Ohioan



 Introduction


This was the second known vessel to be named Ohioan in American-Hawaiian’s fleet.

The first Ohioan was built by the Maryland Steel Company of Sparrows Point, Maryland and was in service from 1914 until the morning of October 8th, 1936 when she ran aground in dense fog on Seal Rock outside San Francisco Bay. Seal Rock was located below the Sutro Baths and the famous Cliff House restaurant at the time and the wreck drew large crowds of onlookers. All of the images of the Ohioan currently on the internet are of this previous vessel.

Unfortunately, even the photo of Ohioan I received from Dave Boone was of this first Ohioan in 1934. Regular visitors to the site may recall Dave was the artist who generously provided many of the photographs of American-Hawaiian vessels I’ve used throughout this site. These were originally taken in the 1930's by Francis Palmer.

While it is unfortunate that no known photos exist of the second Ohioan’s brief career with American-Hawaiian, there are photos of her under her previous names/owners and she was one of 84 vessels built to this design which provides more opportunities for photos.

According to historian Norman L. McKeller, the Ohioan of this story was originally completed in 1919 as Pawlet for the United States Shipping Board (USSB). She was an Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) Design, No. 1015, also known as a “Moore & Scott Type” for a 9400 Dead Weight Ton (DWT) steel freighter. There were two variations of the type built, dry cargo and refrigeration (aka Reefer). Pawlet was the former design.


Of the 84 built, the majority, 26, were made at Moore Shipbuilding Co. in Oakland, CA. The design did not fare so well. Of Moore’s 26, 12 were broken up (BU) in the 1920’s and 30’s, 7 were lost during WWII and only 7 survived post war.

The second largest batch, 15 including Pawlet, were built by G.M. Standifer Construction Co., Vancouver, WA. The remaining 43 of Design No. 1015 were distributed as follows:

03 – Groton Iron Works, Groton, CT (2 BU in ‘30’s, 1 lost in WWII-foundered)

10 – Pacific Coast Shipbuilding Co., Bay Point, CA (4 BU in ‘30’s, 3 lost in WWII incl. Kahuku, 3 survived post war)

10 – Seattle North Pacific Shipbuilding Co., Seattle, WA (All broken up in ‘20’s & ‘30’s)

10 – Union Construction Co., Oakland, CA (All broken up in ‘20’s & ‘30’s)

10 – Virginia Shipbuilding Co., Alexandria, VA (6 BU in ‘30’s, 4 lost in WWII)

As mentioned above, G.M. Standifer built 15 of this design. They were given the contract for EFC hulls 1063 to 1072 and there were no cancellations.

PAWLET - PRINCIPAL DIMENSIONS
DEAD WEIGHT TONS: 9,417 ENGINE TYPE: TRIPLE EXPANSION
GROSS TONS: 6,076
90 R.P.M.
NET TONS: 3,729 BOILER TYPE: 4 HEINE
LENGTH OVER ALL: 416' - 6" HEATING SURFACE: 11,132 SQ.FT. 
LENGTH BETWEEN PERP.: 402' - 6" HORSE POWER: 2800 (SHAFT)
BREADTH MOULDED: 53' - 0" FUEL OIL: 503,000 GALLONS
DEPTH MOULDED (to Shelter Deck): 34' - 6" FUEL CONSUMPTION: 8,100 GALS. PER DAY
DEPTH MOULDED (To Upper Deck): 26' - 6" SPEED: 11 KNOTS
LOADED DRAFT: 26' - 4 3/4" STEAMING RADIUS: 12,460 MILES
LIGHT DRAFT: 7' - 9" WINCHES: 10 STEAM CARGO
TOTAL BALE CARGO (CU. FT.): 423,861
      6 SINGLE
TOTAL GRAIN CARGO (CU. FT.): 463,208
      4 DOUBLE
NO. OF HOLDS: 5
1 STEAM WARPING
NO. OF HATCHES: 5 BOOMS: 10 3-TON, 1 30-TON
LARGEST HATCH: 36' - 8" X 20'


Pawlet
was completed in Yard No. 9 as Official Number 219551. She remained in USSB service from 1919 to 1928. Her sister ships included the following:
  1. Cokesit - Bombed as Catania in Naples, Italy in September, 1943, scrapped 1949.
  2. Coaxet - Foundered as Empire Kingfisher off Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia 01/19/42.
  3. Waban - Mined as Norhauk in Thames Estuary, UK 12/21/43
  4. Wawalona - Torpedoed by U-67 as Nidarland NW of Trinidad 11/09/42
  5. Nishmaha - Broken up as Mary in Bombay, India in 1954
  6. Clockson - CTL by Fire 03/13/20, eventually broken up 1924
  7. Weepatuck - Torpedoed by U-586 as Puerto Rican (A-H) off Iceland 03/09/43
  8. Weepoiset - Presumed scrapped as Norelg after 1952.
  9. Pawlet
  10. Bearport - Torpedoed by U-255 as Olopana 10 miles west of Moller Bay, Novaya Zemlya, Soviet Union 07/07/42
  11. Arcturus - Taken by Germany at Antwerp in May 1940 and renamed Johann Schulte, struck a mine laid by British aircraft and sank in the Lower Weser River, Germany.
  12. Aquarius - Presumed scrapped as Timiriazev sometime after 1959
  13. Argus - Torpedoed by U-332 as Raphael Semmes off Bermuda 06/28/42
  14. Antinous - Torpedoed by U-512 SE of Trinidad 09/24/42
  15. Apus - Broken Up as Gemma in UK in 1953

As you can see from the list, her sister’s suffered from incredibly poor luck as well. Of the fifteen vessels, one was lost to fire in the ‘20’s and ten were lost during World War II. Note that in addition to Ohioan, A-H’s Puerto Rican was also part of this build.

There is not a lot of information on Pawlet’s early career, and since she was completed just after the end of WWI when there was an enormous glut of vessels available, she likely did not sail much at first. Judging by her peers, she was lucky to avoid being scrapped.

One interesting bit of trivia as it relates to the Arkansan’s history is that one of Arkansan’s casualties, A.B. Sigurd Bentsen, immigrated to the U.S. on Pawlet in 1924 when she was being operated by the Columbia Pacific Steamship Company.

From at least 1926 through 1928 she was operated by Swayne & Hoyt, Inc. (ownership was retained by the USSB) and sailed under a number of different Lines; Pacific Australia Line, American Australia Orient Line and American Oriental Line.

Her Master during this period was August Petersen and they sailed mainly between San Francisco and the Orient. Below is a list of sailings I found for Pawlet on Ancestry.com:

Arrival Date Port of Departure Port of Arrival Master Chief Mate
01/03/24 Yokohama, Japan Astoria, OR Unknown O.W. Carlson
04/04/24 Kobe, Japan Portland, OR Unknown O.W. Carlson
06/04/26 Vancouver, B.C. Tacoma, WA August Petersen Roy W. Lock
10/16/26 Melbourne, Australia San Francisco, CA August Petersen Bertold Leep
06/11/27 Shanghai, China San Francisco, CA August Petersen Bertold Leep
07/28/27 Yokohama, Japan San Francisco, CA August Petersen Bertold Leep
01/21/28 Hong Kong, China San Francisco, CA August Petersen Bertold Leep
06/30/28 Shanghai, China San Francisco, CA August Petersen Bertold Leep

In late 1928 Pawlet was purchased from the USSB by Oceanic & Oriental Navigation Company (a joint venture between American-Hawaiian and Matson) and renamed Golden Wall.

Golden Wall continued to sail between west coast ports and the orient. She was under the command of August Petersen until 1930 when Edward J. Anderson took over. In another Arkansan connection, Paul R. Jones took over from Bertold Leep as Chief Mate in 1931. Ole Lee took over as Master from Edward J. Anderson in 1932.

Jones stayed with Golden Wall until mid-1933 when he was replaced by Edson Baxter Cates, who would later be lost on the Logan Victory in 1945.

Below is a list of sailings I found for Golden Wall on Ancestry.com:

Arrival Date Port of Departure Port of Arrival Master Chief Mate
01/25/29 Yokohama, Japan San Francisco, CA August Petersen Bertold Leep
05/02/29 Tsingtao, China San Francisco, CA August Petersen Bertold Leep
07/31/29 Dairen, China San Francisco, CA August Petersen Bertold Leep
11/18/29 Yokohama, Japan San Francisco, CA August Petersen Bertold Leep
03/10/30 Yokohama, Japan San Francisco, CA Edward J. Anderson Bertold Leep
10/24/30 Hong Kong, China San Francisco, CA Edward J. Anderson Bertold Leep
01/01/31 San Francisco, CA Amoy, China Edward J. Anderson Paul R. Jones
04/01/31 Hong Kong, China San Francisco, CA Edward J. Anderson Paul R. Jones
05/18/31 San Francisco, CA Shanghai, China Edward J. Anderson Paul R. Jones
07/23/31 Hong Kong, China San Francisco, CA Edward J. Anderson Paul R. Jones
09/01/31 San Francisco, CA Shanghai, China Edward J. Anderson Paul R. Jones
10/16/32 Hong Kong, China San Francisco, CA Ole Lee Paul R. Jones
02/04/33 Hong Kong, China San Francisco, CA Ole Lee Paul R. Jones
10/17/33 Shanghai, China San Francisco, CA Ole Lee Edson B. Cates
02/25/34 Kobe, Japan San Francisco, CA Ole Lee Edson B. Cates

In 1934 Oceanic & Oriental sold Golden Wall to Williams Steamship, Co, who renamed her Willsolo. She was with Williams for less than three years and so there is very little information on her time there. The only sailings that I could find were:

Arrival Date Port of Departure Port of Arrival Master Chief Mate
05/09/34 Ponce, Puerto Rico Wilmington, NC Edward J. Anderson Nels C. Christensen
11/30/34 San Juan, Puerto Rico Wilmington, NC Frank H. Roberts Nels C. Christensen

The local agents for both voyages were Cape Fear Shipping Co., Wilmington, NC. It is also interesting to note that Ohioan’s future 2nd Mate, Joseph Spelker served as a Quartermaster on Willsolo under Frank H. Roberts at this time. In fact, Spelker would be key in determining much of Ohioan’s history.

Adding some confusion; the name Willsolo was also used from 1921 to 1929 on what would become the Georgian. What little information there is on Willsolo, is mainly on this earlier vessel. In fact, a number of other websites have used the image of this previous Willsolo to represent this generation of Ohioan in error. This vessel had a substantially different design (EFC 1018) and was built by Sun Shipbuilding Co. in Chester, PA.

As mentioned previously, the first Ohioan was lost in 1936, so in 1937 American-Hawaiian replaced her by buying Willsolo and renaming her Ohioan.

