SS Edwin T. Meredith


Introduction

Many questions still remain over whether Edwin T. Meredith’s Master, Murdoch D. MacRae was ever reprimanded for coming to the Cape San Juan survivors’ rescue. What is not in question is the courage of that decision and that of her crew, both civilian merchant seamen and Navy Armed Guard sailors in assisting in the rescue. The Edwin T. Meredith was the ‘first responder’, the first on the scene that was available to have a positive impact on a very desperate situation.

At great risk to their own personal safety they rescued 438 men. This is their story.

Pre-Cape San Juan Rescue

The Edwin T. Meredith was a standard Liberty ship type EC2-S-C1 built by Permanente Metals Corporation, Richmond Yard No. 1 in Richmond, CA, also known as the Kaiser Shipyards. One of 138 Liberties built at this specific yard, which also built American-Hawaiian's James J. O'KellyJohn Carroll, Otis Skinner and Simon Bamberger.

She was named after prominent Iowan Edwin Thomas Meredith (1876 – 1928). Meredith was a magazine publisher (most notably Better Homes and Gardens) and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in President Woodrow Wilson's administration from February 2nd, 1920 to March 4th, 1921.

The Edwin T. Meredith’s keel was laid down on May 19th, 1943 in building way 3, she was launched on June 15th, 1943 and delivered to Smith & Johnson, Inc. on June 30th, 1943. She took only 42 days to build (27 days on way and 15 days on dock) at a cost of $1,032,276.00. Her radio call signal was KOVI.
Unfortunately, there are no known photographs of the vessel.


It’s unclear who Meredith’s first commander was. Murdock D. MacRae had previously served as the Master of the Liberty ship Ambrose D. Burnside, which was known to have arrived back in New York on April 14th, 1943, so it’s quite possible he returned to California in time. You can read more about MacRae in his biography further down.

I have been able to determine the Meredith had one prior voyage to the Pacific theater lasting about three months by piecing together references to her movements from several Navy base and vessel war diary’s, which I’ve listed below in chronological order:

July 8th, 1943 - Meredith took on ammunition at Mare Island (NAD MAREISLAND › War Diary, 7/1-31/43)

July 18th. 1943 – Meredith departed on her maiden voyage. (San Francisco newspaper article)

August 28th, 1943 – Meredith was moored in Pekoa Channel, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides with 44 warships and 9 other transports (USS DENVER › War Diary, 8/1-31/43)

September 3rd, 1943 – Meredith and S.S. John Lind were met by the destroyer U.S.S. Buchanan (DD-484) off Pallikulo Bay, Espiritu Santo to escort them to join Task Unit 32.4.9 bound for the Solomons. On the 6th they detached from the Task Force and entered Tulagi harbor. (USS BUCHANAN › War Diary, 9/1-30/43)

September 20th, 1943 – Meredith departed the Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo [likely for her voyage home to the West Coast]. (USS CLEVELAND › War Diary, 9/1-30/43)

After the Meredith arrived back in California at the end of September or early October, the usual process of unloading cargo, ammunition and perhaps a few passengers would have occurred. She would have been inspected and any necessary repairs would have been made.

I was fortunate to find her crew list on Ancestry.com (see bottom of next section). At first, when I noticed the return date on the list was the end of May I assumed I had the misfortune of finding the crew list for the voyage after the rescue. However, according to those documents, most of the crew signed on October 18th, 1943. The final six signed on between the 19th and 21st, and all in San Francisco. So, the voyage did, in fact, last seven months.

Cape San Juan Rescue

On October 23rd, 1943 – Meredith once again took on ammunition at Mare Island, bound for the Supply Officer, Havanah Harbor, Efate Island and soon thereafter set off of the South Pacific. (NAD MARE IS › War Diary, San Diego, 10/1-31/43). The exact entry reads as follows:

23 October 1943
Ammunition shipped as follows –
By truck to the following:
Encinal Terminal, Alameda, Calif., for the Supply Officer,
Havanah harbor, Efate Island.
USS GEAR [ARS-34, Rescue and Salvage ship]
SS Edwin Meredith
SS Norman Hapgood [Liberty ship]
USS ROCHAMBEAU [AP-63, Troopship]
USS ESCAMBIA [AO-80, Fleet Oiler]
USS STADTFELD [DE-29, Evarts class Destroyer Escort]
USS WARTON [AP-7, Troopship]
USS CHIEF [AM-315, Minesweeper]
SS Stevens [unknown]

Pier 34, San Francisco for Staff Ordnance Officer,
Sydney, Australia
USS GREINER [DE-37, Evarts Class Destroyer Escort]
USS RAINIER [AE-5, Lassen Class Ammunition Ship]
Chemical Warfare Officer, Treasure Island, Calif.
SS Nathaniel Bowditch [Liberty ship]

By rail:
7 cars to Pier 50-A to San Francisco for NAD Oahu, T.H.
3 cars to NAD Hawthorne, Nev.

By lighter:
To the USS HOEL [DD-533, Fletcher Class Destroyer] – 101,030 lbs.
To the USS STEPHEN POTTER [DD-538, Fletcher Class Destroyer] – 252,401 lbs.


The USS ROCHAMBEAU was a French passenger liner seized by the U.S. and converted into a troop ship. She was carrying replacements and reinforcements for the Guadalcanal campaign, and would bring casualties back. She was in the vicinity when the Cape San Juan was attacked, and was diverted around the area as I will detail later.

The way the above Mare Island reference was worded, I suspect this may have been more than just the ammunition for her Navy Armed Guard gun crews, and that her primary and perhaps only cargo was ammunition.

This adds another potential level of risk and danger to MacRae’s decision to stop and assist the Cape’s survivors. Had the Meredith been torpedoed in the vicinity of the Cape San Juan, or god forbid, once they had taken the Cape’s survivors aboard, and if they had been carrying ammunition the results would have been catastrophic. Based on the time it took for the Navy to arrive, however, it would have also been equally catastrophic had they not stopped to assist.

It is interesting to note that the Cape San Juan herself did not receive ammunition from NAD Mare Island until four days after the Edwin T. Meredith, which was on October 27th, 1943. The Cape’s speed advantage alone does not seem to explain away why she was slightly ahead of the Meredith, so the Meredith likely did not leave immediately after they took on their cargo.

As mentioned on the main Cape San Juan page, around the time of the attack there were several other ships in the area. Based on the various accounts, it must have been a confusing situation, with orders given then withdrawn for rescue assistance.

The impression that I am left with is that local command’s first instinct was to rescue the survivors, but as news spread up the chain of command, the thought of risking more vessels (especially loaded troop ships) in an area with an enemy submarine operating was weighed, and then the emphasis switched to getting the other transports to safety as quickly as possible, and then formulate a plan to get Naval vessels in the area to hunt for the submarine and affect a rescue.

As I’ve mentioned on other pages, that was compounded by the fact that the Navy was spread so thin in the area, mainly due to continuing operations in the Solomon’s and preparations for the upcoming invasion of the Gilbert’s, including “bloody” Tarawa.

During that confusing transition from 'please help' to 'save yourselves', I believe the Meredith was already committed and continued on her rescue mission. Although Meredith’s log is not currently available, other vessels’ are, and some were definitely asked to assist, and the order later rescinded or overruled. For instance:


U.S.S. General George O. Squier (AP-130), Captain Archibald Emil Uehlinger, commanding.

November 11th, 1943

Steaming as before. 0617—made visual contact with British plane. 0645—changed from zig-zag Plan 8 to zig-zag Plan 23. 0719—changed course to 270 (pgc) (t), 275 (psc), 267 (p.stg.c.), continued on zig-zag Plan 23. 0744—sighted land bearing 308 (t), distance 23 miles. – Robert B. Simpson, Ens., USNR

0800 Steaming as before [position 21° 42’ S, 174° 41’ W]. 0900—fired 95 rounds 20mm HEI and 166 rounds of 20mm HET at gunnery practice. 1125—received garbled radio message, origin Pearl Harbor, which was unintelligible. Plane off Tongatabu signaled: “Orders for you to proceed quickly to position 22-08 S, 178-06 W and rescue survivors.” [Note: this appears to be RNZAF Hudson 2089, F/S Pinching, F/S Boeson and F/S Cotbett] Changed course to 260 (pgc), 265 (psc), 256 (p.stg.c.) and proceeded toward area. Requested plane to send dispatch asking for repeat of garbled message. – W.A. Barr, Lt. Comdr., USNR

1300—Received repeat of previously garbled dispatch, origin Com Third Fleet, to divert immediately to new point Sugar 20-17 S, 173-82 W, clear of submarine area. 1302—changed course to 304 (pgc) (t), 308 (psc), 303 (p.stg.c.). 1321—Bitsko, Charles, Pvt., USA, Serial Number 32559648, was killed when a cargo boom working No. 4 hold gave way, striking him on head, Bitsko was a member of the Army working detail handling stores. 1400—Board of Investigation in case of Private Bitsko convened. Changed to zig-zag Plan 23. 1405—sighted unidentified ship bearing 312 (t), distance 18 miles. Daily inspection of magazines made and conditions found to be normal. - W.A. Barr, Lt. Comdr., USNR


Note: It was later the General George O. Squier that repatriated most of the Cape San Juan’s Merchant Mariner and Naval Armed Guard crew when they sailed from Noumea, New Caledonia to California on November 20th, 1943.


