American


 Introduction


This was the second vessel to be named American in American-Hawaiian’s fleet. Her original name was the Santa Barbara. She was a single-screw, steel freighter launched in January of 1916 by William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia, PA for the W.R. Grace & Co., 1 Hanover Square, New York City.

Santa Barbara Specifications:
Hull Number: 427 Deckhouse: Back 84’, front 32’
Official Number: 348 Tons (Net/Gross): 4,008/6,621
Signal Letters: LFRN Engine: 4 Cylinder, Quadruple Expansion
Construction: Steel, 3 Decks, Oil Fuel Cylinder Diameters: 25.5, 37, 52.5, & 76
6 Watertight Bulkheads Cylinder Stroke: 54
Web Frames: Longitudinal framing 3 Single-end Scotch Boilers
Rig: Screw Steamer Working Pressure: 223lbs.
Length: 404.6’ Indicated Horse Power: 3500
Breadth: 53.9’ Class: British Lloyds
Depth: 26.2’

Pre-Emergency Fleet Corporation, she was already complete prior to World War I and according to U.S. Shipping Board records, she was requisitioned on October 24th, 1917.


According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, she was ordered to be taken over by the Navy on February 1st, 1918 from the Atlantic & Pacific Steamship Co. of New York, a Grace subsidiary. She was commissioned on April 15th, 1918 at New York as USS Santa Barbara (ID # 4522), Lt. Commander J. Williamson (USNRF) in command. Her complement with Navy gunners was 106men. She was armed with one 5” and one 6 pounder.

Assigned to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service (NOTS) during World War I, Santa Barbara made three round-trip voyages to European ports before, and one after the signing of the Armistice on November 11th, 1918. Sailing each time from New York, she carried up to 7,854 tons of general cargo on a single trip, unloading at Marseilles, Quiberon, St. Nazaire, and Verdun, France. Santa Barbara was detached
from NOTS on February 19th, 1919 and assigned to the Cruiser and Transport Force, Atlantic Fleet.

Santa Barbara underwent dry-docking and overhaul as a troop transport before resuming her transatlantic crossings. Departing New York on March 30th, 1919, she commenced the first of four round-trip missions to Bordeaux and St. Nazaire returning thousands of Army veterans.


Arriving at Philadelphia on July 23rd, 1919, Santa Barbara was detached from the Cruiser and Transport Force the following day. Santa Barbara was simultaneously decommissioned and returned to Atlantic and Pacific Steamship Company (a W.R. Grace subsidiary) on August 6th, 1919 at William Cramp and Sons yard, Philadelphia, PA.


I was able to identify a handful of voyages she took from West Coast ports to Central and South America and back prior to and after the war:


Departure Date Port of Departure Port of Arrival Master
06/21/16 Trinidad, BWI New York, NY W.J. Crossley
05/31/21 New York, NY West Coast Ports
of So. America
A. Brown
06/28/23 San Francisco, CA New York, NY Unknown
08/25/23 San Francisco, CA New York, NY Waldemar F. Mygind

Unfortunately, the Cartographic Section of the National Archives does not have the plans for the Santa Barbara in their holdings. I was, however, able to locate an original set of her blue prints among the William Cramp and Sons holdings of the Stephen B. Luce Library in what they refer to as ‘The Seward Collection (Herbert Lee Seward Papers)’. According to the library; “There are two blueprints in the file. The first is in a booklet titled ‘The W.M. Cramp & Sons Ship and Engine Building Co. Philadelphia, PA, Construction Department.’ This blueprint shows the side and rear views of the ship. The second set of blue prints show the outboard profile, forecastle deck, boat deck, navigating bridge, shelter deck and upper deck. There is also general engine data and what appears to be a cross section of the ship showing each deck with measurements”. Unfortunately, the prints are extremely fragile and the library does not currently have the capability to reproduce them.

According to ‘The Ships List’, as Santa Barbara was being built, W.R. Grace & Co. acquired a controlling interest in the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, considered a premier west coast and Transpacific operator. This set into motion a series of changes that after the war would first see Santa Barbara fill an important role in the fleet, only to be obsoleted just a few short years later.

In 1921 the U.S. Shipping Board allocated five ‘President Class’ ships for Transpacific operation by Pacific Mail Line. These vessels were combination passenger/freight steamers. This resulted in Grace repositioning Santa Barbara and several other ships from North-South American to North American inter-coastal service. This connected them to the President ships in San Francisco, thus allowing Grace to provided fast freight service from Atlantic ports all the way to the Far East.