Initially there weren’t too many specifics on her early years with American-Hawaiian, other than by default we know she would have joined the rest of the fleet in their typical inter-coastal service. The American-Hawaiian schedules I found for 1940 when I was researching Bernard’s career showed that Ohioan was part of what they called their ‘South Atlantic Service’.  This would have included sailing from all the major west coast ports in the Columbia River, Puget Sound, San Francisco and Los Angeles areas to the ‘South Atlantic’ (Southern and Mid-Atlantic East Coast) ports of Ponce and San Juan Puerto Rico, Jacksonville FL, Savannah GA, Charleston SC, Wilmington NC, Norfolk VA and finally Baltimore MD.

It wasn’t until I received Joseph Spelker’s Merchant Mariner records, which included a copy of his actual Continuous Discharge Book, that I was able to fill in the blanks.  Spelker joined Ohioan as a 3rd Mate right after she was purchased in 1937. Other than a span from May of 1938 to December of 1938 when he was on the Oregonian, and a short hop on Louisianan in March of 1939, Spelker was on Ohioan. Thanks to this detailed information, I was able to put the following list of sailings together:

Arrival Date Port of Departure Port of Arrival Master Chief Mate
03/22/37 New York, NY San Francisco, CA Frank H. Roberts N/A
08/27/37 San Francisco, CA Baltimore, MD Frank H. Roberts N/A
02/05/38 Baltimore, MD Jacksonville, FL Frank H. Roberts N/A
03/30/38 Baltimore, MD San Francisco, CA Frank H. Roberts N/A
04/06/38 San Francisco, CA San Francisco, CA Frank H. Roberts N/A
04/24/39 San Francisco, CA San Francisco, CA K. Hansen N/A
07/08/39 San Francisco, CA San Francisco, CA Unknown N/A
08/02/39 San Francisco, CA San Francisco, CA Frank H. Roberts N/A
08/31/39 San Francisco, CA Jacksonville, FL Illegible N/A
10/09/39 Charleston, SC San Francisco, CA Unknown N/A
10/30/39 San Francisco, CA San Francisco, CA Frank H. Roberts N/A
01/15/40 San Francisco, CA San Francisco, CA Frank H. Roberts N/A
02/04/40 San Francisco, CA San Francisco, CA Frank H. Roberts N/A
03/04/40 San Francisco, CA Jacksonville, FL Frank H. Roberts N/A
04/16/40 Savannah, GA San Francisco, CA Frank H. Roberts N/A
05/05/40 San Francisco, CA San Francisco, CA Frank H. Roberts N/A
06/13/40 San Francisco, CA New York, NY Frank H. Roberts N/A
09/10/40 New York, NY Baltimore, MD Frank H. Roberts N/A
09/16/40 Baltimore, MD New York, NY Frank H. Roberts N/A
12/20/40 New York, NY New York, NY Frank H. Roberts N/A
01/02/41 New York, NY New York, NY Charles N. Bamforth N/A
04/07/41 New York, NY New York, NY Frank H. Roberts N/A
04/19/41 New York, NY New York, NY Frank H. Roberts N/A
08/02/41 Cape Town, SA New York, NY Frank H. Roberts Charles Kacocha

Spelker’s records also revealed Frank H. Roberts took command of Ohioan in 1937, also right after she was purchased, so he and Roberts knew and worked with each other for many years.

The voyages in bold font in the above list denote Ohioan’s foreign voyages which began in June of 1940, likely in support of British forces in the Middle East and India. These early foreign voyages were each about three to four months long.

  1. June 14th, 1940 to September 10th, 1940
  2. September 17th, 1940 to December 20th, 1940
  3. January 3rd. 1941 to April 7th, 1941
  4. April 20th, 1942 to August 2nd, 1941

I was able to find details on her 5th foreign voyage; Ohioan had departed New York on August 14th, 1941 and arrived back in New York on November 24th, 1941, then on to Philadelphia on November 26th. This was from its previous voyage to Lourenco Marques and Beira, Mozambique and Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, South Africa and Trinidad.

They were expected to sail back to New York November 29th before heading to Bombay, India for the 6th and final foreign voyage in support of the war effort. The voyage may have also included a stop in Basra, Iraq according to survivor John Mitchell, who stated that Ohioan had left New York carrying munitions bound for British forces there. They were consigned to American South African Lines. They sailed December 8th, one day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor but before the subsequent declaration of war between the United States and Germany.

A little less than two thirds of the crew stayed for this voyage.

 The Attack


The unarmed, unescorted Ohioan was on her return leg from Bombay, India to Philadelphia, PA under the command of 41-year-old Master Frank H. Roberts. They were carrying 6,000 tons of manganese ore, 300 tons of wool, and 1,300 tons of licorice root.

Ohioan had departed Bombay on March 15th, 1942 and had stopped in Port Elizabeth, South Africa on the way back. They had originally intended to make for Cape Henry at the mouth of the Chesapeake, but due to the heavy U-boat activity off the East Coast the Navy changed their routing instructions and had them sail for San Juan, Puerto Rico instead. By the time they arrived there, additional U-Boat activity between Cuba and Florida caused them to abandon the most direct route north of Cuba. Instead, they sailed May 2nd for the Mona Passage and into the Caribbean for a rather circuitous route south of Cuba, west to the Yucatan Channel, north into the Gulf of Mexico where they were told to stay within 4 ½ miles of the Florida Coast on their way northeast.

The irony is that by the time they entered the Caribbean all hell was breaking loose there as well, and the U-564 had just arrived off the coast of southern Florida to wreck havoc.

The U-564 was commanded by 26-year-old ace Reinhard “Teddy” Suhren. Suhren was already a legend within the 'Ubootwaffe', known as much for his irreverent behavior as for his skill and tenacity as a U-boat officer.

They departed the U-boat pens at Brest, France on April 4th, 1942 on their 5th war patrol. Suhren got off to a rough start. On April 7th he was washed overboard from the open bridge while attempting to help one of his crew secure a loose hatch cover. A large wave struck as he leaned over the edge of the conning tower, and untethered, he was quickly swept away. If not for the quick actions of his crew which threw him a life ring and put both diesels in full reverse, he might have been lost.

In another Arkansan connection, Suhren’s IIWO on this patrol was Hans-Ferdinand Geisler, son and namesake of the Luftwaffe General who commanded the squadron that bombed the Arkansan in Suez in 1941.

On April 23rd, about 600 miles northeast of Bermuda, U-564 took on 2 torpedoes from the returning U-333 (Cremer) and fuel oil from the Type XIV supply U-boat (Milch Cow) U-459 (vonWilamowitz-Möllendorf). Three other U-Boats, U-98 (Schulze), U-582 (Schulte - who would sink Honolulan on his next patrol), and U-571 (Möhlmann) were also there for topping off their fuel before making their runs to the U.S. East Coast.

About 250 miles northwest of Bermuda on April 27th Suhren aborted an attack at 500m on what turned out to be a neutral Swiss freighter in ballast described as “Type "ATHINA LIVANUS", yellow stack with blue-white ring and red five-pointed star.  No gun.

The following day, 400 miles off the outer banks of North Carolina, Suhren stopped the neutral Argentinean Rio San Juan, for questioning and released her shortly after.

May 1st U-564 spotted smoke while 175 miles northeast of Jacksonville, FL and dived to attack. He identified the target as the “English corvette K-47” zig-zagging at high speed north. He decided the attack was too risky due to the distance and speed of K-47 and that he could make better use of his torpedoes later.

On the evening of May 3rd, Suhren got his first kill of this patrol. In bright moonlight he attacked and sank the unescorted British steam merchant Ocean Venus about 12 miles east-southeast of Cape Canaveral, FL.

The following day, just before dusk, Suhren spotted and made a failed attack (underestimated speed) against a fast freighter within a mile of Hobe Sound.  Ten hours later off Boynton Beach he investigated engine noises which turned out to be another neutral Argentinean steamer.

Soon after, on May 4th, he heard more propeller noises, and through his periscope spotted a small tug, 2 freighters (each of 1000 GRT), and then shortly thereafter a tanker (7000 GRT) with an airplane escort. He made a submerged attack on the British Steam tanker Eclipse in broad daylight and scored a hit aft. The tanker settled by the stern until she rested on the bottom in shallow water just off Delray Beach. Suhren, knowing that further shots would be fruitless in such shallow water, broke off the attack. The Eclipse was later refloated and salvaged, but was out of commission until December.

Later that day Suhren spotted another tanker but could not get into firing position.

U-564 headed north and about an hour after nightfall on May 5th Suhren spotted mast tops and made a surface attack on the American Steam Merchant Delisle. Again, Delisle was in such shallow water a few miles off Saint Lucie Inlet that she was later raised and returned to service. She would later be lost when she struck a mine in October of 1943.

Later that night U-564 was detected by a patrol craft and illuminated by searchlight, followed by gunfire.  Suhren managed to escape on the surface using reserve power on his diesels supplemented by his electric motors.             

On the evening of May 5th/6th Suhren decided to head east and look for north bound traffic in the Florida Straits. Closer to the Bahamas, outside the shipping lanes and with fewer air patrols, this would also allow them to replenish their torpedoes from the upper deck storage canisters, which required time surfaced.

The next day they headed south along the eastern side of the straights and chased a steamer down to Cat Cays, which turned out to be neutral Swedish vessel. On the 7th they headed back west across the straights towards Miami. Towards dusk they chased three large tankers traveling at high speed (estimated at 17 knots). Suhren noted; “In the process the starboard diesel was driven to its knees.  A valve broke and wrecked the piston.  This was immediately put up, in order to continue on with 6 cylinders.

This was a serious detriment to U-564’s performance, and would put additional strain on his remaining diesel. A lesser commander may have decided to head home, but Suhren decided to press on.

At 3:20am, traveling on the surface in bright moonlight, Suhren spotted several masts which turned out to be a small convoy of five steamers with a destroyer escort about seven miles off Key Biscayne. He attempt to maneuver ahead on the surface, but down one diesel, he couldn’t make enough speed. To make matters worse, an hour later he was detected by the destroyer and fired upon. Without the option to try and outrun the escort on the surface, U-564 crash dived and endured a depth charge attack, but suffered no damage. They headed north along the coast after that.

May 8th was a beautiful spring Saturday afternoon off the coast of Boynton Beach, FL, not a cloud in the sky with a slight breeze and seas described as “glassy” by Master Roberts. Visibility was very good. Ohioan had her US Flag flying on the stern and navy signals on the yardarm. They had four lookouts posted;

  1. Chief Mate Charles Clark on inshore (port) bridge wing
  2. 3rd Mate John Boyer on offshore (starboard) bridge wing
  3. An O.S. (unidentified) on "monkey island", the open flying bridge above the main bridge
  4. An A.B. (unidentified) on the boat deck forward, starboard side

Ohioan was not zig-zagging at the time.

