The four-masted schooner James E. Newsom as seen from the deck of the American schooner Wawaloam. Photo courtesy of Ms. Patsy Kenedy Boling, daughter of Capt. Louis Kenedy, skipper and owner of the Wawaloam, which was itself sunk by a U-Boat in WWII.
Source: Patsy Kenedy Boling’s private collection, also http://uboat.net/allies/merchants/1581.html
The four-masted schooner James E. Newsom was built by the East Coast Company of Boothbay, Maine and launched on the 23rd of August, 1919. She weighed 707 gross tons and 629 net tons and was crewed by eight men on average. The vessel’s length overall was 180.4 feet, beam was 36.2 feet and depth 14.9 feet. Her port of registry was Boston, Massachusetts and the call sign was LSKM.
The ship wasted no time in getting down to business, as she arrived in Boston to load lumber in the Mystic River for Buenos Aires the very day after being launched (“Boston Post,” August 25, 1919). In 1921 she sailed from Windsor, Nova Scotia to New York in late November with eight crew. In 1923 she again visited from Nova Scotia as well as from the Dominican Republic, also with eight persons aboard, and in April 1924 she arrived from Walton Nova Scotia.
Author Ingrid Grenon, in her 2010 book “Lost Maine Coastal Schooners: From Glory Days to Ghost Ships,” writes of the Newsom that: “Two major shipyards in Boothbay, the Atlantic Coast Company and the East Coast Company, were formed in 1917 and used exclusively for building and repairing large coastal schooners. …the East Coast Company backers included the mayor of Somerville, Massachusetts, and turned out five four-masted schooners.”
One of these schooners was the four-master James E. Newsom, launched by the East Coast Company ….and serving the Crowell & Thurlow fleet. She was named after Boston fruit and produce merchant James E. Newsom and christened by his daughter, Miss Thelma Moss Newsom. The Newsom had an interesting and lengthy career; her first cargo consisted of 700,000 feet of lumber to be taken from Boston to Buenos Aires.”
“Spending years ranging up and down the East Coast, early in 1926 the Florida real estate boom found her aground off Miami heavily loaded with 710,000 feet of lumber and lightly damaged. After she went aground again and part of her cargo was removed, a squall came up and battered the craft, driving her ashore. With the seas raging over her decks and part of her hull in splinters, the crew decided to abandon ship. A testament to her robust construction, she was towed away and repaired. The Newsom grounded a few more times, was involved in a collision and lost her rudder in a storm, but she was able to weather those unfortunate mishaps.”’
During the Miami grounding “The channel was blocked for one day until harbor officials ordered the ship towed to sea, over protest of the Newsom’s master, who contended that with assistance he could make port.” (Salt Lake “Tribune,” Feb. 19, 1926). The grounding was upon Little Gull Island at the eastern entrance to Long Island Sound. The schooner was bound from Halifax to New York and was pulled free by the US Coast Guard cutter Algonquin, based in nearby New London, Connecticut. (Reno Nevada “Evening Gazette,” April 20, 1935).
The launching of the James E. Newsom in Boothbay, Maine, August 23, 1919.
The Newsom had a busy career. On 18th January 1921 she sailed from Moss Point, Mississippi for San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to the Boston Post of January 20, 1921. Another incident occurred in 1921, as related by witnesses to the strange events: “On the night of April 14th, 1921, at four minutes past eleven o’clock, the four-masted American schooner James E. Newsom, bound north with a full cargo of lumber and manned by the master (accompanied by his wife) and a crew of seven men, struck the Bluefish Lump Shoal at the extreme tip of Cape Lookout, N. C.” The author, James S. Beaman, goes on to relate how the captain, his wife and crew abandoned ship that day and were looked after by the Coast Guard crew at the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.
Kapitänleutnant Ulrich Gräf, commander of U-69, which sank the James E. Newsom off Bermuda.