In addition to Santa Barbara, Grace utilized Santa Clara, Santa Malta, Santa Olivia, Santa Paula and Santa Rosa for this purpose. As you can see, Grace had a standardized naming convention like American-Hawaiian and many other lines, and most names started with “Santa” in their case.


In 1923, however, the U.S. Shipping Board invited bids for the sale of the President ships operated by Pacific Mail. The government had owned these vessels since the war and were trying to sell off the assets. The Dollar Line outbid Grace and was awarded the vessels for $5,625,000 cash, which also resulted in Grace loosing it’s control over Pacific Mail, which in turn sold its registered name and goodwill to Dollar. It was a stunning success for the Dollar Line which would dominate the Trans-Pacific routes until the depression hit.
As regular visitors to the site might recall, Dollar played a significant role in Arkansan's history as well, which you can read about on the 'Arkansan Info' page.

W.R. Grace, now without ships suitable for the Trans-Pacific trade, and therefore no Trans-Pacific connecting service, had no further use for the six inter-coastal freighters and sold them off to American-Hawaiian Steamship, Co. in 1925.


Santa Barbara was renamed American after the sale. As regular visitors to the site might recall from the Honolulan addition, this vessel replaced the original American from the fleet. In addition, Santa Clara became Columbian, Santa Malta became Hawaiian, Santa Olivia became Kansan, Santa Paula became Montanan and finally Santa Rosa became Oregonian. All these vessels were built by the Cramp yards and although not all technically of the same design, bear a strong resemblance to each other. The latter two would also be lost in the war.


Master Robert M. Pierce took command of American from about 1934 or 1935 until the time of her loss. During that time American was engaged in American-Hawaiian’s typical inter-coastal trade, transitioning from their ‘North Atlantic Service’ (New York, Philly, Boston) to their ‘South Atlantic Service’ (Baltimore, Norfolk, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Puerto Rico) later in the decade and into the 1940’s.


To date I can find no evidence that she was pressed into service in the early 1940’s making trans-Atlantic runs to Africa, India or the Persian Gulf like so many other American-Hawaiian vessels. She was on her way home from Santos, Brazil at the time of her loss, but it remains unclear at this point whether she was working just between North and South America, or had crossed the Atlantic.


 The Attack


The unarmed, unescorted American was on her return leg from Santos, Brazil to New Orleans, Louisiana under the command of 41-year-old Master Robert M. Pierce.
It was a lovely June morning in the western Caribbean, not a cloud in the sky with a moderate breeze and only a slight swell. Visibility was very good, at over ten nautical miles.

Her cargo was 6500 tons of Manganese ore, coffee, gunny sacks, jute and oil. All appear to be products of Brazil, although Manganese and jute were often transported from India as well.


Despite the incredibly heavy U-Boat activity in the Caribbean during the spring and early summer of 1942, she managed to transit the majority of the Caribbean unscathed. She had no ports of call in the western Caribbean, so perhaps the U-Boat activity forced her to abandon the more direct Windward or Mona Passages and make for the Yucatan Channel. They were North of British Honduras about 250 miles Southeast of Cancun, so still about 24 hours from
the Gulf of Mexico.

Unfortunately, they had entered the patrol area of the large Type IXC U-Boat, the U-504 commanded by 37-year-old ace Fritz Poske. Poske and his crew were over half-way through their third war patrol and were running low on torpedoes, having already sunk four vessels. The most recent being the 4,282 ton Dutch passenger steamer Crijnssen just the night before.
They had fired a four torpedo fan shot at her at dusk, two of which hit. They missed with their first coup de grace from tube V, but finished her off with a second coup de grace from tube IV after dark. Poske noted her location as grid EB1140, the center of which is at 18°9.00 N, 84°33.00 W, but allied sources put her location at 18.14N, 82.11W, closer to EB1362 or about 160 miles to the East.

The following morning at 5:00am Poske noted they had traveled 133 nautical miles surfaced and 10.2 submerged in the past 24 hours. A half hour later they took a sighting and adjusted their position. At 7.27am they had to crash dive when a flight of three airplanes were sighted, most likely looking for the Crijnssen's survivors and the U-504. They stayed down for about an hour, resurfacing at 8:38am.

