The Cape San Juan was not a purpose
built troop ship or even a converted passenger liner, but a conversion of a ‘small’
dry cargo freighter known as a type C1-B. According to the US Merchant Marine
site; “The C1 types were the smallest of the 3 original types designed by the
United States Maritime Commission and were intended to be used on routes that
did not call for fast ships. 173 were built between 1940 and 1945.” Below is an example of a standard C1-B, the Cape Johnson before her conversion.
Even so, compared to Liberty and
Victory ships they were generally better built, more versatile and more modern
with a steam turbine propulsion system. The general specifications of the type
C1-B are as follows:
C1-B (Full scantling)
Length overall: 417.75 feet
Beam: 60 feet
Depth: 37.5 feet
Draft: 27.5 feet
Gross tons: 6,750
Deadweight tons, steam 7,815
Speed: 14 knots
For comparison, these specifications
made her 23.75 feet shorter, about 3 feet wider, 3 knots faster and about 3000 dead weight tons smaller than a Liberty ship, such as the Edwin T. Meredith that
would come to her rescue. Her draft, tonnage and speed would also have been
affected by the modifications that were made, but there doesn’t appear to be
any post modification specifications available.
The modifications were comprised of
additional external deck structures, conversion of several holds to hold six-tiered bunks and additional lifesaving equipment to account for the
passengers. The modifications allowed her to carry between 1,300 and 2,000
The Cape San Juan was one of eight
C1-B’s that were modified in this way, although there was some variation
between them. These vessels, in order of delivery, were:
- Cape Newenham – April
24th, 1943 to American Mail Line, Ltd.
- Cape Perpetua – May
3rd, 1943 to American President Lines, Ltd.
- Cape Cleare –
May 18th, 1943 to Matson Navigation Co.
- Cape Johnson –
May 25th, 1943 to Pacific-Atlantic Steamship Co.
- Cape San Juan –
June 10th, 1943 to American-Hawaiian Steamship Co.
- Cape Mendocino
(II) – June 13th, 1943 to American President Lines, Ltd.
- Cape Meares –
June 20th, 1943 to Matson Navigation Co.
- Cape Victory –
July 28th, 1943 to Moore-McCormick Lines, Inc.
Cape San Juan was the only one of
the eight to be lost during the war.
On the Cape, the external deck
structures were described as follows by Master Strong: “An additional deck
house had been built on deck over troop exits thru #1, 2 and 3 hatches. This
deck house was used as a washroom and was also used as a means of exit from the
troop quarters in #1, 2 and 3 upper ‘tween deck. The deck house was so laid out
that it covered a deck area extending fore and aft over the watertight
bulkheads where they were fastened to the main deck. The purpose of this was to
cover the troop exits that came from #1, 2 and 3 ‘tween decks with the one deck
house. The deck house was watertight to the sea and weather, but no provision
was made inside the deck house itself to separate the deck openings which were
close together”. This would impact her survivability, which I will detail
It is somewhat unclear from this
description and the available photos of the Cape San Juan to determine if she
was fitted with full width enclosures covering hold #3 forward of the main deck
house and hold #4 aft of the main deck house as seen in pictures of some of her
‘sisters’, like the Cape Newenham below.
The fact that the Cape San Juan retained
her ventilated king posts just forward of the main deck house, where most of
her ‘sisters’ apparently did not, may indicate that she had a different design.
Master Strong identified the
location of where the passengers were located as “#1 shelter and ‘tween deck,
#2 shelter and ‘tween deck, and officers in #4 shelter deck.” This contradicts
his statement about troop quarters in the #3 hold. The Merchant Mariners and
Navy Armed Guard would have occupied the original cabins in the main deck
house. A few of the spare cabins in the main deck house were occupied by some
of the Army transport officers as well, such as the Transport Commander, Major
Robert A. Barth, who was located in the first cabin at the forward starboard
corner of the main deck house.
The vessel had three full decks
below the main deck, and five holds so it is assumed that the remainder; #1
& 2 lower deck, #3 & 4 ‘tween and lower deck and all three levels of #5
were all used for cargo.
As far as lifesaving equipment, the usual complement
of two lifeboats was increased to six, the four wooden rafts normally carried
for the Navy Armed Guard were retained and up-sized, and thirty-six Carley
floats of 20, 40 & 60 person capacity were added. They also had life vests
for everyone of course as well as 120 lifesaving suits (for cold water survival) which were not used.
San Juan (Master
Walter Mervyn Strong) was torpedoed at 0530 local time by the Imperial Japanese Submarine I-21 (Commander Hiroshi Inada) on Thursday, November
11th, 1943, approximately 300 miles southeast of Fiji. She was on her second
voyage, traveling unescorted from San Francisco California to Townsville
Australia with 57 Merchant Crew, 42 Navy Armed Guard, 3 radio operators and 1,340
passengers on board. The passengers were primarily comprised of three units of
the US Army Air Corps:
“All Negro” Engineers (Aviation) Battalion – 811 Officers & Enlisted Men
Fighter Control Squadron - 367 Officers & Enlisted Men
Ordnance (Aviation) Company - 162 Officers & Enlisted Men
were also 21 “permanent” army personnel (3 officers and 18 enlisted men),
commanded by Major Robert A. Barth, responsible for the troops while being
transported, plus 1 civilian, for a total of 1,464 souls on board.
San Juan was on a
westerly course (270°), traveling at 14.7 knots. The weather was clear with the
seas slightly choppy with a few whitecaps. The sun had not quite risen, but it
was described as light out. The Cape
was blacked out, zigzagging, and had lookouts posted with the Navy Armed Guard crew
at general quarters. Defensive armament included three 3”/50’s, one 4”/50 and
eight 20mm. I-21’s periscope (submerged firing) and torpedo tracks were
spotted shortly before she was hit as the Cape
was executing a turn to starboard in accordance with her zig-zag plan.
Various eyewitness accounts
described the following:
“Two water spouts seen at a distance
of approximately 2000 yards; relative bearing 120 degrees. Wake seen on water
when 15 yards distant from the ship; very straight path; approximately 2 feet
wide; went aft of vessel, missing stern by 20 yards. Wake was light greenish
color; water itself was deep dark green. Left slight white foam on surface.
Another eyewitness claims he saw the
wake of this torpedo some 300 feet out on the starboard quarter and claims that
it missed the ship’s stern by only 15 feet. A few seconds after first torpedo
passed aft of vessel several armed guard lookouts saw two water spouts,
generally described as from 6 to 10 feet high and from 2 to 3 feet in width.
Both spouts broke the surface at a distance of from 1500 to 2500 yards;
relative bearing 130 degrees. They were described as egg-shaped by one witness;
as fan shaped by another; and as being “in the shape of a pine tree” by
another. Both spouts did not rise simultaneously. The second came up as the
first settled. Described by some as narrower than whale spouts.” This was actually an unusually
short range attack for the Japanese, who typically fired a two to three torpedo
spread from at least twice this range to immobilize the target and then one or two
to finish it off. They also had a piston system like the German’s to eliminate
the release of the compressed air (the water spouts mentioned above) during submerged
firings that would give away their position. This could indicate there was a
malfunction with the system, or an error on the part of the new Torpedo Officer,
or that they simply weren’t worried about it. Although the shorter than usual
range did put them within range of the Cape San Juan’s defensive armament.
There was quite a bit of
disagreement on whether the torpedoes left a visible wake on the surface or not,
and if so, for how long. This is odd because the Japanese were known to have
the best torpedoes of the war with advanced propulsion systems that burned a
combination of kerosene and pure oxygen which enabled them to
attain great speed, remarkable distance, with little or no wake. The most likely candidates
were the Type 95 Mod 1 (a submarine version of their famous Type 93 “Long Lance”),
capable of speeds up to 51 knots for shorter range firings like this and
equipped with a 893lb warhead. The other candidate was the Type 96 (only 36%
oxygen) capable of speeds up to 50 knots and equipped with a 1,213lb warhead.
The later was known for depth keeping issues.
The report went
on to say: “When some 250 yards from ship, this
wake broke and an object skimmed on the surface of the water, in the line of
the wake, for a distance of some 20 feet. It traveled so fast that no one could
identify color, shape or size. When object submerged, wake did not reappear and
explosion against starboard side of ship immediately followed. Torpedo struck
starboard, abreast of the after end of No. 2 hatch, far below water line,
(because of the quantity of oil which emerged to the surface immediately after
torpedo hit, it is believed to have struck very close to the double bottom). A
heavy oil slick immediately appeared. Inasmuch as the ship immediately took on
a hard starboard list, the exact position, size, shape of hole and damage done
to the hull could not be viewed or ascertained.
When this torpedo struck, eye
witnesses stated that immediately on the impact, a great flash of light came up
over the gunwale on the starboard quarter, reaching as high as the ship’s
bridge, covering a width of over 20 feet.” They went on describe the color of
the explosion, the smoke that immediately followed, and finally the water that
cascaded back down onto the vessel. They described the impact as follows:
“The ship shook and shuddered and
the bow raised slightly, then settled and the vessel took on an immediate 10
degree to 15 degree list to starboard, and then settled to a 20 degree to 25
degree list within a few minutes.”
The torpedo had struck below where the troops from the
855th were berthed. The hatch covers over the No. 2 hold were blown upwards,
and then collapsed down into the hold killing and injuring several men.
An SOS was sent along with the message: “torpedoed, ship
sinking fast”. Inexplicably, the Officer in Charge of the radio, Lt. (j.g.)
Harris, ordered the radio destroyed immediately afterwards and abandoned ship, so no further signals were sent. Some effort was made to repair the equipment, but to no
The Navy Armed Guard returned
fire immediately towards the area the submarine was believed to have fired from.
The 4”/50 fired 21 rounds (range 3000 yards), two of the 3”/50’s (Gun tubs “B” and “D”, range 1,500 yards) fired a total of
200 rounds, and the four starboard 20mm’s fired a total of 1,000 rounds, sweeping area 1,000-2,000 yards fore and aft of torpedo track.
One of the 20mm’s jammed after 20 rounds. All guns fired intermittently for
about 10 minutes. Occasional shots were fired throughout the day to let the enemy
know they were still aboard.