The U-564 was slowly heading north along the coast submerged at 2.4 knots to see what they could find. At 12:04pm they heard engine noises and Suhren went up to periscope depth to take a look around.

Typically, the German War Diary (Kriegstagebuch, KTB) entries are quite dry and matter-of-fact. In Suhren’s case, you can sense his excitement as he watched Ohioan through the attack periscope. For the Ohioan attack, his log read (times adjusted to local time):                       

12:05pm: To action stations!  Freighter with heavy cargo (5000 GRT.)  (Course 0°, estimated range 1000 meters, speed 10 knots) loaded.           

12:12pm: Fire!  Hit aft 20 meters [65.6ft].  High detonation plume.  Immediately went deep for aircraft.” 

Suhren’s Torpedo Report provided additional details:          

He fired a single G7e (electric, “wakeless”) torpedo from Tube 1, which had a preset speed of 30 knots. He used the piston option ("mit Kol.") behind the torpedo to trap the compressed air and prevent it from being released so as to not give away their position. The torpedo was set to run at a depth of 3m (~10 feet), and Suhren had aimed for the middle ("Mitte") of the ship. In his rush he underestimated Ohioan’s tonnage and speed. The incorrect speed estimate (10knots according to the KTB, 10.5 knots according to the torpedo report, 14.5 knots actual) is why the torpedo struck aft of the engine room in the forward part of the No. 4 hold.

The surprise was complete. The lookouts did not spot the torpedo, and the first indication anything was wrong was the actual impact when the 617 pounds of high explosive went off. What happened next was recorded by Master Roberts, two crew members, and a group of civilians watching from shore.

According to Master Roberts: “I was in my room [on boat deck just forward of the stack] when I heard the explosion (a dull thud with a shake of the ship like a blast in a rock quarry a mile away). I ran to the bridge [one deck up], but there was no chance to maneuver. Went to boat deck and tried to get boat over, however I was too late. Had to rely on life rafts which had been released. All men climbed on rafts. I found a ladder floating and climbed on it. I was picked up by a man named Robbins [sic] in a private launch.

Roberts had actually nearly drowned. According to what his rescuers were able to ascertain, he had been dragged under by the suction, and as Ohioan twisted as she plummeted down, Roberts fought his way to the surface and was covered with black oil. It was then that he found the ladder, likely wrenched off along with the bridge and kept afloat by wooden treads.

Chief Mate Clark stated “At 1213 I walked into chart room [behind navigating bridge one deck above Master’s cabin and boat deck] to check position. As I leaned over chart, torpedo hit somewhere on starboard side aft. Vessel settled rapidly by stern. I got down on boat deck and attempted to launch starboard boats, (#3 swung out). Way on vessel pulled #3 over and swamped it, before it could be unhooked. Cut hauling part on after fall, then standing past. Boat was under by that time, #2 was launched, was pulled under before falls were unhooked. Boat decks just above water level. Crossed over to port side and cut both falls #2 boat. Boat deck under water then. Back to starboard side; ordered BIANCHI [unknown – no man by that name on crew list, perhaps he meant A.B. J. Branka] and PRIBBLE [Ernest R. Pribble, O.S.] to jump. Then jumped myself.

The Navy report, which was a compilation of all the crew statements, added some additional details about the life boats: “Nos. 3 and 4 lifeboats were carried swung out, and when the torpedo struck the vessel on the starboard side at No. 4 hatch, just aft of the engine room, they were shattered by the blast. An attempt was made to launch No. 1 boat with 10 men in it, and while endeavoring to aid other men to disembark, the stern of No. 1 boat was held in too close to the ship’s side and the bow swung off, rolling the boat under the water and swamping it. The boat was swamped because the Deck Engineer took a turn with a line from the vessel around the after thwart in the lifeboat. This held the boat’s stern toward the ship and sheered the bow away, swamping by the headway of the vessel. The vessel at this time had headway of approximately 3 miles an hour [likely by the Gulf Stream current]. The Chief Officer [Charles Clark] cut the falls of No. 2 lifeboat, thinking the boat would float off the chocks as the ship submerged, but it did not do so.

Messman John Mitchell recalled: “I was in the saloon [at forward end of deck house] serving dinner when the torpedo struck above [sic] No. 4 hatch. The impact knocked me down. The ship shuddered; the lights went out, and steam poured in from everywhere. All the pipes just gave away.

I rushed up on deck and began releasing a life boat. By that time, everyone of the crew of 36 was doing the same. We got into the boats, but before we could get away, the Ohioan went down. It sank in two minutes.

The suction drew the life boats right down under with the sinking ship. I had not had time to get my life preserver.

Just what struck me, I don’t know, but something hit me on the back and that started me toward the surface. When I reached the top, it appeared to be a mass of arms, legs and planks. I saw a piece of the ship’s bridge floating by, I swam to it and climbed on top. I lay there until rescued.

Civilian Louisa Robins, vacationing with family and friends, had just completed helping prepare their friend’s boat for the season. She noted “We were on Bill Jebb's boat and I had been watching a single freighter heading north, because in the glorious clear light of that especially calm morning, she appeared to me to be camouflaged. Our struggle to free the anchor and take in Bill's life buoys for the summer had been complete. We were about to take a much needed swim.

Suddenly Mary yelled, "Look Mummy, that ship has been torpedoed!"

We looked and were paralyzed at what we saw. There she was with what appeared to be mountainous smoke hiding everything but her bow and bridge. Before we could grasp the reality of the situation, she had begun rapidly to sink.

Those of the crew that were saved (22 out of 37) were saved by rafts. There were two small life rafts on top of the engine room, and four larger rafts on deck. The later were not the typical mass-produced Armed Guard ramp rafts added to vessels as the war progressed, but were constructed on the ship earlier on this voyage by the crew from empty oil drums, each raft constructed with four drums. Whether this was Master Roberts’ idea or he simply approved it is unknown, but they saved many lives.

The Ohioan went down in less than two minutes from the time she was torpedoed in about 800 feet of water. Other than the torpedo explosion, they crew never saw any sign of the U-Boat.

Suhren’s Torpedo Report noted: “After 4 minutes 28 seconds the sinking of the steamer could be heard everywhere in the boat (gurgling sounds).

Suhren’s log continued; “7 minutes after firing went to periscope depth for a sweep.  Steamer was not to be seen (130 meters long).        

12:27pm: Dismissed from action stations.

From the time U-564 first heard Ohioan’s screws to the time they secured from action stations was only 23 minutes.

You can zoom in and explore the interactive map below.

SS Ohioan 1942



 Rescue


In some sources the rescue is attributed to Coast Guard vessels, but according to the survivor statements, at least some small personal craft were involved and perhaps some fishing boats. On Master Robert's War Action Casualty Report dated July 28th, 1944, he noted they were rescued by private boats.

One of those private boats was Bill Jebb's Furious, as mentioned above, and passenger Louisa Robins went on to provide a riveting account of their efforts to aid in the rescue.

Louisa's account states: “Our decision to go to the rescue of the survivors, if any, was instantaneous. Bill ran to the wheel, Mary and Emily [Louisa’s daughter Mary V.R. Robins and Bill Jebb’s wife Emily Schoellkopf-Jebb] jumped overboard [onto the dock] to make more room for survivors and I decided to go along. The reasons for my going were - first, in the event that anything should happen to Tom and Bill, I could take the helm and - second, because I figured that Bill would maneuver the boat, Tom haul on board the men, while I could administer first-aid, if it was needed. This is exactly the way it worked out. Only once Bill had to help getting the captain aboard, and I went forward and stood by the helm.

The SS Ohioan was hit by a torpedo about eight miles off shore [closer to 5 miles], but it seemed not more than five minutes before we sighted her wreckage. Fortunately, Tom had taken bearings on her smoke, for the ship had completely disappeared from sight in two minutes.

Never have I been so petrified. I was afraid I would lose my nerve should I see some horrible sights. In order to pull myself together, I hunted around below and found a Red Cross kit which I opened and put in a convenient place. Also, I turned Bill's beautifully-covered mattresses in case they should be dirtied. Then I said a few prayers. As we speedily drew close to the remains of the vessel, I knew that I had myself in hand.

In the middle of a mess of what seemed miles of wreckage, the twisted specter of the ship's bridge stood up. We skirted this terrible flotsam, searching for human life. There were so many black things all over that at first it was difficult to pick out anything. My first realization that any human still was alive was when I saw what looked like a floating timber slowly start to swim in the center of the silent mess. Gradually some of the black spots became little clumps of men strewn amidst the debris.

Tom threw a line to three men huddled motionless on something. They were a ghastly sight. It turned out later, one of these men had a broken arm [A.B. Edward Reville] and the other was a pathetic little spider of a man, the oiler, and covered with cuts. My first impression was not of their bodies, however, but of their piteous dark, dead eyes.

Next, we maneuvered to a life raft with four motionless men. As we drew alongside, one pointed to a colorless lump of wreckage. He said, "Would you get that man over there first? He can't swim a stroke, he's nearly gone, and he's the captain. We can wait." The captain was clinging to an old piece of gangway. He was on his stomach with his face almost in the water. It was then that Bill had to leave the helm to help with getting him on board. His hands were numb and tangled in the rungs, all cut and blistered. I untied his life belt, bandaged his cuts, and gave him a towel for his running nose. He was so cute, apologized for using the towel, and said it was only salt water that he blew!

We turned the Furious and picked up the other four. They were perfectly well men. The third mate, John Boyer, was especially handsome. Unfortunately, we had very few cigarettes and a shortage of drinking water. As they seemed pretty thirsty, I put only a small amount in the glass at a time so they would think they were getting more than they were.

Able Seaman Edward Reville's arm was broken. I rolled a towel underneath and then tied a bandage firmly around his body to keep it in place. He never uttered a word of complaint, although you could see he was suffering badly. Captain Roberts' first comment, when he recovered himself was, "We have been 28,000-mi and this had to happen to us just when we were almost home!"

On the humorous side, however, Third Engineer David Graham was asleep in his bunk at the time of the attack and was picked up completely naked. He used his life preserver as a skirt. He commented that he had always planned to visit Palm Beach, but he never dreamt of arriving in such a costume!

In no time, they had found out my name and were addressing me courteously as "Mrs. Robins."

Tom and Bill were marvelously cool, collected, and efficient. We picked up one more man, who was hanging onto a small piece of wood. Two other boats also arrived on the scene and, between them, they picked up twelve men, two of whom were dead. We had nine in all.