S.S. Rochambeau (AP-63), Captain S.B. Robinson, commanding.

November 11th, 1943

04-08 Underway as before. 0451 Sounded general quarters. Held casualty and damage control drills. 0539 Set condition two watch. 0540 Changed course to 274° true and began zig-zagging on plan #12. 0547 A U.S. Lockheed Hudson plane no. YZ17 approached and was identified [RNZAF not USAAC]. 0600 Distress message received that S.S. Cape San Juan was torpedoed in 22-10 S, 178-03 W at 1700 G.M.T. 0610 foregoing plane departed. Set condition three. – Lt. (jg) D-V (S) C.R. Van Dyke, USNR

08-12 Underway as before [position at 0800: 22° 00’ S, 175° 14’ W]. 0900 – Changed course to 301° True and began zig-zagging in accordance with plan # 11 from zig zag diagrams of 1940. 1154 – Held 20MM anti-aircraft gun practice, 60 rounds expended, no casualties. 1154 – Sighted plane bearing 076° True, identified as friendly. – Lt. (j.g.) D-V (S) John Franklyn Powers, USNR

Addenda 08-12 At 0855 Com 3d Flt secret dispatch 111826 was received altering route to destination. New route clears danger area where S.S. Cape San Juan was torpedoed. (See 04-08) watch. – Captain S.B. Robinson, USN

12-16 Underway as before on base course 301° true, 15.7 knots, 112 RPM, zig-zagging on base course in accordance with plan No. 11. Plane (Lockheed Hudson) in company. 1223 Plane disappeared, bearing 210° true. 1250 plane returned and signaled “BT Proceed with all possible speed to position 178-06 west 22-08 S to rescue survivors x authority of port director Tonga x Watch out for sub. AR” To this signal the Rochambeau replied: “Will not so proceed x Have been otherwise directed by Com 3d Fleet.” 1320 Plane departed after signaling “Thank you American.” – Lt. (jg) D-V(S) J.G. Nash, USNR.

16-20 Underway as before. 1647 Lockheed Hudson Plane, (YZN) approached off port quarter bearing 142° true. 1704 Plane disappeared bearing 275° true. 1750 Challenged strange vessel bearing 116° true and identified her as the USS General George Squires [sic], on parallel course. 1905 Darkened ship. 1907 Sounded precautionary general quarters. 1917 Set condition II. - Lt. (jg) D-V(S) A.G. Wald, USNR


Rochambeau was carrying 196 Officers and 1,981 enlisted Marine and Navy personnel of the 29th Replacement Battalion. They had departed San Francisco on October 25th, 1943. Robinson had replaced Captain J.C. Clark on October 14th.

This speaks again to the question of whether MacRae was following or broke any rules and whether he faced any disciplinary action, such as a court-martial as some have suggested. Merchant Mariners were subject to the military code of justice including court martial proceedings during World War II.

Unfortunately, there do not appear to be very many records related to MacRae and the Edwin T, Meredith readily available. As noted on the main Cape San Juan page in the 'Aftermath' section, these legal proceedings were purged from Coast Guard records about 10 years after the war, and as noted in MacRae’s bio later in this article, The Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center does not hold his Merchant Mariner Records. The only conclusion we can draw is that even if he did face a court-martial, he was found innocent or reprimanded so lightly that it had no effect on his career as he continued sailing uninterrupted as Master.

One of the few direct statements by MacRae known to exist was located by my intrepid predecessor on this topic, Chester Driest of the First Fighter Control Squadron.

According to a statement by Master M. D. MacRae included with Chester Driest’s record of the First Fighter Control Squadron, ‘From L.A. to Luzon’: “I wish to report that on November 11th at 5:30 AM ship’s time and 1700 G.C.T. an S.O.S. message was received aboard this vessel from the S.S. “CAPE SAN JUAN” stating that they had been torpedoed at Lat. 22 degrees 11’ S Long. 178 degrees 03’ W. Our ship’s position at that time was Lat. 21 degrees 45’ S Long. 177 degrees 50’ W [approximately 29 nautical miles away]. No change of course was made at this time, and at 9:05 AM ship’s time November 11 received message from airplane HYZY.Z.H stating that the troop ship S.S. “CAPE SAN JUAN” had been torpedoed and troops were in the water – on the attached form [unfortunately not included] are the full proceedings of this vessel from 9:10 AM to 8:00 PM November 11th, when departure was taken and we proceeded as originally ordered.



The Edwin T. Meredith finally arrived at the Cape San Juan’s location at 1100 (5.5 hours after the torpedoing, about two hours after they received the message from the RNZAF Hudson bomber). Based on the various witness accounts they first transferred the casualties and excess survivors (mainly Army transport personnel) still on board the Cape San Juan. The Cape’s Master Strong, the majority of the crew (those that did not man the lifeboats) and the Naval Armed Guard remained aboard.

According to a statement by Meredith’s Chief Mate, Alex Appelbaum, in a San Francisco newspaper article found by First Fighter Control Squadron survivor Robert Zelman: “Captain MacRae asked for volunteers to go into a lifeboat. It was raining and there were heavy seas. First Engineer Maurey Scott [sic] of Venice, Cal., went with me as engineer in a motor lifeboat and we had three sailors.

I pulled alongside and asked Captain Strong (skipper of the San Juan) for instructions. He asked us first to take stretcher cases off immediately---men wounded when the torpedo hit.

More small boats were put into the water to join the rescue operation.

All this time the water was infested with men on rafts. Men clinging to wreckage and men just swimming. The sharks were already there. Some of the rafts were partly submerged, and I saw some of the men actually pulled off by sharks.
[Appelbaum goes into great detail, almost too much, earlier in the article about the shark attacks, noting the sharks were from seven to ten feet long. The partly submerged rafts Appelbaum referred to were likely the Carley Floats, which the Merchant Mariners had little experience with].

On one of these trips I saw an Army captain going down and a shark was circling around him. I dove overboard and got the captain into our boat. We got him aboard the ship and he had a pint of whiskey on him. We didn’t have a drop of whiskey on the ship, but this captain would not share a drink with us---said that he was saving the whiskey.

And damned if he didn’t give us all hell for not getting to him sooner. Maybe he was just too excited.


MacRae then maneuvered the Meredith through the mass of survivors in the water for 8 hours and picked up as many as they could. Like the Navy ships the following day, the best method for picking up the survivors appears to have been cargo nets over the side with a bucket-brigade of men stationed along the flanks to help the already exhausted survivors up the nets and to the safety of the deck.


According to the newspaper article: “The merchant seamen, who continued rescue operations until some of them dropped from sheer exhaustion, won the unreserved praise of the men of the Navy gun crew aboard the Meredith.

Several of her Merchant Seamen and Navy Armed Guard crew exhibited extreme courage by diving into the heavy, shark infested, oil covered sea to pull exhausted men to the side of the ship where they could be hauled up to safety.

These included the following Seaman 1st Class of the Meredith’s Navy Armed Guard:

Donald Peter Adams (pulled one man to safety)
Robert Daniel Allen (pulled eight men to safety)
Carl Coppage, Jr. (pulled two men to safety)
Robert Lee Barr (pulled four men to safety)
Claborn Willy Kerley (pulled eight men to safety)
Marvin Allen Mercer (pulled one man to safety)
Louis Tallefferro Stovall (pulled two men to safety)

These men are reported to have been cited for gallantry.

Note: Ensign J.S. Burton, USNR (noted as a Lt. (j.g.) and the initials J.C. in some sources) from Dallas, TX was the Commanding Officer of Meredith’s Navy Armed Guard crew.

