This was the second known vessel to be named Alaskan in American-Hawaiian’s fleet. The first Alaskan was in service from 1902 to 1927.

The Alaskan of this story was originally intended for the British war effort in WWI and named War Jupiter. According to McKeller, she was one of two 10,100 DWT ships built by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation, Sparrow´s Point, MD (her sister being War Saturn).

Sister ship of War Jupiter/Wheaton/Alaskan, the USS Cape May off the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company shipyard, Sparrows Point, Maryland on November 8th, 1918. U.S. Navy photo NG 796. Note WWI armament and disruptive paint scheme known as Dazzle Painting. Photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command at

War Jupiter was built in Bethlehem’s Yard No. 175 and completed in November of 1918. She was requisitioned by the U.S. Shipping Board upon completion and renamed Wheaton (No. 217232).

War Jupiter Preliminary Specifications:

Length: 415 ft.

Beam: 53.7 ft.

Draft: 28.3 ft.

Displacement: 6,867 tons

Unfortunately, to date I have not been able to locate any plans for the War Jupiter.

Wheaton made at least four voyages to Antwerp Belgium under civilian Masters with the Red Star Line for the US Shipping Board as follows:

John Lapping, Arriving NY July 31st 1919, “Voyage #2”

John Lapping, Arriving NY October 10th 1919, “Voyage #3”

Fred S. Jones, Arriving NY May 12th 1920, “Voyage #4”

According to the Naval History and Heritage Command;

Wheaton was turned over to the U.S. Army Transport Service October 8th, 1920, re-designated USAT Wheaton and refitted as a refrigerator ship. She was named in honor of Civil War Major General Frank Wheaton, commander of the 3rd Division, Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps, 1864-65.

"Assigned to the Atlantic Transport Service, Atlantic Fleet with her home port at the Army Supply Base, Brooklyn, NY she serviced the New York to Antwerp, Belgium route. USAT Wheaton performed her first voyage for the Army Transport Service on July 20th, 1921 under the command of Capt. E. E. McCarthy to Antwerp, Belgium, bringing the bodies of US war dead home from France. USAT Wheaton made numerous trips between Antwerp and New York repatriating the bodies of American soldiers killed in action in France during World War I.

Image carousel photos courtesy of the Mariners' Museum at

USAT Wheaton was turned back over to the U.S. Shipping Board on July 15th, 1922 at New York harbor, where she appears to have been mothballed. She was eventually sold by the U.S. Shipping Board to American-Hawaiian in 1927 and renamed the S.S. Alaskan, replacing the previous ship built in 1902.

One of Alaskan’s earliest Masters was Gerard R. Crosby (28-29), followed by Ralph A. Oliver (1929), who would later be lost on the Puerto Rican.

During this time Alaskan was engaged in American-Hawaiian’s typical inter-coastal trade, transitioning from their ‘South Atlantic Service’ (Puerto Rico, Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, Norfolk and Baltimore) to their ‘North Atlantic Service’ (New York, Newark, Philly and Boston) later in the decade and into the 1940’s.

Master Edwin E. Greenlaw took command of Alaskan from January 1942 until the time of her loss.

SS Alaskan, December 12th, 1934. Francis Palmer photographer. From the private collection of artist Dave Boone, Copyright (c), All Rights Reserved.

The Attack

At the end of November, 1942, the unescorted Alaskan was on her return leg from Suez, Egypt to New York via Cape Town under the command of 40-year-old Master Edwin E. Greenlaw, this being his second voyage as Alaskan’s Master.

According to one of the survivor accounts, they had delivered ammunition, plane parts and Ford trucks to British forces in Egypt and were coming back with 800 tons of chrome ore. Before they could return to New York, however, they needed to make a stop in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana (present day Suriname) to pick up a load of bauxite, an ore that is the main source of aluminum, critical for aircraft production.

In addition to her normal complement of 10 officers and 32 crew, Alaskan was also carrying 16 Navy Armed Guards. The Alaskan had been armed between her return from her previous voyage on June 8th and her departure around July 21st. She had one 5in mounted on the stern, one 3in on the bow, and four 20mm and two .30cal guns surrounding her deck house for anti-aircraft defense.

Starboard side view of the SS Alaskan July 18th, 1942, just before leaving on her last voyage. She appears heavily loaded and includes large tarped bundles of cargo (perhaps the plane parts and Ford trucks) on top of all her hatch covers. Note armament and Armed Guard ramp rafts added to fore and aft masts. Archive No. P0001.003/01-#PB6067 Courtesy of the Mariner's Museum

Alaskan had left Cape Town after the coordinated U-boat offensive around Cape Town in October (which took A-H’s Coloradan), although ironically, she would also be sunk by one of the U-boats that took part in that action, the U-172.

U-172 was commanded by 27-year-old ace Carl Emmermann. Emmermann had commissioned U-172, his first command, a little over a year earlier, on November 5th, 1941. He already had nine vessels to his credit, totaling 40,619 tons from his second patrol. This, his third patrol, had claimed another seven vessels so far totaling 54,684 tons.

Alaskan would be their eighth and final victim on this patrol despite Emmermann’s best efforts.

U-172 was not even originally intended to operate in this area. After completing their main mission of the surprise attack off Cape Town, South Africa as part of Wolfpack/Group Eisbär and a recon of Port Nolloth between October 4th and 30th, the U-172 had moved further west, deeper into the South Atlantic before beginning their northward transit home.

Emmermann still had nine of his twenty-three torpedoes remaining, although they had lost the use of torpedo tube IV which was leaking as a result of a depth charge attack on October 8th. As they worked their way north they sank the British Motor Merchant Aldington Court on October 31st and the British steamer Llandilo on November 2nd.

Around November 11th, U-172 was approximately 250 miles southwest of Ascension Island. The allies had been using the remote island as a refueling stop for ferrying aircraft to the African theater and were secretly converting it to an important anti-submarine base for the South Atlantic. The month before, on October 13th, another U-boat, U-156 (Hartenstein) had reconnoitered the island and reported

Lively flying operations on the southeast part of the island. At times up to seven aircraft in the air. One simultaneous start of 5 single-engine fast land-based aircraft. The airport itself could not be seen, billowing explosive clouds, as from rock blasting, (airfield expansion) observed. Roadstead closely matches information and picture in the port guide. No new pier, no oil facilities visible. Camp close to the airport. Apart from three small motorboats nothing in the roadstead.” The plane that had previously bombed U-156 during the ‘Laconia Incident’ was actually based at Ascension.

Emmermann received word about U-174 (Ulrich Thilo) having considerable success northeast of Natal Brazil. Now carrying six torpedoes, he requested to divert to the area to join the hunt, which headquarters agreed to on the 12th. U-172 began the 1,100 mile sprint to the Brazilian coast off Natal, then headed north, and to the east of Fernando de Noronha.

On November 20th U-172 crossed the Equator, reporting the Equatorial current at 270° and 2 to 3 knots, and began working the area to the west of the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago. On the 23rd they were rewarded with the British steamer Benlomond.

Afterwards, they headed east with the intention of operating against the suspected east-west route north of Saint Paul Rocks. Along the way, on November 27th they spotted and avoided two sailing lifeboats from the Norwegian Motor Merchant Indra, sunk by UD-3 (Hermann Rigele) the previous day. Note: All the survivors reached safety.

There were several U-boats operating in this area at the time. In addition to U-172 there was the previously mentioned U-174 and UD-3 as well as U-159 (Witte) and possibly an Italian submarine.

Despite already being at sea for 100 days, Emmermann appeared quite content to remain at sea as long as the hunting was good. He hoped to get additional torpedoes and supplies from UD-3 which was also acting as a supply boat in this area. He radioed headquarters and requested a rendezvous with UD-3, and in addition to torpedoes requested 54 cubic meters of fuel and three weeks of provisions. The request was soon turned down and Emmermann was told to return home if out of torpedoes. UD-3 was to retain any torpedoes they hadn’t transferred to U-159 for themselves.

During the evening November 27th-28th as they cruised on the surface they spotted a steamer just after midnight bearing 25° True. This turned out to be the Alaskan. It was a bright moonlit night (82% full), but became cloudy as the night wore on.

Alaskan was steering a zig-zag course around a general course of 315° (northwest) at a speed of 15 knots. Emmermann set a parallel course to begin the tedious process of maneuvering ahead. Three and half hours later they spotted a second steamer on an opposite course (southeast), but kept trailing the Alaskan and passed along the information on the other vessel to headquarters.

Finally, five hours after first spotting her, U-172 was in position to attack Alaskan from the south. During this time it reportedly began to rain heavily. Allied accounts suggest the U-172 attacked submerged, but with the reduced visibility (less than 3 nautical miles), the German torpedo reports indicate a surface attack from an estimated range of 1,000 meters or about 6/10’s of a mile. It is possible Emmermann used the rain to conceal his approach.

Emmermann had his First Watch Officer (IWO), 24-year-old Oberleutnant zur See Heinz-Günther Scholz, execute the attack from the open bridge. Scholz locked in Alaskan’s speed, bearing and distance using the targeting binoculars known as the UZO and fired two G7a compressed air torpedoes from tubes I and III, set for 40 knots, depth 4 meters.

Alaskan’s lookouts spotted the bubble trails of the air powered torpedoes seconds before impact, but it was too late. The first torpedo failed for an unknown reason, but the second hit the engine room on the port side after a run of 62 seconds (1,200 meters, or ¾ of a mile). 36-year-old Fireman Thomas Stephenson, who was on duty at the time, was reportedly killed in the explosion and subsequent flooding of the engine room. The Germans reported a heavy impact with heavy steam effect, and the Alaskan coasted to a stop.

The two port side lifeboats were destroyed in the explosion. The antenna and power was knocked out immediately so there was no way for Radio Operator John Casey to get a distress signal off. The Alaskan began to list heavily to the port side, making her main armament inoperable. Master Greenlaw evaluated the situation, and deciding the Alaskan was lost, ordered the crew, including the Navy Armed Guard to abandon ship. The men began launching the starboard side life boats. The evacuation was complicated by the list, the darkness and the smoke and steam that had filled the deck house.

Sketch from Scholz's Torpedo Report showing Alaskan at the top and U-172 at the bottom.

Lifeboat #1 was launched successfully and was able to get clear. Lifeboat #3 entered the water at an angle and began to swamp either due to an error in lowering or the list or a combination. This lifeboat was abandoned, which would later prove a blessing. These men were either picked up by Lifeboat #1 or swam for one of the Armed Guard ramp rafts. The list prevented the starboard pair of ramp rafts (high side) from being launched.

Master Greenlaw was the last man off and was picked up by a group of men in a rubber raft, led by his Second Mate, Seabury Cook.

After Emmermann confirmed the crew had abandoned ship the U-172 closed in and began to open fire with their main 105mm deck gun to finish her off. The gunfire was most likely controlled by U-172’s Second Watch Officer (IIWO), who traditionally acted as Gunnery Officer is such situations. This was 21-year-old Leutnant zur See Hermann Hoffmann.

U-172's main 105mm deck gun in action (although NOT against Alaskan). Note Neptune/Poseidon holding a conch and trident emblems on each side of the conning tower.

The reported number of total rounds, hits and misses actually varied quite a bit. One of the German gunners later claimed that

they fired 168 rounds, of which 138 were hits”. According to an O.N.I. (Office of Naval Intelligence) report; “survivors variously report shelling, after they had abandoned ship, with 40 rounds – 30 hits, 10 misses, and with 60 rounds – 35 to 40 hits, 25 to 20 misses”.

They apparently took their time and fired at the rate of 0.7 to 2.8 shots per minute depending on which account you believe. The weapon had a practical rate of fire of 15 rounds a minute. This set Alaskan’s deck house on fire and punched additional holes in her hull, letting the sea in and speeding up the sinking process. The burning Alaskan rolled over and sank bow first about two hours after she was first hit.

Emmermann then maneuvered over to the men in the rubber raft and took Master Greenlaw on board for questioning. According to the American accounts, Emmermann spoke excellent English. Greenlaw confirmed the name of the ship and tonnage, but misdirected the Germans by telling them they were heading from Cape Town to New York via Trinidad, not Dutch Guiana. He also lied about the cargo, claiming it was general cargo and automobiles, not chrome ore.

Greenlaw went on to tell them Alaskan had departed Cape Town on November 16th (possible) and had traveled via St. Helena and Ascension. The Germans noted they were suspicious of the information by stating

Alleged course instructions from Cape Town city 25 nautical miles west, then 400 nautical miles north, further via St. Helena, Ascension and point 60 nautical miles north of St. Paul’s Rock.

After the questioning Greenlaw was surprised that he was allowed to re-join his men in the raft. According to family historian Charlene Knox Farris, Greenlaw belonged to the Masons, and reportedly noticed Emmermann wore a Masons ring similar to his. He would later wonder if that is why he was spared. I must say I have my doubts about this detail, however. There is no doubt Greenlaw was a member, but there are several pictures of Emmermann available on the internet during this period (two of which I've included in this account) that show his hands, and no rings of any kind are visible.

As Greenlaw was returned to the raft, Emmermann reportedly apologized, saying

Sorry we sank you, but this is war.” Then asked rhetorically; “Why don’t you tell America to get out of the war?

Of course, as I mentioned in several accounts here on the site, Greenlaw had little to fear from the Germans at this stage. The stories of the Germans routinely murdering survivors was the result of hearsay and propaganda, not fact.

Despite Greenlaw’s theory about their Masons connection, Emmermann didn’t exactly do him a favor either by placing him back in the raft, as you will read later on.

Emmermann simply followed his orders and although he did not try to harm them, as far as we know he did not offer any assistance either, like food, water, cigarettes, medical supplies or even distance and course to land. Even if he did, Emmermann would have taken pains to exclude this information from his war diary since this was post Laconia Order. Survivor accounts, while not critical, did not mention assistance either. Emmermann himself actually had a very good track record when it came to the treatment of survivors, as I will detail later in his section.

Emmermann also had the option of taking Greenlaw (and perhaps even 2nd Mate Seabury Cook if he had known his experience) back with them to become prisoners of war, but he elected not to. Since June 5th the Germans were instructed to bring senior Merchant Mariner officers back with them if possible towards the end of their patrol;

Captains of all ships sunk are to be taken on board as prisoners, with the ship's papers, provided getting them aboard does not endanger the boat or reduce her fighting power by raising the consumption of provisions.” Emmermann had done this at the end of his previous patrol with the Santa Rita’s Master Henry R. Stephenson.

