The sinking of the 9,858 Norwegian Tanker Kollskegg under Captain Leif Søyland northwest of Bermuda while en route from Curacao to Halifax with 8,000 tons of crude oil and 6,300 tons of fuel oil is another instance of unflappable chutzpah. The fate of survivors also demonstrates how difficult it can be in a three-dimensional, international plane, to track survivors (sunk from beneath the sea, possibly rescued from the air, or whatever ship happens by. At 10:58 pm the 6th of April, U-754 under Hans Oestermann put two torpedoes into the starboard side of the Kollskegg. Some men panicked and went overboard in a life boat, without having been told to. The captain then ordered steam raised on the engines and the ship headed towards Hampton Roads, Virginia at full speed.
A no-doubt befuddled Oestermann caught up with the tanker and at 2:18 the following morning hit the ship with another torpedo, this time in the engine room. This coup-de-grace sank the tanker in four minutes. Twenty one hours later the master’s lifeboat with 38 survivors was found by the Panamanian ship Bushranger which delivered them to Nassau while enroute to Havana, Cuba. From thence the survivors were repatriated to Miami and the roster halls of New York. Their fleet-footed colleagues meanwhile had an impromptu rendezvous mid-ocean with the lifeboats of the ship Koll, ironically from the same Norwegian tanker company. They were then separated and taken by Canadian warship to Halifax, where news of their survival eventually reached their mates.
35 – Oklahoma
On the 6thof April Reinhard Hardegen on the famous “one two three” boat, U-123 returned for one devastating week. Two days after coming south from the Carolinas to off the Georgia coast he damaged the 9,264-ton Oklahoma and the 7,989-ton tanker Esso Baton Rouge. Proceeding South along the eastern coast of Florida to a position some 30 miles off West End Grand Bahama he sank in quick succession the Esparta on the following day (9th April), then two days later the tanker Gulfamerica off Jacksonville. Immediately following this attack the boat was pinned down by an Allied plane and ships. To these successes he added the American flagged Leslie and the Korlsholm, a Swedish ship. Since the Oklahoma and the Esso Baton Rouge attacks closer to the Georgia coast than the Bahamas, they would not normally be included. However it is the intention of this research to cover any ships hit south of the Carolinas and Cape Hatteras, which has been much covered by other books. So ships south of the Carolinas are given at least cursory coverage here, even if they are not strictly in the Bahamas.
The Oklahoma was built by Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Company of Chester, Pennsylvania in 1940 and owned by The Texas Company of Wilmington, Delaware, to which port she was also flagged (Uboat.net). She was proceeding from Port Arthur, Texas to Providence, Rhode Island with 105,000 barrels of refined petroleum products on the night of 8th April 1942 when she was attacked by U-123 under the command of Reinhard Hardegen, who had come down from the Carolinas two days previously. Her Master was Theron P. Davenport and he led a crew of 36 others. The ship was unarmed and thus had no Naval Armed Guard.
Just after midnight (07.52 German time), on G7a acoustic torpedo struck the Oklahoma when she was roughly ten miles East of Saint Simon’s Island Georgia. It was a bright moonlit night and she was proceeding along with two other ships in water which was only 40 feet deep, so close inshore were they. Since the missile penetrated the engine room the ship’s aft section soon rested on the bottom, allowing the majority of the crew to abandon ship in three lifeboats (Uboat.net). On hearing the screams of a dying officer, Captain Davenport and three crew re-boarded the ship, one of them sending another SOS. Unfortunately eighteen terrified crew trapped below could not be reached.
Less than an hour later Hardegen struck a different ship in the same vicinity – the Esso Baton Rouge – that ship (about which more below) was soon ablaze and sinking. U-123’s crew pummeled the Oklahoma with shellfire, five of which hit the bridge and bow, causing a fire to erupt. The eighteen survivors rowed ashore in company of the survivors of the Esso Baton Rouge. They were found by a US Coast Guard boat and towed to Georgia. That spring the ship was towed to Chester Pennsylvania (where she had originally been built), was rebuilt, and resumed her duties in December of the same year. Very late in the war with Germany – on the 28th of March, 1945, Oklahoma was struck and sunk by U-532 under Ottoheinrich Junker in the Caribbean shortly after leaving San Nicholas, Aruba, for Dakar French West Africa loaded with gasoline and kerosene for the Allied effort there. Though 22 survived, fifty were killed (Uboat.net).