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 MORE MARITIME DISASTERS OF WORLD WAR 11 - page 3 of 4 - which occurred during 1943.

This 4 page series features stories of the losses of some of the less-well known, "smaller ships":

  1. during 1939, 1940, 1941
  2. during 1942
  3. during 1943
  4. during 1944, 1945, and Notes on WWII Shipping.

1943

HMS FIDELITY (January 1, 1943)

Formerly the French merchant ship Le Rhin (2,455 tons) requisitioned by the Admiralty, converted to a SSV ship (Special Service Vessel) and renamed HMS Fidelity. Armed with four inch guns, torpedoes and depth charges she also carried two sea-planes, a motor torpedo boat and two small landing craft. The vessel, believed by some of the crew to be totally unseaworthy, carried out operations of an extremely hazardous nature i.e. landing of secret agents on enemy territory. Due to the secret nature of the ship, the crew were volunteers, the non British members sailing under assumed names and the French and other crew members received anglicised names. Her captain was an ex-French spy Claude Peri, who assumed the name Jacques Langlais and to the amazement of the crew took his mistress, WRNS officer Madeleine Barclay, onboard with him.

After operations in the Mediterranean, the Fidelity was assigned to the Far East Fleet and sailed from Portsmouth to Colombo via the Cape, part of the way with convoy ONS-154. In an area of the Atlantic known as the Black Pit, an area beyond the protection of aircraft, the convoy, escorted by five Canadian corvettes, was attacked by U-boat wolf packs and over the next five days fourteen of the forty-five ships were sunk with 510 lives lost. The Fidelity, lagging behind with engine failure, was torpedoed by the U-435 (KptLt. S. Strelow) on the night of December 30/31, 1942. She went to the bottom with almost all her complement of 280 crew, fifty-one Royal Marine Commandos and the WRNS officer plus four civilians. About fifty survivors rescued earlier from the SS Empire Shackelton were also on board. Two LCVs (Landing Craft Vehicles) Nos. 752 and 754, being carried by the Fidelity were also sunk. There were only ten men who survived the sinking of the Fidelity. The largest convoy that ever sailed was Convoy HX-300. It consisted of 167 ships.

SS ARTHUR MIDDLETON (January 1, 1943)

US Liberty Ship of 7,176 tons, built in 1942 in Mobile Alabama, was torpedoed by the U-73 while en route from New York to the North African port of Oran in Algeria. The vessel, part of the 44 ship convoy UGS-3, was carrying a cargo of munitions, explosives and 300 bags of mail. At Casablanca, the convoy split up and eleven ships, including the Arthur Middleton, proceeded towards Oran escorted by three US and four British destroyers. When only 12.9 kilometres from her destination and preparing to enter the harbour at Oran, she was struck by the torpedo at 2:11PM. The subsequent explosion sent steel plates, flame and smoke soaring 1,000 feet into the air and broke the ship in two. Her sinking took less than two minutes. Her complement consisted of 44 crewmembers, 27 Naval Armed Guards and 12 Army personnel. One LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) No. 21, being carried by the ship, was also lost. Three members of the Naval Armed Guards were the only survivors who were rescued by the British destroyer HMS Boreas.

SS AQUARIUS (January 7, 1943)

The 6,094 ton Aquarius was sunk near Tjebia Island, Sumatra, by aerial bombing whilst on passage through the Durian Straits. Of the estimated 1,100 persons on board there were only three survivors. Picked up by the New Zealand launch ML-310, commanded by Lieutenant H. Bull, they were taken to Pulau Jeadia where unfortunately all three died.

USS ARGONAUT(January 10, 1943)

The Argonaut was the largest submarine ever built in the US. (until the advent of nuclear submarines) At 3,128 tons she was designed primarily as a minelayer but later, in 1942, was converted to a troop carrying submarine and based at Brisbane, Australia. In January, 1943, while on patrol in the dangerous waters between New Britain and Bougainville, just south of St. George's Channel, her captain, Lt. Cmdr. John Pierce, spotted a Japanese convoy of five freighters with their three destroyer escorts. When in position for an attack the Argonaut fired one torpedo at one of the freighters and was immediately counterattacked by the destroyers. Badly damaged by depth charges, the destroyers circled the Argonaut pumping shell after shell into her hull until she sank below the waves taking 105 officers and men with her to the sea bed. There were no survivors.

