MS Mattawin sunk by U-553/Thurmann off Nantucket, all 71 survived; taken to Newport, Cape Cod, Halifax

MS Mattawin. Source: Andrey Nelogov,

The 6,919-ton diesel-motored ship Mattawin was originally built as the Ediba at Harland and Wolff’s storied shipyard in Govan, Glasgow. Ediba is a rural hamlet northeast of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and the ship’s owners, the Elder Dempster Lines Ltd. of Liverpool, traded to West Africa regularly and named many of their ships for African locations. Six years later the same owners re-named the ship Mattawin, a mutation of the Matawin River which empties into the St. Lawrence at Trois-Rivières, Quebec. In May 1942 the ship was chartered to Kerr Silver Line Ltd. and was provide with routing instructions by British Naval Control based in New York.

During WWII the Mattawin participated in at least two ocean-going convoys: SL/MKS-100 from Freetown, West Africa, to Liverpool in February of 1942, and ON-89 from Liverpool to Halifax in April 1942, from which she was a straggler. Then she sailed to New York, where she loaded 7,786 tons of military cargo which included 13 airplanes, steel, guns and ammunition, motorized vehicles, and a dozen mostly prep-school and Ivy-League-educated volunteers in the American Field Service to operate ambulances in the Middle East and beyond (eight of them were: Richard Edwards, Princeton ’39 and Harvard, Nicholas Madeira Jr., Harvard ’43, Edward Berkeley Fenton, (age 24) Amherst ’37, James Thomas Morrisey of Boston, Edward Howell LeBoutillier, Haverford College, Ronald Oscar Gubelman, MIT ’22, Coffin Colket Wilson III, Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, and Marshall Corbett Phelps, (age 22) Yale ’35).

The Mattawin’s final master was Captain Charles Herbert Sweeny, aged 47, of the UK. There was a total of 71 persons on board the ship: 52 British merchant marine officers and crew, including three from British West Africa, three British naval gunners and four British military gunners, presumably drawn from the British army. Among the merchant crew was Second Engineer Officer John Alan Wilson, aged 40. To these were added 12 American Field Service (AFS) volunteers. In fact seven of their colleagues had been sunk aboard the Swedish steamer Agra by U-654 under Forster in waters between New England and Bermuda on the 20th of April 1942, and all had survived.

Mattawin was armed with a large 4-inch gun and nine machine guns (four stripped Lewis type, four Hotchkiss, one Oerlikon), a pair of illumination rockets called P.A.C. as well as kites, and a degaussing anti-torpedo and anti-mine magnetic system which was switched on at the time of attack. The ship loaded for Alexandria Egypt via Cape Town and Durban, South Africa where she was to take on more fuel. She left New York Harbor on Friday the 29th of May at 8 PM local time and anchored off City Island, Bronx, New York for the night, most likely waiting for a favorable tide. They adjusted compasses the following morning from 6 AM to noon. Then they headed east through the sheltered waters of Long Island Sound off the Connecticut coast. However they were compelled to stop just three hours later due to engine troubles which delayed them for a day until Sunday the 31st of May. “Naval Control Authorities” instructed the Captain Sweeny to pass Nantucket Shoal Lighthouse at dawn the following day. Indeed on Monday the 1st of June they passed the light at 6 AM, dropped the pilot off and developed 9.5 knots speed towards South Africa. That evening at 7 PM a US military plane circled overhead.

Their first night on the open Atlantic began uneventfully. It was a dark and cloudy night penetrated by occasional moonlight, with a rough sea, with the wind coming from the east-northeast at about 20 knots. The ship was steering east-southeast so the wind came across the port bow. Unbeknownst to the 71 souls aboard, Mattawin was being stalked by the German U-boat U-553 under Kapitänleutnant Karl Thurmann. Though Allied accounts related that Captain Sweeny was not zig zagging, in fact the German’s daily logbook indicates otherwise, as Thurmann observed that the ship “steers in legs about 30° around general course 110°” (the ship’s course was actually 124 degrees true).

