SS Alcoa Guide sunk by U-123 – Jules Souza survived 33 days on a raft mostly alone, a crew waited alone on ship for rescue

S.S. ALCOA GUIDE: Attack & Survivor’s Narrative

by Eric T. Wiberg,, Feb. 2014

The US-flagged steamship Alcoa Guide was built in 1919 by the Downey Shipbuilding Corporation of Arlington, New York. She was the second ship built by the yard and was commissioned for the United States Shipping Board. Her original name was the SS Osakis for the USSB, then after 1922 the SS Manhattan Island up to 1931. Thereafter it was owned by Swayne & Hoyt Company Ltd. of San Francisco as the SS Point Brava.

From 1940 to the time of her loss in April 1942, she was owned by the Alcoa Steamship Company, Inc. of New York, NY, and registered to that port. Alcoa was a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of America in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The ship was 4,834 gross registered tons, 531.6 feet long, 52.5 feet wide and 27.5 feet deep. Built of steel, she had a triple expansion steam engine fed by three scotch boilers which generated 339 net horsepower. The single-screw propeller moved Alcoa Guide at up to 10.5 knots.

SS Alcoa Guide – The German U-boat commander described: “….two masts and one funnel, which are emerging over the horizon fast…. The derricks are tied up to the masts.  There is a lot of loading equipment which makes the upper deck confusing.” This fits the loaded ship well.

Photo source: Steamship Historical Society of America,,

Text source:– Hardegen’s KTB diary

On her final voyage Alcoa Guide’s cargo consisted ofsupplies for the US Army base in Guadeloupe as well as flour for the government of that island. The 5,890 tons of general Army supplies included structural steel, cement, acetylene in tanks on deck, wooden barrels of alcohol stowed on deck, six empty large shore storage tanks, also on deck, one medium shore storage tank filled with gasoline also on deck, one medium shore storage tank full of diesel oil on deck.

Most of these items on deck were highly flammable. In fact if you were to try to construct a perfect target for being shelled by a submarine using incendiary shells, Alcoa Guide’s deck cargo would come close to fitting the bill for a vessel likely to catch fire quickly and fatally. Below decks was beer, automobiles, trucks, metal piping, and lumber. There was also some mail for Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe.

Her loading was completed in Weehawken, New Jersey, which is on the Hudson River opposite Manhattan, New York. Though her primary discharge port was Guadeloupe, according to the American Able-Bodied Seaman (AB) Jules Souza, there were crates also marked for Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Trinidad, possibly for onward shipment.

The total number of men on board was 34, led by Captain Samuel Leroy Cobb, aged 36. Cobb is originally from the town of Nutley, New Jersey, near Belleville and Montclair, which is less than ten miles west of Weehawken. Perhaps he either dashed home during the loading period or had family visit him in Weehawken – we will never know.

Under Captain Cobb’s command was a mixed crew of whom most, or 25 were American, either born or naturalized. One of the engine room firemen, Casper Gallwitzer was German-born but a naturalized American citizen. One of the more enigmatic characters aboard was a Russian émigré named Waldemar Semenov, aged 26 at the time, who said we was a naturalized American at the time, however perhaps because he had been at sea for some nine years (since age 17).

Waldemar Semenov, an oiler aboard the Alcoa Guide, at a MEBA Calhoun engineering school veteran’s reunion in 2001.


Perhaps he hadn’t gotten all the paperwork in order because US officials wrote next to his name: “Latvian (Never had papers, never landed since he has been aboard ship. Picked up in Montreal and was to return to Montreal.)” His role is variously described as Oiler and 3rdAssistant Engineer, however Cecil Naas of Canada already filled that role. Other crew members included four Canadians, one Puerto Rican, one Filipino and an Estonian. The chief mate was John Kramer, also 36.

Having completed loading its cargo the Alcoa Guide left Weehawken at 8:30 pm on the night of Saturday, April 11th, 1942 (all times are local Eastern Standard Time, not German time). The ship proceeded down the Hudson River into Lower New York Bay near Sandy Hook, and remained at anchor behind the safety of torpedo nets. At 5 am the following morning Alcoa Guide pulled anchor and made for the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay.