Additional members of the Meredith’s Navy Armed Guard included:

Edwin Parr, GM3c, 21 of Houston, TX
J.H. Clinton, S1c

According to statements attributed to Burton in the newspaper article: “Inasmuch as we believed a submerged submarine was still in the area, I had to keep a full gun crew at each gun, despite the fact all of the armed guard men wanted to help in the rescue. I was able to let two or three men at a time go overside to help in the rescue work. They did a marvelous job and so did the officers and men of the merchant marine crew. During the day a Pan American clipper arrived on the scene, took on some survivors, and tossed out a number of yellow life rafts. The men in the water needed more life rafts---badly. Some men in the rafts were up to their necks in water, the rafts were so overcrowded. They were all covered with oil and you couldn’t tell white from black.” The rafts Burton described were most likely Carely Floats, which had a lattice floor connected to the main float ring by an expandable net that could be release to allow the occupants to stand in the middle.

 
The newspaper article went on to state: “The men who actually participated in the rescue operations were modestly reluctant to talk about their heroism.

Eighteen-year-old Donald Peter Adams of Detroit, one of the Navy men cited for bravery in rescuing a man from drowning in the shark-filled waters, brushed off his experience with: ‘I just went down into the water, grabbed him, and helped him aboard----that’s all.’

Gunner’s mate third class Edwin Parr, 21, of Houston, Texas, who was stationed at a deck gun during the operations, told of one seaman friend who pulled eight men from the brink of death. ‘It was a young kid by the name of Al from Kansas City
[unknown].’ Parr recalled. ‘I saw him stand on the deck, take his watch off, and dive overboard with all his clothes on.’

Seaman 1st class A.B. Coppage watched a lifeboat from the San Juan approach the Meredith. ‘There were a bunch of men in it,’ he said. ‘Suddenly it capsized in the heavy sea. All of the men went down and only a few came back up.’

‘Two of the guys were throwing lines to a raft that was on the port bow,’ related seaman 1st class J.H. Clinton of the Meredith’s gun crew. ‘They told them to grab the line and hold onto it.’ ‘We can’t grab no line,’ they said. ‘We are all blind as hell.’
"

The following Merchant Mariner crew were noted to have pulled men to safety:

William Moe (Fireman)
Richard Gilland (Oiler)
John Janakos (General utility)
S.J. Wojcik (Carpenter)
W. Meisner (Baker)

After the war, Meritorious Service Medals were awarded to these five merchant seamen "for Conduct or Service of a Meritorious Nature".

According to the usmm.org website, the rescue effort was described as follows: “[Rescuer name] was a crew member of the SS Edwin T. Meredith in November 1945 [sic, it was 1943] when the vessel rescued nearly 400 survivors
[sic, it was over 400] from the U. S. Army Transport Cape San Juan, sunk in the Pacific. Some of the survivors were already in the water while others on rafts jumped into the sea and started swimming toward the Meredith, only to become exhausted. [Rescuer name] and four shipmates dove into the shark-infested waters and succeeded in dragging the men to the side of the ship where others of the crew aided in securing lines and hoisting them aboard. The five men rescued at least three survivors each."

Not too much is currently known about the five men singled out, other than what I have been able to piece together below. Hopefully, one day their families will find the site and provide more information.

Fireman William Kekaa Pulusila “Sunny” Moe was born on November 17th, 1923 in Hawaii. He had joined the Maritime Service around June of 1942. He signed on the tanker Alcoa Pegasus on June 18th. 1943, and he had just arrived back in San Francisco on September 22nd, before transferring over to the Meredith. At the time he signed on with the Meredith he was described as 20-years-old, 5’-9” tall, 185 lbs. After the Meredith he served on the James Lick. He was awarded his medal on December 27th, 1946. Sunny Moe passed away on April 27th, 1987 in Hauula, HI at the age of 63.

Oiler Richard Gilland was born on January 6th, 1923 in San Francisco, CA. He had joined the Maritime Service around October of 1942. He signed on the tanker Alcoa Pilgrim on June 22nd. 1943, and he had just arrived back in San Francisco on September 16th, before transferring over to the Meredith. At the time he signed on with the Meredith he was described as 20-years-old, 5’-8” tall, 145 lbs. After the Meredith he served on the Maria Mitchell as a 3rd Assistant Engineer. Usmm.org did not specify when he was awarded his medal. Richard Gilland passed away on May 3rd, 1983 in Aromas, CA at the age of 60.

Utilityman John Janakos was I believe John Janakes and was born on April 27th, 1921 in San Francisco, CA. He too had only recently joined the Maritime Service, on September 4th, 1943. He signed the Meredith on October 18th. 1943. At the time he signed on with the Meredith he was described as 22-years-old, 5’-11” tall, 185 lbs. After the Meredith he served on the John F. Seafroth, Ferdinand Westdahl and Monterey, the latter three as an A.B. He left the Maritime Service August 15th, 1945 and was awarded his medal on July 27th, 1946. John Janakes passed away on April 5th, 1976 in San Francisco, CA at the age of only 54.

Carpenter Stephen John Wojcik was born on September 8th, 1913 in Illinois. He had only recently joined the Maritime Service, around June of 1943. He signed on the Liberty ship Luther S Kelly on July 24th. 1943, and he had just arrived back in San Francisco on September 20th, before transferring over to the Meredith. At the time he signed on with the Kelly he was described as 29-years-old, 5’-8” tall, 154 lbs., with a scar on his left jaw. After the Meredith he served on the Sea Snipe, Pampero (A-H) and Day Star. He was awarded his medal on July 19th, 1946. Stephen J. Wojcik passed away on September 3rd, 1969 in Los Angeles, CA at the age of only 55.

Baker Walter Purcell Meisner was born on October 31st, 1918 in Alameda, CA. He had just joined the Maritime Service on October 21st, 1943 and had signed on the Meredith the same day. At the time he signed on with the Meredith he was described as 24-years-old, 6’-0” tall, 180 lbs. He was one of the few that stayed with the Meredith for her next voyage. Usmm.org did not specify when he was awarded his medal. Walter P. Meisner passed away on August 13th, 1990 in Marin County, CA at the age of 71.

At 1900 (7:00 pm) Meredith returned to Cape San Juan and Master Strong, the majority of the Merchant Mariner crew, and the Navy Armed Guard, finally transferred to the Meredith at 1950 (7:50pm). The Cape’s gun crews kept firing as long as they could, until “the guns got so hot they wouldn’t fire anymore” to keep the submarine at bay.

Meredith left the area at about 8:00pm when it became dark in case the submarine was still in the area. Just before they left, at the request of Captain Strong, the Cape San Juan's Navy Armed Guard gun crews manned Meredith’s guns and fired 12 rounds into her from the aft 3”/50 in an attempt to hasten the sinking.

Five of the wounded men taken aboard succumbed to their injuries while en route to Noumea, New Caledonia and were buried at sea. These included:

Charles H. Miner – PFC, 1st Fighter – Never regained consciousness after drowning
Theodore M. Harris – 855th – Multiple compound fractures of right leg
Orthella E. Watkins - 855th – Broken left leg and vertebrae (L2) – paralyzed below waist.
Wilson S. Nelson, Jr. - 855th – Broken vertebrae (C7) - paralyzed below C8
One unidentified “colored” soldier (presumed to be Warrant Officer John E. Fields) – 855th - Never regained consciousness after drowning

According to a statement in the San Francisco newspaper article made by a Meredith Naval Armed Guard, Gunner’s Mate Third Class, Edwin Parr: “The hardest thing of all, was when the chief mate [Appelbaum] asked another fellow and me to bury the men who had died. We went out on the boat deck and the chief mate said a little prayer, then we slid the bodies over the side and into the water.

According to a another statement in the San Francisco newspaper article, this time made by the Meredith’s Naval Armed Guard commander, Ensign Burton, he described the crowded Meredith as: “just like a slave ship. There were men sleeping everywhere. They were in the passageways, on the decks, and jammed into every compartment and room. Crowded into his own quarters---cramped for two men---were eight officers, two of them badly wounded. For days I couldn’t even crowd my way to the wash basin in my quarters.

The article stated “The wounded and dying, as they were brought aboard the Meredith, were treated by four Army Medical Corps officers who were riding aboard the Liberty ship as passengers. They were Captains Korngold, Chicago, and Schwartzberg, Buffalo, NY, and Lts Fisher, Galveston, Texas, and Carrington, also of Texas.” It should also be noted that the Army Transport Medical personnel on the Cape assisted also, including 1st Lt. John G. Schurts, 1st Lt. James V. Davis and 1st Lt. Leo S. Wool, as well as Meredith’s Pharmacist Mate, Loring W. Wood.