Why he didn’t do so in this case, we will likely never know. The most likely reason was simply because he had two torpedoes left and was full confidence he would have another opportunity for success and to take prisoners. U-boats were uncomfortable enough for their standard crews, let alone with the addition of one or two “guests”. As it turned out, it was lucky for the other men in the raft he didn’t get taken prisoner. They likely would not have survived without Greenlaw’s and/or Cook’s experience.

After placing Greenlaw back in the raft, U-172 sped off on a course of 135°, and operated north of St. Paul's Rock for a few more days before heading home. You can zoom in and explore the map below.

The Alaskan’s survivors were dispersed into three groups, each not knowing what became of the next. Rather than group them into one aftermath section, this article continues below with the amazing stories of survival for each of these three groups.

Canary Island Group

For the most part, what little is known of this group is from Arthur Moore’s book; ‘A careless word…A NEEDLESS SINKING’, which states:

Ten crew members and 3 Armed Guard were rescued from a raft by the Spanish ship CILURNUM on December 13, after spending 15 days at sea, and were landed at Las Palmas, Canary Islands. They stayed there for 25 days before going on to Cadiz, Spain and finally to Gibraltar.

SS Cilurnum, Antonio Menchaca owner, Bilbao, Spain

The raft they were on was one of the wooden ramp rafts that were recently added to the Alaskan for her Navy Armed Guard crew. There would have been a total of four on the Alaskan, one mounted on a steel ramp on each side of the forward and aft masts. It is assumed that due to the list, the two starboard rafts were not able to be launched.

Page 1 & 2 of original Alaskan crew list, looking a bit like a Rorschach Test due to the symmetrical damage from being folded. Courtesy of the National Archives via

Based partially on the crew list I was able to find on (above), I was actually able to locate eleven Merchant Seamen (one more than Moore notes) and three Navy Armed Guard. This was also through, on passengers that were identified as being survivors from the Alaskan that were repatriated on a couple different ships from Gibraltar to New York during this time frame.

Merchant Mariners

      1. Brizius, Frederick R. - 3rd Mate, age 22 from Los Angeles, CA (A)

      2. Cleary, Thomas J. - A.B., age 38 from Boston, MA (B)

      3. Flathmann, Harold - 3rd Assistant Engineer, age 35 from Oakland, CA (A)

      4. Frederick, William E. - A.B., age 36 from Baltimore, MD (B)

      5. Gonzales, Manual – Carpenter, age 48 from Coruna, Spain (B)

      6. Monahen, Patrick J. – Wiper, age 31 from New York, NY (B)

      7. Palczynski, Michael – Wiper, age 26 from Fall River, MA (B)

      8. Pyle, Charles E. - Jr. 3rd Assistant Engineer, age 22 from Lodi, CA (A)

      9. Steele, David - Chief Cook, age 50 from Jamaica, BWI (B)

      10. Trost, Robert F. – Purser, age 31 from Ozone Park, Long Island, NY (A)

      11. Walsh, Richard J. - A.B., age 38 from Elizabeth, NJ (B)

Armed Guard

      1. Cole, Herbert Roy – age 27 (A)

      2. Pryor, Harry Lee – age 26 (A)

      3. Thompson, Robert G. – age 28 (A)

(A) Repatriated from Gibraltar on Irénée DuPont (Master Christian Simonsen). Departed January 31st, 1943, arrived NY February 13th, 1943. The Irénée DuPont would be lost on the outbound leg of her next voyage, on March 17, 1943.

(B) Repatriated from Gibraltar on Zoella Lykes (Master James Drotning). Departed January 31st, 1943, arrived NY February 18th, 1943. They were also carrying one crewman from the SS John Davenport, Andrew Griffin. The John Davenport was not sunk, but was attacked by air on the way to North Africa, so Griffin may have been a casualty of that. Zoella Lykes survived the war and was scrapped in 1973.

According to Addendum II included in the eighth printing of Moore’s book;

The Steward, Ambrose Bulsa, died on a raft as a result of burns and was buried at sea.

As this was the only group to escape on a raft, my assumption for the time being is that Bulsa died with this group.

Having the ranking officer, Third Mate Frederick Brizius, in his early 20’s and one of the, if not the youngest member of the group must have made for an interesting dynamic.

Regular visitors to the site who are familiar with the Arkansan story might have recognized a familiar name; Purser Robert F. Trost, who was also the Purser on the Arkansan.

When Trost's nephew contacted me several years ago concerning the Arkansan, the story the family recalled was that Robert had spent two weeks on a raft before getting picked up. The Arkansan survivors ‘only’ spent about 12 hours in their lifeboat before being picked up by the Pastores and his nephew and I wasn’t sure what to make of the story initially. Finding the crew list for the Alaskan and Trost on the list of repatriated men from Gibraltar helped to finally confirm that the family’s story was accurate.

Trost, like so many of these remarkable men had gone right back to sea. He had arrived in New Orleans with most of the Arkansan survivors aboard the George Washington on July 13th. The crew list for the Alaskan shows that he signed on in New York on July 17th, just four days later.

He and his group were very fortunate they were found by the Cilurnum. The boxy rafts were difficult to maneuver and though equipped with sails, for the most part they were at the mercy of the currents.

Not to say it wasn’t possible. Coincidentally, one of U-172’s other victims on this patrol was the British steamer Benlomond, sunk just five days before the Alaskan. Its sole survivor, a Chinese 2nd Mess Steward named Poon Lim, was rescued after an amazing 133 days alone on one of these rafts (Often misidentified as a Carley float). He was spotted by a Brazilian fishing vessel east of Salinas, Brazil and landed upriver at Belém on April 8th, 1943.

Brazil Group

The largest group of survivors were the men that made it into Lifeboat #1, the only life boat of the four to be launched successfully. It was under the command of Chief Mate Earl F. Manning. They were originally known as the ‘Angola Group’ because that is where Arthur Moore originally noted as their landing point in his book; ‘A careless word…A NEEDLESS SINKING’ as follows:

Lifeboat #1 was launched, picked up a full load of survivors and then pulled away from the ship to get clear of the shelling. Seventeen days later, on December 15, 29 survivors in Lifeboat #1 made a landfall at Salinas, Angola. One Armed Guard died in the hospital at Salinas and was buried there. There were 18 crew members and 10 Armed Guard who survived in this boat.

This account was subsequently accepted by the historical community due to the reliability of Moore’s book, and many sources now state the same account, including at the time of this report,

The trouble with this is that there was a revised account in a later addendum, which stated;

#1 Lifeboat made a landing at 2000 local time near Belém, Brazil not Salinas, Angola…The Navy Armed Guard died in the hospital in Belém, not Salinas [Angola].”

Moore and/or his publisher took the unusual step of not updating the original text when new information became available, and instead added addendums to the end of the book with each subsequent printing.

I was completely willing to accept the original account as well, even though it seemed odd to me that this group would have traveled nearly twice the distance (Angola was not only east of their location, but substantially south) in half the time as the French Guiana Group. I was even in the process of working with the US Consulate in Angola to try and locate the Armed Guard, George Waters, grave for his friends and family.

Then I located an old forum posting from 2009 by the daughter of a Hobert Helmintoller , noting him as a member of the Navy Armed Guard on the Alaskan. I took a chance and luckily the e-mail account was still active. As it turned out, Hobert, or ‘Mac’ as he is known, is still alive and his son and daughter assisted me with getting his story of the events which was recorded in the local newspaper at the time:

Young Seaman Tells How He Spent Eighteen Days Adrift in Lifeboat By Bill Barrett

Standing in his quarters in the aft part of a freighter, Hobert Helmintoller, Jr., 18-year-old First Class Seaman in the United States Navy, felt a torpedo hit shake his ship, but never once thought what the next eighteen days would hold in store.

Helmintoller, home now on a 22-day furlough, and now visiting his aunt, Mrs, John Beckley Campbell, spent those 18 days in a lifeboat, similar in size to “The Raft” made famous by three of his fellow seaman in the Pacific Ocean when they floated for 34 days last May [ES: possibly referring to the Liberty ship John Adams?].

“As soon as I heard the explosion, and it was a big one, I went to my gun station,” the youth said as he began to tell of his experience, which “I wouldn’t have missed for anything but don’t want to do it again,” He continued:

“Soon after the “fish” hit the ship the sub rose and shelled us then the ship sank. I was about midship at the time abandon ship orders came, so I jumped over - wearing only my pants.

“I swam to one of the “swamp” boats, but before we could get it moving I transferred to another boat that came by. There were 33 men on board counting myself.

“We rigged up a sail with some canvas in the boat, and soon our Chief Mate, who was a very good navigator decided it would be a good idea to have two sails. The second one we made with some spare canvas and an oar.

First Man Dies

“The first man to die was a “wiper” (an engine room worker) who had been badly burned. He passed away the first night, and the next morning the Chief Mate, using his testament, read some scripture, then we buried him. (This same procedure was undertaken four more times when men died.)

“Our first two days out, it rained and rained hard, but no one thought of catching the water, which we could have used later had we known it was all we were going to get. Water and food rations during our stay in the boat consisted of four ounces of water a day, one cracker in the morning and a fourth of a small can of pemmican at night.

“I didn’t get hungry at first, for there was no way to use energy, and for the first four or five days I didn’t get thirsty either.

“Clothes were no trouble to use for we had very little. I was in pants, several others the same way. We kept cool in the day by splashing ourselves with salt water. Salt water is what caused most of the men to die. They got too much of it.

Traveled 1,200 Miles

“We thought at the time we were doing about one knot but when we landed and charted our course we found the little boat had done close to six knots and traveled almost 1,200 miles in those eighteen days.

“To pass the time away we had shifts watching for land. We even made up a purse from all our pockets to donate $5 to the first person who sighted land. The second cook won it one morning when he sighted smoke, which we thought first was a convoy.

Earl Manning 1943

“I was afraid to look when they said it was land, I wanted to be sure. Then we saw a little lighthouse and rowed toward it. I don’t know how I felt, other than it was good to see land.

“When we landed the natives took care of us right away. They clothed us, fed us and cared for us in their best way. A couple of days later an army doctor looked us over, then sent us inland by truck where we obtained transportation home.”

24-Foot Boat

Telling of his boat, the youthful sailor described it as being 24 four feet long and seven feet wide, contained two tanks, which “help keep it afloat. This was the reason we were so crowded. We started once to throw them over, but the Chief Mate wouldn’t let us, saying if high seas came we would need them.”

He stated that all the time he was in the boat no signs of life were sighted until they neared land.

“We knew land was close then too, for at first one of the boys spotted a moth, and soon after a butterfly...and last of all a fly. About the same time the sea began to change from green to blue.”

Telling of the morale of the men, he said it couldn’t have been better and told of how they joked at meal time, wishing for steaks, and other foods.

He concluded his story saying, “It’s an experience I wouldn’t have missed, but wouldn’t want it again. The thing that made me maddest about it too, was the fact that I lost all the souvenirs I’d collected since sent out on sea duty.”

The newspaper article included a photo which showed Helmintoller seated on the left. Mac was also able to identify one other man in the photo, which was his friend D.L. Anderson in the lower right. He couldn’t recall too much else, but remembered that D.L. had more info than anyone else and was from Defuniac Springs, Florida. Mac also thought that D.L. wrote a book on the ordeal, perhaps "The Last Man on the Ship."

I struck out on finding the book, but was able to find D.L.’s sons using the other information and an obituary. D.L. actually wrote a short story, not a book, and it was never published.

Anderson had sent it to Reader’s Digest but, according to his family, it was rejected for being too graphic. The family was kind enough to share it with me, and it answers quite a few questions. There were two versions and I’ve included the latest. There really wasn’t much difference in content, the second version was just more succinct (4 vs. 7 pages) and read better. I’ve noted details from the first version that I’ve added back in. I also agree with Reader’s Digest on the graphic nature, especially as it relates to the last moments of some of the men who died. I can understand how these could be upsetting to their family members, so I’ve redacted those portions (noted) out of respect for them;


By D.L. Anderson

It wasn’t an unusual incident for World War II but a mammoth one for me.

We had loaded the S.S. Alaskan with ammunition, plane parts and Ford trucks [Version 1: There were, in addition to the seamen, a group of us Navy men to man the guns which had recently been installed] and had made a trip from New York around the Cape of Good Hope and to Suez, Egypt. Upon our arrival at Suez we were ordered to Port Said which entailed a trip through the Suez Canal. Here we unloaded our cargo and in another small port in Egypt had taken on a half load of chrome ore to head back to Dutch Guiana and New York.

Photo from newspaper clipping of Helmintoller article. "Mac" Helmintoller is seated on the left, and his friend D.L. Anderson is seated on the right. The other two men are believed to be Navy Armed Guard as well, but are as yet unidentified. Courtesy of the Helmintoller family.

On November 28th, 1942 at 5:45 A.M. located 3°58’ North Longitude and 26°19’ West Latitude, we were torpedoed. The hit was directly in the fire room on the port side. The position was 1200 miles from land from both Africa and South America. I was asleep in the top bunk only a few inches from the ceiling and when the explosion occurred I was thrown against the ceiling and on the floor to awake in a nightmare of excitement. The first thing I thought of was my life jacket. After putting it on I rushed up on deck to see what had happened. The ship was listing by this time and there was screaming and chaos on every hand. Some of us decided that the wisest thing to do would be to step overboard, turn on the lights on our jackets and hope someone would pick us up.

[Version 1: Lifeboats two and four were destroyed by the explosion.] Lifeboat No. 1 was launched in good order and men were picked up one by one until thirty two were taken aboard. Then the Chief Officer E.F. Manning decided to pick up one more. I was that 33rd person taken into a boat that only had provisions for twenty-four men. We were crowded to the hilt.

To complicate our position we had drifted nearly a mile astern the vessel picking up survivors and upon returning within a half mile was forced because of shell fire from the submarine to lay off until the Alaskan sank. It went to its watery depths at 7:45 a.m., only two hours after it was hit.

We had raised our mast and set our course at West-Southwest true under the command of Chief Officer E.F. Manning. However, two men aboard a small raft had persuaded the Chief to let them tie on behind the lifeboat but after two hours it was discovered that no speed was made at all and it would be 35 men to go down or two be out away from the life boat.

