M/S Empire Drum sunk by U-136/Zimmermann: survivors rescued by 4 ships and a plane

M/S EMPIRE DRUM Attack & Survivor Narrative
By Eric T. Wiberg, Esq. www.uboatsbermuda.blogspot.com, August, 2014

M/S Empire Drum at anchor in New York harbor on the 19th of April, 1942 – a mere five days before her destruction. Not the anti-torpedo contraption on her bow, for streaming degaussing equipment (defined as “neutralizing the magnetic field of a ship by encircling it with a conductor carrying electric currents.”)

This photo was taken by the US Coast Guard. The ship appears to be at least partially loaded – note the lifeboats, the cranes slung out for working cargo, and the 4-inch deck gun right aft. The absence of smoke from the stack, barely discernable anchor chain at the bow on the water line, and the black ball on the bow all indicate that she is at anchor. Note the rafts just forward of the bridge and just forward of the poop deck – these did deploy on sinking.
Photo source: Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, Virginia, from “The Approaching Storm,” by Alpheus J. Chewning and UBoat.net, http://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/ships/1566.html,
The British motor ship Empire Drum was completed by William Doxford & Sons Limited of Sunderland, County Durham, England for the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT) in March, 1942. 

Launched as yard number 684 on 19th September, she was completed in March and sailed from Sunderland to Southend, Essex. She was operated by the Chellew Navigation Company Limited of Cardiff, Glamorgan, Wales and registered to Sunderland.

The Empire Drum was 7,244 gross registered tons burthen and capable of carrying 10,262 dead-weight tons. The vessel was 443 feet long with a beam of 56 feet and draft of 35.4 feet. Built of steel, her oil-fired engine developed 516 net horsepower pushing the ship at 11.5 knots. The ship was defensively armed with one four-inch gun aft, a pair of Twin Marlin machine guns, two Lewis machine guns, a duo of two-inch U. P. Gimble guns (the ammunition for which they had no fuses, rendering them useless) and various P.A.C. parachute rockets and kites for illumination. There were six gunners on board: four of them Naval and two Military (Army). The Empire Drum had a contraption fitted on its bow similar to a mouse-trap wire which was capable of lowering degaussing equipment around its hull for the purpose of neutralizing the magnetic field and thus foiling the German G-7 “gnat” magnetic torpedoes.

In command of the vessel on its maiden voyage was Captain John Robert Miles. According to his sister Mary Francis, Captain Mile’s father was also a seagoing master up until 1913 – his last commands were the Margory Glen and the Grace Harwar. On the third of August 1940 the British motor ship Statira (4,852 tons) under Captain Miles’ command was caught north of Scotland by a German aircraft, bombed and set afire. The officers and crew abandoned ship 38 nautical miles north of Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides and were rescued by HMS Bedouin and HMS Punjabi. Though Statira was towed to the Thames Estuary, it was ultimately scrapped. Captain Miles received a Commendation along with Gunner Norman Rose “for good service” in managing to save the ship’s papers under stressful circumstances.

Aside from the six gunners Captain Miles had 34 officers and crew serving under him, all of them British. The Chief Officer was John Arthur Lee, followed by Second Officers Howard Greenlees. Norman Blakelock served as Chief Engineer and Charles Francis O’Reilly as First Radio Operator. There were at least three teenagers aboard: Sailor John Aherne Smith, aged 16, Assistant Steward George Allen Milburn, 18, and Cabin Boy Robert Hutchinson, aged 18. It is likely that the other Cabin Boy, Frank Knowles, was also a teen. John Pratt served as an Able-Bodied Seaman. Altogether Empire Drum hosted a total complement of 41 souls.

She joined her first convoy on the 13thof March 1942 – Convoy FN 655 from Southend, to Methil, Fife, arriving three days later. After sailing to Oban, Argyllshire in Convoy EN 60 on the 18thEmpire Drum was forced to return to Methil to repair teething defects.  On the 20th she again sailed to Oban in Convoy EN 61. After sailing to Loch Ewe and Liverpool, Lanchashire, she joined trans-Atlantic Convoy ON 79 on the 23th of March and arrived in Halifax on the 7th of April. From there Empire Drum sailed for New York, where she was to load her first war cargo, arriving around the 11thof April. Her agents in New York were the Barber Line and her charterers the British Ministry of Shipping.

