Two days after the Pan Massachusetts was hit by Heyse in U-128 the Republic was sunk in the same general area by a different submarine, U-504 under Fritz Poske (see the “U-Boats and commanders” chapters for details on Poske). The Republic was an American tanker registered to Houston Texas whose keel was laid down as the Weweantic and was launched by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation of Wilmington Delaware as the Liberty Minquas in March 1920 for the United States Shipping Board (Uboat.net). Her dimensions were 392 feet long by 51 feet wide. In 1923 the American Petroleum Company purchased her and renamed the ship Republic. Her gross tonnage was 5,287 tons. He master was Alfred Hilderbrand Anderson with a crew of thirty three. Among them was Marie Carl Durand, a young seaman, whose poignant story is told by Gerald Reminick in Patriots and Heroes:True Stories of the U.S. Merchant Marine in World War II (Glencannon Press Maritime Books, 2000).
The time of the attack has varied, however it was before an imminent second attack by Heyse on the Cities Service Empire. The US Coast Guard reports the attack as happening “late on the night of the 21st” of February, 1942 and by Uboat.net as at 04:55 hours German time. A first-hand witness, Carl Durand, relates that “at approximately 2210 there was a loud explosion. The whole black night had a yellow-red glow. ..I was just getting up on my feet when the second torpedo hit. (Reminick). Republic was in water ballast steaming from Paulsboro, New Jersey to Port Arthur Texas, having begun her voyage on the 16th. Durand relates that “everyone thought it was safe to clean the tanks, as no submarines were along the coast; only ships going to England or Russia were being torpedoed,” (Ibid).
Vigilance was not slack, however, with lookouts being posted on the bridge wings and the captain fully alert and on the bridge at the time. “That night the third mate gave me hell for not reporting the lights off the Florida coast in a quicker fashion. We were close to Florida, hedging south and the following day we’d be in the Gulf of Mexico” – Durand was in eighteen years old; a six-foot, two-and-a-half-inch farm boy on his first voyage from New Orleans. Though he was sick on his first passage from there to Paulsboro, it was during the depression and in the two days leading up to joining the ship he had nothing to eat but some cinnamon rolls and milk. Though a greenhorn, he was glad to be aboard.
Poske opened his first attack of the patrol with two torpedoes, fired safely from the seaward side of the ship. Both projectiles slammed into the port side of the Republic, 35 and 50 feet respectively from the stern, killing two engine room crew instantly. Immediately the engines were disabled and an officer and two crew in the engine room space were killed. The impact sprayed oil from the ship’s bunkers (oil supply for the engines) all over the vessel, making movement on the deck slippery and dangerous. The ship leaned to the right and the remaining six officers and twenty crew managed to launch two lifeboats. Durand was the first person in the Number One lifeboat, having been directed there by the A.B. (Able Bodied Seaman), “Smitty”:
“We removed the covers from the falls, knocking loose the Pelican hooks holding the boats. …Someone up above yelled “what’s that kid doing in the boat? There’s supposed to be an AB in there!”. The waves were hitting the bottom of the boat and I was being sprayed with every wave. …it seemed like an eternity before the boat hit the water. …The rudder sent the stern straight out perpendicular to the ship’s hull. …I started swinging the drop lines to the waiting hands above on the boat deck, and they slid down into the boat. The saloon mess-man [either Herman Hilker or Philip Dansereau] slid down above me and let go. He brushed right in front of me, hit the gunnel, and dropped between the boat and the ship. We looked for him but he never resurfaced” (Reminick). [Quartermaster] Ole Olson cut loose a homemade life raft that was on the mast shrouds. The barrels and boards just busted loose in pieces. …We heard a “Kajump, Kajump, Kajump.” And we saw a shape in the water where the sound was coming from. I don’t think anyone breathed. My hair felt like it might have been standing straight up! The master said “I hope they don’t shoot”. The “Kajump” continued in the darkness southward around the bow of the S. S. Republic”.
