As the Battle of the Atlantic reached its peak in the early months of 1943 there were to be numerous sinkings of Allied ships on the way to Europe, like the Dorchester. When the U-boats came together as a wolfpack their impact on a single convoy could be devastating. The thirteen U-boats in Wolfpack Pfeil – Arrow – operated between 1st and 9th February .
The slow convoy SC-118 had left New York on the 24th January. German radio intercepts knew that there was a convoy en route and organised their U-boats accordingly – they were strung out in a long line intersecting the probable route. In that way a large sea area was covered. It took just one sighting by one U-boat for all the other boats in the wolfpack to be brought in for a concentrated attack.
Convoy SC-118 was first spotted on the 4th February when attacks began. By the 7th February the U-boats had converged on the Convoy which had just eight escort ships.
Now the Escort ships faced a terrible dilemma, did they hunt down the U-boats or did they pick up survivors. The seas were freezing and hypothermia set in within minutes.
at 2.48 the Robert E. Hopkins,
at 2.50 the Toward, the convoy rescue ship,
at 3.15 the Harmala
at 3.40 the Afrika
at 6.00 the Kalliopi.
William F. Deyak was on the USS Henry R. Mallory:
I went to bed that night with all my clothes on to protect me from hypothermia if anything happened. I think this saved my life later. When the torpedo hit us there was a tremendous explosion which blew me out of my bunk. I headed up to the hatch but I couldn’t get the hatch to open. I started banging on it with a dogging wrench. There was something on top of it keeping it from opening. Pretty soon somebody opened it from on top and we got out.
I headed for my post to get the life rafts free. There was nothing to cut the lines with to free the life rafts, we had to untie them by hand. I would say most everybody was pretty levelheaded and calm during this time.
There were two army soldiers who didn’t want to get on a raft, I tried to tell them the ship was sinking, but they still didn’t want to go.
Finally I picked one of them up and threw him in the water. The second guy still didn’t want to go, so I told him I would throw him in too if he didn’t go on his own. Finally he did go on a raft.
When we got all the life rafts off that I was responsible for I got on a raft with C. C. Pacifico (he is listed with the survivors picked up by the USCGC Ingham) and about 10 or 12 other guys. I don’t remember all their names. I would say I was one of the last to leave the ship.
Our raft did not capsize like some of the rafts did, but it was rough and we were constantly battered and splashed by the waves. The Deck log from the USCGC Ingham says the winds were 6 knots, dry bulb temperature was 47 degrees and water temperature was 50 degrees. At least half of us had hypothermia by the time we were rescued by the Ingham.
The Ingham’s deck log also says the Ingham rescued survivors from 12:10 p.m. until about 3:45 p.m. I was told that I was among the last rescued so we were in the raft about 8 to 10 hours. I was suffering from severe hypothermia by the time I was rescued and I still have a lot of stiffness in my legs today from this. I was in the infirmary on the Ingham for several days and was in the hospital in Rejkavic, Iceland for a while also.
Read many more stories about the men who served on the USS Henry R. Mallory at Freepages which has many personal stories about the survivors and memories of those who were lost.
Rescue was a horrible business for those on the rescuing ships, a seaman on the USS Bibb was to remember:
I never saw anything like it, wood all over the place and bodies in life jackets … never saw so many dead fellows in my whole life. Saw lots of mail bags, boxes, wood, wood splinters, empty life jackets, oars, upturned boats, empty life rafts, bodies, parts of bodies, clothes, cork, and a million other things that ships have in them. I hope I never see another drowned man as long as I live.
Read more about the US Coast Guard Cutters, at USCG.MIL