After circling this floating graveyard five times with three of our men on the deck house on the look-out for other survivors, we headed for Boynton Inlet where, only two days before, we had witnessed the arrival of survivors from an English ship that had been torpedoed directly off the Point [most likely the British Tanker Eclipse, sunk by Suhren on four days before on May 4th], killing several men [2], but sinking ship [only damaged].”

The rescue was completed about 30 minutes after the Ohioan sank.

Of the original crew of 37, 13 men were initially listed as missing and two were confirmed dead (the bodies of Steward Luiz and 2nd Assistant Engineer Verdon were picked up and brought ashore). Three men on watch below (unidentified), were believed killed by the explosion, an indication the engine room was breached as well. Most of the casualties were believed to be from drowning, however, the proximity of the galley at the aft end of the deck house preparing lunch, the radio room directly above it, and the engineering quarters to the explosion may also explain some of the casualties from those personnel living and working there.


Casualties included:

  1. Haselden, Herbert Dudley, 28, Wiper from Andrews, SC
  2. Henderson, Kenneth Bernard, 31, Fireman from Spencer’s Island, Nova Scotia
  3. Jones, William Frederick, age unknown, Messman from Birmingham, England
  4. Kamont, Edward Francis, 24, O.S. from Holyoke, MA
  5. Kappus, Paul Bernard, 36, Radioman from Barberton, OH
  6. Luiz, Bernardo Francisco, 51, Steward from Bronx, NY
  7. McDonough, Dewer Wright Jr., 43, Junior 3rd Mate from New Jersey
  8. Munro, Alan Christopher, 21, Purser from Narberth PA
  9. Proctor, Thomas McKay, 41, 3rd Assistant Engineer from Lomita Park, CA
  10. Rodrigues, Alexander, 29, Messboy from New York City
  11. Runstad, Hans, 35, A.B. from Petersburg, AK
  12. Salters, John C., 32, Oiler from New Brighton, NY
  13. Siemon, Alfred, 44, Deck Engineer, a Pacific Islander from Fallbrook, CA
  14. Verdon, William Henry, 29, 2nd Assistant Engineer from San Francisco, CA
  15. Williams, Fred Edward, 37, Oiler from San Francisco, CA

Eleven of the fifteen casualties were new to the vessel. Only Kappus, Runstad, Verdon and Proctor had sailed with Ohioan previously. It was believed to be 21-year-old Purser Munro’s first voyage. Munro had replaced 39-year=old James S. Whitaker.

It took nearly two years before Junior 3rd Mate McDonough’s wife would learn the fate of her husband.

According to an article in The Madison Courier, 17 November 1944, McDonough was born near Lancaster, Jefferson County, IN in 1898. “He had been at sea since before the First World War. During that conflict he crossed the ocean 32 times, and for several years after the first war he served in the government intelligence department. His work had taken him to China, Japan, India, Spain, Belgium and Holland, where he was married.

Although he was at sea most of his life, he maintained a home in New Jersey, and it was from there that his wife went to Antwerp, Belgium just before this war to visit her mother. Unable to get back, she had been there since, and had received no word about her husband.

McDonough had replaced 20-year-old James O. Jordan.

There were 22 survivors:

  1. Roberts, Frank H., 41, Master
  2. Clark, Charles R., age unknown, Chief Mate
  3. Spelker, Joseph H., 33, 2nd Mate
  4. Boyer, John N., 23, 3rd Mate
  5. Alevizo, James G., 33, Bosun
  6. Spicer, E., age unknown, Carpenter
  7. Golden, Charlie E., 42, A.B.
  8. Madigan, Frank, 29, A.B.
  9. Branka, J., age unknown, A.B.
  10. Reville , Edward F., 28, A.B.
  11. Valentinsen, Gudleif, 58, A.B.
  12. Cento, Joseph, 39, O.S.
  13. Pribble, Ernest R., 27, O.S.
  14. Robey, George R., 41, Chief Engineer
  15. Graham, David, age unknown, Jr. 3rd Asst. Engineer
  16. Souffront, Louis, 37, Oiler
  17. Caliocque, Gus, age unknown, Fireman
  18. Orrell, A., age unknown, Fireman
  19. Escobar, Jose, age unknown, Wiper
  20. Prosser, V., age unknown, Chief Cook
  21. Mitchell, John Avner Jr., 22, Messman
  22. Parent  P., age unknown, Messman

The crew list was hastily typed up after the incident and included many misspellings. The bosun was listed as J. L. Alviso. The only Alviso I could find on Ancestry.com was a waiter that served later in the war. Luckily, I had found the formal crew list  for the previous voyage, which showed the bosun was James G. Alevizo, 33, who would also survived the Alaskan sinking the following November as part of the Brazil Group. 

The men in bold font above were new to Ohioan. Reville came from the Nevadan and Cento from the Montanan.

Four of the survivors (unidentified, but most likely including Reville with his broken arm) were taken to the Good Samaritan Hospital in West Palm Beach for treatment. 

The 18 other survivors were taken to the Alma Hotel in West Palm Beach, and were given clothing, food, and first aid for several burns. They departed the following morning by train for New York City.

Louisa Robins remembered “Later, while we were waiting altogether in a shed, for what seemed an interminable time for medical assistance, etc., the second mate [Joseph Spelker] beckoned me aside and said he wanted to give me something. Imagine my emotion when he opened his kit, which he had managed to save, and said, "I want to give you a little remembrance, a piece of silver that I have brought all the way from Persia." He continued, "I have no family, wife, or anyone who gives a damn whether or not I'm blitzed, so please choose which one you want." With this, he spread out some pins and bracelets of silver inlaid with black enamel. I protested that I couldn't choose and shouldn't have one, but he insisted, and finally said, "Well, since it was the sinking of a ship, I think you should have the boat one." So he gave me a pin in the form of a gondola with a gondolier, and a note, "To Louisa Robins: In consideration of our prompt rescue. With wishes, J.H. Spelker, 2nd Mate, SS Ohioan, 8 May 1942."

During this presentation, the first mate [Charles Clark] also came over. He had saved his kit as well. When he opened it, he drew out a small diary. He said, "The purser [Alan Munro] was drowned, I saw him go. I found this floating in the water. It was all that was left of him, so I grabbed it, and I'm going to send it to his family. He was only 21."

I may have found the family of Charles Clark and I’m in the process of trying to verify his identity. The name was quite common, which adds to the challenge, but not many were officers. There also did not appear to be an officer by that name that served regularly with American-Hawaiian. Clark was a replacement for Ohioan’s previous Chief Mate, Charles A. Kococha. The redacted report of Clark’s statement shows a middle initial of ‘R’. I found evidence of a Charles R. Clark from Lynn, MA who went to the Massachusetts Nautical School and served on Minnesotan early in his career. From that info I was able to find his daughter and have provided her some assistance in ordering his Merchant Mariner records. Hopefully in a month or two we will know.


 Frank H. Roberts


Master Frank Hiraim Roberts was born August 17th, 1901 in the quaint coastal village of Boothbay, Maine. He was the only child of sailor Hiraim D. Roberts and Lucretia Adams, who had just married in December of 1900.

His mother died while Frank was still a baby in November of 1902 from a blood clot
at the age of 27. Since his father was a sailor, his maternal grandmother, Marietta Adams, appears to have raised him.

By the 1920 census, when Frank was 18, he was listed as a sailor and his father was a 3rd Officer on a ship. His grandmother passed away in 1927.

Like other Maine sailors such as Alaskan’s E.E. Greenlaw, Roberts received no formal training and started as a deck hand and worked his way up.

To date I have not been able to find much information on his early career. His Merchant Mariner records were dominated by replacement license requests. Their earliest entry is for the Ohioan in 1937. Oddly, the records do not show Roberts being documented in 1937 like all other seamen I've researched to date. His only application was dated June 25th, 1942 when he was living in Baltimore with his wife Vera. I assume his original 1937 document was lost in the sinking. I found a few earlier crew lists on Ancestry.com, and as mentioned above, Joseph Spelker's records were a big help in filling in the blanks on Ohioan's and Roberts' history.

Below is a list of sailings I found for him between Ancestry.com, his Merchant Seaman file, and Spelker's file:

Vessel Position Shipping Line From To Master
Golden Star Chief Mate Oceanic & Oriental Navigation Co. 1/9/1934 1/17/1935 Hans B. Hansen
Willsolo Master Williams Steamship Co. 2/7/1934 11/25/1936
Ohioan Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 2/9/1937 4/6/1938
Honolulan Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 7/1/1938 1/30/1939
Alabaman Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 2/1/1939 6/30/1939
Ohioan Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 7/9/1939 8/2/1939
Comet Master New York & Cuba Mail Line Ltd. 8/3/1939 9/30/1939
Ohioan Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 10/10/1939 5/8/1942
Alabaman Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 6/9/1942 11/10/1944
Sioux Falls Victory Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 6/8/1945 10/6/1945
Norwich Victory Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 11/1/1945 6/22/1946
Edward R. Squibb Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 6/23/1946 9/28/1946
Central Victory Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 12/13/1946 3/1/1947
Kingsport Victory Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 5/20/1947 9/23/1947
John Howard Payne Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 9/24/1947 12/9/1947
Willis Vickery Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 5/7/1948 1/13/1951
Nevadan Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 2/23/1951 2/15/1954
Hawaiian Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 5/10/1954 11/16/1955
Californian Master Matson Navigation Co. 11/17/1955 6/11/1959
Bulk Leader Master American Bulk Carriers, Inc. 10/26/1959 12/27/1963
Sacramento Master Sacramento Transport, Inc. 1/23/1964 11/9/1966

As with many other A-H officers of this era he also spent some time in trans-Pacific service with A-H subsidiary Oceanic and Oriental. He appears to have remained an American-Hawaiian man for most of his career or at least until the company failed.Then, as the list above shows he worked for a series of other lines until his retirement.

After Ohioan’s loss he went right back to sea, serving as Alabaman’s Master (sister of Arkansan, though armed by this point) beginning in July, with Joe Spelker as his Chief Mate. He finished out the war in the Pacific on Sioux Falls Victory. He would sail Victory and Liberty ships until 1948. Nevadan (the ex-Willis Vickery), Hawaiian and Californian were not the originals, but Type C replacements, all C4-S-A4's. Bulk Leader and Sacramento were the same vessel, a converted T2, just renamed when the owners changed.

His records identify a few personal characteristics. He was quite tall, about 6 feet, around 190 lbs. with gray eyes, brown hair and a medium complexion.

Roberts and his wife Vera retired to the Gulf Coast of Florida in the 1970’s, only a few hundred miles from where his Ohioan was lost. Frank H. Roberts passed away in Tampa, FL in 1996 at the age of 94. He left behind a son, Frank Jr. (1932 - ), and three daughters; Miriam (1931 - ), Hazel (1936 - ) and Vera (1937 - ). So far I have not been able to make contact with his immediate family or his rather large extended family.