As Meredith approached Noumea, New Caledonia on November 15th, she was met by the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Thatcher (DD-514) at the approximate position of 23° 28.4’ S, 169° 47.6E and escorted the rest of the way to Noumea. They arrived in port the following day, on November 16th. 1943. (USS THATCHER › War Diary, 9/1/43 to 11/30/43)


MacRae went on to state: “I wish to state my highest recommendation for the Merchant Marine crew of this vessel, the S.S. “EDWIN T. MEREDITH,” also the Navy Armed Guard crew and Army Personnel passengers aboard in their assistance in rescuing survivors from the water and in many instances parting with nearly all their clothes" The Cape's survivors oil soaked clothes had to be stripped off and thrown overboard, and the Meredith’s crew and Armed Guard gave them whatever extra clothes they had with them.

"I also wish to express my highest appreciation to the Captain, his officers and crew – also Major Barth, troop commander of the S.S. “CAPE SAN JUAN” in their help and cooperation in taking care of survivors aboard this vessel en route to our destination.

According to the San Francisco newspaper article, MacRae stated: “We stayed with her [the Cape San Juan] until 8 o’clock that night. It was getting pretty dark. I figured the sub was still in the vicinity and everybody agreed I’d be crazy if I stayed there overnight. So we finally pulled away. I hated to do it, because I had to leave some 600 [sic] men, and there was no telling what would happen to them because it was certain their ship would sink.” MacRae was aware, at least by the time the article was written, that the McCalla arrived the next morning.

His Chief Mate, Appelbaum, stated “too much praise could not be given his skipper. Captain MacRae made one of the hardest decisions of his life when he decided to go to the rescue of the San Juan. He assumed that the submarine was still in the vicinity, and the decision he had to make was whether to attempt rescuing those men, and at the same time jeopardizing his own ship and the men under his command. We are all glad he decided that way he did.

The following is a complete list of the merchant seamen officers and crew members/heroes aboard the Edwin T. Meredith at the time of the rescue:

No. Last Name First Name Age Position Height Weight Service at Sea
1 Adelman Albert W. 30 Utility 5'-8" 150 1-1/2 yrs.
2 Alonzo Claude 20 A.B 6'-4" 220 2 yrs.
3 Anderson Charles E. 31 Oiler 5'-6" 138 11 mos.
4 Appelbaum Alex 39 Chief Mate 5'-9" 230 20 yrs.
5 Avilla Wilbert J. 27 Utility 5'-7" 170 6 mos.
6 Bernardi Bernie Gilbert 33 Messman 5'-5" 148 5 yrs.
7 Berry Russell J. 22 Oiler 6'-0" 160 1-1/2 yrs.
8 Blakley Ralph J. 20 Radio Operator 5'-10" 165 1st trip
9 Carty William J. 24 A.B 5'-11" 175 2 yrs.
10 Comer Haskell E. 25 O.S. 6'-0" 195 1-1/2 mos.
11 Foreman Solomon L. 34 Chief Steward 5'-6" 120 18 yrs.
12 Gallant Arthur F. 39 Bos'n 5'-8" 160 21 yrs.
13 Gatts Lonnie A. 44 Deck Engineer 5'-8" 136 15 yrs.
14 Gilland Richard J. 20 Oiler 5'-8" 145 1 yr.
15 Hamlin Richard B. 22 A.B 5'-8" 172 2 yrs.
16 Howard Lloyd Woodrow 26 2nd Cook 6'-0" 200 6 mos.
17 Jackson Orville 29 Wiper 5'-8" 185 1st trip
18 Janakos John J. 22 Utility 5'-11" 185 5 mos.
19 Jaujou Eugene 26 O.S. 5'-8" 131 1st trip
20 Jennings David H. 54 Chief Cook 5'-10" 165 12 yrs.
21 Johnson  Martin E. 46 3rd Mate 5'-8" 200 30 yrs.
22 Jones John Conway 20 Galley Utility 5'-10" 160 1st trip
23 Keeble Clyde 35 Fireman 5'-8" 140 8 mos.
24 Kenyon Herbert F. 31 Chief Engineer 5'-6" 155 10 yrs.
25 Laich George F. 31 3rd Asst. Eng'r. 5'-11" 165 10 yrs.
26 Larson John H. 19 Cadet Midshipman (d) 5'-10" 139 8 Mos.
27 Lopipero John J. 22 2nd Asst. Eng'r. 5'-10" 165 4 yrs.
28 MacRae Murdoch D. 45 Master 6'-1" 175 30 yrs.
29 Marsenich Robert 18 Cadet Midshipman (e) 5'-11" 172 4 mos.
30 Meisner Walter 24 Night Cook & Baker 6'-0" 180 1st trip
31 Moe William 20 Fireman 5'-9" 185 14 mos.
32 Newman Charles 34 A.B 5'-8" 145 10 yrs.
33 Perry Edward 30 Wiper 5'-11" 170 1st trip
34 Pollock Albert W. 17 O.S. 6'-2" 235 1st trip
35 Purdie Edwin R. 35 2nd Mate 5'-8" 142 16 yrs.
36 Remell William 47 Fireman 5'-10" 175 6 mos.
37 Rosenberg Mitchell 34 Messman 5'-7" 135 8 Mos.
38 Scott Morris 33 1st Asst. Eng'r. 5'-6" 162 14 yrs.
39 Siordia Michael, Jr. 22 A.B 5'-6" 145 2 yrs.
40 Siordia Robert 30 A.B 5'-7" 150 2-1/2 yrs.
41 Soloff Harry Louis 36 Messman 5'-9" 140 1st trip
42 Wojcik Steven J. 30 Carpenter 5'-8" 150 1 yr., 4 mos.
43 Wood Loring W. 20 Jr. Asst. Purser 5'-11" 160 1st trip

Post-Cape San Juan Rescue

It’s unclear precisely how long the Meredith stayed in Noumea after the survivors had been disembarked. It would have taken some time for MacRae, his officers and crew to be de-briefed, and it’s likely some attempt was made to clean the vessel of the oil residue on the decks and cabins resulting from the rescue. Using the same methods as before, I was able to piece together most of her movements for the rest of her voyage:

December 12th, 1943 – Meredith departed Auckland for Wellington, NZ. (NOB AUCKLAND › War Diary, 12/1-31/43)

January 1944 – unloaded cargo in Tulagi. (COMNAV BASES, FORWARD AREA SOPAC › War Diary, 1/1-31/44)

January 16th, 1944 – Departed Noumea for Guadalcanal in small convoy, Task Unit 35.1.4 comprised of Meredith, S.S. Sarah Teasdale, S.S. George Ross, S.S. Walter Colton, USS Rotanin (AK-108), LST-123 and LST-219. Screen was comprised of USS Seid (DE-256), USS Swallow (AM-65), and HMNZS Breeze (T02). The convoy went through a 60 knot hurricane on the evening of the 17th/18th and were blown so far off course and schedule they missed a planned rendezvous with USS Token (AM-126). Seid received moderate structural damage and nearly lost her SA radar, which had to be lashed down with rope. They finally arrived at Guadalcanal on January 21st. (USS LST-123 › War Diary, 1/1/44 to 3/31/44 and USS SEID › War Diary, 12/1/43 to 8/31/44)

February 3rd, 1944 – Meredith along with SS Kinkaid, SS Boonville, SS President Johnson and SS Fort Erie were escorted from Lunga Point, Guadalcanal by USS Token and YMS-238 to Florida Island. President Johnson and Boonville entered Purvis Bay and Meredith and Fort Erie entered Tulagi. (USS TOKEN › War Diary, 2/1-29/44)

March 25th, 1944 – Arrived Espiritu Santo. Departed the 26th. (USS CETUS › War Diary, 3/1-31/44)

According to her crew list, Meredith arrived back in San Francisco on May 25th, 1944.

The news of the Cape’s sinking took a while to get out. There is some suggestion that the bad news was officially suppressed as some sort of cover-up, although I do not believe this. Quite possible that the some of the Navy crews that had already returned to the States were told to not discuss it. The War Shipping Administration officially announced it on April 22nd, 1944 and one of the first people to recount the story seems to be Frank Saul, the co-pilot of the PBM.

