SS West Notus sunk by U-404/von Bülow NW of Bermuda – Capt & 3 KIA, 36 men picked up by MV Saentis, SS Constantinos H, landed NY & BDA

S.S. WEST NOTUS, Attack & Survivors’ Narrative

 by Eric T. Wiberg,, October, 2014

The West Notus, showing two lifeboats aft of the funnel, in her pre-war color scheme.

Photo Source: City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 447-2844,

The US-flagged steam ship West Notus was built in 1920 by the South Western Shipbuilding Company of San Pedro, California. She was yard number 17. Her 2,800 ihp, triple-expansion engine powered by three boilers was built by Llewellyn Iron Works of Los Angeles and turned a single propeller to give the ship 10.5 knots of speed. The ship was 5,492 gross tons in weight, 412.8 feet long, 54.5 feet wide, and 30 feet deep.

West Notus’ original owners were the United States Shipping Board of Washington DC up until 1926, when she was sold to the Pacific Argentine Brazil Line of San Francisco. That firm owned the steamer until 1941, when Moore & McCormack bought her through subsidiaries Mooremack Lines and American Scantic Lines of New York, New York. In 1921 the ship was advertised sailing from Buenos Aires for San Pedro, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland Oregon via Brazil and the Panama Canal.

In 1926 the “Oakland Tribune” ran an article entitled “West Notus Has Rich Cargo for South America; Freighter Is First Craft to Sail in New Service for McCormick Line.” The ship was reported on April 4th to have been loaded with 4,000,000 feet of lumber in holds and on deck. In Oakland it topped up on 1,000 tons of canned salmon and 1,500 tons of general cargo. Apparently the McCormick Line took over the Pacific-Argentine-Brazil service that year. On August 18th the same paper touted a shipment of 1,500 bags of Brazil nuts – the first importation of them in California – that the West Notus brought to Oakland from Para, Brazil.

Captain Loren McIntyre, who in 1971 discovered the source of the Amazon Rive while on assignment with National Geographic, wrote that in 1935 “I signed on the West Notus. It sailed up and down the coasts of South America, stopping everywhere. In Belem, we loaded Brazil nuts and mahogany, swinging to and fro on the world’s highest freshwater tides.” He went on to become a leader in South American exploration (Wikipedia).

In August 1940 FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s men captured a West Notus crew member, Keawe Kamakela, aged 35, from Hawaii, on suspicion that he had sabotaged the ship’s engines by pouring sand into the bearings on September 27th, 1939. Fortunately Kamakela’s deeds were discovered, and the sand under his fingernails matched with that in the engine, before the motors were engaged. On March 25th1938 the West Notus was in radio contact Kingston, Jamaica’s Cable & Wireless station “VQI.” In September, 1940 the West Notus was tied up in Seattle due to action by the Marine Fireman’s Union. She sailed from New York three times in 1941 – on the 25th of February, the 10thof May and the 25th of October, and on the 26th of February 1942.

On her final voyage beginning in May 1942 the West Notus’ master was Captain Hans Gerner, from Los Angeles, California. There were a total of 40 men on board the ship, five of them military gunners, the other 35 merchant marine officers and crew. After loading a full cargo of 7,400 tons of flax seed in Bahia Blanca, Argentina early in May 1942, the ship stopped in Trinidad for bunkers en route to discharge in New York.

In the book “Time Tide & Timber: A Century of Pope and Talbot,” her departure from Trinidad is conveyed poetically: “Just as the tropical sunrise was gilding the tree-lined shore of Trinidad, the West Notus cast off her hawsers and slipped out to sea, bound for New York. The day was Sunday, May 24, 1942.” The voyage went uneventfully for just over a week. On Sunday the 31st of May the US Navy radioed a change of routing instructions to Captain Gerner which he complied with.