 Joseph H. Spelker


Second Mate Joseph Herman Spelker the 3rd was born May 4th, 1908 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was the youngest of five children born to butcher Joseph H. Spelker Jr. and his wife Georgia.

His grandfather, Joseph Sr., immigrated to the United States from Prussia in the mid-1800’s. His Grandmother Clara’s parents were from Baden, Germany. Joe often noted his heritage as “Dutch” on his crew lists throughout his career.

His family moved to Oakland, CA between the 1910 and 1920 census. Apparently the family business was not for him, and by 1924, at the age of 16, Joe was serving as a Deck Boy on the SS West Jester sailing between San Francisco and Singapore.

Like many American-Hawaiian officers of this era, he started his career with their subsidiary Oceanic and Oriental Navigation Company. He spent a couple years on Golden Sun (sister of Honolulan, EFC 1133) as a Cadet, A.B. and eventually Quartermaster under Master William F.M. Scorah. Golden Sun traveled to the usual Asian ports of Otaru and Yokohama Japan, Dairen Manchuria [present day Dalian, China], and Tsingtao [present day Qingdao] and Chefoo [present day Yantai] China.

In 1934 Joe transferred to Williams Steamship Company’s Willsolo, which would become the Ohioan. It was then that he first met Frank H. Roberts, Willsolo’s Master. I assume the two got along well, as Spelker served with Roberts fairly consistently for the next eight years.

By the time Joe was documented in 1937 his records show he was living in Newburgh, NY, and married to a woman named Mary. Judging by Joe’s comment to Louisa Robins in May of 1942 after the Ohioan sinking; “I have no family, wife, or anyone who gives a damn whether or not I'm blitzed, so please choose which one you want." I assume the marriage ended in divorce.

A month after the Ohioan sinking, Joe was Roberts’ Chief Mate on the Alabaman (Arkansan’s sister) for a couple voyages to the Persian Gulf. Joe became a Master of his own ship, the Georgian in early 1944. Georgian was part of several North Atlantic convoys during this period, including eastbound HX 300, and westbound ONS 030 and 033.

There is a gap in Joe’s records for 1945, but by 1946 he was Master of Chanute Victory for a voyage to Bremerhaven, Germany, and later several voyages in the Pacific. It is interesting to note that his Chief Mate on his last voyage on Chanute Victory was John I. Carter, who he would later serve under at Red Stack Tugs.
By 1948 he was living back on the West Coast, in San Francisco. Joe eventually remarried, to a woman named Vera.

In 1949 he commanded the Liberty ship Frank A. Munsey on a voyage to Yokohama, Japan. By the end of ’49 or early 1950, Joe finally left American-Hawaiian and joined Crowley Maritime’s Red Stack Tugs in San Francisco. He served in various capacities (2nd Mate, Chief Mate, Master) on a number of tugs for several years until he took a desk job and became their head dispatcher.

Fellow Red Stack officer Captain Wally Slough recalls; “I worked at Red Stack in San Francisco from February 1972 until February 1979 when all the pilots were laid off.  I started as a mate on the ship assist tugs in the bay, and was promoted to captain/pilot in 1974.  I absolutely loved the job, and it was a wonderful training experience that I look back on fondly.  I worked under Joe a little bit as a dispatcher in the office also. He was kind of a crusty old guy when I worked with him, and didn't have that much use for a young fellow like myself. I remember in the office that when things got crazy for the dispatcher (which happened frequently), he was famous for throwing pencils, sometimes at people. We all knew when to stay out of his way. Joe never mentioned that he'd been torpedoed and sunk or that he’d been with A-H.

We all had booklet's of charts of the bay with magnetic courses to find our way around the bay during fog (none of the tugs had radar at that time).  They consisted of charts cut out with each person’s own magnetic courses, cut and folded into a small booklet that he could carry to work each day. In any case, Joe gave me his course book, and I just about melted! I choked up a little bit, and he immediately resorted to his normal gruff attitude. They were a very personal thing that every towboatman carried, and it meant a lot to me that he'd pass it on to me.

Between his Merchant Seaman Records and crew lists I found on Ancestry.com I was able to put together a pretty comprehensive list of his sailings:

Vessel Position Shipping Line From To Master
West Jester Deck Boy USSB - Struthers & Barry 10/10/1924 2/14/1925 L.C. Drewson
Golden Sun Cadet Oceanic&Oriental Navigation Co. 9/23/1931 6/12/1932 William F.M. Scorah
Golden Sun A.B. Oceanic&Oriental Navigation Co. 6/23/1932 8/17/1932 William F.M. Scorah
Golden Sun Q.M Oceanic&Oriental Navigation Co. 9/23/1932 6/3/1933 William F.M. Scorah
Willsolo Q.M. Williams Steamship Co. 2/7/1934 6/2/1935 Frank H Roberts
Willsolo 3rd Mate Williams Steamship Co. 6/3/1935 11/25/1936 Frank H Roberts
Ohioan 3rd Mate American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 2/9/1937 4/6/1938 Frank H Roberts
Oregonian 3rd Mate American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 4/23/1938 10/19/1938 S.C. Harrison
Oregonian 2nd Mate American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 10/20/1938 12/12/1938 S.C. Harrison
Louisianan 2nd Mate American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 3/2/1939 3/31/1939 Unknown
Ohioan 3rd Mate American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 4/5/1939 7/8/1939 K. Hansen
Ohioan 2nd Mate American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 7/9/1939 8/2/1939 Frank H Roberts
Ohioan 3rd Mate American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 8/3/1939 10/9/1939 Illegible, not Roberts
Ohioan 3rd Mate American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 10/10/1939 4/16/1940 Frank H Roberts
Ohioan 2nd Mate American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 4/17/1940 6/13/1940 Frank H Roberts
Ohioan 3rd Mate American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 6/14/1940 4/7/1941 Frank H Roberts
Ohioan 2nd Mate American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 4/8/1941 5/8/1942 Frank H Roberts
Alabaman Chief Mate American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 6/9/1942 4/19/1943 Frank H Roberts
Georgian Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 3/30/1944 6/22/1944
Georgian Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 6/30/1944 10/16/1944
Chanute Victory Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 5/24/1946 6/25/1946
Chanute Victory Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 6/28/1946 8/4/1946
Chanute Victory Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 8/9/1946 9/28/1946
Chanute Victory Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 11/25/1946 1/3/1947
Frank A. Munsey Master American-Hawaiian S.S. Co. 8/19/1949 10/31/1949
Sea Prince 2nd Mate Crowley Maritime - Red Stack 3/27/1950 4/8/1950 George E.Melanson
Sea Lion Chief Mate Crowley Maritime - Red Stack 9/12/1950 11/16/1950 Ross E. O'Laughlin
Sea Lion Master Crowley Maritime - Red Stack 6/22/1951 9/19/1951
Sea Ranger Chief Mate Crowley Maritime - Red Stack 3/15/1956 4/22/1956 John I. Carter


Captain
Wally Slough also noted; “Learning how to run a Miki Tug (like the Sea Prince), was no mean feat.  They were a single screw tug, with a very small rudder which made them a handful.  When I think back about it, there were a number of skippers that took the time to teach a young man the ropes during my time at Red Stack.  The Miki's were also a wonderful training ground for young pilots.  If you could run a Miki, docking ships was easy.

Joe’s records identify a few personal characteristics; in his prime he was 5’- 9” tall, around 170 lbs. with brown eyes and brown hair.

Joseph H. Spelker passed away in San Francisco, CA on April 7th, 1977 at the age of 68. He left behind a wife, Vera, who passed away in 1979. They don’t appear to have had any children and so far I have not been able to make contact with any family.


 Tom and Louisa Robins


When I first found and read Louisa Robin’s account of the Ohioan sinking and their subsequent rescue efforts I was impressed. Her story intrigued me and I decided to try and dig a little deeper to see if I could find out who these amazing people were.

The Sea Classics story, part of their ‘My War’ series in Vol. 38, No. 7 from July of 2005 titled: "I'll Never Forget the Look in Their Eyes." provided little to go on besides their names. It’s not even clear who submitted the story to the magazine and when. I reached out to the publisher, but never heard back.

After several dead ends, I eventually decided to try and build a family tree for them on Ancestry.com. At first, Mary’s use of the term ‘Mummy’ threw me off on their ages and I guessed about ten years too young. I tried a couple different scenarios until I found a Louisa with a husband named Thomas and a daughter named Mary. The names ‘Tom’ and ‘Mary’ are quite common, but when combined with ‘Louisa’, which is just unique enough, I was able to put the pieces together. Another catch was that the family I found lived in Darien, CT and not in Florida as I had first assumed. Darien, however, is on the “Gold Coast” of Connecticut and Florida has been a vacation magnet for quite some time, so there was still a possibility.

I continued to build their tree, and the more I expanded it, the more I was impressed with their family. It was like a who’s who of turn of the century names; Edison (business relationship), Goodyear and Roosevelt.

Besides Mary (1919-2006), Tom and Louisa had two other daughters, Louisa (1920-1992) and Anne (1924-2004). Other than some evidence of travel to the region around the same time, I could find no direct link between the family in the article and the family in my tree. There were a handful of other people with parts of the family in their trees on Ancestry, but these inquiries too led nowhere. Then I found some evidence of military service for Thomas; he and Louisa’s engagement announcement mentioned he was an ensign in the Navy, and I started focusing on that.

Before long, I came across a very interesting site called the Subchaser Archives run by a gentleman named Todd Woofenden. The site had some information indicating that a Thomas Robins Jr. had been a sub chaser commander during WWI, and included several pictures contributed by Thomas’ grandson, Toby Goodyear. I wrote to Todd asking if he could put me in contact with Toby, which he quickly helped me do.

Toby and I were able to have a wonderful phone conversation, during which he was able to confirm his grandparent’s (and Mother’s) involvement in the Ohioan rescue. Toby was Talbot Goodyear, the son of the Mary Robins in the story. Toby was kind enough to share some of the photos and details I’ve included here and is in the process of searching for more.

Tom Robins' presence of mind to note the bearing of the Ohioan from her smoke was no accident, and came from his naval experience during WWI. Tom was going to Princeton University when WWI broke out and left school to join the Naval Reserve. He served as the commander of the small 110 foot wooden SC-1 class submarine chaser USSC-178 during the war. 

It was while he was a young ensign in 1917 that he became engaged to the beautiful young debutant Louisa Winslow Cogswell, and they were married in 1918.

According to the Subchaser Archives; Robins’ “Subchaser SC 178 served as Unit Leader of Unit 21, stationed at Plymouth, England. Later SC 178 was assigned to Base 6 (Queenstown/Cobh, Ireland), and after the war participated in minesweeping operations in the North Sea.” Tom was awarded the Navy Cross for his service during the war and had three unconfirmed U-Boats to his credit.