NICHIMEI MARU (January 15, 1943)

Japanese army cargo vessel, part of a convoy transporting Allied prisoners of war, sunk by bombs from USAF B-24s about two hundred miles southwest of Rangoon, Burma. (13º30'N 97º30'E) Also part of the convoy, the army cargo ship Moji Maru, was damaged. Around 500 Allied prisons-of-war on board the Nichimei were lost.

BUYO MARU (January 26, 1943)

Japanese troop transport, part of a small convoy intercepted by the American submarine USS Wahoo. A spread of three torpedoes were fired at the Buyo which brought the vessel to a halt and another, which hit amidships, eventually sunk the ship. On board the Buyo were many Indian prisoners of war and a number of Japanese garrison troops about to be landed on the nearby shore of western New Guinea. Casualties on board the Buyo were 195 Indian prisoners and 87 Japanese troops killed. Altogether there were 1,126 men on the transport. Next day, about 800 survivors were rescued by a Japanese ship, the Choko Maru.

HMS WELSHMAN (February 1, 1943)

British minelaying cruiser of 2,650 tons attacked and sunk by the German submarine U-617 (Kptlt. Albrecht Brandi) about 35 miles north-east of Tobruk while returning from Malta to Alexandria a trip she had made eight times supplying food, medicine and ammunition to support the long siege of he island during WWII. Of her crew of 148 only a few survived. The Welshman had made a significant contribution to the saving of Malta.

USS De HAVEN (February 1, 1943)

While escorting three Landing Craft Transports (LCTs) during the American landings on the beach at Marovo on Guadalcanal, the De Haven was singled out and attacked by six Japanese planes. Shooting down three of the planes the remaining three dropped their bombs on the De Haven. Three bombs hit the ship which destroyed the bridge and killed her captain, Cmdr. Charles Tolman. A fourth bomb split her hull plates and the ship began to settle in the water and shortly after upended and sank about two miles from Savo Island, joining the company of about 50 other fighting ships that now rest in 'Iron Bottom Sound'. Survivors were rescued by the LCTs 63 and 181 but entombed within the steel hull of the De Haven were 10 of her officers and 157 enlisted men out of her crew of 299.

I.J.N. ASASHIO (March 2/7, 1943)

The Japanese destroyer Asahio was one of eight on escort duty guarding a convoy of eight crowded transports carrying 5,954 soldiers of the Japanese 20th and 51st Infantry Divisionsof the Japanese Imperial Army, plus 400 naval marines, from Rabaul to Lae, New Guinea, a distance of 260 miles. The convoy was spotted and attacked in relays by a force of 268 American and Australian fighters and bombers of all types from airfields around Milne Bay in Papua. The convoy was spotted while crossing the Huon Gulf and heading towards Lae, about eighty miles away. The attack turned out to be pure slaughter in one of the biggest air attacks of the Pacific war. All the troop transports, including the 5,000 ton Kyokusei Maru, and the 3,800 ton Shinai Maru, and four destroyers were sunk in this concentrated and persistent attack. Some of the transports were scuttled, the troops making their way to shore in lifeboats and rafts. On the way, most were destroyed by bombing and strafing by Allied fighters, many of the troops being taken by sharks as they struggled in the water like drowning rats.

The slaughter continued for days until nothing more lived on the waters of Huon Gulf. (A legitimate act of war to prevent those enemy troops from reaching land and being rearmed to fight another day). The destroyer Arashio 1,500 tons (sister ship of the Asashio) was sunk, as were two others, the Tokitsukaza, 2,000 tons, and the Shirayuki, 1,700 tons. It was believed that 2,890 Japanese troops and ships crews perished. Around 850 were rushed to Lae at the start of the attack, the destroyers then returning to the battle zone to rescue more survivors. Some 3,145 men were picked up from the water by the Japanese destroyers and a couple of Japanese submarines and taken to Rabaul. Ninety two men managed to reach the shore of New Guinea and a small number made it safely to nearby islands. Only three allied fighters and two bombers were shot down, the Japanese lost 63 aircraft.

