The 6,507-ton steam ship Santa Catalina was completed at the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company of Kearny New Jersey in 1943. Her owners were the Gace Line, Incorporated (W. R. Grace & Company) New York. The Grace Line had a storied history, growing from its origins in New Zealand to routes along the west coast of South America and finally a hub in New York, where the family centralized and diversified.
On its final voyage the Santa Catalina was steaming from Philadelphia Pennsylvania to Basra, Iraq. Her cargo of 6,700 tons was destined for Russia on a lend-lease basis. It included steel, gasoline, tires, deck cargo, tanks, and small weapons. The Master was Captain Olaf Berg and he lead a group of 95 people. These included ten officers, 28 armed guards to man a 5-inch gun and nine 20-milimeter machine guns and ten passengers.
On the night of the 23rd of April the ship was struck on the starboard side. She had been on a zig-zag course to the southeast at 16.5 knots. Her position of 30.42N and 70.58W was some 370 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras and 400 miles northeast of Elbow Cay Light Hope Town Abaco Bahamas. The attacker was U-129 under Hans-Ludwig Witt and he sent a second torpedo from astern into the same spot – the #1 hold of the ship – which blew water out of both sides of the vessel. As a result of these explosions the gasoline cargo ignited.
Before long the Santa Catalina began to list heavily – 40 degrees – to starboard. Witt fired a coup de grace 19 minutes after the initial salvo. The ship sank by the bow ten minutes later, leaving all 95 persons adrift in the two starboard life boats and four rafts which had been cut free. Twelve hours later, in the morning of the 24th of April, the 1,673-ton Swedish merchant ship Venezia under Captain K. B. Hansson met the survivors and landed them in San Juan within a week.
As a footnote, the Veneza had already assisted the survivors of the Empire Drum, which had been sunk by U-136 under Zimmermann, also southeast of New York. She survived an attack by U-134 uner Schendel on the 5th of July 1942. Yet her luck ran out on the 21st of June, 1942, less than two months after her rescue of the Santa Catalina survivors. On that day U-513 under Friedrich Guggenberger sent her to the bottom with a single torpedo southeast of Rio de Janiero. All 27 of her complement survived (Uboat.net).