Peder Bogen (was carrying 1 passenger from the sunken Melpomene)
The Peder Bogen had an extraordinary career as the oil tanker for remote whaling stations on the South Georgia Islands near Antarctica. Built in 1925 by the N.V. Sheepswerf “Dordrecht” (Johan Rasmussen & Co.), she was based in Stroemnes in South Georgia. In 1933 she was sold to the South Georgia Company, Limited (Christia salvesen, of Lieth, England (“From 70 North to 70 South, by Graeme Somner), Tormod-Ringdal, lardex.net/rasmussen/skipstekst/ 1925_peder_bogen). Her agents are listed in the US survivor statements (NARA2) as Cunard White Star Line.
A veteran of numerous convoys since the outbreak of the war, the valuable tanker Peder Bogen is described as having a gross tonnage of 9,741 tons and was loaded at the time of attack with 11,020 tons of Admiralty fuel and 2,000 tons of bunker oil (for her own use). She was steaming from Port of Spain, Trinidad, which she had left on the 19th of March, carrying the radio officer of the British tanker Melpomene, to Halifax, then destined to sail for the UK. Her departure from Trinidad was remarkable in that she had an escort of a patrol boat and airplanes and for the first six hours or fifty miles sailed north with three other ships in two columns. This is evidence not only of the importance of the laden tanker to the war effort, but also the onslaught of German and Italian submarines off Trinidad even at this early stage of America’s entry into the war (Kelshall).
Peder Bogen’s speed at 1615 (4:15 PM local time) on the 23rd of March was 9.5 knots and her position 24.43 North by 57.44 West, roughly 700 miles northeast of Puerto Rico – this is just outside of the strict area covered, however the fact that she was struck by the Italian submarine Morosini, whose position is difficult to pin down, coupled with her carriage of a survivor of the Melpomene sunk 5 March by the Finzi, merits this ship’s inclusion. Also, because the survivor were landed in both the US and Europe (New York and Lisbon), the demise of the Peder Bogen is covered thoroughly by both US and UK Naval Intelligence. Captain Dawson was interviewed by the British a mere 9 days after arrival in Lisbon.
At the time of sinking conditions were calm, it was daylight, and visibility good – the wind was described as Southeast, force two (about 20 miles per hour). The Peder Bogen was sailing independently on a straight course, not zigzagging, course roughly due north and just skirting the line between Bermuda and Anegada. One seaman was on watch on the bridge and her 4-inch gun was manned by a Naval Gunner on the after gun. Altogether the ship was armed with the 4-inch gun, twin Marlin machine guns, 2 Hotchkiss guns, 2 strip Lewis guns and 4 rockets and kites. There were 51 men under the command of Captain W. T. Dawson, plus the one passenger, for a total of 53. These included five gunners – two army and three naval.
Two torpedoes from the Morosini struck the ship on the port side – the first forward of the bridge in the number six tanks and the second just forward of the engine room in the number one tank, giving off the smell of cordite. As Captain Dawson wrote, “the fore end of the midship house [was] blown right away and the bridge partly wrecked. The bridge protection was cement and stood the concussion very well. The bg hatchway across the fore part of the bridge was blown open. A hole was blown in the ship’s side 5 or 6 feet above the water line, and I could look down from the bridge and see the interior of the ship” (ADM 199/2150 p.83). Fortunately no one was injured, and ten minutes hour later Captain Dawson boarded one of the two lifeboats (out of six) which had launched from the starboard side and abandoned ship. There were 21 men in the Master’s boat including five engineers, two mates, two soldiers, and two naval gunners.
The lifeboats stood off roughly a mile away, riding on their sea anchors. At 730 PM, after three hours of waiting (1800 and two hours, according to Captain Dawson), the ship had still not gone down, so the survivors decided to re-board the Peder Bogen. However, as they approached the ship the submarine, which had obviously been waiting for this cue, sprung into action and began shelling her from the distance of one mile away. The Morosini gun crew employed both tracer and explosive shells and chose to fire from dead ahead, which gives a much smaller target than broadside. Not surprisingly, according to the lifeboat crew, their accuracy was not very good, with some forty shells fired and only five or so hits.
As Captain Dawson, with characteristic British understatement and aplomb related, the shells were “passing overhead, for over an hour and our situation we becoming more dangerous. We saw the flashing of a morse signal slight some distance astern of the boat and formed the idea that there were two submarines in the vicinity and I considered it advisable to get away from the area as quickly as possible.” A fire was set by the shelling which soon engulfed the ship, dooming her. Dawson says that “when I last saw the ship from the boat she was down by the head and burning furiously to the water line” (Id.).
The lifeboats beat a hasty retreat and lay off a mile away for the duration of the miserable night, watching their now “uninhabitable” home burning furiously. In the morning they set off to the southwest and the Caribbean islands in the direction of the Virgin Islands. There were 32 men in the Chief Officer’s boat and they were soon separated. Captain Dawson set a course for Puerto Rico but because of light and fluky winds (they were from a different direction every day), they had to row the first four days. Fortunately it rained every night, enabling the crew to remain nourished and meaning that the rations for the 21-day trip which was envisioned would last longer. Each man had a waterproof suite and the boat was provided with 8 blankets, so aside from getting sores on their feet (the boat leaked heavily the first day until cracks were sealed with cement and by the natural swelling of the wooden planks), the men were alright on their ration of a quarter-pint of water daily. Dawson states that their fear of the enemy was so great that “I was afraid of risking keeping a light in the compass during the night-time. This was an entirely new experience for me, having had no previous experience of sailing a boat, except for pleasure” (Id.)
Twenty-one in Captain Dawson’s boat were rescued on the 4th day adrift (27thMarch) by the neutral ship Gobeo, which took them to Lisbon Portugal, arriving on the 12th of April. Dawson relates how at 0600 (dawn) “one of the look-out men in the bow sighted a ship. We hoisted the yellow flag but I learned later that she had seen the sail of the boat before the yellow flag. …We were treated very well indeed, most of the Spanish crew appeared pro-British. They did not have very much variety of food, but they gave us what they had.” In contrast to the little lifeboat which was afraid to light a bowl-sized compass, the neutral Gobeo “burned full navigation lights during the night,” Commenting on his guest from the Melpomene, he observed that “the passenger, two ordinary seamen and myself were the only ones not to suffer from seasickness, most of the others suffered very badly and had to receive attention constantly” (Id.).
The balance of 32 men in the second boat were rescued at midnight on the same day, the 27/28thof March. They were landed in New York by the Argentinian ship Rio Gallegos on March 31st. All of the crew were British. Captain Dawson, having ensured the safe arrival of over 50 men across thousands of miles of oceans after a traumatic sinking closes his account modestly, observing that “The Mate and I were determined to get the boat and its occupants to safety – fortunately the weather and water were fairly warm throughout. (ADM 199/2140). Given that the rescue ships did not radio in the collection of survivors given the wartime conditions, it took two tense weeks for the survivors to learn the fates of the others. The only sight of the Morosini which the survivors caught was a “vague silhouette” so unlike the Cygnet and Athelqueen survivors, they were not able to give an accurate description of the Italian sub.