Less than a hour later, at 9:30am local time the morning of June 11th, U-504’s lookouts spotted a wisp of smoke in position 110 degrees, about 14 nautical miles away. They maneuvered ahead just out of sight on American’s course and estimated her speed at 11 knots. They determined she was zig-zagging about 30° around a general course of 300°.


At 9:52am they submerged for their attack run. They only had two torpedoes loaded; a G7a compressed air model in the bow and a G7e electric model in the stern torpedo room. Logically, they turned off to position themselves for a stern shot at 10:50am. The G7e left no bubble trail and therefore was much less visible during the day.


When it came time to fire, American skipped a zag, which threw Poske's firing solution off and forced him to
quickly come about and switch to the bow torpedo room. At 11:01am he fired the G7a set for 40 knots from Tube III at a distance of over 2000 meters (about 1-1/4 miles). They had aimed for the middle of American, however, after a run time of 129 seconds the torpedo slammed into the after peak tank (near stern) on the starboard side, about five feet below the waterline. This demolished the rudder and propeller and caused an explosive column about 40 meters (130 feet) high.

Tragically, the explosion also caused the steering engine to blow up through the after house where many of the crew were quartered. Three men were killed in the explosion, and another five were trapped in the wreckage.


Looking through the attack periscope, Poske misinterpreted this as a fake structure blowing off, exposing a hidden gun position, which he noted in his war diary. The remaining crew of eight officers and 30 men immediately lowered the #1 and #3 lifeboats (port side) and abandoned ship.


Chief Mate George B. Allen formed a rescue party which, while the ship was sinking, went aft into the wreckage of the crew's quarters below the main deck and carried out five injured men trapped in the wreckage. When they finally reached the deck they launched the #4 lifeboat.


At 11:09am U-504, still submerged, approached at 230° to be ready for the coup de grace.


Arthur Moore’s ‘A careless word…A NEEDLESS SINKING’ notes that “The second torpedo struck the starboard side at the mainmast in the #4 hold. Eleven minutes later a third torpedo hit the fire room on the starboard side and caused the boiler to explode.” However, both the German’s war diary and the torpedo reports clearly indicate only two torpedoes in total were fired.


Poske fired his coup de grace, the G7e, at 11:25am from tube VI at a distance of 400 meters (about 437 yards). This shot hit just forward of the Bridge after 47 seconds, and the vessel quickly began to settle.


Finally, at 11:29am U-504 surfaced. They noticed from a distance that the life boats were labeled “American – New York”, but decided not to approach the survivors for questioning. Poske was certain the crew had succeeded in getting an SOS off, and decided not to risk getting caught on the surface by allied aircraft. He also suspected the vessel was armed based on his misinterpretation of the steering gear incident. This also differs from Moore’s account, which stated “The radio antenna crashed on the deck and water crippled the generators, preventing the radio operator from sending distress signals.


As Poske departed about eight minutes after the last hit, he observed the American roll to starboard, then sink by the stern. The whole episode took about 30 minutes from start to finish.

Afterwards, U-504 headed east, further into the Caribbean. They had to crash dive for another aircraft spotting at 5:01pm, but only stayed down for a half hour. At 7:40pm they began the transfer their remaining two external G7a torpedoes under the cover of darkness, which they completed at 10:50pm. At 11:32pm Poske sent a radio transmission home noting the success of American, as well as reporting heavy shipping traffic, moderate air cover, "tradewind" weather and that he was down to two torpedoes and 107 cubic meters of fuel.

These last two torpedoes would be used on the Latvian steamer Regent two nights later. According to uboat.net; "The U-boat surfaced immediately afterwards to attack another unescorted ship sighted during the hunt with the deck gun, but the American steam tanker Victory Sword had witnessed the sinking, turned away at full speed and sent wireless messages. Poske decided not to attack and left because he was out of torpedoes and the enemy aircraft alerted of his presence in the area."
Poske never seemed to have much interaction with the survivors. In fact, of the sixteen vessels he sank, only the men from the last two on his next patrol appear to have been questioned.

