The steam ship Willimantic of 4,857 tons was built by the Seattle Shipbuilding and Drydock Company of Seattle, Washington (also named as Todd Drydock & Construction Corporation of Tacoma, Washington), in 1918 for the UUS Maritime Commission in Washington, DC. Though later laid up, in 1941 Willimantic was transferred to Great Britain where it joined the fleet of the Ministry of War Transport. Its new owners and operators were the Lamport & Holt Limited, known formally as the W. J. Lamport & G. Holt, Brazil and River Plate Steam Navigation Company, of Liverpool, England.
Willimantic’s dimensions were 115.6 meters long and 16.2 meters wide. Her single engine propelled the ship at 10.5 knots. At the time of her loss Captain Leon Otto Everett was in charge of a crew of 37 men including naval gunners. Captain Everett had already lost two ships – the Bonheur sunk by Luth on the 15thof October 1940 and the Swinburne, sunk by German airplanes west of Ireland on the 26th of February 1942. This would be his third and final sinking of the war as he was destined to spend the balance of the conflict in prisoner of war camps.
On 30 May 1942 the Willimantic left Cape Town South Africa in ballast, having proceeded from Durban. Off Saint Helena Island the ship received a radio message changing its destination from New York, however the new port was not named. On the 23rd of June 1942, at roughly noon another radio message came in, this one purportedly from Balboa, Panama, instructing the ship to proceed to Charleston, South Carolina. Accordingly the course was changed to 228 degrees true and the speed remained 9.5 knots. She was zig-zagging constantly, with lookouts stationed at the wheel, above the bridge, an on deck. There was no moonlight, the weather was clear, visibility good, and the sea was smooth.
At 02:00 am on the morning of 24th June the engineer had to stop the ship to perform some important mechanical work. Unbeknownst to the 28 men on board, Willimantic had been sighted by U-502 under Rosensteil just the previous day, and he had reported the discovery to compatriot Werner Hartenstein on U-156 which had been trailing the merchant ship for some hours. The submarine was put on high alert when the ship stopped, as it was assumed the steamer was some kind of decoy ship, and that it had stopped in order to utilized an underwater listening device to detect submarines.
As a result of the ship stoppage, an attack was delayed until 07:10 am, when U-156 shot its last torpedo. However the torpedo started its motor running whilst still in the submarine’s internal tubes, and had to be jettisoned. After it had been pushed out of the submarine by the crew it passed harmlessly aft of the ship. With no other recourse except abandoning an attack altogether (the option which Ronstiel had taken earlier) Hartenstein attacked with his guns.
The initial salvo killed the senior Radio Officer, Francis E. Youds, age 23, in his cabin outright. Though the Third Radio Officer managed to send up to six SSS and SOS messages, these were intercepted and jammed by the submarine. Soon the radio shack was destroyed, killing, Third Radio Officer George Henry Ellis, aged 18.
The initial attack began at 3:50 am local time and for 25 minutes Captain Everett steamed away from the submarine, which ultimately fired a total of 73 rounds from the deck gun and 102 rounds from the 37-milimeter anti-aircraft gun at the ship. Once he realized that his men were being killed (Able Seaman Donald MacNiel, aged 37, Third Officer Harry Kenneth Hartley, aged 25, and Assistant Steward Hassan Ali were all shot down and lay bleeding and dying on deck), Captain Everett ordered abandon ship. The port lifeboats were destroyed, number four while it was being lowered. This resulted in the death of Ordinary Seaman Charles James Mummery, aged 24, bringing the total killed to six.
Though shells continued to rain down on the ship and the men were convinced that the lifeboats themselves were being targeted, as the submarine swung around in an arc astern roughly a quarter of a mile away, shelling into the ship, two lifeboats – numbers one and three – managed to push away with a total of 32 men.