At 5:48 AM German time on Tuesday the 2nd of June (10:48 PM on Monday, ship’s time), U-533 fired two torpedoes at its target. One of them was a surface runner which porpoised harmlessly past Mattawin, and the other was a dud which the Germans could hear hitting the ship without using listening devices. Apparently the many men aboard the Allied ship did not hear the clang, as no torpedoes were seen or heard, and no alarm was sounded. Again, this time at 1:18 AM local time, Thurmann fired two torpedoes, one of which hit roughly 100 feet from the bow on the starboard side. The Germans then observed boats being launched and heard an SOS, or SSS message being sent by the Mattawin’s radio operator, informing them of the name of their victim.

On board the Mattawin Captain Sweeny observed that at 1:19 AM, a minute after the third and fourth torpedoes were fired, his ship was hit in the forepeak on the starboard side. AFS volunteer Nicholas Madeira was a lookout on the starboard bridge wing and wrote “I am not positive, but I’m pretty sure I saw the wake of the torpedo just before it hit. I was in the gun turret, and the tremendous spray came over me from the torpedo holes.”  Sweeny said that “The explosion was very loud and violent… a huge column of water was thrown up both from the forepeak hatch and alongside, as far as I could see.” He said that though there were three gunners at the 4-inch gun aft, two AFS volunteers supplementing an apprentice and a sailor as lookouts at the bridge, and a sailor on the forecastle head, the moon was often obscured by clouds and visibility was poor. He observed that the lookout on the bow was blown overboard by the explosion and that the Mattawin began sinking by the bow, “the forefoot having been blown away, the fo’castle head deck was lifted, jamming the doors making it very difficult for some of the men to get out, and the starboard anchor was blown away.”

Captain Sweeny ensured that an emergency radio signal was sent, and he was under the impression that it was received by Halifax (there is no confirmation that it was), then he instructed the chief, or first officer to launch the lifeboats while the skipper shut off the engines. In doing so he noticed that the collision bulkhead, a safeguard against sinking, had collapsed, and that his vessel was going down by the head quickly. The secret codes were tossed overboard, and a sailor collected the captain’s sextant and chronometer, which he would need for navigating in the boats. An AFS volunteer was convinced he saw an enemy submarine off the side of the ship and pointed it out to a colleague; Marshall Phelps wrote that a “submarine was pointed out to me, in a position about 200 yards off the starboard quarter. No time to look at the sub much.” He added that he and his roommate slept fully clothed in preparation for an attack, and that “there was no confusion or panic.” Edward Fenton wrote that “the decks were wet, and cold. …Everything was very much under control. …we shoved off, rowing.” With four boats mostly loaded and ready to push off, Sweeny signaled the engine room team to abandon their posts. Then the second torpedo hit, this one near the Number Four cargo hold, behind the engine room and about 100 feet from the stern.

“There was a tremendous explosion, a huge column of water was thrown up, there was no flash, but an exceedingly strong smell of burnt cordite, which made several of the men very sick. All watertight doors were closed.” At that point three of the boats pulled away from the doomed ship, whose back was broken by the eruption. Phelps claims that “the lifeboat was still in the falls when the second torpedo struck, about 15 feet astern of the boat. We got off, down the tidal wave it caused. The ship sank about three minutes after that.”

Five men remained on board: Sweeny, the first mate, second mate, carpenter and an apprentice. The captain yelled “every man for himself” and hastened to the Number 1 lifeboat, which gratefully remained along the starboard side. Only two minutes after the blast, after everyone was aboard the boats, Mattawin sank vertically by the stern, showing the horrified men the extent of damage to her bows. Richard Edwards, who had worked on motor yachts, observed that the first mate “came down the ladder, hardly touching a rung. Then we were able to push off and watch the ship go down. She buckled in the middle as she went down. We could see the gash in the bow, where the first one had hit.”