SS HARRY LUCKENBACK (March 7, 1943)

American freighter torpedoed by the U-91 (Walkerling) while part of Convoy HX-229 sailing from New York to the United Kingdom. On board were 54 crewmembers and 26 Naval Armed Guard. Three lifeboats were seen to get away from the sinking vessel but were never seen or heard from again.

HMS HARVESTER (March 11, 1943)

Built as HMS Handy for the Brazilian Navy but before completion she was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and renamed Harvester. While escorting a North Atlantic convoy, HX-228, the Harvester sighted the U-boat U-444 (Oblt. Albert Langfeld) while she was attempting a torpedo attack on the convoy. At full speed the destroyer rammed the submarine and a few minutes later the French corvette Aconit rammed her a second time. Meanwhile another U-boat, the U-432, fired a torpedo at the damaged Harvester which sank almost immediately. The death toll on the Harvester was eight officers and 136 ratings, the few survivors were picked up by the Aconit. The U-444 sank with a loss of 41 crew. There were 4 survivors. The U-432 (Kptlt. Heinz Otto Schultze) was also sunk during this engagement by depth-charges from the Aconit. Casualties were 26 dead, 20 survivors.

TAKACHIHI MARU (March 19, 1943)

Japanese passenger liner of 10,000 tons built in 1932 at Nagasaki. It serviced the Keeling (Formosa) to Kobe (Japan) route. Sunk 30 kilometres off the coast of Formosa, now Tiawan, by an unknown American submarine. A spread of three torpedoes struck the ship along the hull of the liner causing it to sink in just under ten minutes, just enough time for only three lifeboats to be launched. Her passengers on this fateful day were mostly civilians, both Japanese and Tiawanese, returning from Japan where they worked or studied. At this time Formosa was a Japanese colony. It was estimated that close to 1,200 passengers and crew went down to the sea bed with the Takachihi Maru the news of its sinking being suppressed by the Japanese and even by the Chinese who took over the island in 1945. Today, few people in Tiawan are familiar with this tragedy, Taiwan's biggest ever sea disaster.

CONVOY HX- 229 and CONVOY SC-122 (March 16-19, 1943)

Two convoys, sailing on parallel courses from Halifax to Britain, were attacked by three U-boat groups consisting of 38 submarines. The attack occurred along the east coast of Newfoundland as the fast Convoy HX-229 overtook the slower moving Convoy SC-122. The two convoys, each about five miles wide, consisted of 88 ships and 15 escorts. Over the four days the convoys suffered the loss of 21 ships and one escort from the 90 torpedoes fired at it. Total casualties from the two convoys amounted to 372 dead. In spite of the 298 depth charges dropped by the escorts only one U-boat was sunk.

HMS BEVERELY (April 11, 1943)

British destroyer (Ex USS Branch) sunk by torpedoes from the U-188 whilst escorting convoy ON-176 south of Greenland. Two days before, the Beverely had been in collision with the SS Cairnrona. Her captain, Lt. Cdr. R. A. Price and 139 crew members were lost. The U-188 was scuttled at Bordeaux on August 20, 1944.

LCG 15 and LCG 16 (Landing Craft Gun) (April, 25, 1943)

Their purpose was to engage enemy shore batteries during the forthcoming beach landings in Sicily. A number of these newly converted craft set sail from the Belfast docks, their destination, Falmouth. As the weather deteriorated and the seas mounted, many of the crews became seasick. As they headed down the Welsh coast with the wind now at gale force the ships started to fill up with water. Approaching the Naval Base at Milford Haven, the LCGs 15 and 16 were battling to keep afloat. Swept overboard, bodies were pummelled against the rocks. Hundreds of would be rescuers had gathered on the cliff tops unable to help as they watched the merciless seas pound the two vessels to smithereens. In all, 78 men were lost from the two landing craft, there were only three survivors. Today at Milford Haven, 39 gravestones stand in stark reminder of the tragedy. The other bodies were sent back to their families for private burial.