More news definitely seemed to break once the Meredith returned home the following month, however:

SAN FRANCISCO May 27. (U.P.I.) —Eye-witnesses reported today that man-eating sharks dragged men from half-submerged rafts during the eight hour rescue operation of 443 men, members of the crew of the U. S. S. Cape San Juan. Crew members of the S. S. Edwin T. Meredith, who assisted in the rescue, have arrived in port. They described how the sharks lurked about the bobbing rafts in the storm-tossed South Pacific.

Torpedoed By Jap Sub

The Cape San Juan was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. "We arrived at the scene early in the morning," John Lopipero, second engineer of the Meredith recalled. "A storm was making and a heavy sea was running. The surface was dotted with life rafts, jammed until men were spilling over into the water. Sharks were everywhere."

Some Dragged into Water

"Sharks were attacking men on the edges of the life rafts and some were dragged off the rafts into the water. It was horrible. "I saw members of my crew— an Hawaiian fireman, Sunny Moe, an oiler by the name of GilIand and a Polish carpenter named Wojcik, go into the water to drag men out." During this period, he said, gun crews on the Meredith fired at the surface of the water to keep the Japanese submarine submerged if it was still around. "They kept firing until the gun muzzles were red hot. We were sure the sub was still around, but it never broke water.
"

The Edwin T. Meredith is believed to have made three more voyages to the Pacific theater. The first was a shorter voyage, with MacRae still in command. This departed California in early June of 1944 and returned around mid-August, based on MacRae’s transfer to another vessel (see his bio below). There was only one war diary entry that I could locate for this voyage:

July 19th, 1944 - Meredith arrived at Naval Base, Fremantle, Australia (COMSERFOR, 7th FLEET › War Diary, 7/1-31/44)

As MacRae would not have had time to make it back to California from Fremantle per the diary entry below, it is assumed that transfer occurred at the end of August. Robert M. Machli took over command of the Edwin T. Meredith. The following are a couple of war diary references I found for this voyage:

September 9th, 1944 – Meredith arrived at Naval Base, Fremantle, Australia (COMSERFOR 7th FLEET › War Diary, 9/1-30/44)

December 30th, 1944 – Meredith departed Hollandia. (COM NAV BASE, HOLLANDIA › War Diary, 12/1-31/44)

The Edwin T. Meredith arrived back in San Francisco on April 7th, 1945.

It is believed that the Meredith’s third and final voyage of the war departed California in late April of 1945 based on the flowing war diary references:

April 23rd, 1945 – Meredith was spotted by allied ASW aircraft off the coast of northern California (COMWESTSEAFRON › War Diary, 4/1-30/45)

June 28th, 1945 – Meredith departed Guadalcanal for Pearl Harbor (COM NAV BASE, SOUTH SOLOMONS SUB-AREA › War Diary, 6/1-30/45)

July 13th, 1945 – Meredith arrived at Pearl Harbor (COM 14 › War Diary, 7/1-31/45)

Note: The Japanese Empire announced its surrender on August 15th, 1945.

August 25th, 1945 – Meredith unloaded Engineers at Guam and completed unloading August 26th (COM GUAM ISLAND › War Diary, 8/1-31/45)

Little seems to be known of the Edwin T. Meredith’s post-war career. What is known is that she was laid up in the James River Reserve Fleet (perhaps upon the end of hostilities) and eventually scrapped in Kearny, NJ in 1972.

Alexander Appelbaum

The Edwin T. Meredith’s Chief Mate Alexander (aka “Alex” or “Al”) Appelbaum was born in New York around 1905. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants Samuel Appelbaum (1866-1961) and Jennie (1873-1947) who operated a Fruit Stand in Alameda, CA. Al had six siblings; Rebecca Schorr (dates unknown), Max (1889-1965), Carl (1894-unkbown), Abe (1895-unknown), Anna (1896-unknown) and Ethel Gold (1909-unknown).

His father is believed to have emigrated from Kiev, Russia (present day Ukraine) to New York around 1890, and the family is known to have lived in the Alameda area at least since WWI.

Not much is currently known about Appelbaum. The Meredith crew list notes that he had 20 years of experience at sea, which means he would have started around 1924. He appears to have had some Navy experience, and joined on June 30th, 1922 and was released on July 3rd, 1926.

Prior to the Edwin T. Meredith he served as Second Mate on the Liberty ship John Cabot. He signed on January 29th, 1943 in Portland, OR. They visited Santiago, Cuba in March, arrived in New York on April 9th and sailed for the U.K around April 12th, departed London in May and arrived back in New York on June 7th, 1943.

The Meredith crew list notes he was 5’-9” tall and weighed 230 lbs.

He appears to have spent the remainder of the war as Chief Mate of the Alamo Victory.

His wife’s name was Shirley Friedman (1910-unknown), he had a son named Frank (dates unknown) and at least one more child, another son name Alan Lewis (1943-Living) born about 10 months prior to the Meredith’s return in May of 1944.

At this time it is unclear where and when Appelbaum passed away.

Loring W. Wood

The Edwin T. Meredith’s Purser and Pharmacist Mate Loring Wayland Wood was born on January 27th, 1923 in Worcester, MA. His parents were Abiel Wayland Wood (1887-1959), coincidently the owner of a lumber supply business, and Marion Stanton (1890-unknown). Loring had one sibling, a sister named Marcia.

Wood, or “Woodie”, as he was known grew up in Worcester and attended Worcester North High School. He was treasurer of the boy’s Glee Club and was in the Orchestra and Chorus. He graduated in the spring of 1940, and was admitted to Dartmouth College in the fall of 1940.

He left Dartmouth in 1943 prior to graduating and joined the Maritime Service as a purser/pharmacist’s mate. It’s unclear with the amount of college he had at the time why he opted for the Maritime Service rather than a Navy V-7 program or even a V-12 program to pursue his medical career. His first assignment appears to have been on the Edwin T. Meredith, taking part in the Cape San Juan rescue.

Other assignments included:


SS Augustus P. Loring – Signed on 12/17/44 in Boston
Departed                           Convoy                                               Arrived
New York, Jan 3, 1945       HX.330 (Halifax - Liverpool)                Liverpool, Jan 17, 1945
Southend, Jan 23, 1945     TAM.58 (River Thames - Antwerp)     Antwerp, Jan 24, 1945
Antwerp, Feb 6, 1945         ATM.56 (Antwerp to River Thames)   Southend, Feb 7, 1945
Southend, Feb 10, 1945    ON.284 (Liverpool - Halifax)                New York, Mar 1, 1945

SS John Henry – Signed on 4/8/45 in New York
Departed                           Convoy                                               Arrived
New York, Apr 23, 1945     HX.352 (Halifax - Liverpool)                Liverpool, May 8, 1945
Liverpool, May 17, 1945    ON.303 (Liverpool - Halifax)                New York, Jun 2, 1945

Note: Germany formally surrendered on May 7th, the day before the John Henry arrived in Liverpool.

SS Eliphalet Nott – Signed on 7/19/45 in New York, departed Antwerp, Belgium 9/2/45, arrived back in New York 9/14/45. The war ended with the surrender of the Japanese Empire August 15th, 1945.

According to the 25th anniversary of the Dartmouth Class of 1945, published in 1970, Woodie: “Returned to Dartmouth 1946, began Dartmouth Medical School 1947, married Alice Spencer 1949, and completed last two years of medical school at McGill [University] in Montreal, graduating 1951. After one year of internship in Schenectady and one year of residency in Medicine in Buffalo I joined Navy one step ahead of the doctor draft. Completed training as Flight Surgeon in Pensacola.” He continued “Joined a PBM seaplane squadron in San Francisco, and Alice and I spent several delightful months first in Hawaii and then in Iwakuni, Japan [during Korean War]. Returned to Buffalo 1956 and resumed residency in Medicine, then in Cardiovascular Diseases. Began private practice of Internal Medicine and Cardiology 1958 and built up an extremely busy practice until 1967 when I turned my practice over to another doctor and took up my present position [as Medical Director, Research and Development] with the NY Telephone Co., which I find far more challenging, productive, and creative than my practice years. I continue an active teaching program as Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at State Univ. of NY at Buffalo, plus modest research activities in coronary disease.

After that, according to his obituary, the family moved “to New Canaan, CT. He retired as Corporate Medical Director of NYNEX Corporation and became Consultant, Health Care Resources Management until he moved to Florida in 1996.

