VIVIAN P SMITH:
Kapitänleutnant Bernhard Zurmühlen in the Type VIIC boat U-600 led the
next attack on the region. He entered the area on the 8th of August 1942 midway between Bermuda and Anegada and headed for the Windward Passage via the southern route between the Turks & Caicos Islands and the Dominican Republic. On the 10th of August he paused long enough to
dispatch the Barbadian schooner Vivian P. Smith, built in Canada. The sinking – by gunfire northeast of Grand Turk – did not take long and the sub proceeded inwards.
Kapitänleutnant Zurmühlen was a member of the Class of 1933 and worked with radios on a battleship and in signals on shore before joining U-boats in March 1941. He was serving under von Tiesenhausen on U-331 when the boat sank the British battleship HMS Barham in the Mediterranean in November 1941. He commissioned U-600 as its first (and only) commander in December 1941. The patrol to the Bahamas was its first patrol and the Vivian P Smith the boat and commander’s first Allied sinking.
Vivian P. Smith was constructed of wood and launched on October 23rd 1915 in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Her builders were Smith & Rhuland and the principal shareholder (out of more than 40 listed on the registration) was William G. Smith, so one can assume that the yard built her “on spec” at their own cost and confident of a buyer. In April of 1916 the journal “Canadian Fisherman” announced that “the new schooner, Vivian P. Smith, has been added to the fleet for Captain Roland Knickle.”
The schooner was to have many owners. At her launch alone her ownership was broken into 64 shares with almost as many stakeholders, indicating that it was truly a community venture and also a capitalistic venture for small stakeholders. Between October 1915 when she was launched and the 28th of November 1927 when she was sold out of Canadian and into Dutch registry, there were 23 transactions for the ship – either William G., Lewis H., or James H. Smith owned her ten times, here captain, Roland Knuckle at least twice, and so on. Her original captain was Captain Roland Knuckle.
She was 102 feet long, 26 feet wide, and had a draft of 11 feet empty (14 feet when sunk). A sailing schooner with two masts, Vivian P. Smith had an attractive elliptic stern, was built in the carvel style, and her head was constructed in the billet style. She had no internal bulkheads or ballast tanks. The Vivian P. Smith had a net registered tonnage of 97.42 and gross tonnage of 130.28. Her cargo capacity was roughly 368.69 cubic meters of storage space. On her final voyage she carried over 200 tons of salt in her holds. The ship was not equipped with a radio and the record is silent as to whether an auxiliary engine was added later in her career.
According to the ship’s registry on file with the Canadian national archives, she was she sold out of Canadian registry in 1927. From there she was owned by the indefatigable sailing clan the Hassels of Bridgetown Barbados and Saba whose nautical lineage goes back centuries. She was used for fishing off the snapper banks of British Guyana. Captain Frank Hassell, the father of Eric, purchased her sister ship, the Francis W. Smith. She shows up in newspapers in Trinidad and Barbados bringing cargoes of fresh fish or ice from foreign ports and fishing grounds, her arrival advertised in the local papers.
At the time of her loss the Vivian P. Smith was owned by the Kenneth Johnson family of Bridgetown and was registered to Demerara, British Guyana. Kenneth and his father Captain “Daddy” Johnson owned three other two-masted schooners operating out of Demerara. She was two days into a voyage from Grand Turk, in the Turks & Caicos Islands, to Bridgetown Barbados. She was laden with 206 tons of salt and commanded by Captain Allen Frederick Jones. The total crew consisted of eleven persons. She was stalked by the German submarine U-600 into the evening of the 10th of August.
Conditions were smooth, with wind only three knots from the east-northeast, meaning the schooner must have had hardly any headway under sail. Since the captain gave her speed at the time as 5 knots, the schooner must have had an auxiliary motor since her heading was east-northeast and into what little wind there was. The weather was clear, seas smooth, visibility was good –still daylight at 3pm local time (930pm German time). The schooner didn’t have any confidential papers or armament on board, and four of her crew were on deck.
She was sunk by U-600 under Bernard Zurmuhlen roughly 150 miles northeast of the Turks & Caicos on August 10th, 1942. Since it was Bernard Zurmuhlen’s first successful Allied “kill” he was detailed in describing the attack in his KTB or war diary (times converted to local):
“10:26 am – two masts in view at 155 degrees. Position east, distance ten nautical miles. …View of enemy lost due to rain squall.
11:30 am – cruising at seven knots ahead of him, enemy disappears repeatedly behind rain squalls.
12:30 pm – enemy is in view again, same heading, seems to be a very small vessel, very slow.
