Daily Event for February 19, 2012

The cargo ship War Cape was laid down at Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Alameda, California in 1918, but before she was completed the Great War ended and the ships building for the U.K. were cancelled. War Cape became Triumph and was completed in January of 1919 for the U.S. Shipping Board. In 1929 she was lengthened to 456' and her steam engines were replaced with diesels. The ship was transferred to the U.S. Maritime Commission in New York in 1937 and in 1938 she was sold to National Bulk Carriers of New York who converted the ship into a tanker.

While at Texas City, Texas on Feb. 17, 1941 a fire broke out at the dock which spread to the ship, during the evacuation two crewmen lost their lives and fourteen others received various injuries. However the ship was repaired and returned to service. On February 19, 1942 she was off the coast of Florida heading to New York from Texas City carrying full tanks of oil and kerosene when she became the first victim for a German submarine commander.

U-128 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Ulrich Heyse was now in position off the U.S. east coast. Having been delayed for repairs in Lorient, his boat was late getting into position for Operation Drumbeat (Paukenschlag). The other boats of the original flotilla had been in position since mid January. He had grounded his boat in Norway earlier and badly damaged the hull, but managed to retain command, now he had to prove to Dönitz that he was an able officer.

Heyse and U-128 sighted the Pan Massachusetts about 20 miles off Cape Canaveral in the early afternoon and fired two torpedoes without warning, both hit amidships on the starboard side which started fires which soon engulfed the ship and the waters around her. Both of the lifeboats were destroyed by the flames and those on the burning ship had no choice but to jump into the burning sea.

Twenty men were lost in the Pan Massachusetts, the master, Robert Christy and seventeen men, some badly burned, got off the ship and out of the area of burning water, but had little hope of surviving in the cold water for long. However a British tanker, the Elizabeth Massey, was not far away and she put boats into the water and sent them to rescue those in the water, at the risk of being the next victim himself.

The boats picked up all of the survivors even going back to pick up one who had been overlooked earlier. The sea was rough and the boats were having trouble getting back to the tanker. Shortly after this tragic event occurred USCG Forward WAGL-160 arrived on the scene and took the boats in tow getting all to safety on the tanker. The Elizabeth Massey took the survivors to Jacksonville, Florida where several were hospitalized due to their injuries. Christy later commended the master and crew of the Elizabeth Massey for brave conduct.

It is unclear to me why Heyse did not attack the Elizabeth Massey, but he did not, and because his torpedoes were not fired the eighteen survivors were rescued. Heyse did sink over 80,000 tons of shipping during his career in U-128, and was awarded the Ritterkreuz in 1943. He survived the war, but his boat did not. U-128, on the only war patrol under another commander, was sunk in May 1943 by U.S. aircraft and destroyers, most of the crew survived the loss.
© 2012 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Honor
In memory of those who lost their lives in Pan Massachusetts
"As long as we embrace them in our memory, their spirit will always be with us"

Alpine, Craven E.
Able Seaman
Burns, Edward J.
Ordinary Seaman
Curry, Jack B.
Flynn, Patrick
Frady, Carlos M.
Able Seaman
Gilloegly, Harold M.
Ingram, Louis H.
Irons, Floyd R.
Jones, William S.
3rd Engineer
Mattson, Alfred M.
Able Seaman
McKern, James M.
2nd Engineer
Meyer, Arno E.
Meyers, Samuel
Olsen, Emil T.
Pedersen, Oivind L.
Chief Engineer
Pilicilda, Utique
Viglione, Albert P.
Warren, Virgil Y.
Ordinary Seaman
Weaver, Claude O.
Withee, Aubrey F.

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