He and Alice eventually settled in Venice, FL. Loring Wayland Wood passed away on July 24th, 2009 at the age of 86. I was able to contact Alice, although unfortunately she was unable to provide any additional information.

Murdoch D. MacRae

Murdock Daniel MacRae was born on November 23rd, 1898 on the family farm in Point Prim, Prince Edward Island, Canada. His parents were farmer Ronald MacRae (1854-1932) and Effie Ann MacLeod (1867-1952).

He came from a fairly large family and had six siblings:
Henrietta "Etta" Josephine Christie (1893-1982), Alexander Roderick MacRae (1895-1917),
John "Johnny" Ronald MacRae (1901-1953),
Euphemia “Phemie” Catherine MacRae (1903-1988), William Campbell MacRae (1906-1985) and
John Alex "Martin" MacRae (1910-1995).

His older brother Alexander died at the age of 21 sometime on or after April 9th, 1917 (missing, presumed lost) while serving as a private in the 14th Canadian Battalion during a pivotal moment in Canada’s WWI history, the assault and eventual capture of Vimy Ridge. Murdoch turned 18 in 1917 and so was old enough to serve by war’s end, although there is no indication whether he ever volunteered or was conscripted.

It’s unclear precisely when, but at some point Murdoch became a sailor. Not all that surprising I suppose coming from Prince Edward Island. There is some evidence that a few of his uncles and the prior generation were sea captains. What is known is that he was working as a sailor on the tug Hummaconna docked in Seattle Washington in 1923 when he signed his letter of intention to become a U.S. citizen. According to that document, he first came to America on November 17th, 1922 in a somewhat unorthodox manner. He arrived in the Port of Gateway, Montana on the vessel G.N. Ry (perhaps a river boat) from Canada. When one thinks of ports, Montana is not the first to leap to mind. At the time he was 25-years-old, and was described as 6 foot, 1 inch tall, 175 pounds, with dark brown hair and blue eyes.

In 1930 Murdoch married Mary Elizabeth Macleod (1906-1973), and was still living in Seattle.

I attempted to get his Merchant Mariner Records from the U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center; however, they replied back that unfortunately they were unable to identify a record associated with Murdoch D. MacRae. Besides their value in revealing career details, these records are often the best chance of finding a portrait. In my work it is always very rewarding to be able to put a face to a name.

Despite the setback, I was still able to piece together some of his career through Ancestry.com.

From at least November of 1931 to May of 1932 he served as 3rd Officer (and on a couple occasions 2nd Officer) on the Pacific Steamship Co.’s SS Dorothy Alexander. On one of his first voyages, the Chief Mate was Howard Gaidsick, who had three brothers, Charles, Fred and Joseph, that all sailed with American-Hawaiian.

Murdoch later served on several Pacific Steamship Co.’s freighters (mainly Hog Islanders), working his way up in position:

Admiral Nulton, 3rd & 2nd Mate (1932)
Admiral Chase, 3rd Mate (1933)
Admiral Gove, 3rd Mate (1933)
Admiral Halstead, 2nd Mate (1935-1936)
Admiral Y.S. Williams, 2nd Mate (1937)

Around 1933 Murdoch and Mary moved from Seattle to San Francisco.

SS Ambrose E. Burnside

By September of 1942 MacRae was Master of the brand new Liberty ship Ambrose E. Burnside in San Francisco, operated by Pacific Far East Lines, Inc. There is some suggestion that her first voyage was to Brisbane and Townsville, Australia in November of 1942.

However, most of the Burnside’s service was on the Atlantic convoy runs. Per Arnold Hague’s Ports Database at convoyweb.com, the Ambrose E. Burnside’s movements on her next voyage were as follows:

Departed                                        Convoy                                                        Arrived

Cristobal, Jan 16, 1943                   ZG.19 (Cristobal - Guantanamo)                 Guantanamo, Jan 20, 1943
Guantanamo, Jan 22, 1943            GN.37 (Guantanamo - NYC)                        New York, Jan 27, 1943
Hampton Roads, Feb 18, 1943       UGS.5A (Hampton Roads - Oran)               Oran, Mar 5, 1943
Oran, unknown                                Unknown*                                                    New York, April 14, 1943

*Note: The best candidate for the Burnside’s return in April is Convoy GUS.5, which departed Oran on March 13th, 1943 and arrived in Hampton Roads on April 1st, 1943. The Burnside may have then taken a smaller coastal convoy from Hampton Roads to New York. My second choice is GUS.5A, which passed Gibraltar on March 23rd, but did not arrive in Hampton Roads until April 15th, 1943, but only if a portion of the convoy spilt off for New York prior to that. The Burnside is not currently listed as part of either Convoy, although the records are incomplete.

Her next voyage was as follows:

Departed                                         Convoy                                                       Arrived
Hampton Roads, Apr 28, 1943        UGS.8 (Hampton Roads - Algiers)              Bone, May 19, 1943
Oran, Jun 7, 1943                            GUS.8 (Passed Gibraltar - Hampton Rds)  Hampton Roads, Jun 27, 1943

The voyage after that departed Hampton Roads July 27th, but did not get back until November 24th, and as MacRae took command of his next vessel between September and October, he must have left the Burnside prior to her departure at the end of July. He may have had some time off, or took another vessel from the east coast to west coast, arriving in time to take command of the Edwin T. Meredith.

SS Edwin T. Meredith

The move to the Edwin T. Meredith would have brought another change in shipping lines, as the vessel was allocated to Smith & Johnson, Inc. The change from Smith & Johnson to McCormick after the rescue could be an indication of some disciplinary action for putting the Meredith in jeopardy as some have suggested, but another interesting clue from the crew list is that McCormick Steamship Co. is listed as the local agent. Therefore there appears to have been some sort of business relationship between the two companies, and therefore perhaps a less dramatic reason for the change. The fact that he also did not seem to stay with the same shipping line from vessel to vessel like most if not all the American-Hawaiian officers I’ve profiled, also suggests that the change was not out of the ordinary for him personally.


As noted above, the Meredith departed San Francisco at the end of October, 1943, assisted in the Cape San Juan rescue from November 11th to the 16th when they arrived in Noumea.


They continued operating in the South Pacific for a rather extended period of time, finally arriving back in San Francisco on May 25th, 1944.

According to ‘The Liberty Ships of World War II: A Record of the 2,710 Vessels and Their Builders, Operators and Namesakes, with a History of the Jeremiah O'Brien’ by Greg H. Williams (McFarland, 2014, ISBN: 0786479450, 9780786479450): “He [Murdoch D. MacRae] made one more voyage then joined the Walker.” This is substantiated by the fact that the Robert J Walker was in Australian waters in May of 1944 when the Meredith arrived and did not return to San Francisco until August 29th, 1944.

SS Robert J. Walker

MacRae became Master of the McCormick Steamship Company Liberty ship Robert J. Walker at the end of August 1944, and soon set sail once more for the Pacific. It would be his first and last voyage on the Walker.

Per Arnold Hague’s Ports Database at convoyweb.com, her movements on her last voyage were as follows:

Departed                                            Arrived

San Francisco, CA Sep 3, 1944         Los Angeles, CA Sep 4, 1944
Los Angeles, CA Sep 25, 1944          Fremantle, Australia Oct 28, 1944
Fremantle, Australia Oct 29, 1944     Colombo, Ceylon Nov 11, 1944
Colombo, Ceylon Nov 14, 1944         Calcutta, India Nov 19, 1944
Calcutta, India Nov 25, 1944              Colombo, Ceylon Nov 30, 1944
Colombo, Ceylon Dec 1, 1944            Fremantle, Australia Dec 14, 1944
Fremantle, Australia Dec 15, 1944

The entire voyage was as an independent (no convoys or escorts).

They departed Fremantle on December 15th bound for Sydney in ballast. Unfortunately for them, on Christmas Eve, 1944 they were spotted about 650 miles southeast of Sydney, Australia in approximate position 36° 35'S, 150° 43'E, surprisingly by the German U-Boat U-862 (Heinrich Timm). The U-862 was one of the infamous long-range ‘Monsun’ Type IXD2 U-boats that Germany had sent to operate in the Indian Ocean. They had recently been pushed out their operating base of Penang, Malaysia by allied advances around the Bay of Bengal, and were operating out of Batavia, Jakarta at this time. They had departed Batavia November 18th, 1944 on a rather epic voyage around the south of Australia and New Zealand to hunt for allied shipping.

