Dougie Davidson was an able seaman on the Empire Mica, a tanker carrying oil from Baytown Texas up the east coast of the USA. They were supposed to travel only by day and lay up overnight in the nearest port. However at Port St Joe, Florida they were advised that the port was not deep enough for them – and so they continued their journey overnight.
Unfortunately U-67 was waiting for them. This U-Boat was on its most successful patrol, sinking eight ships off the American coast:
It was a beautiful clear night with a full moon when at 1am on the 29th June 1942, I went to the wheel-house to relieve Harry Hale from Falmouth, who was my watch-mate and it was half a minute later that there was a terrific explosion as we were torpedoed and the ship immediately caught fire, Harry Hale must have been walking along the catwalk and looking forward to his break when the torpedo struck and he was killed.
The whole of the after part of the ship was ablaze and the fire was beginning to creep towards the port side of the midship housing when, under the direction of the second mate, Mr P Sydney we were able to alert some of the engineers who escaped from their cabins, for a few minutes chaos reigned and then we attempted to release the starboard bridge life-boat, but the straps holding the boat to the boom were jammed and Mr McGilraith tried to cut them free only to have the boat lurch and throw the first mate into the sea, where he drowned.
The boat was lowered but now the forward falls jammed, so using all my strength I managed to pull the hook which held the falls clean out of the thwart, allowing the boat to be lowered on an even keel, although to this day I do not know where I got the strength from. We picked up survivors from the bridge boat deck and then pulled the boat forwards by the painter and took on board the three radio officers and two deckhands who were injured.
For the gallantry and leadership he displayed in rescuing the engineers from their cabins and organising the launching of the life-boat, Mr Sydney, the second mate was awarded the M.B.E. In all this chaos we later found that the chartroom table had been smashed and had broken Captain Bensons nose.
The boat was rowed towards the stern of the ship, but although we could see our shipmates struggling the fire was so intense that we were unable to rescue them although one man “Lofty” Norton had climbed to the highest point on the stern and from there had dived over the flames to be taken aboard the boat.
The time was now approximately 3am and we decided to pull for the shore and at daybreak a motor yacht owned and steered by a Mr Heisler found us and towed us into the small port of Appalachicola where the inhabitants could not have been kinder to us, kitting us out and taking us into their homes.
Sadly thirty-three of our shipmates were lost and of the fourteen survivors, seven had broken limbs, six were walking wounded and the only one who did not get a scratch was me.
After spending a glorious week in Appalachicola we were packed into police cars and taken to Jacksonville and from there by train to New York where the south side of the city was bursting at the seams with allied seamen from ships which had been sunk, many of whom were waiting to crew ships then being built in the United States.
Read more of this story by Dougie Davidson MBE,MN on BBC People’s War. Gordon Steel has much more on Empire Mica, including some images of the crew and current images of the dive site. For more on this U-Boat patrol see U-Boat Net.