The ship’s engine was ordered
stopped, and she coasted to a stop as she continued her turn to starboard. The
evacuation, mainly of the enlisted Army personnel, commenced about 15 to 20
minutes after being hit. More torpedoes were expected at any moment. The seas
started to deteriorate into 15 foot waves with white caps. The number 2 hold
flooded quickly and the ship settled down by the bow with
the starboard list increasing.
valiant effort was made by several of the 855th’s officers including
Captain Herbert Edward Bass (according to 855th TEC Sargent Gene Hines,
Bass was a Lieutenant at the time of the attack, in charge of Company “A”) Captain Wholley, and 1st
Lt. Mutchler and enlisted men including Sgt. Chester L. Rivers, First Sgt.
Shelton and Private Monroe Barkley. Bass and Barkley in particular showed remarkable courage by diving into the dark, oily, flooded hold to tie ropes to an injured
man (Theodore Harris) so he could be pulled out. Doctors on board, 1st
Lt. John G. Schurts, 1st Lt. James V. Davis and 1st Lt.
Leo S. Wool set up a dressing station on hatch No. 4 to care for the injured
men. Major Floyd C. Shinn, the senior passenger officer, was also singled out
for his actions.
It is unclear exactly how many men perished from the
initial torpedo explosion, subsequent flooding, and the collapse of the hatch
structure. Bass estimated 20 at the time, but most sources now state 16. Some
men drowned during abandon ship by jumping over board in full combat gear and
others were lost who were in the water near the ship when large wooden rafts were released
over them. Understandably, most men in the water and even in the rafts tried to
get to the few life boats, which soon became heavily overloaded. The number 4
motor boat was swamped and lost when too many men (estimated at 65) attempted
to board it, and another came very close to capsizing. Some rafts drifted away
before they could be manned (described as “not
less than two and not more than six”).
Many of the men initially ended
up with nothing but a life vest. These were a mix of cork and kapok. Years
later, survivors, Chester Driest and James Reed of the 1st Fighter would laugh at how some of the
life vests were stenciled ‘For Inland Waterways Only’, including Reed’s. Wind
and wave action quickly dispersed the men in the water to the south, and the oil caused
severe eye irritation and even temporary blindness in some cases. Cape San
Juan had been carrying 6 lifeboats, 4 large rafts, and 36 smaller rafts.
Overall, the evacuation was described as controlled, and by 0630 all lifeboats
and rafts were away except those rafts retained for the 200 personnel still on
About two hours after first getting
hit a dull thud was felt throughout the ship, followed by what was described as
an “explosion beneath the ship”. My working theory is that it was a glancing
blow and not an actual impact by a dud torpedo for the following reasons:
At 0740 a RNZAF Hudson patrol bomber of No. 4 squadron circled and then
left. At 0930 the Hudson returned and signaled that help was on the way.
- Men in the water
around the aft port quarter actually felt a torpedo pass beneath their feet.
The water was full of men, especially around the stern because that’s the
direction the wind and waves were carrying them. An explosion in that
close of proximity would have caused massive internal injuries and
casualties due to the pressure wave, but none are reported. Nor was an
explosive column reported.
- A torpedo which
failed to detonate would have likely been moving with sufficient force to
at least puncture the side the ship and cause some flooding. The ship was
inspected before the last of the men left and no flooding was found in the
aft portion of the ship.
- Since the vessel was down by the bow and listing 15° to
starboard, the aft port quarter (diagonally opposite) was possibly higher than
normal and the third torpedo, if set too low or perhaps even breaching the
water and diving as the fatal shot did may have struck the bottom of the hull,
not the side, resulting in a very shallow angle oblique hit. This could have
deflected the torpedo down where it eventually exploded at a safer depth.
on the scene was the Liberty ship Edwin T. Meredith (Master Murdock D.MacRae). Click on the highlighted link above to learn more about their involvement with the rescue.
Next on the scene at about
3:00pm was an unarmed Pan American Martin
PBM-3R Mariner flying
boat, serial number (BuNo) 6459 (NATS Flight V2163). The civilian crew included:
Captain William W. “Bill” Moss Jr.,
First Officer Frank W. Saul,
Second Officer George H Roblin,
Engineering Officer Harry L. Knebel,
Radio Officer Don V. Mackay, and
Steward Kenneth S. Taylor.
They had just arrived in Fiji that morning on
their way to Noumea from Pearl Harbor when word of the sinking was announced. Bill
Moss, his crew and Navy Pharmacist Mate A. Burress from the base volunteered to
search for survivors. Moss noted in his report that Third Officer J. B. Kelly,
Assistant Engineering Officer A. F. Aready, and Assistant Radio Officer D.
Holton also volunteered but were left behind to make room for more survivors.
they were preparing to leave, a Navy Captain who had been a passenger aboard
the PBM from Pearl approached Moss and asked to come along, which Moss had to
refuse. The Captain handed him 5 bottles of I.W. Harper, top shelf Kentucky
Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which he was bringing to Admiral Halsey, and said “If you need it, use it”. Moss handed it to his
steward, Kenny Taylor.
The original plan for the mission
called for landing at the scene of the disaster, picking up as many survivors
as was considered possible, taking off and proceeding to Tonga Tabu,
discharging passengers and returning to the scene to repeat the procedure.
After unloading their cargo
they topped off all their fuel tanks, and loaded rafts, life vests and extra
line and took off at 12:39. At 12:44 they were ordered to abort the mission,
but they radioed back requesting permission to continue, which was granted at
12:49. About halfway through the flight they ran into a tropical storm.
What they found as they came
out of the storm clouds was the Cape San
Juan still afloat about 10 miles dead ahead. At first they only saw the
life boats and rafts. Then they noticed small clusters of black dots, which
they soon realized were men wearing life vests. The swells were described as
“confused” with the wind at 10 to 12 knots and Moss had a difficult time
finding a patch smooth enough to attempt a landing. These planes were designed
to take off from sheltered bays, not the open ocean, and especially the ocean
under these conditions. The large amount of oil in the water smoothed out the
waves somewhat in the immediate vicinity, so Moss set up his approach for the
smoothest spot he could find. He attempted to land cross wind, opting to try
and maintain relative motion with the swell as best he could. Everything was
looking good as he came in at 70 knots until he hit the first wave crest which slammed
the plane 30 to 50 feet back into the air. Moss dumped the throttles and held
the elevators full back as the nose hit successive sides of waves in an
extremely violent manner. As a matter of fact, so violent where
the shocks that Moss did not believe the plane would remain in a floatable
condition, let alone flyable. After a quick inspection verified they were OK they began
formulating a plan to rescue the men in the sea.
They decided to concentrate
on the most vulnerable men, those not in rafts. It was deemed too risky to try
and maneuver the plane through the men and the survivors were too exhausted to
swim for the plane so they devised a system where they trolled for survivors by
towing a string of small rafts behind them as they zig-zagged upwind along the
edge of the rescue area. Moss stayed at the controls, blipping the throttle
continually to steer the plane while the rest of the crew were aft, reeling the
survivors in and lifting them into the plane. Several of the crew was
incapacitated by seasickness as the plane rolled in the heavy swells. 48 men
were rescued in this manner, roughly split 50/50 between African-American and
Caucasians. Their oily, water soaked clothes were stripped off and thrown back
into the sea, and they were given blankets, food, hot coffee, water, and/or a
shot of the Admiral’s whiskey.
After two hours of this
grueling work a RNZAF Hudson that was circling the scene fired two red flares
in their direction. The planes were not able to communicate via radio, and
Moss assumed the signal meant danger (possibly the submarine surfacing for attack). Knowing his crew was exhausted, the plane at maximum capacity, and with another
heavy rain squall closing in, Moss made the difficult decision to quit while
they were ahead.
Since it had taken much
longer than expected to collect survivors, Moss knew he didn’t have time to
reach Tonga Tabu, unload and get back before nightfall. He therefore dropped
both auxiliary fuel tanks to lighten the load. As it was, he estimated his
gross takeoff weight at 45,258 pounds.
The difficult take-off was
achieved in only about 50 seconds, but what a ride. They had to make the
attempt downwind since the squall was closing from the right and survivors
blocked the other side. According to Moss “At 55
knots the plane bounced off the top of a wave to a height of 30 to 50 feet,
setting up a series of five or six bounces until the plane finally became
airborne at approximately 70-75 knots. 0n the second bounce the left wing
dropped approximately twenty degrees, but full aileron control brought it up
before the plane touched the water again.” It took an exceedingly
long time before the plane was able to increase its speed and altitude. The takeoff
was considered by the crew to be much more violent than the landing. Many years
later Frank Saul would describe it as “The
hairiest take-off of my life”. Moss simply stated “It was the longest 50 seconds of my life”.
For an eyewitness description
of the dramatic take-off, see this blog about the part a RNZAF PBY Catalina had in the
The survivors were flown back
to Suva in Fiji where they received medical care. The landing this time was
considered picture perfect. As they unloaded, Ken Taylor gave Moss back two
full bottles of whiskey and one partial. The Navy Captain was waiting on the
barge, so Moss gave him back what remained. The Captain handed him back the
partial and said “Here, you look like you could
use this”. Moss had intended to share it with his crew, but by the
time he was debriefed they had all gone to chow. Bill Moss sat on the end of
his bunk in his Quonset hut and finished the bottle, reflecting no doubt on the
Moss and his crew actually began
preparing for another trip the following morning, but this was called off when
news of the other vessels joining the search was confirmed.
USS McCALLA - DD-488
(LCDR Halford A. Knoertzer) arrived
in the vicinity late that first night, but was not able to home in on
the survivors until daylight when they were joined by the
minesweeper YMS-241 (Ens. Emery L. Burgess) and the submarine chaser SC-654 (Ens. John C. Boutall). Click on the highlighted links for each vessel to learn more about their involvement with the rescue.
0900 the destroyer escort USS DEMPSEY (DE-26), joined the search having made a high
speed run from Suva, Fiji. Click on the highlighted link above to learn more about their involvement with the rescue. By 1004 the 4 vessels had
picked up all the survivors they could find, and proceeded to Suva, Fiji with Dempsey,
YMS-241, and SC-654 providing anti-submarine screen for McCalla.