Jules Souza was born in Taunton Massachusetts between Boston and New Bedford. He earned hs pilot’s license in 1929. According to him the ship arrived at 7 pm the same evening, which would have meant a very fast passage of over 15 knots. Rather, since Souza describes using a canal to get to the Chesapeake and since the Alcoa Guide could comfortably make Delaware Bay in 14 hours at 10 knots, the ship can only have arrived off Cape May New Jersey on the evening of the 12thof April, anchoring outside the nets.

At 5 am on Monday the 13th of April Alcoa Guide headed up the Delaware Bay and then utilized the Chesapeake & Delaware Bay Canal to access the Chesapeake Bay. The ship must have arrived sometime some time that night or early on the 14th. In any event she anchored inside the nets on the southern side of the bay and at 5 am on the 14th began to head outside the nets to the open Atlantic. Once steaming east, however Alcoa Guide was turned back by US naval authorities, since the threat of submarine attack was deemed too great at that time. She anchored again but only three and a half hours later was cleared to sail.

Alcoa Guidecleared familiar US shores for the last time at 830 am on Tuesday April 14th1942 and bent a course to the east-southeastwards towards the Caribbean. For the next 36 or so hours the ship headed east-southeast at an average speed of nine knots until it was at a point 300 nautical miles ESE of the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, 270 miles due east of Cape Hatteras, and 315 miles west-northwest of Bermuda.

The weather was settled, seas smooth, the wind was from the southwest or off the starboard quarter at about 10 knots. There was no moon but the stars were bright and visibility was good. Alcoa Guide was holding a course of 162 degrees true and was bringing speed up to ten knots. All the windows and portholes were blacked out and the radio was not in use. There were two Ordinary Seamen on watch; one of them on the forecastle head at the bow, and another on the bridge. Also Second Mate Gerard Costello, age 29, was on watch in the bridge.

Unbeknownst to the men on the ship, the German submarine U-123 under Reinhard Hardegen was stalking Alcoa Guide the entire afternoon. Although the sub had no more torpedoes (it had expended them on sinking ten other ships since in the past three weeks), Hardegen noted in his war diary “I still have 29 shells for the 10.5 cm of which 8 rounds are however wet and also plenty of 3.7 cm and 2 cm ammunition.”

Hardegen is a patient hunter, and the Alcoa Guide fairly easy prey, with a steady course and smoking funnels coming from its 22-year-old engines: “I now noticed that the steamer is steering about 160° and the first, very strong and suspiciously smoky, column of smoke is also steering 160 – 150°.  I am between both of them and decide to attack the freighter I am ahead of.” This corroborates accounts by witnesses on the Alcoa Guide that they saw ships in the area at the time of the attack.

One thing the merchant mariners did not see is just how daringly close (less than 1,000 feet) the submarine came to inspect its prey, detailing the ship’s unusual cargo: “It is ½ hour before dusk. I want to take a proper look at him through the periscope at daylight and then attack with artillery at night. I look at him carefully from 300 meters distance.  It is a freighter of about 5000 GRT. I can not detect any armament, at most he has machine guns.  The derricks are tied up to the masts.  There is a lot of loading equipment which makes the upper deck confusing.  On the upper deck there are big steam boilers, painted yellow, additionally there are trucks as deck cargo. A lucrative target.  I have to shell carefully to sink him with this little ammunition.”

Reinhard Hardegen of U-123.


At 9:50 pm local time U-123opened fire on Alcoa Guide with its deck guns. A shell whizzed into the starboard side of the saloon deck. Muzzle flashes from a submarine could be seen on the starboard quarter, as the sub motored on a parallel course to the ship from a distance of roughly a quarter of a mile. Jules Souza reported seeing “explosion and fire seen 1 mile aft, believed to have been a tanker sinking, although ship not seen.” This would have been the muzzle flashes of U-123, which in fact sighted other ships in the vicinity, but only fired on the Alcoa Guide.

