SS Ramapo sunk by U-108/Scholtz NW of Bermuda 16 Feb 42: all 38 crew lost

SS RAMAPO, Attack Narrative

 by Eric T. Wiberg,, March, 2014

 The steamship Ramapo of 2,968 tons was built in 1924 by the firm of Dunlop, Bremner and Company in Port Glasgow, Scotland. Her original name was steam ship or SS Baron Wemyss and she was owned by the Kelvin Shipping Company Limited (H. Hogarth & Sons) of Ardorssan, Scotland, on the River Clyde near Glasgow. There had been an earlier Baron Wemyss, built by the same yard in 1912, and also a steamship, however she was torpedoed and sunk in the First World War.

Baron Wester Wemyss, in his Admiralty uniform in a portrait by Sir William Orpen.


Baron Wemyss was born Rosslyn Wemyss to an aristocratic Scottish family with a hereditary castle. At age 13 he joined the Royal Navy, signing aboard HMS Britannia as a cadet in 1877. He rose progressively through the ranks and during WWI was known as Sir Rosslyn Wemyss. He oversaw the successful evacuation of Allied troops (Anzac and British) from Gallipoli, Suvla Bay and Ari Burnu Turkey in December, 1915. He replaced Admiral Sir John Jellicoe as the First Sea Lord in December 1917 – the highest rank for a naval officer in Great Britain. After the war was made Admiral of the Fleet and joined the House of Lords as Baron Wester Wemyss of Wemyss in the County of Fife, Scotland, in November 1919. He died in the South of France in 1933.

The Baron Wemyss was a general cargo ship with a single propeller. She was 2996 gross registered tons, 332.2 feet long, 48.1 feet wide and 21.9 feet deep. Here single engine was build by David Rowan & Company and developed 225 net horsepower. She traded under the Baron Wemyss name for H. Hogarth & Sons Ltd. for 13 years, until 1937. Then it was sold to a firm in Genoa Italy named Alberto Tomaso Rosasco and renamed the SS Santarosa (possibly Santa Rosa). There were three other ships in the Rosasco fleet in 1939: the Escambia, Etiopia and Florida II.  Under the Santa Rosa name she traded between Europe and the United States.
SS Ramapoas the SS Baron Wemyss, sometime between 1924 and 1937.

Source: c/o,

The outbreak of war found Santa Rosa in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There, on 25 July 1941 the United States government seized the ship under an Executive Order and assigned it to the War Shipping Administration (WSA). On September 19, 1942 the registry of the ship was changed from Italian (Genoa) to Panama. This way all of the crew did not need to be US citizens or naturalized (in fact all but one of the crew were non-US-citizens).

The name was changed to Ramapo, which refers to a series of hills through which there is a pass and a town named Ramapo, 28 miles northwest of New York City. The name comes from the Native American language of the Algonquin and means either “round pond” or “sweet water.” The town was a stop for stage coaches traveling between New York City and Albany New York in the 1800s.

The WSA delegated the ship to the management of the Waterman Steamship Company of Mobile Alabama under what was called a GAA agreement on 28 October, 1941. On the 6th of November the Ramapo was ordered to join a convoy across the North Atlantic from Canada to northern England. It appears that later that month the ship was moved to Norfolk Virginia.

According to the pre-eminent Hague database, SC 56 left Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada on the 22nd of November 1941 and arrived in Liverpool, England on the 10th of December. She was carrying a general cargo and her master was Captain Johan Ozn Lorentzen, aged 35, a Norwegian national who was living at the time with his wife in Glendale, New York. His Chief Mate was another Norwegian, Thorleif Helmers, aged 42 and the Second Mate was a Chilean named Miguel Delano, aged 31.

The Bosun was another crew member who was technically British but lived with his wife in Philadelphia: William Nicholson, aged 36. There was only one US citizen on board, a 37-year-old Messman named John Cornelius McAdoo, who signed on as Harvie E. Boyd, from Baltimore. Altogether there were 9 Norwegians, one Dutchman, a Frenchman, a Chilean, an Argentinian, a Swede, an Irishman, two Greeks, 12 Canadians, and 8 British aboard Ramapo.

On December 1st 1941 the US destroyer USS Livermore (DD-429) came upon the Ramapo whilst the freighter was on its way to join Convoy SC 56. The Captain of the Ramapo was admonished not to share via radio that he had seen the convoy which the Livermore was escorting. The Ramapo must have been straggling behind Convoy SC 56. In any event the ship arrived in Liverpool on the 10th of December and turned around fairly quickly, as within three weeks she was headed back to the United States, via Bermuda.

Ramapo departed Liverpool on the 2nd of January 1942 headed for New York, probably in ballast or carrying supplies and mail from the UK to its colony, Bermuda, some 3,000 miles away. She dispersed from Convoy ON 53 on the 19th of January, and arrived in Bermuda probably on or before the 10th of February. (There is confusion about the final voyage, with some claiming the ship was sailing from London to Philadelphia, from “Riverport” to New York, or London direct to New York, all of them incorrect, the authorities at and being relied upon most).

Ramapo set out on its final, fateful voyage on the Thursday the 12th of February. By Monday the 16th the ship was 165 nautical miles north-northwest from Bermuda, 510 miles east-southeast from New York Harbor, and 485 miles east-northeast of Cape Hatteras. The ship must have been really struggling with foul weather or engine trouble, since that shows an average of just 2 knots. Whatever the case we will never know, but Klaus Scholtz of U-108 would learn more than anyone else when he caught up with the lonely straggler….


