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DISASTERS OF WORLD WAR II
GEORGE R. DUNCAN
To all those interested in the Naval War of 1939-1945,
this list details the fate of some 60 of the 'Big Ships', the Battleships,Cruisers,Aircraft
Carriers and the civilian luxury liners, some pressed into service as troop
transports. I dedicate this page to all those unfortunate souls who perished
in the cold waters of the world's oceans.
(Sept. 3, 1939) The
first civilian casualty of World War 11, the Donaldson Atlantic Line passenger
liner Athenia of 13,581 tons, sunk west of Scotland by the German
submarine U-30 (Lt.Lemp) on the opening day of the Second World War, the
captain believing it to be an armed merchant cruiser. The ship was carrying
evacuees from Britain to the USA. There were 1,300 survivors rescued by
the British destroyers Electra and Escort and the American
ship City of Flint; but 118 passengers were drowned. Also on board
were 316 Americans of whom 28 were lost.
22,500 ton British escort carrier, commanded by Capt. Makeig-Jones,
and accompanied by HMS Ark Royal and HMS Hermes, was sunk
by German submarine U-29 while on anti-submarine duty 350 miles west of
Lands End. A total of 580 men died in this tragedy, the first Royal Navy
ship sunk in the war. Lost were 518 navy men, 26 Fleet Air Arm men and
36 RAF servicing crew. All such patrols by aircraft carriers were stopped
from then on. The entire crew of the U-29 was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd.
class, the first time this decoration was awarded to members of the U-boat
H.M.S. ROYAL OAK
(October 14, 1939)
The first British capital ship to be lost
in the war, the 29,000 ton battleship was sunk at her moorings at the British
Naval Base in Scapa Flow, Orkney. Hit by torpedoes from the German submarine
U-47, commanded by Germany's national hero Gunther Prien, the Royal
Oak went down with the loss of 809 men and 24 officers. A total of
414 lives were saved from the stricken ship. Being anchored in the comparatively
'safe' waters of Scapa Flow, many doors, ventilators and hatches, were
left open. If these had been closed at the time of the attack, the Royal
Oak would have taken longer to sink, thus perhaps saving many more
The German submarine U-56, commanded by Lieutenant
Wilhelm Zahn, found itself bang in the middle of a contingent of the British
Home Fleet sailing just west of the Orkney Islands. Leading the contingent
was the battleship HMS Rodney followed by the battleships HMS Nelson
and HMS Hood, all surrounded by a protective screen of destroyers.
Here was the U-56, sitting at periscope depth in an ideal firing position
and straight ahead was the Flagship of the Fleet, HMS Nelson. Elated,
Zahn fired three torpedoes at the target which was impossible to miss.
Two of the torpedoes actually hit the Nelson but did not explode!
The U-56 made a quick getaway. Had the torpedoes exploded, the V.I.Ps
on board the Nelson would have been in great danger. They had gathered
for a conference to determine what action had to be taken after the sinking
of the Royal Oak at Scapa flow. The illustrious guests included the C-in-C
Home Fleet, Admiral Sir Charles Forbes,
the First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet, Sir
Dudley Pound, and Lord of the Admiralty,
Mr. Winston Churchill!.
This heaven sent opportunity caused Admiral Karl Donetz, the German U-boat
supremo, to write in his war diary "Without doubt, the torpedo inspectors
have fallen down on their job....at least 30% of our torpedoes are
duds!" Gunther Prien, hero of Scapa Flow, remarked "How the hell do they
expect us to fight with dummy rifles". Without
doubt this was a great embarrassment to the German Navy........31 U-boat
attacks from favourable positions, 4 attacks on the Warspite, 12
attacks on various cruisers, 10 attacks on destroyers and 5 attacks on
troop transports...without a single hit! All torpedoes failed to
explode. How lucky we were!.
ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE
German battleship, damaged during the Battle of the River Plate off
the coast of Uruguay, in which the British cruisers HMS Exeter,
Ajax and the New Zealand light cruiser Achilles took part,
is forced to take refuge in the neutral port of Montevideo where she was
granted only a temporary stay. During the battle, 72 British sailors
were killed and 36 men killed from the Graf Spee. The battleship
was scuttled by her crew on the 17th.soon after she left port. Her
commander, Capt. Hans Langsdorff committed suicide three days later.
RIO DE JANEIRO
(April 8, 1940)
Built in 1914, the 5,261 ton German passenger
liner was transporting troops and horses to the invasion of Norway. While
off Lillesand in southern Norway, the ship was torpedoed by the Polish
submarine Orzel which had just made a dramatic escape from Danzig
seventeen days after the war with Poland started. The first torpedo missed,
the second scored a hit but failed to sink the Rio de Janeiro. With
smoke pouring from the stricken liner, the order was given to ‘abandon
ship’. A third torpedo struck the ship amidships, breaking its back and
sending it to the bottom. About 150 men including 97 Luftwaffe Flak troops
and 80 horses were drowned (This was the first action by a Polish warship
in the Second World War) In June of that year, the Orzel, commanded
by Lt.Cdr. Grudzinski, fell victim to a mine in the Skagerrak and sank
with its entire crew of 5 officers and 49 men.
(April 9, 1940)
German heavy cruiser sunk by shells and
two torpedoes from the Oscarborg Fortress at the entrance to Oslo harbour.