Captain Cobb raced to the bridge and ordered the ship turned hard to starboard in an effort to ram the submarine. U-123 however, having recorded eight hits out of ten shells fired, decided to turn away to port and fire at the ship’s upper decks with the smaller 2-centimeter and 3.7-centimeter caliber guns. Hardegen wryly notes: “He turns hard towards us, but soon I notice that his rudder is jammed hard to starboard and he is now circling like a humming top.  The engine was still running at full speed.”

While the ship’s crew scrambled to survive the spiraling shells and launch lifeboats safely, Captain Cobb was mortally injured by one of the shells, leaving the men largely leaderless. Myron Chandler, the 36-year-old Radio Operator managed to send off an SOS using the Alcoa Guide’s previous name (from 1931 to 1940), the Point Brava. Chandler later informed US authorities that he received and acknowledgement to his message from a US station named WSC, which is in Tuckerton, New Jersey.

Unfortunately this information fell right into enemy hands as well, letting Hardegen know what damage his shelling had wrought: “He is burning underneath the bridge and because he is turning the wind pushes the fire in all directions and it is spreading quickly.  He sends a radio message, but without position: “POINT BRAVA (4834 GRT) from Norfolk to Destrelan on Guadeloupe.  Master injured, crew abandon ship.”  Good to know that.”

Hardegen then stopped firing for ten minutes, from 9:50 pm to 10 pm, to allow most of the men time to get off the ship without being injured collaterally by his efforts to set the ship afire and sink it. Captain Cobb was hit by shell fragments and was carried to the port lifeboat. But not before he dashed into his burning cabin to retrieve the confidential ship’s papers and throw them overboard in a weighted bag. It was a dutiful act which would leave his already lacerated body also burned and would spell his death.

Most of the mates leapt into the port lifeboat, on the side which was not initially being fired upon, and lowered away into the water and ultimately away from the ship. According to the survivor’s statement, mostly given by First Mate Kramer: “No disorder, everyone very quiet, no panic. #2 [port] lifeboat lowered first. …boat was filled, including 1st and 2nd mates. As boat was pounding up against the ship’s side, men on deck were told to jump for it. At that time, submarine ceased firing for about fifteen minutes.”

This left a largely leaderless group of other mariners on board the ship to struggle with the starboard lifeboat. However they did manage to get the starboard lifeboat off in the intervening minutes: “#1 life boats was put into the water at that time. First, second, and third assistants [engineers] in #1 life boat also radio operator.” The boat included Waldemar Semenov, who according to an account told to a training school (MEBA) in 2001, took the time to go below to his cabin, get dressed in a suit, choosing the appropriate tie, collect his camera, some cigarettes and then head to the galley to eat a sandwich and drink a coffee while he “listened to some of his shipmates crying and praying, scared, mindless and without direction.”

According to Semenov, “he asked the leaderless men if they cared to make their escape off the ship before ti sunk….” Though it seems incredible for all this drama to have played out in less than a quarter of an hour, the men did succeed in lowering the starboard (#1) lifeboat and even stopped it on the main deck so that a mortally injured man, American Ordinary Seaman Victor Patrola, could be placed aboard it (in fact it is probably that Patrola was already dead). Semenov noted that “Finally we slowly pulled away from the ship in plain view of the sub, which was drifting nearby…. There was plenty of light from the burning deck cargo.”

With what everyone thought was the last living crew off the ship (in fact there were five men still on board), Herdegen moved in to close range to finish off the macabre job of killing the ship, which he did methodically. In his own words: “New approach, now on the closest distance, 3 rounds of 10.5 cm into the waterline of the engine room, when turning away again fired with 3.7 cm and 2 cm into the waterline.  The result is that he is now circling to port.  Approaching this circling ship is not easy because I have to stay on the outer arc, you never know if there is after all a deception behind it.” 

Hardegen then takes a break and backs off, still allowing the fire to do its damaging work. Then: “During the next approach he [the ship] finally stops.  Now I wait for the fire to do its duty.  Of the big boilers he has 4 aft and 4 ahead atop of the hatches.  Later they floated free.  They seemed to be gasoline tanks for fuel stations which are buried in the ground.” The sub skipper is both observant and descriptive. 