How U-862 made it to the coast of New South Wales is a remarkable story, full of intrigue and suspense. I unfortunately don’t have the space and time to get into all the details here, but I will try to summarize and set the scene:

Japanese submarine activity around Australia, and especially the southeast, had waned considerably in the months leading up to this. In the Pacific all the fighting was now far to the north around the Philippines, and the ever shrinking Empire’s territory and forces, including submarines, were needed more for defense. The Germans has suffered huge setbacks in the North Atlantic, and even the Indian Ocean was not as fruitful as it once was. The Germans felt that a coordinated attack off the busy shipping lanes of South Australia, deep in the Allies back yard, would come as a shock and cause them to pull vital resources from other theaters to shore up defense, and this in turn, might provide some relief or new opportunities elsewhere.

The Germans devised a plan in September of 1944 to send three of the Jakarta U-boats to attack in Australian waters: U-168 (Pich), U-862 (Timm) and U-537 (Schrewe). Unfortunately for the Germans, the allies had cracked their enigma code, and Japanese efforts to try protect the U-Boats traveling through Japanese controlled areas by provided their forces with key position, speed, and timing info had in fact only helped the allies ambush them. The U-168 was sunk off the coast of Surabaya at dawn on October 6th, 1944 (23 dead and 27 survivors including her commander) by the Dutch submarine Zwaardvisch (Goossens). The U-537 was sunk with all hands lost (58) while entering the northern end of the Lombok Strait at dawn on November 10th, 1944 by the American submarine USS Flounder (Johnson). It would be weeks before the Germans realized U-537 was lost, but as some of U-168’s survivors were later rescued by the Japanese, the Germans were aware of her loss and due to the importance of the mission replaced her with U-196 (Striegler). The U-196, however, disappeared with all hands in the Sunda Straight sometime in early December. Her loss remains a mystery to this day.

Therefore, U-862 was the only U-Boat to reach the intended area of operations. The Australians were aware she was on her way, but Timm wisely stayed far to west before making his turn to run along the south coast. The Australians struggled with a lack of availability of ASW aircraft and vessels to cover such a vast area, and despite the known success of sinking U-168 and U-537, were in the dark as well on U-196’s fate and thought that she and perhaps one other were still in play in addition to U-862.

On December 9th, 1944, Timm, frustrated by the lack of targets along the coast made a tactical error by attempting a high risk/low probability surface gun attack in heavy seas on the Greek freighter Ilissos near Tasmania. Ilissos escaped into a rain squall and planes arrived over the area in a matter of hours, but Timm succeeded in escaping to the south.


On Christmas Eve U-862 was off the coast of Sydney and Timm and his crew were about to sit down to a holiday feast when the lookouts spotted a freighter, which turn out to be the Robert J. Walker.

According to Arthur R. Moore’s monumental work ‘A careless word…A NEEDLESS SINKING’ (2006, Dennis A. Roland Chapter of the American Merchant Marine Veterans): “At 1630 GCT, a torpedo struck near the rudder on the starboard side. The explosion blew off the rudder, making a hole in the steering engine room. The steering engine was destroyed and the shaft alley flooded, so the engines had to be slowed. Later the bearings became too hot and the captain gave orders to stop the engines. A distress call was sent asking for assistance. It was received by Sydney radio. At 1820 GCT, a torpedo was seen approaching the ship but it was exploded by gunfire when about 100 yards from the ship. At 2000, a third torpedo struck on the starboard side at #4 hold, which was empty. The explosion blew out both sides of the hull at this hold. The #3 deep tank was leaking oil into the engine room. The ship sank about 1700 on December 25, 1944. The Master of the ship [MacRae] said she could have been saved had air coverage been dispatched immediately upon receipt of the SOS. There was a 3 ½ hour period between the first and second attack. The ship was not making any water after the first torpedo hit, although she could not maneuver due to the destroyed steering gear. Aircraft was not sighted until 2015 GCT, December 24, 1944.

The ship was abandoned at 2000 on orders of the Captain. The survivors got away in 3 lifeboats and 4 rafts. They rowed about 2 miles away from the ship and were picked up by HMAS QUICKMATCH, a destroyer, between 1930 and 2020 December 25, 1944. They were landed at Sydney on December 27.


According to ‘Interview with Murdoch Daniel MacRae’, undated, NAA: MP 1857/1, 153X: “The vessel’s master had received no warning of submarine activity and had ordered neither a zig-zag nor any other special precautions. In fact, he at first thought the propeller might have struck a free floating mine.” It was only 3-1/2 hours later when Timm fired additional torpedoes that MacRae realized the dire situation he was in.

The Robert J. Walker’s complement was 42 merchant crew, 26 Naval Armed Guard and one passenger. There were two casualties: 17-year-old Messman Ernest Edward Ballard and Utiltyman Chew Toon.

According to Uboat.net: “At 0500 on 25 December 1944, HMAS Quickmatch (Lt.Cdr. Otto Humphrey Becher, DSC, RAN) was ordered from port during what became known as the "Christmas Scare" off Sydney, Australia. German U-boat U-862 had torpedoed the merchant Robin J. Walker [sic]. At 2300, the destroyer found the still sinking liberty ship. It left to search for survivors. It lost radar contact with merchant ship at 0300 on the 26th and assumed it sank. Two hours later, it was guided to lifeboats by Catalina aircraft and rescued Captain MacRae and the 66 surviving members of his crew.

The Robert J. Walker earned the dubious distinction of being the only allied merchant vessel sunk by a German U-boat in the Pacific.

U-862 made good her escape and sailed for New Zealand waters, operating there without results the first half of January, 1945 until they received orders to head back to Batavia. On their way home, they sank the American Liberty ship Peter Silvester, the last allied Merchant sunk in the Indian Ocean, on February 6th, 1945, 700 miles southwest of Fremantle, Australia. They arrived back at their base on the 14th, and soon thereafter were sent to Singapore for a major overhaul.

Before U-862’s repairs were complete, however, Germany surrendered in May. The Japanese imprisoned her crew and took over the vessel, eventually re-commissioning her as the I-502 in July. On August 15th, 1945 the Japanese crew (trained by their German prisoners) took her on her first trail run, however, the following day, August 16th, the Japanese Empire itself surrendered. The I-502 was eventually scuttled in the Straits of Malacca by the British on February 15th, 1946.

According to Uboat.net : “Timm and his crew were in Singapore when the British forces arrived there on 12 September, 1945. The men returned to England in July 1946, where they were put into prisoner of war camps. Timm was one of the very last to be released, in April 1948.

After the war Fregattenkapitän Heinrich Timm served some years in the Bundesmarine. He was among other positions the first commander of the frigate Scharnhorst before he retired in 1966.
” Timm passed away on April 12th, 1974 near Bremen, Germany.

Post-War

Unfortunately, little is known of MacRae’s post-war career. He appears to have been active in the Masters, Mates & Pilot Union in Seattle and may have ended his seafaring career as a Puget Sound Pilot before finally settling in Portland, Oregon.

Murdoch Daniel MacRae passed away in Portland, OR on May 28th, 1971. Mary passed way in 1973. The couple did not have any children.

I usually add my hope that one day a family member searching on the topis at hand will find my site and be able to offer us some additional information. In this case, my wish came true. I had actually sent a message to someone on Ancestry.com quite some time ago that looked like a potential family member. In February of 2017 that person saw my message and replied back. It was Krista MacRae,
and her father Murdock "Stewart" was the youngest of Murdock's brother William's children. Along with some updated details, Krista was kind enough to share the two wonderful photos of Murdoch, so that we can all now put a face to the name of this amazing man.

According to Krista: "Our family still lives on the same land that the first MacRae (Donald) in our lineage lived on.  The house that Murdock grew up in was sold back in the 90's to an American family who re-did the house and brought it back to it's former glory."

Krista went on to note "My family owns rental cottages and one is named after Captain Murdock."

Smith and Johnson Steamship Co.

Despite their ‘olde-worlde’ sounding name, Smith & Johnson were relative novices at the beginning of the war when it came to running an ocean freight business. They started out as shipping brokers in 1923 specializing in Norwegian flagged vessels. They were one of the many new shipping lines resulting from the high demand for such services in World War Two.

Smith & Johnson were Howell Bernard Smith and Algot W. Johnson.

Smith was born in Rhode Island on the 4th of July, 1898 and served in the US Navy during World War I, from July 5th, 1917 to April 5th, 1921, first as a seaman aboard the USS Leviathan and later as a coxswain with the 3rd Naval District in New York.