The Chief turned to the young man sitting beside him in the rear of the boat and said ‘Son, cut the rope.’ The cries came from the raft, ‘Don’t do it – we can’t last out here. Don’t cut us adrift or we’re gone.’ The young man looked at the Chief and in a pleading voice said. ‘Chief, I can’t cut the rope. Please don’t make me cut the rope.’ But the Chief, seeing the problem, turned and looked the boy squarely in the face and said firmly, ‘I said cut the rope.’ The rope was cut immediately and the cries soon died away. We were on our way. [Note: I have concerns with the accuracy of the last two passages, which I discuss later].

It rained all that day the day we were torpedoed and there was a gentle breeze carrying us in the direction of the coast of Brazil which we hoped sometime to see.

Ray [sic] Johnson, an oiler, had been badly burned by steam when the explosion occurred and he was getting no comfort out of our crowded boat.

In the afternoon of November 28th our Chief reached in his briefcase and pulled out a Bible and read some scripture. I cannot, for the life of me, remember what he read but he made this statement which I shall never forget: ‘Men, you are probably closer to death than you have ever been. If you do what is told you and cooperate in every way we should reach shore within twenty days. We can subsist on the rations we have if everyone will do their part.’ Everyone agreed.

The first order he gave was for everyone to lay their knives, pistols, and weapons of all kinds before him. They all did except one man. Mr. Thahan [sic], the chief engineer, concealed his pistol in his briefcase which he carried with him on the boat. The whispered message reached the Chief and a relayed message was: ‘Get that pistol when he sleeps.’ They got it and overboard it went along with all the others. This was to keep a panicky man from going berserk and doing things irrational.

Chief Officer Manning began to talk about the restrictive measures which we would have to take to endure the hardship. Each man according to his figures would get four ounces of water a day. Two at ten in the morning and two at five in the afternoon. Every other day we would get a square of unsweetened chocolate and every other day we would get one fourth of a can of Pemmican about the size of a silver dollar. This prepared mixture had grated cocoanut [sic] in it and it was extremely sweet. This was a most welcomed treat. [Apparently Anderson was the only person who thought so. Most survivor accounts I’ve read indicated the men thought it was disgusting].

Chief Manning further instructed us to tear off a portion of our trouser legs off and tie the top with a string from the same material to make a hat to protect the heads of the men from the sun.

The first day was cool and rainy all day but later days were dry and hot. The second day out was Sunday, November 29th. At 3:43 P.M. Roy Johnson, the boy who was burned so badly passed away. He was buried at sea at 4 P.M. The log reported that he died due to crowded conditions.

On Monday, November 30th it was rainy and the gentle breeze kept us continually on the move. This gave us hope. Tuesday was hot and on Wednesday, December 2nd, we rigged another sail with spare canvas and an extra oar.

Nothing of consequence happened for the next nine days and the crew all cooperated with Chief Manning under the most trying conditions.

[Version 1: ‘Chief Manning, by use of a small piece of wood, tabulated the speed. He had one of the men drop the chip at the bow and by measuring the time it took to reach the stern he was able to calculate the speed. He suggested we could make approximately seventy miles every twenty four hours. This estimate proved to be remarkably accurate’.]

On Friday, December 11th, attention was called to Chief Engineer Thahan [sic]. Upon examination by Chief Manning, he was pronounced dead at 5:25 A.M. [Portion redacted]. He was buried at 5:40 A.M.

Saturday, December 12th at 4:45 P.M. Fred Herling [sic] died. [Portion redacted]. He was buried at 5:10 P.M.

Things came that I never thought I would witness. Men were dying every day, and the thought came to me that my day would soon come.

The day that Herling [sic] died the fourth officer, Mr. Woodward complained of feeling terribly weak. I knew why he was weak because I had seen him pass up the water and food time after time. [Portion redacted].

On the next day, December 13th, Sunday, Chief Manning was called to examine Woodward, and he too had slipped away. Never shall I forget how he talked about his little girl and his wife back in the States. [Portion redacted]. He was buried at 5:10 A.M.

The most weird sight I think I ever saw was awakening at dawn each morning during those eighteen days to see unshaven men, with their pants leg hats staring through sunken eye pits, scanning, and scrutinizing for land. As they swayed back and forth, back and forth, dreaming of land and hope, and home.

On Monday in the afternoon about 3 o’clock some of the fellows commented that they sighted smoke, or maybe a convoy, or possibly a passenger ship. Everyone was frozen with excitement and expectation.

The Chief stood up to his full stature and scanned the horizon, as all eyes were on him. He looked down into our eager faces and said, ‘I’m going to tell you something but don’t do anything dangerous. I see land in the distance.’ We were crazy with excitement and big, ugly men kissed each other in the news for which we had dreamed for days.

Some wanted to eat up all the food and drink the water that was left but the Chief would not consent. His reason was that if the wind were to change we would be pushed back out to sea and be in worse shape than before.

However, at 6:00 P.M. we were met by a pilot boat belonging to Salinas, Para, Brazil. [Version 1: and taken in tow. We reached shore about dark.] The natives in this remote village were gracious to all of us. [Version 1: They heard our story from one of the men of our group who spoke Portuguese fluently]. We could not walk and they helped us to a house where we were cared for during the night. We ate bananas and drank water all night long. We couldn’t get enough water. Our systems were so thoroughly dehydrated from the ordeal.

Two men were in bad shape upon arrival. One was First Engineer Shelmayer [sic] and the other Seaman 2/C George Waters. Waters had endured for eighteen days the experience of privations even though he was crushed between the lifeboat and the Alaskan as it was being launched. He died the first night we reached land at Salinas, and was buried there. He was attended by a Brazilian, Dr. Benedicto Harres de Luna from Salina, Para, for the entire night. Word was sent to Belem, Brazil to the Consul. Transportation was sent and we were entertained in Belem for seven days. The only clothes we could wear were Army clothes and that was difficult indeed for a Navy man to do.

From Belem we were flown to Miami with an overnight stop in Trinidad. We reached home and country on December 24th, 1942. We were sent by train to Brooklyn and thence home to loved ones.

How many times I have thought about the fact that God reached out and put me in an overcrowded lifeboat, brought me through eighteen days and now I am in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Yes, I was the last man aboard on Lifeboat # 1.

Finally, I found a third brief account from Navy Armed Guard Lee Poteet:

Cliffside Sailor 18 Days in Lifeboat Rutherford County News - Jan 28, 1943 Cliffside, Jan. 25 – Seaman Lee Poteat [sic], who is spending an 18-day furlough at the home of his mother, Mrs. Mattie Poteat [sic] at Cliffside, was rescued at sea after spending 18 days in a lifeboat. Young Poteat [sic], with one year’s experience in the navy behind him, was on a ship in the South Atlantic on a date not specified, when about 5 o’clock in the morning the vessel was torpedoed by a submarine and went down almost immediately. The ship was equipped with four lifeboats but the crew was unable to launch two of them. Seaman Poteat [sic] was one of many who crowded into one of the lifeboats. After the ship sank the submarine crew shelled the lifeboats and the men in the water [see note below]. After 18 days spent on the wide expanse of the South Atlantic in the lifeboat, the men were found and landed on the Brazilian coast. Then they were brought to the United States. During the time they were in the lifeboat, the scant supply of water was rationed, each man being allowed four ounces of water daily, Seaman Poteat [sic] said.

Casualties from the lifeboat included:

      1. Herrling, Fred E. – Utility, age 53, from Cleveland, OH - Died December 12th

      2. Johnson, Roy Kenneth – Oiler, age 23, from Cadillac, MI - Died November 29th

      3. Trahan, George Charles - Chief Engineer, age 55, from San Francisco, CA - Died December 11th

      4. Woodward, James Edward - Jr. 3rd Mate, age 32, from Auburndale, MA - Died December 13th

Roy Johnson and Fred Herrling both had liberty ships (EC2-S-C1) named in their honor.

The SS Fred Herrling was built by St.John's River Ship Building Co., Jacksonville, FL. She was launched January 30th, 1945, christened by Herrling’s niece, Mrs. Kenneth Jones, and went into service with R.A. Nichol & Company. She was scrapped in 1969.

The SS Roy K. Johnson was built by Delta Ship Building Co. Inc., New Orleans, LA. She was launched February 7th, 1945 and went into service with Calmar Steamship Corporation. She was sold to Cape Horn Steamship Corp. on March 9th, 1951, and finally scrapped in 1968.

All accounts confirm that Seaman Second Class George Inman Waters died the morning after reaching land, on December 16th.

According to friends of the family, George’s mother Mary received the first Western Union telegraph from the Coast Guard telling them that George was missing, presumed lost as a result of enemy action, but not a follow-up telegraph telling her he was buried in Brazil. Mary passed away in 1988 still thinking he was lost at sea. There is a veteran’s grave marker at an empty grave site at a cemetery in Florida near his home town.

I reached out to US Consul in Belem a couple months ago, but so far they have not responded. I also found a photographer familiar with Salinas, and he searched the newspaper archives for me in Salinas but so far no new information has come to light.

Since I found documentation identifying the complete Merchant Seamen crew of the Alaskan, those members that reached French Guiana, and those repatriated from Gibraltar (Canary Islands Group), then it was a process of elimination to identify the Merchant Mariners in this group. The accounts from Helmintoller, Anderson and Poteet of the Armed Guard also helped. Based on this information, I believe the survivors of this group were:

      1. Merchant Mariners Alevizo, James G. – Bosun, age 33 from Lowell, MA

      2. Davis, Frank – Messman, age 35

      3. Dunleavy, Charles F. - A.B., age 22

      4. Flynn, Charles James - O.S., age 23

      5. Guthrie, Arthur – Messman, age 31

      6. Hyland, F. L. – Messman, age 63

      7. Judy, Roy W. – Oiler, age 41

      8. Keating, George J. – Messman, age 32

      9. Madigan, Frank - A.B., age 30

      10. Manning, Earl F. - Chief Mate, age 32 from Long Beach, CA

      11. Moralles, Lito M. - O.S., age 32, from Puerto Rico

      12. O'Keefe, Martin J. – O.S., age 25

      13. Orbe, Felix - 2nd Cook, age 41 from Brooklyn, NY (Naturalized)

      14. Robinson, Wilkerson – Messman, age 33

      15. Sehlmeyer, Earnest P. - 2nd Assistant Engineer, age 26

      16. Smith, Harry F. - Deck Engineer, age 44

      17. Wojnarowski, Joseph P. – A.B., age 20

Navy Armed Guard

      1. Anderson, D.L., age 22 from Defuniac Springs, FL

      2. Helmintoller Jr., Hobert M., age 18 from Clinton, MS

      3. Poteet, Lee A., age 18 from Cliffside, NC

George Waters and date, Kathryn Phillips circa 1941. It was believed that George & Kathryn would have married after WWII. Photo courtesy of Joel Clark, son of Kathryn Phillips.

Based on the three Armed Guard repatriated from Gibraltar and the two confirmed to be in the French Guiana group, there must have been eight other members of the Navy Armed Guard in this group which have yet to be identified.

As mentioned earlier, the man in command of this group was Chief Mate Earl F. Manning, who would later be the Chief Mate of the Cape San Juan when it was sunk a year later. One of the most disturbing parts of D.L. Anderson’s account was the order by Manning to cut loose the two men in the rubber raft. I still have a hard time believing he/they would have done that, and suspect it was included to reinforce Anderson’s main point about being the last man picked up.

There were two other casualties originally unaccounted for which could have been the two men Anderson was talking about, but these were later explained in Addendum II in Moore’s book, which seems to confirm my suspicions.

These two men were:

      1. Bulsa, Ambrose – Steward, age 44, from Chicago, IL – as mentioned previously, “died on a raft as a result of burns and buried at sea

      2. Stephenson, Thomas – Fireman, age 36, from Sherwood, OR – “was killed in the engine room by the explosion of the torpedo” The only man to be killed during the attack.

It also corrected the original story about four men drowning when Lifeboat #3 swamped and noted that “The other four seamen died in #1 Lifeboat”, which matches Helmintoller’s and D.L.’s stories.

25 of the 28 survivors from Lifeboat #1 that reached Salinas, Brazil on December 15th, 1942. This photo was taken on or about December 22nd, 1942 in Belem, Brazil. Earl F. Manning is in 3rd row, second from right in uniform, wristwatch showing. Navy Armed Guard's Hobert Helmintoller is believed to be in back row, 3rd from right, D.L. Anderson is in same row, 2nd from left, and Lee Poteet in 4th row, 2nd from left between men holding hats. O.S. Charles James "Jim" Flynn is in back row, far right. Photo courtesy of Clifford Manning.

I later discovered with the help of Brazilian photographer Carlos Macapuna that the structure the photograph was taken in front of was the Euterpe Music Pavilion at the south east tip of Republic Square, behind the Theatro da Paz (Theater of Peace) in Belem, Para, Brazil. In Greek mythology, Euterpe was one of the Muses, the daughters of Mnemosyne, fathered by Zeus. Called the "Giver of delight", when later poets assigned roles to each of the Muses, she was the muse of music.

According to ‘The Largos, Bandstands and Town Squares of Belém’ by Elizabeth Nelo Soares;

THE REPÚBLICA SQUARE BANDSTANDS - As a result of the beautification efforts promoted by intendants since the end of the 19th century, the largest and most important square in the city features two prefabricated cast-iron octagonal bandstands imported from Europe.

They are traditionally called Santa Helena Magno Music Pavilion and Euterpe Music Pavilion.

The Euterpe Pavilion was manufactured in Orleans, France, by the Guillot Pelletier company, and was assembled on the square in 1896. Simpler than the Santa Helena Magno, it follows the classic standard of the bandstands of the time, with double pillars, ornate iron railings, and a roof with metallic tiling. It stands four feet above the ground, but, on the inside, it was lowered during assemblage to allow for a six feet high basement.

Euterpe Music Pavilion, Republic Square, Belem, Para, Brazil where group photo of survivors was taken as it looks today.

Finally, Poteet’s newspaper article mentioned “After the ship sank the submarine crew shelled the lifeboats and the men in the water.” It is easy to understand how Poteet could have interpreted (or perhaps how the reporter spun) the shelling into a deliberate attempt to kill the men in the water. There is no doubt from any of the accounts, even the German’s, that they opened fire with their main deck gun. The issues become intent and timing.