According to the eyewitnesses in the lifeboats and on a life raft, the ship sank at 11:50, exactly two hours after the attack began. The Americans distinctly heard the Germans calling “Ja Wohl” to each other, or “Yes Sir!” as they followed Hardegen and his officer’s commands. However in describing the submarine (200 to 300 feet long, gray, two large deck guns, a machine gun on the conning tower, etc.) they and the US navy intelligence officers who interviewed them thought the submarine fit the description of a Japanese I-68 vessel, which was not correct.

Meanwhile Jules Souza was left on board along with his cabin-mates Pedro Laureno (described in contemporary accounts as a “Virgin Islands Negro” said in the crew list to be from Puerto Rico, who was only 19) and Dalmacio Helira, a Filipino AB. Souza had only joined the ship in New York and did not know his crew mates very well. (Because Helira didn’t say much and did not act panicked on learning they had been torpedoed, but rather got dressed, packed his bag and waited at his lifeboat station, Souza thought he was expecting to be picked up by the submarine).

The senior officer left on board was Chief Engineer Benjamin A. Fisher, 42, from Tampa, Florida accompanied by Ben and Fireman Casper Gallwitzer, 40 years of age, from New York City. Gallwitzer was wounded by shellfire. When the two junior sailors (Souza and Laureno) made the deck they encountered Fisher, who told them to stay put while he put the engines in reverse.

The three men went to the after well deck, far astern of the ship, to await Fisher. Helira had left them to forlornly wait at his assigned lifeboat station on the starboard side with his bag packed, as though for a train that would never arrive. There they noticed that both lifeboats had been launched without them, so they launched the starboard raft, however “the ship was moving too fast, [so] none of them could jump into it. It was a stroke of good luck, for the subs [there was really only one submarine] mercilessly cut the raft to bit with machine gunfire.

The men saw U-123 off the starboard quarter and thought they could see another off the port stern, however this may have been a result of confusion from the ship still steaming in circles. Soon Fisher joined them, informing them that the engines were astern, and helped them launch the life raft. They prepared the port life raft, untying it from the rigging.

Soon Alcoa Guide took up an erratic course sternward, with the submarine changing its relative bearing. The men lowered the port raft then, one after the other, climbed down some ropes to board it. According to Souza, “at this time the submarine on the port side spent fire on the raft with a machine gun. Either a shell or machine gun fire parted the line holding the raft to the ship. As the vessel was still going astern, she soon passed astern of the raft.

Machine gun fire ceased shortly after this as the submarine was keeping her position in relation to the backing vessel. Survivor states that with the exception of one bullet which creased his thumb, the [other] four occupants of the life raft suffered no damage from the machine gun fire. Survivor has recently healed scar on his thumb….”.

Hardegen continued his colorful narrative in the Kriegs Tage Buch, or War Day Book (submarine diary): “Steamer has a list to starboard. I am now always passing close to him and fire every time 3 rounds of 10.5 cm into the waterline, followed by the 3.7 cm and 2 cm. In between I wait and see.  The bridge had already collapsed as the starboard reeling submerged.  I change to the port side and hole him with the same method.  This finishes him off.  He capsizes to starboard and sinks with the bow rising steeply.”

Before leaving the scene Hardegen could not resist some self-congratulation, writing: “All 8 tanks are floating on the water. It was over surprisingly fast.  27 rounds of 10.5 cm, 86 rounds of 3.7 cm and 120 rounds of 2 cm. It proved itself to fire economically and to wait and see in between.  Now we have 11 ships totaling 79,649 GRT destroyed and can continue our return journey on course 60° with satisfaction.”

Though actually his tally was eight ships sunk for 39,917 tons and three ships damaged for 24,310 tons, for a total of 64,227 tons sunk or damage, it was an impressive tally for one patrol. He makes no mention of seeing the poor Filipino crewman waiting on the bow for rescue.

