Skip to comments.History matters: Merchant seamen spend 31 days in lifeboat, drift 2,500 miles across Pacific
Posted on 01/29/2020 11:39:16 AM PST by fugazi
Most Americans alive today were born in a time where American naval supremacy was essentially a birthright. Other than the occasional intercept of a Cold War-throwback Russian bomber, we take the security of our coastlines -- maybe even our hemisphere -- for granted.
That wasn't the case in January 1942. Enemy submarines prowled our Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico coastlines, and newspapers featured near-daily stories of Americans lost at sea. The featured image above tells the story of the crew of the Prusa, a cargo ship torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-172 south of Hawaii on 19 December 1941. The crew miraculously survived 31 days on the open ocean before reaching the Gilbert Islands.
History tends to focus on the various battles of World War II, but making sure materials got where they were needed was every bit as important to the war effort. That job fell to the brave men of the Merchant Marine, who routinely sailed through waters infested by German and Japanese submarines. When you remember the heroes that fought, bear in mind that 1 out of every 26 men in the Merchant Marine lost their lives -- the highest percentage of any service.
On 19 January, about 200 miles off the North Carolina coast, the German U-boat U-66 (Korvettenkapitän Richard Zapp, commanding) puts two torpedoes into the Canadian steam passenger ship Lady Hawkins. The attack was so sudden and effective that the liner couldn't even send a distress call, and the vessel slips under the waves within 30 minutes. After five days at sea, one lifeboat is rescued by an Army transport. Of the 322 crew and passengers, only 71 survive -- including 17 Americans.
(Excerpt) Read more at victoryinstitute.net ...
I saw three guys picked up off Charleston just three days after their vessel went down off the Florida east coast in a gale.
They looked like they had been adrift for a month or longer.
Floating around in the ocean is no picnic.
Captain William Bligh was set adrift after the Mutiny on the Bounty.
The mutineers provided Bligh and eighteen loyal crewmen a 23-foot (7.0 m) launch (so heavily loaded that the gunwales were only a few inches above the water). They were allowed four cutlasses, food and water for perhaps a week, a quadrant and a compass, but no charts, or marine chronometer.
He undertook the seemingly impossible 3,618-nautical-mile (6,701 km; 4,164 mi) voyage to Timor, the nearest European settlement. Bligh succeeded in reaching Timor after a 47-day voyage,
The article says they landed on Nukunau island (which now seems to be named Rungata Island). Tarawa, which was just about 200 miles North, was occupied by the Japanese. I wonder if any other Gilbert Islands were occupied by Japanese?
The story of war - they were unlucky to have been torpedoed, lucky to have survived the attack, unlucky to have spent 31 days in an open boat, lucky to have landed on a friendly island!
Imagine being stuck out in the ocean, with no shade, for days. Any exposed skin will be black. Surrounded by water - none of which you can drink. You can’t catch fish. Being covered in salt and oil, perhaps burned from swimming. Plus, look at a map of the Pacific: Between the continents of the Americas and Asia is 99.999% water. Planes flying overhead every now and then, giving you hope of a rescue, but they quite likely didn’t see the speck bobbing up and down on the ocean that was you and your buddies. Surely someone was instantly conspiring to get more than their share of what little supplies you had. Sick from the waves, sick from swallowing seawater and oil, people dying, people going crazy, sick from the sun... It’s a miracle anyone ever survived.
My dad was a merchant marine during WWII in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
He said their fear of u-boats was real, but secondary to their fear of the weather.
He said you can’t hide from, trick, deceive, or fight back against the weather.
(miss you, dad)
Merchant mariners are the highest heroes of WWII’s sea war, in my estimation, and my father was USN WWII. I wear my USMMA tie, which I did not earn, with pride and humility.
And don’t forget the sharks.
Those three were adrift in the Gulfstream for “only” three days. The vessel, a 44’ commercial swordfish longliner was headed home after a week at sea. They were caught in an un-forcast gale 40 miles off Daytona at night. The vessel broached in a following sea and overturned. The three crew were in the engine room disoriented in 20 - 30’ seas. The Capt. Louis Bennet a friend of mine got his crew out and in a big fiberglass fish box that broke loose from the upside down boat. Louis then swam back to retrieve the EPIRB which was fixed to the submerged top of the wheelhouse. He was never seen again.
The three guys were a couple hundred miles off Charleston three days later. By a miracle a Coast Guard C-130 was on a routine patrol just happened to spot them and directed in a vessel that picked them up.
Capt. Louis was posthumously awarded the highest civilian medal for his heroism in saving the lives of his crew.
Today, a brass plaque lies on the bottom 40 miles off Daytona with Captain Louis Bennet’s name and date on it.
Blackbeard left his crew on an island in the British Virgin Islands:
Fifteen men on the dead manschest
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drinkand the devil had done for the rest
Yo-ho-ho,and a bottle of rum!
My great uncle Baynard Willingham was MM.He had two ships shot out from under him during the war.It bothered him greatly and he died in 1970.I still remember him vividly.Rip Uncle Baynard.
My uncle was a merchant marine radio operator on the North Atlantic run during WW II. He saw ships in his convoy torpedoed and men left adrift in lifeboats. He did not like talking about it.
The good news is that we’re making excellent time....
Read “ HMS Ulysses” by Alistair MacLean
The novel that launched the astonishing career of one of the 20th centurys greatest writers of action and suspense an acclaimed classic of heroism and the sea in World War II. Now reissued in a new cover style.
The story of men who rose to heroism, and then to something greater, HMS Ulysses takes its place alongside The Caine Mutiny and The Cruel Sea as one of the classic novels of the navy at war.
It is the compelling story of Convoy FR77 to Murmansk a voyage that pushes men to the limits of human endurance, crippled by enemy attack and the bitter cold of the Arctic.
You should be very proud of your father’s service.
It took 40 some years but in the late 1980’s, the DOD gave merchant mariners who served in WWII, veterans status.
Several friends of my late father-in-law immediately joined the American Legion when granted that status. There is a granite memorial at the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine to honor the merchant mariners from Maine who lost their lives during WWII.
I don’t believe the VWF permits mercant mariners with veterans status to join.
Yes, you are correct; men in the lifeboats were on their own. The ship’s captains had orders to keep going.
I once knew a real estate developer whose formative experience in life was a day and night spent on a lifeboat adrift above the Arctic Circle after his merchant ship was torpedoed on the Murmansk run in WW II. An unexpected rescue by the Royal Navy saved his life and gave him the chance to get a college education and the determination to pursue a business career that made him wealthy building subdivisions and towns on Long Island. A working retirement from New York to South Florida fulfilled his dream of never again having to experience cold weather.
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