Fred W. Green
The small steamer Fred W. Green was built for the US Shipping Board in 1918 and had the unique distinction of being the only derrick ship sunk in the Bahamas region during the war. Her main value was the fact that she had two highly maneuverable cranes embedded in her deck – the ship’s cargo holds were filled with four feet of concrete, which of course would prove difficult for U-506’s Eric Würdemann’s gunners to penetrate.
The Frank W. Green was 2,292 tons and built by the Great Lakes Engineering Works of Ecorse, Michigan. Here original name was Craycroft. Nine years later, in 1927 she was converted to a derrick ship with the 1,000 tons of concrete added along with two cranes capable of lifting 30 tons at a time each. She was renamed by the new owner, John J. Roen of Cherlevoix in Grand Haven, Michigan.
Five years later, in 1935 she was sold to the Northwestern Company of Wilmington, North Carolina. In 1941 ownership transferred again to the British Ministry of War Transport from the US Maritime Commission. Her operators were Furness, Withy and Company Limited of Liverpool. The charterers on her final voyage were the Elder Dempster Lines of the UK. Her dimensions were 77.3 meters long, 13.4 meters wide and 6.2 meters deep.
For her final voyage the Fred W. Greensailed from New York on the 15th of May 1942 bound for Freetown, Sierra Leone, in West Africa. En route she called at Bermuda, and sailed from that port in a southeasterly direction on the 29th of May. Her crew of 41 persons including naval gunners was led by Captain Arthur Gould Sampson. The crew were all British.
Late the next day the ship was on course 131 degrees true and steaming at 7.5 knots, without zig-zagging. The two lookouts were on the upper bridge and the aft gun respectively. The weather was settled, with a strong moon, a gentle wind from the south and only a moderate swell. The Fred W. Green had only made it 200 miles southeast of Bermuda when she was found and followed by Würdemann in U-506.
However the submarine had expended the last of its torpedoes and was down to only 34 shells to fire on the patrol. So each one had to count. They were not counting on finding set concrete in the hold, as of course shells bounced right off the hull. Perhaps for that reason Wurdemann held off attacking the slow-moving ship for seven hours, trailing it through the afternoon until 7:45 pm ship’s time.
The first shells hit from the starboard side and took down the aerials meaning no SOS could be sent. The gun was manned and Leslie Lumsden, aged 25 and a DEMS gunner managed to fire off some shots of the 20-milimeter Oerlikon gun before he and the entire gun platform were blown away by the submarine’s guns. Fortune favored the submariners, as their very last incendiary shell set fire to the forecastle of the ship, and Captain Sampson and his crew abandoned ship in two lifeboats. The Master was last seen ensuring that there was no one left on board before leaping off the bow, however the boats were unable to find him afterwards.
The submarine approached the boats while the ship burned and slowly sank in the background. They were told that the ship was heading for Cape Town not Freetown. The survivors refused assistance. After allegedly apologizing for sinking the ship the Germans used their anti-aircraft gun to puncture the hull below the waterline and expedite the sinking. This proved ineffectual, even dangerous, as the projectiles bounced back. Ultimately the ship sank on its own two hours and fifty minutes after the initial salvo and some ten hours after the ship was initially sighted. U-506 was seen motoring off to the southeast at 11:30 that night.
Having abandoned ship at 9 pm, 32 men manned one lifeboat and four men the other. Five men including the master, the gunner and three crew members were lost and presumed killed. Two days later (on their second full day at sea, the 1st of June), the men managed to attract the attention of a US Navy aircraft using red flares. This plane alerted a nearby convoy, AS 3, which was led by the cruiser USS Texas.
The destroyer USS Ludlow under the command of Lieutenant Commander C. H. Bennett was dispatched to rescue the 32 survivors in the first boat, which it found at position 30.50N and 61.55W. The occupants of the second life boat were rescued by the USS Barnadou, another destroyer escorting the same convoy, five miles to the south. Twenty-four the survivors were transferred to the Texas and landed in Bermuda at mid-day on June 17th, 1942, no doubt having been well fed in the two-week interim. Three out of the four naval gunners were saved. It is not known when the eight other survivors were landed, but they were also put ashore in Bermuda according to dispatches.