Thomas was 45-years-old and his wife Louisa was 43-years-old at the time of the Ohioan attack. Their daughter, 23-year-old Mary Van Rensselaer Robins had accompanied them on their vacation to Florida.

The Robins were in Florida to visit their friend William “Bill” Jebb and his wife Emily, who I will detail separately. Typically, Mr. and Mrs. Robins would have been on a luxury cruise this time of year, but the war had interrupted their plans, as it had so many others.

The Robins were quite wealthy and came from the top of Buffalo, New York society. Tom’s father, Thomas Robins Sr. had perfected the conveyor belt in 1891 and had worked with Thomas Edison on his Ogden Iron Mine in northern New Jersey in 1896.

To me, their status made their efforts to rescue the Ohioan’s crew that much more remarkable. It wasn’t without danger, and the fact that they set their privileged life aside and stepped up to do what needed to be done impressed me. I’m actually quite surprised the press didn’t make a bigger deal out of it at the time.

Tom was President of Robins Conveying Belt Company when the Ohioan attack occurred. Besides producing conveyor belts, according to his obituary he and his company played a prominent role in the development of the synthetic rubber industry during World War II, as well as the production of bulletproof (self-sealing) gas tanks for the aircraft industry.

In 1945 the Robins Conveying Belt Company, merged with the Hewitt Rubber Company, a manufacturer of conveyor belting, hose and other rubber products, in Buffalo, New York. The new company was renamed Hewitt-Robins Inc. and had Thomas Robins Jr. as its president. He would later be appointed by the Board of Governors to a three year term as a Director to the Buffalo Branch of the Federal Reserve.

The company continued to expand and succeed, and Tom and Louisa appeared to have enjoyed the post war years. They went on a vacation once year, typically sailing first class on some of the finest luxury liners of the era, such as the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Ile de France. Tom had his own sailboat and enjoyed sailing in Long Island Sound. They were also friends of Charles Lindbergh and his family when they lived in Darien, CT after the war.

Unfortunately, Louisa passed away in 1962 at the age of 63. She was a woman ahead of her time and was actually a well respected oil painter, collector and supporter of the arts. Her work, often inspired by her world travels, was displayed at several prominent museums and galleries, and still comes up for auction from time to time. Louisa’s papers (1930-1960), which her daughter’s donated in 1978, are kept at the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art.

One thing that surprised me when I had the opportunity to speak with her grandson Toby is that he believed the pendant and letter that 2nd Mate Spelker had given Louisa out of appreciation for helping save his life may still be in the family. Here was a woman who had the means to probably have any jewelry she wanted. A testament to the phrase; “It’s the thought that counts.”

Tom retired in 1963 as Chairman of the company, and his son-in-law Austin Goodyear (Toby’s uncle, his father’s cousin) took over. In 1965 Hewitt-Robins was acquired by Litton Industries, with Austin staying on for a time as a V.P.

Tom remarried in 1963, but his second wife, Eileen, passed away in 1970. Thomas Robins Jr. passed away in Darien, CT in 1977 at the age of 80.

In one final twist to the story, the company would change hands several more times over the years, until 1992 when it was acquired by the German company Krupp Industries, which was a major supplier of steel for the Germans during WWII. In all likelihood, the U-Boat that sank the Ohioan was made from Krupp steel. The Robin’s name still endures, however, the division has been known as ThyssenKrupp Robins, Inc. since 2002.


 Bill and Emily Jebb


After researching and finding the Robins family I turned my attention to Bill Jebb, the owner of the rescue boat, Furious, in Louisa’s story. Many of the details I found when searching for the Robins were useful when I was piecing things together on the Jebb family.

Before long I discovered Bill was 45-year-old William Thomas Jebb Jr. and his wife was 43-year-old Emily (Schoellkopf) Jebb at the time of the Ohioan attack. Both came from prominent families in Buffalo, NY. Bill’s grandfather, Thomas A. Jebb and father, William T. Jebb Sr., were both successful inventors and businessmen. Emily’s grandfather was Jacob Schoellkopf, who emigrated from a small town outside Wurttemberg, Germany in 1841. He became an extremely successful businessman with interests varying from tanning leather, to brewing beer, to running flour mills and he eventually pioneered hydroelectric power using Niagara Falls. At one point he was purportedly even known as the “King of Electricity”

It is unclear exactly how the Robins’ and Jebb’s knew each other, but there were many parallels between the families. They all came from the top of Buffalo, NY society which was a hotbed of innovation and industrialization at the time. Bill and Tom were both WWI veterans. Members of the Robins’ extended family had vacationed at Jebb’s Jamaica Square complex in Delray Beach in the early 1940’s. Delray Beach was also known as an artist’s colony & haven in the 1940’s, when Louisa Robins was visiting.

As mentioned above, Bill was a veteran of The Great War like Thomas Robins. In June of 1917, 20-year-old William T. Jebb joined the Buffalo Unit of the American Ambulance Field Service and applied for a passport. According to 'History of Buffalo and Erie County, 1914-1919' by Daniel J. Sweeney, “Jebb later entered the American Aviation section and trained at Issoudun [U.S. Air Service 3rd Aviation Instruction Center in central France]. He served with the 28th Aero squadron, 3rd Pursuit Group, under the command of a Major William Thaw.” He was assigned to the 28th Aero on August 27th, 1918 and served until the end of the war.

According to author and historian Jon Guttman; “The 28th Aero Squadron was known as ‘The Scalpers’ [in accordance with the 3rd Pursuit Group’s Indian Head theme]. After the usual long process of organization, training and other preparations, the 28th Aero Squadron began operations with the 3rd Pursuit Group of the U.S.A.S. (United States Air Service) on September 1st, 1918. Like the other, relatively inexperienced units of the 3rd, the 28th’s duties were primarily high-altitude backup for the 1st Pursuit Group’s aerial superiority operations, and escort for the American Day Bombardment Group; but soon it was also attaching bomb racks to its SPAD XIII’s for ground attack, and would win high acclaim for its success at this “low-altitude”. Its lateness in action and the nature of its duties explain the low score against enemy planes - 14, for the loss of three men in action, three in crashes and two P.O.W. But it made a significant contribution in its brief period in action, taking part in the mopping-up operations after St. Mihiel and in the Battle of the Argonne.

Lieutenant William T. Jebb had three shared victories:

14 September, 1918 - 07h33 - Fokker D.VII - Out of Control -  at 2500m - North of Villers-sur-Troy - SPAD XIII S.15237 - Shared with Lt. Merrick, Cassady, Allein, Hardy and Moriarity

26 September, 1918 - 07h05 - Fokker D.VII - Damaged/Out of Control  - at 2500m - Over Montfaucon - SPAD XIII 7520 Coded "15"

02 October, 1918 - 17h50 -  Halberstadt CL.II - Crashed -   at 4000m - Over Ivoiry -SPAD XIII 7520 Coded "15" - Shared with  Lt. Cassady, Stenseth, Smith, Hardy, Merrill and Hardendorf.

Bill married Emily C. Schoellkopf in 1922. Bill worked a series of jobs in the 1920’s and 1930’s including advertising and stock brokerage. They seem to have come through the Great Depression not just OK, but in strong financial shape. In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s they started spending time in Delray Beach, FL, eventually building and managing a resort called Jamaica Square right on the Atlantic. After the war they would also become co-owners of the Delray Beach Bath and Tennis Club.

They raised three children; Thomas A. Jebb (1923-1970), Richard T. Jebb (1926-1997) and Emily A. Jebb (1929-1993).


Emily Schoellkopf Jebb passed away in 1971 from cancer at the age of 71. Bill never re-married and passed away in 1983 at the age of 85.

I have made several attempts to connect with their descendants; including Thomas’ son Douglas Schoellkopf Jebb and Richard’s son Christopher (and his wife Lisa), but to date there have been no responses. I would really like to learn more about them at some point and perhaps get a picture of Bill’s boat, Furious. I imagine this was a beautiful classic late 1930’s Chris Craft or similar cabin cruiser, or perhaps a Wheeler like “Papa” Hemingway’s ‘Pilar’, which he was sailing between Florida and Cuba around this time hunting for U-boats. Hopefully one day one of their grandchildren will find the site and be able to fill in some of the missing pieces.


 Reinhard Suhren and U-564


Teddy Suhren was one of the most famous of all the U-Boat commanders of the war. There have been many platitudes heaped on Suhren by friend and foe alike; 'One-of-a-kind', 'Original', 'Charismatic' and 'Legend' to name but a few. As such, there has already been much written about him. Google his name and you'll find thousands of hits for websites, books, photos, videos, etc... I will likely not break much new ground here. Rather than rehash his many accomplishments; his promotions, awards and every attack, I would like to focus on the man himself and the patrol on which he sank the Ohioan and the events that led up to it.

Reinhard Johann Heinz Paul Anton Suhren was born during the First World War on April 16th, 1916 in Langenschwalbach (present day Bad Schwalbach). Langenschwalbach was a remote spa town in the Taunus Mountains in the state of Hesse, Germany. He was the middle child of Geert (aka Gerd) Suhren Sr. and Ernestine (aka Erne) Ludovika. His older brother Gerd Jr. was born in 1914 when his parents were living in German Samoa, his father being a planter. The family had traveled back to Germany at the outbreak of the First World War.

During the war his father (in his mid-30’s) was a commander of the 18th Leipzig Lancers (Ulanen), a cavalry unit. He was awarded an Iron Cross and later a Knight’s Cross of the Military order of St. Heinrich for action on the Russian Front. In the course of the war German Samoa was taken by New Zealand, and after the war, Germany lost its ownership of Samoa entirely, and so with it the Suhren family’s property. They stayed in Germany and his father became the Director of Agriculture Production for Saxony. Reinhard’s younger sister, Almut, was born in 1919.

The children seemed to have had a fairly uneventful and happy childhood, though moved frequently due to their father’s work.

His older brother, Gerd, who wanted to pursue an engineering career, joined the inter-war German Navy known as the Reichsmarine in April of 1933 when he was 19. Hitler had just become Chancellor of Germany in January of 1933, with Paul von Hindenburg still as President. When Hindenburg died in August, Hitler soon consolidated his power and took full control of the country.

Reinhard, who was trying to decide whether to pursue a Naval or medical career, ended up following his big brother’s footsteps and joined the Navy in 1935. According to his memoir, the Reichsmarine had already been re-named the Kreigsmarine by the Nazi’s, but his records show he joined on April 5th, 1935, and the Navy wasn’t officially renamed until May 21st.

