SOURCES: Gudmundur Helgason, Rainer Kolbicz, www.uboat.net, 2011, Kenneth Wynn, U-boat Operations of the Second World War, Volume 1 and Volume 2, 1997
Erich Würdemann was the first of over a dozen German or Italian submarine commanders to sail right past the capital of the Bahamas, Nassau on New Providence Island, in U-506. Between the 1st and 2nd of May 1942 he transited first the Northeast and then the Northwest Providence channels inbound. To do this he would have used Hole in the Wall light at the southern extreme of Abaco as a waypoint, keeping Harbour Island, North Eleuthera and Spanish Wells off to port on the inbound leg, turned northwest at the Berry Islands north of Nassau, and exited into the Straits of Florida and the Gulf Stream at Great Isaac Light north of Bimini and south of Grand Bahama (the city of Freeport had not been founded yet).
The following day, the 3rd of May, he sank the former Estonian sailing schooner Sama (ex-Hajumaa) in the Gulf Stream not far from Orange Cay and the Bimini Islands. Built in Reval Estonia in 1922 and renamed Louis Geraci when converted from a four-masted schooner to a motorized merchant ship in 1927, she was renamed Sama in 1932. At the time of her last voyage she was en route from Boracao Cuba to Jacksonville Florida with a cargo of Bananas – all 14 members of her crew survived. Weighing 567 tons, Samawas controlled and owned by the Bahama Shipping Co. Ltd. of Bluefields, Nicaragua, whose flag she flew. Clearly there was a Bahamas nexus with the ship, like the Western Head, sunk of Guantanamo later, however that connection is difficult to ascertain beyond the conspicuous ownership name, the shipping industry being known for being opaque.
Aside from Sama the seven other victims of Würdemann’s patrol were all American and accounted for a highly impressive 63,264 tons damaged or lost (the William C. McTarnahan, the Sun and the Aurora were all damaged and the David McKelvy was declared a constructive total loss. The ships sunk following Sama were the Gulfpenn, Gulfoil Heredia, Halo, Yorkmoor, and Fred W. Green, most of them lost near the mouth of the Mississippi River in the US Gulf.
The British-flagged Yorkmoor (4,457 GRT) was the only other ship attacked in the greater Bahamas region on this patrol, and she met her end northeast of Abaco on 28 May 1942 while U-506 was homeward bound. The submarine left the area on the 30th of May two days later, having spent fifteen days patrolling the region. A member of the Tenth Flotilla of Lorient, it returned to that port on the 15th of June 1942, having set out on the 6th of April.
Erich Würdemann was a member of the crew of 1933 and racked up a significant portion of his career totals of 69,893 GRT sunk in fourteen ships and three ships damaged for 23,358 tons on this one patrol. A Kapitänleutnant from November 1940 until he was killed at sea on 12 July 1943 at the age of 29, he made nearly a dozen war patrols on destroyers before transferring to the U-boats in 1940. His early training included a patrol under Wolfgang Lüth on U-43. U-506 was involved in both Hartenstein’s Laconia incident and a long-range patrol into the Indian Ocean called “Monsunboats” after the Monsoon. The boat was sunk with all hands but six while on the first week of its fifth patrol west of Spain by a US Air Force aircraft. Würdemann was not among the survivors.