After receiving many hits from the 28-cm guns from the Kaholm Fortress
at the other side of the harbour, the Blucher, which was carrying
many military staff, turned turtle and sank. (Ironically these guns were
made by Krupps of Essen) A total of 125 sailors and 195 soldiers were killed
but her Commander, Rear Admiral Oskar Kummetz, survived. Her namesake in
World War 1 was sunk by British heavy cruisers at the Battle of Dogger
Bank on Jan.23, 1915. The death toll on that occasion was just over 900.
(June 8, 1940)
Sunk by the German warships Scharnhorst,
Gneisenau and Hipper, while aiding in the evacuation of British
troops from Narvik in Norway. En route to Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, the
Glorious, commanded by Capt.D'Oyly-Hughes, encountered the German cruisers
which scored direct hits on the carrier at a range of 20,000 yards. A total
of 1,207 men, including 41 RAF ground personnel and 18 RAF and Fleet Air
Arm pilots, died. Two escort destroyers, the Acasta (Cdr.Glasford)and
Ardent (Lt-Cdr.Barker) were also sunk during the attack. The total
death toll from the three vessels amounted to 1,561. There were only 63
survivors but 25 of these died from exposure before being picked up two
and a half days later. Only 38 men survived the sinking of the three ships.
One hundred miles away was the cruiser HMS Devonshire which picked
up the garbled SOS from the Glorious but dared not repeat it. At
that moment she was on a secret mission, transporting the King of Norway
and his staff to the safety of the British Isles. The Glorious was
the first aircraft carrier to be sunk by surface ships.
Additional Information on the loss of HMS Glorious and the Battle
of Norway may be seen on the "Remembering Project" website
(June 17, 1940)
The Cunard White Star passenger liner
Lancastria (16,243 tons) is bombed and sunk off St. Nazaire, France.
While lying at anchor, five enemy planes dive bombed the ship which sank,
taking the lives of nearly 3,000 troops and over 1,000 civilians.The Lancastria
had been converted into a troopship and set sail from Liverpool on June
14th. to assist in the evacuation of British troops and refugees. She was
about to sail to England after loading on board soldiers and RAF personnel
of the British Expeditionary Force, plus hundreds of civilians. Many survivors
were picked up by HMS Havelock and other ships.The bomb which actually
sank the Lancastria went straight down the funnel and exploded in
the engine room. The site of the sinking is now an official War Grave.
(July 25, 1940)
French troopship of 6,127 tons left Southampton
carrying 1,277 French naval personnel who were being repatriated to France.
At 10.30 pm the ship was hit by a torpedo from the German motor torpedo
boat S27 off the coast of Brittany. Some 383 Frenchmen were lost.
(July 3, 1940)
In one of the saddest episodes of the war,
the French battleship Bretagne was sunk by British warships, which
included the Hood, Ark Royal and Valiant. The refusal
by Vichy France to hand over their battleships to Britain, rather than
fall into the hands of the German Navy, resulted in the attack at the French
naval base at Mers-el-Kabir, near Oran, North Africa. Hit by 15-inch salvoes
from a range of 14,000 yards, the Bretagne exploded and capsized
with the loss of 977 men. Many died clinging to the life-saving nets as
the ship rolled over. Another ship, the Strasbourge, was badly damaged
and sank with a loss of 135 men. The Dunkerque lost 210 men. The
British attack on Mers-el-Kabir took the lives of 47 officers, 190 petty
officers and 1,054 ratings, a total of 1,282. This action caused great
bitterness in France, many French pilots volunteering to bomb Gibraltar,
which they did on the night of 24/25 September,
1940, dropping 200 tons of bombs on the British fortress. The French World
War 1 air ace, Colonel Rene Fonck, had organized some two hundred Vichy
French pilots who were prepared to join Germany in the fight against
FIUME, POLA and ZARA
(March 28, 1941)
Italian cruisers, each of 10,000 tons, together
with two escorting destroyers, the Alfieri and Carducci were
sunk at the Battle of Cape Matapan off the southern tip of Greece. In this
night action the Italian ships were engaged by the British light cruisers,
HMS Warspite, Valiant and Barham. Caught completely
by surprise in searchlights from the destroyer Greyhound, the Fiume
was hit by five 15-inch shells from Warspite, the Zara, by
a broadside of 15-inch shells from Valiant and Barham. The
Pola, crippled and on fire, lay dead on the water and after her
crew were taken off she was sunk by torpedoes. The Italian force suffered
a crushing defeat, 2303 men from the five ships were killed. Thirteen officers
and 147 ratings were picked up by the Italian hospital ship Gradisca
sent in response to a radio message transmitted to the Italian Admiralty
from the Royal Navy ships. Another 110 were rescued by Greek destroyers
and the rest, numbering around 700, were picked up by the British destroyers.
(During World War 11, around 33,000 Italian sailors lost their lives)
(May 8, 1941)
German cruiser, commanded by Capt.Krüder,
sunk in the Indian ocean by the British heavy cruiser Cornwall near
the Seychelles. The Pinguin, on a mission as a raider, had sunk
or captured a total of 32 ships. Casualties on board the Pinguin were 3
officers and 341 crewmembers as well as around 200 prisoners. Twenty two
prisoners and 60 crewmembers were rescued from the sea by the Cornwall
(May 22, 1941)
British cruiser of the Mediterranean Fleet (Force C) sunk by bombs from
German JU87s during Operation 'Merkur', the German airborne attack on the
island of Crete. The Gloucester's commander, Captain Rowley, 45
officers and 648 crewmembers were lost.