1445 SC-654 transferred her 152 survivors to McCalla and left the
group to proceed to Tonga Tabu due to lack of fuel. At 1532 an attempt was made
to transfer survivors from the small YMS-241 to Dempsey, but had
to be called off due to weather after only 40 men had been transferred.
that day, officers of the submarine chaser SC-1048 boarded the Cape
San Juan where they found 6 bodies that were rescued from the number 2 hold
but did not survive. These men were:
A. White Jr.
The commanding officer of the SC-1048, Joseph L. Hoguet, conducted a proper burial at sea. They also reported that the number 2
and 3 holds were flooded and the ship was gutted by fire which originated in
the number 4 and 5 holds. Master Strong had noted the
number 1 hold was also flooded before he abandoned ship. Watertight bulkheads
had been added between the holds, but the additional deck house that was added
to facilitate easier access below decks for the troops also allowed the flooding
in the number 2 hold to over-flow into the number 1 & 3 holds, likely dooming the vessel.
The fires were noticed by survivors in the water
during the first night. The most likely cause of the
fire was the shelling of the Cape San Juan by her gunners aboard the Edwin T.
Meredith. The fire damage can be seen in the photos below, shortly before
she plunged down by the bow and sank in 1400 fathoms, witnessed by SC-1048 and YMS-117.
Part of SC-1048’s reason for boarding
the Cape San Juan was to determine if she was salvageable and could be towed as described on her page. The
fire burned with such intensity in the number 4 & 5 ‘tween decks that the
paint sloughed off the hull.
is difficult to pin-down the exact number of casualties. This is due in large
part to the complexity of the situation, such as:
- The number of commands aboard Cape
San Juan herself,
- The number of rescue ships/planes
- The fact that survivors were
transferred between ships,
- The fact that survivors died en
- The fact that survivors were
brought to different ports, and
- The fact that black and white survivors
were segregated in different hospital facilities.
about every report had a different count not only for the casualties, but for
the number of men on board to begin with. At the beginning of this summary I used
the Merchant Mariner and Armed Guard counts from Master Strong, and the Army
counts from Major Barth, the Transport commander, which totaled 1,464. From
this I subtracted 438 that Master MacRae said he delivered alive to Noumea, 48
that the PBM picked up, and 843 which the four other ships picked up to arrive
at 131 casualties. This was comprised of 16 men killed in the initial attack,
and 115 who drowned after abandoning ship. Another 200 of the survivors were
estimated to have been injured.
The survivors of the 1st Fighter, 253rd Ordnance and 855th Engineers were sent to Australia afterwards to re-group and re-supply before being sent to front line operations.
Recently, the daughter of one of the Merchant Seamen that crewed Cape San Juan contacted me looking for information on her father's experience. His name was Rudolph "Rudy" E. Wahlstrom and he was an oiler. I had not seen his name in any of the other reports, so I took a chance and searched on his name on Ancestry.com. I received a number of hits, one of which was a passenger list for a US Army transport named the General George O. Squier (AP-130) that left Noumea on November 29th, just a few weeks after the sinking. There were hundreds of names, mainly Naval personnel, but the group that Wahlstrom was with stood out because they were all Merchant Mariners.
Upon further examination I noticed several other names of known Cape San Juan crewmen, such as Master Strong. I also noticed that when taken as a group, based on their positions they made up almost an entire complement of crew that you would expect for a ship like the Cape San Juan. Below is the list that I found:
|Abrams, Kenneth S.
|Aitken, Kenneth S.
||Jr. 3rd Asst Engr
||Moen, Olaf E. N.
|Boucher, Lawrence D.
||Morlock, Irving L.**
||Mullen, Charles A.**
|Condon, Walter F.
||Myer, Lawrence R.
|Cormell, Darrell W.
||Nobriga, Manuel G.
|Davies, Harley O.
||Ogilvie, George E.
|Davila, Humbert V.
||Olanie, Edward G.
|Dodge, William V.
||Ottoson, Sam J.
|Doran, Robert F.
||2nd Asst Engr
||Rasmussen, Erik A.
|Dorcey, William J.
||Raeish, James L.
||1st Asst Engr
|Drogose, George A.
||Renner, Joseph A.
|Erickson, Roy E.**
||Richards, Thomas V.
|Firth, Alfred D.
||Ridge, Robert M.
|Geary, John White
||Rose, H. B.
|Gibson, Walter E.**
||Ryan, Daniel J.**
|Gotay, Julius A.
||Scioneaux, Horton P.
||3rd Asst Engr
|Green, Walter J.
||Scott, Leland H.
||Strong, Walter M.
|Hanson, Carl E.
||Wahlstrom, Rudolph E.
|Holley, Fred S.
||Walker, Floyd C.
|Jacks, Doniphan R. Jr.
||Wansley, John E.
||Watt, John E.**
|Kelley, John F.**
|Leu, Roy C.**
||Williams, Nolden O.
|MacDonald, Gordon D.
||Jr. 3rd Mate
||Wilkinson, Rannell W.
|McClintock, George L.
||Wilson, Joseph L. Jr.
|Malim, Thomas W.
||Wortman, Harry D.
|Manning, Earl F.
I also added several names from the reports that were not part of AP-130's passenger list. This brought the total up to 58, although this is 1 man over the 57 total that Master Strong said were on board. These men were not expressly identified as Cape San Juan survivors on the passenger list, so it's possible some may have been from other ships, but for the most part I believe this list represents the bulk of the Cape San Juan Merchant Mariner survivors.
Chief Mate Earl F. Manning was also a survivor of the SS Alaskan which was sunk the previous year.
The men in bold print are the ones
I’ve been able to positively identify based on allied reports and family that
has contacted me directly. Two men, Ottoson & Rose are listed as Chief
Steward, so only one of these men was likely aboard the Cape. There was also a
second 1st Assistant Engineer in the list named Chalmers, who I
eliminated because Raeish was positively identified.
The eight men in bold red print are the merchant seamen that manned the life boats and were later rescued with the bulk of the survivors by McCalla, Dempsey, YMS-241 and SC-654 and taken to Suva, Fiji. I was recently contacted by the son of Irving L. Morlock, who preferred to go by the name "Frank". Frank had just passed away in March of 2017. Hopefully this will lead to some additional information on the story.
AP-130 was likely transporting the Cape San Juan's Navy Armed Guard personnel back home as well. There were hundreds of Navy personnel listed in alphabetical order, and so it's impossible to determine who was on the Cape San Juan and who was not. However, I did recognize Radioman 3rd Class Howard E. Smith and Radioman 2nd Class Richard P. Sego from the list.
Several of the survivor’s
families have mentioned that Master MacRae of the Edwin T. Meredith was
reprimanded or court-martialed for stopping. Transports like this were not
supposed to stop because they had little means to counter a submarine and put
themselves at extreme risk by stopping. This was a job for the Navy. Having
said that, Edwin T. Meredith was the closest vessel by far, and if they hadn't
stopped, many more lives would have been lost. The main thing that probably
saved them was the suppressive fire by the Navy Armed Guard and the Royal New
Zealand Air Force boys keeping a constant orbit in their aircraft, which would
have kept the submarine at bay.
There is no hard evidence that MacRae
was reprimanded. All the post incident reports were very complimentary of
MacRae's actions and his crew. They saved a lot of lives. At most the Coast
Guard (who oversaw the Merchant Marine) would have pulled his Master's License
if he was found to be negligent. Unfortunately, these legal proceedings were
purged from Coast Guard records about 10 years after the war.
The Edwin T. Meredith was operated by a shipping
company named Smith & Johnson. MacRae left the company soon after the
rescue, either of his own accord or worst case fired by the company. It didn't
seem to affect his career, however, as he remained a Master and switched to
McCormick Steamship Co., where he commanded the liberty ship Robert J. Walker.
MacRae later had the misfortune of being the only Master to have his vessel sunk
by a German U-Boat in the Pacific theater. You can read the dramatic account of
the sinking here.
You can zoom, pan and explore the following interactive map to learn more about the locations mentioned in this summary.
thanks to author Dr. Tom Gauthier for generously providing his research
documentation. His father Donovan Gauthier
was Jr. 3rd Mate on the Cape San Juan for her first voyage and a subsequent
coastwise trip, and spoke of her often. The sinking would be become the basis of
his work of historical fiction named ‘Code Name: ORION’S EYE’, a riveting story
which includes a fairly accurate description of the sinking and subsequent
rescue efforts. More information on Dr. Gauthier’s book can be found at www.tomgauthier.com.
thanks to Chuck Moss for providing more details on his father Bill Moss, the
pilot of the PBM. Moss had first soloed at the age of 14 in a glider and had
flown for the Navy as a carrier dive bomber pilot before the war, and left in
1939 to join Pan American. Although a Navy Reservist, he served as a Pan
American employee operating Naval Air Transport Service (NATS) aircraft during
the war. He first saw action while he was the first officer (co-pilot) on the Philippine Clipper (Martin M-130) which was strafed and bombed at Wake
Island when the Japanese struck the same day as Pearl Harbor. He received a
letter of commendation from the Navy for the Cape San Juan rescue.
career with Pan American he flew just about everything from the DC-2 to the
747, was a pioneer in the transition to jet transports after the war and was in
charge of all flight training for Pan Am's Atlantic Division prior to and
during the transition to jets. The third pilot to be licensed by the FAA to fly
commercial jet transports, he wrote and administered Pan Am's first jet
training program. He was instrumental in the FAA certification of inertial
navigation systems. In fact, the performance index number for the INS is also
known as the 'Moss number' throughout the industry.
His skill and
leadership would come into play once more in the twilight of his career when in
1974 the 747 he was piloting had an engine catch fire shortly after take-off
from Honolulu International. The fire could not be extinguished so Moss had to
turn the aircraft around and land very heavy (more than 80,000lbs. over max normally
allowable landing weight). Evacuation was successful with only a few very minor
injuries. Moss would later comment it was "a
hell of way" to start his last year of flying. For his “outstanding
professionalism” Moss won the 1974 Civilian Air Safety Award of the Order of
Daedalians (see picture to the right).
By the time he retired to his eight acre farm in Hawaii in 1975 he had
accumulated nearly 24,000 flying hours. William W. Moss Jr. passed away in 1998
in Kona, Hawaii at the age of 82.