ESCANABA (June 13, 1943)

The U.S.C.G. Escanaba (WPG-77), was a 1,005 ton Algonquin Class U.S. Coast Guard gunboat escorting convoy GS-24 from Narsarssuak, Greenland, to Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, was sunk at 5.10am. The 165ft ship exploded and sank in just over three minutes taking 101 members of her crew with her. All died in the explosion or from hypothermia in the 39 degree cold water. Only 2 men survived the sinking, picked up by the tug Raritan some minutes later. A year earlier, on June 15, 1942 the Eacanaba had rescued twenty-two men from the SS Cherokee and on February 3, 1943, rescued 132 survivors from the SS Dorchester. It is not known what sunk the Escanaba, mine or torpedo. German sources records no U-boat attacks at that time. In its home port, Grand Haven, Michigan, the community raised enough money to build another vessel bearing the name Escanaba. A memorial service is held every year to honour the ship and its gallant crew.

SS HOIHOW (July 2, 1943)

British vessel of 2,798 tons, owned by the China Navigation Company Limited of London and requisitioned early in 1943 by the Ministry of War Transport. Used mainly as a 'General Purpose Stores' ship servicing the island bases in the Indian ocean. While sailing from Mauritius to Tamatave the Hoihow was attacked by the German submarine U-181 (Wolfgang Lüth) On board were a crew of 94 and 7 gunners plus 48 passengers including members of the Queen Alexandria Nursing Corp, some military and medical personnel. Of the 149 souls on board, only 5 survived.

USS MADDOX (DD 622) (July 10, 1943)

During Operation ‘Husky’ (the invasion of Sicily) the American two stack destroyer Maddox, on antisubmarine duty 15 miles off Gela Point, Sicily, was singled out by a lone JU-88 bomber of KG-54 Group. Two 250 pound bombs were dropped, the second struck the No 5 gun turret. The blast triggered off an explosion in the magazine, demolishing the rear end of the ship. She then rolled over and started to sink below the waves stern first, her depth charges exploding as she went under. It was all over in less than two minutes after the bomb hit the ship, the fastest sinking of any US vessel in WWII. Those men in the bowels of the ship had no chance, 212 of them going down with the vessel. There were 74 survivors who were rescued by a tug nearby. (After the war, the pilot of the JU-88 was traced in Germany and invited to a survivors reunion in May, 1998, a reunion which the pilot, Kurt Fox, now Dr Fox, was delighted to attend.)

I.J.N. NISSHIN (July, 1943)

Japanese seaplane tender of 11,317 tons, After the American landings on the island of New Georgia the Japanese decided to re-enforce their garrison on Buin. On July 10, 1943, the Nisshin (Captain Ito Jotaro) departed Kure with a contingent of 630 troops and 22 tanks on board. Escorted by three destroyers, the ship arrives at Rabaul where 250 additional soldiers boarded the destroyers. While sailing through the Bougainville Channel and only twenty miles from Buin, the force was attacked by over forty fighter bombers and some B-24s. Three bombs hit the Nisshin, one tearing a twenty metre hole on the water line. Listing badly to starboard she began to settle by the bow. Only a few troops and crew were able to clear the ship before she sank. Of the 630 soldiers on board only 91 survived. All told, lives lost amounted to 1,085 including those lost on the three destroyers. Of the ships complement only seven officers and eighty men were saved.

TIMOTHY PICKERING (July 13, 1943)

US liberty ship loaded with supplies, ammunition and troops, hit by two bombs from Stuka dive bombers while in the anchorage one mile off the beach at Avola, Sicily. One 500-lb bomb penetrated into the engine room causing a violent explosion as the cargo blew up. Another landed in the forward hold causing a fire which the crew was unable to control. The resulting explosions caused the ship to settle in the water stern first and had to be sunk by a torpedo from a British destroyer. It took the ship 20 minutes to sink under a mushroom cloud of flame and smoke. Of the 128 British troops on board 127 die as do twenty-three of the forty-three man crew. Sixteen of the twenty-three man Armed Guard were also killed leaving a death toll of 166. There were 23 survivors who were blown overboard by the initial blast and rescued by other friendly ships in the area.