It appears that the sailor serving lookout duty on the bow as one of the British West Africans, as Edward LeBoutillier observed (using language deemed acceptable at the time), “the only missing man was a negro deck hand, and we picked him up. He had two leg injuries and a gashed eye.” (There were later comments about the African crew not pulling their weight, but clearly this individual was injured). Although Sweeny observed that “everyone behaved very well indeed and there was no sign of panic or confusion,” there were moments of acute danger when the captain’s lifeboat (#1) was snagged by the line from the ship’s log boom, and in danger of being pulled under by the sinking ship. Finally, the chief steward used a knife to cut the line, and the boat moved clear of the doomed mother vessel.

The third officer, in charge of lifeboat #3 “thought he saw a submarine surface on the port side, …then submerge, but there was a considerable amount of floating wreckage about.” He added that two of the gunners in the chief officer’s boat (#2) from the port side, “reported that they saw the submarine surface, but the Chief Officer did not see anything.” In fact, Thurmann does not report surfacing, as he already had the name and tonnage of the ship and to do so would have unnecessarily endangered his U-boat. Besides, he saw from his periscope that four boats filled with men got clear, and that it was thus unlikely that his services would be needed. He recorded that at his fifth torpedo struck the ship at 1:30 AM local time, and the Mattawin sank four minutes later.

Then, at 2 AM the U-boat men picked up an emergency signal from one of the lifeboats – Captain Sweeny had instructed his men to send SOS messages every 15 minutes for an hour. In fact the enemy was not the only one to hear them: the US Navy recorded that the Mattawin had been torpedoed 200 miles east-southeast of Nantucket, based on a “radio message from one of this vessel’s lifeboats,” which was intercepted along with a position. The submarine motored off to continue its patrol. Having sunk two Allied ships in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the U-boat was on its way back to base in France, where it arrived on 24 June. (On 20 January 1943, four days after leaving France, Thurmann transmitted that his schnorkel, or periscope breathing device as “not clear.” The boat and its entire crew were never heard from again.)

Captain Sweeny assembled all the boats together, calibrated compasses, and arranged for all boats to stick together and steer northwest towards Cape Cod. One of the lifeboats, under the leadership of Second Engineer Wilson, had a motor in it. Originally the engine, which was immersed in salt water upon launching would not work, but they lubricated it with massaging oil in the crank case which was intended for sunburn, and Vaseline on the plugs, which worked satisfactorily. The disposition in the boats was as follows:

  • 15 in #1 under Captain Sweeny, from the starboard side
  • 17 in #2 under the chief officer, from the port side
  • 19 in #3 under the third officer, from the port side
  • 20 in #4 (motor boat) under Second Engineer John Alan Wilson, from the starboard side

During the roughly four hours between Mattawin sinking and the first streaks of dawn across

the eastern sky, the men rowed towards the northwest, averaging over two knots. Considering what many would consider rather bleak prospects, AFS volunteers Fenton, Edwards and Madeira, who had stood watches and lookout duty with the rest of the sailors, were cheerful.  Fenton relates what it was like for he and 16 others in boat #2 with the chief officer:

“We didn’t put up the sail until about dawn. I’ll never forget how beautiful it was – the great red sail unfurling, and the sun upon it, and the men in their yellow suits against it. We sailed on all day, the other three boats following. We had an extremely good time in our boat, laughing, telling jokes; and the British engineers taught us a number of songs to which we have words. We were very pleased the way the seamen accepted us and liked us. They called me “Tubby.” Edwards was a good sailor, and Madeira was outstanding in his stoicism. We slept in the lifeboat, uncomfortably, but with good cheer, and with occasional songs and jokes.” Pay for the merchant sailors ended at the time of sinking, making their ordeal doubly difficult on them and their families ashore.

Captain Sweeny remained ever attentive to his duties, and at noon he and the chief took good noon sights and shared their position with the other boats. By 2 PM however, the third officer’s boat fell behind. Sweeny ordered the motor boat to go ahead and look for a rescue ship, using their fuel sparingly. Edwards, who was an experienced small-boat sailor, writes that “we took pride in the fact that we were the best sailors, and were able to outdistance all the others. We lost sight of boat No. 3 about six in the evening.” Sweeny observed that “one of the passengers, an American Field Serviceman, gave valuable assistance, having had a good deal of experience in motor yachts.” A graduate of Deerfield Academy, Princeton and Harvard, Edwards from the yachting community of Rye, New York (he lived until age 99 and 2016). Sweeny also highly commended Second Engineer Wilson for his ingenuity and leadership.

