SS Raphael Semmes sunk by U-332/Liebe S of Bermuda, 18 men drifted 19 days, rescued by SS Explorer taken to NJ: Liebe gave his name and that of sub

S.S. RAPHAEL SEMMES, Attack & Survivor’s Narrative

By Eric T. Wiberg, Esq., December, 2014

S.S. Raphael Semmes, sunk by U-332/Johannes Liebe on 28 June 1942 south of Bermuda.

Photo source: Captain Arthur Moore’s seminal book “A Careless Word, a Needless Sinking”

The American steam ship Raphael Semmes was built by the G. M. Sandifer Construction Corporation of Vancouver, Washington (US) between 1919 and 1920. Yard number 13, she was type US Shipping Board 1,015 cargo. Her original name under the United States Shipping Board (USSB) was S.S. Argus until 1923 when the Pope and Talbot Lumber Company subsidiary McCormick Steamship Company of San Francisco bought her and renamed the ship S.S. Sidney M. Hauptman. The Waterman Steamship Corporation of Mobile Alabama purchased the ship in 1940 and renamed her Raphael Semmes.
A different perspective of the Raphael Semmes, showing her Waterman Steamship logo on funnel and Mobile Alabama as her home port, presumably before US entry into the war.
Photo source: unknown
Raphael Semmes was 6,027 gross registered tons (GRT), and could carry 9,400 tons. The vessel was 412 feet long, 52.2’ feet wide and 26.7 feet deep (another source says 401X53.1X31.8). Her triple-expansion steam engine was built by Llewellyn Iron Works in Los Angeles and developed 363 net horsepower, propelling her at 11 knots.  
The ship was named after Rear-Admiral Raphael Semmes (1809-1877), who served in the United States Navy from 1826 to 1860 and then in the Confederate States Navy from 1860 to 1865 during the American Civil War, during which he commanded the CSS Alabama and captured 65 prize vessels. As well as being a captain and Rear Admiral he was a Brigadier General in the Confederate States Army. Semmes survived the loss of the Alabama to the USS Kearsage on June 19, 1864 off Cherbourg, France in a vaunted naval engagement.
There were 37 men on board the Semmes for her final voyage, all led by Captain Harold Goron Eaton, from Bangor Maine. His Chief Officer was Charles L. Foley from Boston, Second Officer was Richard Allen Cooper from Boston, and Third Mate was Henry Ledford for Sterling Kentucky. There were two Norwegians in the crew, a Swede, a Portuguese citizen, a Spaniard and at least one Filipino, the rest being US citizens.
Able-Bodied Seaman Nils Nehlin hailed from Sweden and his next of kin was his mother Lillian Trelleborg. The Chief Engineer Michael J. B. Oakley was Irish. Jose Casal, Second Cook, was Spanish and Messman James M. Manuel was from the Philippines. One of the work-aways (also called a passenger) was Donald R. Baxter, whose father Harold lived in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania.
Following graduation from Collingswood High School, Second Mate Richard Allen Cooper joined the Merchant Marine. He married and lived in Boston between voyages – a son, Richard A. Cooper Jr. was born in late 1941. It is not known whether he ever saw his son, as he shipped out on the Semmes late in November, after Thanksgiving.
Second Officer Richard Allen Cooper of the Raphael Semmes.
Photo source:
During 1940 the Semmes arrived in New York in June and December. In 1941 she arrived in late October. On November 27, 1941 the Raphael Semmes departed Boston via New York (from where she sailed on the 1st of December) for Bombay, India where she arrived after an uneventful passage. She was under the control of the United States Maritime Commission and managed by the Isthmian Steamship Lines. In Bombay she loaded a cargo of 7,500 tons consisting of dense manganese ore, licorice, tobacco, wool, and rugs distributed evenly throughout her holds. Her drat forward was 27 feet and aft was 28 feet. The ship sailed to Cape Town for bunkers then Trinidad. She left Trinidad on Sunday, June 21st1942 with orders to proceed to Hampton Road, Virginia for orders.
A week later, on Sunday June 28th 1942 the Raphael Semmes was 167 nautical miles south of Bermuda and 845 nautical miles due east of Cape Canaveral Florida. The ship’s course was 300 degrees true and her speed was nine knots, without any zig zagging. Five lookouts were posted throughout the ship – on the bridge were two officers and an Ordinary Seaman, plus there was an Ordinary Seaman on the forecastle head at the very bow, and an Able Bodied Seaman posted amidships. It was dark, clear and calm with a full moon of the left side of the ship, with no wind or seas to speak of.