Walter M. Strong
Walter Mervyn Strong was born in Amityville, Long Island, New
York on July 11th, 1884, and so was
59-years-old at the time of the attack.
He was the oldest of six children born to Walter R Strong
and Henrietta Wicks. His father passed away in 1936 and his mother in 1940.
He appears to have become fascinated
with the sea when he was 13 on a voyage up Long Island Sound and ran away from
home when he was 15. According to his obituary; “After three years at sea he
spent two years ashore as a sail maker, then sailed in that capacity on such
deep-water square-rigged vessels as the four-masted barks Manga Reva and
Strong later built a model of the
Manga Reva (see below).
The obituary continued; “Strong joined the
American-Hawaiian Steamship Co. as a Third Mate in 1905, a time when the firm
operated via the Straights of Magellan, from Atlantic to Pacific Coast ports,
and to the Hawaiian Islands.” This was of course before
the Panama Canal was opened and vessels had no choice but to navigate around
the treacherous southern tip of South America to get from one coast to the
other. This was also back when American-Hawaiian Steamship Co. was the main
freight carrier between Hawaii and the mainland (hence the name). Strong does
not appear to have had any formal nautical training, which wasn’t necessary, as
long as you could pass the exam for each position.
The obituary went on the state; “He
rose to the rank of Captain, and in 1915 was given command of the SS
Californian.” His Merchant Mariner’s service record backs this up and shows
that he was Master of the Californian from October 1915 to April 1917. Note
that this was just prior to our entry in World War I, and Charles Bamforth (see
Honolulan page) joined Californian as a Third Mate just after Strong left.
Immediately following Californian,
Strong took command of the SS Kerowlee in April 1917, owned by the Kerr
Navigation Corporation of New York (not believed to be affiliated with
American-Hawaiian). On December 1st, 1917 the ship was chartered by
the U.S. Army at Le Havre, France to support its forces in Europe. On October 17th,
1918 the Navy took her over, and commissioned her as USS Kerowlee at Cardiff,
Wales for operation on Army account. Strong commanded her not as a civilian,
but as a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy Reserve during this period. For
the next five months, USS Kerowlee transported coal and supplies between ports
in England and France. In the spring of 1919 she steamed to Danzig, Germany,
with a cargo of food, and in July she carried Army cargo back to the U.S. from
France. USS Kerowlee was decommissioned on August 11th, 1919 at
Norfolk, VA and transferred to the U.S. Shipping Board for return to Kerr
Navigation. Kerr, which owned eight freighters at the time, was bought in its entirety
by the American Ship and Commerce Navigation Corp. on September 4th,
1919, which in turn operated the vessels under the Kerr Steamship Co. name.
In February 1920 Strong transferred over
to another vessel in Kerr’s fleet, the SS Kermit, which he would command for
the next seven years. Unfortunately, there is not very much information available
on the Kermit, other than she served a dual passenger and cargo role primarily between
Hamburg, Germany and New York, NY.
This post-war period was a confusing
time of consolidation, hostile take-overs and buy-outs of various shipping
lines. It was during this time that American Ship and Commerce Navigation Corporation/Kerr
Navigation Corporation was bought by United American Lines along with a controlling
stake in the German line ‘Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfarhrt
Aktien-Gesellschaft’, also known as HAPAG or Hamburg-American Line. The former
focused on the freight side of the business, and the latter on the passenger
side, specializing in the transport of second and third class passengers
flooding into America at this time. American-Hawaiian seems to have been
involved as well, sharing offices in New York and connecting services with
United American. Mismanagement and changes to immigration laws caused the whole
thing to fall apart by 1926.
In 1921 he applied for a passport
which indicated prior to that he had been living in Salisbury, MD, where his
father was also living. He had left the United States on October 3rd,
1920 and had been living in Buenos Aires, Argentina since September 22nd,
1921 under the employ of United American Lines. He planned to travel from
Argentina to Holland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
The passport application included
some personal details, such as; Height 5’-6”, Eyes: Hazel, Hair: Dark Brown,
Distinguishing marks: Tattoo on both wrists. Later he apparently also had a
tattoo of “a shapely young woman on one arm, along with an anchor, and the
other arm sported “Hands across the sea”.
His service record indicates he transferred
from the Kermit to American-Hawaiian’s Nebraskan in May of 1927 and remained
her Master through April 23rd, 1937 when the documents were created,
and beyond. He not only held a Master, any Ocean license, but also a 1st
Class Pilot’s license for Boston, Nantucket & Vineyard Sound, New York Bay
& Harbor to Yonkers North River, East River, Delaware Bay & River to Philadelphia,
Charleston Bay and Harbor to City Dock, Los Angeles Harbor, San Francisco Bay,
Astoria to Sea & Return, Tacoma to Sea via Seattle, Everett &
He married Onalee Wyckof in 1941 at the age of 57 (she
was 45). He had moved to California by this point, and sent his sister an A-H
company Christmas card with his current ship (Nebraskan) on the cover (see
below) with a personal note and a photo of his home.
The country was now at war again,
and this 58-year-old Master was about to serve in his second World War. In early 1943,
Strong was Master of the A-H liberty ship Lyman Beecher for a supply run to the
Strong was Cape San Juan’s first
Master and Tom Gauthier’s father, Donovan Gauthier sailed with him on a short
coast wise voyage from San Francisco and on the Cape’s first voyage to the
Pacific theater. Tom’s mother remembers having dinner aboard the Cape with
Master Strong and the rest of the ship’s officers before that voyage.
After the Cape San Juan sinking I don’t see any activity in
1944, but by the beginning of 1945 he was back at sea as Master of the new type
C-2 freighter West Wind. The Cape San Juan’s 2nd Mate William Dorcey
served with Strong first as his 2nd Mate on the West Wind, followed
by Chief Mate.
He appears to have stayed with American-Hawaiian after
the war as well, serving as Master of Drury Victory as well as the Type C4 MountGreylock (both added post war). Strong retired in 1952, shortly before
American-Hawaiian folded. See below for a list of Strong’s sailings that I’ve
found to date:
||Port of Departure
||Port of Arrival
||New York, NY
||New York, NY
||New York, NY
||San Francisco, CA
||New York, NY
||Noumea, New Caledonia
||San Francisco, CA
||San Francisco, CA
||San Francisco, CA
||San Francisco, CA
||New York, NY
||New York, NY
His wife passed away in 1958 at the
age of 62, and they had no children.
Strong passed away in early 1984 in Monterey,
California at the age of 99. Per his request, his ashes were spread at sea.
One interesting anecdote I found was
that Strong was interested in genealogy and in 1941 applied for membership in
the California Society of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution.
He appears to have been the great, great, great grandson of Captain Benajah Strong
Jr. who as Captain of the Islip Company was involved in the Battle of LongIsland (defeat) and the capture of Fort St. George (victory). He was the fourth
generation of Sea Captains on his Mother’s side of the family, and was also the
great, great grandson of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall.
Some of the 1st Fighter
Control personnel were critical of Master Strong for having the Cape San Juan
evacuated so quickly. Hind-sight is 20/20, however, and no one could have
predicted how long the Cape San Juan would stay afloat or known why the I-21 didn’t
show more determination to finish her off quickly with additional torpedoes. If
the troops had stayed aboard and there was another successful torpedo hit the
results would have likely been catastrophic with men trapped aboard and more
lifeboats and rafts lost.
Prior to the attack Strong was also
using all the tools at his disposal: speed, evasive course, blacked out, and
her rather extensive armament at general quarters. By the time the torpedoes
were spotted and reported to the bridge, it was too late.
After the hit he got the passengers off in quick
order. Could it have gone better? Yes, but short of performing a full blown
practice evacuation (impractical; regular drills were held so that everyone
knew their assigned abandon ship station) it probably went about as well as
could be expected. In fact, they were fortunate to have a captain with this much experience.
There generally isn’t as much
information available on Japanese commanders as there is on their German or
What little information is available
indicates that Hiroshi Inada (or Inada Hiroshi using the tradition of putting
the family name first) came from Tottori Prefecture, Japan (listed in the IJN
report as his "last known residence", so not necessarily where he was
No date of birth is available, and
his age can only be estimated by working back from his graduation from the
Imperial Japanese Naval Academy (Class 51) in Etajima, Hiroshima in 1923. The
Academy took 4 years to complete, which would mean he entered in 1919. Assuming
he was in his late teens when he entered, that would mean he was likely in his
early 40’s at the time of his death.
There were 255 men in his graduating
class, and Inada was one of seventeen known to go on to serve in the Imperial
Japanese Navy submarine service. According to Sander
Kingsepp, an authority on the subject; “the memoirs of Inada’s classmate, Captain
Michimune Inaba (who torpedoed USS Saratoga in early 1942 as the skipper of
I-6), Inada was well-known by his judo skills. This seems to have been his only
achievement at the academy. It is somewhat surprising that Inaba did not
elaborate about him -- he usually devotes several pages to each of his
Upon graduation, he would have been
commissioned as a midshipman, and taken part in an international training
cruise. His records show his cruise
lasted from November 7th, 1923 to April 5th, 1924 to the Southeast
Asian-Australian area aboard the Iwate (One of several older
armored cruisers used for training during this period).
He does not show up in the records
again until 1938, when Lieutenant Commander Inada is ordered to take command of
the medium Type L4 submarine RO-66 on July 30th, 1938. He served as her commander for a little less
than 8 months until March 20th, 1939.
There is another gap until he is
ordered to take command of the large, fast Kaidai Type KD6 submarine I-169.
Around July 30th, 1941 he was promoted to Commander, and ordered to take
command of the Junsen Type J1 submarine I-2, launched in 1925.
The type was armed with six torpedo
tubes forward, two aft and usually carried twenty torpedoes. This was
supplemented by two 5.5”/50 canons, one forward, one aft of the conning tower.
That following December the Japanese
attacked Pearl Harbor, beginning our involvement in World War II. Inada and I-2
were there too for what was to become their first official war patrol.
Most of the information that follows
is a summary of the Tabulated Record of Movement’s for the I-2 and I-21
available on the website combinedfleet.com, as well as some info from ijnsubsite.info.