Highly intelligent and strong-willed, Reinhard struggled with the sometimes arbitrary military life at first, but made it through. It was while he was going through his training that he gained the nickname ‘Teddy’, much to his chagrin initially. He was quite short of stature, reportedly 5 foot, 4 inches, and a classmate thought he looked like a Teddy Bear as he swung his arms and legs as he marched the traditional Prussian ‘goose step’. The name stuck, and he was forever known as Teddy Suhren.

Timing is everything, and Teddy was fortunate to have excellent training and mentors as he worked his way up. This included time aboard the sail training ship Gorch Folk, the Light Cruiser Emden, and the Destroyer Max Schultz. In 1938 he transferred to the U-Bootwaffe and from November of 1938 through April of 1939 he served as IIWO (Second Watch Officer) on a series of training U-Boats, including U-46, U-47 and U-51.

On April 22nd, 1939 he joined the Type VIIB U-48 as IWO (First Watch officer) at the age of 23. Germany invaded Poland in September, igniting the Second World War. U-48 would become the most successful U-Boat of the war in the roughly year and a half he served on her.

The first Commander he served under was Herbert Schultze (aka ‘Vaddi’ or Daddy for the care he took with his crew). Schultze survived the war and became the 8th highest scoring Commander. Suhren went on five patrols in the North Atlantic with Schultze, helping sink 109,174 tons in the process.

In May of 1940 Schultze took ill and was temporarily replaced by Hans Rudolf Rösing. On two patrols with Rösing, they accumulated another 60,701 tons. Rösing was a ‘Top 50’ Commander who also survived the war.

In September 1940 Heinrich (aka ‘Ajax’) Bleichrodt took over command of U-48. Together, he and Suhren sank another 82,660 tons on the next two patrols. So devoted to Suhren was Bleichrodt, that when he received the news of his being awarded the Knights Cross, he refused to wear it until his IWO, Suhren, who had fired most of the surface shots, also received one. Therefore, on November 3rd, 1940, Teddy Suhren became the first IWO of the war to be awarded the Knights Cross. In another first, his big brother Gerd was the first engineering officer (LI) to be awarded the Knights Cross on October 21st, 1940. Bleichrodt also survived the war and became the 14th highest scoring ace.

Suhren requested his own command after returning from this patrol, but was turned down by Dӧnitz because he did not meet the minimum age requirement at the time of 25. He was given a temporary shore position to train other officers how to shoot torpedoes (many of whom out-ranked him).

Finally, on April 3rd, 1941, just shy of his 25th birthday he was assigned as Commander of the new Type VIIC U-564 which was being built at the Blohm and Voss yards in Hamburg. Most U-Boats had an emblem painted on the sides or front of the conning tower. Since Suhren had so much luck on U-48, he decided to use the same for U-564, known as “Dreimal Schwarz Kater” or “Three Black Cats”. This consisted of a black cat, back arched, tail high with “3X” written below it. This was painted on the front of the conning tower. The logic being one black cat means bad luck, but three turn away misfortune. Sailors tend to be a superstitious lot. His was one of five U-boats that used this emblem.

Suhren had commanded U-564 for four war patrols prior to Ohioan’s loss. During that time he sank 39,873 tons and damaged another 15,663 tons. He had also added his Oak Leaves to his Knights Cross by then.

If it wasn’t for an accident on his previous patrol, Suhren would not have been off the coast of Florida when Ohioan passed through. Some years ago, before I created this site, I had the privilege of assisting the sister and nephew of a young man named Daniel Ralph Stone (no relation) from Nova Scotia, who was a Wiper that was lost on the large Canadian tanker Victolite in February of 1942. Danny was lost with the rest of the crew just shy of his 17th birthday. I was fortunate enough to help translate a portion of the war diary (KTB) and torpedo reports for U-564’s attacks on Victolite, which helped in some small way bring the family some closure. Suhren and U-564 were to be in the second wave of attacks on the US East Coast and operate off Cape Hatteras. The KTB revealed that a couple days after sinking Victolite, Suhren attempted to refuel from the U-107 (Gelhaus – note: misidentified as U-106 in his memoir). Overtired and in poor visibility, Suhren misjudged the approach and the resulting collision severely damaged both boats, ending their patrols and forcing them to return home. If it weren’t for the Victolite (his memoir also claims the Opelia, but it was only slightly damaged), the patrol would have been a catastrophe. The ever reserved Dӧnitz even called him a ‘mutton-head’ on his return. The end result was that the revised schedule put he and U-564 in the path of the Ohioan, and despite his previous successes, caused Suhren to feel he had something to prove on his next patrol, heavy allied air patrols and broken engines be damned.

After sinking the Ohioan, Suhren sank two more vessels, the first was the Panamanian tanker Lubrafol on May 9th off Hillsboro Inlet. On the 10th he was spotted by escort vessels and badly shaken up by depth charge attacks. His damage report stated: “much glass and fuse damage, gyro-compass repeater failed, the rolling jaw for the onboard casing of the attack periscope torn from the pressure hull.  Rubber seated valves sprang open.  Main ballast and reserve fuel oil tanks 4 battered.” Later that same day U-564 was bombed several times by aircraft. The last “4 well-placed depth bombs”, which resulted in “Water intake from tube II, as the torpedo had just been moved and the rear door of the torpedo tube was open.

The last ship he sank on this patrol was the Mexican tanker Potrero de Llano on May 14th off Biscayne. This brought his total for that patrol to 24,390 tons sunk and 13,245 damaged.

Of these two, the Potrero de Llano was the most problematic since Mexico was neutral at the time. It was a night attack and Suhren had difficulty identifying her flag. His war diary read (times adjusted for local time):

06:45  Dimly lit vessel in sight.           

06:48   To action stations.  Colors not yet determined at approximately 1000 meters (tanker 4-5000 GRT.) loaded, length 115 m, course 0° estimated range 1250 meters, speed 10 knots.          

A darkened escort vessel is followed by a tanker displaying neither correct lighting or proper neutrality markings.  On the stern stands a sign, displaying vertical colors going from left to right red-white-blue or grey or black.         

Without a doubt, this tanker is making for an American port. Our friendship does not go so far, every foreigner believes they can capitalize on our patience.  

Fire!  Hit forward 20 meters.  The tanker burns, ran off, an aircraft circles over the burning ship     

07:26    Dismissed from action stations.

If this had been the only Mexican vessel sunk nothing may of come of it, but a week later on May 21st off Key West the U-106 (Rasch) made a similar error identifying a vessel in poor light, which turned out to be the Mexican tanker Faja de Oro. 

This prompted the Mexican government to announce on June 1st, 1942; “It is declared that as of May 22, 1942, there exists a state of war between the United States of Mexico and Germany, Italy and Japan.

Later that same evening, Teddy fired two torpedoes at a small convoy consisting of “2 Navy tankers (each 8000 GRT.) and 2 passenger-freighters with a 4-stacked destroyer in sight.” Both torpedoes failed, however.

On the 19th he attacked a decent sized convoy of 14 tankers and ships with a naval and air escort. He fired his last three bow torpedoes, 1 of which missed, 1 was a surface runner, and 1 was a tube runner that was later ejected. He left for home with one torpedo remaining in the stern tube, arriving back in Brest on June 6th, 1942.

After his sixth and final patrol on U-564 (His 15th war patrol in total), Suhren’s official totals were 18 merchant ships sunk (95,544 tons), 1 warship sunk (900 tons) and 4 ships damaged (28,907 tons). In his memoir he continued to include his attacks while an IWO on U-48. In Chapter 7 he stated: “I did six patrols with U-564, in the course of which I sank about thirty-three ships. I shall explain in a moment why I add ‘about’. To give a full account of the attack on each ship would take too long. When one spells them out they are often very similar, so I am going to content myself with a ‘fast-forward’, and only go into details occasionally.” and “Of the thirty-three ships mentioned, twenty-three were identified with certainty.

The Ohioan attack was so quick, it obviously wasn’t too memorable for Suhren, at least not enough to pass the litmus test above. His low tonnage claim for the Ohioan (5,000 vs. 6,078) would have been adjusted up during post war assessments, and although books such as Rohwer's ‘Axis Submarines Successes’ was published before he died, it’s not clear if Suhren ever knew the name of his victim, or even cared for that matter.

It was all about the tonnage, which was compounded by the fact that Suhren and U-564 was quite different from all the other U-Boats and Commanders I’ve studied so far, in that most of his successes were against vessels traveling in convoy, which offered few opportunities for positive identification, let alone interaction with survivors. In fact, from what I can determine, he had absolutely no interaction with any of the crews of the ships he sank while in command of U-564.

Teddy was brought ashore after that in October of 1942 just before the tide turned against the U-Boats. He took some time off, and managed to get an invite to spend some time in Bavaria with his friend and fellow U-Boat ace Erich Topp at Martin Borman’s house and even danced the banned 'Swing' with Eva Braun (Hitler’s mistress). I find this one of the more fascinating aspects about Suhren. Despite having no strong political views one way or the other, cracking jokes about the regime when he thought he could elicit a good laugh, and dating a Jewish girl at one point; his military success afforded him access to the top tiers of Nazi leadership. He met Hitler several times, and was even personally decorated by him on a couple occasions.

In fact, arguably one of his greatest infractions came about as he returned to Brest from his last patrol on U-564. It was his longest patrol (72 days). According to his memoir he was feeling a bit unsettled, not sure what the next chapter of his life would bring.  A swig of brandy probably did not help matters. There was a long delay while the reception ceremony was sorted out. It was the last thing Suhren and crew needed after such a long patrol, and Suhren was never one for formalities either. What happened next was described in his memoir:

"Just before reaching the pierhead we switched from noisy diesels to e-motors, and slid easily into the harbor basin. On the pier was drawn up the Army Band, a Naval Guard of Honor, the Town Mayor with his wife, a crowd of army officers, soldiers in grey and blue, and port-employees who had knocked off for a moment. Hands waving, flowers. Brest is a tidal harbor, the water level goes up and down, so in front of the jetty was moored a barge to serve as a pontoon to tie up to. On that the chief of the flotilla was waiting for us. Near him stood my friend Hein Uphoff (U84) who had got there just ahead of me. In the mess he was in the habit of telling rude but really very funny jokes about the Nazis. His face looked drawn as though he`d had a hard night. It made me ask him, with the megaphone pointed at him, 'Well, Hein, are the Nazis still at the helm then?' The flotilla chief jerked to attention and saluted: but he had heard more of the remark than he should have. Eventually, the story spread right round the fleet without doing me any harm. Even nowadays I get reminded of it!