(May 24, 1941)
The 18,000 ton Italian liner/troop transport proceeding to the port
of Tripoli, was sunk by the British submarine HMS Upholder commanded
by Lt-Cdr.Wanklyn. Of the 2,500 troops on board, 820 men lost their lives.
(May 24, 1941)
Britain's largest battle cruiser, (44,600
tons) sunk by the German battleship Bismarck, commanded by Admiral
Lütjens and captained by Captain Ernest Lindemann. In an early morning
action in the Denmark Strait, between Iceland and Greenland, the Bismarck,
accompanied by the cruiser Prince Eugen (Captain Helmuth Brinkmann),
were enroute from Bergen in Norway to the Atlantic when they intercepted
the Hood , the Prince of Wales and six escorting destroyers.
>From 26,000 yards, the Bismarck scored a direct hit in the magazine
causing the 112 tons of explosives to blow up. The battleship, commanded
by Vice Admiral Sir Lancelot Holland, went down in about four minutes.
Of a crew of 1,419 there were only three survivors. The
question remains; Why did the German battleships break off the engagement
instead of persuing and engaging the Prince of Wales?.
(May 27, 1941)
Hitler’s greatest warship, fully loaded she weighed 50,153 tons. After
her encounter with HMS Hood she headed for St.Nazaire, the
only port on the coast of France with a dry dock big enough to hold her.
An order was given by Churchill to “Get the Bismarck”.
The hunt for the battleship dominated the world’s press, the chase lasting
four days and covering 1,750 sea miles. Spotted by a Coastal Command Catalina
flying boat, her position was reported to the Royal Navy ships. Finally,on
May 27, the mighty battleship met her end. Severely damaged by salvos from
the battleships HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, she was
finally sent to the bottom, 400 miles west of Brest, by torpedoes from
the destroyer HMS Dorsetshire. Casualties amounted to 2,097 officers,
men and cadets lost. There were 115 survivors.
(November 19, 1941)
Launched in 1940 under the name H.M.S. Terrible. Transferred to
the Australian Navy under her new name H.M.A.S. Sydney. The cruiser
of 7,000 tons set sail from Fremantle captained by Caption John Burnett.
She became engaged in a fire fight off the coast of Western Australia with
the German raider Cormoran disguised as a Dutch merchantman, and
commanded by Theodor Detmers. Badly damaged and on fire, the Sydney
disappeared into the night, never to be seen again. All of her crew of
645 men were lost in this, Australia's worst World War 11 sea tragedy.
Controversy raged for decades as to whether there was a cover up by the
Australian Government as to the circumstances of the ships disappearance.
Will the truth ever be known?. The only piece of wreckage found was a life-raft
which can be seen in the Australian National War Memorial in Canberra.
Additional Information on the loss of HMAS Sydney and the battle
with HSK Cormoran may be seen on the "Remembering Project"
(November 25, 1941)
31,100 ton British battleship blows up
in the Mediterranean after being hit by three torpedoes from the German
submarine U-331 commanded by Baron von Tiesenhausen. About four minutes
after the torpedoes struck, the Barham's 15-inch magazine exploded,
sending up an enormous cloud of black smoke which completely covered her
sinking. 861 crewmen perished including her Captain G.C. Cooke. There
were 395 men rescued from the water. The U-331 was later sunk on Nov.17,
1942 by torpedo carrying Swordfish from the carrier H.M.S. Formidable.
32 men died, 15 were rescued.
USS OKLAHOMA and USS ARIZONA
(December 7, 1941)
US battleships sunk at Pearl Harbour during
the sneak attack by Japanese naval planes. This cowardly attack triggered
the American involvement in World War 11. Death toll from both ships amounted
to 1,592 men, 1177 from the Arizona and 415 from the Oklahoma.
Two other battleships, the West Virginia (105 dead) and the Tennessee
were damaged and 196 Navy and 65 Army Air Force planes destroyed. All told,
a total of 2,409 servicemen and civilians (68) were killed and 1,178 wounded.
Only 29 Japanese aircraft were shot down.
H.M.S. REPULSE and H.M.S. PRINCE OF WALES
(December 10, 1941)
British battleships sunk by Japanese naval
aircraft off Kuantan, Malaya. Attacked by a force of 99 torpedo carrying
planes from the Japanese base at Saigon, the Repulse was hit by
14 torpedoes, the Prince of Wales by four. Death toll from both
ships was 840 men. 2,081 lives were saved by the destroyers H.M.S. Electra,
Vampire and Express. The Far Eastern Fleet commander, Admiral
Sir Tom Phillips went down with his ship. In this action, the Japanese
lost only four planes. After this disaster, the dominant role of battleships
in war came under grave doubt.
British cruiser of the Alexandria Fleet, commissioned 1935 and sunk by
torpedo from the U-557 off Alexandria, Egypt. 470 men were lost.