First, the Americans were pre-disposed to think that they would and could be the victims of Nazi atrocities. It was accepted as fact during the war (and unfortunately today as well) that the Germans routinely machine gunned survivors. Post war analysis show this was not the case, as detailed in Ken Dunn’s excellent article: ‘Treatment of Merchant Ship Survivors by U-boat Crews 1939 - 1945’. In this situation, after the torpedo hit and the Alaskan stopped, the Germans actually waited for the crew to abandon ship and get clear before opening fire. If their intent was to kill all of the men, they would not have waited, or perhaps even fired additional torpedoes (they had two remaining) to hasten the sinking.

As far as timing, the Germans opened fire with their deck gun, not after Alaskan sank as Poteet describes, but in order to finish the Alaskan off. The Alaskan was the target, not the men in the water. Where the confusion comes in is that U-boats actually made pretty poor gun platforms, especially in deteriorating weather conditions like that morning. Even by the German’s own admission, of the sixty or so shots fired, only about forty hit the Alaskan. The other twenty didn’t simply evaporate; they of course landed in the water around the Alaskan where the survivors were waiting to see what was next. If you were one of the men in the water with explosions happening all around you, it is logical to assume you are being directly targeted.

What was happening though is that some shells were falling short, and some sailing over the Alaskan to the other side as the U-boat rocked in the seas. You must ask yourself; if the U-Boat was having that much difficulty hitting something as large as the Alaskan, how could they have hoped to target something as small as a lifeboat bobbing in moderate seas?

If the intent was to kill the men in lifeboats/rafts, it would have been much easier to maneuver the U-boat over them, or within range of their automatic weapons. One last event that speaks to intent is the fact that they questioned Captain Greenlaw and his raft of eight other survivors was alongside the U-Boat. Why were these men, the most vulnerable of all, not harmed? Finally, of all the men that died or were injured, none of them were described as being wounded by bullet or shell fire.

French Guiana Group

This was the last group to be accounted for and they were extremely fortunate to have survived.

Once again, Arthur Moore’s ‘A careless word…A NEEDLESS SINKING’ provides the base to start from;

The Captain and 8 others (Armed Guard Commander, 2nd Mate, Radio Operator, one Armed Guard and 3 crew members) abandoned ship on a raft. The sub came alongside and Captain Greenlaw was taken aboard and questioned by the sub’s intelligence officer about routings, etc., before being released. The sub’s commander told Captain Greenlaw, ‘Sorry we sank you, but this is war. Why don´t you tell America to get out of the war.’

The next day, November 29, Captain Greenlaw and the 8 others bailed out the swamped #3 lifeboat and transferred into it. They spent 39 days at sea before making a landfall a few miles south of Cayenne, French Guiana on January 5, 1943. They put to sea again and followed the coast until they reached Cayenne. With help from a fishing boat they made land safely. They were hospitalized and treated well by the local government officials [Officially Vichy French, allied with the Nazis]. In a few days they were moved out of French Guiana by plane.

On I was able to locate a letter from Trinidad Leaseholds, Limited to the American Consul in Trinidad listing the seven Merchant Mariners, as well as passenger lists from American Export Airlines, Inc. (a Division of the shipping company American Export Lines).

This group included:

      1. Brooks, James W. – Fireman, age 57

      2. Casey, John A. - Radio Operator, age 35

      3. Cook, Seabury - 2nd Mate, age 46

      4. Greenlaw, Edwin Earle – Master, age 40

      5. Nelson, George – Messman, age 36

      6. Reagle, Harold D. – Oiler, age 23

      7. Suprey, William H. – Fireman, age 44

      8. Nolan (Last name only) – Armed Guard Commander, Ensign, age unknown

      9. Name Unknown – Armed Guard, Seaman 1st Class, age unknown

Searching the internet for the Second Mate's unusual name, I stumbled upon an intriguing reference on the Wartime Press website to an article in the January 1944 edition of Sea Power Magazine. The synopsis of the index included the entry: "The Voyage of the Wing Ding By Seabury Cook as told to Edward L. Truslow, Jr. Men against the sea, with a touch of humor." 'Could it be?' I thought. The reference to 'Wing Ding' had me puzzled, but finding the publication was still in print, I reached out to them. Sea Power is the official publication of the Navy League of the United States. They could not have been nicer, searched their archives, and soon mailed me a copy of the article, followed up by a PDF copy.

Seabury Cook had indeed written a story of their ordeal which was later be published in Sea Power Magazine. The Navy League graciously allowed me to reprint the entire article here (Note: copyright is retained by Sea Power Magazine and the Navy League):

"The Voyage of the Wing Ding

Nine men salvaged this battered lifeboat and sailed her 1,600 miles in 39 days to a friendly shore

By Seabury Cook as told to Edward L. Truslow, Jr.

“Certainly there was nothing that morning of November 28th, 1942 that hinted at disaster. Our ship of the U.S. Merchant Marine was bound from Cape Town to pick up a cargo of bauxite in Dutch Guiana. To be sure, we were running dark and zigzagging. But that had come to seem normal. It was a moderate sea, moonlit skies just clouding over, and everything to all appearances entirely hunky dory. I had the bridge - as second mate I held the “morning watch” - the 1:00 to 8:00 A.M. It was around five o’clock and I was just wondering when I would get home to see Elise and the kids again, when I heard a slight clash, as if a metallic something had grazed us [ES: perhaps the torpedo that failed]. I started for the port side to have a look. But I didn’t get where I was going. A terrific crash all but jarred my ears off, and was hurled against the door of the wheel house. I jumped up, not in so much of a daze but what I could stop the engines and give the alarm, and then I waited for the Captain, rubbing my head and thinking, “That was it all right. That was a torpedo!”

Cover of the January, 1944 edition of the Navy League's 'SEA POWER' Magazine. Courtesy of

You wouldn’t think the Captain and I could have missed each other. Not right there on the bridge. We must have all but bumped into each other. But it is dark anyway so early on a winter morning, and a cloud of black smoke and steam made it absolutely pitch. Lost in the confusion, I ran below.

Investigation proved that the sub’s aim had been good. The torpedo had hit us smack in the engine room, water was pouring in like the devil, and in nothing flat the ship had what seemed like a 25-degree list. Moreover, the disciplined and orderly lowering of the boats, each man at his appointed station, that is supposed to follow such an emergency, was notable for its absence. Utter confusion and black smoke covered the deck. Men ran to and fro shouting - shouting where was a flashlight, where was George, their lifeboat was smashed, was there room in another, and shouting that the radio antenna had been carried off, so that we could not send a call for help.

On a Rubber Raft

Two of the four lifeboats were smashed. And, as if that weren't enough, an excited crew in lowering away No. 3 boat had jammed one of the falls, this almost swamping it. Half full of water as she was, they piled into her, and the third mate and I watched them anxiously, deciding that there wasn’t time to order them out to empty her. The other lifeboat got away O.K., and the rest of us, with a quick last look around, let go a rubber raft and dropped onto her. It took all of twenty-five minutes to abandon ship.

The sub, which had stood by like a lady, now surfaced and closed in for the kill. She circled around the ship firing. Half the shots passed well over the ship and as bits of shrapnel were falling all around us, we slid into the water like turtles, hung onto the raft, and, even though we knew as well as anyone that Nazis sometimes amuse themselves by taking potshots at the survivors, we jeered at them for their punk aim.

Sketch of the SS Alaskan attack by artist Mark von Arenburg that was included with Seabury Cook's article: 'The Voyage of the Wing Ding' in the January 1944 edition of Sea Power Magazine. Courtesy of the Navy League. Note U-boat on the left with raft and semi-submerged lifeboat on the right.

But they just plugged away at the ship until her superstructure was fired. She rolled over then, and sank.

The fondness of sailors for their ships is, of course, legendary. You know the hard-bitten, leather-faced seaman with mist in his eye and a lump in his throat as he watches his ship go down.

Maybe the Captain felt the proper emotion. Maybe the Gunnery Officer did. But as for me, I’d been aboard her only six months, and I’ll have to admit I never felt a thing. She’d been a good ship. Now she was gone, which was damned inconvenient. So what? Guess I was numbed by all that had happened in the last half hour.

The sub then maneuvered alongside us and the sub skipper, a young fellow who spoke perfect English and had a blond billygoat beard, ordered our Captain aboard for questioning - what was our cargo, tonnage, destination, what were shipping conditions at Cape Town? “Sorry”, he said, with unexpected decency, returning Captain Greenlaw to the raft, “but there’s a war on, you know.” And they stood off on a northerly course.

So there we were, nine men on a little rubber raft. We huddled, elbows and feet all mixed together, and for the first time began to realize what had happened to us. Our shipmates had already drifted out of shouting distance. One lifeboat we could see only when it rose on a wave. The other one - No. 3 that had been swamped - had had to be abandoned for another raft, and what little of her remained above water was bobbing up and down not far away. Nobody had much to say. We just sat there, and nine ants on a maple leaf couldn’t have felt more lost. The gray sea stretched for endless miles, and no ship in sight.

Nothing to Lose

“Hey”, somebody said, “this raft is leaking.” And so it was. Soon we began bailing with our hands, but it only grew worse. It was plain that we were sinking. “What shall we do?” asked someone.

U-172 Commander, Kapitänleutnant Carl Emmermann, on patrol after receiving his Knights Cross. Note mustache and goatee. Photo courtesy of

“Maybe we could salvage that lifeboat”, another one said, and the rest of us glowered in disgust. It was so obviously impossible.

But, since doing anything is better than just resignedly going down, we began trying to row over and have a look. Did you ever try to row a sinking raft? It’s about as easy to maneuver as a kitchen stove. If the boat hadn’t been down wind, we couldn’t have made it.

The lifeboat looked utterly hopeless. She was submerged to her forward thwart, her after buoyancy tank was gone, and, except for three oars and a doughnut life-ring, she was stripped. To attempt a salvage job with only a leaky raft to work from looked absurd. However, the raft was sinking.

“Well”, I said to the Captain, “what do you think?”

He studied it with his keen eyes a minute. “There’s nothin to lose by tryin”, he said.

In Spite of the Odds

So we set to work, and, believe me, nobody but a seaman could appreciate the odds against us. Two of the men climbed into the boat, standing shoulder deep in water. We fastened two lines to one end of the doughnut and passed it under the submerged part of the boat to them. The stern painter was then passed to two men on the raft, who, heaving with all their might, managed to lift the stern toward the surface. The other men stood on the end of the doughnut to which the lines were attached, submerging it while the men in the boat hauled on the lines in an attempt to keel haul the raft under the submerged part of the boat. And was that boat stubborn! We’d almost get it up, and then off it would slip again.

“There’s no use.” one of the crew said. “We can’t do it.”

“We’ve got to do it.” the Captain said. “Come on, let’s go!” He was a born leader as well as a highly competent seaman. So we hauled again, and we almost got it that time. Then she slipped off again. Just remembering makes my back ache. The terrific physical effort plus the heartrending discouragement was almost too much.

“If we had a chance,” one of the crew muttered, “I wouldn’t mind, but - “

“Shut up,” I said. “We have a chance, or he’d not keep us at it. If you’d rather drown, go jump now so I won’t have to listen to you.”

“Heave” said the Captain.

We heaved, and, cripes, this time we raised the gunwale just clear of the sea. “Quick! Bail!” someone yelled. Somebody grabbed a sun helmet, another one a canvas sea anchor, and they bailed like fury. The waves kept slopping into the boat, but we held on, and at last we got her afloat. Phew! The joint sigh of relief could have blown a ship around the Horn.

Sketch of the 'Wing Ding', Lifeboat #3 that Captain Greenlaw and the other French Guiana Group salvaged by artist Mark von Arenburg. This was included with Seabury Cook's article: 'The Voyage of the Wing Ding' in the January 1944 edition of Sea Power Magazine. Original caption was: "It was a crazy looking craft, but it sailed for 1,600 miles." Note oar components of mast. Courtesy of the Navy League.

A Crazy Craft

We rested a minute then, “Gosh all hemlock,” one of the fellows said, “that reminds me - I’m hungry.”

“We aint’ et nothin’ since supper last night.” a Southern cracker said.

“Well boys,” said the Captain, “I guess that deserves a bit of celebration. We’ll break into the emergency rations.”

So we had ourselves a little feast of crackers, pemmican, and chocolate that heartened us mightily.

“Now the next job’” said the Captain, “is to make her seaworthy. We can plug up those little holes in her hull, and then I figure if we scrap the raft we can deck her over forward.”

“And fit her bilge with its bottom boards,” I added.

We had no tools but our knives. But we managed.

“I think,” the Captain said, counting his cigarettes to see how many he had left, “if we make a sail out of the spray hood -.”

“Do you know how to sail?” I asked. He nodded. He was of old seafaring stock from the coast of Maine, had run away to sea at the age of fourteen, and could have sailed a bathtub if he’d had to.

The spray hood was one that we had taken with us from one of the disabled lifeboats, and under the Captain’s direction we rigged a mast by lashing two oars together and fitting it with a square rigged coffin-shaped job, with one oar for a yard and two others lashed together for a boom. It was a crazy looking craft, and I had to chuckle when, as the Captain looked her over and said now she was seaworthy, the rest of them beamed as if she had just come out of Henry Kaiser’s shipyard.

“Now for taking inventory,” I said, “to see if we can stretch the rations.”

The emergency rations consisted of 106 bottles of malted milk tablets, 100 to a bottle; 52 boxes of “C” ration crackers, two dozen crackers to a box, 11 of the boxes damp; 58 three ounce tins of pemmican; 65 cakes - some moldy - of chocolate, eight squares to a cake; and one 15-gallon breaker of water.

Thirty-Day Cruise?

The Captain and I knew that we were approximately 1,600 miles from the northeast coast of South America. If we held the southeast trades on our port quarter, could we make it in thirty days? By heck, we could try, anyway, and we divided the food and water on that basis, with a bit of squawking from some of our mates who seemed to think that when the food was gone the ravens would take a hand.

So we set sail with a daily water ration of one ounce apiece, and a fervent prayer for rain - a bit too fervent, if you ask me, since it rained thirty-six days out of the thirty-nine.

We set sail on a westerly course in a gentle southeasterly breeze, making two knots, increasing to four toward sundown, eating up about 50 miles. Considering that in a sailboat we seamen were not much better than a bunch of landlubbers, it was lucky that Captain Greenlaw was aboard. He and I were the only ones who could steer by sun and stars. But night steering was simplified because you could see Orion and its attendant stars from dusk to dawn, and their declination was close to our latitude. So within a week the Gunnery Officer and one of the crew had caught the hang of it. The Captain, however, had to take a lot of darnfool questioning that sounded out his patience. The Southern cracker insisted that there were two Big Dippers, and that we were using the wrong one.

The second day a fresh sou’wester carried us 110 miles, and we were as pleased as if we’d blown it ourselves. At this rate we’d land in two weeks.

Then the wind died. Not a breath even to flap the sails. “We sure are gettin’ nowhere fast.” one of the men grouched. “I knew we’d never get home under that sail.”

“It’ll blow again.” the Captain said quietly, and he dunked overboard into the clear, cold water. We all did that. The sun was blistering, and one ounce of water a day made no impression on our parched throats.

“God, if a ship would only come.” somebody said, which was only what all of us were thinking. We all scanned the horizon then, and someone said “Look! What’s that?” We stared, and maybe my heart didn’t do double time. Whatever it was, was about five miles away.

“It’s a ship!”

“No. It’s a submarine.”

And so it was. The biggest we had ever seen. We could just make out the giant conning tower. And it was too far away to do us either good or harm.

“I tell you what,” the Gunnery Officer said, “We’ll set up a pool of five dollars each to go to the first man that sights the ship to rescue us!”

“I’ll take a forty-dollar look right now,” I said, and I stood up and combed the horizon again. “Wow!” I said, “Look at that shower coming up. Set your washtubs, fellows, and we’ll have a real drink!”

We were ready for it when it came. We had a strip of canvas about twelve by five feet. Two of us, standing on the thwart through which the mast was stepped, held one end at shoulder height, and the others held the sides so as to form a trough slanted at a sixty-degree angle. The rain streamed down the chute into a can. And that, I might add, was the last of our worries about water. That was only the first of many hours that we stood in the driving rain, soaked to the marrow, to catch the precious stuff.

In about two weeks - it was then about the middle of December - the northwest current carried us across the calm belt into the northeast trades. And that meant showers, heavy squalls, and twenty-foot seas.

“Better shorten sail,” the Captain said. We were glad to. “And should I put out the sea anchor, sir?”

We did that too. But after a bit we got bolder. We ran before the waves, rode them like a roller coaster, and streaked along at about ten knots. We’d made a couple of marks on the boat, and we’d drop a chip over and then time it to calculate our speed. Oh, we had a fine feeling then of hurrying toward home and safety. And then we’d remember what a little way we’d come, and how far we had to go. Oh, 1,600 miles is a long, long way. “How far, Captain. How far have we come today? Only 600 miles altogether? Oh, God, how far is 1,600 miles?” and then you’d stand up to take a forty-dollar look and see nothing but endless gray sea.

We were getting sick of the sight of each other - some of us, anyway - although the Captain, the Gunnery Officer, and I were always in perfect accord. And we were sick of rain, sick of being soaking wet all the time. Now and then when it stopped raining someone would take off his clothes, wring them out, and put them on again, hoping that his body would act as a drying machine.

Anesthetic Blanket

We were irritable from incessant hunger, and we were irritated by the “Wing Ding”, which was what we had dubbed our boat on account of her nasty nature. In heavy seas she was a mighty good little boat. But just let the breeze ease up a bit, and she’d take a notion to spin. Around she’s go, wham, wham, wham, and everything that wasn’t well stowed, including tempers, was cast adrift. Even going ahead normally we couldn’t move without hanging on with both hands. Otherwise we’d lurch against a shipmate and be properly cussed for it. It provided a kind of continual massage which, plus short rations, made us slim and lovely - if you didn’t mind B.O.!

Because dunking in salt water and getting rained on somehow doesn’t aid the cause of cleanliness, we smelled like a slavers’ dhow! And the blanket! Phew! You see, if it didn’t rain all night we’d have at least one hard shower. So the blanket smelt like something that had been lying out in a swamp. The four of us who kept the night watch slept under it in alternate pairs, curled up Z fashion in the cockpit. We’d pull the soggy thing over our heads, and, let me tell you, no anesthetic could touch it. It knocked you out in thirty seconds! It was a comfort - where comforts were relative. Although some of my blackest moments were under it. I’d half-wake, think “Golly, I’m soaking, guess I’ll go below and change,” then realize I had nowhere to go, and wonder if I ever would have.

So we sailed along, one day more like another than the next one. And the chow got lower and lower, and we got hungrier and hungrier.

“I’m a-going to catch a dolphin,” somebody said. Of course, we had tried it before - there were always some big beauties swimming close to the boat.

We gathered around again to watch the baiting of our one hook. We waited for a bite, we took turns with the line, and no luck. We tried to grab them with our hands, but they were too strong and slippery. It began to rain again, and we gave up.

Tern Stew!

And we didn’t even try to catch the only shark we saw. He was a small businesslike lad. He swam briskly up one morning and delivered us a calculating sock with his tail. But we didn’t capsize, and, disappointed, he went off on another errand.

We seemed to be failures at living off what one might call the fat of the sea. Then one day some small flying fish flopped aboard. We ate them raw, and no French chef could have improved them.

Shortly after that a tern appeared out of the nowhere and hovered like a bird of ill omen over the steersman. We eyed him with evil design. Somebody made a lunge at him and missed. So we waited. We laid for him. Somebody else tried again, also missed, and, as it had stopped raining, took off his clothes to wring them out. “Pretend you’ve lost interest,” he said. “Pretend like you don’t want to catch him!”

Finally he had the nerve to come aboard. For which he had his neck wrung. Oh, golly, what a triumph!

“Tern stew!” we said. “Our first hot meal! He deserves to be cooked!” So out of an empty provision tin we made a stove. With some bits of planking and some lifeline floats, and much puffing and blowing, we made a little fire. And the delectable results came to all of two tablespoons of soup apiece, together with a couple mouthfuls of the carcass, which we ate with relish - bones and all.

And we now felt hungrier than ever.

So what we lacked in the bill of fare we made up in talk. We had already exchanged the stories of our various and sundry lives. Our weakened condition had sapped whatever interest we had had in women, and we mentioned them only in a general way. The one all-inspiring topic was food, food, and more food. Day in and day out we listed our favorite dishes. Hour by hour we exchanged recipes. “My wife,” somebody’d begin, “makes a wonderful kidney stew. She does this and so - “and we would all listen in rapt attention until someone would break in with, “Aw, that’s a helluva way to make kidney stew! My wife -”and they were off. Feeling ran high and beautiful friendships were sometimes severely strained.

As a kind of muffled accompaniment to these dream menus was the griping of the grumblers. There were three of them, and they sat aft and hunted for things to grouch about. We were off our course. Our tactics were all wrong. And there was no need for such short rations. We could dole out more if we wanted to, and when we got in they were going to report us.

So our stock didn’t go up when we reduced the daily food allowance. At the end of three weeks - it was then about the 20th of December - we figured that the days we had been becalmed had put us behind schedule, so we doled out only one cracker each, a spoonful of pemmican, a square of chocolate, and a few malted milk tablets, and said that was to be the daily quota.

“But a man can’t keep alive on that!” muttered one of the grumblers.

“Eke it out with the barnacles,” said another fellow, which, although said in fun, was an idea. We immediately sampled the ones sprouting on our bilge and found them succulent. But not filling.

It began to seem as if the greater part of our lives had been past in that little boat. The monotony, the confinement, the endless waste of gray sea. God!

And then on January 4th the water changed to gray-green.

“Shallower water,” the Captain said. “Land approaching.”

Nobody whooped. Nobody hollered.

It was as if we didn’t quite believe it. It was as if all the vitality had ebbed away from us, and it had ceased to matter.

That night the boat suddenly quit rocking. “Hey,” I said to the steersman, “how come?”

“B’gosh.” he said, “I think there’s land ahead.” And, sure enough, there, about half a mile off, lay a long black streak.

We lay off until dawn, and then stood in to explore. There was no sign of human life. Nothing but mud, mosquitoes, and mangrove trees. So we clawed off a miserable lee shore into the teeth of a fresh breeze. And the boat wouldn't sail close enough to the breeze without help. We had to man the oars, and, believe me, we knew then how weak we were. Every hundred strokes we’d swap places with a fresh man before we keeled over.

Finally we put her clear and sailed up the coast to the northwest. At dawn the next day we stood in toward the roof and spires of a town. This was it! The voyage was done! Says you. Half a mile from shore what did we do but go aground. And, weak as we were, we didn’t dare try to wade in for fear we’d fall down and not be able to get up. So we sat and waited. We waited for somebody to come out or for the tide to come in. We could see people on the shore, and we thought the very oddity of our craft would cause somebody to investigate. But for four hours nobody came.

Then a little fishing boat appeared from the seaward and pulled alongside. The fisherman spoke only French, and we didn’t. But we learned that we were at Cayenne, French Guiana, and they took the skipper and the Gunnery Officer ashore. I waited with the others a bit until the tide rose, and then steered her in.

So then we struggled about half a mile to Civil Service Headquarters, and struggled is the word for it. The land was bouncing up and down, and our legs felt like spaghetti.

I still remember that bowl of bully beef, and the noodles cooked in tomato juice. And I still feel that a real bed, a dry bed, is a luxury.

We came home by plane hops - back in New York the last of January - and heard that the other outfits from our ship had been picked up. Poor guys, no adventures of any account for the grandchildren.

The French Guiana Group - The nine survivors that reached Cayenne aboard Lifeboat #3. Front row, left to right: George Nelson, Messman; James Brooks, Fireman; Edwin E. Greenlaw, Master; Seabury Cook, 2nd Mate. Back row, left to right: William Suprey, Fireman; Unknown - probable Navy Armed Guard; Unknown - probable Navy Armed Guard; John Casey, Radio Operator; Harold Reagle, Oiler. Identifications based on other photos and physical characteristics. Note French Hospital Cayenne (HC) pajamas and the number of men without shoes. Due to gaunt appearance of the men, beards and visible injuries/bandages, it is assumed this photo was taken fairly soon after their arrival. It was actually included in Seabury Cook's article: 'The Voyage of the Wing Ding', with the caption: "The exhausted crew of the 'Wing Ding,' photographed after a good meal and a few hours of rest in the hospital at Cayenne, French Guiana.". I located and purchased this image from the Penobscot Marine Museum, Catalog No. LB2008.3.148

Although Cook did not make mention of it in his article, later newspaper accounts mention that the good people of Cayenne assumed the wretched survivors were escapees from the notorious Devil's Island penal colony off the coast.

Greenlaw and Cook left ahead of the main group and traveled from Cayenne to Paramaribo to Trinidad and finally New York. As mentioned previously they flew on American Export Airlines. They took Flight No. W-102, Plane NC-41882 (aka ‘Exeter’), a 4-engined Sikorsky VS-44 flying boat from Trinidad on January 20th, 1943 and arrived in New York on January 21st.

The flight crew consisted of:

      • Captain - Emery Jameson Martin

      • First Officer - Jay Edwin Douglas

      • Second Officer - Berkeley Brandt Jr.

      • Third Officer – William Hudson Fish

      • Fourth Officer – James Edward Leonard

      • Engineering Officer – Ralph Vernerd Carlson

      • Asst. Engineering Officer – George Stanley Sinski

      • Radio Officer – Noll Joseph Melancon

      • Asst. Radio Officer – Robert Edward Lee Norrid

      • Purser – Wesley Perrin

      • Stewardess – Margaret Ermina Siegfried

Edwin E. Greenlaw

Edwin Earle Greenlaw was born September 1st, 1901 in Rockport, Maine.

The famous Maine Maritime Academy wouldn’t open for another 40 years, and so Greenlaw was a ‘old salt’, like so many other great Maine mariners, starting as a deckhand and learning to be a seaman and eventually an officer from years of on the job training.

According to his obituary, Greenlaw came from a sailing family, not a surprise perhaps, being from Rockport. His father, James Edwin Greenlaw was a fishing boat captain. His uncles were sailors as well, Winthrop and Albion Greenlaw. The later was the captain of a schooner and was possibly lost at sea in December of 1900.

When asked why he became a sailor, Captain Greenlaw said, “My love of the sea started in my youth when I learned to sail in Rockport on ‘friendship sloops’.

In his late teens he began to work as a deckhand on the tug George F. McCaffrey owned by Owen McCaffrey’s Sons Towing and Transportation, then as Master of a barge owned James F. McGuire Transportation. By the time he was twenty he was a Bosun on the small coastal steamer Ripogenus. According to a letter from the Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME to a Mr. John E. McLeod dated January 31st, 1969;

The RIPOGENUS hailed from Belfast, Maine; built at Rockland, Maine, 1919 by Francis Cobb Shipbuilding Co.; tonnage 2369/1379; length, 269.0; breadth, 42.1; depth, 25.8. Owners Great Northern Paper Co., Millinocket, Maine, 1919-32. This vessel was a twin screw and schooner rigged originally. However, masts were never set though she was planned as a schooner she never sailed as such. A Captain Sanders (or Saunders) was her Captain for many years. I am sorry we do not seem to be able to find his first name. [Note: Greenlaw’s records confirm the Captains name was Charles H. Saunders].She collided with the SS EVANSVILLE, November 8, 1932, off Cape Henry, Virginia. There was no loss of life.

Many Searsport men started their sea-going careers on the “RIP”, as she was affectionately called…

It would be Saunders that would write a letter of recommendation for Greenlaw that would pave the way for his Second Mate and First Mate Licenses.

Master Mariner Edwin Earle Greenlaw. As he is not wearing an American-Hawaiian officers cap, it is assumed this was taken in the late 1950's. I located and purchased this image from the Penobscot Marine Museum, Catalog No. LB2008.3.147

Great Northern Paper Company wooden hulled steamer SS Ripogenus circa 1920's. The name Ripogenus was probably derived from the Abenaki Indian word for small rocks or gravel. Courtesy of the Fogler Library Special Collections Department, University of Maine, Great Northern Paper Company Records, Box 13, Folder 1.

There was another letter to McLeod from DownEast Magazine dated January 28, 1969, which stated;

RIPOGENUS, documented number 218623, was a steam screw vessel built at Rockland, Maine in 1919. She grossed 2278 tons, net tonnage 1312. She was registered at 267 feet with a breadth of 42.1 feet and a depth of 25.8 (This means depth of hold, not draft). She was engaged in freight service, carried a crew of 30, and in 1920 her home port was listed as Belfast [Maine]. She was rated at 1400 horsepower.

In 1932, she was listed as still owned by the Great Northern Paper Company, when she became a casualty following collision off Cape Henry, Virginia on November 8, 1932.

This letter also included a note from ‘COMPANY REDCORDS: Coal and Sulphur Book’, which read;

Ripogenus put in service in 1919. Captains pay was $300/month. Crew 36 men averaged $107/month. Last full year of operation was 1926, 33 trips, 82,388 gross tons. She made 4 trips ending in February, in 1927. Early in 1927 B.L.S. made a study showing cost of freight on coal hauled by Rip. $1.94 ton, contract carriers or outside charters $.94. This is probably when she went out of GN service [illegible] probably chartered to somebody else, although there is no record.

Greenlaw married Miss Hazel Jackson in March of 1924, who had polio. They had their first child, Dorothy in 1925. Greenlaw appears to have left the Ripogenus in 1927 as Second Mate.

There is a gap in his career info until he appears to join American-Hawaiian Steamship Company at the beginning of 1930 as Second Mate of the Georgian. The following decade shows him working his way up the ranks on Mexican, Iowan, Missourian, Honolulan (on which he served under Murvin Shigley with Larz Neilson) until his first command, as Master of the Arizonan in mid-1941.

Photo of E.E. Greenlaw carrying a large bucket from the bow of the SS Honolulan towards the deckhouse while at sea in 1941. The caption read: "E.E. Greenlaw trotting his stuff." This was on a voyage to the Persian Gulf just prior to our entry in the war. You can see the large neutrality flag painted on the hatch cover. Photo courtesy of Larz Neilson.

Soon after war was declared, Greenlaw became the Master of the Alaskan in Baltimore in January of 1942. They set sail for the Persian Gulf sometime after January 14th, were in Cape Town, South Africa by February 15th, and Suez, Eqypt by March 10th. Their return leg brought them through Trinidad on May 29th, and finally to New York on June 8th, 1942. Of course by this time all hell was breaking loose in the Caribbean and up the East Coast. Of the 39 crew on that voyage, only six stayed; Manning, Brizius, Casey, Trahan, Flathmann and Pyle in addition to Greenlaw.

After the next and final voyage of the Alaskan, Greenlaw spent some time recuperating after his return in January. As mentioned previously he and Seabury Cook returned to New York on January 21st. Since they were lost so much longer than the other survivors, it was assumed they did not survive. On January 6th, the day after they actually reached land but before the good news could be relayed, his wife Hazel was sent the dreaded telegram from the Coast Guard stating he was missing, presumed lost.

Just two days later, on January 8th, likely while they were still in French Guiana, another telegram was sent letting Hazel know he was still alive.

In May of 1943 he returned to sea as Master of the Columbian on a voyage to Casablanca, Morocco.

This was followed by several voyages as Master of the Pennsylvanian (Bamforth’s old ship) with Rodman Dickie as one of his Mates, culminating with their approach to Normandy beach with 5 other ships in August of 1944. The ship ahead hit a mine. Pennsylvanian was scuttled to reinforce the breakwater protecting the Mulberry artificial harbors.

There was also one voyage as Master of Bernard’s old Hawaiian to England from October to December 1943 during this time.

His twin sons, Edwin Jr. (nicknamed ‘Bing’ for Hazels’ favorite singer Bing Crosby) and Eugene (Nicknamed ‘Biff’ for biffing or fighting his way into the world) were born in May of 1944.

From 1944 on he would spend the rest of the war in the Pacific, as Master of the Hurricane. Post war he stayed in the Pacific and served as Master of a series of A-H vessels such as Marine Falcon, Mount Whitney, and Floridian (Arkansan’s sister).

On February 18th, 1946 while in Seattle, WA as Master of Marine Falcon, Greenlaw was finally recognized for his actions on the Alaskan and in the lifeboat. He was presented the Merchant Marine Meritorious Service Medal by G.H. Wagner, Assistant Pacific Coast Director of the War Shipping Administration. The Citation read:

While en route from South Africa to Dutch Guiana, his ship, SS ALASKAN, was struck by two torpedoes [sic] in the early morning darkness, and immediately commenced to sink. The general alarm having been sounded, all hands abandoned ship, the Master being the last person to leave on the only remaining raft. He was soon ordered aboard the submarine for questioning, and finally instructed to return to the raft, which contained eight shipmates. After spending all day and the following night aboard the leaking raft a capsized lifeboat was righted, repaired, and rigged with an improvised sail. Without compass, sextant, or charts, Captain Greenlaw then set his course due west and after thirty-nine days reached a South American port. His unfaltering courage and leadership were mainly responsible for saving the lives of his shipmates and will be a lasting inspiration to all seamen of the United States Merchant Marine.

At the beginning of the Korean War Greenlaw switched back to the Mount Whitney, then American (a C4-S-A4 replacement of the vessel lost during the war), and finally Texan (also a C4-S-A4 replacement of the vessel lost during the war) making several voyages between west coast ports, Japan and Korea.

He finished out his 25 year American-Hawaiian career on the Texan (C4-S-A4) at the end of 1955 when the company imploded.

In November of 1955 he began a new career as Port Captain of New York City Harbor. The family moved to Brooklyn, and for the first time they were a complete family. By all accounts though, it was not a happy time. While his children enjoyed having him around, they missed Searsport and their camp on Swan Lake, and Greenlaw missed being a sea Captain.

Merchant Marine Meritorious Service Medal courtesy of

By 1961 the family had moved back to their old house in Searsport, and Greenlaw was sailing once again. It would prove to be a fateful decision.

His first voyage was from Baltimore up the Atlantic coast into the St. Lawrence to ‘Sept Isles’ Quebec. This was aboard the newly converted 730 foot long Great Lakes ore carrier Leon Falk Jr. (formerly the T-2 tanker Winter Hill) of the Skar-Ore Steamship Company. They sailed under a bare-boat charter to the National Steel Corporation.

Great Lakes Ore Carrier Leon Falk, Jr. Photo courtesy of Greg Hayden, who was a Wiper on the vessel when the picture was taken in 1961.

He was able to take his twin sons with him and it is one of their best memories.

After the Leon Falk Jr. he transferred to a vessel called the Henry, which to date I have not been able to find much information on. He briefly went on a series of short voyages from November of 1961 to February of 1962, according to his records.

His final command was a vessel named the Niagara which he joined June 19th, 1962 shortly after the vessel was acquired by Sea Transport, Inc. of New York. Niagara had a long history. Completed by Kaiser Company of Portland, Oregon in August of 1945 as the T2-SE-A1 (T2) Tanker Halls of Montezuma, she was sold on to a series of foreign flagged companies after the war. During this time, in November of 1955 she was converted, including lengthening, to an ore/oil carrier before her final sale and renaming in 1962. For a more complete history see here and here. They had gone to Abadan, Iran to pick up a cargo of oil.

According to family historian Charlene Knox Farris; “While waiting for the cargo to be loaded, Captain Greenlaw went ashore and somehow contracted Hepatitis. It may have been in the water he drank or in the ice cream he ate. He was very sick and quarantined in the hospital for weeks.

Captain Edwin Earle Greenlaw succumbed to liver failure on March 10th, 1963 at the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) Hospital in Abadan, Iran at the age of 62.

His body was sealed in a casket and flown to New York on Swiss Air flight SA-800 on or about March 21st, 1963. The casket was temporarily misplaced in New York, but eventually found and shipped to Maine where his family and friends held a Masonic funeral and buried Greenlaw at Searsport’s Gordon Cemetery.

Between the National Maritime Center and I was able to put together this detailed information on his sailings:

Earl F. Manning

Earl F. Manning, U.S. Navy, circa 1927. Photo courtesy of Clifford Manning

Earl Francis Manning was born on February 3rd, 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri. Earl had five brothers and sisters (Donn born 1905, Baby born and lost in 1906, Archie born 1908, Melvin born 1912, and Virginia born 1918).

He appears to have had a tough childhood. His mother Lillian died of cancer in 1919, and by the 1920 census at the age of 9 he was living in an orphanage with his brother Archie. He was later raised by his Aunt Ethyl King (Mother’s side) and her husband Tom for a time along with Archie and Virginia. Another Aunt and Uncle took his other siblings. His father later died in 1926. Manning was still using his Aunt Ethyl as a primary contact on his papers as late as 1937.

Around the time his father passed away he appears to have run away from home and attempted, at the age of 14, to join the Navy, lying about his age. He was soon discovered and kicked out. The false birth information would dog him into the 1950’s, as the Maritime Administration attempted to verify his date of birth and service records on numerous occasions. In January of 1927 he rejoined the Navy at the age of 16, and stayed for a three year enlistment.

On January 22nd, 1930 just before turning 20 he signed on as an Able Bodied Seaman on American-Hawaiian’s Nevadan under Master J.A. Hazelwood. By April he had moved up to Quartermaster and at the end of October he obtained his Third Mates License, serving as Nevadan’s Jr. Third Mate from then to the end of June, 1931.

He left American-Hawaiian (A-H) for about a year, serving as the Mallory Line’s SS Comal’s Jr. Third Mate, but returned to A-H in April of 1933 as Oregonian’s Third Mate. He would serve on a series on A-H as well as subsidiary Oceanic & Oriental Navigation Co. and Williams Steamship Corp. vessels over the next six years. He continued to advance, earning his 2nd Mate's License in 1934, Chief Mate’s License in 1936, and finally his Master’s License in 1939.

There is a gap in his work history from the time he earned his Master’s License to the time he first joined Alaskan as a Second Mate in January of 1942. It was during this time he met and married his wife Isabel and his son Michael (1939) and daughter Judith (1941) were born, so he may have taken a shore position . He was promoted to Chief Mate just prior to Alaskan’s final voyage.

As noted in his records, after the Alaskan sinking he arrived in Miami, FL on Christmas Eve 1942 via plane from Belem, Brazil, which matches the other survivor accounts. On January 25th, 1943 he requested a replacement Master’s license, and by June he was unfortunately assigned to the Cape San Juan. He served on her under Master Strong for the first short intercoastal voyage, then her first round trip to the Pacific theater (where he got into a bit of a dust-up with some MP's one night in Noumea), and of course on her next voyage when the Cape was sunk.

He finished out the war on the A-H vessels James B. McPherson (Liberty), Pampero (C2) and Philip Kearny (Liberty). Neither his Merchant Mariner records nor crew lists on provide any evidence that he ever became the Master of his own vessel. Philip Kearny is a possibility, but to complicate matters there is a sizable gap in his records from mid-1944 to 1947.

In October of 1947 Manning became the Traffic manager for the Port of Long Beach, CA. In 1950, during the 8th anniversary of Alaskan’s loss, Manning visited Captain Greenlaw aboard the freighter Mount Whitney while he was in port. The event was recorded in the local papers.

Earl F. Manning on the Nevadan circa 1930. Photo courtesy of Clifford Manning.

As noted, Earl and Isabel Manning on the Indianan in Alameda, CA in 1939 with Isabel's brother, John Berkin Hanley who sailed with Pacific Far East Lines. Photo courtesy of Clifford Manning.

Manning held the Traffic Manager post until March 1st, 1959, when he accepted a position with the Ralph M Parsons Engineering Co. According to a newspaper article at the time, he joined Parsons Engineering to work on a port rebuilding project in Karachi, Pakistan.

It is unclear whether the project or his participation in it ever materialized as there are some vague references in his Merchant Mariner records that he served on vessels named Commodore and Colonel during this time frame (which I can find no details on, i.e.; shipping line, specifications, etc.). There was also an application for a Port Mobilization Planning Assistant for the US Maritime Administration.(Note: American-Hawaiian would have failed during this period also).

He renewed his Master’s License in 1959, and again in 1964. At that point he served as Third Mate and occasionally Second Mate for a series of companies such as American President Lines, Matson, Sea-Land Service, Pacific Far East Lines and Manhattan Tanker’s Corp. He is the second such veteran that I’ve found, the first being Washingtonian's Colman Raphael, that despite extensive experience and heroism, finished out his career as a junior officer rather than a Master.

Here is a list of his sailings:

Earl F. Manning, circa 1960

He was known to have sailed through the end of 1975. His wife Isabel passed away in 1976.

Earl Manning died in August of 1978 in Mill Valley, California, at the age of 68.

His records provided a few personal characteristics; his complexion was light, he was 5ft - 7in tall, eyes were blue, hair brown, and he had tattoos on both forearms.

His son Michael passed away in 1995 and his daughter Judith in 2006. He is survived by his grandchildren, who I hope find the site one day and reach out, as well as a number of nieces and nephews and their families.

It was his nephew Clifford, son of Melvin, which made contact with me through and shared the image of the survivors and photos I noted.

Seabury Cook

See my dedicated page on Seabury Cook here.

U-172 and Carl Emmermann

Carl Emmermann was the 13th most successful U-boat Commander of the war in terms of tonnage sunk, all of which occurred on the U-172. As such, he and the U-Boat are fairly well documented in a number of sources so I will try not to duplicate everything here.

His sinking of the British troop ship Orcades, at 23,456 Gross Tons, on this same patrol, was the 3rd largest Merchant ship sunk during the war. At the other end of the spectrum was the tiny 35 ton Colombian sailing vessel the Resolute. Despite its size, Resolute would become one of Emmermann’s most controversial sinkings, which I’ll detail later.

About 8 hours after they left the scene of the Alaskan sinking U-172 received an incoming radio message which let them know Emmermann and another commander had been awarded their Knights’ Cross. It stated;

To U-172 and U-67 [Günther Müller-Stöckheim] awarding the Knights' Cross of the Iron Cross to the Kommandants. Sent to you in grateful acknowledgment of your great successes. To you and your brave crews I send my warmest congratulations, Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine [German Naval High Command].

Warm congratulations, further salute and victory, Befehlshaber [Karl Dönitz].”

That evening Emmermann sent a radio message to headquarters confirming their sinking of the Alaskan;

Sank today: naval square ER 9427 American "ALASKAN", 315°, 15 knots, from Cape Town via Trinidad for New York. General cargo, automobiles.

Kapitänleutnant Carl Emmermann later in the war with his Knights Cross with Oak Leaves. Photo courtesy of

Emmermann (Center) cutting a cake that was baked for him onboard U-172 in celebration for being awarded his Knights Cross. On the left is his Chief Engineer (L.I.) Lothar Dick and on the right is his 21-year-old Second watch Officer (IIWO) Hermann Hoffmann, each sitting on a bunk on opposite sides on the narrow center aisle. Note reflection in mirror in background.

Emmermann had two torpedoes left, which were loaded in the stern tubes, V and VI, and he was determined to not return home with them.

Early the next morning while they were traveling on the surface they spotted a steamer bearing 105°T and crash dived for a submerged attack. Fortunately, they were in the wrong position for a stern attack, and the American C2 type sped away to the south.

Emmermann refused to give up, and surfaced an hour later to try and maneuver ahead at the limit of their visibility. The C2 was zig-zagging at 17 knots, making 15.8 knots of overall progress. U-172’s highest diesel engine speed supplemented with the electric motor was 16.2 knots at the time. Using this scant 0.4 knot speed advantage Emmermann tried to reel in the C2 for over 8 hours.

At that point they spotted smoke from a different steamer heading northeast which offered a higher chance of success. Two hours and forty-five minutes later as they closed in the second steamer spotted them, set lights, turned toward them and stopped. The vessel they had left the C2 for turned out to be the neutral Spanish vessel Apolo bound from Bahia for Teneriffe with tobacco and foodstuffs, which they had to let go.

On December 2nd they had another false alarm which turned out to be the neutral Swiss steamer Eiger. More time and fuel wasted.

Over the next several days U-172 would meet up with U-174 (Thilo), U-126 (Bauer), U-159 (Witte), U-161 (Achilles) and the milkcow U-462 (Vowe), the latter providing seven days of provisions, 55 cubic meters (14,529.5 gallons) of fuel oil and 1 cubic meter (264.2 gallons) of lubricating oil for their trip home.

Soon thereafter they had a couple more false alarms, the neutral Swedish steamers Argentina and Kaaparen.

On the afternoon of December 11th he located a westbound convoy at grid ER 2422 (9°33.00 N, 32°57.00 W), and his wardiary provides a riveting account of the action. He fired his last two torpedoes into the convoy during a submerged attacked from over 2,000 meters (1 ¼ miles) during failing light and weather. Despite hearing explosions after 3 minutes and breaking up sounds, he apparently did not hit anything.

U-172 endured a depth charge attack by a destroyer escorting the convoy, but managed to evade, and they continued their voyage home. The depth charge attack tore the port exhaust piping, putting the port diesel out of service, and they eventually limped into their base in L’Orient, occupied France on December 27th, 1942 on their starboard diesel.

They had been at sea for an impressive 131 days (nearly 4 ½ months), traveled some 20,100 nautical miles (97% of it surfaced) and were credited with 8 vessels totaling 60,048 tons of allied shipping.

Upon their return IWO Scholz left the U-172 for Commander Training which he completed the following month, and then went on to take part in the build process for what was to be his new command, the new Type VIIC U-283. Scholz never made it on another war patrol.

According to Peter Euteneuer whose father was Obersteuermann [or Chief Quartermaster / Navigation Officer on U-boats] Emil Euteneuer on U-283;

Just prior to Wolfgang Kindler’s death [post war], he described in a letter, written to Horst Bredow [Uboot Archiv], the circumstances that led to the suicide committed by Oberleutnant zur See Hans-Günther Scholz[sic]. I’ve translated the pertinent part of the letter:

After the completion of the dock yard period at the Schichau/Königsberg (Kalinigrad) ship yard, the proving sea trials followed at which members of the yard personnel were on board. As normal practice had it, the glasses were raised for a toast to celebrate the successful proving trials. At that stage, Lt.z.S Egon Pachel [IIWO] was in command of the boat which included the docking maneuver. The berth of the boat was at an outrigger of the pier. At this position another U-boat [U-28 - Sachse], lying across the shipping channel, was carrying out stationary trials. Getting around it presented no problems. My friend Egon, wanting to make sure of a safe berthing, behaved most probably a little bit too cautious so that the Commander [Scholz] took over the command with “I have control”. On the bridge, of course, were also the shipyard staff and he was going to show them how it was to be done.

Heinz-Günther Scholz circa 1937. Courtesy of

To be able to reach the berth, the boat had to travel backwards and whilst doing so, U-283 hit the other boat, as it turned out later, only minor damage had occurred.

In the evening we all sat together in the mess room onboard “Der Deutsche” [former passenger liner converted into a floating barracks] with a glass of red wine. A calm, rational conversation took place. On the following morning [August 15th, 1943], a Sunday, an 8 o’clock muster call had been set. The ships compliment was present apart from the Commandant. The cabin door was locked which was then opened by the ships-carpenter who found the Commander who had hanged himself. A note on the table read, “I’m not willing to continue a botched up career, please do not let my parents know what I did”. It was his second collision, a few weeks prior, a minor one. Oblt Scholz came from the Luftwaffe. He was a reserved, stiff, person, little humour. Stood for a respectful, soldierly behavior. He came from well-off parents who lived at Lake Constance [Bavaria on the Swiss and Austrian border].

I had the thankless task to attend the medical jurisprudence. Regarding the funeral there is nothing that I can remember about it. At this point, the boat would not have been anymore at Königsberg. As replacement, a young, happy Lt.z.S Ney [his IWO] took over command. In the six months as LI [Chief Engineer] under instruction on this boat, I got along very well with everyone; with the Commander it was a bit more difficult, as he felt that I was not military enough. However, I am still surprised, looking at the good reference I received on leaving the boat. I mourn the comrades of this boat

Note: When the survivor's of U-172 were interrogated, they stated Scholz had died in a motor (automobile) accident.

Scholz’s First watch Officer (IWO) Günter Ney, at just 21-years-old at the time took over command of U-283 and became one of youngest U-Boat commanders of the war. Ney completed U-283’s preparation and they departed February 1st, 1944 on their first war patrol. Ney and his entire crew were lost ten days later when on February 11th, 1944 they were spotted and depth charged by a Canadian Wellington aircraft (RCAF Sqdn. 407/D) south-west of the Faeroe's, in position 60.45N, 12.50W.

Emmermann stayed in command of U-172 for two more patrols. During this time Hermann Hoffmann was promoted to IWO to replace Scholz and Klaus Hackländer joined the boat as IIWO.

Despite sinking 5 vessels totaling 28,467 tons on the next patrol and 4 vessels totaling 22,946 tons, the U-172 had some pretty close calls. The tide had definitely turned by the spring and summer of 1943 when these patrols occurred.

According to;

His fifth patrol with U-172 was dramatic, in that the boat brought back half the crew of U-604 which had been so heavily damaged during two air attacks that she had to be scuttled.

After that patrol Emmermann became the commander of the 6th Flotilla in St. Nazaire, France in November of 1943.

In August 1944 Emmermann became the chief of the "Erprobungsgruppe Typ XXIII" [Testing Group for the new Type XXIII U-boat]. There in late 1944 he wrote the battle instructions for the new Elektro Boat Type XXIII.

In March 1945 he was commander of U-3037 (Type XXI) for one month, and in the last month of the war he commanded the 31st Flotilla in Hamburg. Along with some other U-boat men he took part in infantry duty around Hamburg as Commander of "Marine-Battalion Emmermann".

Emmermann was captured on or around May 8th, 1945 and was a British POW until September 2nd, 1945.

Little is known of his post war experience other than he studied engineering and eventually became a successful businessman.

Carl Emmermann passed away in Celle in Lower Saxony, Germany on March 25th, 1990 at the age of 75.

After Emmermann left U-172, IWO Hoffmann was promoted to commander making him one of the youngest commanders also at only 22-years-old. He took U-172 out on its next and final patrol on November 1st, 1943 and they were sunk 22 days later on December 13th, 1943. They went down swinging after a fierce 27 hour running battle with the USS Bogue hunter-killer group described in detail by historian Marc-André Haldimann here. 13 of his crew were killed in the exchange, but Hoffmann and 45 of his crew survived to become POW’s. Hoffman was released May 8th, 1946. As of this writing, Hoffmann is believed to still be alive. You can view gun camera images and details of U-172's final hours here.

As alluded to earlier, one of Emmermann’s most controversial attacks was against the Columbian sailboat Resolute, while on his second patrol which took place in the Caribbean.

The Resolute story is sometimes quoted as an example of Nazi atrocities at sea. As the story goes:

U-172(KL Carl Emmermann)

24 June 1942

Colombian Sailing Vessel "Resolute"(35grt)

13'15N, 80'30W (Near Saint Andrews and Old Providence)

The vessel was sunk by machine-gun fire from the submarine, and survivors from the "Resolute" claimed that were being machine-gunned while they were in the sea. Six of the 10 crew were lost.

Hermann Hoffmann circa 1939. Photo courtesy of

According to Emmermann’s war diary:


16.00 hours: EB 8226 [13°3.00 N, 80°33.00 W]

17.10 hours: 2-masted schooner in sight bearing 110°T, turned toward, small freight sailing vessel without flag and neutrality markings. Sets a flag after the first 2-cm shots, not distinguishable. Transmits on the 600-meter wave consequently fired again. Drew near. Nothing seen of the crew. Size about 50 GRT. Two non-whites swim in the water. Flag faded, possibly Ecuador or Venezuela.

18.16 hours: EB 8234 [13°3.00 N, 80°27.00 W] Threw hand grenades near the hull, sailing vessel sinks immediately. 6-8 men swim out which had been under the deck, all non-white. Continued transit on course 170°.

It should also be noted that sea state was 5, which is pretty rough (8 to 13ft seas). Looking at the allied versions, if you were a member of the Resolute’s crew and/or an ally pre-disposed to think that that German’s routinely murdered survivors, it seems pretty open and shut.

When you look at the big picture, however, and Emmermann’s conduct throughout the war, both pre and post Laconia Incident, then it’s very clear that this doesn’t fit Emmermann’s pattern.

A more plausible explanation is to take Emmermann’s diary entry at face value and that while U-172 was patrolling the area they spotted the small sailboat and investigated. The sailboat was not displaying a flag (violation) or any neutrality markings (flag or country painted on hull), both of which would have raised suspicions among the Germans.

Unable to determine if she was neutral or enemy the Germans fired a burst of 20mm automatic canon fire, likely across Resolute’s bow to get her to stop so they could question her.

These small sailing vessels, while not seeming to be a threat or worth the trouble, were an important tool in inter-island commerce in the Caribbean. Some were even armed or used as pickets to warn of U-boat activity. The German’s wouldn’t typically waste a torpedo on them, but would sink them typically with gunfire if presented the opportunity. Tonnage is tonnage, and every little bit helped.

After the first canon fire the small vessel raised a flag, which according to the Germans was too faded to identify (not to mention the weather). Then the Resolute made a huge mistake and started transmitting on their radio, which had the potential to notify any allied warships in the area they were under attack. This was viewed as resistance and led to more machine-canon fire, likely into the vessel itself to stop the transmission.

The U-172 approached and saw two men in the water, which they described as ‘non-whites’ Allied documentation shows that all the people on board were Afro-caribbean.

They circled for a while and probably discussed their next moves. The seas were heavy enough to prevent the use of the main 105mm deck gun, and it would take a while to sink the vessel chipping away with the 20mm. A trained merchant crew would know that this was their opportunity to safely abandon ship. Unfortunately, unknown to the Germans the Resolute was carrying a handful of passengers, including women and at least one child. The passengers, likely terrified and untrained on the proper procedures stayed hiding below decks. The German’s, deep in allied territory and likely wanting to save their 20mm anti-aircraft ammunition decide to try the rather unorthodox method of throwing some hand grenades at Resolute to see if that would punch some holes in her and speed up the sinking.

It worked, but as the vessel sank they saw six or eight more men swim out from below decks. The survivors eventually made landfall in a canoe that had probably been towed behind them.

The allied account fails to mention that a vessel this small wouldn’t have had a ‘crew’ of 10 or more. Tragic? Absolutely. Murder? I don't believe so.

As mentioned previously, this incident also didn’t fit Emmermann’s pattern of behavior, either pre or post Laconia Incident.

The Laconia Incident was a key event in the Battle of the Atlantic. I won’t go into all the details (you can get more information here and here) but will summarize:

On September 13th, 1942 the U-156 (Hartenstein) spotted a large British troop ship, the RMS Laconia off the coast of Africa, and fired two torpedoes, sinking the vessel. To Hartenstein’s horror, when he surfaced he discovered the Laconia was carrying Italian Prisoners of war. He immediately began assisting the survivors getting them to lifeboats and took as many as he could into his U-Boat and on its deck. Knowing he could not save them all himself he took the unprecedented step of radioing in the clear his position and promised any allied vessel that assisted would not be attacked.

The other Group Eisbär U-Boats in the vicinity responded including the U-172. U-172 traveled about 220 miles in 13 hours before they were told to abort and continue south.

Several Vichy French warships from Dakar proceeded to the area. The allies, however, feared a trap and merchant vessels stayed clear. The Americans sent a patrol bomber from Ascension Island to check things out, and that was eventually ordered to attack the U-Boat. U-156 was forced to cut the lifeboats it was towing loose and submerged with its decks crowded with survivors, leading to several more casualties. U-156 survived the attack and resumed the rescue.

When German High Command heard that the rescue effort was bombed they were furious.

The result was a directive that would become known as the Laconia Order, which was transmitted to the U-boats at sea on September 17th and again on September 20th. It was also added to the operational orders of U-boats going out on patrol. Translated, it stated:

      1. All efforts to save survivors of sunken ships, such as the fishing out of swimming men and putting them on board lifeboats, the righting of overturned lifeboats, or the handing over of food and water, must stop. Rescue contradicts the most basic demands of the war: the destruction of hostile ships and their crews.

      2. The orders concerning the bringing-in of skippers and chief engineers stay in effect.

      3. Survivors are to be saved only if their statements are important for the boat.

      4. Stay firm. Remember that the enemy has no regard for women and children when bombing German cities!

The ambiguous wording of the Order was pointed to post war by the allies as evidence that the German U-boat Commanders were under explicit orders to kill survivors. But did they? Let’s take a look at Emmermann’s record both pre and post Laconia Order;

Pre-Laconia Order

1. 05/27/42 – Athelknight, British Motor Tanker

Of the crew of 52, 9 were reportedly lost during the attack. Of the 43 survivors, the Master and 24 men were picked up by a vessel after 28 days. The Second Mate and 17 men St. Bartholomew Island, Leeward Islands on 23 June, after sailing 26 days in a lifeboat for about 1200 miles. No Mention of assistance, but obviously no harm to the survivors either.

2. 06/03/42 - City of Alma, American Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 39, 29 were reportedly lost during the attack, blamed on the speed with which the single torpedo had sunk the vessel, only 1-3 minutes. The remaining 10 survived on a lifeboat that had floated free and were picked up 4 days later. No Mention of assistance or harm.

3. 06/05/42 – Delfina, American Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 31, 4 were reportedly lost during the attack. 2 were killed in the explosion and two drowned. The vessel sank in 20 minutes. Of the 27 survivors, 12 were picked up about 16 hours later and the Master and 14 men reached land in 4 days. The U-172 was seen to surface nearby, but the Germans already identified the ship from her radio message and left without questioning or helping (or harming) the survivors.

4. 06/08/42 – Sicilien, American Motor Merchant

Of the crew of 75, 44 were reportedly lost during the attack, blamed on the speed with which the single torpedo had sunk the vessel, only 9 minutes. The 31 survivors jumped overboard, swam to rafts and were questioned by the Germans. They made landfall after few hours at Barahona, Dominican Republic.

5. 06/14/42 – Lebore, American Steam Merchant

The higher than usual complement of 94 was comprised of Lebore’s own crew of 45 plus 49 survivors they had picked up from the Crijnssen. One man who did not leave the ship drowned when she sank. The 93 survivors had either reached land or been picked up by allied vessels. No Mention of assistance or harm.

6. 06/15/42- Bennestvet, Norwegian Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 25, 12 were reportedly lost during the attack, blamed on the speed with which the single torpedo had sunk the vessel, less than 1 minute after it broke in two. The U-boat came up and asked the 13 survivors the usual questions (what ship, destination etc.) and whether they were in need of food, then handed them two loaves of bread. The commander wanted to shake hands with them, but this was refused. Upon asking what their position was, they were told they were about 120 nautical miles from nearest land.

7. 06/18/42 – Motorex, British Motor Tanker

Of the crew of 21, 1 was killed by shellfire during the attack. The 20 surviving crew abandoned ship after the first round struck the bridge and were questioned by the Germans. No Mention of assistance or harm.

8. 06/23/42 – Resolute, Columbian Sailing Transport

Of the crew and passengers of 10, 6 were killed in the attack by either gunfire or drowning as discussed above. 4 eventually made it to land. Note that this is also pre-Laconia Order.

9. 07/09/42 - Santa Rita, American Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 63, 3 were killed during the attack and 1 drowned during abandon ship. The master was questioned by Emmermann and then taken on board as prisoner of war. 32 of the survivors were picked up 2 days later and brought to Trinidad, the remaining 27 survivors were found 16 days after the attack and landed at Puerto Rico.

In summary, of the nine attacks which occurred pre-Laconia Order, 110 of 410 passengers and crew were lost, representing a 27% casualty rate. Other than the Resolute allegations (representing 5% of the casualties), there is no hint of any other impropriety. Most of the casualties are easily attributed to the speed with which the vessel sank. There is no suggestion that any of the survivors were harmed after abandoning ship.

Post-Laconia Order

10. 10/07/42 - Chickasaw City, American Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 49, 10 were killed during the attack, blamed on the speed with which the single torpedo had sunk the vessel, only 3 minutes. Emmermann questioned the 39 survivors about the ships name, port sailed from and destination and cargo carried before leaving. They were picked up 38 hours later. No Mention of assistance or harm.

11. 10/07/42 - Firethorn, Panamanian Motor Merchant

Of the crew of 61, 12 were killed during the attack, blamed on the speed with which the two torpedoes had sunk the vessel, less than 2 minutes. The U-172 surfaced after the ship sank and questioned the 49 survivors before leaving the area. No Mention of assistance or harm.

12. 10/08/42 – Pantelis, Greek Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 33, 28 were killed during the attack, blamed on the speed with which the single torpedo had sunk the vessel, less than 2 minutes plus a boiler explosion.The master and 4 crew members were picked up two days later and taken to Cape Town. No Mention of assistance or harm.

13. 10/10/42 – Orcades, British Troop Transport

Of the crew and passengers of 1067, miraculously only 45 perished. Shortly afterwards an aircraft attacked the U-172 at periscope depth, causing no damage but forcing it to leave the area submerged without questioning the survivors. The 1022 survivors were picked up within hours.

14. 10/31/42 - Aldington Court, British Motor Merchant

Of the crew of 44, 33 were killed, but it is unclear whether most of these died due to the speed of the sinking (several men reportedly had to jump when the ship capsized and sank) or were never found after abandoning ship. Chief Mate John O’Hagan was taken aboard and questioned by U-172, but released back to a lifeboat and was never found. No Mention of assistance or harm.

15. 11/02/42 - Llandilo, British Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 44, 24 were killed, but again it is unclear whether most of these died in the attack or were never found after abandoning ship. U-172 gave assistance to 19 survivors of Llandilo, taking them on board while their lifeboat was checked over and bailed out (Report by Apprentice Whitty (Llandilo) TNA: ADM199/2143).

16. 11/23/42 - Benlomond, British Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 54, 53 perished during the attack, blamed on the speed with which the two torpedoes had sunk the vessel, less than 2 minutes. The Germans questioned a group of about a dozen survivors on a raft before leaving the area. These men reportedly included no officers and were never seen again. Most of the crew was made up of Chinese. The lone survivor, Poon Lim survived 133 days on his own before being rescued by a Brazilian fishing vessel. No Mention of assistance or harm.

17. 11/28/42 – Alaskan, American Steam Merchant

As detailed on this page, of the crew of 58, 8 perished, 1 in the initial attack, 6 while awaiting rescue and 1 once reaching land. Master Greenlaw was taken aboard and questioned by U-172, before being released unharmed.

18. 03/04/43 - City of Pretoria, British Steam Merchant

Of the crew and passengers of 145, all 145 perished as she was carrying explosives and the vessel instantly evaporated after several heavy explosions. Most of the large crew was made up of Bengali/Lascar coal tenders. No assistance by U-172 was possible. According to the KTB:

06h59 triple shot tube I,III,IV: 3 G7e, depths 4m, vg=16, l left bow 104, dispersion 130m, E=1000m

1st hit after 1 min 40 sec=1550m under the stern, short explosion light, then 2nd hit after 1 min 50 sec = 1700m, probably front side of the bridge. Steamer explodes at the same moment. During minutes white thin flame 500m high, enormous blast wave which can be felt at this distance even in the bow rooms. Small and smallest fragments are flying for several thousand meters. Steamer has disappeared, no survivors. I am waiting for sunrise in order to find out the name.

08h00 CD3239 Among wreckage debris name of the ship owner: "Ellerman Ltd." Probably it was "City of Manchester" 8900 Brt.

19. 03/06/43 – Thorstrand, Norwegian Motor Merchant

Of the crew of 47, 4 were killed in the attack. Of the 43, the U-172 came up and Chief Mate Solbak was taken on board for questioning, but after having been told the captain had gone down with his ship the U-boat commander let him go and the U-boat took off. The survivors later reached land safely.

20. 03/13/43 – Keystone, American Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 72, 2 were killed in the attack. The 70 survivors were picked up seven hours later unharmed. They made a point of mentioning U-172 waited until ship was abandoned before finishing the attack.

21. 03/16/43 - Benjamin Harrison, American Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 72, 3 casualties were blamed on the confusion and the poorly executed evacuation. The 69 survivors were picked up and reached safety. No assistance was possible by U-172 as the vessel was part of a convoy. The vessel was not at immediate risk of sinking and had to be finished off by an allied escort.

22. 03/29/43 – Moanda, Belgian Motor Merchant

Of the crew of 56, 29 perished during the attack, blamed on the speed with which the two torpedoes had sunk the vessel, and the fire that broke out. The 27 survivors were picked up and reached safety. No assistance was possible by U-172 as the vessel was part of a convoy.

23. 06/28/43- Vernon City, British Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 52, all survived and were picked up by a Brazilian vessel. No mention of assistance or harm.

24. 07/12/43 - African Star, American Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 87, 1 armed guard was blown overboard and drowned during the attack. The U-172 surfaced about 1000 yards from the ship and took a few men on board. After questioning the men, the Germans gave directions to the nearest land and returned them to the boats. The 86 survivors were picked up 37 hours later.

25. 07/15/43 – Harmonic, British Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 47, 1 fireman was killed on watch below. The U-172 surfaced afterwards, ordered the lifeboat to come alongside and took the second officer aboard for questioning who told the Germans that master had been lost. Their offer to treat a survivor with a head wound was declined. They apologized to him for sinking the vessel and wished the 46 survivors good luck after returning the officer to the boat. The survivors made a point of mentioning the Germans waited for them to abandon ship before they finished Harmonic off. Besides the offer of medical assistance, The Germans gave them course to land.

26. 07/24/12 - Fort Chilcotin, British Steam Merchant

Of the crew of 57, 4 were killed in the attack. The 53 survivors were alarmed when U-172 surfaced nearby and began firing their machine guns. This was communicated by the Fort Chilcotin’s bosun, Edward Dyer, who was taken on board the submarine for questioning. Emmermann reportedly responded in rather hurt tones that he ‘did not do that sort of thing’ at the suggestion that he might be about to machine gun survivors. Emmermann explained that his crew had merely been clearing their guns to ensure their readiness in case U-172 was attacked by Allied aircraft. U-172’s anti-aircraft armament had been upgraded since the Alaskan attack and the weapons were stuffed with grease to protect them while submerged. It was common practice to fire the weapons to clear the grease and make them operational upon surfacing. The 53 survivors were picked up 5 days later unharmed.

In summary, of the seventeen attacks which occurred post-Laconia Order, 402 of 2,045 passengers and crew were lost, representing a 20% casualty rate (a decline). If you eliminate Orcades and the City of Pretoria the rate increases to 25%, but it's still a decline over the pre-Laconia attacks. Most of the casualties are easily attributed to the speed with which the vessel sank or the cargo. There is no evidence or even a suggestion that any of the survivors were harmed after abandoning ship other than Alaskan, which I’ve previously explained.

It would have been interesting to hear what Emmermann’s or Hoffmann’s take on these events were but neither man were known to have written about their experiences. There were two books written by crewmen who served on U-172, but neither were translated to English or offer any more specific about the Alaskan attack. These were:

1. Herbert Plottke's book; 'Fächer Loos! U 172 Im Einsatz' (Torpedoes Away! U-172 on war patrol) Published in 1994 by Podzun-Pallas, ISBN: 3790905100 / 3-7909-0510-0. Plottke was a 23-year-old Bootsmaat (Coxswain) who had previously served on U-135, and served on U-172 from August of 1942 for patrols 3, 4, 5 & 6 until the time of her loss. Plottke survived the attack and passed away in 2002.

Plottke also wrote some articles about U-172 in ‘Der Landser’ magazine:

'U 172: der Kampfweg eines erfolgreichen Unterseebootes', Volume 700 of Der Landser, 1969 and 'Ein U-Boot-Drama: die letzten Feindfahrten von

U 172', Volume 704 of Der Landser, 1969.

2. Heinz Trompelt’s (and Aldo Patriarca’s) book; 'Eine andere Sicht: Tatsachenbericht eines Torpedo-Obermech. Maat und Fähnrich z. S. Gefahren auf U-459 und U-172' (A different View: Factual report of a Torpedo-Machinist's Mate 2nd class and Ensign Dangers on U-459 and U-172) Published in 2006 by BoD – Books on Demand, ISBN 3833444819, 9783833444814.

Trompelt joined the U-172 part way into their third patrol due to an accident. U-172’s Mechanikermaat Fleischmann, in charge of the bow torpedo room on this and the preceding patrol, was accidentally shot in the knee by Oberbootsmannsmaat Schmidt who was cleaning a machine gun which he “didn’t know” was loaded. Fleischmann was put aboard U-459 when U-172 was supplied by her, and Obermechanikermaat Trompelt was put aboard U-172 by the supply boat in his place.

Trompelt also served on U-172 until the time of her loss and survived the attack. It is not known how old Trompelt was or if he is still alive or not.

Sources for biographical information on Greenlaw, Manning and Cook and crew lists for Alaskan.

Anderson Family - Larry, Cindy for information on their father, Navy Armed Guard D.L. Anderson and providing a copy of his stories.

Bennett, Harry - for information on Laconia Order and Llandilo survivor reference.

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

Clark, Joel D. Sr. - for information on Navy Armed Guard George Inman Waters.

Cundall, Peter for information on Henry under E.E. Greenlaw's bio. - for Navy Composite Squadron VC-69's records detailing the loss of Seabury Cook's son, Robert Seabury Cook. for help with initial German to English KTB & Torpedo Report translations.

Hayden, Greg - For information on the Leon Falk in Greenlaw's Bio Section.

Helmintoller Family - Mac, Carol and Dan for providing Mac's newspaper story and answering what questions they could.

Knox Farris, Charlene - for biographical information on Greenlaw.

Library of Contemporary History in Stuttgart, Germany for U-172/Alaskan Torpedo Reports.

Mason, Jerry and Charla for U-172 KTB, BdU KTB's, technical/glossary information from their site, and assistance with translations.

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

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:

Penobscot Marine Museum for photos of Greenlaw and French Guiana survivors as well as biographical information on Greenlaw.

Navy League of the United States for allowing me to reprint Seabury Cook's article from the January 1944 edition of Seapower Magazine.

U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center, 100 Forbes Drive, Martinsburg, WV 25404 for Merchant Marine career information on Edwin E. Greenlaw, Earl F. Manning and Seabury Cook.

U.S. Merchant Marine Organization ( for information on Edwin E. Greenlaw and Seabury Cook. for information on Carl Emmermann, Heinz-Günther Scholz, Hermann Hoffmann, U-172, their victims, and for information on other U-boats. site and forum for information on U-172 and her crew. Unfortunately, in January 2013, the site's creator and editor, Howard Cock, decided to indefinitely suspend the website for personal reasons, so I have disabled the hyperlink.

University of Maine, Raymond H. Fogler Library Special Collections Department for information on the SS Ripogenus

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