KapitänleutnantKlaus Scholtz  Source:

 The patrol of U-108 through north of Bermuda was short but very busy, with a ship sunk every other day. The submarine was commanded by Korvettenkapitän (later Fregattenkapitän) Klaus Scholtz, aged 33, from Magdeburg, Germany, who had earned the Knights Cross just over a month before. U-108 was part of the second wave sent to maintain Operation Drumbeat, along with U-103, U-106 and U-107.

U-108 entered the area northwest of Bermuda and heading east on the 15th of February 1942. The war diary, or KTB (Krieg’s Tage Buch) for the following day reads in relevant part, using local times:

“0656 ….Steamer sighted 75° True on a course of 330° T. Comes in sight at dawn. Run ahead to get in position.
0900 …..Submerged for attack.
0956 …..Fired one torpedo from Tube II. Ship distant 900 meters. Hit mid-ships after 60 second run. Boiler exploded. Ship folds in middle and slowly breaks in two.
1007 …..Surfaced. Steamer sinks during surfacing. The C.O. describes the ship as follows: Freighter, loaded, about 5000 gross tons. Straight bow, old-fashioned stern. First mast located between #1 and #2 hatches. No hold between bridge and smokestack. Second mast between Hatch #4 and #5. One screw. Ship painted grey. 34 survivors.”


The translators of this KTB feel that the 34 survivors died from exposure in the cold February waters, a likely, and sad scenario. The description of the ship fits that of the Ramapo and her course is consistent with a ship sailing from Bermuda to New York (north-northwest). Also had there been 39 men sighted it could not have been Ramapo – the number of men seen (less than the 38 men on board) gives further credibility to the ship struck having been the Ramapo. Also no distress signal was heard by the submariners nor ashore, as there is no mention of it in the log.

Emblems of U-108 – among the last details of the outside world that the freezing men of the Ramapo would have seen.

Source: Hogel, Georg, “U-Boat Emblems of World War II, 1939 – 1945”

After a dog-leg to the southeast, on the 17th Scholtz resumed course for Lorient and the next day sank the Somme, a British ship of 5,265 tons northeast of Bermuda. It left the region the same day – the 18th of February. This patrol for the 2nd U-boat Flotilla began in Lorient on the 8th of January and ended there on the fourth of March 1942. While off the Hatteras area Scholtz and his men sank the Ocean Venture, Tolosa and Blink, the latter ship just west of the Bermuda region.

On the 18th of February 1942 the US Navy authorities listed Ramapo was “Overdue – Press.[umed] sunk” and “unlocated” and “sunk.” The note in the margin reads “Overdue since Feb. 18.” This is more in accord with an actual ETA, since the ship left Bermuda on the 12th of February. By the 16th the Ramapo was less than 200 miles from Bermuda and more than 500 miles from New York, or less than a third of the way to her destination. The US records also wrongly list the destination as Philadelphia, not New York, though they correctly had her leaving Bermuda.

The British Admiralty was paying attention. On the 21st of February in their War Diary for Foreign Stations they ask “Have you any news of the Panamanian RAMAPO due New York 16/2 from Bermuda?” This message was also sent to the Department of Naval Intelligence in Ottawa, Canada.

Alas because all her men were lost the riddle of the sinking of Ramapo was not solved for the Allies and families of the dead until late 1945. On November 28, 1945 the Commander of US Naval Forces in Europe reported to the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington DC that “The following information obtained from German sources regarding the subject vessel, which was previously been recorded as “Missing” has been received from the Director of Trade Division, Admiralty:

SS RAMAPO (Panamanian) sunk by U-boat on 16th February 1942 in about 35.10’N, 65.50’W. Boilers exploded ship split in middle. 34 survivors observed.” (Source: NARA, DC). This correspondence was acknowledged by Spencer S. Lewis, Chief of Staff on December 5th 1945, long after Victory in Europe day. It was a lonely epitaph to the 38 men who perished on that winter morning more than three years before. No marker shows their grave.

A member of the 1927 Naval Academy Crew, Klaus Scholtz entered the U-boat arm in 1939. His Knights Cross was supplemented with the Oak Leaves in December 1941. Overall Scholtz underwent eight patrols, all in U-108, between February 1941 and July 1942, for a total of 361 patrol days. Over his career he sank 25 ships worth 128,190 tons. One of them, in April 1941 was the British Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC) Rajputana, in the Straits of Denmark.

In September 1944 Klaus Scholtz was captured whilst commander of the 12th Flotilla in Bordeaux and held until April 1946. After the war he joined the Bundesmarine and was base commander in several locations, including Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. By 1966 he was Kapitän zur See and he passed away at age 79 in 1987.

Armed Guard website– an excellent and the most thorough treatment of the ship aside from, with well-researched biographical details of the crew.

Busch, R. and H.-J. Röll, German U-boat Commanders of World War II, 1988 info on both Baron Wemyss ships!~onzmain– for info on the Ramapo’s final voyage and dispersal from Convoy ON.53 – for Admiralty query about Ramapo whereabouts, saying she sailed from Bermuda

Helgason, Gudmundur & Rainer Kolbicz,, 2014

Hocking, Charles, “Dictionary of Disasters at Sea During the Age of Steam,” 1969, p.578

Hogel, Georg, “U-Boat Emblems of World War II, 1939 – 1945,” Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA, 199, page 68

Kurowski, Franz, Knights Cross Holders of the U-boat Service

NARA, DC: “Survivors Statements” from National Archives and Record Administration, Washington DC, found by Michael Constandy, Formal citation: Survivor’s Statements (1941-1942) Series: Papers of Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, compiled 1941 – 1974.  Record 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 (sparse information was gleaned from this, except for post-war analysis that she had been sunk). – for photo of ship, description of her history and loss – for description of Baron Wemyss the person as well as the town of Ramapo NY – for specifications of the ship as well as an image of her as Baron Wemyss

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