First War Patrol
On December 7th, 1941, I-2 arrived
at her assigned patrol sector in Kauai Channel between Oahu and Kauai with I-3.
Its mission was to reconnoiter and attack any ships that tried to sortie from
Pearl Harbor. Nothing appears to have come from that, but on December 27th
after the main attack fleet had departed, I-2 received orders to shell Kahului
Harbor, Maui, on December 30th. They arrived off Kahului during the day and
conducted periscopic reconnaissance, spotting a small merchant moored by the pier.
After sundown I-2 surfaced and fired ten 5.5” HE shells at that vessel. Most
shells fell short of the target, and some landed in the direction of Puunene.
They departed their patrol area on
January 9th, 1942 to join the hunt for the carrier USS Lexington (CV-2). They
finally returned to their home port of Yokosuka on February 1st.
Second War Patrol
On February 8th, 1942 I-2 was
assigned to the Dutch East Indies Invasion Force with I-1, I-3, I-4, I-6 and
flagship I-7, and they departed around February 12th for their second war
Operating in the Indian Ocean on
February 28th, 1942, Inada sank the 1,345-ton Singapore steamer Nam Yong in
position 15-55S, 108-05E, en route from Batavia to Fremantle. Her master and
four sailors were taken PoW.
The following day they torpedoed and
sank the 1,172-ton Dutch merchant Parigi in position 13-50S, 113-30E en route
from Tjilatjap, Java to Bunbury, Western Australia. The next day they attacked
another merchant in the same area, but failed to score a hit.
On March 11th, 60 miles South of
Padang, West Sumatra, Inada sighted the 4,360-ton armed British freighter
Chilka on a voyage from Calcutta to Padang. At 0023, I-2 battle-surfaced on
Chilka’s port quarter and opened fire with both deck guns. Chilka returned fire,
but received 14 hits in 25 minutes, killing 7 of her crew. After his only gun
was disabled, Captain Walter Bird ordered the engines stopped and signaled his
surrender. I-2 then ceased fire, allowing the survivors to abandon ship. Chilka
sank in position 00-30S, 95-50E. Later, Captain Bird was awarded the Lloyd War
Medal for bravery at sea.
By April 3rd, I-2 was acting as a
weather report ship off Trincomalee, Ceylon. This is the Japanese offensive
that would lead to the loss of American-Hawaiian’s Washingtonian at the hands
off I-4 on April 6th. On the 7th Lt. Commander Inada reported the sinking of an
unidentified merchant in position 00-48N, 82-18E. This attack was never
Third War Patrol
I-2 departed Yokosuka on her third
war patrol on June 11th, 1942 in support of the invasion of the Western
Aleutians (Alaska). They were in the company of I-1, I-3, I-4 and I-7.
On July 17th while I-2 was 100 miles
South of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Inada shelled an unidentified Soviet merchant
and a tanker, but was driven off by a US Navy PBY "Catalina" flying
By August 1st, I-2 was back in
Yokosuka to affect repairs.
Guadalcanal Supply Runs (9)
On August 7th, 1942 America invaded
the Japanese held island of Guadalcanal in the Solomons.
Between September 27th, 1942 and
February 18th, 1943, Inada and I-2 performed nine supply runs in support of the
beleaguered Japanese forces at Guadalcanal, and eventually assisted in their
evacuation. Even though these nine voyages were not considered offensive operations
and therefore not “war patrols”, The I-2 and her compatriots were in just as
much danger from allied anti-submarine efforts.
During the evening of December 14th,
1942 I-2 was nearly lost when she was spotted on the surface by Lt. Commander
Marvin G. Kennedy’s USS Wahoo (SS-238) in bad weather. Despite firing a spread
of three torpedoes from 800 yards, I-2 survived due to the torpedoes likely
exploding prematurely. Inada, alerted to the danger, crash dived and later
assumed they had been attacked by aircraft. Wahoo was initially given credit
for the kill, but this was reversed postwar by JANAC (Joint Army-Navy
On the 16th of March Inada was given
command of the large Type B1 submarine I-21.
I-2 (Lt. Commander Yamaguchi) would
be lost with all hands (110) on April 7th, 1944, sunk by depth charges from the
USS Saufley (DD-465).
I-21 was a Type B, which was the
most numerous class of Japanese submarines.
They were fast (23.5 knots surfaced/8 knots submerged), long-ranged (14,000
nautical miles at 16 knots), and carried a seaplane (Yokosuka E14Y “Glen”),
which was housed partially disassembled in a hanger just forward of the conning
tower and could be launched on a catapult built into the forward deck. She was armed with 6
torpedo tubes in the bow and was designed to carry 17 torpedoes though several
wartime reports suggests that up to nineteen torpedoes were sometimes carried.
This was supplemented with a 5.5”/50 canon aft of the conning tower on the main
deck and a twin-barreled 25mm canon on the conning tower aft deck for
I-21 was fairly new. She was laid
down on January 7th, 1939, launched February 24th, 1940 and completed on July
15th, 1941 at Kawasaki, Kobe. Commissioned in the IJN, she was assigned to
SubRon 1's SubDiv 3 in the Sixth (Submarines) Fleet, and based in the Yokosuka
Her first commander was Commander
Kanji Matsumura, who remained with I-21 until Inada took over. Matsumura was a
fairly successful commander with five kills to his credit. He was killed in
action on October 3rd, 1944 aboard I-177 and received a double promotion to
Vice Admiral, posthumously.
First War Patrol
Inada departed Yokosuka May 6th,
1943 on his first war patrol in command of the I-21, his fourth of the war and
the fifth for the I-21. It is not clear where his intended patrol area was to
On May 11th, 1943 American forces
initiate Operation “Sandcrab”, the invasion of the Aleutians, partially taken
by the Japanese the previous year. On May 19th, I-21 was ordered to abort her
mission and return to Yokosuka in order to participate in the evacuation of
Kiska. I-21, I-9 and I-24 were attached to the Fifth Fleet for the duration of
Kiska Supply Runs (2)
During the summer of 1943 Inada and
I-21 participated in two supply runs to Kiska and assist in evacuating some
On June 18th, 1943 I-21 returned to
her home base in Yokosuka to repair her sonar gear. She was fitted with the
newest E27 radar detector. One of the
areas that the Japanese were behind was the use of radar. Their submarines were
not equipped with search radar at this time, and these radar detectors helped
provide some measure of early warning of approaching Allied radar equipped ASW
aircraft while they were surfaced. The E27/Type 3 was usually able to provide a
3-minute advance warning. Its maximum detection range was around 160 nautical
At this time I-21 was also the first
IJN submarine to receive an experimental anti-radar hull coating designated as
“LI”. IJN wartime tests with centimetric radar suggested that at 6,000-7,000 meters
distance their coating reduced the radar return of the surfaced submarine by 20
The coating was regularly renewed
prior to each sortie, but in the case of I-21's last patrol, Truk simply did
not have the necessary equipment. It is assumed that her coating was last
applied at Yokosuka sometime between August 9th and her departure to Truk
lagoon on September 11th, 1943.
Whether the coating actually had any
impact on I-21's lack of detection prior to the Cape San Juan’s loss or her
subsequent loss is a topic that probably deserves further investigation.
Second War Patrol
As mentioned above, Inada and I-21
departed Yokosuka on September 11th, 1943 for what would be become their second
war patrol together and their last.
It is interesting to note that the
previous day, September 10th, Inada’s home area of Tottori Prefecture was
devastated by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake which hit around dinnertime. An
estimated 80% of the Tottori city’s downtown structures were damaged or
destroyed and over 1,000 people lost their lives. It is not known if or how
whatever family he had may have been impacted.
I-21’s main mission was not
to reconnoiter Suva, Fiji as previously reported. According to Sander Kingsepp;
“the orders clearly state: "reconnoiter Suva en route to the New Hebrides
area." By mid-October the IJN Sixth Fleet HQ intended to concentrate no
less than five subs in that area, all tasked with commerce raiding.”
On their way they stopped at the nearest main
Japanese naval base at Truk Lagoon probably to top off their fuel and supplies. They had reached Truk on
September 18th, and on September 25th they departed and headed southwest.
On October 8th, 1943 I-21 launched
her Yokosuka E14Y “Glen” 2 seat reconnaissance plane for its flight over Suva.
The flight was conducted by PO2C (Pilot Officer, 2nd Class) Hideki Nakamura.
The flight apparently does not raise concerns of a Japanese submarine operating
in the Fiji vicinity.
Inada reportedly attacked an
unidentified enemy merchant “off New Hebrides” (west of Fiji) with torpedoes on
October 16th but failed to hit her. This vessel has never been identified and
it is not known if they realized that they were under attack or reported the
On October 19th I-21 was ordered to
intercept a convoy of six fleet oilers that had previously been sighted by I-36
in the Hawaiian area. Nothing appears to have resulted from that.
By the morning of November 11th 1943
I-21 was operating in the shipping lanes south of Fiji. It is not clear how
long she had been there or when Inada first spotted the Cape San Juan, and may
never be known. The same applies to how long she remained there, and when and
where she might have surfaced again.
All that is known is that after
reporting his success, Inada was ordered to return to Truk and that by November
19th they were en route. Their trip home was interrupted by the American
invasion of Tarawa and Makin Islands on November 20th, which resulted in new
orders to divert and attack the invasion fleet with several other
submarines. This included I-19 and
I-135. I-175 (which actually torpedoed the USS Liscome Bay) was added to the
same group later.
On November 27th Inada reported that
he had sighted the American ships, but this was I-21's last transmission.
Captain Dixwell Ketcham's escort carrier USS Chenango (CVE-28) of Task Group 53.6
was supporting the invasion, and at 2157, Grumman TBF "Avenger"
torpedo-bombers from her Air Group 35 find and sink a Type B submarine. Several
days later the Japanese try to contact I-21, but receive no response.
On December 24th, 1943 I-21 is
presumed lost with all 101 hands in the Gilberts area, and finally removed from
the navy List on April 30th, 1944. The standard complement for the Type B1 was
94 and the extra personnel likely consisted of floatplane crews and medical
personnel. I-21 was not only carrying a doctor (Surgeon Lt.(jg) Tamura
Yoshiharu), but also two orderlies.