I.J.N. KIYONAMI (July 19/20, 1943)

Japanese troop transport which had helped in the sinking of the USS Gwin. The Kiyonami was sunk by American B-25 bombers, forty miles northwest of Kolombangra. The ship was in the process of rescuing the crew of the sinking destroyer Yugure when spotted and bombed. There were no survivors from either vessel, a total of 468 men died.

THE PIETRO MICCA TRAGEDY (July 29, 1943)

The Italian submarine Pietro Micca was sunk near Santa Maria di Leuca. The vessel was en route to Taranto and sailing on the surface to avoid mines when it fell victim to a torpedo fired from the British submarine HMS Trooper. It sank in less than a minute, leaving eighteen of its crew struggling in the water. These survivors were rescued by local fishermen. The rest of the crew, 54 in all, went down with the ship to be entombed in the hull on the ocean floor. It took some hours for the Italian Navy to commence rescue operations. Hydrophones were lowered to detect any sounds coming from inside the hull but only the chilling sounds of gunshots were heard. It is believed that those still alive decided to take their own lives rather than die after a slow and terrible agony. The wreck is now considered a war grave and remains untouched.

ARASHI (August 6/7, 1943)

Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer, 2,490 tons, sunk while escorting a troop transport to Kolombangara. The Arashi was sunk between Kolombangara and Vella Lavella by gunfire and torpedoes from the American destroyers USS Craven, USS Dunlap and USS Maury. Her commander Sugioka Koushichi and 177 of her crew of 240 were lost.

TSUSHIMARU

Part of convoy Nano 103, she sailed from Naha Port in Okinawa heading for Kysru while unmarked and unlit. Attacked near Akuseki Island and sank. There were only 59 survivors from  a crew and passenger list of 767. On 12, December, 1997, the wreck was located.

LOUSIE LYKES (September 1, 1943)

US merchant ship of 6,155 tons, bound for Northern Ireland, is sunk by the German submarine U-384 in the North Atlantic. There were no survivors. Ninety-four men including 50 crew, 24 Armed Guards and 10 US Army personnel, perished. (The U-384 was sunk by depth charges from a British aircraft south-west of Iceland on March 19, 1944. All hands, 47 men, perished).

BENJAMIN CONTEE (August 16, 1943)

Only twenty-three minutes out of port, en route to Oran, the US freighter Benjamin Contee was hit by an aerial torpedo a few miles off Bone, Algeria. On board were 1,800 Italian prisoners and 26 British guards. The torpedo blew a hole fifty feet wide and twenty-one feet deep on her port side. The prisoners, filled with panic, broke out of the holds and rushed the lifeboats but didn't know how to launch them. When the shouting and screaming subsided the prisoners were assured that there was no immediate danger. The Benjamin Contee did not sink and she returned to Bone under her own power. Of the Italian prisoners on board, 264 were killed and 142 injured. None of the crew or British guards were lost. She later returned to service only to be sunk as a block ship at Normandy ten months later.

HMS EGRET (August 27, 1943)

Royal Navy sloop attacked by a number of Dornier aircraft while on anti-submarine patrol in the Bay of Biscay, the  Egret exploded and sunk after being hit by a Henschel 293 A-1 guided bomb released from one of the bombers. This was believed to be the first warship sunk by a guided missile. The death toll on the Egret was 198 crewmen killed including four Royal Air Force electronic specialists.

USS ROWAN (September 11, 1943)

While screening empty transport ships returning to Oran after the Allied invasion of Italy at Salerno, the convoy was attacked by German E-boats just hours after leaving Salerno harbour. The wake of a torpedo was seen streaking towards the Rowan, fortunately it missed, but a second tin-fish hit the ship on her port quarter. This caused her 5 inch magazine to explode with an ear shattering roar. The once proud Rowan took only 40 seconds to sink, killing 202 of her crew of 273. There were only 75 survivors, picked up by the American destroyer USS Bristol. The Bristol was torpedoed a month later on October 13, by the U-371 and sank off Cape Bougaroun, Algeria, with the loss of 52 of her crew.