Photo source: http://www.uboat.net/men/commanders/374.html
At 3.17 pm German time, in daylight, Gräf records: “Crash dive! Am too close, however, am positioned ahead, decide to attack submerged. Surfaced. Because after 15 minutes not in sight. In sight directly astern, target angle 0°, very hard to distinguish. Dived for submerged attack. Sailer has no lookout, gives an innocent impression.” The conditions at the time were mile – wind about 5-10 knots, 1011 milibars on the barometer, seas 1-3 feet, and medium, hazy visibility.
Gräf does not appear to have been in a rush to attack. At 5.27 pm German time he “Surfaced for armed attack, after which I ran in his wake for a while.” Seeing a German submarine surface behind them and speed up for an artillery attack must have been a terrifying sight for the civilian crew of the James E. Newsom. They didn’t have long to be terrified, however, as a minute later the men on U-69 opened fire from a range of 200 meters, or about 650 feet.
Gräf records that “Crew (9 men) go to the boats. Sailing vessel darts in the wind. Name: “JAMES E. NEWSOME”, homeport Halifax, 671 GRT. Sunk with full sails.” Altogether it took U-69’s gunners 54 incendiary shells of 8.8 cm, 12 explosive shells of 8.8 c, and 60 machine gun rounds of C/30 ammunition to destroy and sink the Newsom. Here are the reasons which Gräf gave:
He continues: “Cargo and port of destination could not be determined from the crew. Course lead to the Cabot Strait.” – in fact the Newsom was headed to St. John’s Newfoundland, but he was not far off.
The sub commander concludes his analysis with: “The incendiary ammunition had no effect. The wood ship hull began to glow for a few seconds then was put out by the washing over water.” He adds that he feels he’s done about enough in the Bermuda area, noting: “On the basis of messages from Scholtzof 30 April and Forster of 1 April there is no traffic in the Bermudas and increased fuel consumption by the pursuit of the sailer, ordered direct transit to the ordered attack area.” With that U-69 sailed out of the region.
We turn our attention to the nine survivors of the James E. Newsom. Because of wartime censorship we are not told the name of the schooner’s skipper. However in 1937 the master was Captain Dawson Geldert, the mate was Archie Geldert, and from 1931 to 1935 the ship was even named D. Geldert. In July 1937 Captain Dawson’s daughter Marion Geldert, a student at Dalhousie University, crossed the Atlantic and back aboard her. This would have been the same crossing during which her uncle Archie broke his leg. Since the ship had been owned by Zwicker Geldert Shipping Co. Ltd., it is safe to assume that there was at least one officer named Geldert aboard her, and even that a Geldert was her master, very possibly Dawson Geldert himself.
According to his obituary, Captain Dawson Geldert had sold James E. Newsom in Barbados and planned to sail aboard her back to Canada, where he was to retire in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia:
“Captain Geldert retired from the sea when he sold his four-master, the “James Newsome”, while she was in port in Barbados, to enjoy the rest of his life in his home town which had seen little of him during his long life at sea. On her first trip out of Barbados under new ownership, the “Newsome” was sunk by a submarine and Captain Geldert counted this among his many close calls during his sea going days.” Finally, when Capt. Geldert died in July of 1945 he was 64 years of age. According to the local papers, the James E. Newsom skipper was 62 years old on arrival in May 1942. All indications are that Captain Dawson Geldert was in command of the James E. Newsom, which he no longer owned, at the time of the ship’s demise.
For one week, between mid-day Friday the 1st of May and Thursday the 7th of May (six nights and seven days), eight rugged Canadians and one West Indian crew sailed their lifeboat 330 miles from where they sank (in Latitude 36.03N by Longitude 59.42W) to Bermuda. This means that they averaged an impressive 2.2 knots, or nautical miles per hour (330 miles by c.150 hours). The voyage is testament to not only tenacity and determination but also navigational accuracy.