(Dec.19, 1941) British
cruiser, part of the Malta based 'Force K' which included three cruisers
and four destroyers, in pursuit of an Italian convoy heading for North
Africa, capsized and sank off Tripoli after sailing into a newly laid minefield
and hitting four mines. 766 men went down with the ship. There was only
H.M.S. CORNWALL and H.M.S. DORSETSHIRE
(April 5, 1942)
H.M.S. Cornwall, (Capt. Manwaring)
the 10,000 ton, 8-inch gun British cruiser sunk off the coast of Ceylon
by bombs from 53 Japanese carrier planes. 198 men were lost. H.M.S.
Dorsetshire, (Capt. Agar) British cruiser sunk along with the
Cornwall, lost 227 men. The cruiser Enterprise and two destroyers
rescue 1121 men from the water.
American cruiser attacked by torpedoes from cruisers of the of
the Japanese 8th. Fleet during the invasion of Guadalcanal. The Astoria,
under the command of Capt.Greenman, sank taking the lives of 1,203 crewmembers.
British aircraft carrier . Sunk in the
Mediterranean, north of Algiers, by four torpedoes from the German U-73
while escorting a convoy (Operation Pedestal) to the island of Malta. 260
men of her crew of 1,160, perished. Survivors were picked up by the destroyers
‘Lookout' and ‘Laforey’. On the 16th. Dec.1942, the U-73
was sunk off Oran by the US destroyers Woolsey
and Trippe, killing 16 of her crew.
British luxury liner (19,695 tons) converted
to a transport ship, was torpedoed and sunk by the U-156, commanded by
Kptlt.Werner Hartenstein. The ship was carrying over 1,800 Italian prisoners
of war captured in North Africa and guarded by 160 Polish guards, former
Russian prisoners of war. Also on board were 268 military and civilian
personnel including 80 women and children. About 500 POWs were killed instantly
when the torpedoes hit the prison holds. Over 200 survivors were picked
up by the U-156 helped by the U-506 and U-507 and then the U-boats in turn
were attacked by an American four-engined Liberator of the USAF 343 Squadron
from the US base on Ascension Island. Even though they displayed a large
Red Cross flag, the plane dropped three depth charges. Altogether, including
the crew, 2,732 persons were on board the Lakonia when attacked.
A total of 1,649 lives were lost. Vichy naval craft picked up 1,083 survivors.
This incident caused the German Naval Authorities to issue the 'Laconia
Order' by which all U-boat captains were forbidden to pick up survivors.
At the Nuremberg Trials, Grand Admiral Donetz was accused of a war crime
by signing the order, but was acquitted on that charge only to spend 11
years and 6 months in prison for other war crimes.
(Oct. 1, 1942) Japanese
transport vessel carrying 1,816 British and Canadian prisoners of war from
Hong Kong, was torpedoed by mistake by the US submarine Grouper
off the Chinese coast. 840 prisoners were drowned.
American anti-aircraft cruiser named after
the capital city of Alaska. During the Guadacanal landings the Juneau was
attacked by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine.Badly damaged, the ship
tried to escape from the battle zone but was again hit by a second torpedo
which apparently hit the powder magazine causing the ship to explode in
a great ball of fire. This time the Juneau sank, taking the lives
of her Captain and 550 crew members, only 10 survived. On board the Juneau
were the five Sullivan brothers, George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert
who had enlisted together and were serving on the same ship. A new ship
The Sullivans was named in their honour and christened by the boy's
mother in April, 1943. It went on to earn 9 battle stars while serving
in the Pacific theatre.
White Star liner of 18,481 tons. On November
23, she set sail as a troop transport from Liverpool to Australia. West
of the Azores, the ship was torpedoed and sunk by U-boat U-515. A total
of 656 men lost their lives. There was one survivor who was taken on board
(March 1, 1943)
Australian cruiser of 6,830 tons launched
in 1934 under the name H.M.S. Amphion. Transferred to the Australian
Navy in 1939 and renamed HMAS Perth. Sunk in the Sunda Strait by
four torpedoes from Japanese warships. The Perth, accompanied by
the American cruiser Houston, sank half an hour after midnight about
four miles from St.Nicholas Point in Java. On board the Perth were
45 officers, 631 ratings, 4 canteen staff and six Royal Australian Airforce
personnel, a total of 686 men. Casualties were 23 officers and 329 ratings
killed. There were 334 survivors who were taken prisoners of war. Of these,
around 105 died in captivity.
(March 1, 1943)
Sunk in the Sunda Strait by torpedoes from the same warships that sunk
HMAS Perth. The Houston went down just twenty minutes
later about a mile from the Perth, taking around 700 men to their
deaths. 368 survivors made their way to the shores of Java only to
be interned by the Japanese who had already occupied the island. Both captains
of the Perth and Houston went down with their ships.
Converted escort carrier, blew up while
sailing up the Firth of Clyde in Scotland, between Ardrossan and the Isle
of Arran. One of her pilots misjudged a landing and crashed into a store
of aviation fuel drums. The subsequent explosion sent the Dasher
to the bottom in less than five minutes. 358 officers and men drowned,
149 sailors survived and were picked up from the sea by rescue ships.
(May 18, 1943)
Australian hospital ship (3,222 tons) sunk
in 170 meters of water after being set on fire by a torpedo from the Japanese
submarine I-1777 near Cape Moreton, off the Queensland coast. The Centaur
was on her way to New Guinea when the attack occurred. The ship sank in
three minutes taking the lives of 268 people, including 18 doctors, 11
nurses, 193 other medical personnel and 30 members of her crew. Of the
12 nursing sisters on board, only one survived. In 1990, the ship was declared
a historic wreck. After the war, the captain of the I-1777, Lt-Cdr Hajime
Nakagawa, was arrested and tried as a war criminal. He spent four years
in Sugamo prison for atrocities committed in the Indian Ocean such as shooting
survivors of torpedoed ships.