2:35 pm – descent, move towards him, to get a look from underwater
3:00 pm – It is a two mast gaff schooner with three fore sails, brand new rigging, looks almost like a yacht, no flag, no insignia, no armaments visible, white cabin in the middle
3:30 pm – emerge 3000 meters behind the schooner, fire a shot in front of the bow, schooner turns, shows no flag
3:37 pm – fire a second shot in front of bow, now a boat is visible at the stern, still no flag is visible
4:00 pm – waiting 3-4,000 meters behind the stopped schooner, until the boat reaches us. Boat is manned with two whites and eight blacks. One of the whites identifies himself, after I ask, as the captain, and confirms that the schooner is of British nationality. Name is “VIVIA”, en route from Barbados to Bermuda. Cargo: stones. Answering my question, the captain reports that he’s got water, provisions and a sail in his life boat. I order them to move away in a southwesterly direction.”
4:55 pm – distance 100 meters from schooner, wooden sail boat, estimate 150 tonnes, on the stern it says VIVIA P. SMITH, DEMERARA, new vessel, plenty of brass on deck, sinks slowly, first keel level, then the bow. Through an open cargo hatch and upper deck a brown substance is visible. Maybe the “stones” are a type of ore?
5:04 pm – Schooner has sunk! Ammunition used: 139 shots 8.8-cm – at least 25 hits in rigging and 15 in the wooden hull and deck. No smouldering visible.
5:10 pm – Lifeboat has set sail and moves away in southwestern direction. Move away at heading 0 degrees until lifeboat is out of sight, then heading 230 degrees, cruising.”
Vivian P. Smith’s crew was last seen setting sail to the southwest, toward Turks & Caicos. They utilized the prevailing winds, currents and seas to land on Grand Turk, a small but busy community of salt harvesters and traders. Reporting to a Lieutenant Thomas of the Royal Naval Reserve, Captain Jones said that he and the crew arrived at Turks Island by lifeboat. They described the submarine as 150’ long, light grey and “new” looking. They said that Zurmuhlen spoke with “perfect English”.
The Allies were building up a dossier indicating that Germans could be raiding inter-island schooners for supplies such as fresh vegetables and information on local merchant movements. Though it did not happen in this instance, the fear was that while the Vivian P. Smith crew sailed towards their rescue at the hands of Turks Island fishermen, the German submarine crew were rifling through and pilfering from the guileless schooner.
Meanwhile, Zurmühlen arrived off the mouth of the Windward Passage on the 12th of August. U-600 was called to convoy TAW 12 by U-658 under Holtorff and attacked in league with U-598. This resulted indirectly in the sinking of the Delmundo and Everelza just on the border with the Bahamas area. The following day just inside the Windward Passage between Haiti and Guantanamo U-600 sank the American passenger ship Delmundo and Latvian freighter Everleza in an attack on their convoy.
Though the Everleza was blown sky-high when her cargo ignited, several crew survived, and though the master of the Delmundo made it to shore, he later died. For the next week U-600 began a circumnavigation of the large island of Cuba – the bedrock of the Greater Antilles.
The boat then cruised up the Old Bahama channel until the 21st of August, at which point it exited the Bahamas area between Key West and Havana. Continuing onward Zurmühlen’s chart of his patrol (retrieved from the archives) shows that he rounded the western point of the island, cruised south of the Isle of Pines, and re-entered the Windward Passage between Guantanamo and Jamaica on the 28th of August.
U-600 rounded Inagua (on the 29th) and transited the Crooked Island Passage. On the 30th the boat emerged from the channels and made northeast for La Pallice (she had originally left from Kiel and this was the first of six patrols like others preceding her). On the 3rd of September U-600 exited the area homeward bound.
The patrol had begun on the 14th of July and ended on the 22nd of September, 1942. En route to the Caribbean U-600 was refueled by U-463 west of the Azores in early August. By way of punishment, on the 23rd of August the submarine was sighted in the Windward Passage by an American Catalina and depth-charged and damaged. U-600 was refueled again on the way home by U-462 west of the Azores in early September (Wynn, Vol. 2, p.69).
Zurmühlen’s total tonnage sunk amounted to five ships of 28,600 tons and a further three ships damaged for 19,230 tons. He was 32 years of age at the time of this patrol. His highest decoration, the following year was the German Cross in Gold. He was promoted Korvettenkapitän three weeks before his death in November 1943. U-600 was sunk near Ponta Delgada, Azores by the British destroyers Bazley and Blackwood on the 25th of November, 1943. The boat took all 54 hands with it to the bottom.