The commander of the submarine broke off the firing to approach the lifeboats, and ordered the captain’s boat alongside and the captain to come aboard as a prisoner. Captain Everett took his blanket with him and left the ship’s papers – as well as the boat – in charge of the Second Officer, Frank Delany. The submarine with the captain on board did a cursory inspection of the ship and reported that there was no one left alive on board. On learning that the boats had food, water, sails and navigating instruments, but no chart, the U-boat officer provided them with his German naval chart which had notes about rendezvous and other general intelligence on it. Hartenstein said “I give this into your charge, a present for Mr. Churchill”.
Hartenstein then returned to the Willamantic and resumed his shelling. Mortally wounded by many shell holes along the waterline, the ship succumbed, and at 6:30 am rolled over on its starboard side and sank. As Delany described it, “she looked very stately – a perfect little lady, blazing fiercely amidships.” The submarine steamed off to the northeast (course 45 degrees) at fifteen knots, with the farewell boast that “There is one more steamer to the eastward. I will get him, then I will go home to Germany.”
Delany and the officer in charge of lifeboat # 3 founds themselves 800 miles northeast of Antigua in two lifeboats. They scavenged as much food as they could from rafts, flotsam, and by cutting a hole in the top of and diving below the damaged #4 lifeboat. Though initially they were tied together, once they exchanged crew to achieve a ratio of 14 in the other boat and 15 in Delany’s, and distributed the men injured by shrapnel, the boats both set off to the southwest and were soon separated.
Frank Delany wrote a detailed account of the men’s ordeal for the next 11 days, as he maintained strict rations and discipline about the little craft. Fortunately the weather was generally favorable, they had a trade wind, it was a warm time of year, and they had time to grab clothes and personal belongings. They also obtained sailing and rigging equipment and a supplemental mast from the wreckage, and the number of men was not inordinately high, nor did the injured outnumber the fit. Finally, it rained which kept the men from dying of thirst. During their voyage they found evidence of other ships having been sunk, such as a lumber of Oregon pine, and a pillow in its case floating “dry” on the surface of the sea.
On the 4th of July at 4:15 pm they spotted a flying boat, no doubt a US Navy patrol plane, but were not seen. That same evening at 6:10 pm a US bomber with the number 7478 swept over the several times, and the men in the plane waved to the motley crew in the rafts. On Sunday the 5th of July at 3:00 am they sighted an island twelve miles to the southwest which turned out to be Saba, then they also made out Saint Barts and Saint Kitts Islands. Knowing that the Dutch island of Saint Martin was the most populated, Delany made for that island, though it was further away.
By 9 am they had managed to round Point Blanche and enter the bay at Phillipsburg Harbor, on the west, or Dutch side. They were guided in by smoke from the Dutch steamer Baralt, which was to take them to Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands later. Because the wind died and the men were exhausted, the motor launch Haven Diccok under Captain Eugene DuLain gave them a tow and gave them several packets of Camel cigarettes. By 9:30 am they had berthed “amid the grandest and most hospitable people imaginable”. Delany told the authorities about lifeboat # 3 which was still at sea, then surrendered himself and his crew to the ministrations of the Governor of the island as well as the care of the sisters at the Saint Ecco Hospital.
That day the US Navy sent a pilot from Saint Thomas to interview Delany of the Willimantic as well as officers from other ships, like the Tysa, whose men had come across survivors of the Potlatchnorth of the islands, as well as recent arrivals from the Thomas McKean. The survivors were ultimately taken to Saint Thomas on the S.S. Beralt, then to San Juan Puerto Rico in August, and finally to Norfolk, Virginia aboard the USS Merak, where they were landed on the 28thof August 1942.
The 14 survivors, including two gunners on the number three boat were rescued by the Norwegian ship Tamerlane and taken to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Second Officer, B. M. Metcalf, provided the following summary of their ordeal in the boats and subsequent rescue to a historian of the Holt line:
“On the sixth day in the boat [18 June 1942], at about 1000 hours we sighted a ship, and having set off flares, noted that the ship was signaling by Aldis [lamp] – ‘Proceeding to pick you up’, and altered course towards us. The sail was then taken down, and we went alongside in a seamanlike manner, where having boarded, discovered that she was the Norwegian Tamerlane, and at first found my legs to be terribly weak after the boat passage.