Then at dawn on Monday the first of June, when the German submarine U-404 under Otto von Bülow decided to mount a surface attack on the ship from the port quarter. The ship’s position was 300 nautical miles northwest of Bermuda, 312 nautical miles east-northeast of Cape Hatteras, 350 nautical miles southeast of New York, and 310 nautical miles south of Nantucket Island. There were two lookouts, on the bridge and the forecastle up forward. The conditions were described as clear, with a moderate easterly wind, good visibility and moderate seas. The ship was heading 295 degrees north-northwest at ten knots.

At 12:15 pm German time (roughly 5 am local, or ship’s time), von Bülow recorded in his war diary, or KTB: “Steamer in sight bearing 160°.  Target angle bow right 45°, range = 4000 meters, coming out of the morning mist.  It is too bright for a surface attack, in addition the clear horizon is behind us.  At this range the target angle is already too great for a submerged attack.  Diving unseen diving to maneuver ahead later at the limit of vision for a submerged attack already appears questionable and not promising given the strong zigzagging expected from the experience of sinking “ALCOA SHIPPER,”” (he was referring to a recent attack).

Two minutes later von Bülow wrote that his artillery was ready and the U-boat was running to meet the ship. As to why he attacked with deck artillery instead of torpedoes, the commander later recalled that “She was attacked by our deck gun, as I had not enough fuel on left on board to overtake her and find a position from which to fire the torpedoes” (MacKenzie). He noted the large cannon on the West Notus’ stern as well as machine guns. At 12:21 the submarine opened fire from 2,200 meters away. The following minute the German commander recorded:

“After 2 far and 2 short hit on the bridge observed. Steamer turns away 50° and opens fire with his cannon. The first impacts lie far behind the boat. [Machine gun] C 30 broke down after a few shots, the cocking lever is broken again. The range is too great for effective suppression with the [machine gun] C 34. There were continual hits on the steamer and already good fire effects observed. On 2 well placed impacts ahead of the boat turned away with …hard rudder.”

According to “Time Tide and Timber,” when the attack began, “Captain Hans Gerner ran into his cabin to recover his documents and secret papers. No sooner had he disappeared inside than a shell struck the Captain’s quarters. He emerged from the flaming wreckage, staggered to the rail, and ordered all hands to abandon ship. A few minutes later he collapse and died.” Witnesses say that Captain Gerner lasted three minutes from the abandon ship order to his death. There was no opportunity to send a distress message by radio, presumably because one of the Radio Operators had been killed and the equipment must have been damaged or destroyed at the same time.

Able-Bodied Seaman Charles K. Toguchi, from Hawaii, related “I was at the wheel when the fight began and although we had some machine guns, they were no match for the sub’s 20-mm cannons. Shells began hitting the wheelhouse and the captain’s cabin, but I was not hit. Soon the captain blew the whistle and gave the order to abandon ship and the crew got into two lifeboats” (Tamashiro).

As related in “Time Tide and Timber,” “Chief Engineer [W. C.] Edwards hurried below to shut off the engines while the men made for the lifeboats. As one was being lowered, it was struck and burst into flames. Two of the starboard lifeboats were launched, and the Chief Engineer and seventeen crewmen manned one boat, while Chief Mate [Lambert] Kat, twelve members of the crew, and five of the gun crew occupied the other. The gunfire had killed Third Mate [Harry S.] Morris [Scottish], Radio Operator [Wilfred] Clarkson [British] and Assistant Engineer [Victor P.] Williams.” The survivors later reported that by 7:30 am ship’s time 35 of the remaining men had left the West Notus in two lifeboats. One of the survivors was unaccounted for.

At 12:25 pm U-404 ceased fire and prepared to dive, but ultimately remained in the surface. von Bülow observed that the West Notus was on fire, had blown off engine steam, and that the men aboard were taking to the lifeboats. At 12:33 U-404 again approached the ship, and must have never dived since artillery was at the ready. von Bülow noted that the ship continued making headway and turned to starboard, though by this time no one was on board. The Germans opened fire from 1,800 meters and hit the defenseless ship each time. By 12:40, 19 minutes after the initial attack, the West Notus was ablaze from stem to stern. At that point von Bülow records:

“Cease fire!  Drove around the steamer, no more people aboard. On the stern and bow badly painted over name: “WEST NOTUS” could be read.  U.S.A. steamer 5492 GRT. Pacific Argentine Line.” He would have obtained the latter information from the Groner guide to Allied merchant shipping which every U-boat carried to identify their victims with.

