ship was steaming from Buenos Aires, Argentina to New York and was east of Bermuda and roughly midway between that port and Antigua. The visibility was said to have been limitless, with wind only 5 knots from the northeast and no sea to speak of.
The third officer, A. Folke Borgerud had been standing look out duty on the bridge since 08:00 am local time on the 9th of September 1942 when, at 10:05 a torpedo slammed into the engine room on the starboard side. The Swedish motormen on duty there – Robert Stellan Dahlgren, aged 23, Nils Anders Wigsten, age 21 and Sven Gustav Engstrom, 41 (Chief Mechanic), were killed outright and never seen again.
Since the radio equipment was inoperable and further attacks seemed to Captain Svenselius to be inevitable, the crew abandoned ship in one lifeboat with 23 men in it and a smaller workboat with 8 men in it. This took only ten minutes. The captain had the ship’s papers but dumped the instructions for entering New York harbor. Disabled, the ship drifted for 25 minutes within sight of the survivors.
At 10:25 local time (ship’s time) Markworth fired two torpedoes as a coup-de-grace. One of the torpedoes, unknown to the survivors, malfunctioned, but the other struck the ship between the cargo holds number four and number five on the starboard side. As a result of the catastrophic damage caused, the ship sank stern first within two minutes.
Once the ship had sunk Markworth motored over to the two lifeboat and ordered Captain Svenselius and Chief Engineer Johan A. Liljekvist, aged 41, to board his submarine. Markworth told both men that they were his prisoners, and took the ship’s American cargo manifest, ship’s articles, and statistical chart and sanitary certificates. He then inquired after the well-being and provisions of the men in the boats and provide bandages before letting the skipper and Chief Engineer go back to their men. The U-boat commander was described as being about 35 years old, fully dressed and tan. The men were described by the survivors as being between 16 and 25 years old, and dressed only in shorts and shoes. All nine appeared deeply tanned and healthy.
The surviving crew consisted of the Master, Captain Folke Svenselius, aged 35, and 24 Swedes, two Danes, and four Chinese nationals, including apparently a woman named Wanda Foo (the other Chinese were named Al Choi, Lam Bo and Chau Pancho). Sune S. H. Anderson, First Engineer, aged 27, suffered cuts and bruises to his right arm and side. Fortunately for him Markworth provided bandages which enabled him to heal during the 13-day open boat voyage which lay ahead of them.
Less fortunate of the injured were Erik A. Augustsson, a 48-year old Motorman from Stockholm who suffered bruised legs and right hip, and Sture A. Bengtsson, a 20-year-old Motorman from Karlstad who had two broken ribs. Svend A. Andersen, the 32-year-old bosun from Copenhagen Denmark suffered from kidney trouble.
The two boats, in an impressive bit of seamanship when compared with most other groups of boats which became separated, remained together for the next thirteen days, steering southwest with a favorable trade wind and fortunately no hurricanes. Late on the evening of the 24th of September they made a difficult landfall at Deshaies, on the northern coast of Guadeloupe Island, French West Indies. They were tended to by the American Consul, and four of the men were hospitalized.
The Chinese opted to remain behind and follow their crewmates to the US later. The majority of the crew were transported to New Orleans Louisiana on board the steam ship Guadeloupe. The injured continued to be treated while on board the Guadeloupe. They arrived in the US on the 11th of October 1942. Captain Svenselius managed to contact the Swedish government in Gothenburg from Guadeloupe and inform them of the names of the killed and injured. The charterers in New York – the Furness-Prince Line, were able to coordinate with the government to advise next of kin of their status.