HMCS ST. CROIX and HMS ITCHEN (Sept. 20, 1943)

One of the 50 destroyers Britain bought from the USA in exchange for leases on Jamaica, Trinidad and Bermuda for future US bases. The St. Croix (ex-USS McCook) was then transferred to the Canadian Navy. As part of the Canadian 9th Escort Group she was torpedoed by U-666 south of Iceland while escorting the west-bound convoys ONS-18 and ON-202. Fourteen officers and 134 ratings died. Five officers and 76 men were rescued by the British frigate HMS Itchen which in turn was torpedoed the day after by the same U-boat. From the rescued men of the St. Croix there was only one survivor. In all, 227 lives were lost. The corvette Polyanthus was also sunk during this attack by a new weapon, the 3,300-pound T-5 acoustic torpedo (GNAT), with a loss of 84 of her crew. Only three men survived from the three ships. The U-305 was sunk by depth charges from HMS Wanderer and HMS Glenarm on January 20, 1944. Her entire crew of 51 were lost.

SS ARDENA (September 27, 1943)

Greek ship of 1,092 tons, bombed and sunk in June, 1941 by the Luftwaffe during the invasion of Greece. Raised and repaired by the German Kriegsmarina, she was again sunk in 1943 after striking a mine off Argosoli. On board were around one thousand Italian soldiers 720 of whom perished.

KONRON MARU (October 5, 1943)

Japanese transport sunk by the US submarine USS Wahoo while ferrying troops across the Tsushima Strait. On board the Konron Maru (Formally of the Shimonoseki-to-Fusan Ferry Line) were 616 troops and crew of which only 72 were rescued from the heavy seas. (Six days later (October 11) the Wahoo was sunk with all hands by Japanese naval aircraft in the La Perouse Strait.)

ORKAN (October 8, 1943)

Former British ‘M’ Class destroyer HMS Myrmidon, served under the Polish flag and renamed Orkan. It was this ship which carried the coffin of General Sikorski from Gibraltar to Plymouth. On the 8th of October, 1943, the Orkan was torpedoed by the U-boat U-378 (or the U-610) and sank with 178 Polish and 20 British crewmembers. There were only 23 survivors. Mostly engaged in escort duties for convoys between Loch Ewe in Scotland and the Russian port of Murmansk. It during such a trip that the Orkan was attacked and sunk by an acoustic torpedo from the U-boat. On July 25, 1943, the Orkan rescued 41 German sailors who had survived the sinking of the U-459 in the North Atlantic. The U-459 had been sunk by depth charges dropped from a RAF plane.

USS BUCK (October 8/9, 1943)

On patrol in the Gulf of Salerno, the destroyer was hit by two torpedoes from the U-616 (Cpt. Lt. Siegfried Koitschka) The devastating result of the exploding torpedoes caused a depth charge to explode and cover the ship in a pall of smoke and flame. Brought to a standstill, she settled swiftly by the bow and four minutes later disappeared beneath the sea. Detonations of depth charges that hadn't been set on 'safe' continued underwater as fuel oil rose to the surface choking many of the survivors in the water. Soon rescue vessels appeared on the scene and within 48 hours had plucked 76 men from the sea, but her captain, Lt. Cmdr. M. Klein and 150 crew members perished.

CAPE SAN JUAN (November 11, 1943)

US freighter/troopship (6,711 tons) torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-21. The ship was sailing from San Francisco to Townsville, Australia, with 49 crew, 41 gunners and 1,348 US Army troops on board. Sixteen men were killed when the torpedo hit and a further 114 drowned while they abandoned ship. The liberty ship Edwin T. Meredith picked up 443 survivors and brought them to Noumea, in New Caledonia. Other survivors rescued by the destroyer USS McCalla were transferred to the USS Dempsey for medical care before being transported to Suva in the Fiji Islands. Another 40 survivors were picked up by Pan American Airways flying boat which landed in the open sea near the area of the sinking. Attempts to scuttle the Cape San Juan with gunfire failed and the ship remained afloat for another two days before sinking on the 13th.