The Caption for this photo at Ahoy Mac’s website, in an article by a friend of Otto von Bulow’s is “Otto with his children, Renate on his Right and Henning on his left shoulder. Photograph Taken in Danzig for the German Forces Magazine, ‘SIGNAL’ which was printed in French”

Photo Source:

At 13:15 von Bülow brought U-404 to within 3,000 meters. At that time he found that the Allied gunners had damaged his submarine in two places: the port exhaust piping and the stern covering the deck torpedo canister. This necessitated repairs, particularly to the exhaust manifold, though it was found the torpedo was undamaged. von Bülow noted at 14:00 that “Steamer has a slight list. Flaxseed flows from many shell holes just above the waterline. 10 further shots of explosive munition are fired from the immediate vicinity into the water line.”

Some fifty years later von Bülow described this attack to a friend of his from the Allied merchant marine, John Lawton, “She was, it turned out, loaded with Linseed Oil which kept flooding out of the ship through the shell hulls, the more holes we made, the more oil came out, the higher the ship sat in the water and would not sink. Eventually lifeboats put off from the ship. I noticed that a boat was stuck in the ‘falls’ of the ship, so I drew alongside and told the men to jump. I then picked them up and took them to the other boats, where I asked if any were injured; I gave them first aid kits, bandages, blankets, brandy and a chart.”

At 2:10 pm German time the Axis commander noted “A drifting leaky boat with the First Officer and 5 men is towed to two boats sailing fully occupied.” He interacted with the American Chief Officer to learn the ship’s cargo, recent ports and destination. He also noted that his shelling of the bridge had killed Captain Gerner. Then for the next two hours U-404 motored “Back and forth in the vicinity of the steamer wreck to effect repairs.”

The “Time Tide and Timber” narrative continues: “The boats stayed together, and the submarine soon headed in their direction. The Germans delivered to the Chief Engineer’s boat an injured oiler… …who had been picked up after several hours in the water. The Germans had already given him medical attention. The German officer on deck advised them in fluent English that they were 350 miles from land, and went on to give them their position. He also handed over a supply of fresh water.” Survivors state that they were given Perrier water and a piece of paper giving them a course to Cape Hatteras of 275 degrees 320 nautical miles distant. Some survivors said the Germans handed them a tin of soup marked “Linsen, Santos, Brazil,” however it is possible this floated up from their own ship’s supplies and was merely given back to them.

The Survivors Statements record the interactions between the foes in considerable detail: “The officer spoke to survivors in good English but with German accent,” the account states. “Crew dressed in shorts, tanned, apparently in Southern water, 20 to 30 age, some bearded, were solicitous regarding casualties, congratulated gun crew describing situation a 50-50 battle. In reply, the commander, about 25, medium build, big uniform, fair complexion, was told the WEST NOTUS’ port of departure, destination, cargo, etc.” The survivor’s proximity to their adversary for such a prolonged time enabled them to observe that the paint “…was clean without barnacles and the Diesel oil used was believed to be high grade as it emitted no odor and only a faint blue exhaust.”

At 8:00 pm German time (roughly 1:00 pm ship’s time) von Bülow logged that “During the repairs a lightly wounded American seaman was fished out and brought to sailing lifeboats.” Fifteen minutes later the Germans observed the American ship’s ammunition detonate, throwing a high column of flame. At 10:30 pm German time U-404’s gunners pumped six more shots of explosive shells into the ship at the waterline, yet still she did not sink.