At 1130 pm that night, shortly after the Alcoa Guide slipped beneath the waves the Eastern Sea Frontier Enemy Action Diary promulgated in New York broadcast to all rescue resources that “SOS from S.S. ALCOA – GUIDE….. being shelled by sub and afire at bridge. Lifeboats manned at 22:12 [10:12 pm]. Vessel bond for Port of Spain, Trinidad, on outside course from Norfolk. Estimated position from bearings 35-18N, 71-33W. or about 200 miles east of Cape Hatteras.” This was an impressively accurate and timely broadcast, and two planes, the US destroyers USS Stringham and USS Swanson were sent immediately from its search for survivors.

With sunrise the four men on the bulky life raft naturally wanted to communicate with the men in the more seaworthy life boats, which they could see, so they fired off some red flares. They were ignored. Souza said that “At daylight… two lifeboats from the Alcoa Guide were sighted about one mile away…”

Souza identified the boats “by pinkish color of sails which he had helped to rig in lifeboats the day preceding the sinking. … although he could see the lifeboats plainly, they apparently did not see the rafts, as they continued without attempting to search the vicinity for possibility of finding any missing crew members. Within two hours the lifeboats were out of sight and were not seen again.”

On board the lifeboats there was indeed recognition that some of their crew mates may have survived the inferno and be in need of help. In the spare language of the official report it is recorded that “About 0600 the morning after abandoning ship a flare was noticed, probably from life raft. About the same time, observed tank, that was part of cargo, afloat.”

Waldemar Semenov is more specific about what happened on the boats that morning; “Suddenly, as morning light broke, a flare shot up in the distance and they thought they could make out the vague outline of a raft. Waldemar urged the boat crew to row toward the flare to investigate its source. But immediately, a deckhand leapt up from his seat and furiously argued that such a move would be foolhardy –that the Germans might be tricking them. He declared himself to be in charge and prohibited the crew from paddling in the flare’s direction.”

Soon the port lifeboat (#2) with the deck officers on board rowed over to the starboard lifeboat (#1) and men were transferred, one from the other. The troublesome seaman was put on the #2/port boat and Second Officer Gerard J. Costello was placed aboard the #1/starboard boat. Abandoning their mates on the raft troubled the men to their dying days: “The ship’s crew must live with the knowledge that they could have saved those six [four] men if not for the actions of the ill-tempered seaman.”

The boats set off west-northwestwards towards land in loose convoy. Because Captain Cobb was mortally wounded First Mate Kramer, himself in a bad way was in command of lifeboat #2 and Costello of #1, though Waldemar Semenov said that based on a passionate speech by Vincent Echauri, First Assistant Engineer, he (Semenov) was elected to lead the boat. He says that the second mate acquiesced to this arrangement, however there is no official record verifying it.

Waldemar Semenov in the suit which he salvaged calmly from his cabin on the Alcoa Guide. According to him he was elected to lead this lifeboat. His fedora is wet from the previous night’s rain, dating this photo as probably on the day of rescue, 19th April, 1942.

Source: Caninistraro, Marco, Calhoon MEBA Engineering School, Editor, “Tales of WWII: Cool Under Fire,” “Marine Officer” January / February 2002 – a detailed narrative by Semenov.
The Ordinary Seaman Victor Patrola had actually been killed in the first moments of the action on board and his body loaded into lifeboat #1. He was also buried at sea on the second day, Saturday the 18thof April. Semenov describes the interment:

“I tied the only piece of iron that we had to his leg,” said Waldemar. “We put the body on the edge of the boat, the steward said a prayer and we let it fall into the water. I know everyone was looking at it as it slowly sank down. For a while we all sat quietly and then gradually went on to the sort of routine we had in the boat.”


That afternoon the first harbingers of help on the way were seen above: “A roving plane searching for survivors of any of the half-a dozen vessels that had been sunk that week flew overhead and spotted the tiny lifeboat. The radio officer signaled with a mirror and the plane acknowledged them by flying low and dipping its wings. “Everybody was very excited that help would finally be coming,” Waldemar recounted. It was just a matter of time.” “


Fortunately for the thirsty men there was more salvation from the skies: “That night there was a heavy rain. We all got soaking wet, but we had a chance of getting fresh water to drink. The water we had in the boat was in a wooden barrel and was very stale. We had to strain the water because of sediment being disturbed by the rolling of the boat.”


