S.S. Jagersfontein built in 1934 – note the many cargo derricks, the passenger accommodation and portholes admidships, and the crew portholes at the bow or forecastle.
Photo source: http://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/ships/1854.html
The diesel motor vessel Jagersfontein was built by the Netherlands Shipbuilding, or Nederlandsche Scheepsbouw Mij. N. V., in Amsterdam in December, 1934. The vessel was yard number 229, and her call sign was PEYW. She was designed to carry both cargo and passengers. The ship’s dimensions were 10,083 gross registered tons, 489 feet long, 63.1 feet wide and 34.1 feet deep. With a hull built of steer, her double six-cylinder Stork diesel engines developed 2,334 net horsepower and propelled the ship at an impressive 16 knots.
At the beginning of World War II the Jagersfontein was sent to the Far East in October 1939 along with Klipfontein and the Boschfontein. According to the “Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser of 25 October 1939, “The three ships, which are owned by the United Netherlands Line, have been chartered by the Java Pacific Line for the passenger and cargo service between java and the United States Pacific Coast, calling at Singapore and Manila.”
The Jagersfontein was sent from South Africa, where it was serving the Holland-Africa Line, and was due to sail from Singapore on December 16, 1939. On November 28, 1939 the “Oakland Tribune,” of California added that the Jagersfontein was due to depart from the Golden Gate (San Francisco Bay) on February 3rd. According to the “Port Director’s Report” for Honolulu Hawaii, by an amazing coincidence the Jagersfontein arrived in that port at 09:30 am on the 7th of December, 1941 – right in the middle of the attack on Pearl Harbor nearby….
During World War II the Dutch flagged Jagersfontein was armed with a 105 milimeter gun mounted on the stern. The ship’s owners were Vereenigde Nederlandsche Scheepvaart Mij. (VNS), based in the Hague Netherlands. On her final voyage there were 220 people under the command of Captain Machiel A. van der Est. There were 14 men to man the gun, 108 crew, and 98 passengers, amongst them women and children. Of the 98 passengers there were 86 United States Army officer as well as a dozen civilians.
Among 9,000 tons of general cargo the vessel carried resins, copper, cotton, timber and lead. On Thursday 18th June 1942 left Galveston, Texas bound across the Atlantic to Liverpool, England. The ship headed across the Gulf of Mexico, around the southern tip of Florida. After passing through the Bahamas she sailed independently to pass south and east of Bermuda. By Thursday the 25th the ship was 500 nautical miles east-northeast of Bermuda and 900 nautical miles south-southeast from St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Captain van der Est zig zagged his ship during his voyage in order to throw off enemy submarines known to be lurking nearby. At 9:45 pm ship’s time on the 25th of June (3:45 German time on Friday the 6th), Kapitänleutnant Harald Gelhaus in command of the German submarine U-107 sighted the Jagersfontein. He observed the ship heading 70 degrees east-northeast and making 16.5 knots. He noted in the submarine’s log that “Because the night is nearly as bright as day, however the sea is quite flat sea with heavy marine phosphorescence, I decide to wait to attack after moonset.”
At 3:13 am on the 26th local time Gelhaus fired two torpedoes from tubes one and two from 1,500 meters. It took the missiles four and a half minutes to strike the ship forward of the after mast and behind the main superstructure. Though the Jagersfontein started settling by the stern she maintained headway at between 13 and 14 knots. Gelhaus decided he would attack from ahead. As dawn spread across the sky however the passenger ship maneuvered closer to its attacker until at 4:00 am it fired on the sub with its stern cannon. This caused Gelhaus to sound the alarm and dive.
The men on U-107 were able to hear the Jagersfontein transmit an SSS or “submarine attack” signal via the radio, providing its name, position and tonnage. Captain van der Est kept his ship zig zagging, sometime even ascribing circles across the ocean’s surface to throw off its attacker. Gelhaus continues in his war diary, or KTB:
“At one moment I am positioned favorably ahead of him to shoot however, with this duck pond the periscope is discovered by the numerous people standing on deck. The steamer again turns away. I am only surprised that he has not departed, but continues to drive in this area. Perhaps he wants to have calm water to take to the boats. Therefore, I go back to the attack location. The steamer is approximately 15000 meters away, when I reach the location. I surface. A lot of cotton bales float there but no boats. He has loaded cotton. Shortly after surfacing the steamer reports that he taking to the boats, and abandoning the steamer. He has also stopped and has settled astern a little bit deeper. I go back to him and see that to port two lifeboats have gotten away.”
At 8:59 am local time U-107 submerged and approached the damaged ship. Then Gelhaus sent a third torpedo, this one from tube five, at his prey. This coup-de-grace struck the ship beneath the bridge, causing a large steam cloud to rise from the single stack. Gelhaus observed as the Jagersfontein settled deeper and ultimately sank over the stern. The submarine surfaced and observed: