The Big Five”.
As mentioned above, the Texan of our story was the oldest vessel in the fleet. How old, you may ask? She was Contract #2 at New York Shipbuilding in Camden, NJ. Her specifications (below) were first jotted down in May of 1900.
Her keel was laid down on July 12th, 1901 on Slipway ‘K’, and she was launched on August 16th, 1902. This means she was lost just shy of her 40th ‘birthday’. William D. Burnham, American-Hawaiian’s frugal first manager, would have been sad for her loss, but proud nonetheless for her remarkably long career. With the exception of Virginian (originally launched in 1903, but not purchased by A-H until 1907), all of Texan’s contemporaries were either sold off and replaced with more modern vessels just prior to and just after World War I, or lost in the war itself.
American-Hawaiian had contracted two other vessels with New York Ship during this same period; Nebraskan and Nevadan.
While the Nebraskan and Nevadan were of a similar design, they were quite a bit smaller than Texan (6,000 vs. 12,000 tons), and so Texan was one-of-a-kind at New York Ship. They were all likely designed by the brilliant marine engineer Valdemar F. Lassoe.
According to ‘The American-Hawaiian Steamship Company, 1899–1919’, from The Business History Review (28 December 1954), The President and Fellows of Harvard College by Thomas C. Cochran and Ray Ginger; “The five vessels completed for American-Hawaiian in 1902-1903 [Nebraskan I, Nevadan I, Alaskan I, Texan, and Arizonan I] also contained other changes. They were the first flush-decked ocean-going freighters under the American flag; Burnham had decided that a flush-decked ship would be drier and more seaworthy for the long runs through some of the roughest water in the world. Each ship had an additional between-decks in the top-sides, to be used for light general cargo on the westbound run.”
Coincidentally, Cochran and Ginger also noted that around the time of Texan’s build: “In [April] 1902, at a session in the board room of American-Hawaiian, The Texas Company was formed to take over the oil properties and contracts of the Texas Fuel Company, in which Lewis Lapham was a heavy investor. The projected use of oil by American-Hawaiian was regarded as one of the major assets of Texaco.” I theorize that this could have been the inspiration, or at least the timing, behind her name.
According to Cochran and Ginger; “The first four freighters [American I, Californian I, Hawaiian I and Oregonian I] went into operation in the autumn and winter of 1900, plying on schedule between the Atlantic ports, the West Coast, and Hawaii. (Note: These original steamers also carried two large trysails, a fore staysail and jib, and a main staysail, which were constantly used in the early days. But even here Burnham was an innovator, being the first steamship man to set a ship’s masts upright. Raking masts had been the rule in sailing ships, but on a steamship the main function of the mast was to serve as a support for cargo booms, and a raking mast was apt to cause trouble by throwing the lead of the forward booms badly out of line). Sailing ships had always sailed around Cape Horn, since tacking through the Straits of Magellan would be an endless task, but Burnham had resolved to use the shorter route.”
The Straits gave American-Hawaiian a serious competitive advantage against the sailing ships in primary use at that time.
Cochran and Ginger continued: “And the route through the Straits had proved its worth in cutting trip time and improving relations with shippers. Whereas the average time for sailing ships was about 125 days, American-Hawaiian vessels from the beginning made the New York to San Francisco run in less than 70 days. In 1901, the American made the voyage in 59 days, breaking all previous records.”
On her maiden voyage in 1902, Texan, under the command of Master George D. Morrison (18xx-1904) made the trip from New York to San Francisco (13,129 miles) in 47 days, 8 Hours, and 52 Minutes, eclipsing American’s run. This record would hold for many years.
Despite the record setting runs of Texan and the other vessels in the fleet which had customers lining up to use the new fast service, American-Hawaiian was always looking at ways to improve the service and profitability.
Cochran and Ginger noted; “Even more serious was the problem of refueling. The company’s ships coaled at St. Lucia in the British West Indies and at Coronel in Chile. At the later place, especially, the available coal was inferior; it burned too fast and sent dangerous sparks from the funnel. This circumstance emphasized the desirability of converting American-Hawaiian vessels from coal to some other fuel.”
This was the next major advancement that American-Hawaiian pioneered; most would agree their most important technological innovation. This was again thanks to their engineering consultant Valdemar Frederick Lassoe. The new oil burners had several major advantages:
So successful was the change, that it caught the attention of the United States Navy, who conducted a number of tests on the Nevadan and Nebraskan, and soon began converting their own vessels to oil.
At the end of 1903, Texan set another world record; 14,086 miles of ‘Continuous Long Distance Steaming’ from Tacoma, WA to Philadelphia, PA.
Around this same time a British aristocrat and businessman named Sir Weetman Pearson (later Lord Cowdray) approached the company with an ultimatum of sorts. Even though work had already begun on the Panama Canal, it would be many more years, more than ten in fact, before it was complete. Pearson had struck a deal with the Mexican government to build a railroad link between their Pacific Coast port of Salina Cruz across the narrow 150 mile wide Tehuantepec Isthmus to their Gulf of Mexico port of Coatzacoalcos (later renamed Puerto Mexico). American-Hawaiian was given first rights if they agreed to abandon their Straits of Magellan route and used the Tehuantepec route exclusively. Pearson would gain the business of the largest intercoastal carrier, helping to make his project financially viable from the start. If American-Hawaiian accepted they had the potential to reduce transit time by another 20 days. If they refused, the well connected, well funded Pearson threatened to form a rival steamship line to compete with them.
It wasn’t an easy call. American-Hawaiian was very successful and the owners were quite content to await the completion of the Panama Canal. For the most part, they were the best game in town. Burnham, especially, was nervous about all the extra handling their freight would have to endure. In the end, owners Dearborn and Lapham knew Pearson had the means to back up his threat and reluctantly agreed after two years of negotiations. They signed the contract with the Tehuantepec National Railway of Mexico on May 9th, 1905.
Texan almost didn’t get the opportunity to use the new route. According to an article in ‘The Brooklyn Daily Eagle’, Friday, February 16, 1906;
“S.S. TEXAN IN TROUBLE.
Loaded at Bush’s Stores and Is Now on Fire in Honolulu
The American-Hawaiian Line’s big steamship Texan is reported as being on fire and in a bad way in Honolulu. She loaded at Bush’s store a couple of months ago for San Diego, San Francisco, Puget Sound and Honolulu, with an immense general cargo. She arrived safely at the latter port on Saturday last. On Sunday morning fire was discovered in the between decks as she was lying at the wharf. Steam was at once pumped into the hold, but without much apparent results. She had on board 1,000 barrels of lime and a lot of shingles, both forming a bad combination.
The latest report received here is that the sides and deck of the ship indicate increased heat, and that the efforts to extinguish the fire have failed so far.”
Despite the melodramatic newspaper article, the Texan would survive to sail again.
Her Captain at the time, William Lyons, was an avid photographer and subscribed to Camera Craft Magazine. While renewing his subscription, he was asked to send in some of his images. As Lyons noted; “The letter reached me at Honolulu where my hands were quite full of other matters; fire having broken out on board ship the day after our arrival and it was four days before it could be extinguished, although the vessel was unharmed. Leaving there with over eleven thousand tons of sugar, it was not until we reached Coronel, Chili that a letter could be dispatched.”
In the article, Lyons states: "All my photographic work is done in my room, a good idea of which can be obtained from the accompanying illustration showing one side of it and the wheel house directly forward, the door of which is shown open behind the stair near the left. The width of the room is a little greater than the side as shown and the circular window being twelve inches in diameter, the size can be easily estimated. This is divided into a bed room and chart room, the latter being the smaller of the two with a door opening into the wheel room. A door connects the two, the chart room and bed room and both are supplied with a door and window at the side as shown, as well as with like windows, one in the end of each room, opposite the end at which the wheel house is situated. Closing the door from my room into the chart room, I have but to insert two circular pieces of dark cardboard and I have a perfect dark room should I wish one during daylight. A sofa extending from the door to the corner and just below the window shown, serves to hold trays and the like when developing. At the end of this sofa furthest from the door is a wash stand and beside it a locker containing the bottles of chemicals and the like. Beneath the corresponding window in the chart room is a large chart table and this is where my enlargements are made. It is easy to see that the arrangement is far from being inconvenient."
Texan continued to set records. According to ‘The Hawaiian Star Newspaper’, Monday, March 18, 1907:
“Another Record For S.S. Texan
Makes it from Seattle in 7 days, 23 Hours – Holds Round the Horn Banners
In seven days and twenty-three hours, record time, the American-Hawaiian S.S. Texan, Captain Lyons, this morning arrived from Seattle, docking at the railway wharf about 9:30 o’clock.
The Texan brings 3,500 tons of general freight for Honolulu and has 1,000 tons for Hilo and Kahului. Her cargo includes 500 tons of New York Freight.
Out of Seattle for a couple of days the large freighter had heavy north-westerly weather and for the last three days of her run she experienced strong northeasterly winds. She came down in splendid time, as noted, averaging 12.7 knots.”
At the end of 1907, Texan started the next phase of her career, as part of American Hawaiian’s Pacific fleet sailing the “Golden Triangle” between Hawaii, West Coast ports and Salina Cruz, Mexico under Master J.B. Hall. Below is a partial list of sailings I found for her during this time:
Soon afterwards, Texan was converted to oil. According to the Pacific Merchant Marine periodical, Vol. II, No. 8 dated Saturday May 8, 1909 “The Texan is now using oil fuel atomized in a Lassoe burner by means of the low pressure air system from positive blowers, and is very economical, delivering a horse-power on about 1.14 pounds of oil per horse-power per hour. The present run of the Texan is from Salina Cruz to Puget Sound, calling at San Francisco and the Hawaiian Islands.”
The first few years of using the Tehuantepec route were very rough for American-Hawaiian and to a certain extent for Texan and her contemporaries. This was mainly due to the unskilled labor used to load and unload the vessels, keep track of the shipments, and run the railway. Rather than saving twenty days in transit, American-Hawaiian was losing 20 to 30 days on each end, and losing about 20% of its cargo to damage and theft in between. This included the petty kind as well as full-on train robberies by armed bandits. Eventually, by 1911, the workers caught on and the Mexican government provided extra protection so it became a worthwhile endeavor.
Around this time, however, according to Cochran and Ginger; “Porfirio Diaz [President of Mexico], the friend of Sir Weetman Pearson, had been overthrown in 1911. After General Huerta seized control of the Mexican government, relations between that country and the United States deteriorated rapidly.” The Mexican Revolution/Civil War was in full swing and would last over a decade.
By December of 1913, Texan was one of twenty-six American-Hawaiian vessels servicing the Pacific Coast and Hawaii according to the following advertisement in the Pacific Marine Review:
By this time, Texan was under the command of Master L.A. Carlisle, which lasted about two years.
Cochran and Ginger continued; “This crisis came on 21 April 1914, when the United States Marines occupied the town of Vera Cruz on instructions from President Wilson. The two countries seemed to be on the brink of war."
"The crisis found six American-Hawaiian freighters berthed at Puerto Mexico and Salina Cruz [unknown if Texan was among them]. For a few days, there was doubt that these vessels could escape undamaged from Mexico; and even after they had succeeded in doing so, American-Hawaiian was still in a desperate situation. Having made its plans on the assumption that the Panama Canal would be open by then, the company now found that the Canal and the Tehuantepec route were both closed to it. Dearborn made his decision swiftly. On 24 April, three days after the occupation of Vera Cruz, American-Hawaiian announced that it was shifting back immediately to the route through the Straits of Magellan, which would take 20 days longer than the Tehuantepec route but which would not require any re-handling of cargo.”
Eventually the Panama Canal did open, although a series of landslides would force American-Hawaiian and Texan to use the Straits of Magellan at least one more time.
After Carlisle, Master G.B. Knight took command of Texan. Below is a list of sailings I found for this period:
The First World War was already raging at this point, and it was only a matter of time before America’s young men and material assets like the Texan would join the fray.
Some sources have suggested that American-Hawaiian abruptly abandoned the Hawaiian trade when the war broke out to take advantage of higher rates, and that is why they weren’t allowed back by the Big Five. I disagree.
American-Hawaiian was at the top of their game at the beginning of the war. Although they had built up some serious short-term debt expanding the fleet in anticipation of the Panama Canal opening, they had the largest, most modern, best equipped fleet in the American Merchant Marine. According to Cochran and Ginger; “American-Hawaiian owned a large percentage of all vessels under the U.S. flag which were suitable for war service. At the outbreak of war in 1914, the United States had a total tonnage of vessels large enough for ocean transport of 1,200,000 of which American-Hawaiian had 177,000 [15%]. Of the 23 United States freighters of more than 10,000 tons deadweight capacity, American-Hawaiian had 16 [70% - including Texan].”
As such, their vessels and officers were in high demand by the U.S. government, and the company had little say when the government started requisitioning their ships after our entry into the war in 1917. American-Hawaiian’s chief rival in the Hawaiian trade, Matson, would have had their vessels requisitioned as well.
the Matson Line was vigorously competing for traffic between San Francisco, Puget Sound, and the Islands. Its smaller ships could enter ports in Hawaii and on the Columbia River which were closed to the American-Hawaiian freighters. Even more important, Matson had close relations with some of the Sugar Factors. But American-Hawaiian also had considerable bargaining power: no other company was equipped to handle the full volume of sugar shipped from the Islands, and American-Hawaiian had under construction the Honolulan, a vessel with passenger accommodations, which it could use to compete for passenger business to Hawaii in case of a trade war with Matson. But in the spring of 1910, the contestants decided for peace. American-Hawaiian and the Sugar Factors [and Matson] negotiated a new agreement to run until 30 September 1915. American-Hawaiian agreed to charter the Honolulan to Matson and not to go after the San Francisco-Hawaii traffic. Matson promised to charge the same rates as American-Hawaiian for freight from the Puget Sound area to the Islands.”
By the time the end of 1915 came and it was time to negotiate the contract with the Sugar Factors, the situation had changed. Cochran and Ginger continued: “Even in the Hawaiian sugar traffic, American-Hawaiian was no longer indispensable, due to the growing importance of the sugar refineries in California. Therefore, in January, 1916, Dearborn began negotiations with the Sugar Factors to terminate the existing contract. He proposed that American-Hawaiian should carry sugar from the Islands to San Francisco, where that part of the crop bound for the East Coast could be turned over to the railroads. American-Hawaiian would pay the transcontinental railroad freight charges ($12 per ton) if the Sugar Factors would pay it the regular Magellan rate ($8.75 per ton). Under this arrangement, American-Hawaiian would suffer a direct loss of $3.75 per ton plus its operating expenses, but its vessels would be freed for more lucrative use. The Sugar Factors accepted Dearborn’s plan on 7 February 1916, and it took effect immediately. In 1916 and 1917, the company used two vessels to haul the sugar crop from the Islands to San Francisco. By 1918 it had ceased serving the run that had called it into being and given it a name.”
Far from abruptly abandoning the Hawaiian trade, American-Hawaiian went out of its way to make sure the Sugar Factors had a viable alternative, and set the stage for Matson to take over.
Just before Texan was to be requisitioned by the government, she was chartered to make a trip to France. She almost didn’t survive; according to the Sausalito News, Volume 34, Number 3, 19 January 1918:
“S.S. TEXAN SINKING SENDS “GOOD-BY”
Big Carrier of War Supplies Rammed Amidships "Somewhere in the Atlantic;" Vessels Rush to Aid
An Atlantic Port.—Agents of the American steamship Texan, a vessel of 14,000 tons, Monday received advices from naval authorities that she was sinking at sea. The location of the ship was not given.
The naval authorities did not state the cause of the Texan's distress, but reports reaching shipping circles here from other sources were that the vessel had been rammed amidships in collision with another ship.
It was said a steamer which had picked up the Texan's S.O.S. calls was hurrying to her assistance and that the crew of forty-three had taken to the boats.
The Texan left here recently with a cargo of nitrates bound for a French port, agents of the vessel stated.
Messages reaching here from another port said that a steamer arriving there Monday reported that at 4 a.m. she picked up an S.O.S. from the Texan reporting that she had been struck amidships and was sinking. The last message from the Texan said "good-by—no more."
There were forty-three men aboard. The Texan's wireless operator reported that the starboard boats had been lowered; that the aft boat was lost and that an attempt was being made to lower the forward boat.
Oil from the ship's hold was poured on the starboard side in an effort to make sea conditions better for launching the lifeboats.
Texan Formerly Crack Pacific Carrier
The Texan was one of the largest of the fleet of the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company that was operated before the war between Honolulu and this port and the Atlantic. On her last voyage to this port she brought a cargo of 14,000 tons of sugar from the islands, one of the heaviest cargoes in the history of trade on the Pacific. The big carrier left here last September under command of Captain G. B. Knight of 1304 Park Avenue, Alameda.
The ship holds the world's record for continuous long-distance steaming, 14,086 miles, from Tacoma to Philadelphia.
She went through the Straits of Magellan on the memorable trip, the starboard engine not stopping in all the thousands of miles of steaming, and the port engine only twenty minutes.
The vessel also held the record for the passage from New York to San Francisco, a distance of 13,129 miles, by way of the straits, in forty-seven days, eight hours and fifty-two minutes.
The Texan was built in 1902 and was 8615 tons gross tonnage. She sailed from New York January 5 on her last voyage.
Captain Knight's wife and children learned of the sinking of the vessel through the agents of the American-Hawaiian here.”
The Texan survived, and according to The El Paso Herald, January 18, 1918:
“Texan Rammed, Full of Water, Reaches Port
Comes In With A Gaping Hole Torn By Convoying Warship In Collision
An Atlantic Port, Jan 1918 – The Hawaiian Line steamship Texan, which was in a collision at sea last Monday [January 14th, 1918], arrived here safely today under her own steam. It became known that she was rammed by a convoying warship, which punched a large hole in her port side.
The Texan’s watertight bulkheads saved her from sinking. Several compartments were full of water when the big merchantman steamed slowly into port. As far as could be learned the Texan made her return voyage from the scene of the accident unescorted. It was said that none of the crew was injured.
The vessel was taken in charge by coast guard craft when she entered the harbor. She will be dry docked for repairs.”
To date, I have not found the name of the “convoying warship” that rammed her.
Two months after the ramming, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command; “[Texan] was acquired by the United States Shipping Board (USSB) on 18 March 1918: was transferred to the Navy at New York City on the same day; and was commissioned on 23 March 1918 as USS Texan (ID1354).”
She was likely armed at this stage (one 5-inch (127-mm) gun and one 3-inch (76.2-mm) gun) and accommodations added for her 30 or so member naval gun crew.
Naval History and Heritage Command continued; Texan was “assigned to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service after being refitted for naval service, the cargo ship loaded general military supplies and sailed on 9 April with a convoy for France. Texan arrived at Brest on the 24th and, after discharging her cargo, began the return voyage to New York on 19 May. Upon her arrival there, she underwent voyage repairs and then loaded supplies, including 405 tons of ammunition and 10 locomotives destined for Marseilles. The ship sailed with a convoy on 18 June and arrived at her destination on 7 July. Texan made another round-trip voyage to Marseilles in September and one to Verdun in November and December before returning to New York on 4 January 1919. On 18 January 1919, Texan was transferred to the Cruiser and Transport Force.”
At this point she was converted to a troop transport and port holes were added along her flanks at the tween-deck levels. Additional deck-houses and lifeboats/rafts were also added topside. See image below:
Naval History and Heritage Command continued; “[Texan] operated bringing troops of the American Expeditionary Force home from France until 7 August 1919 when she was assigned to the 5th Naval District. Texan was decommissioned on 22 August 1919 and returned to the USSB.”
Texan spent several months in dry-dock having all the modifications (i.e.; armament, port holes, deckhouse, evacuation gear) reversed and restored to her pre-war condition.
Despite being in service nearly twenty years at this point, Texan was still a valuable asset. According to New York Shipbuilding Corporation – A RECORD OF SHIPS BUILT, published in 1921; “Built in 1902, the second ship delivered from this yard, S.S. Texan of the American-Hawaiian Line Fleet, is still quoted as one of the most economically driven ships afloat anywhere.” It is interesting to note that Arkansan and her sisters were just being completed at this time.
Below is a list of sailings I found for Texan during this time:
In 1924, around the time United American Lines started to unravel, Texan returned to the main American-Hawaiian fleet and would quietly spend the next 18 years in the U.S. mainland intercoastal trade. “Quietly” appears to be an understatement. I was able to find very little information on this phase of Texan’s career, especially from the mid-1920’s to the mid-1930’s.
Murphy’s routing instructions were to proceed from New York to Fowey Rocks, off Miami, Florida, inside lightships, thence via the Santaren and Old Bahama Channels along the north coasts of Cuba, Haiti, and Puerto Rico, outside of the Virgin Islands and about one hundred miles east of the Lesser Antilles and into Port of Spain, via Galeta Point. He was also instructed to make certain runs along the East Coast of the United States, and outside the Mona and Windward Passages in daylight.
The U-126 was commanded by 28-year-old Kapitänleutnant Ernst Bauer. They had departed the U-boat base at Lorient, occupied France on February 2nd, 1942, the day before Bauer’s 28th birthday. This was, of course, the same U-boat and commander that would sink Bernard’s Arkansan in June on their next patrol.
This patrol, their third, was the first since the Atlantis sinking and rescue. 26-year-old Oberleutnant zur See Hans-Adolf Schweichel had recently replaced Kurt Neubert as First Watch Officer (IWO), and 23-year-old Leutnant zur See Günther Möller remained Second Watch Officer (IIWO).
On February 16th while U-126 was in the Mid-Atlantic Gap they received orders “to attack in area Straits of Florida or north and south of them.”
Before they reached their operational area they sank the Norwegian steamer Gunny (14 dead, 12 survivors) about 400 miles south of Bermuda on March 2nd.
Once they approached their operational area they got right to work. On March 5th they sank the New York & Puerto Rican SS Co. steamer Mariana (36 dead, no survivors due to speed of sinking) off The Turks and Caicos Islands.
On March 7th they sank the A.H. Bull & Co. Inc. Steamer Barbara (26 dead, 59 survivors) about nine miles north-northeast of Tortuga Island, Dominican Republic. Just 7 miles away the Lykes Brothers steamer Cardonia (1 dead, 37 survivors) witnessed the attack and Master Gus Darnell did his best to make for shore, but ran out of time. U-126 caught up and sank her with torpedoes and gunfire five miles west-northwest of the St. Nicholas Mole, Haiti.
U-126 entered the Caribbean proper through the Windward Passage. On March 8th the Panamanian Motor Tanker Esso Bolivar (8 dead, 42 survivors), was very fortunate to survive U-126’s gunfire and torpedo 30 miles southeast of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She was in ballast and not carrying fuel. She eventually returned to service in August.
On March 9th, U-126 provided the following position report: “U 126 in Windward Passage - heavy traffic. Traffic proceeding via junctions Cape Maisí and Cape Dumelo close inshore on zigzag course at high speed. Only small escort, no air. Traffic ascertained in DN 50 and 60. Steamers steering course 3100. Boat continuing to operate in DN 70. 1 plus 4 torpedoes, 125 cbm. [33,021.51 gallons of fuel remaining]”
Rather than continuing deeper into the Caribbean, they essentially made a u-turn and worked their way up the western side on the Windward Passage, sinking the Panamanian Motor Tanker Hanseat (0 dead, 39 survivors) 10 miles north-northeast of Cape Maisí, Cuba on March 9th.
They had fired 13 torpedoes at this stage and needed to re-load from their upper deck storage containers which required some time surfaced. They had also been experiencing problems with their port diesel which required repairs. The evening of March 10th they withdrew slightly to the north to re-load the torpedoes, restock the topside ready lockers for the 105mm gun and affect repairs.
At 6:05pm local time on March 11th U-126’s lookouts spotted smoke from Texan’s funnel, position 50°. They estimated her course at 110° and speed at 12 knots. It would be dark soon (sunset began at 6:14pm) and Bauer had his well trained crew prepare for a night surface attack.
Texan was proceeding southeast (Course: 106-109° True) through the Old Bahama Channel on a non-evasive course at 11.8 knots. She was blacked out, observing radio silence, and had two lookouts posted; one on the forecastle head, and one on the bridge.
It was cloudy (8/10’s according to the German’s), and the moon was a 30% waning crescent. The wind and seas were mild, visibility fair.
shuddered and jumped like she had hit a reef”.
What happened in the next 16 minutes must have been extremely chaotic. There were many contradictory statements by various members of the crew.
Most accounts tend to agree that immediately upon ascertaining location of the damage, Captain Murphy ordered the helm put over hard to port, then hard to starboard. The engine room, still intact and making steam, continued to provide some headway even though the stern was settling ever deeper.
All accounts (including the German’s) seem to agree the Radio Operator, Stanley Oliver, began sending his distress signal immediately. Oliver sent and repeated once “SOS SOS SOS WACU (Texan’s call sign) position (repeating figures once) Torpedoed”. Second time added “SS Texan”. Replies were received from 3 Florida Stations; WAX - Hialeah, NAR - Key West, and WOE - Lake Worth.
According to one account, Murphy was unable to contact the engine room and the wheel was abandoned. According to Chief Mate Buell’s account the engines were stopped by the Chief Engineer, 56-year-old Paul W. Boehncke, about four minutes after getting hit.
Unfortunately, the German’s perceived the maneuvering and radio transmissions as resistance and came about to bring their forward main 105mm canon to bear. When the German’s opened up with their artillery it was really the first indication of where the U-126 was. This was likely the reason the survivors thought it was a submerged attack and that the U-boat surfaced afterwards. This assumption was later stated as fact by Arthur Moore in his book ‘A careless word…A NEEDLESS SINKING’ and subsequently copied by others.
Several of the crew reported seeing light and gun flashes off the starboard bow at about ¾ miles distance about five to eight minutes after getting torpedoed. Four shells were fired within about six minutes.
One shell took the top off the radio shack, ending Oliver’s transmission (he survived), and the other struck the wheelhouse, throwing the captain from the bridge into the water. Here too was much confusion;
According to survivor statements provided to The Evening Independent newspaper, St. Petersburg, FL, Friday, March 29th, 1942: “The freighter’s captain, R.H. Murphy of Barnstable, Mass., was knocked overboard by a timber set flying by an exploding shell, and Second Mate Graham Griffiths, Clifton Heights, PA., leaped behind him and supported the skipper all night long with one arm while he clung to a piece of wreckage with the other.”
According to Murphy’s recollection of the events provided to the Seattle Times Newspaper, October 28th, 1945: “The German submarine that sank the Texan, after torpedoing our ship, came to the surface and shelled us. One shell struck the bridge, blowing it overboard. I went into the sea with the wreckage. Knocked unconscious by the blast, I remember coming to underwater. I am a powerful swimmer, and soon was on the surface looking for something to cling to until help arrived.”
The other two rounds reportedly passed close but harmlessly by the freighter’s upper works. Deck Engineer, 27-year-old Frank Costello, recalled that the round that struck the wheelhouse caused the steam whistle to sound a blast. He assumed the shell must have hit the whistle cord.
The abandon ship did not go well at all. There was so much confusion, likely due to the stress of the situation and the darkness, and there were many contradictory statements;
“Number 3 boat swung broadside partly because ship still had some way on her.” [would indicate abandon ship was called within 5 minutes or so of torpedoing].
“When the vessel was settling so fast the suction held the boat [Reference to No. 2 boat] into the ship, and the davits that were sticking out from the gunwales flipped the boat over."
April 8th, 1942 - U.S. Navy Memorandum for file, Summary of statements by survivors:
“Two life boats launched but unable to get away, capsized.”
“Boats were lowered away and three became waterborne but were unable to get away from the side of the ship due to the suction of the rapid sinking of the vessel. Two lifeboats were capsized by being caught under the davits.”
“The vessel was fitted with the old fashioned davits that are slacked down on the relieving tackle. Namely the Mallory type. The No. 2 boat, after it became waterborne, was hooked by the davits and capsized. In so far as No. 3 boat is concerned the forward fall was let go and she swung around broadside and capsized.”
Chief Mate Oliver F. Buell’s statement in Miami, FL March 18th, 1942:
“When he saw that the stern was settling, the Captain gave the order to abandon ship.”
Second Assistant Engineer Julian F. Vinson’s statement to The Evening Independent, St. Petersburg, FL, Friday, March 29th, 1942:
“There was no time to put lifeboats over the side.”
Fireman Louis Lincoln’s statement to The Miami Daily News - March 20, 1942:
“Despite lifeboat equipment being faulty, boats could have been gotten away from the ship had the crew gotten orders to lower them. We went to our stations and got the boats ready for lowering and someone called to the bridge for further orders. We were told to stand by and no orders ever came to lower the boats. We didn’t get any of them launched.”
Water Tender Charles Lindner statement to The Miami Daily News - March 20, 1942:
“We stood by awaiting orders but we couldn’t get any boats over. I jumped when we saw she was rolling over beneath us and hung on to a hatch cover.”
Deck Engineer Frank Costello statement to The Miami Daily News - March 20, 1942:
“She was going down a foot a minute. We tried to get one boat launched but we couldn’t swing her in the davits when the ship began listing heavily and I was dragged under with the lifeboat. I figured St. Peter was identifying me, and then I came up and the freighter’s smokestack was directly over me, coming down as the ship rolled on her side. I tried to get away but the suction carried me under again. Then I figured St. Peter was inviting me through the pearly gates, but I came up the second time. The sea was full of oil and I got a few scratches. I finally bumped into a hatch cover and four of us hung on to it.”
Whatever occurred, it’s clear that none of the four lifeboats got clear of the Texan with survivors before she went down. All the men that survived ended up in the water and spent the night clinging to rafts, hatch covers, capsized lifeboats and debris.
Besides Griffiths’ act of heroism, Julian F. Vinson, Second Assistant Engineer stated in The Evening Independent, St. Petersburg, FL, Friday, March 29th, 1942 that “the chief engineer, Paul Boehncke, of Oakland, CA, died when he returned to the engine room to seek two of the engine room crew he couldn’t locate on deck. Charles Loit, fourth assistant engineer, San Francisco, watched for the return of his chief, then he, too, went below. Both Boehncke and Loit went down with the ship.”
It’s unclear what happened in the engine room. The engines should have been shut down by this point and the torpedo damage was well aft. Since Texan had twin screws her port shaft would have been closer to the impact of the torpedo and the damage may have led to flooding in the engine room. The two missing engine room crew Boehncke and Loit tried to save were likely 51-year-old Oiler Raymond E. Johnson and either 42-year-old Wiper Homer C. Wakefield or 33-year-old Wiper Hugh F. McManus.
Ironically, Möller incorrectly notes Texan’s cargo as “Zucker” or sugar. Perhaps he was aware of her history. They noted her time of sinking as 2:50am Central European Time March 12th which translated to 8:50pm local time March 11th. This matches most of the survivor’s accounts of Texan taking about 16 minutes to sink.
The U-126 was last seen by the survivors at about 9:30pm local, course unknown. U-126 actually headed in the direction of Nuevitas, Cuba where around midnight they spotted and sank the small American collier Olga (1 dead, 32 survivors).
On March 13th Commander Bauer radioed their position and success report to headquarters:
“Total sinkings - 9 ships, together 52,312 BRT in following positions:
Later Bauer added “USA "Colabee" 5,518 BRT [damaged].”
“Sinking of 3 of the ships not observed, but total loss very probable. Calm weather on the whole, medium visibility. Transmitting and receiving conditions very bad inshore. All torpedoes fired, 115 cbm [30,379.79 gallons of fuel remaining]. Homeward bound.”
You can zoom in an explore the locations and positions mentioned above in the interactive map below:
Position received by listening stations: 12 March – Reported torpedoed 21-32N 76-25W 0040Z/12. No further details.
Two brand new Gleaves-class Destroyers, USS Emmons (DD-457) and USS Hambleton (DD-455), were returning from their shakedown cruise which was combined with a good will tour of South American ports.
According to ‘United States Destroyer Operations in World War Two’ by Theodore Roscoe, Naval Institute Press (1953, ISBN-10: 0870217267); “While enroute from Cartagena [Columbia] to New York on 10 March, HAMBLETON (Commander F. Close) and EMMONS were diverted to assist in an anti-submarine hunt in the Windward Passage. The only evidence of the submarine was considerable wreckage and several life rafts sighted south of Cape Mousi [sic], Cuba. The ships refueled at Guantanamo, Cuba before continuing on to New York. However, another submarine report sent the destroyer around to the North of Cuba to hunt the submarine and assist the SS TEXAN, which had sent out a distress call. The search planes directed HAMBLETON to a point 15 miles west of the TEXAN's reported position, where 27 survivors were rescued from the SS OLGA.”
“The OLGA had been torpedoed at 0300 that morning, but since her radio was destroyed, had not been able to call for assistance. Further search for the TEXAN was fruitless and HAMBLETON proceeded at high speed for Guantanamo to land survivors.”
In an interesting twist, USS Hambleton and U-126’s IWO Hans-Adolf Schweichel would cross paths one more time, with Hambleton the worse for it. On November 11th, 1942 while lying at anchor off Fedala, Morocco, Hambleton was struck by one torpedo by U-172, then commanded by Schweichel. Hambleton had just supported the Allied landings on North Africa called Operation Torch. Hambleton survived and was towed to shore where a 40 foot section was removed from the center and the vessel spliced back together. She survived the war and received seven battle stars for her service. Schweichel and U-172 were lost with all hands during a series of depth charge attacks by US Destroyers on November 16th off Casablanca.
The survivors spent the rest of the day and that evening bobbing along keeping an eye out for aircraft and vessels. With no sail and that many men crowding the single lifeboat it would have been difficult to row with any efficiency.
As it became dark they periodically fired off a flare. Finally, sometime between 11:00pm and midnight the flares caught the attention of the Cuban fishing boat Yo Yo. By this time they had reportedly drifted about 15 miles WSW from the position of the sinking.
Accounts vary as to whether they were taken aboard the Yo Yo or towed. With that many men it was likely a combination of the two. They arrived in Nuevitas, Cuba about 10:30am Friday, March 13th, 1942.
Several sources state there were 9 casualties, but I believe this came from the preliminary after action report which stated 9 missing, presumed drowned. This number was carried over in the ‘Merchant Seamen Lost by Vessel’ section of Captain Arthur R. Moore’s "A careless word...A NEEDLESS SINKING", although the correct ten men above were listed. Other sources have repeated this same error of noting 9 but listing 10. Some just note 9 lost.
The total number of crew seems odd to me as well. The Coast Guard Reports state that Texan was carrying a crew of 47, including the Master at the time of her loss. This seems a little high to me. Typically these older, unarmed ships had a little less than 40 men. I have her crew list from the previous intercoastal voyage and they did list 44 men, including the Master.
The list seemed pretty comprehensive:
3 Water Tenders
7 Service Staff
1 Deck Engineer
1 Maintenance Man
They did not list a purser, and the wipers seem light, so perhaps they did add a few extra men for this foreign voyage. Texan did have the added complexity of two power plants and twin screws.
To date I have only been able to identify 14 of the Texan's survivors:
Here again, because of the original error on the casualties, the number of survivors is off as well. Some sources state there were 38 survivors. But it is not clear if that was the actual number, or simply from subtracting the incorrect 9 casualties from the total of 47. Or, that there were truly 38 survivors, and with the ten casualties, that would put Texan’s complement at 48.
Unfortunately, the crew list I found from the previous voyage is just that; the two pages that list the 44 crew. The pages that are sometimes included that show which men were discharged and which men sign on at the end of that trip are missing.
From Nuevitas the survivors were later taken to Havana on or about the 15th of March.
According to The Miami Daily News - March 20, 1942; 52-year-old Water Tender Charles “Lindner, as well as the other survivors, said the Cubans treated them royally.
‘Everyone wanted to do something for us,’ he reported. ‘Even the shoe shine boys tried to buy us a beer.’”
From Havana they were flown to Miami, FL in small groups via Pan American Airways. The first six to arrive were Buell, Costello, Kahookle, Lincoln, Lindholm and Lindner.
I've been trying to determine what equipment Pan American flew at that time from Havana to Miami, but so far have not succeeded. Pan American Airways also operated two facilities in Miami during this period; seaplanes flew into the Dinner Key facility and land based aircraft flew into the 36th Street Terminal at Pan American Field. The terminal at the Dinner Key facility is now the Miami City Hall. Pan American Field later became Miami International Airport.
The press was there to greet the survivors, including The Miami Daily News. Chief Mate Buell refused to make a statement.
lived near Homestead [Florida] from 1906 to 1910 and who saw his aged mother here for the first time in five years. His mother is Mrs. C.A. Lindner, 375 Sixth St., Hialeah. ‘My son, what are you doing here?’ were her first words as Lindner walked on the porch. ‘I’m glad to see you, so glad to see you. How did you get in, on a bus?’
‘That’s a long story, but it was not on a bus,’ Lindner told her, and then in an aside to newspapermen watching them embrace, ‘I’d better break this a little at a time.’
It was clear then that Lindner had beaten his letter home telling of the shipwreck.
Lindner said the freighter had passed into this area some days ago and he had longed then to get to Florida and see his mother and the city he knew back in the early days.
‘But I didn’t dream I’d be here now, and the ship at the bottom.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the newspaper also focused on some criticism the crew expressed about the officers, and in particular Master Murphy. The most vocal and critical of these men was 28-year-old Fireman, Louis Lincoln from Brooklyn, NY.
Lincoln was one of the men that claimed that the order to abandon ship was never given, which was disputed. He also charged that the blackout was violated “by lights shining from open doors of the captain’s quarters and by certain officers smoking on deck.” According to the navy report “The Captain and Chief Mate assert strongly that the ship was completely blacked out, but several members of the crew stated that lights were burning in the captain’s cabin.”
We know from Murphy’s family that he did smoke cigarettes, so it is feasible, however the point is moot since the German’s own documentation show that they first sighted the Texan from smoke on the horizon while it was still daylight. Ironically, this was one of the responsibilities of the Firemen to prevent.
Lincoln was also the only survivor that stated “the torpedo struck the freighter slightly aft of amidships and that the craft went down in 12 minutes”, which was much further forward and 4 minutes quicker than all the other accounts.
When Chief Mate Buell was question by the Navy about the crew he stated: “Mainly excellent. ‘Best crew in American Merchant Marine; certainly proud of the men.’ 2 or 3 exceptions acted up at consulate, but nothing to cause panic. Lincoln acted up re: food in lifeboat.”
Radio Operator Stanley Oliver, though living in San Francisco at the time, was a Chicago native. He had plenty of experience in Caribbean and especially Cuban waters. Since 1937 he had served as Radio Operator on the New York & Cuba Mail SS Co. liner Orizaba between New York and Cuba. Prior to that he served on the Socony Vacuum Oil Co. tanker Ario and the American Export Lines cargo-liner Exochorda. His close call on the Texan appears to be the end of his Merchant Mariner career. I could find no sailings for him after the Texan’s loss. He passed away in Bend, Oregon in 1996 at the age of 89.
August Wallenhaupt would later gain fame as the sole survivor from another American-Hawaiian loss; the SS Puerto Rican lost a year later on March 9th, 1943. I hope to detail the Puerto Rican’s story at a later date.
According to an article in the July 1944 edition of Reader's Digest titled ‘August Wallenhaupt Captain Of His Fate’ by Carl B. Wall; “When August Wallenhaupt awoke he knew what to do, for he had been torpedoed before.” I believe the torpedoing Wallenhaupt previously survived was that of the SS Texan. Although no other known sources link Wallenhaupt to the Texan, several do reference a previous sinking. Admittingly, none of the documentation or articles on the Texan’s loss refers to Wallenhaupt either.
Wallenhaupt’s Merchant Mariner career was very brief and there are not a lot of other options. According to the 1940 census, done in his area on April 11th, he was living with his parents in New York and working as a counterman at a restaurant. The crew list I found of Texan’s previous voyage shows that Wallenhaupt signed on as a Wiper on December 24th, 1941 in San Francisco. His length of service to that point was noted as one year. This voyage arrived back in New York on January 31st, 1942. Texan departed on her last voyage March 8th. It is an assumption on my part that Wallenhaupt stayed on with the Texan.
He would have arrived back in the US at the end of March with the others. He is shown signing on to Puerto Rican between her arrival in New York at the end of June and her departure in August. He was not part of Puerto Rican’s crew prior to June when Texan was lost.
There was a plan to add Texan's replacement to the fleet after the war in the late 40’s/early 50’s, as a Type C4 class ship. The C4’s were the largest cargo ships built by the U.S. Maritime Commission during World War II. Ironically, the design was originally developed for American-Hawaiian in 1941. They appear to have run out of time, and as the company’s fortunes declined in the mid-50’s, the C4-S-A4 Texan was converted into a tanker and went into service with Oil Transport, Inc. in 1954.
Ports of call in order: Marblehead, MA; Boston, MA; Horta, Fayal, Azores; Ponta Delgada, Azores; Gibraltar; Syracuse, Sicily; Athens, Greece; Candia, Crete; Alexandria, Egypt; Malta; Gibraltar; Funchal, Madeira; Hampton Roads, VA; Washington, D.C.; Norfolk, VA; Nantucket, MA; Boston, MA.
Summer Cruise 1924
Ports of call in order: Washington, D.C.; Norfolk, VA; Ponta Delgada, Azores; Queenstown, Ireland; Falmouth, England; Rouen, France; London, England; Hull, England; Gibraltar; Funchal, Madiera; St. George’s, Bermuda; Provincetown, MA; Boston, MA.
Later that year he joined American-Hawaiian subsidiary Oceanic and Oriental Navigation Co’s. Golden Hind, which would become the Honolulan. This would be his first foreign cruise since graduating MNS, and his first time to the Orient.
He served on a number of A-H vessels in intercoastal service as 2nd or Chief Mate up to April of 1937 when he became Master of Hawaiian at the age of 35. He likely would have served with our Bernard, who was also on Hawaiian during this same period. There is a gap in his records from then until September of 1940 when he joined Texan as Chief Mate under Master Robert M. Pierce who would later survive the American sinking. He also served under Charles Gaidsick and K. Hansen before becoming Master of the Texan in April of 1941.
The year between then and Texan’s loss were all intercoastal and coastwise voyages. The voyage they were sunk on was to be his first foreign trip since the Golden Hind in 1930-31, and his first voyage to South America. From Robert’s roughly 18 years of intercoastal service he would have been very familiar with the waters around Cuba.
After the Texan’s loss, Murphy soon went right back to sea, this time commanding Coloradan, which as you may know from this website, did not end very well either, being sunk off Capetown, South Africa on October 9th, 1942. His Third Mate on the Coloradan, James McCollom was pretty impressed with Murphy. In his view Murphy was a very capable Captain, tough as nails, and not afraid to discipline any unruly crewmembers even with his fists if he had to. He didn’t make it back to Boston until January 2nd, 1943, which was aboard the British Union-Castle liner Capetown Castle, which had made a previous stop in Halifax, NS on December 31st, 1942.
A few months after Coloradan, Murphy was back at it again, this time as Master of the new Liberty Ship John Steele from the middle of 1943 into 1945, mainly transporting supplies between New York and the Mediterranean. During this time he commanded the John Steele during the Normandy invasion in June of 1944, being part of the lead convoy and making several trips between Normandy and England to ferry men and materials as the battle progressed. In an interesting coincidence, “John Steele” was also the name of the 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper that was caught on the church steeple when the unit dropped on the French village of Ste-Mère-Église during the invasion, an event made famous by actor Red Buttons in the epic movie “The Longest Day’. The vessel was obviously named after another “John Steele”, though it is not clear which one. There were a number of prominent politicians and businessmen by that name.
Below is a list of voyages that I was able to locate:
His niece Margaret’s (aka: Peggy’s) stepson Peter remembered “Robert was always referred to as ‘Robert’, or ‘Uncle Robert’”. He has a memory of him referring to himself as "Bob" on an occasion or two, though (ES: note he often went by “R.H. Murphy” on his crew lists). Peter stated “[Robert and his brother Richard] were both quite congenial people, though Robert definitely held strong positions on many issues and sometimes spoke to them with force and conviction in casual conversation. I can easily believe that in his prime he would have had a very imposing personality.”
“I remember that Robert drove a big, sea green, Lincoln Continental [in the late 60’s]. Peggy was glad of that as his abilities on the road declined with his health, reasoning that he would thereby likely not be badly hurt if he had an accident. (Never mind the damage that that massive car would do to whatever it hit.) She knew that he was not going to be persuaded [easily] to give up driving, nor living in his own house.”
Robert never married, and is buried next to his big brother, Richard, and very close to his niece Peggy, at the Swan Lake Cemetery Annex in Dennisport on Cape Cod. Sadly, he passed before the U.S. Merchant Mariners rightfully gained veteran status in 1988, and therefore was not eligible for a granite veteran grave marker or to be placed at the National Cemetery in Bourne, MA, which opened in 1980. Especially ironic since he saw far more action than either of his big brothers, and that it was he who saw to it his brother Vincent received a veteran grave marker. The Annex, however, is mainly populated by veterans from the Barnstable area from the two World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam, so it’s a fitting final resting place.
One final piece of information the family was able to point out to me was that the name “Murphy” is the anglicized version of two Irish surnames, Ó Murchadha (in modern Irish Ó Murchú) derived from the popular early Irish personal name Murchadh, meaning "sea-warrior" in Gaelic. How very appropriate.
While enroute France in a 15‑ship convoy 15 August 1918 Montanan was struck by a torpedo. She settled rapidly and orders were given to abandon her. Five lives were lost, three members of the civilian crew and two of the naval armed guard. Patrol craft Noma picked up survivors.
Montanan remained afloat throughout the night of 15 August, so that the Captain and several officers were able to board her briefly the next morning. She sank off the coast of Portugal 16 August and Noma carried the survivors to France.”
From November of 1919 through June of 1921 he served as Chief Mate on first Kentuckian and then Oregonian on several foreign voyages, likely ferrying men and materials back from Europe after the war. After that, he appears to have been on an intercoastal voyage on Hawaiian.
There is a sizable gap in his records from 1922 to 1928 during which he apparently left American-Hawaiian. Just prior to this he married Hilda J. Bowersox, so he may have stayed ashore for awhile.
The next entry is for a voyage as 2nd Mate on the Baltimore & Carolina SS Co.’s Jean Weems from December of 1928 to March of 1929. At this point he changed again, this time to A.H. Bull Steamship Company.
Buell rejoined American-Hawaiian in 1933 as a 3rd Mate on the Georgian. He earned his Master’s license in November of 1935. After Georgian, he served a variety of Mate positions on seven other A-H vessels, until joining Texan on April 18th, 1941. He remained on Texan until her loss.
From October 1942 to August 1943 he served as Chief Mate on the Liberty Ship Henry Dearborn. In 1943 his father passed away.
Finally, in October of 1943, he became Master for an extended period of time, until February, 1945, on Henry C. Payne. He ended the war as Master of the Liberty Paul Revere. Soon after taking command of the Paul Revere his mother passed away in March of 1946. It appears he spent the remainder of his American-Hawaiian career on Paul Revere.
When American-Hawaiian failed Buell switched over to the Sword Line as 3rd Mate for a few months, and finally ended his career in the early 1960’s back with A.H. Bull, never rising above 2nd Mate.
Between his Merchant Mariner Records and crew lists I found on Ancestry.com I was able to put together the following list of his sailings:
Oliver Francis Buell passed away in Cotter, AR on June 28th, 1967 at the age of 75. His wife Hilda preceded him in January of 1965. I could find no information on whether they had any children. His brother John had six sons and two daughters and his brother George had two sons. All of that generation has since passed as well, but perhaps one of their descendants will find the site one day and be able to shed a little more light on Buell’s life and career.
I had known there was a young Watch Officer named Möller on U-126 for quite some time now, really since the beginning of my research. The trouble was that all I had to go on was his last name, which is fairly common. I tried some years ago to narrow down the possibilities by using the career information available on uboat.net and at the time, ubootwaffe.net. Neither of these sources showed an officer on U-126 named Möller, however, only a couple enlisted men. I initially collected a list of eight potential officers, but that’s as far as I got, and since it wasn’t directly related to Arkansan’s loss, I moved on.
When I decided to create this page on the Texan I thought I would give it another shot. In the intervening years the ubootwaffe.net site went away, but much of the crew list information on that site had come from a gentleman named Hubertus Weggelaar who had moved his database to the new Historisches MarineArchiv website. The uboat.net site was still going strong as well and getting better and better every year.
As I revisited my old list of eight candidates, one name kept coming to the top; Günther Möller. Everything just lined up. I knew the Möller I had been searching for was the rank of Leutnant zur See when he was IIWO (Second Watch Officer) on U-126’s third war patrol based on the torpedo reports. U-126 had returned from that patrol on March 29th, 1942 and Möller did not appear to be on the fourth patrol. Usually when a young watch officer left a crew it meant a promotion and moving on to commander training. It just so happened that Günther Möller, although not listed as ever serving on U-126, was promoted to Oberleutnant zur See on April 1st, 1942 and began his commander training soon thereafter. None of the other Möller’s matched this timing.
I thought I had it. Then my hopes were dashed when I searched the current databases and found that Günther Möller was listed as serving as a Watch Officer on the U-989 during the approximate period he should have been on the U-126, February 1941 to May 1942. Damn, back to the drawing board.
I let that settle in for a few days, but it just didn’t smell right. Then it occurred to me that 989 was an awfully high number in the series for that early in the war. Sure enough, U-989 wasn’t even laid down until October of 1942 and commissioned until July of 1943. I reached out to a few contacts to see if I could verify the Möller/U-989 connection, to no avail.
I finally resorted to trying my luck on the MarineArchiv user forum. Thankfully, Dr. Axel Niestlé, a renowned expert on U-boat warfare, saw the post and was able to solve the mystery. As he stated; “this problem can be solved in a very simple way. Möller was allocated to U 126 even before commissioning. At that time his new command was designated by the building number at the yard (W 989 [Werk 989]), which was also recorded in his personal record. Sometime later the hand-written phrase therein was mistaken as "U 989".” At last, I finally had something concrete to link Günther Möller with the U-126. All this time it had been a simple transposition of a “U” for a “W”.
Next, Fernando Almeida, a specialist in U-Boat personnel records, was able to piece together a more complete picture of Günther Möller’s military career;
Günther Möller joined the German Navy on October 9th, 1937 at the age of 19. This was the second entry of cadets for 1937, and was known as Crew 37b. Of the 436 cadets that made up Crew 37b, 109 would go on to command a U-Boat, and of those, 51 would not survive the war.
Soon after graduating from the Naval Academy, he volunteered and was accepted into the Ubootwaffe and began the usual process of specialized training to become a U-Boat officer;
April 29th, 1940 to June 2nd, 1940 - attended the Torpedo Training Course at the Torpedo School (U.T.O-Lehrgang Torpedoschule) in Flensburg-Mürwik, northern Germany.
June 3rd, 1940 to June 30th, 1940 - attended the Communications Training Course in Naval Signals School (U.W.O-Lehrgang Marinenachrichtenschule), also in Flensburg-Mürwik.
July 1st, 1940 to July 28th, 1940 - attended Artillery Training at Naval Artillery School (U.W.O-Artillerielehrgang Schiffsartillerieschule) in Kiel-Wik, Germany.
July 29th, 1940 to November 6th, 1940 – attended U-Boat Training Course in 1st U-boat Training Division (U.W.O-Lehrgang 1. U.L.D.) in Pillau (formerly part of East Prussia, Germany, now known as Baltiysk in the Russian area known as the Kaliningrad Oblast).
November 7th, 1940 to December 1940 - was attached to the 24th U-Boat Flotilla (Training) in Memel (formerly part of East Prussia, Germany, now known as Klaipėda, Lithuania).
From December 1940 to February 1941 he was attached to the Headquarters Commander of the U-Boats (B.d.U. - Karl Doenitz’s staff) in Kerneval-Lorient, occupied France.
Finally, in February 1941 Möller was transferred to the A.G. Weser shipyard in Bremen, Germany to take part in what the Germans called “Baubelehrung” or U-boat familiarization for the final stage of construction in the shipyard for U-126. The large Type IXC U-126 had been launched on December 31st, 1940, and the familiarization ran until the U-126 was formally commissioned under the command of Ernst Bauer on March 22nd, 1941.
Bauer, with his IWO, Kurt Neubert and IIWO Möller were first assigned to the 2nd U-Boat Flotilla (2. U-Flottille) in Wilhelmshaven, Germany for their final phase of training before heading to the front, which took a little over three months.
U-126 departed Kiel, Germany on July 5th, 1941 for their first war patrol and to join the Flotilla which was being moved to Lorient, occupied France. It was a successful patrol and U-126 sank four vessels for 5,400 tons and damaged a fifth (8,293tons). A portent of things to come. Most of the attacks were surfaced torpedo attacks where Neubert acted as Torpedo Officer (T.O.), but Möller, as IIWO was likely the gunnery officer on the artillery attack on the small British fishing schooner Robert Max on August 8th, 1941.
For their second war patrol Möller and U-126 departed Lorient on September 24th, 1941 to operate off the west coast of Africa. It is most likely that when they were on this patrol the photos on uboat.net of their crossing the line ceremony were taken. Möller is probably in some of those photos, though it is difficult to tell with the costumes.
They sank five vessels totaling 24,316 tons, with IIWO Möller as T.O. on the surface attack on the British motor merchant Peru on November 13th, 1941.
Despite this success, the major event of this patrol was the sinking of the very successful German Armed Merchant Cruiser Atlantis. The resulting rescue operation became one of the most remarkable of the war, with U-126 taking on board 107 survivors and towing another 200 in lifeboats for two days until additional help could arrive.
U-126 finally arrived back in Lorient from their second patrol on December 13th, 1941 after eighty-one days at sea, and now officially at war with America.
Upon their return, Kurt Neubert was transferred off the U-126, and rather than moving IIWO Möller up to the IWO position, Hans-Adolf Schweichel, who would later be the T.O. during the Arkansan attack on patrol four, joined as IWO.
U-126 left Lorient on their third patrol February 2nd, 1942 for the Caribbean where they sank seven vessels (32,955 tons) including the Texan, and damaged another two (15,907 tons).
It is interesting to note that Bauer gave all the surface firing Torpedo Officer duties to his IIWO Möller and not to his new IWO Schweichel. Not only was Möller T.O. on the Texan attack, but on the Barbara, Cardonia, Esso Bolivar (d.), first phase of Hanseat, the Olga and Colabee (d.) attacks.
U-126 returned to Lorient on March 29th, 1942 after 56 days at sea.
In April of 1942 23-year-old Möller was promoted to Oberleutnant zur See and left U-126 to begin another series of specialized training courses to help prepare him for his own command, oddly enough having never served as a First Watch Officer (IWO);
May 1st, 1942 to May 15th, 1942 – attended training course in the 2nd U-boat Training Unit (Lehrgang 2. U.A.A.) in Neustadt in Holstein, Germany.
May 16th, 1942 to June 15th, 1942 – attended U-Boat Commander Torpedo Shooting Course with the 24th U-Boat Flotilla (KSL 24. U-Flottille) in Memel.
On June 16th, 1942 he became the commander of the small Type IID School U-Boat, U-141, and was attached to the 21st U-Boat Flotilla (21. U-Flottille) in Pillau for his final phase of training which lasted until February 15th, 1943. Despite U-141’s small size (460 tons/144 feet long overall vs. 1,540 tons/252 feet long overall for the U-126) and use as a school boat, she had actually been pressed into front line service for most of 1941 and scored four kills and one damaged under the command of, at the time, Oberleutnant zur See Philipp Schüler. Schüler was later lost in April of 1943, along with the rest of his crew on U-601. Möller’s training period on U-141 was about average, at around 8 months. Despite the pressure to produce new commanders and crews to replace the ever increasing wave of casualties the Ubootwaffe was facing, the German’s at this stage seemed to try and give these young men the best training they could.
Finally, on February 16th, 1943 Möller was transferred back to the A.G. Weser shipyard in Bremen, Germany, the same yard that had built the U-126, to take part in the “Baubelehrung” or U-boat familiarization for his own command, the new Type IXC/40 U-844.
The Type IXC/40 was the latest revision on the Type IX. Its primary advantages were increased range (13,850 miles surfaced vs.13,450 miles) and a slight bump in surface speed (19 knots surfaced vs.18.3 knots) over the previous Type IXC. U-844 had been launched on December 30th, 1942 (almost two years to day from when U-126 was launched), and the familiarization ran until the U-844 was formally commissioned on April 7th, 1943.
Möller and his new boat and crew were not immediately thrown into the fray, and for the next 6 months (this time also varied) the U-844 was attached to the 4th U-Boat Flotilla [Training Flotilla] (4. U-Flottille [Ausbildungsflottille]) in Stettin, Germany (present day Szczecin, Poland). It was during this time that his former boat, U-126 was sunk on July 3rd, 1943.
On October 1st, 1943 U-844 was formally transferred to the control of the 10th U-Boat Flotilla (10. U-Flottille) and sailed from Kiel with U-281 on October 6th with I believe the intended purpose of reaching the 10th’s operational base in Lorient, occupied France. They were one of eleven boats transiting through the Iceland passage at this time.
On October 13th U-Boat Command became aware of a large convoy, which they designated Convoy No. 45. B.d.U. noted in his KTB; “It is intended to intercept Convoy No. 45, which, according to Radio Intelligence (X) is to be in AM 5166 at 1300/11/10 [55°57'00"N, 010°05'00"W at 1:00pm CET on October 11th] and in AM 1949 at 1300/12/10 [56°45'00"N, 015°12'00"W at 1:00pm CET on October 12th], with the following disposition: 2 more boats, coming from home ports, which made their passage reports last night, have joined the 12 already available. Order: U 844 - 964 - 470 - 631 - 437 - 309 - 762 - 231 - 91 - 488 - 455 - 267 - 413 - 608 will form Group "Schlieffen" and be in patrol line from AK 2877 to AK 6754 at 0000/16/10 [57°21'00"N, 031°48'00"W to 54°09'00"N, 030°25'00"W at Midnight on October 16th]. Boats are to approach their positions in the line unnoticed, i.e. submerged by day and at high cruising speed by night. A loss of speed of 2.5 knots is probable owing to the bad weather conditions, which are likely to be S.W. 6 - 8 during the period 11 - 14.10 [October 11th to the 14th] according to various reports. The convoy may therefore be expected to reach the patrol line after AM 16.10 [morning October 16th].
The line is so disposed that the stragglers' rendezvous in AK 6516 is covered 60 miles to the south.
The 2 boats fitted with intermediate wave D/F gear [Direction Finding gear], U 621 and 413, are stationed in the northern and southern sector of the line so that any evasion of the line will be recognized in time.”
On October 15th, U-844 made contact with the convoy’s escort screen, which B.d.U. reported as follows: “Convoy No. 45: U 844 sighted a destroyer at 2117 in AL 1689. At 2147 this boat reported a W-bound convoy, speed up to 8 knots, in AL 1822. U 844 was ordered to do her utmost to shadow. Boats in the vicinity, U 841, 281, 426, 842, 540, 964 were to operate against the convoy. Group "Schlieffen" was not yet ordered to take action as it seemed very unlikely that U 844 could shadow as long as that. The patrol line was ordered to be in position from AK 2477 to AK 6117 by 2200/16/10. Towards 2400 U 844 was forced to dive by escort vessels and was hunted with depth charges for 3 hours. After surfacing again, she reported the convoy's last position as AL 8141, course 270. The convoy was not sighted again by morning. U 841 had reported that she was operating against it.
Weather conditions improved considerably during the last 24 hours and can be regarded as favorable - SW 4 and moderate visibility.
It is not possible to say yet whether this is the expected ONS 20 or ON 220. As the westerly gale of the last few days must have delayed both convoys and the speed reported is still below 8 knots, it should be ONS 20. Also, the last position reported by U 844 is only 25 miles north of the route given in the Radio Intelligence (X) report (convoy was to steer 290 from the rendezvous in AL 2955). U 844 has been ordered to report the exact time of the last position and the reliability of her own fix.
Group "Schlieffen" was ordered at 1126 to be in patrol line from AK 2897 to AK 6817 at 0000/17/10 in the new order: U 844 - 964 - 631 - 470 - 437 - 309 - 762 - 231 - 91 - 448 - 267 - 413 - 608.”
The following day, October 16th, 1943 B.d.U. reported: "Convoy No. 45.: After moderate Westerly weather conditions on 16.10. during the night of the 17.10. it was reported temporarily WNW 1. On the morning of the 17.10. a boat reported NW 5 again, visibility 3 nm.
U 426 sighted the convoy in the evening at 2005. Boat reported contact continuously until 2248 from AK 3739. It torpedoed a 6,000 GRT ship in this position only to be forced off by destroyers afterwards. The next contact keeping report by U 309 did not come until morning (0545) from AK 3558. This position lies far to the northwest but seems to be correct from cross-fixing. At 0836 a destroyer was reported by U 437 from AK 3551. No further reports about the convoy were received.
By cross-fixing no clear speed or course of enemy can be determined apparently due to big differences in boat's positions. For example, both U 631 and U 540 reported star shells although the boats were 145 nm apart when the reports came in.
Afternoon on 16.10. strong air patrol was beginning to take place around the convoy. 4 boats reported being attacked by airplanes, U 964 reported being attacked for the first time by airplane at 1739. At 1958 the same the boat reported war emergency: Attacked by bombs, boat seriously damaged, sinking, can remain afloat for short time only. Boats were ordered, if not further away than 60 nm, to operate on U 964. At 2335 U 232 reported it had taken on board four survivors of U 964, further search inconclusive.
Group “Schliefen” was ordered to take position ahead of the convoy from U 426's report received at 2000. This patrol line was relocated northward after confirming the shift to the northwest by 11 boats from AK 3519 to AK 3779. After the convoy-report came in at 0600 in the morning the entire group was ordered on the convoy.
After U 964 sank and U 631 was probably returning to port after operating on the convoy, a total of 16 boats are now operating on the convoy. These are U 844 - 470 - 437 - 308 - 762 - 231 - 91 - 448 - 267 - 413 - 603 - 841 - 426 - 540 - 271 and 842.
According to a Radio Intelligence (X) report at 1225 on 16.10. stragglers of ONS 20, located east of 30° west, were ordered to head for Reykjavik. In addition a corrected route for stragglers was now given to go from AK 3177 to AK 1131. The shift towards north west corresponds with the general course of convoy.
The operation on ONS 20 is to be continued.”
B.d.U.’s report for October 17th was not quite as optimistic: “Convoy No. 45.: On the morning of 17.10. typical westerly weather conditions, freshening towards evening NW 6, sea state 5, varying visibility.
Received no proper contact keeper reports on the convoy. Destroyer reported in AK 3551 by U 437 at 0536 on 17.10. U 91 reports at 1000 from AK 2664 broad sound bearings from 170 – 250°. U 413, having radio direction finding equipment on board, reports three bearings during the day indicating convoy is heading on a more northwesterly course, but these bearings might also refer to search groups that were detached.
Numerous reports about air attacks were received on 17.10 . Altogether 9 boats reported 14 air attacks. U 448 had to move off for repairs, because the boat was attacked heavily twice, one dead two seriously injured. U 281 also reports two men slightly injured.
The many reports about air attacks in the area of AK 2480 and 2490 during the day on 17.10. indicate the northwesterly course of convoy. Three bearings on convoy radio traffic also point to the northwest.
On the other hand, sound bearings reported by U 91 indicate the convoy is changing of course. Additionally, a Radio Intelligence (X) report on the morning of 17.10. at 1104 indicates the stragglers route of the convoy was changed presumably towards the south west. Sadly theses reports were not received until the morning of 18.10. at 0900. Accordingly it seems to confirm that the convoy has drifted towards southwest in approximately in AK 2660. Retroactively it must be assumed convoy took an evasive route towards the west-southwest after the boats were located by air close to the northwest course of enemy.
Because it was still unclear in which direction the convoy would go in the night of 18.10. after the boats had operated before on northwest opponent's courses, the order given to continue searching in both directions, to the northwest as well as to the west and southwest.
U 309 reports having fired a salvo of four. Two detonations reported after 13 minutes. Headquarters reckons one ship being torpedoed.
At night the positions of all boats was requested. It cannot be established up to now, how many boats are missing. See also KTB for 18.10.”
Finally, on October 18th B.d.U conceded defeat: “Convoy No. 45.: No further messages are received concerning the convoy. Therefore, there is little prospect that the convoy will be detected again. Furthermore, the boats are widely dispersed after the search, and are positioned so unfavorably that on detection an operation would no longer have been possible. Therefore, at noon on 18.10. boats are ordered to cease operations.
Only in the evening at 1800 a report by U 309 is received, that the boat has been passed over by several ships in the morning of 18.10. from 0300 till 0400. After plotting these ships might have belonged to said convoy. Also U 608 reports at night, at 2000 location of the convoy in AK 0115. It reports strong night air coverage, being forced under water for three consecutive hours.
Ship torpedoed by U 426 on 16.10. has sunk according to a report from U 842 after having sighted her lifeboats.”
B.d.U. realized relatively quickly that U-844 has been lost with several other boats. On October 19th he issued the following report: “Final observations on Convoy No. 45: The operation on the convoy from 16. - 18.10. was carried out by 17 boats, resulted in the sinking of one and the torpedoing of two other ships, 6 boats were lost in the operation: (U 964 - 540 - 841 - 470 - 631 - 844).
The convoy was reported for the last time on 17.10. in the morning and a patrol line was then established, which did not succeed in regaining contact. It was determined later that during 17.10. the convoy had made a strong evasive movement to the southwest under the cover of strong air escort (altogether 16 air attacks were reported during the day on 17.10. all on a continuation of the previous convoy course). The boats were prevented from searching by the continuous presence of aircraft, while the convoy made off to the southwest.
Only a single destroyer sighting during the whole operation, only 4 depth charge attacks 3 of which were conducted by escort vessels at the convoy prove that the remote escort of this convoy was hardly skirted. The particularly numerous aircraft had taken over the task of the remote escort.
Because no remote escort vessels were actually reported, it must be accepted that the majority of boats were lost to aircraft. Whether the boats were bombed on the surface or when diving, cannot be determined, because the order was not given to remain on the surface for anti-aircraft defense.
Anyway, the issue of strengthening firepower becomes even more urgent and is the primary requirement for the convoy battles of the future.
In contrast to the success of the "Leuthen" convoy, this operation was a failure with the unacceptable loss of 6 boats. In the next convoy operation we will attempt a tighter deployment by quicker arrival of the boats thereby splitting the defense.
At the appearance too stronger enemy aircraft we will attempt to avoid too high losses by timely cessation of operations, until the boats are capable of resisting enemy aircraft better by reinforced anti-aircraft armament (3.7 cm).”
For the six U-Boats they lost;
U-470 (VIIC, 1st patrol - 46 dead, 2 survivors),
U-540 (IXC/40, 1st patrol – 55 dead, all hands lost),
U-631 (VIIC, 3rd patrol - 54 dead, all hands lost),
U-841 (IXC/40, 1st patrol – 27 dead, 27 survivors),
U-844 (IXC/40, 1st patrol – 53 dead, all hands lost),
U-964 (VIIC, 1st patrol – 47 dead, 3 survivors),
The Germans could only count the British merchant Essex Lance (all 52 crew survived), a straggler from ONS 20 sunk by U-426 as a success.
While B.d.U. could only assume Möller and his crew’s fate aboard the U-844, the British Coastal Command Bomber crews responsible for their demise documented it in graphic detail. This account shows that to the best of their ability, Möller and his crew went down swinging. In an extract from ‘Autumn of the U-Boats’ by Geoffrey Patrick Jones (1984, William Kimber, Limited, Publisher, ISBN 0718305345, 9780718305345) it states:
“As air escort Flt/Lt. E. Bland was flying Liberator ‘L’ of 86 squadron [Consolidated B-24 Liberator FL952 flown by Flight Lieutenant E. Bland of RAF Coastal Command No. 86 Squadron], he sighted a Type IXC U-boat when flying at 2500ft. This was U-844, a new boat under the command of Oberleutnant G. Möller. The U-boat was on the surface eight miles away making a speed of 8 knots, fifteen miles south of the convoy.
The aircraft made straight for the U-boat which opened fire at some 2000 yards range. The Liberator took switch back action, but at 100 yards range, the two port engines were hit. During the next few seconds there were repeated hits on the port side of the fuselage, & the flak was intense & accurate. The aircraft continued its run, attacking from the starboard beam, & attempted to release four depth charges from 50 ft. The U-boat was still on the surface, but the depth charges failed to release. The Liberator turned to port & circled the U-boat at 1500 yards range while the crew assessed the damage. The port inner engine was feathered & the port outer had been badly hit though it still ran at half power. The Senior Naval Officer was informed & began homing HMS Duncan (destroyer) to the vicinity of U-844. After ten minutes of homing, another Liberator was seen. This was ‘S’ of 59 Squadron flown by P/O W.J. Thomas [aircraft FL984, a Mk. V, flown by Pilot Officer W.J. Thomas]. The crew had sighted the surfaced U-boat when 10 miles away. The other Liberator (‘L’) was then seen circling the U-boat. Flying at 4000 ft, “S” turned towards the U-boat & when he was 2 miles away, P/O Thomas decided to attack at once as the enemy gunners seemed to be concentrating on the other aircraft. He put the aircraft into a steep dive but realized he could not possibly get down in time. Steep turns, first to starboard & then to port put him in an attacking position & he ran in from the enemy’s port quarter. Using the low level bomb sight, four depth charges spaced at 45ft. were dropped at 70 feet. During the approach the U-boat put up intense flak & hit the aircraft’s starboard inner engine when it was still 300 yards away. Two depth charges exploded on each side of the U-boat forward of the conning tower & the vessel was completely hidden in spray.
The Liberator turned steeply to starboard to get into position for another attack, when the pilot was told that the engine was on fire. Meanwhile the U-boat began to submerge & only the conning tower & stern could be seen. Continuing his turn, the pilot saw a deep red flame shooting out of the conning tower. He went in again & dropped four more depth charges 300 yards ahead of the swirl, half a minute after the U-boat had disappeared. It was seen that the swirl was brownish in colour [which would seem to indicate a rupture of U-844 fuel tanks]. The Liberator then climbed away & the damaged engine was feathered. While trying to assess the damage to his aircraft, the pilot received a radio message asking him to circle the position. Deciding his aircraft was in no immediate danger he remained on the scene until the destroyer arrived. HMS Duncan arrived & dropped a pattern of depth charges on the estimated diving position as it was not then known that the U-boat had been sunk.
“L” of 86 Squadron [first Liberator] ditched near the convoy & were picked up by HMS Pink (Corvette). 2 did not survive.”
Möller and most of his crew were likely all killed instantly when the U-844 exploded and sank in the North Atlantic, South-West of Iceland, in position 58°30´ N x 27°16´ W.
Ancestry.com for biographical information on Boehncke, Buell, Griffiths, Loit, Möller, Murphy, Oliver and Wallenhaupt.
Forum Marinearchiv for providing access to the expertise that assisted me solving which Möller served on the U-126.
Freetranslation.com for help with initial German to English KTB & Torpedo Report translations.
Good, Megan – Director of the J. Welles Henderson Archives & Library of the Independence Seaport Museum, Philadelphia for her assistance in acquiring a photo and specifications on the Texan from their New York Shipbuilding Corporation Records collection. www.phillyseaport.org
Harvard College 'The American-Hawaiian Steamship Company, 1899–1919’, from The Business History Review (28 December 1954), The President and Fellows of Harvard College by Thomas C. Cochran and Ray Ginger
Library of Contemporary History in Stuttgart, Germany for U-126/Texan Torpedo Report.
Mason, Jerry and Charla for U-126 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 Texan.
National Archives for numerous pieces of documentation relating to this story.
NavSource, Naval History and Heritage Command for images and data on US Navy ships via: http://www.navsource.org/.
Neilson, Larz F. for providing information relating to Robert Murphy.
Niestlé, Axel Dr. for helping me put the pieces together on Möller.
number59.com for account of No. 59 Squadron’s attack on U-844.
Rohwer, Jurgen for information on U-boat activity in the Caribbean from his book Axis Submarine Successes 1939-1945, Naval Institute Press - Annapolis, Maryland ISBN 0-87021-082-3.
Trainer, Peter for his assistance with the Murphy family history.
U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center, 100 Forbes Drive, Martinsburg, WV 25404 for Merchant Marine career information on Robert H. Murphy, Oliver F. Buell and Graham Griffiths.
U.S. Merchant Marine Organization (usmm.org) for information on August Wallenhaupt.
Uboat.net for information on Möller, U-126, their victims, and for information on other U-boats including U-844.
Weggelaar, Hubertus at the Historisches MarineArchiv site for information on Möller.
Wiberg, Eric T. – for the use of his collection of original allied reports relating to the Texan’s loss on his uboatsbahamas.com website.
Wikipedia free on-line encyclopedia for summaries on miscellaneous topics related to this story.