Smith was married, his wife name was Eloise (1901-unknown) and they had three daughters; Jane (1928-unknown), Carol (1930-unknown) and Sally (unknown).

According to his obituary; “In 1941, he joined the emergency division of the United States Maritime Commission, working there until 1944.

He retired from the company in 1955 and passed away in New York in March of 1979 at the age of 81.

Algot W. Johnson was born in Brooklyn, NY on July 15th, 1900, and served briefly in the US Army. His wife’s name was Clara F. Paulson (1899-unknown) and they had two children; son Robert (1927-2014) and daughter Lois Avery (1932-1995).

His father Charles had emigrated from Sweden in 1891 and worked as a joiner in a New York shipyard. Algot himself was already noted as being the operator of a shipping company in the 1920 census, although this predates his association with Smith.

He passed away in Palm Beach, FL on October 19th, 1987 at the age of 87.

According to Johnson’s son, Robert, who served as a merchant mariner officer during the war and eventually became the company’s president: “his company was domiciled in New York City [at 80 Broad Street] and opened an office in New Orleans prior to World War II, which operated until September 19, 1979 when Smith & Johnson Gulf was formed.” Smith & Johnson (Gulf), Inc. operated out of an office at 509 Julia St., New Orleans, LA.

During the war they operated a small fleet of mainly Liberty ships provided to them by the War Shipping Administration.

Their first vessel appears to the Liberty ship Matt W. Ransom, delivered to them on February 16th, 1943. They received a new Liberty roughly every month throughout the remainder of 1943. At the time of the Cape San Juan rescue, the Edwin T. Meredith was one of only nine vessels actively serving in their fleet. By comparison, American-Hawaiian was operating sixty-two.

It would have been ten, however, their first vessel, the Matt W. Ransom had struck a couple mines laid off Casablanca, Morocco by the German U-boat U-117 (Neumann) in May of 1943 while on her maiden voyage. She was one of two vessels they lost in the war, the other being the Liberty ship Isaac Shelby, which also struck a mine, although off the coast of Italy in January of 1945. Fortunately, neither incident resulted in any deaths or serious casualties.

Here is a chronological list of the known vessels that were delivered to them:

1943
(All EC2-S-C1 “Liberty” ships)

02/16/1943 Matt W. Ransom (04/11/1943 Damaged, Mines) . 07/16/1944 Sunk as part of Gooseberry 1 breakwater off Verreville, Normandy. Later destroyed by storms.
03/14/1943 James M. Porter
03/18/1943 John Gallup
03/31/1943 Fitzhugh Lee II
05/30/1943 Mathew B. Brady
06/30/1943 Edwin T. Meredith
06/30/1943 John A. Donald
08/18/1943 James M. Gillis
09/05/1943 David Belasco
10/18/1943 Frank C. Emerson
12/1/1943 Ralph A. Cram
12/31/1943 John B. Lennon

1944
(All EC2-S-C1 “Liberty” ships with the exception of Edward Nickels)

01/28/1944 Eloy Alfaro
03/18/1944 Isaac Shelby (01/06/1945 Damaged by mines, later broke in two)
06/02/1944 Thomas J. Lyons
06/22/1944 M. Michael Edelstein
07/06/1944 Edward Nickels (N3-S-A2, Coastal)
08/31/1944 Edward K. Collins
09/10/1944 Negley D. Cochran
09/26/1944 Edward G. Janeway
12/16/1944 Joseph Lee
12/23/1944 Joshua Slocum

1945
(As noted)

02/05/1945 Wallace M. Tyler (EC2-S-C1 “Liberty”)
05/30/1945 Williams Victory (VC2-S-AP2 “Victory”)
08/15/1945 Muhlenberg Victory (VC2-S-AP2 “Victory”)

It appears they were scheduled to get two C1-Type freighters later in 1945, but the war ended before this could happen.

After the war, most if not all of the vessels appear to have been returned between 1946 and 1947, and the company returned to operating as a shipping broker. As with many shipping companies, including American-Hawaiian, financial difficulties dogged them in the following decades as the industry changed and their name was changed several times. They appear to have finally gone under in the 1980’s.

In an interesting coincidence, Smith & Johnson played a role in brokering the sale of two of the last American-Hawaiian vessels to be sold off when they ceased shipping operations in 1955, the VC2-S-AP2 Victory ship replacements of the Panaman and Alaskan. They were sold to Matson Navigation Company in 1957 and renamed Hawaiian Triton and Hawaiian Tourist respectively.

Sources

Ancestry.com for biographical information on MacRae, his family, the Edwin T. Meredith crew list and information on Smith and Johnson.

Driest, Chester – ‘FROM L.A. TO LUZON – with a slight pause off Fiji, The story of the First Fighter Control Squadron in World War II, as told by official military records’ (unpublished) for the statement recorded by M.D. MacRae, Master, S.S. EDWIN T. MEREDITH and the San Francisco newspaper article.

Fold3.com for military reports relating to this story, including:
NAD MAREISLAND › War Diary, 7/1-31/43
USS DENVER › War Diary, 8/1-31/43
USS BUCHANAN › War Diary, 9/1-30/43
USS CLEVELAND › War Diary, 9/1-30/43
NAD MARE IS › War Diary, San Diego, 10/1-31/43
USS THATCHER › War Diary, 9/1/43 to 11/30/43
USS GENERAL GEORGE O SQUIER › War Diary, 10/2/43-12/5/43
USS ROCHAMBEAU › War Diary, 10/1/43 to 11/30/43
NOB AUCKLAND › War Diary, 12/1-31/43
COMNAV BASES, FORWARD AREA SOPAC › War Diary, 1/1-31/44
USS LST-123 › War Diary, 1/1/44 to 3/31/44
USS SEID › War Diary, 12/1/43 to 8/31/44
USS TOKEN › War Diary, 2/1-29/44
USS CETUS › War Diary, 3/1-31/44
COMSERFOR, 7th FLEET › War Diary, 7/1-31/44
COMSERFOR 7th FLEET › War Diary, 9/1-30/44
COM NAV BASE, HOLLANDIA › War Diary, 12/1-31/44
COMWESTSEAFRON › War Diary, 4/1-30/45
COM NAV BASE, SOUTH SOLOMONS SUB-AREA › War Diary, 6/1-30/45
COM 14 › War Diary, 7/1-31/45
COM GUAM ISLAND › War Diary, 8/1-31/45

Gerhardt, Frank A. - for his website: usmaritimecommission.de for information on SS Edwin T Meredith, SS Ambrose E. Burnside, SS Robert J. Walker, and vessels in Smith & Johnson's fleet.

Hackett, Bob - for his website: ‘SENSUIKAN! - Stories and Battle Histories of the IJN's Submarines’ for information on U-862/I-502.

Helgason, Gudmunder – for his uboat.net website for information on U-862, her commander Timm, and other U-Boats and vessels connected to the Robert J. Walker’s story.

Kindell, Don - for his convoyweb.com website including Arnold Hague’s Ports Database for convoy information for SS Ambrose E. Burnside and SS Robert J. Walker.

Lawson, Siri for her website warsailors.com for information on convoys.

MacRae, Krista for information and photos of Captain Murdoch Daniel MacRae.

Moore, Captain 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 loss information on the SS Robert J. Walker.

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

New Zealand Ministry of Defense – No. 4 Squadron (Tonga) Operations Record Book 11/12-13/1943 for interaction between their Lockheed Hudson’s’ and Meredith, Rochambeau and General George O. Squier.

Patterson, Lawrence – ‘Hitler's Grey Wolves: U-Boats in the Indian Ocean’ (Greenhill Books, 2006, ISBN-10: 1853676152, ISBN-13: 978-1853676154) for information on U-862 and her attack on the SS Robert J. Walker

Rohwer, Jurgen for information on Japanese and German activity in Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean from his book Axis Submarine Successes 1939-1945, Naval Institute Press - Annapolis, Maryland ISBN 0-87021-082-3.

Stevens, David – ‘A CRITICAL VULNERABILITY – The Impact of the Submarine Threat on Australia’s Maritime Defense 1915-1954 (Commonwealth of Australia, 2005, ISBN 0 642 29625 1) for information on U-862 and her attack on the Robert J. Walker.

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

Williams, Greg H. – ‘The Liberty Ships of World War II: A Record of the 2,710 Vessels and Their Builders, Operators and Namesakes, with a History of the Jeremiah O'Brien’ (McFarland, 2014, ISBN: 0786479450, 9780786479450) for information on MacRae’s service on the Edwin T. Meredith.