From interviews with survivors within 24 hours of their arrival by a Bermudian journalist who could not divulge the names of personnel or ships, we know that a Bermuda-based airplane spotted the Newsom’s single lifeboat. Though Graf said that he saw the men “go to the boats” plural, it would appear they transferred to a single boat in the interim. The plane called in the US Navy, also based at a Naval Operating Base, or NOB, in Bermuda, to go to their aid.
On Thursday the 7th of May “the office of the Commandant of the US Naval Operating Base released the following announcement: ‘A small group of survivors, British subjects, were brought in today by one of the Unites States naval vessels and turned over to the British Naval authorities.” (This might explain why the author cannot find typical “Survivor Statements” in either Washington DC US Naval files or in the UK Admiralty records in London – the US Navy never interviewed Captain Geldert). The journalist notes that Captain Geldert “was closeted for about an hour with an official at the [Sailor’s] Home after he arrived.”
The first-hand witness described how “considering their ordeal [they] were in reasonably good condition although suffering in varying degrees from severe salt water and sun burns, in addition to exposure. None of them was a hospital case.”
When they were taken to the sailor’s home, presumably from the St. David’s or St. George’s area of the island, “They carried with them bundles of clothing and personal belongings which somehow had escaped the sinking and the days at sea in the small craft.” They even had “a suitcase [that] had become crushed by the handling it had received.” The men were given a dry pair of clothes, pajamas and slippers. “A few of the older men had grown beards – one of them had particularly black whiskers while a couple of very young men looked almost plain-shaven.”
The journalist goes on to describe Captain Geldert’s interactions with the crew: “he was plainly respected and liked by those under him. …when he came into the circle of the crew they were particularly solicitous about his condition. But the ruddy-faced captain, of slight build, was primarily concerned that the men were comfortable.” There was only one bath at the Sailor’s Home and they all waited their turn patiently. When asked by Mrs. Darby if he didn’t mind waiting, one sailor replied “I certainly don’t. I’m lucky to be here having a bath.” After they had been bathed and clothed the men were taken to the capital in Hamilton “for a solid meal.”
Most of the men – all of the eight Canadians – were put up at the Bermuda Sailor’s Home on Front Street in Hamilton. The home was run by L. N. “Dickie” Tucker, Superintendent, ably assisted by the Matron, Mrs. Darby. Demand was so high during the war that additional dormitories were added at the Bermudiana Hotel in conjunction with the Ladies Hospitality Organization “to house torpedoed mariners who waited new shipping orders.” In fact the James E. Newsom survivors’ first concern was how to ship out again: “Their first thought, given expression by all of them was ‘When can we get another ship?’.”
The only crew not in the Sailors Home was a man from Monserrat: “It was discovered that the West Indian had relatives here, and for his own convenience Mr. Tucker made arrangements for him to be through to the Canadian Hotel, where contact could be established. He was accompanied to the Reid Street Hostelry by a member of the previous survivor groups who before leaving the Sailor’s Home asked the new arrival to share a soft drink with him.”
This survivor might have been from any number of Allied ships whose survivors landed in Bermuda before May 7, 1942. From that spring alone these included the Lady Drake (256 men and women, 6 May), Modesta (23 men, 26 April), Robin Hood (24 men, 25 April), Derryheen or Agra (8 and 33 men respectively, 22 April), Oakmar (30 men 24 March), or British Resource (5 men, 16 March). Certainly the men from the Newsom would have found companionship – and perhaps even networked for their next berth – while in Bermuda. It is not recorded when they left for the mainland, but it would have been either by air to New York or possibly ships going to Halifax for convoy work (earlier in the war there were a number of such convoys from Bermuda).
U-69’s next victim wasn’t until nearly two weeks later, on 12 May (Lise), followed by three others on the same patrol: Norlantic, Torondoc, and the abandoned tug Letitia Porter. U-69 returned to St. Nazaire unscathed on 25 June 1942. U-69, Ulrich Gräf, and all 46 men on the sub were lost less than a year later on 17 February 1943 when HMS Fame, a British destroyer, successfully attacked it east of Newfoundland. Gräf was 27 years of age.