Including the mess-man, two of the crew subsequently drowned, meaning there were five fatalities. Captain Anderson and twenty one of his crew managed to row ashore, as they were only three and a half miles northeast of Jupiter Island Lighthouse, Martin County. On arrival ashore (actually south of Jupiter Inlet), they were looked after by locals until a truck could be mustered to take them to Palm Beach, where officials questioned them. Durand is much more specific:
“…we rowed together like hell until we hit the sand of the estate of Worthington Scranton of Hobe Sound, Florida at 3A.M. Mr. Scranton was a gracious host. He even wanted to put on his World War I uniform. …About 5:30 A.M. a bunch of U.S. Army cars came and took us to their camp. There we took showers. …The Navy intelligence people asked us all kinds of questions about the radio. They told us don’t tell people how close to land we were when we were torpedoes. They wanted to keep it secret, so people would not panic. About 10 or 11 A.M. the Red Cross of West Palm Beach Florida bought each of us a suit. …The story was in all the papers that same day of us being the first ship torpedoed off the Florida coast. We were invited to a steak dinner at the big hotel in West Palm Beach and a bunch of folks gave speeches during dinner. Next, we were put on a Pullman trains and sent to New Orleans. (Reminick). As an aside, Mr. Scranton’s family had the city in Pennsylvania named for them, and Mrs. Scranton was Republican national committeewoman for Pennsylvania. Their estate was featured in architectural digests. Captain Athur Moore says that the Bartlett family, also of Hobe Sound, assisted the survivors as well (“A Careless Word, a Needless Sinking” Fifth Edition p.232).
The other lifeboat, with seven crew in it was picked up by the tanker Cities Service Missouri and taken southwards to Port Everglades, Florida, where they were “turned over to the Coast Guard” to use the verbiage of that organization. As see in the case of Durand, crew were kept under tight control, though apparently the press was not yet enforcing a news blackout. The lighthouse keeper of the Jupiter Lighthouse, Captain Charles Seabrook, is reported to have recovered some of the crew’s bodies as they washed ashore (shipwreckexpo.com). Also, “the next day a local man salvaged one of its lifeboats and was barely able to tow it through Jupiter Inlet, which was nearly closed. This would be the last boat to pass through the inlet until 1947. It was banked with sand between the jetties to allow the Coast Guard’s beach watchers to patrol the coast on horseback.” (pbchistoryonline.org/page/the-enemy-presence-german-u-boats)
Republic did not sink right away. In fact the next day the US Coast Guard located her hulk before it drifted onto the reefs five miles east of Hobe Sound – now an exclusive wealthy enclave. It sank roughly 30 hours after being struck, on the afternoon of 23rd February, leading one to consider whether salvage might have been possible, had the resources to save the ship been promptly allocated. Fortunately for posterity, the hull of the Republic remains intact. Ironically the Republic wreck would serve to exacerbate another maritime disaster off Florida roughly one and a half years later, when the tanker GulfLand rammed into the sunken hulk, precipitating an environmental disaster which lasted many weeks beyond more notable incidents since: 52 days. The idea that one ship in distress off Florida rammed into another sunken by a U-Boat gives rise to the notion that sinkings and wrecks off this coast became so common that ships were literally running over each other.
According to Captain Daniel Berg at Shipwreckexpo.com,
“The GulfLand caught fire after it was rammed by the GulfBelle on October 21, 1943, off Lake Worth Inlet. At the time, she was en route from Beaumont, Texas, to Jacksonville, Florida, with a cargo of aviation gasoline. Both vessels had been running without lights in accordance with the wartime blackout. The bow of the GulfBelle had sliced into the port bow of the GulfLand. The GulfLand and the GulfBelle caught fire as did the water around them. …Out of a total of 116 crewmen on both vessels, only 28 were saved. The Gulfland had a complement of 37 crew and seven Naval Armed Guards; 35 crew, including her captain and deck officers and two navy men were lost.
The two burning ships eventually separated. The Gulfbelle drifted away and ran aground off Jupiter inlet where her fire was extinguished. She was then towed to port. The Gulfland drifted until she grounded on top of tanker wreck SS Republic, which had been sunk on February 21, 1942, by a torpedo. After a few days, the Gulfland broke free and drifted until she grounded again. She continued to burn for 52 days and was declared a total loss on January 13, 1944. In May of 1944, a salvage company began work on the wreck. A storm came up and broke the wreck in half. The salvagers were only able to tow the Gulfland’s stern back to port.” (Berg, shipwreckexpo.com)
Today the wreck of the Republic consists only of large steel plates lying in 45 feet of water. The site has been heavily salvaged and is frequented, according to Capt. Berg, by snapper and grouper (shipwreckexpo.com). There is a photo of the hull, aground and listing to starboard severely, on Berg’s site.