It is also interesting to note that Poske consistently used grid coordinates ending in a “0” on his KTB (war diary). The German grid system was based on blocks of 9 (3 by 3), and therefore technically couldn't end in zero. I had never seen these on a KTB before, but one expert told me that CO's sometimes did this when the boat was in open waters and the position didn’t really need to be so accurate. In this case, however, U-504 was in its designated patrol area and he even used the less accurate grid location on his detailed torpedo reports. Poske was deliberately being less accurate for some reason, which for now remains a mystery. Especially odd considering his strong navigational background. Why this is important is that even if Poske had used the finest detail of a coordinate available, it would still be an area of 36 square nautical miles (6 x 6). By using the "0" instead of "1-9" the area increases to 324 square nautical miles. Pretty substantial. I ended up showing the entire grid area for EB1140 (EB1141 through EB1149) in the map below for American's position.
You can zoom in and explore the detailed grid and the allied positions.

SS American 1942




 Rescue and Repatriation


Six hours later all survivors were picked up by the British steam merchant Kent about 20 miles west of the sinking and were landed at Cristobal, Canal Zone on June 14th. One of the survivors died on the Kent.


Casualties included:

Brion, Jose – Fireman from Coruna, Spain – age 39
Campbell, James Paul – Fireman from Aliquippa, PA – age 55
Lane, Edward Eugene – A.B. from Philadelphia, PA – age 27
Marcinkevic, Joe (Joseph) – O.S. from Cleveland OH – age 25


Unfortunately, to date I have not been able to locate a complete crew list for the American at the time of her loss. Other than the four casualties listed above, Chief Mate Allen and Master Pierce, the 32 other survivors remain a mystery for now.


I searched the passenger lists on Ancestry.com for vessels entering New Orleans for June, July, and even August, but Allen and Pierce were not listed, nor were any of the passengers identified as survivors of the American. I was even able to locate the survivors from Crijnssen and Regent (the ships sunk by U-504 before and after American) and determined how and when they were brought to New Orleans (Mexicana Airlines June 29th and SS Atlantida June 27th respectively), but not the American’s.

There were many survivors from sinkings all over the Caribbean being brought to New Orleans at this time, including from the Arkansan. It is possible the records are simply incomplete, or perhaps the survivors were flown back to another location in the States, such as Texas or California.
Perhaps one day the family member of an unknown survivor will find this site and make contact, like the break-through I had on the Arkansan.

Chief Mate George B. Allen was presented the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal for heroism above and beyond the call of duty. The citation read; “His extraordinary courage and disregard of his own safety in thus rescuing members of his crew will be an enduring inspiration to seamen of the United States Merchant Marine everywhere. Allen was a resident of Oakland CA. I attempted to find more information on Allen as well, but ran out of leads. Hopefully one day I'll be able to tell his story, as well as that of the rescue party in more detail.

 Robert M. Pierce



Robert Monteith Pierce was born June 6th, 1901 in Rockport, Massachusetts.

As with so many other American-Hawaiian officers of this era, he attended the Massachusetts Nautical School. He entered the School on October 14th, 1920 and graduated in September of 1922 at the age of 21. He was six months ahead of Arkansan’s Paul Jones, and would have been an upperclassman on the same summer cruises of 1921 and 1922 I detailed on Jones’ section of the ArkansanAftermath’ page.

Like Jones, Pierce was at the top of his class and had a grade point average of 4.03. He served as one of eight Deck Petty Officers for the Winter Term of 1921-1922 and was Cadet Third Officer for Navigation for the Summer Term of 1922. He received a grade of 85%, or over and was entitled to wear gold star on his coat collar.


He appears to have been hired right out of school by American-Hawaiian, his first assignment being Quartermaster on the Pennsylvanian, under Master Augustus L. Hersey.


Unfortunately, the National Maritime Center had no detailed information on his sailings other than noting he was a survivor on the American. Below is a list of sailings I found for him on Ancestry.com:

Arrival Date Vessel Position Port of Departure Port of Arrival Master
01/26/23 Pennsylvanian Q.M. Boston, MA N/A Augustus L. Hersey
1927 Ohioan 3rd Mate N/A N/A N/A
01/25/29 Golden Sun 1st Mate Hong Kong, China San Francisco, CA William F.M. Scorah
10/27/30 Golden Hind 1st Mate Shang Hai, China San Francisco, CA Murvin E. Shigley
03/14/31 Golden Tide Chief Mate Hong Kong, China San Francisco, CA John Knowles
09/16/33 Golden Tide Master Hong Kong, China San Francisco, CA
08/25/35 American Master Balboa, Canal Zone San Francisco, CA
07/20/36 American Master San Francisco, CA New York, NY
09/09/37 American Master Los Angeles, CA New York, NY
03/20/38 American Master New York, NY San Francisco, CA
02/24/43 John Steele Master Brisbane, Australia New York, NY
05/08/43 John Steele Master Algiers, Algeria New York, NY
02/07/44 Marine Eagle Master Liverpool, England New York, NY
11/10/44 Mandarin Master Guadalcanal San Francisco, CA
04/29/47 South Bend Victory Master Karlshrona, Sweden New York, NY
06/27/49 John M Schofield Master Yokohama, Japan Portland, OR
10/11/49 John M Schofield Master Moji, Japan Seattle, WA
11/28/49 John M Schofield Master Honshu, Japan Honolulu, HI
06/24/50 Carolinian Master Tanjou Oeban, Indonesia Honolulu, HI
10/27/51 Hannibal Victory Master Yokohama, Japan Portland, OR
1952 Ocala Victory Master N/A N/A

Like many other A-H officers of this era he also spent several years in trans-Pacific service with A-H subsidiary Oceanic and Oriental. He appears to have remained an American-Hawaiian man nearly all of his career or at least until the company failed. John Steele, Marine Eagle and Mandarin all served in A-H service during the war.

Post war, South Bend Victory was transferred from Waterman SS Co. to American-Hawaiian briefly in 1947, then on to Sword Line, Inc. and many others after that. John M Schofield also had a brief stay in A-H service in 1949, as well as Hannibal Victory in 1951/52, and finally Ocala Victory in 1952.


The records cease after that, so it is assumed he retired when American-Hawaiian folded in the mid-50’s, or perhaps just before. He would have had 30 years of service as a Merchant Marine officer at that point, so retirement would make sense.


His records identify a few personal characteristics. He was quite tall, just under 6 feet, around 180 lbs. with hazel eyes, light hair and a light complexion. He had tattoos on both arms, including his initials “RP” on his left forearm.


Pierce and his wife Frances resettled in California at some point earlier in his career, and he passed away in Westminster, CA in 1993 at the age of 92.

 U-504 and Fritz Poske


Hans-Georg Friedrich (aka; Fritz) Poske was born on October 23rd, 1904 in Berlin-Schöneberg, Germany. He was a ‘Top 50’ U-Boat Commander (No. 42 to be exact), and as such, is fairly well documented by a number of different sources as far as his WWII career is concerned. I’ll try to broaden that career info here.


He began his naval career in the pre-Nazi, Weimar Republic era joining
the Reichsmarine in April 1923, "Crew 23", at the age of 18. The remainder of 1923 was spent as an officer candidate training on various vessels, such as the battleship Braunschweig and the light cruiser Hamburg. He also spent some time with the II Torpedoboat Flotilla.

In the spring of 1924 he was a cadet on the sailing school ship Niobe (see this German language page for more photos) The remainder of the year was spent on the light cruiser Berlin.




After two years of basic seamanship training he reached the rank of Midshipman in April of 1925 and spent the next year at Marineschule (German Naval Academy) in Flensburg-Mürwik. During this time he had some practical navigation training on the tender Nordsee and the gunboat Panther. In March and May of 1926 he attended the torpedo course for midshipmen at the Torpedo and Communication School (Torpedo- und Nachrichtenschule) at Flensburg-Mürwik. The remainder of 1926 was spent in various other specialized schools, including infantry and artillery training.


From the beginning of 1927 through 1929 he served with the II Schiffsstammdivision der Nordsee, in Wilhelmshaven as a Watch Officer in Training. This included some time aboard the old battleship Schleswig- Holstein and the tender M134, as well as another stint at the Torpedo and Communication School as a Torpedo Officer. He was promoted to Oberleutnant zur See (Lieutenant-Senior) on July 1st, 1929.


On September 24th, 1930 he transferred to the 4th Torpedobootshalbflottille, and served as Second Watch Officer & Adjutant on the torpedoboat Albatros. Two years later Hitler became chancellor of Germany. From May of 1933 to April of 1935 he served in various units, first as Commander of the tender Nordsee, then the torpedoboat T155, with additional artillery and torpedo training courses. He was promoted to Kapitanleutnant (Lieutenant-Commander) on April 20th, 1935.