For her final voyage the Empire Drum loaded 6,100 tons of military stores which included 1,290 tons of volatile TNT explosives, a large number of rubber vehicle tires, and a quantity of Jeeps on deck. There were also 2,500 bags of mail destined for Cape Town, South Africa. The ship’s final destination was Alexandria, Egypt to supply General Montgomery’s army against Rommel’s in North Africa.

Empire Drum was routed to sail independently (unescorted) south of Bermuda to Cape Town. Captain Miles objected to this, writing after the fact that “I suggested that I should be routed coast-wise as far as Trinidad and then across the Capetown…. [I] suggested to the American naval Captain that as there were 6 other ships sailing about the same time as we were all bound for South Africa we should sail as a convoy. He said that there were no escort ships available so we all sailed independently realizing that we would probably be torpedoed long before we saw the coastline of Africa. Shortly after I was torpedoed most of the ships were recalled to New York.” 

Capt. Miles went on to observe that “The Magazines in my ship were constructed by Italian Workmen and there was no secrecy about our destination,” leading him to believe that the workmen communicated with Italian submarines offshore to plan his ship’s destruction (the submarine which sank Empire Drum was German not Italian and there is no evidence to support Captain Mile’s concern on this point).

Empire Drum sailed from New York on Thursday the 23rdof April, heading southeast. Her laden draft was 25’6”. She must have by morning or mid-day since at 5 pm the following day, Friday the 24th, she was already 310 nautical miles southeast of New York, roughly halfway to Bermuda, 350 miles away. During the voyage Captain Miles ordered constant zig zagging according to British Navy Patterns #9 and #37; namely ten-degree course changes every ten minutes through an arc of 45 degrees. This was confirmed by Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Zimmermann, aged 35 in command of the German submarine U-136 lurking nearby, who noted in his log, or KTB, “Enemy zigzags 40 degrees to each side, course 120 degrees.”

The timing of what happened next varies: according to US sources the attack took place at 5 pm exactly, after the ship initiated a course change, but according to Captain Miles in British sources, it happened at 5:25 pm. Since Zimmermann, whose log survives, states that he fired two torpedoes at 5:48 pm local time (23:48 German time), we will go with Captain Miles’ account. The Allies say that only one torpedo struck 12 feet below the water line in number one hold forward, causing only a muffled explosion. Zimmermann says that two torpedoes from tubes two and three were fired, and that both struck after 56 seconds. He further observed “List to port, settles somewhat deeper forward. Crew goes to the boats.”

At the time of the attack there were three lookouts aside from those on the bridge: one on the monkey island above the bridge and two gunners on the aft gun platform. The Third Officer, John Black, aged 20, was the duty officer on the bridge. Captain Miles wrote that “The weather was fine and clear and visibility good, wind North Easterly about force 4 and there was a heavy swell.” He stated that initially “There was only a very slight explosion and no water thrown up. The Hatches on No. 1 hold were blown off, otherwise I did not see any other damage.”

The US account states that “The explosion was light, hardly disturbing the crew at tea and engineroom crew. TNT stowed in No. 1 hold did not explode nor was there any fire.” Captain Miles says that Black, “….knowing that we were carrying T.N.T. made a dash from the bridge to the lifeboat. I went up onto the bridge and rang the engine telegraph to stop. The Engineers on Watch were not aware that anything had happened and telephoned to the bridge to know if I wanted the Engines restarted and I had to tell them that we had been torpedoed and that they had better come on deck and prepare to abandon ship.” First Radio Operator Charles Francis O’Reilly was able to get off a distress message, “but radiation was weak,” and so neither shore stations nor the nearby submarine managed to pick it up.