On lifeboat #1 Captain Cobb died at 5 am on Sunday April 19th. He was buried at sea from #2 lifeboat that day. There was another Captain, Lieutenant Commander Karl Frederick Poehlmann of USS Broome (DD-210) out looking for the Alcoa Guidesurvivors. On Saturday the 18th of April the Broome was ordered away from her berth at the 35th Street Pier, Navy Yard Annex in Brooklyn New York to search for survivors in reply to the SOS of the night of the 16th/17th. By 733 am she was underway to Charleston via Norfolk, with instructions to head for the last reported position of the Alcoa Guide en route.



Another photo of Semenov’s life boat #1, the starboard boat, taken by Semenov.


Source: Edwards, Owen, “A Compass Saves the Crew,” “Smithsonian Magazine,” September 2009, a story of artifacts from Waldemar Semenov on display at the Smithsonian in 2008/2009.



At 8:30 am on the 19ththe Broome was informed that “ARMY BOMBER SIGHTED….ONE LIFE BOAT WITH WHITE SAILE AND SECOND LIFE BOAT WITH YELLOW STREAMER X EIGHT PERSONS IN EACH BOAT.” Probably the plane could not see the men lying at the bottom of each boat.


At 1:13 pm the Broome changed course to 178 degrees true “enroute to area where patrol plane reported sighting two lifeboats rigged with sails. Increasing speed to 27 knots.” At 3:06 pm the search was commenced and at 6:30 pm “sighted two flares bearing 210 degrees True, distance about 7 miles. Later identified the two life boats reported by patrol plane. Held general quarters, searched area for probable submarines. [7 pm] Life boats came alongside, received 27 passengers from S.S. Alcoa Guide… salvaged all worthwhile material and then holed both life boats.”


According to Semenov his boat was discovered first and then it took another hour and a half to find the first mate’s boat. The boats were, in his words “shot to pieces by the ships machine guns”. Lieutenant Commander Poehlmann wrote that “all passengers in good shape except John Kramer, first officer, who was given medical treatment.”




At 7:19 pm the following day, Monday the 20th of April the Broome arrived at Pier Two, Naval Operations Base (NOB) Norfolk. According to her captain, “A representative from the District Intelligence office and a representative from the Alcoa Company Line came aboard to take custody of the survivors and effects Turned survivors and effects over to District Intelligence Office Representative.” It had been less than a week since the 27 Alcoa Guidesurvivors had left the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. They were back home safe, minus seven of their number. Presumably Captain Cobb and Victor Patrola were buried in Norfolk, Virginia.


The voyage of survival for the five men on the life raft (Fisher, Gallwitzer, Souza, Laureno and Helira) was far from over. On the 17th of April they watched their companions sail away. Souza told how “within two hours [of dawn] the lifeboats were out of sight and were not seen again.” At midday two days later, on the 19th, a seaplane flew overhead but apparently did not see them and flew off westwards, towards land. This might be the same plane which discovered the two boats further to the west on the same day.


At 6 pm that day a tanker was seen, but it too ignored them. On Tuesday 21st of April a ship approached them from the northwest and passed within half a mile of the raft. The ship stop and “apparently took a look at the raft and proceeded.” This cruel pattern would continue.


That Thursday, the 23rdat 9 pm Fisher died from exposure. A mere two hours later, at 11 pm, a combination of injuries he received during the attack and the subsequent exposure killed Gallwitzer. The survivors opted to keep their bodies on the raft for eight subsequent days, probably in the hopes of providing them a proper burial. “Souza laid them side by side as another week passed. Finally, he blessed the bodies, said a prayer, and pushed them into the sea.”


On Friday May 1stanother plane, also a seaplane, was sighted going from east to west at a distance of two miles. Apparently the pilot did not see the raft, as it altered course to the northwest without acknowledging the three survivors. On Tuesday May 5th another plane was sighted but five miles away, offering no hope that the pilot had seen them.


Pedro Laureno died on Sunday May 17th in the evening. “After 22 days the scant rations were exhausted, and the young seaman [Laureno] became despondent. One night Souza heard him say he was going to see his mother. This was followed by a splash, and when daybreak came, the boy was not on the raft.”


