Daily Event for December 24

1944: Over 2,200 US soldiers from the 66th Infantry Division boarded the Belgium ship Leopoldville. They were to cross the English Channel landing in Cherbourg, France to fight in what would later be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Five miles from their destination a German U-boat, U-486, slammed a torpedo into the ship. Even though it would take over two hours for the Leopoldville to sink, a series of blunders and cowardice would cost the lives of seven hundred and sixty three of those men.

The Leopoldville was in service of the Admiralty and was under escort of the Royal Navy however, air cover was not provided. The threat of U-boats was well known and on this Christmas Eve would be well remembered.. by some.

After the torpedo struck it is said that the Belgium crew abandoned the ship leaving the soldiers on board. Taking lifeboats for themselves and leaving no instructions for the soldiers who were not familiar with how to launch boats.

The anchor had been lowered in an attempt to keep the ship from drifting off into a minefield located nearby. This was a great blunder because with the anchor deployed the tug that was dispatched could not tow the ship. Another problem was that the US personnel in Cherbourg were enjoying a day off  from the war and were difficult to round up, delaying rescue for an hour.

After all who could be rescued were they were ordered not to talk about the incident as it was an embarrassment to both the US and British Governments. The sinking was covered up for over fifty years. It was not until 1996 when the British Government declassified the documents regarding the tragedy that it became
widely known to the public.

There is now a memorial to the 763 US soldiers who died on the Leopoldville located in Ft. Benning, Georgia.

© 2005 Michael W. Pocock


SS Leopoldville