Patrick J. Hurley
The US tanker Patrick J. Hurley of 10,864 gross tons was one of the easternmost ships hit by U-boat in this study, in position 22.59N and 46.15W, nearly 15 degrees east of the line between Bermuda and Anegada. The ship was laden with a full cargo of 75,000 barrels of high-test gasoline and 60,000 barrels of number two diesel oil (tractor oil) from Aruba and was on a direct route from Aruba to Belfast Ireland and then Avonmouth, England when struck by U-512 under Wolfgang Schultze on the 12th of September 1942 in the remote Sargasso Sea.
Patrick J. Hurley was on one of her first laden voyages, having been built in the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company’s facilities in Kearney, New Jersey in November 1941. There were 62 men under the command of Captain Carl Stromgren. These were divided amongst ten officers, 34 crew and 18 Naval Armed Guards. Paul S. Hirsch was a Seaman 2nd Class on the gun crew, under the command of Lieutenant Patrick J. Walsh. George Goldman was a member of the crew. The US Navy signalman and corpsman was a man named Tillinghast, or Tillie for short. The Tillinghast family of Rhode Island has a long nautical lineage. In this case, Tillie’s medical training would be much in demand.
The Hurley had not originally been built as a tanker – she was converted to one for the War Shipping Administration between April and August 1942. Her owners were the Sinclair Refining Company of New York, New York. Her dimensions were 160.6 meters long by 22 meters wide and 11.6 meters deep. Her 1178 n.h.p. steam turbine engine propelled the ship at an average of 14.2 knots, however she was capable of as many as 17 knots in emergency speed, which she was about to test. The eighteen gunners manned a 3-inch and a 4-inch gun plus two 20-milimeter machine guns and two other 50-milimeter machine guns.
On the afternoon of 12 September U-512 fired a torpedo at the Patrick J. Hurley, which was unobserved by the men onboard the ship as it missed, probably running off at a depth of 20 feet. Wolfgang Schultze, the submarine skipper, then had a problem on his hands, since the tanker was racing along zig-zagging on a course of 68 degrees true (east-northeast) at the impressive speed of 15 knots. With a heavy sea going it would take the sub many hours to catch the ship by motoring on the surface, and that would best be done at night to avoid being seen. The night was cloudy and moonless. The wind was only 15 or so knots from the southeast where a swell emanated. There were eight lookouts on board the ship, many of them with binoculars. They were stationed one aft, one forward (both at their guns), two on the upper bride, two on the upper house and two on the flying bridges, 50 feet above the sea.
The ship was roughly 800 miles northeast of Antigua at 10:30 pm ship’s time when Paul Hirsch called urgently to the bridge, saying “Renfro! Light just off starboard! I guess 100 yards, parallel course. The damn thing’s surfaced! You see it?” Both men sounded the alarm immediately, and at that moment the submarine began a brutal barrage of 6-inch and armor-piercing shells against the ship, whilst the crew of U-512 began raking the catwalk and decks with machine gun fire to keep the men from manning the ship’s offensive weaponry. Captain Stromberg decided to make a high-speed run for it, and turned the ship to the north (port) and asked for top speed – some 17 knots – which the Chief Engineer delivered.
However the fire from the sub was withering – the ship was soon engulfed in flames and smoke, and the Executive Officer had his midriff ripped open and died on deck in front of the bridge. Most of the guns were transformed into mangled pieces of wreckage. Shrapnel zipped around the ship making any movement dangerous, and the starboard life-boats were smashed. At 10:55 pm, twenty minutes after the shelling began, Captain Stromberg ordered abandon ship, though Hurley was still making a dangerous 11 knots through the water. Shortly thereafter a shell made a direct hit on the bridge, killing Stromberg, obliterating the crew’s quarters, and throwing Hirsh into the sea with a shrapnel wound to the head that “felt like the peeling of a thick grapefruit.”
Altogether the men managed to launch two port life boats and two of the four life rafts. The men on one of the rafts managed to pull Hirsch, who was wearing a life jacket, on board. Only four of the 55 “lifesaving suits” on board were utilized, but fortunately the water was not so cold in the tropics. The submarine kept up its barrage, swinging from starboard to port to ensure the death throes of such a valuable and large ship. The Patrick J. Hurley finally succumbed to the damage after six hours and twenty-five minutes. She sank by the stern at 3:00 am local time on the 13th of September.
After three me had been plucked from an overturned lifeboat and another grateful sailor found in the debris when he used the whistle on his lifejacket, there were 22 men in one boat and 23 in the one occupied by Paul Hirsch and lead by the Third Mate and Navigating Officer. With the coming of dawn the men managed to keep the two boats together, however in the growing swell there was a danger they would capsize by constantly jerking against each other. Once they agreed to separate the boats were out of sight of one another in a paltry fifteen minutes.
Seven days later, on the 20th of September, the other boat was rescued by the Swedish freighter Etna at position 23.21N by 49.40W. The four armed guard and 18 officers and crew were landed in New York on the 2nd of October. Sadly the Etna was sunk just two and a half months later when struck by U-217 under Kurt Reichenbach-Klinke just south of where the Hurley went down, while on a voyage from New York to Rio de Janeiro Brazil. All 27 members of her complement survived.
On Paul Hirsch’s boat he was not the only one injured – the Chief Engineer suffered form a severed artery in his leg. The bleeding was so bad when Corpsman Tillinghast changed the bandages the bilges would fill with bloody water, which was pumped into the sea. Sharks menaced the men constantly. On about the 15thof September the seas subsided and the survivors were able to hoist sail for the West Indies to the southwest. After twelve days however, on about the 25thof September, the lifeboat entered the doldrums, or “horse latitudes’, so named since sailors would have to throw the horses overboard rather than run out of precious fresh water while they waited for wind to propel them. The lifeboat came to a halt and a deadly waiting game began. The Chief Engineer was in a bad way and they covered first his body then his eyes with canvas, since he appeared to be losing his sight.
Along with rationing their meager water and food allowances, the men engaged in regular prayer. Hirsh wrote that “one man declared he was an atheist, and would not join us in prayer. There was a mutual respect us among us regarding this, too. He went to the other end of the boat and rejoined us after we finished praying” (armed-guard.com/whistles). On the 21st day of their ordeal adrift, or the 4th of October, the men were startled alert by the sound of gunfire. It was the British merchant ship Loch Dee which came to the aid of the men and their captain, who fortuitously was also a doctor, did not want the sharks interfering with the rescue, so he ordered some of them shot. In his Scottish brogue Captain Smith declared “We didna hold with any sharks comin’ round ye in the rescue at all!” (Ibid.).
The Chief Engineer was deemed to have only a day of life left in him by the time he was rescued. The men were taken to Charleston South Carolina, arriving by the 11thof October. There some were hospitalized and all of the navy men received the Purple Heart medal for their injuries and the bravery and fortitude to which their survival for twenty-one days attested. Altogether seventeen officers, gunners and sailors lost their lives in the effort to save Patrick J. Hurley from destruction by U-512.