By 1:30 am on the second of June the attack had been going on for over 13 hours. von Bülow decided to change tactics and blow the ship up with satchels of explosives fixed to the sides. He records that: “By driving up and throwing a grapnel, an explosive cartridge was affixed to the side of the steamer’s hull and initiated.  However, there was no detonation, probably the rope holding the charge was burned on the hot side of the hull.” Nothing seemed to be going the German’s way.

At 2:15 am in the evening twilight the sub dove to test the repairs. Forty five minutes later it stopped in sight of the West Notus, which had still not yet sunk. By 2:00 pm German time the attack had been going on for over 24 hours. The commander notes that “A new demolition charge is fastened in the same manner to the side of the hull and initiated.” Seven minutes later, “Detonation. Steamer wreck sinks slowly deeper.”

Exasperated, U-404’s men remained in the vicinity, repairing their submarine and trying to sink the West Notus. At 8:00 pm German time (about 1:00 pm ship’s time) and some 32 hours into the attack von Bülow wrote “Wreck still smokes strongly.  Is observed to sink deeper, submerging more of the shell holes.” An hour later finally a break in the siege: the lookouts in the German submarine sighted the neutral Swedish ship Anna and motored off to attack, leaving the West Notus to slowly sink. The stubborn American vessel had cost the Germans two instances of damage, the expenditure of a high number of shells, and a day and a half of their precious time. The American witnesses in the distance were unaware that the submarine approached the side of their ship. According to them, a shell managed to find the engine room fuel tanks, the ship exploded and buckled in two amidships and sank.

Each of the two lifeboats had 18 occupants. The boat led by Second Officer Pieter J. Sas (a naturalized American) included injured sailor Francis J. Sherlock, who suffered from a shrapnel wound as well as Filipino Democrito D. Hortelano and two Puerto Rican messmen; Julius Morales and Manuel A. Perez. Chief Engineer Edwards found that the water was stale and should have been refreshed every 15 days. He felt that 20 gallons of water should have been allocated to each boat and that the sails should be light rather than dark red, which resembled a submarine conning tower. This is probably because the men in his boat reported sighting an Allied ship which “immediately altered course and ran away from the lifeboat.”

The men in Second Officer Sas’s lifeboat sighted an airplane on Tuesday the 2nd of June which they took to be a Clipper amphibious plane, which did not appear to have sighted them. Then at 8:40 am on Thursday the 4thof June the 18 men were discovered by the Swiss merchant ship SS Saentis. The position given by the Saentis for the rescue was 132 nautical miles south-southwest of the sinking location, so the lifeboat achieved roughly 1.5 knots. The Saentis delivered the crew to New York the following day, at 6:43 pm on Friday the 5th of June. (The position for rescue was 35.10N, 71.47W versus 34.10N, 68.20W for the sinking).

The Swiss Motor Ship Saentis, which rescued 18 men from one of the West Notus lifeboats as well as the 20-man crew of the Anna.

The Motor Ship Saentis was built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast in 1912 as the M/V Falstria and only joined the Swiss merchant marine in New York on December 12, 1941 – within days of Hitler declaring war on the United States. In the intervening years she had been named the Olymp, the Matros and the Norseland. She was named by the Swiss for a mountain in the east of Switzerland. Her first voyage for KTA, Bern was a limited success and was characterized by engine troubles, and occurred in April 1942, mere weeks before her rescue of the West Notus survivors. Saentis continued on its course to New York, carrying 20 survivors from the Swedish ship Anna, which had also been sunk by von Bülow. Saentis arrived in New York on Friday the 5th of June. On arrival F. J. Sherlock was admitted to the Marine Hospital in New York.
The US Eastern Sea Frontier Enemy Action and Distress Diary of June 5th records the arrival of both West Notus and Anna survivors at 6:43 pm on the 5th of June 1942: “M.V. SAENTIS (Swiss) arrived at quarantine with following survivors: 17 survivors from S.S. WEST NOTUS (U.S. cargo, 5492 tons) rescued from lifeboat in 35-10N, 71-47W at 0840 June 4. WEST NOTUs was attacked by shellfire in 36-16N, 69-08W (350 miles east of Cape Henry) at 0630 June 1 and finally sunk at 1515 June 1. Another boat with 18 men still missing, reported as probably south of position of boat rescued.”

