A short life, but a spectacular end, that was the destiny of the Liberty ship Robert Rowan. She was built at
the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company in Wilmington, North Carolina and she was built fast. Laid down on
Mar. 3, 1943, launched Apr. 6, 1943 and delivered to the Isthmain Steamship Company seven days later on
Apr. 13, 1943. Her maiden voyage on May 14, 1943, took her from Hampton Roads, Virginia to Oran, Algeria
in convoy UGS-8A. Once in the European theatre her first assignment was to re-supply Patton's 7th Army
during the invasion of Sicily, Operation Husky.
She arrived at Gela, Sicily on July 11, 1943 with holds full of ammunition and decks full of soldiers, three
hundred and thirty-four men of the 18th Infantry, fourteen U.S. Navy personnel, thirty-two U.S. Navy armed
guards and forty-one crewmen, four hundred and twenty-one men in all.
Just before 14:00 German Ju-88 bombers appeared overhead and attacked the ships in the bay. During the
attack the Rowan was hit by three 1,000 bombs, one passed through the ship, but the other two exploded in the holds. Because of the nature of the cargo the ship was abandoned without any attempt to put the fire out. All of the four hundred and twenty-one men on the ship got off alive and were picked up by PT boats and transferred to nearby destroyers. Twenty minuets later the fire reached her munitions and there was a tremendous explosion, tearing the ship in half. The burning ship came to rest on an even keel and burned for two days.
One of the destroyers, the USS McLanahan DD-615 attempted to sink the ship because the fires were lighting
the area at night giving the Germans a good view of all activity, but this failed as the water was too shallow.
The rotting hulk laid in the waters off Gela until 1948 when it was finally sold to Italy and scrapped.
© 2008 Michael W. Pocock
The explosion of SS Robert Rowan.
2007 Daily Event