According to Captain Miles all four boats were successfully lowered away, with Third Officer Black’s boat the last to leave, with members of the engine room crew. The engineers “…took a long time getting down the side ladder.” The time was 5:40 pm (about 15 minutes after the initial attack, though Zimmermann says it was 20 minutes) and Black’s boat “…had just pulled clear when a 2nd torpedo struck the ship amidships on the port side and his boat – the Port Forward one – was blown completely out of the water and shattered by the explosion. The Chief Officer [John Lee], who was in charge of the Port after boat went to the assistance of the men in the water and found amongst others that the 3rd Engineer [Manus Edward McGowan] was calmly floating with a case of T.N.T. under each arm.”

Captain Miles continues: “Everyone was picked up uninjured and were later distributed amongst the remaining 3 lifeboats. I did not see the damage caused by the 2nd torpedo but the ship sank 5 minutes after the 2nd explosion.” Most other accounts say that the Empire Drum sank within 30 seconds of the second torpedo explosion, and Zimmermann is ambiguous, saying simply that between 00:08 and 00:18, “Steamer lies to port and sinks vertically over the forestem, stern vertically upwards.” In any event the coup de grace devastated the ship, whether assisted by a secondary explosion of TNT crates or not – it is certainly remarkable that all the men in the Port forward lifeboat survived the destruction of their boat and subsequently were retrieved uninjured.

Zimmermann’s log continues, verifying that he “Surfaced, at the sinking location many automobile tires and explosive crates. 1 motor and 2 lifeboats. Steamer is named “EMPIRE…..” from Sunderland, 6 hatches, cannon astern, bow defensive gear.” Zimmermann obtained his intelligence on the vessel’s home port from the crew in the Second Officer, Howard Greenlees’ boat.
According to Miles, “The Captain [Zimmermann] leant over the conning tower and asked in quite good English where the ship was bound. The 2nd Officer thinking he said where was the ship bound from, answered Sunderland, and the submarine captain then said he was sorry he had to fire the 2nd torpedoed and told them that if they valued their lives they had better remain ashore as next time they would have to swim for it.”

For whatever reason the British sailors who witnessed the sub were convinced that the crew spoke with “a distinct Italian accent,” and that the conning tower carried the marking “I-44”. Based on illustrations, it is possible that the markings on the conning tower for camouflage (black marks) could have been construed for numbers. Others of the crew thought they could read “U-45,” however no German submarines identified themselves so brazenly.

Diagram of description of U-136 by Empire Drum survivors, made for US Navy intelligence officers in New York and Norfolk after the survivors had landed ashore. From “Survivors Statements,” the US National Archives, College Park, Maryland.
What U-136 looked like in St. Nazaire either right before (March 1942) or after (June 1942) this patrol. Note that aside from a “lobster” logo there are no numbers, just camouflage patterns.

US intelligence officers were not convinced it was an Italian submarine, mainly because the description lacked the snub bow and larger conning towers of that class of vessel. (They were correct: though four Italian submarines operated in the western Atlantic and Caribbean, the Enrico Tazzoli, Giuseppe Finzi, Giuliani and Morosini, only the Tazzoli approached Bermuda, and that was on its way home with bow tube crippled from a collision with the British tanker Athelqueen in the Bahamas in mid-March 1942). Author Gary Gentile writes that “the incident furthered the erroneous belief that Italian submarines were operating in the western Atlantic.” They were, however the German submarine U-136 has definitively been linked to this attack.

Captain Miles, who did not hear Zimmermann speak, wrote that “The crew however appeared to speak English with a distinct Italian accent, and did not stay very long in the vicinity.” He continued to relate that “Some of the crew said that the submarine was marked I.44 but the number had been painted over and may have been U.45 as she was a large submarine but did not have a large conning tower similar to that of Italian submarines.”

While the men in the lifeboats attached each boat to the other and waited on the site until daylight to proceed, “At 22:00 [10 pm, three hours after the attack] the submarine returned to the scene as our rafts were floating with their lights still burning; and I think the submarine stayed round in case we had sent out an emergency signal in the hope of an easy kill when a rescue ship came along. However he was disappointed as we had no means of sending out a signal and finally he disappeared and was not seen again.”

