S/V Angelus, sailing barquentine sunk by U-161/Achilles off New England 19 May 1943; 8 of 10 crew froze

U-Boats of New England: The Angelus
 
The Angelus, showing her square-rigged masts up forward and the fore-and-aft rigged mast aft.
Source: http://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/ships/2932.html
 
The Angelus was a large sailing barkentine (bark or barque) built in France which was over 338 gross registered tons and sported three large masts and a bowsprit as long as most masts. Angelus was built in the Tranchemar yard in La Richardais, France in 1912. A cargo ship of 235 net tons, Angelus sailed under the French tri-color for 19 years until on 11 May 1942 the ship was captured by the Canadian warship HMCS Prescott (K 161) whilst on the Grand Banks. At the time she was under the control of Felix Chevalier of Cancale, France.
Thereafter the vessel was towed to Sydney, Nova Scotia by the Royal Canadian Navy and laid up until January 1943. During the interval the Angelus was offered by the Free French to the Canadian Government. Between January 10th and at least the 25th the Angelus is recorded in the port of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. On Friday the 22nd of January her crew were involved in the rescue of some American sailors in that port. The men who were commended from the Angelus’ crew were Clarence Mullins and John Hillier of Fortune Bay, Joseph Chaiasson of New Waterford, and Walter Boudreau 25, of Moncton.
After January 25 1943 the ship sailed for the Montreal Shipping Company of Halifax, under the auspices of the Canadian Government Merchant Marine (CGMM) under which ownership structure she was sailing when sunk.  
In May of 1943 she was completing what appears to have been the first voyage of her new registry, a round trip between Halifax and Barbados, carrying molasses on the voyage back. She left Bridgetown on the 28th of April loaded with 575 puncheons of molasses on a route still much-voyaged by wind ships at the time.
Her master on the final voyage was Edward Jensen, who oversaw the safety of a crew of nine other men. On the morning of Wednesday the 19th of May Angelus had the misfortune of sailing into the crosshairs of the German U-boat U-161 and her veteran commander, Albrecht Achilles. It would prove an overwhelming fight for the crew not only against the U-boat but the weather.
At about 750 am Captain Jensen and his men spotted U-161 roughly 9,000 yards off the starboard bow. At the time the Angelus was heading northeast by east at four knots. There were three men working the sails and one at the wheel. The breeze was light from the southwest, seas moderate and the conditions clear at the time, with unlimited daylight visibility. When sighted the sub was observed to be ambling along on a converging course. Whilst still far away Achilles sent a warning shot across the sailing vessel’s bow. The men on the Allied vessel boarded a single boat and pushed away from the Angelus. Achilles came alongside the boat, demanded that the master board the submarine, and over the course of about ten minutes questioned Captain Jensen about the nature and route of his cargo. Then Achilles made an unusual offer – that Captain Jensen was welcome to return to the Angelus for up to 25 minutes in order to “secure such personal effects and equipment as he might wish. After considering this, Jensen declined on the basis that he felt it would consume all of 25 minutes just to get back to his ship.
Jensen described Achilles to his crewmates at roughly 35 years old, with strong English skills and a Cockney accent. There were half a dozen ratings in the conning tower scanning the horizon. Four men manned one deck gun, two a machine gun mounted in the conning tower, and three others carried weapons. He noted two machine gun mounts on the conning tower as well as a “short staff flying the German swastika.” He observed Achilles’ goatee, blue uniform with no decorations on it, and the garrison caps with swastika devices, and that some of the men wore leather pants.
Achilles inquired of his captor whether “any stores on the Angelus that were worth the time of the sub to procure,” and was told no. He asked Jensen again about tonnage, explaining half-apologetically that “We’re out for tonnage, sorry to have to sink her.” After releasing Captain Jensen back to the boat, Achilles and his men began shelling the Angelus.
The Germans fired roughly 20 shells at the sailing bark at what was described as a “leisurely manner, as though engaging in target practice.” Although four shells missed the mark, the balance of 16 or so found their target, destroying the galley and splintering the masts and hull. Captain Jensen had thrown the confidential codes overboard, though the Germans were not seen to have boarded their victim. Angelus was not equipped with either weapons or a radio. After destroying the Angelus departed, leaving the ten men to the elements.
The boat in which the survivors found themselves was a sloop-rigged lifeboat also equipped with oars and some provisions. Achilles has specifically asked Jensen “whether the lifeboat had adequate stores, water, and compass,” and had been told that it did. Jensen and his crew of experienced sailors set of northwards towards Nova Scotia. The voyage proceeded admirably with three days of smooth and conducive weather until Friday the 21st of May. Then tragedy struck in the form of stormy weather which capsized the boat and caused not only the loss of equipment which had not been properly secured, but also Captain Jensen, who perished.
This incident was the beginning of terrible ordeals for the nine other men: during the ensuing days until Wednesday the 26th of May they were capsized and throw into the frigid northern waters no fewer than four more times. Each time they appear to have lost at least one man, sometimes more of their crewmates, until there were just two survivors and they were in deplorable condition, barely hanging on to life. The brave duo were Walter Boudreau, crew, and First Mate Arthur Holmans.
There was another Holmans among the dead, young Alexander, aged 20. The deaths are the eight men are described as “by drowning,” however it is more likely they died of freezing to death, hypothermia, exposure. They were James Boyd, 37, Jean Paul Brunelle, age 23, Cecil Hardiman, 25, John Hillier, 24, Clarence Mullins, age 23, and Francis Joseph Walsh, aged 24, was well as Jensen and Holman aforementioned.
At about 1:06 pm on Wednesday May 6 the United States Navy destroyer USS Turner (DD 648) was diverted to the scene of the lifeboat by an aircraft and managed to both sight and retrieve the two men. They were taken to Portland, Maine overnight, and arrived there the following day, around 6 am Thursday the 27thof May 1943. The Turner officers reported that the codes and ciphers were in fact lost from the life boat, not the mother ship. In either event, they did not fall into enemy hands.
When he had recovered sufficiently from their physical and emotional ordeal one of the two men provided a list of recommendations for lifeboats which included medicine, spare sails, a sea anchor, brandy, lighted compass, and all equipment securely lashed down. After the casualty, the tragic loss of crew, and the extraordinary tenacity involved in the survival of the two men who made it ashore, the opinion was expressed in official circles that the Angelus “was believed to have been used as a fueling ship by French to aid German submarines during 1941, prior to her capture by the R.C.N. Accordingly, she may have been known to the German commander.” However this author knows of no basis for this belief.

 

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