Troopship Rohna sunk – over 1000 US troops lost

The Heinkel 177. The German long range bomber was under development for most of the war because of a demanding technical specification, including the capacity to dive bomb. By the time the issues had been resolved Germany was unable to build them in numbers.
The Heinkel 177. The German long range bomber was under development for most of the war because of a demanding technical specification, including the capacity to dive bomb. By the time the issues had been resolved Germany was unable to build them in numbers.

The worst troopship disaster to befall the U.S. happened on the 26th November 1943 when German planes made a concerted attack on a military convoy in the Mediterranean. A force of 30 He-177 planes, the much delayed German long range bomber, released 60 glider bombs at the ships but only succeeded in making one strike [see comments below about the attack].

The single missile caused fatal damage to the Rohna but most of the casualties probably happened subsequently. Over 2,000 US troops were on board and 1,015 would be lost together with 123 crew from the Rohna. There was difficulty launching the lifeboats, and there were issues with the life belt in use at the time which did not include an automatic light. The subsequent rescue of men in the water took place as night was falling.

Herman Pruskin was on board the Egra, another troopship in the convoy:

I then saw a formation of German planes 30-50 in the distance. Our British gunners were already firing in their direction, the tracer bullets still falling short of the formation. I then started to drag cartridge cases of 50 caliber machine gun ammunition from a shed which was about 30-50 yards from my gunners.

A group of planes peeled off and attacked the British corvette. At one point I thought I saw smoke with every gun blazing at the planes. At that point the planes dispersed and started to attack our convoy, some to the front and some at mid-ship. My gunner shot one plane down, still in the distance. Two more planes got closer to us and our guns got a second one.

As the third plane approached, we hit him and I noted another ( I thought) plane go straight over my ship. It actually was a radio controlled glider bomb the Germans were testing for the first time. I heard a tremendous explosion and turned to see the Rohna with a 6o foot or so hole in her side.

Aubrey H. Williams was on the Rohna, where they had been ordered below decks when the air attack started

It was pretty crowded and there was quite a bit of milling around. Some were trying to look out the porthole to see what was happening above us. When the bomb hit, a lot of us were knocked off our feet — dust and all sorts of debris and other hard objects were falling from above. Men who had been hit by falling objects were yelling and calling for help. T/Sgt Haedel was struck on the head by a piece of chain or steel cable, inflicting a bad wound on the side by his ear. He was bleeding badly. S/Sgt. Jokel and I tried to stem the bleeding but with little success. He was groaning, and I could tell he was in pain.

The order came to abandon ship. There was a rush to the stairs and Sgt. Jokel and I, kneeling over the injured Sgt. Haedel, were bowled over. The ship was dead in the water and starting to list to starboard. Smoke was coming into the troop deck. When the rush to get top side subsided, we grabbed a couple of guys and got Sgt. Haedel on his feet and up the stairs and on deck. We sat him down on deck leaning against a cabin or something and we went to look for a medic.

Men were trying to get some rafts and lifeboats into the water without much success, and others were getting ready to go overboard. I saw two soldiers in full battle gear, rifles, bayonets, etc. I told them to shed all their gear and take off their helmets, jacket, and shoes before jumping overboard. One of them started to do this, but the other man went over the side with all his equipment on. I didn’t see him hit the water, but he must have gone down like a rock.

Officers and NCO’s were shouting to shed all gear, shoes and jackets and go off on the high side of the ship, but a lot of them were going over on the low side. The sea was pouring through a large hole on the side of the ship and the current was sucking them through this hole and back into the ship. Some men had lost or misplaced their life belts. I saw on young soldier approach a Captain and I heard him tell the officer he had lost his life belt and asking him what he should do. The Captain gave the man his life belt. I never saw either of them again.

The vessel seemed to be settling and going down by the stern. I thought I had better get Sgts. Haedel and Jokel and leave the ship. I couldn’t find Sgt. Jokel, and Sgt. Haedel wasn’t where we had left him. There weren’t many people on deck so I went to the starboard side, found a line hanging over the side, grabbed it and slid down. I had taken off my shoes and jacket earlier. The swells were lapping against the side of the ship and I tried to time my fall to meet a swell when it reached it’s apex, but my timing was off, and I must have dropped thirty feet before I hit water.