In fact Zimmermann makes no mention in his log of returning three hours after the attack, however his next entry is not until four hours after it, so it is possible he returned. In any event he did not communicate with the men on his second visit, if he returned at all.
The reason that the men were unable to transmit from the emergency wireless in the lifeboat is because it was “saturated with sea water, and although it was fully charged, according to the Radio Officers it would not work.”

It is curious that, given they had a long voyage ahead of them, the men in the lifeboats didn’t pillage or strip the life rafts which had floated free, and taking supplies such as food water and equipment from them – it is possible they did so (leaving the red lights), but no mention is made of it.
The Empire Drum sailors described their adversaries in detail. Interviewed as a group by US Naval Intelligence, they described the submarine in detail (200 to 300 feet long, gray to greenish, old paint, rust streaks, wire from bow and stern to conning tower, a gun of about 4-inch caliber five feet forward of the conning tower, etc.). Describing Zimmermann they said “He wore a blue forage cap with a yellow band, blue tunic with brass buttons down middle, tight collar with chevron on each side.”

The Empire Drum men describe the Germans as “all unshaven, wore oilskin coats and one wore a dark badge cap.” They related how the sub weaved among the wreckage – it was not uncommon for Germans to collect tires to bring back to rubber-starved Germany as trophies. The men related how “…the submarine disappeared on the surface at a very low speed….”.

U-156 returning to base in France in the spring of 1942 with tires salvaged from one of its victims. The Empire Drum had a large cargo of tires which U-136’s men no doubt pilfered.

Photo source: http://31.media.tumblr.com/4be293b25a137735b92b676220422f7d/tumblr_mys89dI3301r5kp5io1_1280.jpg

The Allies observed how vigilant the submariners were: “Four men were seen in the conning tower – one on lookout for surface vessels, one on lookout for aircraft, one manning machine gun and one asking questions.” They added that “when the submarine was surfacing, two periscopes were seen which were lowered when attacker was fully surfaced.” These observations can be given credibility considering that it was broad daylight (about 5-6 pm) when the attacks took place, though the alleged return of the submarine was not until 10 pm. Also the British merchant mariners were no strangers to war or Germans – Captain Miles’ earlier ship having been effectively destroyed by German aircraft.

Starting at dawn the boats each set off independently for land. The Chief Officer’s motor boat had its engines disabled for the first two days until they were able to dry out – he was to have the longest and slowest passage. In summary, Captain Miles’ boat had 14 men and was rescued after two days (from Friday 24th to Sunday the 26th), Second Officer Greenlees’ boat also had 14 men and was picked up after six days (on Wednesday the 29th), and Chief Officer Lee’s boat with 13 sailed some 320 nautical miles to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and took seven days, until Friday the 1st of May. They were rescued by a Swedish merchant ship, a US destroyer, a Coast Guard ambulance plane, a Coast Guard surf boat, and an 80-foot Coast Guard cutter in that order.

The first boat to be rescued contained Captain Miles, his 20-year-old Third Officer John Black, who was watch officer at the time of the attack, the Second and Third Radio Operators, a Fourth Engineer, Bosun, three sailors, one of them age 16, two other teenagers from the Stewards department, and three deck hands in their 20s. Shortly after sunrise on Saturday the 25th Captain Miles decided that the boats stood a better chance striking off for land on their own (Nantucket was roughly 250 nautical miles due north, and the Carolina coast of Cape Hatteras roughly 300 nautical miles west).

At 6 am local time the boats cast off from one another and Miles’ boat hoisted sail. The breeze was good and conditions light, and the men had plenty of provisions and water – they were dry and warm. “The crew was equipped with life suits made of material similar to oilskin, which the master of the vessel praises as keeping the survivors warm and dry. Their life jackets had electric lights attached which can float on the surface and be seen from a considerable distance. The bulbs in the lights were red.”

By 7 am, Captain Miles relates, “I had left the other boats far behind and by 0930 they were completely out of sight. The weather was fine, there was a slight sea and a good sailing breeze.” They sailed west all day and all night. On the morning of Sunday the 26th “I sighted a ship’s mast and funnel on the horizon. This ship turned out to be the S.S. VENEZIA (Swedish) steering in our direction. We had our red sails set and burned 2 red flares, the VENEZIA altered course and came towards us. She stopped and picked us up at 0630 and took us to New York, arriving on the evening of the 27th.” The lifeboat had been picked up 70 nautical miles southwest of the sinking.