That evening, according to Canadian officials “a Yarmouth-based Canso flying boat from 162 (BR) Squadron sighted the lifeboats 14 hours later, dropped food and distress flares, and vectored the Norwegian freighter SS Torvanger to the rescue. Nine hours later the freighter picked up thirty-two survivors from two lifeboats.” (U-Boats Against Canada: German Submarines in Canadian Waters, by Michael L. Hadley, p. 95). This seems accurate except that the Mattawin survivors did not report receiving food and flares from the air. Indeed the Torvanger had had a short but very eventful voyage since leaving New York on Sunday the 31st of May, bound (like the Mattawin had been) for Egypt via South Africa laden with war supplies.

At 1:40 PM the US Navy’s war diary reads: “Halifax reports plane sighted a lifeboat with 7 or 8 men in 40-10N; 65-50W. HMCS MELVILLE (corvette) en route to scene ETA 2400 June 2. At 1730 [5:30 PM] a plane from Quonset [in Rhode Island] saw lifeboat with 13 survivors picked up by British vessel ORANGER in 40-26N; 67-26W. Ship was en route to Capetown but reversed course, apparently returning to Boston with survivors.” This was in fact the Torvanger, which according to rescued “Eleven men from Polyphemus and two men from Norland in the boat in charge of the chief engineer officer about 130 miles east of Nantucket in the evening on 2 June and shortly thereafter transferred [them] to the American fishing boat Elva and Stella about 60 miles southeast of Pollock Rip, which landed them at New Bedford on 3 June.” The historian of Norwegian ships, Dame Siri Holm Lawson, relates that Torvanger’s master, Captain Leif Danielsen, reported rescuing two Chinese sailors from a raft after they had also been torpedoed off the coast of New England (

Motor Ship Torvanger, Source:, “Picture is from Bjørn Milde’s postcard collection. He says it was taken at Braila, probably 1939.”

By sunset at 7:00 PM Sweeny and the chief officer’s boats were still together, and they could barely discern the third officer’s boat astern and the motor boat ahead. It was the last they would see of each other. Although for the first 20 hours they had averaged 2.5 knots, the wind died that evening and they were forced to row. That night it also rained quite a lot. The men were wet and cold, and huddled under the canopies at the bow.

Meanwhile, further to the east, Mattawin’s adversary noted Allied aircraft in the vicinity twice, within 15 minutes of each other. Then they stumbled upon a ghostly Allied lifeboat adrift on the open sea. At around dusk local time on Wednesday the 3rd of June Thurmann wrote “Empty lifeboat without name taken. Obtained enough good hard bread and chocolate for 2 full meals, and also condensed milk, flavored vitamin lozenges of outrageous satiating effect, enough for 14 days, very welcome.” By that time the Germans had been on patrol for nearly a month and a half and cherished the change of diet. Although some authors have attributed this un-named life boat to the Mattawin, on the false assumption that seven boats were launched (a detail which Thurmann and Hadley recorded), in fact all four of Mattawin’s lifeboats were accounted for, so the boat must have been from another unfortunate ship.

At the same time Madeira, in boat #2, records an uncomfortable night punctuated by good news in the morning:

“That night was fairly uncomfortable for everyone, since it was raw and cold. But we all huddled under tarpaulins and rubber suits, with six blankets among us. Often we bailed out water from the bottom of the boat. We all woke up soon after five and had something to eat. The wind had died down considerably, and we were going much slower than the previous day. We couldn’t see the Third Mate’s boat at all. The launch had gone way ahead of us. The Captain’s boat was some distance to the rear. Between seven and eight, we sighted a ship on the horizon and, after a lot of conjecture, we decided that the ship was approaching us. Finally it drew within about a quarter of a mile, and we rowed over to it.”