I was greeted by a stewardess who hugged me, and was weeping profusely. Having reported to the master, Captain Kraft, I informed him as to the other boat, which I estimated to be 20 miles or so to the NNE; he agreed to alter course to search for it, but after a while received a message to the effect that there were submarines in the vicinity, and he had to abandon the search.” After seven days they were landed at Rio de Janeiro, and subsequently came home aboard the Royal Mail liner Highland Monarch. (merchantnavyofficers.com/LH5)
86 – Anglo-Canadian
The British-flagged and British-crewed, 5,258-ton motor freighter Anglo-Canadian was built by the Short Brothers Limited at Pallion, Sunderland, England, in July of 1928. She was owned by the Nitrate Producers Steamship Company (Lather, Latta ad Company) of London. At 123.84 meters overall and 17.68 meters wide with 7.53 meters draft, she was powered by two oil-fueled engines with a combined n.h.p. of 598.
Before Wilfried Reichman in U-153 encountered her southeast of Bermuda and some 800 miles northeast of Antigua on the 25th of June 1942 the Anglo-Canadian had experienced an eventful voyage. While her crew of 50 under the leadership of Captain David John Williams were waiting to discharge cargo in Vizagapatnam (Vizag) in the Bay of Bengal on the east coast of India, the ship was bombed by Japenese aircraft on April 16, 1942. The captain kept up evasive maneuvers for two hours while the plane attacked in the anchorage, or roads, off the port.
One of the bombs landed in the store room and did not explode, though there were fires on the ship. The Chief Officer and Carpenter entered the room, knowing full well the dangers. They led a fire-fighting team which suppressed the flames. Later the Master, Chief, and ‘Chippy’as carpenters are known, personally carried the ordinance ashore where it was exploded. As a result, the Chief Officer, Bernard Beavis, Carpenter Eugene Bergstrom, and Captain Williams were all given special awards (Williams the Order of the British Empire) and the Lloyds Silver War Medal for Bravery at Sea (archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/Mariners/2003-12/1072717478)
Having discharged in India, the Anglo-Canadian set sail for the US eastern seaboard via South Africa. She left Cape Town on the 3rd of June and called briefly at Ascension Island. Her final destination was to be Baltimore, Maryland. On the 24th of June at 1 pm local time the Anglo-Canadian was struck by a torpedo from U-153 in position 25.12N and 55.31W. The men were able to send an SOS which picked up by the nearby Putney Hill (which itself was found and sunk by U-203 under Rolf Mutzelburg two days later on the 26thof June).
Once the Anglo-Canadian sank Riechman cruised among the wreckage with the submarine’s spotlight on in order to enable the survivors to make it to safety on boats and rafts. The 49 survivors divided into two life boats. Third Radio Officer Leo Maurice Housley, aged 18 was the only crew member killed, and his body remained on the ship.
After receiving some water and 15 cigarettes apparently of American origin, the boats set off for the West Indies, where after a voyage of 16 days they arrived at the island of Anguilla on the 10th of July. They proceeded to Saint Kitts and Nevis. On Saint Kitts a Mr. Delisle was kindly arranging for messages to be sent for stranded seamen. On about the 9th of July the Anglo-Canadian crew were joined by a smaller group of survivors from the American Liberty Ship Thomas McKean, who were brought there from Anguilla on the local schooner Betsy R.
Since the Thomas McKean crew were transported to Antigua on the 12th of July aboard another local schooner named the Manita, it would seem rational to think that the Anglo-Canadian crew utilized the same or similar means of transport to the same destination prior to onward repatriation. The ship had been reported overdue in Charleston, South Carolina (not Baltimore) on the 1st of July.