The Venezia was a 1,673-ton merchant ship built in Gothenburg Sweden in 1938. Her captain just over a year later was Captain K. B. Hansson – whether he was in command during the rescue of Empire Drum survivors is not known. Probably Captain Miles prevailed up Venezia’s master to search for the other two boats, however given the wartime dangers of doing so, it would have been safer for the ship to proceed directly to New York. The Venezia was sunk by U-513 under Friedrich Guggenberger on the 21st of June 1943 about 300 nautical miles southeast of Rio de Janeiro. In a twist of fate all 27 survivors were rescued by a British merchant ship and landed in Rio three days later.

SS Venezia of Sweden, first to rescue M/S Empire Drum survivors. This photo was taken on 28 October 1942 just eight or so months before the ship itself was lost to U-Boat attack off Brazil.

Photo source: courtesy of Sjöhistoriska Museet, Stockholm, from http://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/ships/2956.html

Ever diligent, Captain Miles reported the two other missing boats to US naval authorities immediately on arrival in New York. “I reported to the authorities and asked for ‘planes to be sent out to search for the other two boats, this was done, but it was the 29th before the 2ndOfficer was picked up. The 2nd Officer said that a ‘plane had circled round his boat until a destroyer came along and picked them up.”

The ship which rescued the 14 men in Second Officer Greenlees’ boat was the USS Roper, DD-147, which had less than two weeks before destroyed the German submarine U-85 and all of its personnel off Cape Hatteras. Commander John Blair Gragg had only just taken over command from Hamilton Wilcox Howe two weeks earlier, on the 15th of April, after Howe’s triumph over U-85.
John Blair Gragg, commander of USS Roper DD 147 who rescued 14 men from the 2nd Officer’s boat on 29th April 1942

The Roper was a Wickes-class destroyer commissioned in February 1919. She was 314.5 feet long, 31.8 feet wide and 9.10 feet deep. One hundred and one men served aboard the vessel, which was named after a naval hero of the Spanish-American war. Along with 6 cannons of various sizes (4-inch, 3-inch), the ship was equipped with 12 torpedo tubes.

USS Roper, DD 147 at sea during WWII. Photo taken as the Roper escorted a convoy out of Hampton Roads Virginia in 1942

Photo source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Roper_(DD-147) and http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/147.htm

On April 27th The Patrol Log for the Fifth Naval District in Norfolk records that “Roper directed to make search with assistance of one PBY and one B-17 at daylight.” On 28 April the log records that “Roper [is] searching for Empire Drum survivors, 36-20 N, 72-00 W. Roper proceeded to search for 27 survivors of S.S. Empire Drum torpedoed April 24. The survivors were in two lifeboats with red sails, last reported April 25 heading northwest.”

Then good news. The naval authorities diligently recorded that “Another boat with 14 men picked up by USS “ROPER” about 1400 EWT, April 29, 1942 and landed at N.O.B., Norfolk, Va. At about 0900 on [Saturday] May 2, 1942.” The Eastern Sea Frontier Patrol Log for the Fifth Naval District of Wednesday 29th April records that “This is second lifeboat to be picked up from 3 launched from this sinking; one boat with 13 men still missing.”

On Friday May 1st another entry reads, “Roper searching for Empire Drum survivors 37-30 N, 72.00 W with Falcon, St. Loman, Cuyahoga, CG-407, CG-454.” This position is 200 nautical miles east of Norfolk and some 210 nautical miles east-northeast of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, which is just south of the Virginia state border at the beginning of the Carolina banks that form Cape Hatteras.

Meanwhile Chief Officer John Lee was less than 20 miles from Kitty Hawk, and frustrated that “…he sighted many U.S. planes, but they apparently mistook the lifeboat for a fishing boat this may be due to the pilots being unfamiliar with the distinctive markings of British MerchantVessels Lifeboats…” Though the signal had been sent from New York headquarters that planes were to look for red sails, Captain Miles said that “all they did was to circle round him waving their hands and thinking he was a fisherman. He had his red sails up but was not flying the yellow flag.”