(July 6, 1943)
American light cruiser of 13,327 tons,
sunk at the Battle of Kula Gulf 10 miles north of Kolombangara in New Georgia.
Hit by three torpedoes from Japanese warships, the Helena jack-knifed
and sank, one half remaining afloat for some time. 186 of her crew of 888
died. The survivors were picked up by other US warships but unfortunately
one of the rescue ships mistook the floating section for another Japanese
ship and shelled it. Some of the survivors, still clinging to that part
of the vessel, were killed. About 400 survivors later served on board the
new USS Houston and a few went to the USS Cleveland. The
Helena was the last but one of the 10 American cruisers lost in
WW11. The USS Helena was awarded 7 Battle Stars.
(Sept.8, 1943) Italian
battleship, Flagship of Admiral Bertgamini, sunk in the Mediterranean by
a direct hit from a radio-guided bomb dropped from a Do.217 Luftwaffe plane.
The bomb went straight down the smoke stack. The Italian surrender had
just been signed and now their foe was their former ally, Germany. On seeing
the planes approach, the gun-crews mistook them for British aircraft and
held their fire. Admiral Bertgamini and his entire crew perished as the
ship went down.
Troop transport of 4,470 tons, and part of a German convoy, is attacked
north of the island of Crete by Mitchell bombers of the USAAF and RAF Beaufighters.
The Sinfra, with 2,664 prisoners of war on board, mostly Italians,
sinks. Of the prisoners and crew, only 566 are rescued.
British Battle Cruiser sunk off Brittany,
France, by German torpedo boats T23 and T27 of the 4th Torpedo Boat Flotilla.
A total of 464 men lost their lives.
USS LISCOMBE BAY
American escort carrier sunk by torpedo
from Japanese submarine I-175 near Makin island. The carrier sank in 23
minutes after being hit, taking the lives of 644 men and its Commander,
Rear Admiral Henry A. Mullinix.
British troopship of 8,602 tons, carrying
2,193 passengers, including 1,988 US troops, 7 Red Cross personnel and
a crew of 198, sailed from Oran, Algieria, bound for Bombay, India, via
the Suez Canal. She joined convoy KMF 26 which consisted of 24 ships, and
between Algiers and Phillopville the Rohna was hit by a German HS
293 'glider bomb' dropped from a Heinkel 177 bomber of 11/KG-40. The Rohna,
owned by the British India Steam Navigation Company, sank in 30 minutes
taking 1,047 US troops and 102 crew members to a watery death. Rescue ships
reported ‘sailing through a sea of floating bodies’. Eight of the
Heinkel 177s were shot down.
(December 26, 1943)
The 31,000 ton German battleship was attacked
by the British battleship Duke of York and destroyers Savage
and Saumarez while attempting to intercept an Allied convoy sailing
to the port of Murmansk in Russia. Hit by torpedoes from British and Norwegian
destroyers, she was then attacked by the cruisers Jamaica and Belfast.
After a battle lasting thirty-six minutes, the mighty ship rolled over
and sank bows first at 7.45 pm.The 36 survivors of the 1,969 crew were
picked up from the sea....1,933 had died. (all of the Scharnhorst’s
51 officers were lost) Altogether a total of 55 torpedoes were fired at
the Scharnhorst, only 11 struck the ship. The Battle of North Cape
was the last conflict between British and German capital ships in the war.
Egyptian troopship of 7,513 tons. Carrying
1,250 West African troops and a detachment of British Wrens and nurses,
the ship was torpedoed in the Indian Ocean south west of Ceylon. There
were only about 200 survivors from the ship, a victim of the Japanese submarine
I-27 commanded by Lt-Cdr Fukumura. The I-27 was then sunk
later by two of the escort destroyers.
British cruiser launched in 1935 and sunk
by a torpedo from the U-401 commanded by Oblt. Horst-Arno Fenski, off the
Anzio beach-head, Italy. She went down taking the lives of 415 of her crew.
(March 17, 1944)
Dutch passenger liner (17024 tons) being
used as a troopship, sunk in the Mediterranean by the U- 371 (Lt-Cdr Mehl).
A total of 498 US troops on board, died. The Dempo was part of convoy
SNF.17. The year before, on October 13, 1943, the U-371 sank the US destroyer,
USS Bristol, off Algeria. On May, 4, 1944, the U-371 was herself
sunk north of Constintine by gunfire from 4 destroyers including the American
destroyer USS Pride and the British destroyer H.M.S. Blankney.
Three of her crew were killed and 48 taken prisoner.
(April 26-May 6, 1944)
A Japanese convoy (Operation Take-Ichi) transporting around 20,000
troops, en route from Shanghai to reinforce the Japanese garrison of Halmahera
on the Vogelkop Peninsula, was attacked by the American submarine USS Jack.
The Yoshida Maru was sunk off Minila Bay. On the 6th.May, the American
submarine USS Gurnard spotted the convoy and attacked. Her torpedoes
sank the transports Tenshizan Maru
(6,995 tons) and the Aden
tons). Nearly half of the troops that embarked at Shanghai were lost.
