M/T NARRAGANSETT, Attack Narrative
By Eric T. Wiberg, Esq. www.uboatsbermuda.blogspot.com, September, 2014
The British tanker Narragansett (1936 – 1942) at hear launching in Kiel, Germany in the spring of 1936. Note the flags of USA, Standard Oil, and Panama, all alongside the Nazi Swastika.
Photo Source: Auke Visser, http://www.aukevisser.nl/uk/id341.htm (Copyright IWF Wissen und Medien GmbH)
The British-flagged tanker Narragansett was built in Kiel, Germany by Friedrich Krupp Germaniawerft AG (also known as Krupp Germania) in 1936. She was completed in April. Hull number 540, her engines developed 912 net horsepower and turned a single screw – the diesels also built by Krupp. The tanker’s dimensions were 507 feet in length by 69.9 feet wide and 36.9 feet deep. The armed vessel was capable of 11 knots and weighed 10,389 gross registered tons.
Narragansett was named for a Native American tribe in New England, USA and for Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, which was named for them. One of her sister ships in the same fleet, which was controlled by the Esso Corporation of London and Glasgow were named Seminole – others were named with the prefix “Inver” as in Inverpool. The ships were managed by Andrew Weir & Company with various subsidiaries, namely Bank Line, Inver Transport & Trading, and Inver Tankers.
Early in the World War II Narragansett was kept busy. In early February 1940 the men of the Narragansett rescued 76 officers and crew from the 9,874-ton Canadian steam ship Beaverburn which was sunk 150 south of County Cork, Ireland on the 5th of February by U-41 under Gustav-Adolf Mugler. The Beaverton men were landed in Falmouth England. Only one man perished.
Narragansett called at New York harbor several times: she arrived there on the 28th of December 1940, and sailed the 5th of January, the 23rd of July and the 7th of October, 1941. Doubtlessly she participated in numerous convoys shuttling precious oil from the US Gulf and the refineries at Aruba and Curacao over to England via New York and Halifax. These included HX 69, 15, 145, 118, 28, 105, and 130 and Convoy ON 17 carrying petroleum products from aviation spirit to diesel oil. On April 7 to 12 1941 she straggled due to engine trouble but was able to rejoin Convoy HX 118.
In the Spring of 1942 Captain Michael Blackburn Roberts, aged 41, was the Master of the Narragansett and he had 42 merchant marine crew as well as six naval or army gunners beneath him for a total complement of 49 souls. The youngest of these was Mess Room Boy Terence Norman Alderton, aged 16, but there were seven other teenagers amongst the crew. In addition to these were 22 men aged in their twenties, including Second Officer Arthur Edward Wallace, aged 28.
The Chief Engineer Officer was John Heslop, 33, and the Chief Officer or second in command was Denis Richardson, 35. All of the crew were British except for South African DEMS (Defensively Armed Merchant Ship) Royal Navy Gunner Stanley Dennis Gregory, aged 20 and Irish Third Engineer Officer Alexander Stanley Smythe, aged 32.
In mid-March of 1942 the Narragansett loaded a cargo of 14,000 tons of clean petroleum product in Port Arthur, Texas, for delivery to the UK via a convoy in Halifax. The tanker rounded the Florida Keys and headed up the Straits of Florida before passing west of Bermuda bound north. On the night of Tuesday 24th March 1942 she was 200 nautical miles northwest of Bermuda and 385 nautical miles east southeast of Cape Hatteras.
That was the position where the German submarine U-105 under Heinrich Schuch (who was later promoted to Fregattenkapitän) found her. His war diary or KTB records that at 9:37 pm German time (around 2:37 pm local time) his watch spotted a tanker on course 60 degrees north-northeast making about 12 knots. This fits the description and position of the Narragansett at the time. At 1:20 am (German time, around 6 pm local) on Wednesday the 25th of March Schuch lined up his attack. It took a lot of maneuvering for the submarine to overtake the ship, though conditions were described as mild, with wind only 10-15 knots from the northwest and seas moderate with moon light.
At 04:01 am German time (about 10 pm ship’s time) Schuch and his men fired three torpedoes from Tubes 1, 3, and 4. None of them hit the Narragansett. Seven minutes later, at 4:08 am German time Schuch let loose two more torpedoes from Tubes 5 and 6 – again they missed. Schuch decided that his attack position was unfavorable and decided that a large tanker was too good to let pass up,
despite the fact that he had expended seven hours and five torpedoes on his prey with nil result.
At 6:03 am (about 11:00 pm local time) U-105 resumed its attack on the tanker, with no indication that the submarine or its torpedoes had been detected by the gunners or the men on board the Narragansett. Six minutes later, at 6:09 am Schuch fired another torpedo again from Tube 1 (his men must have been busy in the intervening hours re-loading the tube). This time the projectile struck the tanker in the stern, in the way of the machinery spaces. However Schuch observed that the ship would still not sink.
Nine minutes later, at 6:18 am Schuch fired his seventh torpedo at the quarry – what is known as a coup de grace. At this point he records the ship’s SSS message, the name of the tanker and that it is laden. He notes that on the afterdeck there are deck guns and also machine gun fire coming from the ship. Since he does not note any lifeboats leaving the tanker presumably they Allied merchant sailors and gunners decided to stick it out on their ship and fight it out or flee. There is a vague reference to a course of 185, perhaps indicating that the ship turned to the south and made for Bermuda (this contradicts later sightings of the ship heading north-northwest for Bermuda).