Daily Event for September 2, 2014

The freighter Pionier was built at Bremer Vulkan in Bremen, Germany in 1933, she was 352' long with a beam of 44' and registered at 3,285 gross tons (later re-registered at 3,624 gross). The 5 cylinder diesel could produce 975 hp and drive the ship at a top speed of 15 knots. She was a refrigerated fruit carrier owned by Afrikanische Frucht Compagnie AG (L. Laeisz) of Hamburg. Mostly used to transport bananas from Cameroon to Germany until 1940 when she was taken up by the Nazi government.

On September 2, 1940 Pionier was sailing in a small convoy from Frederikshavn, Denmark bound for Norway. She was transporting about 800 men, some were German soldiers returning from a rest period along with members of Police Battalion 105 from Bremen. This battalion would later be involved in the deportation of Jews from Russia and Poland. They committed numerous atrocities, murdering hundreds of Jews and Russians. Their crimes included arranging the transportation of 60,000 Jews to Auschwitz.

About 350 of those on board would not reach their destination thanks to Lt. George D. A. Gregory, D.S.O., R.N. and his HMS Sturgeon N-73. A little before 2000 hrs. he fired two torpedoes at the convoy hitting Pionier with one of them. The ship burned and sank about twenty miles north of Skagen, Denmark, the survivors being picked up by the freighter Utlandshörn and the minesweepers M-1901, M-1907, M-1905 and M-1904. Two hundred and forty-five bodies were recovered and buried in Frederikshavn, three more, including the master Johann Staudacher are buried in Oslo and ninety-three men remained missing. The Germans immediately denied the loss of the ship, but later claimed the ship was lost due to a boiler explosion or maybe a mine. This was of course for propaganda purposes, but many Germans still believe this today.

The British could also play the propaganda game. The Admiralty released the story, including the name of the submarine and her skipper, to the press on Sept. 20th. Their claim was that Sturgeon had sunk a 10,000 ton transport. This is what Gregory had reported to the Admiralty, his inflated claim was not uncommon, but to inflate the claim by two and a half times may have been a bit over the top. By November Life Magazine picked up the story and added that 4,000 troops had perished along with guns and ammunition. While it has been difficult to determine exactly how many men were lost, the figure is nowhere near 4,000. Nevertheless this is the kind of news that the public loves to hear, and the press was only too happy to oblige.

At the time of the sinking Lt. Gregory had already been awarded the D.S.O. for action against the enemy, he was awarded a Bar for this patrol, in which he also reported to the Admiralty that he believed he had sunk a U-boat on Sept. 10th. This belief was not unfounded as he had fired a spread of torpedoes at U-43, but all missed the target.

HMS Sturgeon and Lt. Gregory both survived the war. Sturgeon was transferred to the Royal Netherlands Navy and ended her days at the scrappers yard in 1947. Lt. Gregory went on to command several other submarines and retired from the Royal Navy in 1966 as a Vice Admiral having been awarded the K.C.B., C.B., D.S.O. and Bar. Vice Admiral Gregory died in 1975.
© 2014 Michael W. Pocock

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