(June 20, 1944)
Japanese aircraft carrier sunk during the
Battle of the Philippine Sea. Hit by bombs and aerial torpedoes from Avenger
aircraft from the carrier USS Belleau Wood, part of the US Task
Force 38, she was set on fire after a tremendous blast from leaking aviation
fuel. Dead in the water, the burning Hiyo then slipped, stern first,
under the waves taking the lives of 250 officers and men.
Japanese transport carrying hundreds of
US and Philippino prisoners of war, captured near Lasang, were being transported
from the island of Mindano when attacked by an American submarine, the
USS Barb. A torpedo strike sank the Shinyo Maru, but many survived
the sinking, some making their way to Sindangan Bay in Mindano. There,
they contacted Filipino guerrillas who radioed for help. The US submarine
Norwhal was contacted, and being in the area of the sinking, proceeded
at full speed to search for any survivors. As luck would have it, 81 persons
were plucked from the water. 688 US and Filipino POWs lost their lives.
The commander of the Barb, Eugene Bennett Fluckey, was later to
win the Congregational Medal of Honor.
(Sept. 12\13, 1944)
On September 4th. 2,218 Australian and
British prisoners of war, who had survived the building of the Death Railway,
were marched the three miles from the Valley Road camp in Singapore, to
the docks to board the two transport ships Rakuyu Maru and the Kachidoki
Maru bound for an internment camp on Formosa. In the South China Sea,
the convoy was attacked by three American submarines, the Growler,
Sealion and the Pampanito. The Rakuyo and Kachidoki
were both sunk by torpedoes. A total of 1,274 British and Australian POWs
lost their lives. All told there were 944 survivors, 114 were picked up
by the submarines, hundreds of others were rescued by Japanese ships to
again become POWs.
Japanese transport ship sunk by the American
submarine USS Flasher. About 2,000 of the 2,350 people on board
(October 23-26, 1944)
A 70,000 ton Japanese battleship built
at the Mitsubishi Shipyard in Nagasaki, and sunk during the Battle of Leyte
Gulf. The super battleship took 6 torpedo hits and 17 bomb hits. The Musashi
then rolled over and sank taking around 1,000 of her crew to their deaths.
This was nearly half of her complement of 2,200 men. Her captain, Real
Admiral Inoguichi went down with his ship.
American light carrier was one of the six
US warships sunk in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval engagement
in history. The other five ships were the Gamber Bay, (119 men were
killed) and the St Lo, both escort carriers, the destroyers Hoel
(202 killed) and Johnston (187 killed) and destroyer escort Smauel
B. Roberts. Casualties from the six ships were 898 killed and 913 wounded
(Oct. 24, 1944)
Japanese freighter bound for Japan from
Manila Bay in the Philippines. In the holds were 1,800 American prisoners
of war, being transported as slave labourers to work in the mines and factories
of Japan. Crowded so close together they could not lie down, the holds
soon became a hell-hole as the temperature soared to over 100 degrees F.
The lack of fresh air caused many to go mad as the holds became fouled
by the stench of sweating bodies and human excrement. As the ship sailed
into a typhoon, the odour of vomit from the hundreds of sea sick prisoners
added to the wretched conditions. Four days out into the China Sea, at
3 PM on the 24th, a terrible jolt shook the ship from bow to stern as three
torpedoes from the American submarine USS Snook split the ship in
two. The two halves separated and sank two hours later. Only seven men
survived by clinging to wreckage. Five reached the Chinese coast and two
were picked up by a Japanese destroyer. As the Arisan Maru was unmarked,
the captain of the submarine had no way of knowing that the ship carried
Japanese heavy cruiser. In an attempt to
escape American air raids on Manila harbour, the Nachi headed for
the open sea but another strike from Halsey's Task force 38, caught the
Nachi just off Corregidor. Immobilized with bomb hits and a torpedo
strike in the starboard boiler room, the ship lay dead in the water only
to be attacked again by another air strike, this time taking 5 torpedo
hits. The Nachi simply blew apart and sank at 4.45pm. 807 of her
crew died, there were 220 men who survived the blast.
(November 12, 1944)
42,000 ton German battleship, named after
the creator of the German High Seas Fleet, Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz,
and out of action for six months following an attack by Royal Navy midget
submarines. Only once during the war did the Tirpitz fire its huge
guns and that was in the bombardment of Spitzbergen in September, 1943.
On Nov.12, it was again attacked while holed up in Altenfjord in Norway.
This time the RAF dispatched 32 Lancaster bombers from No.9 and 617 Squadrons
based at Lossiemouth, Scotland. Flying at 14,000 feet, they scored
three direct hits with 12,000 pound bombs tearing open her hull for a hundred
feet. The Tirpitz turned completely over and sank taking 902 crewmen
to their deaths. This was further proof that the battleship had become
Japanese heavy cruiser, a survivor of the
Battle of Leyte Gulf. (in which Japan lost 26 ships, the US, 6 ships) The
badly damaged vessel lost 56 officers and men killed and 99 wounded. The
Kumano managed to escape to Manila for repairs. On her next sortie
she was hit by torpedoes from a US submarine but again made it home. Dubbed
the 'ship with nine lives' her luck finally ran out on 25th November when,
en route to Formosa, she was attacked by planes from the carrier USS Ticonderoga.