On September 27th, 1935 he was assigned once again to the Schleswig- Holstein, this time as Watch Officer and Torpedo officer. This lasted about a year, and then the next 3 ½ years were spent in a variety of assignments and schools:


07/16/1936 II. Marineunteroffizierslehrabteilung, Kompanieführer
02/11/1937 Luftschutzlehrgang in Berlin
04/11/1937 Inspektion des Bildungswesens der Marine, Kiel, Referent
04/02/1938 Wehrpsychologischer Fortbildungslehrgang in Berlin
05/07/1938 Torpedoschule, Torpedo-Erganzungslehrgang
01/28/1939 Marineschule Mürwik, Navigations Widerholungs und Erganzungslehrgang

During this time they also caught up on his Dienstauszeichnung (Long Service Award) 4th and 3rd Class (4 years and 12 years respectively), apparently both awarded on October 2nd, 1936.

On March 16th, 1939 he was promoted to Korvettenkapitan (Commander). Starting in April 1939 he served as Navigation Officer in training on the old pre-Dreadnought Schlesien (a veteran of the Battle of Jutland), which was used primarily for training at that time. It was during this time (September) that Germany invaded Poland, igniting the war in Europe.

Poske saw his first action when Schlesien took part in the bombardment of Polish defenders on the Hel peninsula on the north coast of Poland from September 25th to the 27th of 1939. On October 10th, 1939 he was awarded his Iron Cross, 2nd Class for his service on the Schlesien.


In December 1939 he left to become Navigation Officer on the light cruiser Nürnberg, which was subsequently damaged by a torpedo fired from the British submarine HMS Salmon while escorting several destroyers home from a mining operation. Coincidentally, Salmon also hit the light cruiser Leipzig during the same attack, which U-126’s Schweichel was serving on.


Both ships made it back to port, but Nürnberg would spend the next five months in dry dock having repairs made. Before repairs were completed, Poske was apparently transferred to
the light cruiser Königsberg in April 1940 as Navigation Officer. During this time Königsberg took part in Operation "Weserübung", the invasion of Denmark and Norway.

From then until June of 1940, Poske appears to have had a shore Naval Staff position in Norway. After Norway, Poske received his first command, the fleet tender (aka aviso) Grille. The Grille was used for mine laying for the most part during this period, but is best known as Hitler’s part time state yacht.


In October of 1940 he switched over to the U-Boat force and was in training until March of 1941. Upon completion he went on to Commanders School with the 24th Flotilla at Memel, followed by the 3rd Flotilla in Kiel. In May 1941 he began what is known as the Baubelehrung phase, which is the final stage of construction of a U-Boat after launching. This allowed the new Commander and future crew members to get familiar with the technical details, equipment etc. of their new vessel.


They selected a crocodile for their emblem, with the motto "Dickes Fell…Grosse Schnauze…" (Thick skin…Large snout…). This appears to have been selected prior to commissioning according to the KTB.
The emblem was described as having a green crocodile, blue waves and a red ring.

Their new Type IXC boat U-504 was commissioned on July 30th, 1941. The boat had been ordered on September 25th, 1939, laid down on April 29th, 1940, and launched about a year later on April 24th, 1941. She was built at the Deutsche Werft AG shipyard in Hamburg, Germany.


According to uboat.net: “Poske was apparently one of the few commanders who took over a combat boat without any prior U-boat experience as a Watch Officer or Commander-in-Training”. This was likely because he was already an established naval Officer and commander and had already reached the rank of Korvettenkapitän (Commander) at this stage of his navy career. Most new U-Boat commanders were one or two ranks below, such as Oberleutnant zur See (Lieutenant-Senior) or Kapitänleutnant (Lieutenant-Commander). He had also already earned his Iron Cross 2nd Class by this time and had seen action in the Polish and Norwegian campaigns, as well as in the North Sea.


The remainder of 1941 was spent training with his new boat and crew with the 4th Flotilla (Training) based in Stettin, Germany. They finally departed Kiel on January 6th, 1942 and successfully made the voyage North around the U.K. and to their new operational base, L’Orient in occupied France. They arrived January 20th, where they officially joined the 2nd Flotilla as a front boat.


Their second patrol followed just behind the initial Operation Paukenschlag attacks on the U.S. East Coast, and they departed L’Orient on January 25th to patrol off the coast of Florida. The patrol was very successful and they sank three tankers and a British merchant ship with war supplies for a total of 29,725 tons. Unfortunately, the loss of life was extremely high due to the cargoes being carried. They returned to L’Orient on April
1st, 1942. This patrol earned Poske his Ubootkriegsabzeichen 1939 (U-boat War Badge) and Eisernes Kreuz I. Klasse (Iron Cross 1st Class). His Flottenkriegsabzeichen (High Seas Fleet Badge) was awarded a few months later on the anniversary of the Polish campaign, for his service on the Schlesien.