Laureno also had been drinking salt water for five days up until his death. This left just Souza on the pitiable craft. “….The days passed as the one castaway was sunbaked by day and half frozen by the cold at night. He tried to keep a calendar by notching the side of the raft with a knife. Alas, he tried to drink seawater and became violently ill.


Happily for Souza the British merchant ship SS Hororata, Captain F. S. Hamilton in command, discovered him on Monday the 18th of May, over a month after Alcoa Guide had been attacked. At 4 pm in position 31.34N, 72.19W he was picked up “in an exhausted condition from exposure and from sun burns on his hands, legs and feet.” According to the New Zealander’s account, “He was so brown from exposure, his rescuers mistook him for a Hindu. Originally weighing 178 pounds, he had wasted to 78 pounds.”


Jules Souza had drifted 265 miles south-southwest over the course of 33 days on a frail life raft with no shelter and no propulsion. He was 285 nautical miles southeast of Cape Hatteras when found. Hororata was owned by the New Zealand Shipping Company and was destined for that country via the Panama Canal. On May 22nd the Hororata arrived in Cristobal, Panama at 4:20 pm and transferred Souza to US authorities in the Canal Zone in Balboa the following day. He was treated at the Gorgas Hospital and interviewed by US naval intelligence on the 24th and 25th.


Souza went back to sea and was torpedoed off another ship near Ireland, but thankfully quickly rescued by a British corvette. After the war he joined the company serving Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard from Wood’s Hole and New Bedford Massachusetts. He retired as skipper of the steamer “Nantucket” in 1973 and a special flag was waved atop the city’s Old Glory Tower when he passed away, a true “sole survivor” of his diminutive raft.



Capt. Jules Souza of Westport Massachusetts, on arrival in Panama. He died on October 10, 1964 according to “Flag Flies for sole survivor of World War II sinking,” by Linda Andrade Rodrigues, New Bedford Standard-Times, November 27, 2008.


Both Samuel L. Cobb and Benjamin A. Fisher had modern merchant ships named after them in honor of their heroism under fire. The USNS Samuel L Cobb (T-AOT-1123) is still afloat, serving the United States Military Sealift Command.


The citation for Capt. Cobb reads:


“The President of the United States takes Pleasure in Presenting the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal to

Samuel L. Cobb, Master of SS Alcoa Guide 04/16/42

For heroism and especially meritorious service under unusual hazards.

Though mortally wounded early in the action in which his ship was sunk by enemy submarine, he first endeavored to ram the attacker, and then ran through fire to his cabin to recover the Navy Code and other highly confidential papers which he cast over-side in a weighted sack. He later died in a lifeboat from wounds and burns caused by these actions.

His extraordinary courage and fidelity to trust will be an enduring inspiration to seamen of the Unites States Merchant Marine everywhere.

For the President
Admiral Emory Scott Land”





Andrade Rodrigues, Linda; “Flag Flies for sole survivor of World War II sinking,” New Bedford Standard-Times, November 27, 2008


Caninistraro, Marco, Calhoon MEBA Engineering School, Editor, “Tales of WWII: Cool Under Fire,” “Marine Officer” January / February 2002 – a detailed narrative by Waldemar Semenov.


Edwards, Owen, “A Compass Saves the Crew,” “Smithsonian Magazine,” September 2009, a story of artifacts from Waldemar Semenov on display at the Smithsonian in 2008/2009.


Mason, Jerry,– Hardegen’s KTB diary translated


Smithsonian Institute exhibit on WWII survivors:

“Survivors Statements” including the Panama portion of Souza’s narrative, 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

“Survivors Statements” and the USS Broome war diary, as found on the website key words “Alcoa Guide”, search parameters “war diaries” WWII.

US Merchant Marine Museum, Merchant Marine Heroes: Citations for Distinguished Service Medal Awarded for “Heroism Beyond the Call of Duty” during World War II, Source:– citation for Capt. Cobb the pre-eminent source of information on U-boats for a photo of Hardegen