Four direct hits by 500 lb bombs slowed the ship down but next came an
attack with aerial torpedoes scoring 5 hits on the disabled ship. Listing
at an angle of 45 degrees the order to abandon ship was given. The Kumano
then turned turtle, her hull showing above the water. Survivors clinging
to the hull and swimming in the water were subjected to strafing by the
American planes. At 5.15pm she slid under the waves taking 440 men, out
of a complement of 1,036, with her.
Norwegian troop transport under German control and part of a southbound
convoy, was attacked north of Namos by Fleet Air Arm
planes from the British carrier Implacable. The Rigel (3,828
tons) was carrying 2,721 men including 2,248 Russian prisoners of war on
their way to a POW camp. A total of 1,833 men died. The pilots had no way
of knowing that the ship they sank carried their Russian allies.
Named after the Shinano provence of Japan,
this 71,890 ton super battleship, now converted to the world’s largest
aircraft carrier, set sail on her maiden voyage on Nov.28, 1944 escorted
by three destroyers. Enroute to the safety of the Inland Sea to conduct
her sea trials, she was spotted by the American submarine USS Archer-Fish
commanded by Joseph F. Enright USN. On board the Shinano were 2515
officers and men plus some 300 shipyard workers and 40 civilian employees.
The Archer-Fish fired a volley of six torpedoes, four of which struck
the carrier on the starboard side causing a torrent of sea water to flood
in. Developing a list of over 20 degrees the mighty ship lay dead in the
water. Her escort destroyers came alongside to take off the crew, shipyard
workers and civilians, who had started to panic. Hundreds of others jumped
into the sea, clinging to anything that would float. Too weak to haul themselves
aboard the destroyers they fell back into the water and drowned. Her short
life of 17 hours at sea ended at 10.55 hrs. on the 29th. November when
the brand new carrier slid to the bottom without having once fired her
guns. From her compliment of 2,515 a total of 1,435 souls perished. There
were 1,080 survivors including 55 officers, 993 ratings and 32 civilians.
Joseph F. Enright, commander of the Archer-Fish, was awarded the
Navy Cross at Pearl Harbour in March, 1945. The commander of the Shinano,
Captain Toshio Abe, went down with his ship. Archer-Fish ended her
career in 1968 on the ocean floor off San Diego when she was used as a
target for a new type of torpedo fired by the nuclear submarine
(Dec. 1944) A
7,000 ton Japanese passenger ship was being used to transport some 1,619
American Prisoners of War, mostly officers, to Japan. Also on board were
around 700 civilians plus 100 crew and 30 Japanese guards. Already overloaded,
the Oryoku Maru then took on about 1,000 seamen, survivors of ships
sunk in Manila harbour.It was spotted by US Navy carrier planes and attacked
(the Navy pilots did not know that the ship carried POWs) The Oryoku
Maru sailed into Subic Bay in the Philippines and ran aground to prevent
her sinking. The attack continued over a period of two days in which 286
US soldiers were killed. The survivors, who were forced to swim ashore,
were then transported by truck and train to San Fernando and thence to
other ships, the Enoura Maru and Brazil Maru. Reaching Takao
in Formosa, the Enoura Maru was bombed killing around 200. The survivors
were then transferred to the Brazil Maru which sailed for Japan
on January 14, 1945. Conditions on board were indescribable, hundreds dying
on the way. On arrival at Moji in Japan two weeks later, less than 500
were alive. Of these, 150 died within the first month ashore. Of the original
1,619 Americans on board the Oryoku Maru, around 1,260 had died.
(Dec.24, 1944) 11,509
ton Belgian troopship carrying US soldiers across the English Channel to
France, a trip she had done many times before. On this Christmas Eve the
ship carried 2,235 men of the US 64th Infantry Regiment of the US 66th
Infantry Division. The troops were to relieve the 94th Division already
fighting the "Battle of the Bulge". When the ship was about 5 miles from
Cherbourg, a torpedo fired from the German U-boat U-486, hit the ship which
sank soon after. Official records put the number of men lost at 819. The
66th Infantry Division alone, lost 14 officers and 748 men, but the exact
number is not known due to the hurried departure from the English port,
and the unorganized boarding procedures. As no life jackets were issued,
the men of the Leopoldville died in the freezing 48 degree waters
of the English Channel. The few survivors were rescued by the destroyer
The greatest sea tragedy of all time The
25,484 ton German luxury cruise liner was built to carry 1,465 passengers
and a crew of 400. The ship, now converted to a 500 bed hospital ship,
set sail from the port of Danzig overcrowded with 6,050 persons including
373 German Women Naval Auxiliaries and 162 wounded soldiers, all fleeing
from the advancing Red Army. Just before midnight, as the ship ploughed
her way through the icy waters of the Baltic Sea, the ship was hit by three
torpedoes from the Russian submarine S-13 commanded by Alexander Marinesko.
It sank in about fifteen minutes with the loss of over 5,100 lives. Rescue
boats picked from the stormy seas 964 survivors. The exact number of drowned
will never be known, as many more refugees were picked up from small boats
as the Wilhelm Gustloff headed for the open sea, and were never
counted. Many of the 964 persons rescued from the sea, died later, and
it is likely that at least 7,000 souls perished.