I was a fairly good swimmer, so I got away from the stricken vessel as quickly as possible. There were men in the water all around me, and also what appeared to be bodies of some who had already drowned. Some men nearby were trying to get to a raft, but there were too many around it, so I stayed off.

As I swam away, someone called to me to try dog paddle, saying I would make better progress. And you know, it worked! By this time the swells were bouncing me around pretty good, but I was still making headway towards a ship I could see in the distance. The men around me had also seen it and some were swimming towards it, but others looked like they were exhausted and just waiting to drown. I started shouting for them to swim to the ship. We could now just about see it in the fading daylight. I think mostly I was shouting to keep up my spirits, but I like to think I was trying to get some of the more fainthearted ones to keep going. I could hear some praying and another man was actually crying. Ahead of me, two men appeared to be trying to get a life belt off a drowned soldier. Don’t know who they were.

What with the swells pushing me around, and doing the same to the others nearby, it wasn’t long before we were becoming separated. The calls for help were faint and shouts for assistance were becoming fainter as the distances widened. My attention was focused on that ship I was trying to get to, and as the darkness became deeper, I was beginning to wonder if I would make it before she moved away.

The full version these accounts, and several more, can be found at the Rohna Survivors Memorial Association. Some of the most recently released documents relating to the sinking can be found at Merchant Navy Officers

The troopship Rohna, sunk on the 26th November 1943 in the Mediterranean by German radio guided glider bombs.
The troopship Rohna, sunk on the 26th November 1943 in the Mediterranean by German radio guided glider bombs.

25 thoughts on “Troopship Rohna sunk – over 1000 US troops lost”

  1. There is a list of 1,015 soldiers who were casualties on the web page:

    Many of the names that are listed in the comments below are listed in this database. There should be a name on the memorial wall of the missing at North Africa American Cemetery for all of them.

    You can research that at American Battle Monuments Commission database here:

    Hope this helps someone to find closure.

  2. My Cousin Emzie Waddell was a 19 year old poor boy from the cotton fields of Southern Mo and was drafted into WW2. His assignment took him aboard the Rhona to reach his final destination.He never made that final destination. The Nazi’s sunk the Rhona from the air and Emzie’s body was lost at sea. His mother had a complete mental breakdown and passed away and his dad became an alcoholic .His dad was walking in the middle of the road on a dark night after drinking heavily when he was struck by a car and killed instantly. PVT Emzie Waddell Dunklin County , Mo.

  3. It is good to see more coverage on the sinking of HMT Rohna. For those who are looking for more information regarding this event or to see if their relative was on this ship, I encourage you to go to The Rohna Survivors Memorial Association’s website at: There is a list of casualties and survivors as well as much more information.
    Deborah Sanchez, The Rohna Survivors Memorial Association (TRSMA) Vice President

  4. My dad, Forrest H DIEHL survived the sinking of the Rohna. He was on the operating table for suspected appendicitis when the missile hit the Rohna. He never spoke of it as it was kept secret for 50 years I think. In 1989 my parents were living in Wales near me and my family. Dad and I were watching the 6 pm news when the details of the Marchioness disaster came on. Dad kept to his feet and turned off the TV. The awful memories were too much 46 years later. So very moving to read the comments on this site. So cruel that the veil of secrecy meant so many families were told their loved one was MIA as I understand it. Thank you for the site, Carol

  5. My brother was on the Rohna and was lost at sea. I looked everywhere for any information I could find. I could find none because of the government. I contacted the Rohna Survivors Association and found about the memorial that is placed in Fort Mitchell National Cemetery in Seale, Alabama. I visited the memorial and I’d a very nice setting. After doing more digging I found there is the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in Carthage, Tunisia. In the cemetery there is a memorial wall called the Wall of the Missing. On this wall are the names of US Military personal
    who were missing in the area and never recovered. I wrote the American Batle Monuments Commission in Arlington, VA. I requested a picture of the cemetery and a picture of my brothers name if it was listed on the Wall. I received both. Hope this helps anybody that is looking for any information about a lost relative.