After a month, U-504 left L’Orient on May 2nd for her third war patrol, this time to the Caribbean, where fate would result in her rendezvous with the American.


By the evening of May 26th/27th U-504 had entered the Caribbean proper through the Windward Passage (between Cuba and Haiti).


U-504 was assigned to relieve U-125, who had started her return passage on May 18th. U-125 had been operating in the Yucatan Channel for several weeks, and U-504 was likely informed of U-125’s reports from the area. On May 13th U-125 reported “From May 4th through 9th very heavy tanker and freighter traffic through the Yucatan Channel in both directions. Nothing has been seen since May 10th. Boat suspects traffic has been diverted. Requests freedom of action in area Cuba-Jamaica.” Then on May 18th: “Since May 17th again heavy traffic in the Yucatan Straits in both directions. Little sea and air patrol. On the East coast of Yucatan medium small coastal steamer traffic. Sunk: May 15th DM 8727 "Cayuga" (2,196 BRT), course 700. 18.5 DM 9633 loaded tanker of 9,000 BRT, course 1350. 18.5 DM 7466 "William J. Salman" (2,618 BRT), course 1350. Total: 9 steamers totaling 44,993 BRT. Starting return passage.” Post-war assessments would push the total to 47,055 tons, and it would be U-125’s most successful patrol.


Poske’s first success on the patrol would be the British merchant Allister, 54 miles south of Grand Cayman on May 29th. On May 31st U-504 reported the success along with: “Sighted: May 20th DD 6540 fast freighter 3400. May 26th DN 7960 freighter with strong air escort, 1200. May 31st DL 6825 convoy, 2 funneled passenger steamer, 2 freighters, 3 destroyers, course 3200, 18 knots. Sunk: May 29th EB 2120 "Allister" 1,597 BRT, 2700. Intention: To operate against traffic Yucatan-Tampico. Orders: To operate against Yucatan-New Orleans traffic, if moon is favorable off the mouth of the Mississippi.


On June 8th Poske reported: “Heavy single-ship traffic from DL 91 to EB 14, no sea patrol, isolated air patrol. Sunk: June 8th passenger freighter EA 3320, 8,000 BRT, 1400, DL 9980 freighter, 3,000 BRT, course 3300.” These were the Honduran merchant Tela and the British merchant Rosenborg respectively.

On the evening of June 10th Poske sank the Dutch passenger ship Crijnssen, which he misidentified as Vandyck, and over-estimated her tonnage as 13,000 BRT. The following morning they sank American, which I detail above.


U-504 reported on June 14th: “Sunk: freighter 4,500 BRT in EB 1420, 1500. Traffic has started again in DL 9950 to EB 1450. Sighted: 1 freighter, 1 fast freighter, no air activity. On return passage.” This last victim was the Latvian merchant Regent, which Poske used his last two torpedoes on. They returned to L’Orient on July 7th, 1942.


After more than a month back in port, they headed out on August 19th for their fourth patrol. This time they headed South for the first major U-boat offensive off Cape Town, South Africa, which I detail on the Coloradan page. It would be Poske’s most successful patrol yet, sinking five vessels for a total of 28,980 tons and another vessel damaged for 7,176 tons, which was later considered a total loss.



This patrol would earn Poske his Knights Cross on November 6th, 1942 (before they even returned to port) and a ticket off the boat to help train new U-Boat commanders. They returned to L’Orient on December 11th, 1942.


From a relatively compact period of time of just less than 1 year (January 6th to December 11th, or 340 days), of which 264 were spent at sea, U-504 under Poske’s command had sunk sixteen vessels totaling 85,299 tons.


In January he left the boat and became the commander of the 1st ULD (1. Unterseeboots- Lehrdivision) as a Fregattenkapitän (Captain-Junior Grade), where he would use his experience to train new U-Boat men, followed by a promotion to Kapitan zur See (Full Captain) just eight short months later.

The last desperate months of the war he was Chief of the Special Staff for Marine Infantry. On September 1st, 1944 he was awarded the Kriegsverdienstkreuz II. Klasse mit Schwertern (War Merit Cross 2nd Class with Swords), followed by the Kriegsverdienstkreuz I. Klasse mit Schwertern (War Merit Cross 1st Class with Swords) on January 30th, 1945.