A few days after the Gustloff had
been sunk, the 14,600 ton liner General Steuben of the Nord German
Lloyd shipping line, set sail from Pillau in the bay of Danzig, her destination
being Swinemunde. On board were 2,000 wounded soldiers, 320 nurses and
30 doctors as well as over 1,000 refugees. Just after midnight, torpedoes
from the S 13 hit the Steuben. She sank in seven minutes, the wounded
lying helpless, strapped to their stretchers. In those seven minutes about
3,000 died, 300 being picked up by escorting ships. Within ten days, Captain
Alexander Marinesko had sunk two of Germany’s largest liners and in the
process had killed over 10,000 people.
(March 19, 1945)
American aircraft carrier hit by Japanese
kamikazes off Kure, Japan. A total of 772 men were killed and 265 injured.
The Franklin had a crew of 3,450 officers and men. After the war,
393 bravery decorations were awarded to the crew including one Congressional
Medal of Honor awarded to Lt.Commander Joseph O'Callahan for heroism. The
Franklin (commanded by Capt.Gehres) was severely damaged but managed
to make her way back to Ulithi and finally the US for repairs.
Japan's 72,200 ton, 862 ft long super battleship
Yamato was the world's largest fighting ship afloat. She carried
nine 18.1 inch guns which could hurl a shell a distance of 35 miles. As
the Americans prepared to invade the island of Okinawa, the Yamato
set sail from Kyushu on what was considered a suicide mission, to engage
the American amphibious fleet as it approached the island. Sailing without
air cover, the Yamato was soon spotted by a US scout plane which
radioed its position to the invasion fleet. Within hours the mighty battleship
was attacked by an armada of 386 fighter planes and torpedo carrying bombers
from the flight decks of the invasion fleet carriers. Hit by five torpedoes
and many bombs, the Yamato capsized and sank off the coast of Kyushu,
taking with her 2,498 members of her crew. Of her full compliment of 2,767
men, there were only 269 survivors.
(April 16, 1945)
A passenger ship (5,230 tons) of the Hamburg
America Line, it was taken over by the German Navy to help in the evacuations
from the Bay of Danzig (Germany’s ‘Dunkirk’ in which over two million people
were evacuated). It had taken on board the remnants of the 35th Tank Regiment
and thousands of pleading refugees. When sixty miles off the port of Stolpe
near Cape Rozewie, she was attacked by the Russian submarine L-3 commanded
by Captain Vladimir Konovalov. Two torpedoes were fired, hitting the Goya
amidships. Immediately the ship broke in half and sank in about four minutes.
Of the estimated 6,385 people on board, only 183 were rescued. For this
episode, Konovalov was awarded the medal, ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’.
German liner anchored in Lubeck Bay, along
with two other ships the Thielbeck and Athen, were bombed
by RAF planes of the 2nd.Tactical Air Force, from their base at Celle.
On board the three ships were around 8,000 civilian prisoners from the
Nazi concentration camps at Neuengamme and Danzig who were being evacuated.
Firing their rockets the Typhoons attacked, hitting all three ships. The
27,561 ton Cap Arcona sank, taking the lives of over 3,000 inmates.
The Thielbeck and Athen were left smouldering wrecks. Many
survivors, trying to swim ashore, were mown down mercilessly in the water
from machine guns of SS units stationed on shore. Altogether, almost 7,000
people died in this tragedy. The RAF pilots knew nothing about the prisoners
on board and it was not until many years later that they learned that they
had slaughtered their own allies!.
(June 8, 1945)
13,000-ton Nachi class Japanese cruiser
sunk by the British submarine H.M.S. Trenchant commanded by 'Baldy’
A.R. Hezlet. (It was estimated that around 1,200 Japanese troops were on
board on their way from Batavia to reinforce the garrison at Singapore).
At the last minute the Ashigara had altered course and was hit by
five torpedoes out of the eight fired by the Trenchant. In an effort
to beach herself she headed towards Klipped Shoal near Sumatra but half
an hour after being hit, the blazing Ashigara capsized and sank.
Commander Hezlet was later awarded the DSO and the United States Legion
USS BUNKER HILL
(June 27, 1945)
Aircraft carrier operating off the island
of Okinawa, hit by a Japanese kamikaze suicide plane. The ship suffered
the loss of 373 crewmen. The Bunker Hill did not sink but made it
home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for repairs. Air attacks by Japanese
planes on American ships off Okinawa killed 2,658 men. In all, 13 destroyers
were lost. During the Pacific War, 288 United States Navy ships were hit
by kamikazes, 34 were sunk.
Built in the 1930s this heavy cruiser served
throughout the Pacific War until its final mission. One of the wars most
secret missions was the delivery of the uranium core to be used in the
Hiroshima bomb. After unloading the component to the B29 Bomb Squadron
on the island of Tinian, the Indianapolis departed for Leyte to
join up with the rest of the US Fleet before returning to its home base
in the US. During the night of July 29, 1945, the ship was hit by a torpedo
from the Japanese submarine I-58, . The Indianapolis sank taking
the lives of 883 US sailors. There were 316 survivors. Most of the men
died in the water from exposure and shark attacks. The survivors were rescued
four days later by another American ship. The captain of the Indianapolis
was later court-martialed for failing to zig-zag in hostile waters. He
retired in 1949 and in 1988 he committed suicide by a pistol shot to the
'OVER A SEAMAN'S
GRAVE NO ROSES BLOOM'.
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