According to Sander Kingsepp; “I-21's
loss remained a mystery for the Japanese until long after the end of war. Author
Zenji Orita in his "I-Boat Captain" (Publisher: Major Books (1976),
English, ISBN-10: 0890411034, ISBN-13: 978-0890411032) notes that Inada’s
"crew was weary and his submarine near the end of its cruising
endurance" (p. 184), but does not even speculate about the cause of I-21's
Also identified as a member of the crew was the
Torpedo Officer/XO (Executive Officer), who was a Lt Masaru Ono (Class 66, from
Hiroshima Prefecture), the former navigator of I-21.
The fact that the Cape San Juan was traveling
solo and not in convoy has been questioned by families of the survivors and puzzled
me as well, especially for late 1943. In 1942 when my relative's Arkansan was
sunk it was not unusual for ships to sail "solo", also known as “independent”.
In the Atlantic, by late 42, early 43 most vessels moved in convoy, for most of their journey, protected by
warships and/or aircraft.
The Japanese operated differently
than the Germans though. They tended to concentrate on warships, not supply
lines in the Pacific, what they referred to as 'Commerce Raiding' (a critical error that would be a factor in their
downfall). It's also important to remember the front in the Pacific had shifted
hundreds of miles to the Northwest. When the Cape San Juan was hit she was “behind our lines"
in what was assumed to be relatively "friendly" territory.
I did a little research to help give
you the reader some perspective on the odds the Cape San Juan faced when
traveling through the Pacific at the time.
Here are some totals for 1943 (sunk
- German U-Boat successes in all
theaters = 579
- American Submarine successes in
Pacific = 284
- Japanese Submarine successes in
Pacific = 44
So, first and foremost, you can see
that Japanese submarines were nowhere near the threat German U-Boats were in
the Atlantic, or even American submarines were to Japanese vessels in the
The monthly breakdown for the
Japanese successes in 1943 makes it even more apparent:
- Jan = 5
- Feb = 2
- Mar = 1
- Apr = 6
- May = 13
- Jun = 5
- Jul = 2
- Aug = 3
- Sep = 1
- Oct = 2
- Nov = 4
- Dec = 0
Note that this includes attacks on
both US Navy vessels and Merchant Ships. These were also based on Japanese
claims, many of which were not confirmed, so the numbers are probably a bit
lower, perhaps 41.
Of the four claims in November;
- One is an unconfirmed on an unknown
- One was the US Escort Carrier USS Liscome Bay.
- One was the US Submarine USS Corvina
The two successes in October were
both US Destroyers.
In fact you have to go back to
August to find another transport/merchant success, and there wouldn't be
another confirmed until nearly a year later in October of 1944.
The Navy had reason to be confident
the Cape would pass through unscathed.
They took a calculated risk based on
the lack of Japanese submarine activity, and relied on the defensive
capabilities of the ships themselves during the night (blacked-out,
zig-zagging, armed) as well as air escorts by aircraft
during the day. In fact, there was a nearly constant stream of vessels sailing
back and forth on this route. The records that Chester Driest found on the
RNZAF No. 4 squadron indicate that they were covering numerous ships in the
vicinity at this time, including:
- USS Rochambeau (AP-63) (Troop
- USS General G. O. Squier (AP-130) (Troop
Transport – the one that would eventually take most of the Merchant Mariner and
Armed Guard survivors home)
- Edwin T. Meredith (Liberty Ship –
who would come to the rescue)
- Cape Johnson (Troop Transport - Cape
San Juan’s sister)
- Stephen M. White (Liberty Ship)
- Broad River (T-2 Tanker)
- Bloemfontein (Troop Transport)
- R. C. Stoner (Liberty Ship)
As well as several others identified
only by their call signs, which I have yet to identify. According to 855th
member Gene Hines, the ships were spread out, approximately 50 miles apart. The
Battalion’s heavy construction equipment was on other ships behind them.
The Cape San Juan was simply in the
wrong place at the wrong time. Another 30 minutes or so and her RNZAF Hudson
air escort would have been overhead and may have prevented the attack. Any of the
ships listed above could have just as easily been the I-21’s victim.
There was also some criticism by the
passengers (in particular the 1st Fighter Control men) in the days
and years after the incident that the number of boats and rafts was inadequate.
From the perspective of some of these men who had nothing more than an inland
waterway life vest and perhaps a hatch cover to help keep them afloat, one can
see why they would think this.
The fact of the matter is that the
Cape San Juan would not have been allowed to sail without an adequate amount of
lifeboats/rafts and per regulations was probably carrying a reserve capacity as
well. There were different standards for civilian passenger ships and military
vessels. Even pre-war passenger liners that were converted to troop ships did
not carry enough lifeboats for all their passengers, and had to supplement them
with some of the alternatives I will describe below. For example, the SSPresident Coolidge, which was lost in 1942, was designed to carry up to 840
passengers (all classes) before the war, and was carrying over 5,000 troops
when she struck mines. Luckily all but 2 survived.
A Standard C1-B freighter carried
two lifeboats. These were located on top of the deck house, aft of the funnel
and were typically allocated to the Merchant Seaman Crew. They were made of
wood and were very susceptible to shrapnel and blast damage by torpedoes and
gunfire. It was very common for enemy submarines to aim for the center of the
ship they were targeting, and for the lifeboat(s) on the side of the ship that
was hit to be destroyed or otherwise rendered unusable by being holed.
Lifeboats required specialized gear
which took up a lot of space and needed to be launched by trained Merchant
Seamen. The lifeboats on the high side of a list often had difficulty being
able to be lowered because they couldn’t clear the side of the ship.
If the lifeboat survived the attack
and was launched successfully, however, it offered the best protection from the
elements, and the ability to effectively maneuver via oars, sails, or in some
cases an on-board motor. There are many stories of survivors saving
themselves by navigating hundreds of miles to the nearest land. To date I've written about the epic survival stories of American-Hawaiian's own Alaskan, Coloradan, Honolulan, Montanan, Texan and Washingtonian. There was no guarantee however,
and there are also many stories of men if lifeboats simply disappearing, never to
be seen again.
The Cape San Juan had a second
lifeboat added on each side on top of the deck house. They also added a single
lifeboat station on each side just aft of the main deck house, for a total of
six lifeboats, three to a side. They would lose one of the six during the
It should be noted that in photos of
her sister ships later in the war, up to ten lifeboats were carried. The single
stations aft of the deck house were upgraded to doubles, and a third lifeboat
station was added to each side just forward of the main deck house.
A Standard C1-B freighter would
carry four wooden rafts. These were positioned on ramps on each side of the
forward and aft masts and were typically allocated to the Navy Armed Guard
Crew. They were made of two rows of 55 gallon drums, framed in by wood and covered
with wood decking. They came in various sizes. The standard raft for the Armed
Guard had a recessed area in the center running the length of the raft, while
the Cape San Juan’s looked quite a bit larger and had the wood decking all the
They were not quite as susceptible
to shrapnel and blast damage as lifeboats because the raft would still float if
a certain percentage of drums remained watertight. They were somewhat similar
to a floating platform or dock you might see being used on a lake. They also
carried emergency supplies of food and water and well as oars and sails like a
lifeboat, although they weren’t nearly as maneuverable.
In a worst case scenario they were
designed to release and float free when the vessel sank (sometimes this
required some modification by the crew). They needed to be secure enough not to
rip loose during heavy weather/seas. They were too heavy to manhandle into the
water so they were mounted on steel ramps, the idea being that once they were
released they would slide down the ramp and into the water. This didn’t always
work as advertised and they sometimes jammed, especially on the high side of
the list. They were typically double sided so it did not matter which side they
landed on, although they could sometimes be damaged when they impacted the
In the case of the Cape San Juan,
the wooden rafts were all grouped together, a pair on each side of the forward
mast. This would lead to issues during the Cape San Juan’s evacuation as men
swimming for the first raft were struck by the second raft as it was released.
Several men were reportedly killed in this manner.
The primary lifesaving gear added for
the vast majority of the passengers was something called a Carley float. This
was the principal lifesaving device used by the US Navy, as well as many other
navies, on their war ships since the First World War.
The Carley float looked like a raft,
especially when stowed withe the floor collapsed, but was really more akin to a giant life ring. There appear to have been two construction methods. One was
comprised of a copper or steel tube about 18 inches in diameter, bent into an
oval or rectangular loop. The metal tube had internal baffles welded in place
every 12-18 inches to prevent the entire tube from flooding if holed. The
outside of the tube was then wrapped in subsequent layers of cork or kapok for
added buoyancy, sometimes a layer of cotton, then canvas and glue, and finally
paint. A thin wooden lattice platform was provided in the center, which could be used
as a floor or suspended below the float by a curtain of rope netting so you
could stand on it. Rope handles were provided around the outside perimeter
every 12 to 18 inches.
The other style was made of a rectangular frame of Balsa Wood covered in a special water-proof material called "Hydrotuf", which according to the manufacturer, was also flame and abrasion resistant. It too offered a collapsible lattice floor and handle around the perimeter for the men to hang onto.
Benefits of the floats were that
they could take an enormous amount of damage and still remain a usable flotation device (obviously a key factor for the Navy), and could be easily
launched just by throwing it overboard. They self-righted so it did not matter
which side they settled on. Large numbers of floats could also be mounted to
any flat surface or stacked in out the way locations. Another important
advantage on the crowded deck of a ship.
It really had only one disadvantage,
but it was a big one: it offered absolutely no protection from the elements. It
was impossible to get dry, and of course provided no protection from large
marine predators such as sharks.
The stated capacity of the floats
(in this case 20, 40 and 60) was not how many personnel could be seated on top or
within the ring, but also how many could hold on the ropes around the
perimeter. Some of the 1st Fighter Control Squadron men seemed surprised
by this, but that is how the floats were designed to be used.
Many men were seen to abandon their
Carley floats and swim for the nearest lifeboat or wooden raft, all of which
became heavily overloaded.
The keys to surviving in a Carley
Float were moderate temperatures, and the speed of rescue. During the Cape's sinking,
it was cool enough to be uncomfortable, especially with the tropical rain storms that
passed through, but nowhere as bad as conditions found in the North Atlantic, where men could die of hypothermia in a matter of minutes.