The Fifth Naval District’s Patrol Log for Friday May 1st sums up the rescue of Chief Officer Lee’s boat. At 10 am they report “Army bomber sighted lifeboat with eight persons on board, 18 miles east of Kitty Hawk. By phone from CESF [Commander, Eastern Sea Frontier.]” At 5 pm they log “Two survivors from Empire Drum landed at NOB [Naval Operating Base] by Navy ambulance plane. Both removed from lifeboat approximately 18 miles east of Kitty Hawk. Eleven others left to be picked up by surface patrols.”

The log continues, concluding at 10:09 pm that night that “Patrol boat rescued eleven Empire Drum survivors from lifeboat in vicinity 15 miles east of Kitty Hawk. From District Coast Guard office by dispatch. Survivors transferred to CGC [Coast Guard Cutter] 407 for transportation to NOB.” CGC 407 (also numbered CG-80301) was built by the Gibbs Gas Engineering Company of Jacksonville, Florida. Part of the 400-series of Fast Patrol Boats, it was 80 feet long.
According to historian Gary Gentile, who has extensive access to US government archival material, Lieutenant Commander W. B. Scheibel was piloting US Coast Guard Airplane number 183. (This is likely the same aircraft which rescued survivors of the Everalda on July 4, 1942. If so it was an unarmed Hall PH-3 flying boat V-183 from USCG Air Station Elizabeth City – it is also referred to as “USCG PSP 183”).

The pilot radioed his discovery to shore and then had to decide what to do; whether to passively observe as others had done or intercede to assist the hungry survivors. When Chief Officer Lee signaled by Aldis lamp that one of his men was critically ill, Scheibel decided to act. First he buzzed the lifeboat and dropped a canister with blankets, medical supplies and some food. Although the parachute deployed, the tube sank on hitting the water before the men could get to it.

Photograph of the third Empire Drum lifeboat with 11 men in it (possibly 13) on May 1st 1942 taken from a US Coast Guard ambulance airplane. Note his is not flying a yellow pennant from the mast, though red sails are clearly visible (though the photo is in black and white). This boat was under the command of Chief Officer John Arthur Lee. Two men were taken from it either just before or after this photograph was taken on Friday May 1st1942.

Source: Gary Gentile, “The Fuhrer’s U-Boats in American Waters,” Bellerophon Bookworks, Philadelphia PA 2006, page 219

At this juncture Lt. Cdr. Scheibel decided on a daring course of action: he landed on the relatively smooth surface of the sea and taxied over to the boat. Then he took off Able-Bodied Seaman John Pratt as well as Charles Francis “Frank” O’Reilly, the First Radio Operator, hoping that O’Reilly would provide intelligence to naval officials ashore. In exchange for his passengers Scheibel provided the men with all of the medical equipment, food and water which he had on board the plane – after all the men had been at sea for a week and their provisions were rationed.

Next to the rescue was the diminutive US Coast Guard surf boat #5429, which set out from Caffeys Inlet, which is roughly 10 miles north of Kitty Hawk. Meanwhile USCG cutter 407 was steaming towards the lifeboat’s location from where it had been searching with the Roper to the north. The surf boat caught up with the last 11 Empire Drum survivors at 10:09 pm that night and later transferred them to CGC 407 when it arrived. At that point the surfboat took the merchant marine lifeboat under tow, probably utilizing it to assist in the many casualties which were occurring off “torpedo junction” nearby.

The eleven survivors under Lee were reunited with their two crewmates on shore in Norfolk after arriving at 2:45 am on Saturday, 2nd May. By coincidence the 14 men under Second Officer Greenlees also arrived in the same port on the same morning: at 9 am. So 27 of the Empire Drum officers and men were able to have a rendezvous in the same port, later joined by their 14 colleagues who had landed in New York. For their trip back to England Captain Miles reported that “we were well escorted with 4 corvettes and 2 destroyers. If we had escorts like that on our voyage I am sure all would have been well,” he added.

