Daily Event for March 13

The SS John D. Gill was a tanker launched at Sun Shipbuilding in Chester, Pennsylvania on Nov. 15, 1941. She
was owned by Atlantic Refining Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her first encounter with the war was
on Feb. 27, 1942 during her maiden voyage. She picked up 25 of the 39 survivors from the ore carrier SS Marore off the North Carolina coast. Capt. Allan D. Tucker's second trip with the John D. Gill would be the last
for the ship.

On Mar. 11, 1942 while returning from Texas to Philadelphia the ship was ordered into port at Charleston,
South Carolina after aircraft spotted what they thought was an enemy submarine operating in the area. In the early afternoon of Mar. 12, after no further reports of the submarine were received, the Gill was allowed to continue on, unescorted to Philadelphia. At that time most merchant ships operating on the U.S. east coast did not receive an escort as the threat from U-boat attack was thought to be minimal.

While the Navy could not find the U-boat, Kapitänleutnant Erwin Rostin and his U-158 found the John D. Gill.
Rostin was on his second patrol with the U-158 and had left a path of destruction between Lorient and the
USA. The first ship was only damaged, but three others went to the bottom, one, the SS Finnanger went down
with her entire crew. The fourth ship encountered by Rostin was the SS Caribsea, which he torpedoed and sank on Mar. 11, 1942 only 90 miles northeast of where he would attack the Gill on the 12th.

A little before midnight on Mar. 12 the U-158 fired a single torpedo at the John D. Gill hitting her amidships
on the starboard side. The explosion ruptured one of the tanks allowing some of the over 140,000 barrels of
Texas crude oil to spill into the water, amazingly the oil did not ignite. The crew and the U.S. Navy Armed Guards jumped to their feet, the gunners heading to their 5" gun in the hope getting a shot at the German.

However before the gunners could reach their position someone had tossed a life ring into the water, this was equipped with a self-igniting carbide flare, which unfortunately worked flawlessly setting the oil filled sea aflame. Nobody on the John D. Gill ever saw the U-158 and the gunners could not get off a shot due to the smoke and flames.

With pandemonium breaking out on the ship the crew began lowering lifeboats, some of them caught fire and
one dropped into the water spilling two men into the sea where the ship's propeller was still turning, they were not able to get away from the suction and were killed. The gunners remained at their post until the flames neared the ammunition storage, but had no lifeboat to get into so had to jump into the burning sea, four of them would not survive. Ensign Robert B. Hutchins USN, was the commanding officer of the gun crew, in an interview
he said;

''There was a terrific blast and I ran from my room in an effort to join my gun crew. Everything was dark at
first and I ran along the cat walk over the tanks amidship when I suddenly ran into the mainmast, knocking
my glasses off and darn near putting myself out. "When I got to the gun we looked for the sub, but nothing
could be seen or heard. When the flames got on top of us we jumped over the side. I saw two of my boys
go into those flames, and heard them scream as they died."


Seeing the horror of his fellow crewmen in the burning sea, Quartermaster Edwin Edwin F. Cheney Jr. who had been at the helm, dropped a liferaft over the side and jumped into the water. He single handedly pulled the raft through the flames by swimming under the raft, surfacing only to breathe. He got it clear of the fire and began calling to those who were still alive, once they made it to the raft, he helped them in as many were seriously burned and did not have the strength left to help themselves. He did all this even though he himself was burned and exhausted.

After all this eleven men were on the raft, but they were not out of danger, the raft was drifting back toward
the burning ship. The men soon found out that the raft's oarlocks were missing and without them there was no way to use the oars effectively. The solution was to make oarlocks out of the crew, Cheney and others used their bodies by doubling over the oar and holding on to a board while others rowed the raft away from the ship. When they arrived at the hospital in Southport, South Carolina Cheney's abdomen was black from bruising caused by the oar being pulled against the sea.

As each tank on the ship was breached the John D. Gill suffered explosion after explosion finally sinking about 9 a.m. on Mar. 13, 1942 leaving twenty-six burned and injured men in one lifeboat and one raft, twenty-three men lost their lives in the ship.

Cheney and the other ten on the raft were picked up nine hours later by a Coast Guard cutter and landed at
Southport, while the other fifteen men were picked up by the SS Robert H. Colley, a sister ship to the Gill
owned by the same company and were landed at Charleston. This ship was also lost during the war.

Sixteen bodies were also recovered and taken to Southport, fifteen were taken away for burial, but one was
left behind. The body of Catalino Tingzon, a Philippino Mess Boy. Efforts were made to contact his family in the Philippines, but all efforts failed so members of the local population buried him in a local cemetery, today there is a memorial with his name dedicated to all the men who were lost in John D. Gill at the cemetery.

For his heroic actions Quartermaster Edwin Edwin F. Cheney Jr. was awarded the Merchant Marine
Distinguished Service Medal personally by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, this was the first such medal
awarded in World War 2.

His citation reads as follows:
“He released and launched a life-raft from a sinking and burning ship and maneuvered it through a pool of burning oil to clear water by swimming under water, coming up only to breathe. Although he had incurred severe burns about the face and arms in this action, he then guided four of his shipmates to the raft, and swam to and rescued two others who were injured and unable to help themselves.“

Rostin and the U-158 sank thirteen more ships before a U.S. Navy aircraft from VP-74 sank her on June 30,
1942, 600 miles east of where Gill went down, none of the fifty-four man crew survived.
© 2009 Michael W. Pocock
MaritimeQuest.com



Roll of Honor
In memory of those who lost their lives in
SS John D. Gill
"As long as we embrace them in our memory, their spirit will always be with us"

Name
Rate
Atherholt, William L.
Oiler
Avestruz, Felimon
Messman
Carreon, Benjamin
Messman
Cristobal, Federico C.
Galleyman
Demichael, Anthony
Ordinary Seaman
Eckman, Alan M. T.
Chief Mate
Flores, Sixto D.
Steward
Gaskins, Harry R.
3rd Engineer
Geier Jr., William J.
Deck Maintenance
Gurtov, Robert
Bosun
Hagerty, Joseph
3rd Mate
Jiminez, Henry A.
Fireman / Watertender
Kimball, Charles P.
2nd Mate
Koch, Curtis H.
Seaman 2nd Class
US Navy
Leffler, Jacob
Oiler
Lewis, Vincent H.
Pumpman
Lunn, David M.
Coxswain
US Navy
Oakley, Arthur E.
Seaman 2nd Class
US Navy
Rappaport, David W.
1st Engineer
Scasni, Paul
Deck Maintenance
Senter, Asa B.
Seaman 2nd Class
US Navy
Sitnick, Israel
2nd Engineer
Tingzon, Catalino
Mess Boy


The grave of Catalino Tingzon at the Northwood Cemetery, Southport, North Carolina.

(Photo courtesy of Mark Southerland)
© 2009 Mark Southerland all rights reserved

 

The memorial to Catalino Tingzon and the SS John D. Gill at Southport, North Carolina.

(Photo courtesy of Mark Southerland)
© 2009 Mark Southerland all rights reserved

 

The memorial to Catalino Tingzon and the SS John D. Gill at Southport, North Carolina.

(Photo courtesy of Mark Southerland)
© 2009 Mark Southerland all rights reserved

 



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