As bad as the Cape San Juan sinking
was, there were several instances of Navy men surviving nearly a week on Carley
floats in the Pacific. Most notable of these was the USS Indianapolis tragedy
(4 nights/5 days), and the survivors from the infamous Battle off Samar (50
As noted in other sections, the men
were supplied with a mix of cork and kapok life vests, some stenciled with “For
inland waterways only”. These were supposedly lighter duty life vests that were
only rated for about 9 hours. Many men rescued 30 plus hours after abandon ship
were still wearing these vests, so they obviously performed adequately. Despite
the number of first person accounts collected by Chester Driest, I found no
evidence that the lighter duty vests contributed to the loss of life.
All passengers were provided with a
vest when they embarked and were instructed to wear them at all times, with the
exception of when they slept, in which case they were to use the vest as their
As noted in ‘the Attack’ section, some
“rafts” drifted away before they could be manned, described by Master Strong as
“not less than two and not more than six”. The term “raft” was used
interchangeably to describe the large wooden rafts and the Carley floats which
adds to the confusion. Eyewitness accounts state that the painters (ropes that
tether the raft to the ship) were all cut loose on the wooden rafts for fear
that they would be pulled down with the ship. The Carley floats weren’t
attached at all. The wind and wave action quickly dispersed them along with the
survivors, so the weather was just as much a factor as anything.
This was evident to the men still on board, who
started throwing 2’ x 4’ wooden hatch covers and anything else they could find
A poem about the incident was
written by Private Hugh H. Shanks of the 855th and typed by the 253rd
Company Clerk Americo L. Vergari from Cambridge, OH. Kent Hunt of the 253rd
provided the cover art, which I show above in the 253rd section.
The two units were stationed nearby
in the Philippines in 1944 and collaborated on creating and distributing the
poem to all their members. Pretty amazing considering the official segregation
policies in place at the time.
I debated whether I should include
the poem in the 855th’s section because one of its members wrote it
and most of the references to men in it refer to 855th members, or
the 253rd’s section because they published it and survivor Stephen Dybas
generously provided a scan of his copy. Ultimately, I decided it would be best
to create a new section for it at the end because it applies to everyone
involved, and helps summarize the whole event.
Disclaimer: The following poem
includes some very dark passages, but captures the full range of emotions the
men were feeling. Political correctness was not a consideration for them, so
readers sensitive to such issues should exercise caution. While I don’t agree
with everything in it, especially the characterization of the Merchant Marine,
it provides a raw, uncensored view of the events that is very unique. I am
presenting it here in its original form with spelling and grammar intact.
‘THE LAST DAWN OF THE S.S. EL
KOPITON OR ODDESSY OF THE _______ BATTALION.’
(Ed. NOTE – Events and Incidents are
accurate and true. Names mentioned are all real characters: Because of
censorship Fictitious names used for ships)
THE WAR AT SEA
Thru out the year of ‘43
The “Gods of Death” ruled the sea.
Enemy Subs were scourge of the
Making Widows of Mothers and
Convoys molested, lone ships sunk,
U.S. Sea Supremacy – was that the
Early the morn, October Twenty Eight
The Transport El’Kopiton, steamed
Alone, 2000 men going over sea,
The _____Battalion, C. of E.
How quiet and calm the vast Pacific
We’d all expected the waves to be
LIFE ABOARD SHIP
Men on deck, a milling mass,
torture of seasickness over at last.
Time stands still as days pass,
Gulls all gone from the main top
Boxing today, somebody said
Ah! heres a book I haven’t read.
Rinse the decks, not once but twice
resume your reading, cards or dice.
Jumpin over legs, steppin on hands,
Buddies making post-war plans.
Ice cold Cokes, being sold below
Olds will buy, he’s won our dough.
NITE MUST FALL
7-O’clock, the water is on
Good! my canteen’s empty, every drop
Nite Falls on the El’Kopiton.
Blackout, til the crack of dawn.
Men are singing, all are gay
some admiring the Milky Way.
A TYPICAL DAY
Nite over the boys are gay
as usual gambling starts the day.
The good ship plods sou’west
Calesthenics, Rifle and hatch
10 O’clock, abandon ship drill
done to suit The Captains will.
Musical show on Hatch No. two (2)
Neptune party, Joy of the crew.
Vesper service, softly spoken,
Hear the mate, “lights out, no
Movie to-nite, in the Troop Mess
one hatch at a time can’t take all.
Three days off the Fiji Isles,
sight British Bomber, we’re all
“Torpedo Junction” they call this
because Jap Subs keep it hot.
Oh well, so far the trip’s been
tomorrow we cross the great date
Where do we land? Some-one shouts,
Melbourne or Moresby, we bare
Where do we land? That’s the issue,
hope it’s soon cause we’re out of
And we’re tired of rationed water,
tired of making wishes,
We’re tired of pretty sunsets and
countin’ Flyin Fishes.
Nite falls on our ocean queen
cloudy and dark, no silvery sheen.
Some still gamble, others sleep.
Cramped in hatches (800) deep.
Some never saw another dawn
disaster befell the El’Kopiton.
November eleventh, (11) five-forty
(5:40) in the morning.
I stand on deck stretching and
As I watch the water I gasp for
for speeding our way come’s Sudden
“Torpedo”! I cried”, off the
too late, Our guns boom now.
The “Fish” explodes in lower two
the steps blow out, hatch caved thru
carrying sleepers to their death
crushing others last breath
Men die as they sleep;
without a sound. Some weep.
WHO DARES COMMAND?
Captain shouts “Abandon Ship”!!
El’Kopiton can’t finish its trip.
Terror held many in its grip,
Havoc reigned aboard the ship.
Merchant crew rowing o’er the
have deserted us all, this is
Men jumpind, oily water
Sharks approach from ev’ry quarter
Cap’n shouted “Rafts!!” We let’em
killin’ some who swam below
T’is a ghostly thing, but its always
been true –
to save the many, sacrifice the few.
COURAGE OF MEN
Cap’n Bass and Corp. Barkley of
shall long be remembered for their
deeds this day,
Braving the terrors of the flooded
bringing up bodies, crippled,
crushed, some cold.
Stout of heart they will not fail
Hear us shout – “Hail Heroes,
And there are others, brave and true
saving buddies from the blue.
Yokum, Watson, and Wyatt I call by
the’ lost, you’ll live, in our Hall
I loved you much, I knew you well
God Grant, for you, there be no
Many men ne’er left the Ship,
held by terror, white of lip.
Merchant crew has stole life boats
Ironical, yes, it got our goats
Sharks hang round, dare not draw
strugglin’ men shriek in fear.
THE FIRST RESCUE
The good ship ______ comes our way
And saves two hundred men (200)(same
Its Cap’n carries orders for a
but loudly he cries – “Stop the
Defies his orders in spite of
T’wixt Orders and Mercy to Mercy
DEATH OF A “MAN”
He knows our ship is a Troop
“Pick-up those Men”, “To Hell with
Men left forlorn as she sails out of
Sadness aboard. “Josh” died that
he was my pal, every man’s friend,
Parlyzed, he smiled and welcomed the
Left behind in Tropical Squall
deepens the misery of us all.
Some weaken and slip in to the water
midst the Prayers and insane
Some scream, and curse the Sea,
some are mute, like Ross and Lee.
Just fore darkness falls o’er the
A Plane is heard by Brown and me.
A Giant Sea Plane, takes forty (40)
“Thats all this trip, be back again”
High she soars and flies away
We know she won’t be back to-day.
Huddled close, chilled to the bone,
but each man still feels all alone.
Mom once said she feels when I’m in
Does Telepathy traverse this big
I’d say “all’s well” if I could
God grant she doesn’t feel this
AS CHRIST HAS TAUGHT, PRAY YE THUS
Amidst our plaintive sincere
To our Savior way up stairs
A choking gasp, a splash is heard
another gone without a word.
Pal calls Pal, to find out who
weakened and slipped into the blue.
Rafts drift far in two (2) long days
toss by furious Ocean waves
roughest days we’ve seen so far
Ironic yes, but so is War.
Nites dark and eerie, faces drawn
We pray – “Oh God please rush the
Grey morning falls in a misty
the sky is hid by a solid cloud
A plane! A plane! some one shouts
some have hopes, some have doubts.
Oil smeared faces scan the sky
Tears welled-up in every eye.
A Bomber sweeps down, inspects the
We aren’t sure if its ours or not.
Drops food and water, soars away
He’ll bring help sometime to-day.
Feeling better we all are calm
A ray of hope is soothing balm.
Mast Ahoy! On yon Horizion.
Wobblylegs on Raft a’risin.
Oil filled eyes strain and peer.
“A U.S. Destroyer” – We shout and
Fast she speeds bearin round,
looks as though she’ll run us down.
THE RESCUE – “FINAL”
Hauled aboard in hasty fashion,
given food and coffee ration.
Sailin round to pick up others,
friends greet friends like long lost
Some in need of Medic care;
Eyes blind beyond repair.
SO’JOURN IN SUVA
Off to Fiji, rest in Suva
Heal quickly Soldier, Mac Arthur
Telegraph home all is well
Jus’ ‘bout all we’re ‘llowed to
Heat, humidity, jungle stickiness;
Tropic Fruits good for sickness.
SUVIAN STREET SCENE
Giant natives awful haughty,
Hindu Urchins awful naughty,
Souvenirs at inflation prices.
Smells of cooking, lots of spices.
Jungle fighters, some yet ill,
anxious to go to Bougainsville.
GIVE YE THANKS UNTO THE LORD
Thanks givin dinner, Turkey and
Second helpin? If you please.
Pack-up to-nite, we sail in the
The H.P. Ship looms grey in the
Happy lad? You’ll see your pal
He was saved with the rest, they’re
in “New Cal”.
Land Ahoy!! Sounds from the nest
mountains seen far in the West.