Since the survivors and/or the Saentis’ captain got word to US Naval authorities that a lifeboat from the West Notus was still unaccounted for, the war diary of the NOB (Naval Operating Base) Norfolk, Virginia on June 6threcords that “Two PBO’s [aircraft] (NAS, NOB) searching for survivors (SS West Notus) vicinity 35-00N 72-00W. Owl [USS Owl, a US Navy ship based in Bermuda at the time] on scene today” (

Following their rescue Chief Engineer Edwards gave his opinion as to occupancy numbers (fewer men so more could ride out storms in the bottom of the boat), rudder pintles (reinforced), food cans (riveted lids, not soldered) and cigarettes (one pack per man). Being the head of the engine room department he felt that extra sun block or lotion should be provided for the engine room men, as they were more vulnerable to the extreme sun conditions of a lifeboats than their counterparts who worked on the deck in the sun.
The men in the other boat were even more fortunate in their rescue, in that they spent less time in an open boat. This boat was under the command of the First Officer Lambert Kat held included Ordinary Seaman Marshall Howard, who suffered injuries around the neck and head. On Wednesday June 3rd, after roughly three days in an open boat, the 18 men were discovered and rescued by the Greek merchant ship Constantinos H. This vessel’s generous master took the men to Bermuda, where they arrived on Friday the 5th of June.

This undated photo of the ship which became the Constantinos H. in 1933 must have been taken between 1921 and 1930, when the vessel built as Christian Horn in 1905 was re-named Nanceen. In 1930 the same ship was named the Anthemis until 1933 when it became the Constantinos H. until being scrapped in 1958. This image was taken at the city port of Bougie and “Nanceen, Dunkerque” can be read on the spoon transom. This was a French postcard sent from Algeria.

Photo Source: Diaressaada,

The ship Constantinos H was built by AG Neptun in Rostock, Germany in 1905. She was 2,527 gross registered tons and could carry 4,530 deadweight tons of cargo, possibly a few tons more (Mozolak lists her as 4,697 gross tons). In 1919 the ship was ceded to France as war reparations, sold to Companie des Bateaux a Vapeur du Nord in Dunkirk and renamed Nanceen. The ship appears to have traded with Algeria during the next 12 years until it was sold in 1921 to a Greek firm named D. C. Tillellos & Company of Piraeus. For three years until 1933 the vessel sailed as the SS Anthemis, so named after a flower. In 1933 (1931 by some sources, 1933 by Jordan), she was sold to Iliopoulos, Ilias and Athanassios of Athens Greece and provided with her final name, that of Constantinos H.

It is not known who the Master of the Constantinos H was at the time of the rescue – the ship does not appear in various newspaper archives of the time, perhaps because the owners were a single-ship firm and their routes were “general tramping.” According to John Mozolak’s Janda site she left New York Harbor on the 4th of March and 26th of May, 1942. On 24 November 1942 she was in a small convoy (Prep King Convoy 121) in the US Gulf along with the S.S. Domino (itself later attacked by a U-boat in the Old Bahama Channel), and escorted by CG 83351 ( She also appeared in Convoy TAG 77 from Aruba and Trinidad to Guantanamo in early August 1943, per the Arnold Hague Convoy Database maintained by Mike Holdoway.

The West Notus men were repatriated to New York and reunited with their shipmates on Sunday the 14th of June. The Constantinos H. sailed until she was scrapped in 1958 at the age of 54 years.

Von Bülow brought U-404 for two incursions into the Bermuda area in May and June 1942 as part of a highly successful patrol in which he sank seven ships of 31,061 tons. Initially U-404 just dipped into the northeast corner of the Bermuda area between the 22nd and 25thof May. Then the sub returned, this time from the north northwest, on the 30thduring which it sank the US ship Alcoa Shipper of 5,491 tons.