“Survivors of the MV Empire Drum ashore at NOB, Norfolk.” (National Archives photo 80-CF-103A-3). From Chewing, Alpheus J., “The Approaching Storm, U-Boats off the Virginia Coast During WWII,” Brandylane Publishers, Lively, Virginia, 1994, page 85. Since they are being landed from a large naval vessel in daylight this must be survivors being landed by the USS Roper at 9 am on Saturday May 2nd with the 2nd Officer (Greenlees) of the Empire Drum in charge of 14 men.

NOTE:There is considerable confusion over exactly which vessels rescued which lifeboat from the Empire Drum. Because both CGC 407 and USS Roper deposited 27 men within hours of each other, most sources, including Wikipedia, say that the USS Roper rescued all 27 men. However this was not possible, as the Roper was patrolling some 200 miles to the northeast at the time that First Officer Lee’s men were being rescued by a plane and a surfboat – rescues which are well documented in original material (patrol logs from the ESF made at the actual time). Furthermore, a “phantom” Coast Guard Cutter, CGC 487 crept into some records and was referred to by Chewning among others. On the relevant date CGC 487 was escorting a convoy from New York to Cape May New Jersey and was nowhere near the scene of the Empire Drum’s third lifeboat.

Another source – “Summary of Survivors Statements” says that CGC 409 delivered the Drum survivors ashore on 2nd May. All of these are wrong and can be attributed to mis-reading the “0” in CGC 407 as an “8” or the “9” as a “7” – easy enough mistakes to make, particularly when dealing with duplicate copies and coupled with the “fog of war.” There is no doubt in this author’s mind, having unravelled a number of similar conflicts using original documentation, that USS Roper rescued the 2nd batch of Empire Drum survivors and that the surfboat 5429, aided by an airplane (CG 183) and CGC 407 rescued the third and final group.
Chewning, Alpheus J., “The Approaching Storm, U-Boats off the Virginia Coast During WWII,” Brandylane Publishers, Lively, Virginia, 1994 – for images of Empire Drum survivors landing

ConvoyWeb.co.uk, Data supplied by Don Kindell, extracted from the late Arnold Hague’s papers with the kind permission of Mrs. Gill Hague

Gentile, Gary, “The Fuhrer’s U-Boats in American Waters,” Bellerophon Bookworks, Philadelphia PA 2006

Mason, Capt. Jerry, www.uboatarchive.netfor English translation of U-136’s diary or KTB

“Survivors Statements” including the Panama portion of Souza’s narrative, from NARA, in Washington DC, as found by Michael Constandy, www.westmorelandresearch.org. Formal citation: Survivor’s Statements (1941-1942) Series : Papers of Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, compiled 1941 – 1974Record Group 38: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1875 – 2006  Entry P-13.  National Archives at College Park – Textual Reference (Military) 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740

The National Archives, Wales, Anglesey County Record Office/ GB 0221 WD9 letter to the sister of Capt. John Robert Miles concerning his death and service on the Statira. http://apps.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/onlinelists/GB0221%20WD9.pdf

Uboat.net, for photo of Empire Drum, http://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/ships/1566.html

U-Historia for an image of the U-136: http://www.u-historia.com/uhistoria/historia/huboots/u100-u199/u0136/u136.htm

Wiberg, Eric, “Everalda” attack / survivor narrative, 2014, http://uboatsbahamas.blogspot.com/2013/06/latvian-ship-everalda-indirectly-caused.html

Wikipedia for photo of USS Roper DD 147, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Roper_(DD-147), for detailed data on the Empire Drum and her early convoys see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_Drum

One comment on “M/S Empire Drum sunk by U-136/Zimmermann: survivors rescued by 4 ships and a plane

  1. My wife's grandfather was onboard Empire Drum when it was sunk. He was a gunner with the Royal Navy sailing on Merchant vessels. Following the sinking he was subsequently posted on the rescue ship HMS Rathlin which took part in rescuing many Russians during the PQ-17 attacks. His name is Ronald Burns. If you need any more information he has written a book about his experiences called "The blood red sea" and he still has a very good recollection of his days at sea. Interesting reading, thanks for the blog.

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