Poske was one of the lucky few U-Boat men to survive the war and after his surrender (May 8th, 1945) he spent ten months in British captivity in Belgium. The POW camps in Britain, Canada and America were decent but these camps in Belgium were known to be quite hellish. The Allies were overwhelmed with not only POW’s from the western front, but millions that tried to escape the eastern front as well. Adequate food, shelter and clothing were in short supply. After release on March 5th, 1946 he returned to Germany, and like most ex-U-Boat officers, worked a series of odd jobs to survive, such as handyman, boatman, warehouse worker and a clerk before he and his wife were able to build a coffee mail order business in Bremen.


In 1951 he was asked to help develop the post-war German Coast Guard known as the Seegrenzschutz, and then went on to join the post-war German Federal Navy (Bundesmarine) when it was founded in 1956. He eventually retired on March 31st, 1963 as Kapitän zur See (Full Captain) at which time he was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz I. Klasse (Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany 1st Class). After retirement he became involved in local politics and was a member of the council in Wachtberg until 1979.                                                                                                                                        
In 1982 he would publish a book about the Seegrenzschutz, titled: Der Seegrenzschutz 1951–1956. Erinnerung – Bericht – Dokumentation , Koblenz/Bonn. ISBN 3-7637-5410-5. Unfortunately it appears this book was never translated into English.

Hans-Georg Friedrich Poske past away October 1st, 1984 in Wachtberg - Niederbachem near Bad Godesberg, Germany at the age of 79.


Poske’s replacement was not so lucky. 27-year-old Wilhelm Luis was lost along with his entire crew (53) on July 30th, 1943 just 4 days into their third patrol. This occurred in the North Atlantic north-west of Cape Ortegal, Spain, in position 45.33N, 10.56W, during a coordinated depth charge attack by the British Sloops HMS Kite, HMS Woodpecker, HMS Wren and HMS Wild Goose. Luis had no known successes to his credit.


 Sources


Åkerberg, Dani for his help with the U-504 Wappen through the ubootwaffe.net forum and his own site at www.u-historia.com.

Almeida, Fernando for detailed career information on Poske.


Ancestry.com for biographical information on Pierce.


Boone, Dave - (tugboatpainter.net) artist who provided the photo of American from his private collection from the 1930's originally taken by Francis Palmer.


Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archives) for photos of U-504 and various other vessels in Poske's career.

Dörr, Manfred for his book "Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht Ubootwaffe band 2" for additional career information on Poske.

Freetranslation.com for help with initial German to English KTB & Torpedo Report translations.


Library of Contemporary History in Stuttgart, Germany for U-504/American Torpedo Reports.


Luce, Stephen B. Library for information on Santa Barbara plans.

Mason, Jerry and Charla for U-504 KTB excerpts, BdU KTB's, technical/glossary information from their uboatarchive.net site, and assistance with translations.


Moore, Capt. Arthur R. for "A careless word...A NEEDLESS SINKING". Eighth Printing - 2006. Published and distributed by the Dennis A. Roland Chapter of the American Merchant Marine Veterans, Midland Park, NJ. Printed by Reed Hann, Williamsport, PA. for sinking details on the American.


National Archives for numerous pieces of documentation relating to this story:


NavSource, Naval History and Heritage Command for images and data on US Navy ships via: http://www.navsource.org/.


Scholefield, R.A., (Photographer C.M.A.) with the Air-Britain Photographic Images Collection.

The Ships List at www.theshipslist.com for information on the Grace Line (W. R. Grace & Co.), New York 1882-1969 and the Dollar Steamship Company / Dollar Line.

U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center, 100 Forbes Drive, Martinsburg, WV 25404 for Merchant Marine career information on Robert M. Pierce.


U.S. Merchant Marine Organization (usmm.org) for information on George B. Allen.


Uboat.net for information on Poske, U-504, their victims, and for information on other U-boats.


Ubootwaffe.net site and forum for information on U-504 and her crew.
Unfortunately, in January 2013, the site's creator and editor, Howard Cock, decided to indefinitely suspend the ubootwaffe.net website for personal reasons, so I have disabled the hyperlink.

Wikipedia free on-line encyclopedia for summaries on miscellaneous topics related to this story.