The ship, of course was the Torvanger, busy rescuing its third batch of Allied survivors in as many days. At dawn on Wednesday the third of June boat #2 was ahead and to the west of Captain Sweeny’s boat (#1). Unbeknownst to these men, Torvanger had been vectored to the motor boat by a Canadian plane, and the motor boat had sent the ship to the two boats. At about 6 AM the Torvanger discovered the second engineer’s motor boat. It stopped about a quarter mile away and the men rowed to the ship in calm conditions. When Captain Danielsen offered to take them to South Africa, all the men in the boat demurred, preferring instead to strike out for nearby Cape Cod, which they were told was 120 miles or so ahead, course 302 degrees true. The Norwegians then provided between 10 and 15 gallons of petrol for the engine and cigarettes and motored off in search of the other three boats. In fact, Captain Danielsen informed the Mattawin men that he could see the other two boats from high up on his bridge.

Fenton, in boat #2, writes that “About 6 in the morning we saw a smokestack on the horizon. We got near it and recognized a similarity of cargoes between it and our own sunken ship; and we figured that their destinations were probably the same. The First Mate, therefore, asked only for positions and cigarettes (which were given); and we shoved off.” Captain Sweeny relates that at 9:15 AM “I lowered the sail, we pulled alongside, and I asked the Captain where he was bound. He told me that he was going to Capetown, so I said I would not come on board, but would try and make land with my boat. He offered me any supplies I might require, so I asked him for some bread and cigarettes, which he gave me.” The two parted about 9:30 AM.

Then the recue versus self-rescue conundrum became more acute, as the Torvanger’s men entertained serious doubts about their safety in proceeding across a stretch of ocean littered with U-boat victims. Sweeny explains that about 9:45 AM “when we were roughly a cable (600 feet) away the Captain hailed me to return alongside, when he told me that his Officers and crew had insisted on picking us up and returning to New York, as they refused to proceed further on their voyage without an Escort. Apparently we were the second lot of survivors he had rescued in 48 hours, his vessel having already returned once with the other men.”

By 10 AM Torvanger’s officers and crew had “very quickly and efficiently” retrieved all men from Captain Sweeny’s boat (as well as the boat itself) and moved on towards the chief officer’s boat, which they caught up with a quarter of an hour later. Fenton, in boat #2, relates how “We had gone half an hour when we noticed that the ship was steaming towards us again. … we also were taken aboard. It was a Norwegian ship, and there was coffee and cheese in the Salon, and a general reunion. For the first time since the torpedoing, I found myself trembling. The coffee slopped all over from my shaking hand. We had a good time with the crew. Edwards and I shared bunks with the men aft.”

Between roughly 10:30 AM and noon they searched for the motor boat, which had been motoring away from them for several hours. Because of hazy, foggy conditions they could not locate the motor boat or the third officer’s boat, and soon gave up. There was clearly an imminent danger to the Torvanger from U-boat attack, and the Norwegians had shown exemplary bravery in stopping not only to rescue the men, but to salvage their boats as well. During numerous operations (Torvanger stopped five times just for the Mattawin survivors and at least twice for those of the other ships), Captain Danielsen had exposed his vessel, its men and cargo to danger, and it is not surprising that they turned for shore.

Although Sweeny called upon his colleague to drop the Mattawin men and their boats near the coast of Cape Cod, the Torvanger’s chief engineer, Ernst Lindstrand reported at about noon that there were problems with the ship’s main engines. Captain Danielsen decided to sail to Halifax to assemble in a convoy per his men’s wishes.

Meanwhile, at the same time the men in the motor boat “…sighted two fishing boats approximately thirty-five feet in length with two masts, one of which carried a storm trysail [sic]. Flares were used to signal these boats but these were either not observed or the fishermen were afraid to approach, for both boats veered off and shortly disappeared.” Undiscouraged and equipped with the oddly-lubricated motor, the men continued on towards Cape Cod.