Both engines half astern. The way came off the boat and U564 came alongside with a slight bump. The music started up, and the flotilla-chief came over the gangway and came on board with measured step. Attention! We pay our respects to him. 'Report U-564 returning from patrol'. Handshakes; congratulations.
"

The legend that grew from this incident twisted the story somewhat so that the 'both engines half astern' became 'full astern' with the suggestion that it was her diesels churning up the water. This incident is often used to illustrate the apolitical nature of most of the U-Bootwaffe. The implication being that Suhren would rather go back into battle rather than be ashore with the Nazi's. What the legend does not mention is the tragedy that immediately followed. Suhren was the closest thing to a 'rock star' at that phase of his career. As the throngs of civilians and soldiers on leave pressed in, the temporary stage collapsed, badly injuring many. As Suhren recalled: "But what a terrible reception; even in port U-564 did pretty well for excitement!"

After his vacation he reported for duty at the 2nd Submarine Training Division in Gotenhafen, where he worked with his former commander and friend ‘Ajax’ Bleichrodt. This was mainly theoretical class work for young officers.

On March 13th, 1943 he was transferred to the 27th Flotilla, also in Gotenhafen, to help his friend, ace Erich Topp as Gruppenführer and Chief of Staff. This was a training flotilla where new commanders and crews got hands-on training performing simulated attacks on ships and convoys in the Baltic. It was the final training these crews received before heading to ‘the front’, their operational flotillas in France and Norway to begin their combat patrols. Most never returned at this stage of the war.

Hans Fiedler

After Suhren’s departure from U-564, command was given to Kapitänleutnant Hans Fiedler. On the next two war patrols spanning 14 weeks Fiedler did not score any hits. His next two patrols were aborted after a few days. U-564 was heading out for it's 5th patrol under Fiedler when it was lost.

Fiedler was next given command of the new Type VIIC/41 U-998 on October 7th, 1943, and on June 1st, 1944 attempted to get the boat from Kiel to Bergen, Norway in one piece. As they approached Bergen, however, the U-998 was severely damaged in an air attack on June 16th, 1944 and scrapped later that month. This attack was carried out by two Norwegian Mosquito aircraft (Squadron 333) who attacked the boat with 57mm cannon fire and depth charges causing severe damage. There were no known casualties on U-998, however.

Fiedler’s third try was not the charm. On July 20th, 1944 he was given command of ‘Ali’ Cremer’s old U-333 and was sunk nine days into his first patrol on July 31st, 1944 in the North Atlantic west of the Scilly Isles by depth charges from the British sloop HMS Starling and the British frigate HMS Loch Killin. There were no survivors from the crew of 45.

It was while Teddy was stationed here that his former boat, U-564, was lost heading out for a combat patrol in June of 1943.

According to ubootwaffe.net; “U-564 was one of a group of 5 U-Boats including U-159, U-185, U-415 and U-634 that were sailing outbound through the Biscay together during the period of the 'Fight Back' order. This meant in effect the boats had to stay on the surface if attacked by air. They were passing through Coastal Command's area designated as 'Seaslug' on the 13th when they were located by a Sunderland of 228 SQN RAF. U-564's gun crews indeed fought back, shooting down the Sunderland. None of the aircrew survived. Their attack was not in vain as the boat was damaged and was forced to abort, being escorted by U-185.

Meanwhile 19 Group had been alerted to the location of the U-Boats and had sent more aircraft to hunt them. On the afternoon of the 14th a Whitley of Coastal Command's 10 OTU (Sgt A Benson) found U-185 and U-564, and circled while calling for assistance. Another Whitley failed to arrive, and Benson carried out an attack on his own. U-564 once more fought it out, damaging one of the Whitley's engines. Benson's attack was good, and U-564 was severely damaged. The Whitley aircraft were never good at flying on one engine, and Benson was forced to ditch when the damaged engine failed. The aircrew were rescued by a fishing boat, and landed in France where they became POWs.

U-185 tried to take U-564 in tow, but the badly damaged boat could not be saved. OL Fiedler and 17 of his crew were taken off by U-185, the other 28 having been killed during the earlier attack. The survivors were then taken by the Destroyers Z24 and Z25 that evening.

Around September, 1943 27-year-old Reinhard Suhren married 18-year-old Jutta-Beatrix, who he met through mutual friends. They were married at St. Mary’s Church in Danzig (Present day Gdańsk, Poland). Not even the Catholic Church was spared Suhren’s disdain for authority as his memoir humorously details. The Gothic brick church was heavily damaged when the Red Army took Danzig in March of 1945, but was rebuilt after the war. His wife and mother-in-law were evacuated from Danzig just in time and Suhren arranged for them to stay in Oberstdorf in the relatively safe Bavarian Alps, on the border of Austria.

On May 27th, 1944 as the situation deteriorated on all fronts, Dönitz made Suhren F.d.U. Norwegen (Führer de U-Boots or Commander in Chief of U-boats in Norway). The allies would invade Normandy on June 6th, 1944, soon strictly inhibiting the German’s ability to effectively operate from their French ports. It would be from Norway that the U-Boats put up their last stand.

In September of 1944 Suhren was made F.d.U. Nordmeer (Führer de U-Boots or Commander in Chief of U-boats in Norwegian waters).

Upon the main German surrender, Suhren insured that he and his men surrendered to British forces, rather than Russians. In May of 1945 he was held first at a temporary POW camp in Trondheim, Norway at the site of the former German Naval base. He was later transferred to Trondheim Prison (aka: Missions Hotel). In October he was transferred to the main prison in Oslo, Norway, the Fortress of Akershus (which the Germans had used as well). It was while he was being held here that he received a letter from his wife informing him of the loss of his parents and sister.

He and his brother’s remarkable good fortune to have both survived the war in the U-Bootwaffe was tempered by the loss of his parents and sister in the final days of the war. This occurred in the Sudetenland, the region Germany had annexed from Czechoslovakia before the war. His father was 65, his mother 63 and his sister 26 (all ages + or – 1 year). Most sources simply state “His parents and sister committed suicide in 1945, after failing to escape from the Sudetenland.”, but according to Suhren’s own memoir; “In Nu they were surrounded by Czechs. My father stole a march on them all; so that my mother and sister wouldn’t fall into the hands of the raging mob, he put an end to their lives and committed suicide himself…” Despite the tragedy of his loss, you can sense his pride that his family died on their own terms.

Accounts vary as to when and where he was released from captivity. His records indicate he was transferred from Oslo to Neustadt in Holstein Germany around January 1st, 1946 and then released May 16th, 1946. His book states: “On April 12th 1946 he was released, and as transport organizer took a freighter from Norway to England.”, which doesn't make much sense.

In the post-war chaos with travel restrictions between the various allied zones he somehow made it to his hometown. He then made contact with his wife in Bavaria. In another blow, he learned that his wife was leaving him for an American. Ironically, she had been working at an American Officer’s Mess after the war in the town Suhren had sent her for safekeeping. She later left for a new life in America.

He, like most, struggled to find a way to make a living after the war. He did what he had to to survive, until, in 1947, his brother Gerd found a job for him in the mineral oil industry, at which Suhren became quite successful. He re-married and started a family.

Teddy refused offers to join the post-war Navy, stating “he would not serve any state where servicemen were looked down on as murderers.” This was mainly in protest in support of his former leader and mentor Karl Dönitz, who was imprisoned as a war criminal after the war (until October of 1956). He was, however, heavily involved in veteran’s affairs and helped re-start the German Naval Association in the 1950’s.

Reinhard Suhren died of stomach cancer at the age of 68 on the 25th of August 1984 in Halstenbek, near Hamburg, Germany. At his request his ashes were spread at sea where his former U-564 had been lost. He left behind his second wife, Hannelore and three children including a daughter named Gesa. His older brother, Gerd Suhren Jr. passed away in Bonn, Germany in 1991.

In the years before his death he had dictated his story to his wife. His memoir, Nasses Eichenlaub (Wet Oakleaves) was released in 1983, one year before his death. The clever title combining a reference to his extraordinary military achievements (Knights Cross with Oak Leaves), with his penchant for getting into hot water.

It wasn’t until 2006 that his book was translated into English by Frank James and released as ‘TEDDY SUHREN – ACE OF ACES – MEMOIRS OF A U-BOAT REBEL’ (2006, Naval Institute Press, ISBN 1-59114-851-0).

Coincidently, around this same time another book was released about Suhren and the U-564. This was the remarkable ‘U-BOAT WAR PATROL – The Hidden Photographic Diary of U564’ by Lawrence Patterson (2006, Naval Institute Press, ISBN 1-59114-890-1). This book was built around a stash of 361 photos liberated by a British soldier from a U-Boat bunker in Brest at the end of the war. The photos lay hidden until 2000, when they were finally brought to light and identified. They chronicled the next patrol U-564 took after the Ohioan was lost, when a war correspondent (Kriegsberichter), Maat Haring, joined the crew for Suhren’s last patrol as Commander. The photos offer some amazing insights into the day to day life of the U-Bootwaffe.

 Sources


Afro American Newspaper, New Jersey - for statement by Messman John Mitchell written by Davis Lee, Editor, printed May 16th, 1942.

Ancestry.com for biographical information on Suhren, Roberts, Spelker, the Robins family and the Jebb family.

Crowley Maritime – for allowing me to use the image of the Red Stack tug Sea Prince from their collection.

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

Goodyear, Toby – for information on his grandparents, Thomas and Louisa Robins.

Hofmann, Markus for the Suhren brother’s career information via u-boot-archiv.de/mannschaften (in German).

Library of Contemporary History in Stuttgart, Germany for U-564/Ohioan Torpedo Report.

Mason, Jerry and Charla for U-564 KTB, BdU KTB, technical/glossary information from their uboatarchive.net site, and assistance with translations.

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 sinking summary on the Ohioan.

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

O'Neal, Mike – for WWI career information on William T. Jebb and on the 28th Aero Squadron.

Roberts, Captain Stephen S. USNR (Retired) on his site shipscribe.com for information on Ohioan origin from the article by Norman L. McKellar  - Steel Shipbuilding under the U. S. Shipping Board, 1917-1921, in ‘The Belgian Shiplover, No. 87 May/June 1962.

Slough, Captain S. Wallace – for information on Spelker’s time at Red Stack Tugs.

U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center, 100 Forbes Drive, Martinsburg, WV 25404 for Merchant Marine career information on Frank H. Roberts and Joseph Spelker.

Uboat.net for information on Suhren, U-564, their victims, and for information on other U-boats.

Ubootwaffe.net site and forum for information on U-564 and her crew. Unfortunately, in January 2013, the site's creator and editor, Howard Cock, decided to indefinitely suspend the ubootwaffe.net website for personal reasons, so I have disabled the hyperlink.

Wiberg, Eric T. – for the use of his collection of original allied reports relating to the Ohioans loss on his uboatsbahamas.com website.

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

Woofenden, Todd A. – for his wonderful subchaser.org website and allowing be to make contact with the Robin’s grandson.