USS McKEAN (November 17, 1943)

US destroyer sunk at the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay by a direct hit from a Japanese torpedo plane. The after magazine, containing the depth charges, exploded and ruptured the fuel tanks. Minutes later the forward magazine blew up and the ship began to sink by the stern. The destroyer (Lt. Comdr. Ralph L. Ramsey) was transporting 185 Marines from Gaudalcanal to Bougainville when she was attacked. A total of 64 crew members and 52 marines were killed. Survivors were picked up by rescue ships.

SHINYU MARU (November 24, 1943)

Japanese Passenger/cargo vessel of 4,621 tons departed Singapore, her destination, Burma. With 500 crew and Allied prisoners of war on board, she was part of a convoy of five ships and three escorts. En-route, the convoy was attacked by the American submarine USS Redfin which fired four torpedoes, two of which struck the Sinyu Maru. She sank in minutes, there were no survivors.

HARUKIKU MARU (June 26, 1944)

Formally the Dutch vessel SS Van Waerwijk scuttled on March 3, 1942, prior to the Japanese invasion of Java. The ship was salvaged by the Japanese in 1943 and put to use transporting prisoners and Japanese troops to Japan. It sailed from Belawan in Sumatra to Pakanbaroe with 730 Allied P.O.W.s on board. In the Straits of Malacca, 215 kilometres west of Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, the Harukiku was torpedoed and sunk by the British submarine HMS Truculent. Of the 730 souls on board, 177 were lost including 47 British prisoners.

SUEZ MARU (November 29, 1943)

On the islands of Ambon and Hasuku in the Moluccas, Allied prisoners were dying daily through starvation, disease and beatings by their guards. In the past six months almost 400 had died and around 700 were too sick to work. The Japanese then decided to send the sick back to Java. A total of 640 men, including a number of Japanese sick patients, were taken on board the 4,645-ton passenger-cargo ship Suez Maru. In two holds, 422 sick British (including 221 RAF servicemen) and 127 sick Dutch prisoners, including up to twenty stretcher cases, were accommodated. The Japanese patients filled the other two holds.

Escorted by a minesweeper W-12, the Suez Maru set sail from Port Amboina but while entering the Java Sea and about 327 kilometres east of Surabaya, Java, Netherlands East Indies, the vessel was torpedoed by the American submarine USS Bonefish commanded by Cdr. Tom Hogan. The ship started to list as water poured into the holds drowning hundreds. Hundreds more, Allied and Japanese, managed to escape the holds and were struggling in the water. The Japanese mine sweeper W-12 started to pick up survivors, but only their own nationals, leaving the British captives behind. Between 200 and 250 men were floating in the sea. The minesweeper then made several slow circles around the survivors and minutes later machine-gun and rifle fire were directed towards the defenceless swimmers. Empty rafts and lifeboats were then rammed and sunk by the W-12. The minesweeper then picked up speed and sped off towards Batavia (Jakarta). They had rescued 93 Japanese soldiers and crewmen and 205 Japanese sick patients. Sixty-nine Japanese had died during the attack. Back at the site of the sinking only floating wreckage and an oil spill was all that was left of the Suez Maru. Of the 547 British and Dutch prisoners, there was only one survivor, a British soldier, Kenneth Thomas, who was picked up twenty-four hours later by the Australian minesweeper HMAS Ballarat. After the war the perpetrators of this crime were traced and arrested but later the decision was taken not to prosecute and the accused were released. In 2008, BBC investigative news reporter Mike Thompson approached a defence counsel of the International Criminal Court in the Hague whether the case could still be tried.

Over 90 percent of P.O.W. deaths at sea was the result of 'friendly fire'.

The USS Bonefish was sunk off Honshu on June 18, 1945, when on her 8th war patrol. All 86 crew were lost. The Bonefish was the last submarine to be sunk in World War II.

