The converted schooner Sama had an interesting history and an unusual demise in that her attack, Erich Wurdemann in U-506 could just have easily attacked much larger ships – namely the British motor ship J. E. Kinney of Halifax (sighted 15 minutes before the attack) or the British steam ship AthelRegent, known to be in the vicinity at the time (actually rescued the crew 6 hours later). Sama was built as the Harjumaa, a four-masted schooner at Petrovski Shipbuilding Company of Reval, Estonia in 1922. In 1927, as a sign of the time her new owners the Louis Geraci Company pulled out her masts and converted her to a motor freighter, naming her Louis Geraci. In 1932 she was named Sama and operated by the Bahama Shipping Company of Bluefields, Nicaragua, to which port she was home-ported (Uboat.net). However contemporaneous accounts by her master, Anders Gaard, aged 57, give her owners as the Suwanee Fruit and Steamship company of Jacksonville, Florida – presumably they were either the charterers for this voyage or her recent owners (changing a ship’s name during war time was discouraged if not outright prohibited, at least by the British during the war to avoid confusion such as that caused in the Skane / Boren sinking).
On the morning of May 3rd, 1942 the Sama was proceeding northwards in the Gulf Stream with a cargo of Bananas. She had left Boracao Cuba at 530 PM on the 30th of April and was closer to Orange Cay, south of the Bimini Islands, than to Key Largo to the west. Her crew of fourteen men total were as diverse in nationality as the ship itself – they included Norwegians (master and Chief Officer Tangevold), Latvian, Canadian, American, British, Danish, Austrian, and two Cuban seamen. The ship’s dimensions were 166 feet length overall and her tonnage was 567 gross. At the time her Nicaraguan flag was flying astern, notwithstanding the night time. Since no torpedo was seen by the two men on watch on the bridge, it was at first assumed that the six-to-seven-foot hole blow in the port side, which ruptured the ship all the way to the center line, may have been caused by a mine. However U-506’s commander Erich Wurdemann confirms an attack on this ship at this place and time, at position 25.04N, 79.45W.
The torpedo struck the port side amidships, cutting off Walter Tucker the Able-Bodied Seaman posted at lookout on the forecastle head. Sama was on a course of 340 degrees, or just west of north, and making 9 knots – she was not armed and not zigzagging, and although blacked out was not in convoy or following routing instructions. The weather was described at the time as clear, with a northeast wind of Force three or about 15-20 knots. There was moonlight and visibility was good, so good in fact that the Sama crew – and thus presumably the men on U-506 – could clearly make out the British motor ship J. E. Kinney (about which more below). The impact blew the deck upwards, knocked the aft mast over, and destroyed the entire port midsection. The men ran for the port lifeboat but were dismayed to find that “the explosion had blown away the entire midsection on that side of the ship. Looking down in the hole it was observed that the icebox and cargo located in that section were gone, and it appeared that a section of the bottom of the vessel had been blown out. These men had to turn and gain the lifeboat on the opposite deck. The boat was launched with all hands aboard and as they pulled away the Sama rolled on her side” (Survivors Statements, Enclosure B, NARA2). It took just 15 minutes for the ship to sink, at 01:30 am, in 450 fathoms or roughly 2,700 feet of water.
Setting off for the Florida rather than the Bahamian shore, the survivors managed to cover twenty miles under sail and rowing over the next six hours. They were spotted and rescued by the British steam tanker AthelRegent at 7:30 in the morning, only seven miles from the Pacific Reef in the Florida Keys, which was bearing 85 degrees, or almost due west. They were landed in port Everglades at the end of the same very eventful day (Id.). The Captain reported that the only injuries were scratches to his head, and that the crew behaved “very well”.
The AthelRegent was a taker of 8,881 tons build by Furness Shipbuilding Company Limited of Haverton Hill on Tees, England in 1930. She survived the war and was scrapped in 1956 – having done better than her colleague the AthelQueen, sunk off Abaco by di Cossato on the Italian submarine Tazzoli earlier in the same spring (theshipslist.com/ships/lines/athel).
A look at the dimensions of the Kinney will explain why Wudemann passed her up in favor of the Sama: she was in fact some two hundred tons less than the Sama and made of wood. Built in 1941 as the HMCS Cedarwood in Lunenburg Canada to transport war supplies amongst the provicnes, she was later named General Schmidlin. The J. E. Kinney was only 388 gross tons and 120 feet long, with tapered stem and stern (yudu.com/Library/A1r4fl/ TheNorthernStarEditi/resources/6). She is reported as clearing New York later in the war on June 24th and September 21st of the same year (Mozolak). Because her movements aroused suspicion, the Kinney’s officers were interviewed by US Naval Intelligence at Jacksonville on the 13th of May, who determined that she “waited from 0100 EWT until daylight May 3rd in order to cross the gulf Stream and that no connection exists between the subject vessel and the sinking of the ‘Sama’” (Summary of Report of Statements, Enclosure B, NARA2).