Scissors and comb, I’m a barber
dozens of ships, Noumea Harbour
New Caledonia, owned by the French
Jungles and mountains; Native
Ridin’ at anchor, ships of all
Linin’ the shores, men of all
Many races, creeds and faces
gathered here from many places
United in cause, tho’ different in
Preserving democracy, fightin’ for
We camp on a hillside, o’er looking
‘Bove winding roads. Whats that I
A truck convoy, hear the noise
Hey gang! Fall out! Here come the
Theres Parker, Skipper, and Chicago
Why Hell! We thought you guys were
FRIENDS THOU HAS’T – BY VIRTUES
Strong men weep; a slap on the
Even the timid seem more bolder.
We welcome many whom we used to
Boy, Oh boy! Reunion’s great.
Freddie Price, arguing as usual,
he makes an issue of a casual
adopted me, call’s me big brother,
I call him mouse cause he’s such a
“Diesel” Hill shouts to be heard;
Hi ya kid, whats the word?
Frantic lad, my home town boy,
reg’lar fella, full of joy.
Here’s Harry Gaddis, starry eyed
dashing, bold, Pittsburgh’s pride.
There’s Pierce, “Prim”, and T’ler,
as usual calm.
Smilin’, sweatin, neath tropic Sun.
Here’s “Bill” Jones, called “Soho
(I’m carryin’ $200.00 bucks for him)
loud his laughter, firm his grip,
squeezin’ my hand till I bite my lip
Chambers, Gill and Mason from the Buckeye
Ask either a favor, t’is never late.
Could go on naming, giving honorable
but 1st Sgt. Arnold calls
us to attention.
“Fall in formation in reg’lar
We gaze forlorn for absent faces
Roll Call shows there is much absence
Names unanswered cause reminiscence,
Jones, Kincade, Parsons, Parker,
Lee, Nelson – Absent. (His place was
next to me.)
BEWARE THE WRATH OF AVENGANCE
Absent! Echoes thru the lines.
Bleeding hearts; angry minds.
O’ Son’s of Nippon you shall pay and
ten-fold for that bloody day.
We’ll smash your cities for
and crumble Tokyo to end our story.
BACK TO SEA
Pack-up men, we sail tomorrow
forget your pain, cast out your
Our Battalion’s motto is “Can Do”
Push on, we must, til’ War is
Standing on deck, in the early dawn
We think ahead; what lies beyond?
THE BLOOD OATH
Farewell New Cal. We leave you now.
But on your shores we made a vow;
We swore to never quit this battle,
to slaughter Japs like Hogs and
‘Til their women shall wail, their
To kill til Nipponese blood is
WOMEN OF OUR ENEMY, TAKE HEED
Well used influence, Nippon mothers
might have saved sons and brothers
too late now – their doom we seal;
their death the salve our wounds to
Away Vile thoughts, for I need rest.
We’ll keep our vows, we’ll stand the
DUE CREDIT GIVEN
Sleep on dear brothers you’ve staked
In your Battalions Hall of Fame.
A lesson you taught in blood and
True t’was tough, but we learned it
Your deeds were good, the mem’ry
Our laughter we trade for more sober
TO THE LOVED ONES “THEY” LEFT BEHIND
O’ you mothers, sweethearts and
Weep on lament once precious lives,
Fear not for them; they know no
in that land “Beyond to-morrow”.
To go “Beyond” makes none forget,
they loved you then, they love you
Tho’ life was short they loved you
for your caress and tender touch.
Your names be remem’bred, you died
not in vain;
expendable you were, t’was Tojo’s
Death took you away but glory
Without seeing a battle your lives
You’ll be avenged no matter the
Someday we shall meet, face to face,
but first we must earn a right to
and win your approval of our deeds
here on Earth
in defence of America, land of our
We’ll meet you someday and share
leaven. Wait for us there – At the
Gates of Heaven.
Most of the information on the Cape
San Juan itself came from Chester Driest via Tom Gauthier initially, and then
from the Driest family directly.
from A. L. Mare, Commander of the U.S. Naval Base in Fiji dated November 19,
- Statement of
Steward F. Van Kirk, Technician 4th Class, US Army
- Interview of
Harold E. Smith, Radioman 3rd Class, USNR
- Report by R.
A. Barth, Major, US Army - Transport Commander
- Statement by
M.D. MacRae – Master, SS Edwin T.
- Interview of
Herbert E. Bass, Captain, Corps of Engineers, US Army, November 20, 1943
- Interview of
Monroe J. Barkley, Private, 855th Ordnance Aviation Battalion, US Army,
November 20, 1943
- Interview of
Donald W. Harris, Lt. (j.g.) USNR
- Entries from
ships log of the USS McCalla
- Entries from
ships log of the USS Demsey
- Statement by
Charles A. Mullen, Able Seaman, Cape San
Juan, November 16, 1943
- Statement by
John E. Watt, Able Seaman, Cape San Juan,
November 16, 1943
- Statement by
Roy E. Erickson, Oiler, Cape San Juan,
November 16, 1943
- Statement by
Walter E. Gibson, Engine Room Cadet, Cape
San Juan, November 16, 1943
- Statement by
John W. Geary, Cadet, Cape San Juan,
December 9, 1943
- Testimony of
Walter M. Strong – Master, SS Cape San
Juan, November 18, 1943
- War Action
Casualty Report filed by Master Strong October 24, 1944
- Statement by
William J. Dorcey, 2nd Mate, Cape
San Juan, November 18, 1943
- Statement by
Theodore Hall, Chief Engineer, Cape San
Juan, November 18, 1943
- Statement by
Earl F. Manning, Chief Mate, Cape San
Juan, November 18, 1943
- Essay ‘Love
Lifted Me’ by Mitch Williamson, a US Army enlisted man describing his
experience abandoning ship and eventual rescue by the PBM. Date unknown.
- Interview of
Chester W. Driest, 1st Fighter Control Squadron, US Army, rescued by
YMS-241. Date unknown.
- Entries from
ships log of the YMS-241.
conducted by Robin Sellers, Ph.D., with James J. Reed and Chet Driest, April
30, 1998. Reichelt Oral History Program, World War II collection, Florida State
University, Tallahassee, Florida.
to the information provided by Driest and Gauthier, Chuck Moss provided the
following on his father and the PBM rescue:
- Pan American
1943 Annual Report which included Moss photo and summary of rescue.
- Essay ‘The
Day I Drank The Admiral’s Whiskey’ by Bill Moss
- Article ‘SOS
for a Skyhook’ by William Van Dusen, Illustrated by Lt. Seymour Thompson, USNR
from the October 7th, 1944 issue of Collier’s magazine.
- Driest letter
to Moss dated December 23rd, 1986.
- Driest letter
to Moss dated February 2nd, 1987.
- Driest letter
to Moss dated June 24th, 1984.
- Driest letter
to Moss dated June 13th, 1987.
- Ernest Miller
letter to Moss dated January 11th, 1988 (Rescued by Moss and his
- Tom Hartley
letter to Moss dated March 16th, 1987 (Rescued by Moss and his
- Frank Saul
article ‘Survivors Recall Daring Rescue In South Pacific’ by Michael McCabe,
San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, May 14 1987.
- Mariner take
- Moss 1974
memorandum ‘Technique for Open Sea Landing and Takeoffs’ dated December 1,
memorandum (untitled) about rescue dated November 13, 1943.
hand-written notes from day of rescue operation, November 11, 1943.
retirement article titled ‘Thanks, Captain Moss’.
‘Pacific Rescue – 48 Oil-Soaked, Half-Blinded Men Saved From Choppy Sea by
Plane’. Author and newspaper not known.
‘Rhode Island Heroes’ by John Fawcett.
Interview from the show ‘We the people’ hosted by Milo Boulton in New York,
date unknown. Interview conducted by reporter Don Mozley from San Francisco.
there were a few sources I found that provided some additional info:
- American Battle
Monuments Commission website for information on Cape San Juan casualties.
- Ancestry.com for information on Walter M Strong and crew lists.
New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand - for the images from the photograph album of Number 6
(Flying Boat) Squadron [AIR 144/3 12 page 49].
- Boone, Dave - (tugboatpainter.net) artist
who provided the photo of Nebraskan
from his private collection from the 1930's originally taken by Francis
- Christensen, Lena for the photo of her father George H. Roblin, navigator of the PBM.
- DANFS –
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships website for history of the USS McCalla (DD-488).
- Driest, Barbara and Edie for information and photos of Chester Driest.
- Dybas, Greg for information on his father Stephen Dybas and his unit, the 253rd Ordnance. Specifically his father's experience, unit history, photos, and 'The Poem'.
- Gerhardt, Frank A. - for his website: usmaritimecommission.de for photos and information on Cape San Juan's sisters.
- Hackett, Bob and Kingsepp, Sander - for their website: ‘SENSUIKAN! - Stories and Battle Histories of the IJN's
information on I-21 and Hiroshi Inada, particularly the Tabular Records of
Movement (TROMs) for the I-21.
- Hines, Bolden E. - for his help on the 855th Engineers.
- Hoffman, Richard Alden - Book: ‘The fighting
flying boat: a history of the Martin PBM Mariner’. Naval
Institute Press, June 2004, ISBN: 1591143756.
History and Heritage Command website for information and images of the Cape San Juan and the USS Dempsey (DE-26).
- Rohwer, Jurgen for information
on Japanese activity in Indian Ocean from his book Axis Submarine
Successes 1939-1945, Naval Institute Press - Annapolis, Maryland ISBN
- Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Colonel Stanley Wolfe Collection - for the images of the survivors arriving in Suva, Fiji.
- Kingsepp, Sander - for his help with specifics on I-21, Hiroshi Inada, IJN tactics and weapon systems.
- Scott, Jenny - Blog about RNZAF No. 6 Squadron participation in rescue of SS Cape San Juan, and her book 'DUMBO DIARY Royal New Zealand Air Force No.6 (Flying Boat) Squadron 1943-1945'.
- Singler, Cammie, daughter of
253rd member Shelby Cunningham for images of tribute money.
- Strong Family for biographical and photographic information Walter M. Strong.
Port - Historical
Naval Discussions Forum , and its members for help clarifying some details of the attack.
- U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center, 100 Forbes
Drive, Martinsburg, WV 25404 for Merchant Marine career information on Walter M. Strong.
- US Merchant Marine website at usmm.org for information on the C1-B.
- Wikipedia free on-line encyclopedia for summaries on miscellaneous topics related to this story.