The emblems and markings of U-404, which its victims on the West Notus did not relay to naval interrogators after their rescue.

Source: Hogel, Georg, “U-Boat Emblems of World War II, 1939 – 1945,” Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA, 199, page 68

After sinking the Anna von Bülow then took is command east till the 7th, south till the 8th, and west towards Hatteras on the 9th of June. Off the US coast from Hatteras to the Delaware Capes U-404 sank the 3,289-ton Yugoslavian steamship Ljubica Matkovic off Cape Lookout on the 24th of June, then the steamship Manuela, US flagged and 4,772 tons, and the Nordal, Panamanian of 3,485 tons.  On the 27th U-404 dispatched the Moldanger, 6,827 tons of Norway, but was counter-attacked by aircraft. The obliged von Bülow to head back to France, where it reached Saint Nazaire on the 14th of July 1942.

U-404 sailed for the 6th U-boat Flotilla of Saint Nazaire on the 6th of May as part of the Padfinder group, which was active with seven submarines on the 23rd to 27th of May before they split off to hunt independently. On the way out to the US coast U-404 also participated in the Hecht group from the 8th to the 11thof May.

A.B. Charles Toguchi went on to survivor another sinking by an Axis submarine (SS Kaimoku sunk southeast of Greenland by U-379 under Paul-Hugo Kettner on the 8th of August 1942). He is said to have survived three wars (Tashimoro).

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that the West Notus survivors met with von Bülow on an American television program in the 1970s, though this has not been verified (MacKenzie).


Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University, “Time Tide & Timber: A Century of Pope and Talbot,” Stanford University Press, 1949, Stanford, CA

“Cumberland Times,” Maryland, Aug. 18th, 1940, “Hawaiian Confesses to Sabotage Attempt.”

Diaressaada, for a rare photograph of the “Nanceen” which became the “Constantinos H” which rescued 18 men from the “West Notus,” – for the war diaries and deck logs concerning West Notus from US and UK navies

Hogel, Georg, “U-Boat Emblems of World War II, 1939 – 1945,” Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA, 199, page 68

Holm Lawson, Dame Siri,

Holdoway, Mike, and Hague, Arnold, for details of convoys the Constantinos H sailed in

Jordan, Roger, The World’s Merchants Fleets 1939, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1999

MacKenzie, Gregory J, Ahoy – Mac’s Web Log, for granular detail and biography, photos of von Bulow and his accomplishments by a former Allied merchant marine officer who knew him.

Mason, Jerry, and

Mozolak, John, “New York Ships to Foreign Port, 1939 – 1945,” for the articles on West Notus’ earlier career

“Oakland Tribune,” California, Apr. 4th, 1926, “West Notus Has Rich Cargo for South America.”

“Oakland Tribune,” California, Sept. 20th, 1940, “Defense Board’s Aid Asked to Free Strike-Tied Ship.”

“Survivors Statements” from NARA, in Washington DC, as found by Michael Constandy Formal citation: Survivor’s Statements (1941-1942) Series : Papers of Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, compiled 1941 – 1974.  Record 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

Tashimoro, Ben H., “Hawaii Herald,” Sept. 19, 1986, “Charles Toguchi – Living Through Three Wars,”

The Ships List, for details of the early career of the Constantinos H – “Horn Line”, under “Fleet List,” for much of the information, including photos of U-boat Commander and its victim,
US Navy, “Post Mortems on Enemy Submarines,” excerpts of interviews of Horst Degen in which he talks about von Bulow receiving an award for his sinking of West Notus and four other ships –

Wikipedia for an article on Loren McIntyre, see also a PDF file on his life at: file:///C:/Users/A%20Wiberg/Downloads/sae-mag-16h-loren-mcintyre-interview%20(1).pdf for specifications and history of West Notus:

Wynn, Kenneth, U-boat Operations of the Second World War, Volume 1 and Volume 2, 1997