SS JOHN HARVEY (December 2, 1943)

US Liberty ship, unloading at Berth 29 in the port of BARI, on Italy's Adriatic coast, blew up in a cataclysmic explosion during a twenty minute bombing attack by over 100 German JU-88 planes. The harbour was jam-packed with Allied merchant ships as convoy after convoy brought in much needed supplies for the British, American and Canadian armies as they advanced up the Italian mainland. Part of the cargo in the John Harvey (Captain Knowles) was 100 tons of liquid mustard gas bombs, (brought in just in case the enemy resorted to chemical warfare) and guarded by a unit of the 701st Chemical Maintenance Company. The blast wave caused by the explosion destroyed or sunk seventeen ships in the harbour and killed or injured over 1,000 military and navy men, civilian workers and nearby residents of the town. As ship after ship exploded or caught fire, hundreds of men were struggling in the oil covered water in a desperate attempt to escape. On the British Fort Athabaska, forty-four men out of her crew of 56 were killed. With the Allied hospitals filling up with injured, the doctors were at a loss to know what caused the terrible burns on the victims. Of the 617 men who made it to hospital, 83 had died during the first month. If they had known at the time it was mustard gas, it is possible many more lives could have been saved with the proper treatment. Winston Churchill immediately clamped a tight security blanket over the whole affair and it was not until about five years later that the public learned the whole truth.

U.S.A.T. CHARLES HENDERSON

The US Army transport Charles Henderson was also a victim of a later Luftwaffe bombing at Bari. Anchored in the harbour on April 9, 1945, it was hit by bombs causing its 2,000 ton cargo of munitions to explode. A plume of smoke reaching to a height of twenty thousand feet was reported by eye witnesses. A total of 48 Americans and 318 Italians lost their lives. This disaster effectively closed the harbour until after the war ended.

CHUYO (December 4, 1943)

The Imperial Japanese Navy escort carrier of 17,803-tons, torpedoed and sunk by the USS Sailfish making her tenth patrol under the command of Lt. Cdr. 'Bob' Ward. In mountainous seas and driving rain the Chuyo (Captain Okura) sank in about six minutes after being hit on the port side by two torpedoes. Around 1,250 officers, men and passengers died in the Chuyo, 160 Japanese survivors being rescued by the escort destroyer Urakaze. Among the casualties of the Chuyo were twenty American prisoners of war, half of the survivors from the USS Sculpin sunk earlier off Truk Island. Only one of them survived, machinist's mate George Rocek, who was hauled on board the Urakaze being mistaken for a Chuyo crew member. (Before the war the Sailfish was the USS Squalus which sank with the loss of a number of her crew. The submarine was salvaged and relaunched as the USS Sailfish. When the Squalus sank, the first on the scene of the tragedy was the USS Sculpin!)

USS LEARY (December 24, 1943)

As part of Task Group 21.41 the destroyer was on convoy duty escorting the American aircraft carrier USS Card in the North Atlantic. The Leary was torpedoed by the U-275, part of U-boat wolfpack 'Borkum'. The U-275 was equipped with GNAT acoustic torpedoes one of which struck the Leary on the starboard side, the torpedo exploding in the after engine room killing all the men on duty there.

Coming to a halt, the four stack destroyer wallowed helplessly with a 20 degree list. Then a huge internal explosion put paid to the ship and in a matter of seconds sank to the bottom taking with her 97 members of her crew of 149 and her captain, Cmdr. James Kayes. The sinking took place some 865 kilometres north north-east of Lagens Field, Azores. Survivors were rescued by the destroyer USS Schenck which later sank the U-boat with depth charges.

USS BROWNSON (December 26, 1943)

While escorting landing craft during the landings on Cape Gloucester in New Britain, the destroyer was hit by two 500-pound bombs from a Japanese dive bomber. The ship's entire upper structure was blown apart in a tremendous explosion and she started to list to starboard. Within minutes she settled rapidly, her back broken, and sank at 14:59 hrs, taking to the bottom 108 of her crew. Nearby destroyers, the USS Daly and the USS Lamson rescued 168 survivors from the water while depth charges from the Brownson exploded around them.

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All text researched and compiled by George Duncan. Website by Columbus.