  6. My 88-year old father-in-law often talks about his brother Cpl. Cyril Markey, who also perished on the Rhona, and longs for any information on his brother. We have little to go on and Just ordered the book entitled, “RHONA MEMORIES: Eyewitness to Tragedy” in our attempt to learn more … Cyril’s name is listed as a casualty (33496911, CE). We would be so grateful for any information anyone could share about Cyril. Thanks so much!!

    Karen Markey

  7. My Uncle Joseph Pisinski was on this ship. His body was never recovered, nor was he on the roster of deceased servicemen on that ship. We know he was there from a message sent to his mother from the Rohana. If anyone is aware of joe please let me know. He cannot be remembered by either VFW or American legion at graveside services,as they do not do those without the presence of a body in the grave. To me that is a disgrace to mankkind

  8. I don’t know if Janet Gearon, who commented on this post back in January 2015, is reading this but if so I hope she will get in touch. Janet, your father I think was in charge of the 12-strong DEMS gunners on the Ronha, of which ten were lost, including a cousin of mine, Douglas Rogers, who was a nineteen year old Lewis gunner. I am trying to assemble info on the ten. The easiest way to contact me is through the Rohna Survivors Memorial site (TRSMA). Janice, its’ secretary, has my email, and will I’m sure forward a message.
    Stephen Paterson

  9. I believe my Uncle John F Hansen was aboard the HMT Rohna. The time place and secrecy fits the stories my Uncle Joe and Father told. Is there any place to locate the KIA list of troops on the Rohna?

  10. does anyone know anything about the us troops aboard rohna? where are they coming from, where going to, why are they aboard a uk transport. i believe that admiral king took pride in u s navy not losing any convoyed (by u s) troops. how do us troops bound for 14th af in the cbi (re bob clark above) wind up on a uk transport in the mediteranian ?

  11. My dad was Arlin Dale McKinnon. They called him “Mac.” He was a Staff Sergeant and part of the Signal Corps. He was playing poker on the top deck when the Germans began an attack. My dad knew this was a secret mission; his commanding officer told him to lead his men overboard, thus, “Mac” was one of the first to go overboard. He was in the water 24 hours and was the last man rescued. He saw men go into the water in full gear and they drowned almost immediately under the weight. Some men could not swim and they drowned. My dad reminisced (with my mom) that the seas were rough, waves were high, and he was being carried further and further out to sea clinging to a piece of wood. Luckily, he was a strong swimmer, not injured, and determined to survive. He could see the rescue planes but as the waves/current was carrying him further and further out to sea, he thought he wouldn’t be found. He was in the water 24 hours (his estimation) before being one of the last men rescued. One of the things that always bothered him were the men trapped below the sinking ship. He was always claustrophobic after this just thinking of the men below decks. He never spoke of this; I learned all this information from my mom.

  12. My father was Staff Sgt. Fred Pratt a who survived the Sinking of HMT ROHNA
    He and others were told to never speak of this battle. He observed a missile like weapon launched from a German plane. My dad was fortunate to catch a rope line and was pulled aboard the USS Pioneer. The other survivors who rescued my were Joe Dickerson, Manny Dianna, and George Leigel.They all served together in the CBI campaign under General Joe Stillwell.

  13. I’m a WWII author and researcher. We have been reading X-files of the buried unknowns in the Tunis American WWII Cemetery. We have a number of these that are probably HMS Rohna missing in action, as they were found offshore or on the beaches in the area. One is particularly interesting and has a chance at identification. He was wearing three articles of clothing with the laundry Mark R-4606. This is unusual because most veterans had been through combat and wore clothing originally not theirs and with varying laundry marks. This man was likely very new. We know where he is buried in Tunis but have not found his name and ASN in the list of casualties.