At about 2:33 am a torpedo struck near the surface forward of the bridge, buckling the plates and tearing a large hole in the side of the ship. The smell of cordite from the torpedo explosion was experienced by several survivors. The missile struck on the starboard side near the number two hatch. Seconds later another torpedo struck behind the bridge in the way of number four hatch, and this one was deeper than the first – and fatal to the ship. Captain Eaton was not on watch at the time and was never seen by the men. Within two minutes Raphael Semmes sank by the bow, her engines having stopped.
Swede Nils Nehlin, Able-Bodied Seaman, put his life in great peril by remaining on board to release the two aft life rafts – there was no time to send an SOS or launch the lifeboats. He sacrificed his life to accomplish this task. Eighteen men managed to leap into the tropical seas and clamber aboard the rafts, some of them damaged, and cling to debris including life rings. Nineteen men including the Captain went down with the ship.
At about 2:45 am, or 12 minutes after impact, U-322 under Kapitänleutnant Johannes Liebe surfaced near the life rafts. Recognizing that some of the men were injured, he invited ten of them on board to be treated. When the boarded he introduced himself as Commander Lieber of the U-Heidelberg, which is surprisingly accurate and highly unusual for a U-boat commander to divulge his identity and that of his submarine. Chief Officer Foley and Oiler Thomas E. Hazleton of Chelsea, Massachusetts were provided medical aid by the commander, who they described as about 5’7” in height, 155 pounds, with a heavy beard, blue eyes and blond hair. They described the other crew as “very young, dressed informally, [and] bearded.”
Kapitänleutnant Johannes Liebe who sank the Raphael Semmes swiftly on the 28th of June 1942. Surprisingly and unique in over 200 vessels relevant to this study, he provided his name and the nickname of his submarine (U-Heidelberg) to his victims, who survived and relayed the information to US and ultimately British naval intelligence. He was described by the injured survivors he treated as 5’7”, 155 pounds, with blue eyes, blond hair and a heavy beard.
Photo source:
The Coat of Arms of the German university city Heidelberg, the emblem of U-332/Liebe. Liebe later told an interviewer that his nick-name for the boat was “U-Heidelberg,”: “The emblem was designed by me and applied in the form shown by two German graphic artists after our arrival at La Pallice.” According to Georg Hogel in “U-Boat Emblems of World War II 1939 – 1945,” Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA US, 1999
The Allies provided their captors with information on the ship, cargo, tonnage, name and destination (standard questions). They noticed the coat of arms of Heidelberg along with that city’s name on a crest on the conning tower, as well as a “cupid mermaid painted on the forward starboard quarter” of the tower. They also described the armament and dimensions to their naval interrogators the following month. The men said that the engines of the submarine made a “tinny” sound. At 3:10 am, 37 minutes after the attack, U-332 was seen motoring off on the surface in a southeasterly direction at about eight knots.
According to Survivor Statements by Chief Mate Foley, the men began their open raft voyage with three rafts – two for the men and the third for provisions. Eventually they moved to just two rats, the after ones which Nehlin had released – and abandoned the forward one because it was damaged and “not needed.” Little is known about how specifically the men survived the next 19 days, but the weather in that region in June/July is normally hot and fairly settled. They rigged awnings made of cloth, paper and board over both rafts, and erected sailing masts as well, using long oars and boards which floated from the wreck. When rescued they still had a life ring from the ship.
After 19 days adrift in the two remaining rafts the 18 survivors under the command of Chief mate Foley were discovered by the American cargo passenger ship Explorer. When rescued at 11:05 am local time on Thursday the 16thof July, the men were 104 nautical miles west of the position where their mother ship was sunk, and 185 nautical miles southwest of Bermuda. They were on the same latitude, meaning they had not sailed either north or south of the position when sunk. The Explorer’s men took their frail charges to Jersey City, New Jersey, arriving two days later on the 18th of July. 
On arrival in New York Horbor (of which Jersey City is a part) Foley was treated for injuries and Oiler Charles J. Barrows of Wakefield, Massachusetts was admitted to the Marine Hospital with a “serious injury.” Shackleford, Stanford, Siefert, and Oiler Hazelton’s injuries were “slight” and Bosun Floyd E. Soucy of Minneapolis was injured as well. 