At noon the following day – Thursday the 4th of June – the men aboard Torvanger met a convoy (said to be BX-22 from Boston) bound for Halifax, which welcomed them to join, which they did, at the head, or lead. By 3 PM they were steaming for Halifax in foggy weather, and arrived at 7 PM. An hour later Captain Sweeny, along with 31 other men, disembarked, with their two lifeboats. It is a bit unusual that Danielsen released the boats along with the men, since in most other similar circumstances the rescued would surrender their boats to the rescuing ship, or the master of the rescuing ship could claim them as his property under salvage. Once again Danielsen was generous and gracious.

Amongst the 32 men landed in Canada, five were AFS volunteers, and the US Navy gratefully recorded “none injured.” Regarding their reception and accommodation ashore, Fenton records that “….after arrangements were made, [we] were landed. We were rushed in a bus to the Allied Seaman’s Institute, where tables had been roped off, with signs on them that read “Reserved – For Survivors Only”. We had eaten so well on the Norwegian ship that we weren’t particularly hungry, but we did want a pie a la mode and milk, which we hadn’t been able to get on shipboard. The expression on the waitress’s face was wonderful to behold when we gave our order. I refused the hot soup. The Red Cross women brought us chintz bags filled with the necessary toiletries; and we shoved off to the Halifax Hotel.

Allied Merchant Seamen’s Club on Hollis Street, Halifax, where some Mattawin survivors were taken. Source:

We spent our time – after going to the [US] Consulate – being interviewed by the naval authorities. The next day there was a bang up farewell party, and all of us and the crew had our pictures taken. There was an exchange of addresses, wisecracks, and they saw us off on the train [presumably to AFS headquarters in New York]. The thing that impressed me most about the entire business was the spirit of the crew. For the first time, they gave me a real sense of what the war was about. When we waved goodbye to them, we felt that we were saying goodbye to some of our best friends.”

On Thursday the 4th of June the motor boat under Second Engineer Wilson, supported in navigational duties by the wireless operator and in sailing by some of the four AFS volunteers aboard his boat, landed at Cape Cod, propelled by the fuel they’d been given by Torvanger’s men. They skillfully threaded Nauset Inlet, about halfway up the eastern, or outer arm of the cape, and were taken via the hamlet at Eastham to nearby Nauset Light Coast Guard Station near Orleans, Massachusetts. There were at least two men that required medical attention; “one punctured ear drum from block blow, one recovered exposure.” The man hit in the head by the ship’s block may have been the same West African pulled from the water after the torpedoeing.

The narrow and treacherous banks and inlet with the Mattawin men navigated to gain landfall.

Source: Spencer Kennard,

US officials later recorded that the Allied survivors “…were given immediate attention

by four local doctors for face burns and other minor injuries. They were then provided with hot coffee and sandwiches after which they were given an opportunity to take showers and get some much needed sleep.” USCG officers from Provincetown (Lt. W. E. Ireland) and the Officer in Charge Hyannis, and the local Red Cross, which offered some 45 blankets and an ambulance, were praised for keeping civilians and the press away from the survivors to allow them to recuperate (civilian calls to the station were blocked or diverted). Though it is not stated, presumably the men were taken to Boston, the nearest large city and accessible by boat from Provincetown.

Meanwhile the last remaining batch of survivors, which included Edward LeBoutillier and two other AFS volunteers, were not having an easy time of it, having become stragglers, they were essentially left behind by the motor boat, boats #1 and #2, and the Torvanger rescue. LeBoutillier records a lifeboat voyage punctuated more by downpours than the outpourings of camaraderie that Fenton wrote of: “It rained for three nights, and about six o’clock Saturday morning [6th of June] we were sighted by a Navy Patrol plane. They circled the lifeboat and dropped supplies, and at evening they repeated the procedure, this time enclosing a note saying that the Navy was coming to the rescue.”

The final batch of 19 Mattawin survivors were discovered southeast of George’s Bank off Cape Cod by the US Coast Guard Cutter General Greene (WPC-140) on Sunday the 7th of June. Hadley confirms this, writing “Three days later [7 June], the USS General Green rescued nineteen survivors and landed them at Nantucket.” The US Navy’s Enemy Action and Distress Diary for 12:35 PM that day reads in part: “GENERAL GREEN (CG) picked up lifeboat with 10 survivors of the MATTAWIN.” Also, the Eastern Sea Frontier Patrol Log, 1st Naval District, for N.O.B. (Naval Operating Base) Newport RI reads: “Searching 40-00 N, 69-00 W General Greene picked up lifeboat with 19 survivors of the Mattawin. This accounts for all Mattawin lifeboats known to have been launched. Survivors landed at Nantucket.”