  14. Thank you for the information and eyewitness accounts. My uncle, Joseph T. Conroy, perished on the Rohna at 20 years old. His body was never recovered, but there is a memorial in his honor which includes his brothers who also served during WWII, in Hackettstown, NJ. There are bricks memorializing them under a statue with a poem written by my cousin Gerard Geiger, “Ode to a Jerseyman.”.

  15. Hi, I’ve recently found out that my Uncle William M Fairhurst was aboard the Rohna. He was a US Army Private from Pennsylvania and was listed as Missing in Action on 11/27/1943. While I never met him, my mom remembers him fondly. I know it’s a long shot but I f anyone has any information or heard any stories about him, I’d be very interested to hear them.

    Thanks, Jennifer

  16. Just read Veronica Woods story regarding her late father. My Grandfather was a gunner on board the Egra. Robert (bob) Watts, Maritime Regiment R.A. He served from 1941 to 1945, Egra was his fifth ship. I never got to know him he was killed in a building accident 1948. I have put together his movements, with the help of snippets like this story from Veronica. I too have two brass shell cases, do not know what ship they belong to.

    Many Thanks Jim Brown

  17. My Uncle Lawrence Lucasavicius was on this ship. We are just learning the story, and are saddened to know we never got to meet survivors. Our information was that Larry went down on a troop ship and all were lost. MY grandparents, mother and her siblings lived in denial till they passed away. Only one of his sisters is still living. From the date my grandmother received notification of his death in 1943 until 1958 she walked everyday to the Gardner, MA train station to meet Larry.

  18. My uncle George Sortwell was one of those who perished aboard the Rhona. He was a member of the 322nd Fighter Control Squadron, bound for Kunming China to be in the 14th A.F.
    He was a RADAR operator.

  19. hello,
    Is there anywhere a master list / manifest of those who perished in the sinking? That would include US troops and Red Cross personnel.
    Many thanks!


  20. My late father was the gunnery officer on ss EGRA ( I think HMT during the war ) which was steaming alongside Rhona when she was struck by a German glider bomb . He never once mentioned this battle to his family until towards the end of his life , when there was a television programme about the sinking of the Rhona and he talked a bit about it , although we could see how the memory upset him . I know that he manned the guns on Egra , and I wonder if the gunner mentioned by Herman Prushkin was him , it would be so very interesting to find out . Dad mentioned the issues with the life belts , and said that they had been fitted incorrectly and that many of the unfortunate troops in the water had turned upside down and had drowned . He mentioned that the fleet had orders not to stop for survivors and had to steam on . It seems there was a rescue attempt at night though , I presume by a Royal Naval vessel . I would love to know if anyone has any more information . My son has a shell case from the battle from the decks of the Egra , which his grandfather had engraved with his ship’s name , the battle and the date 26 November 1943. We were unaware of it’s significance for years .
    By the way, dad contradicted the assertion on the TV programme that the Rohna was a ‘ rust bucket ‘ and not fit for purpose , he told us that Rhona was no beauty , but seaworthy .
    My dad , Eric Wood , died in 2008 , aged 97 .
    We are so lucky to have had him for so long .

  21. Thanks for the great site!

    Some minor corrections regarding attack on Rohna. It is not correct that 30 aircraft launched 60 missiles at Rohna. In fact, 21 He 177 aircraft departed on the mission but seven were shot down before launching missiles. Only 14 aircraft launched a maximum of 28 missiles. Not all were aimed at Rohna. Other known targets include: 3 at HMS Colombo, 5 at HMS Atherstone, 1 at HMT Banfora, 3 at USS Pioneer and 2 at USS Herbert C. Jones. Only one missile was known to be targeted at HMT Rohna and it hit.

  22. I have just been reading the information about SS Rohna. My father was [I believe] the gunner mentioned who was killed on that day. He was Ernest Keegan [known as Pat]. He was in the Royal Navy and was a Gunner.

    My mother was always of the belief that the Italians had blown up the ship but it was not until the 1960’s that the truth was really known.

    Is there anyone who was on board or who has any actual knowledge of the sinking who would have known my father or had anything at all to do with him.

    Many thanks.

    Janet Gearon.

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