The passenger cargo ship Explorer after the war. She rescued the survivors of the Raphael Semmes on the 16th of July, 1942.
The steam ship Explorer was fitted for both cargo and passengers. Built in 1939 by Bethlehem Steel, she was 6,736 gross registered tons (GRT) and could carry 9,518 deadweight tons of cargo. She was 473.1 feet long, 66.5 feet wide and 27.2 feet deep and could steam at 16 knots. During World War II she was owned by the American Export Lines Inc. of the Cunard Building, 25 Broadway, New York, NY.
A newspaper image of the two Raphael Semmes life rafts as they appeared to the passengers and crew on the Explorer, July 16, 1942. Photo by Explorer Third Officer Matthew Dalton Jr.
Photo source:

Explorer of 6,736 tons sailed for the War Shipping Administration and participated in D-Day. She was built in 1939 and could carry 2,198 troops. Her Third Officer, Matthew Dalton Junior was “liked by everyone who sailed with him.” She was built by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., Quincy, Mass., as a standard ship type C3-E.

Survivors of the Raphael Semmes safely on board the Explorer after their ordeal of nearly three weeks.

Photo source: Photo by Explorer Third Officer Matthew Dalton Jr.

On May 22 1957 the Explorer was reported transiting the Suez Canal with four US Destroyers and a convoy of 39 other ships during the Suez Crisis (Free-Lance Star, 22 May 1957, Vol. 73, # 103, Fredricksburg, VA).  In 1961 Explorer returned to US Government (Marad) and was laid up. She was scrapped in 1969 (

Raphael Semmes survivors around one of their ship’s life rings aboard the Explorer.

Photo source: Photo by Explorer Third Officer Matthew Dalton Jr.

Liebe’s total tonnage for the patrol was 10,600. His patrol in the area was short-lived, of six days’ duration. From near Bermuda he headed west for three days then northwest for Hatteras, exiting the region east of Savannah on the 2nd of July, 1942.  

A member of the crew of 1933, KapitänleutnantJohannes Liebe began U-boat training after a stint at the Naval Airfield Headquarters. His first boat was U-48 under Schultze, sinking four ships on their first patrol. On his first patrol off Hatteras he sank four ships of 25,000 tons despite being low on fuel. Liebe moved ashore in January 1943 and after a brief detention following the war was released in July 1945. His decorations included Iron Cross First Class based on total tonnage 46,729 tons from eight ships sunk. Liebe lived until the age of 69, dying in late 1982.

American Battle Monuments Commission, for a biography and photo of 2nd Mate Richard Allen Cooper, – for the war diaries and deck logs and Eastern Sea Frontier and NOB Bermuda

Hogel, Georg, “U-Boat Emblems of World War II 1939 – 1945,” Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA US, 1999

Holm Lawson, Dame Siri,

Jordan, Roger, The World’s Merchants Fleets 1939, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1999

Mason, Jerry,

Mozolak, John, “New York Ships to Foreign Ports, 1939 – 1945,” for the articles from the Associated Press

“Survivors Statements”, from NARA, in Washington DC, as found by Michael Constandy, Formal citation: Survivor’s Statements (1941-1942) Series : Papers of Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, compiled 1941 – 1974Record Group 38: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1875 – 2006  Entry P-13.  National Archives at College Park – Textual Reference (Military) 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740 for much of the information, including photos of U-boat Commander and its victim, for specifications and history

Wynn, Kenneth, U-boat Operations of the Second World War, Volume 1 and Volume 2, 1997

3 comments on “SS Raphael Semmes sunk by U-332/Liebe S of Bermuda, 18 men drifted 19 days, rescued by SS Explorer taken to NJ: Liebe gave his name and that of sub

  1. Good Morning, My great uncle Harold Gordon Eaton was the captain of this ship. I would love to provide you with a picture and some information on it. His wife Grace was a gem and I have a lot of notes and letters that he sent to her on his travels. Please feel free to contact me and we can chat about it. My father was also a merchant marine in WWII on the Samuel McIntyre. He was on the Murmansk Run in 1943. My heart felt thanks for recognizing these war heroes. Dad went to Russia in 1998 to receive a medal of honor from their government for his service to the war effort.

  2. Dear Lucy thank you so much and YES PLEASE to your offer of sharing photos, seaman's books, scraps, images, memories. My email is and cell 2038569677 though I leave to Europe for 2 weeks shortly for work. Prefer email if possible. I will share everything I learned with you, perhaps mid June when I get back. It is mostly posted at at the drop down tab at right in red for SURVIVORS STATEMENTS. I can also give you a great research Mike Constandy at in DC who can help you. Thanks! Eric

Comments are closed.