The USCGC General Greene was built in 1927 specifically to enforce the Prohibition at sea. She also participated in Ice Patrol and was witness to the sinking of the German battleship Bismark.


It was a sleepless night for the survivors, who arrived in Nantucket 30 minutes after midnight on Monday the 8th of June. Later that same day the ESF diary, Narragansett Force, HQ, NOB Newport reports: “GENERAL GREENE arrived at Newport with survivors and turned them over to the Coast Guard.” Explaining the expedience of the rescue and repositioning, adds that “One crew member had been injured during the sinking and two had swollen feet by exposure in lifeboat, so they were taken to the US Marine Hospital at Brighton, Massachusetts.” Brighton is a western suburb of Boston, less than 100 miles from Newport.

LeBoutillier relates that “On Sunday morning, about nine or ten, a coast guard cutter came out and we were taken aboard. We reached Nantucket about 2 A.M. A naval intelligence officer came on board to question the Third Mate. Then we proceeded to Newport, where we were met by Mr. Warren.” This was George Henry Warren, Jr. an AFS volunteer assigned to the organization’s New York headquarters, who also served as a driver and liaison to the volunteers. He had evidently driven up from nearby New York to look after the wellbeing of the AFS men. In an article from the Newport Mercury dated September 28, 1945, reads in part:

“Prior to becoming chairman of the Disaster Relief Committee, Mr. Warren was engaged with the American Field Service in New York. There he said goodbye to a group of young men who were sailing for England [sic]. He returned to-Newport a short time later and accepted an invitation to become chairman of the local committee. Among the first group of survivors brought in here were three of the AFS boys he had said farewell to in New York. They and the others had been picked up after bobbing about on the Atlantic Ocean for six days in a lifeboat.”

AFS volunteer Marshall Phelps was in the motor boat, and described his crew-mates thus: “Swellest bunch you would want to meet. Everybody did everything he could. Credit should go to the English boys. There was no wimpering among them. They were always ready to help.” Perhaps amazingly, since an injured man was blown off the forecastle, five men remained on board when the second torpedo struck, and the boats were mostly separated by distance and fog, all 71 men aboard the Mattawin survived. Most of the AFS men went on to serve in the Middle East (AFS Unit ME16), and many went further. Richard Edwards served in Burma and China, became fluent in Chinese, married Yale Professor Vee Ling, and became a distinguished and published academic specializing in Asiatic studies.

Things did not end so well for Captain Danielsen and the men of the Torvanger. On the 23rd of June 1942, just three weeks after rescuing so many sailors, and after dispersing from a convoy in mid-Atlantic, the ship was sunk by U-84 under Horst Uphoff west of the Azores. Although four were killed, 33 survived, among them the generous Captain Danielsen.

Torvanger survivors photographed by a journalist aboard U-84/Uphoff in June 1942 west of the Azores after their ship had been sunk. Source:, from the book “U-Boote im Einsatz” (Herzog, Bodo -1970, Podzun Verlang, Dornheim).

On the 24th of November, 1942 John Alan Wilson, 2nd Engineer and de facto skipper of the motor boat was awarded the King’s Commendation for re-starting his boat’s soaked engine and helping to navigate it to Cape Cod, saving himself and 19 other men.

PHOTO APPENDIX: AFS volunteers aboard Mattawin







EDWARDS, Richard, FENTON, Edward Berkeley – age 24, GUBELMAN, Ronald Oscar, LE BOUTILLIER, Edward Howell, MADEIRA, Nicholas J., Jr., PHELPS, Marshall Corbett

No Photos: MORRISEY, James Thomas, WILSON, Coffin Colket III

Not Named: 4 (four) other volunteers