The forgotten torpedo of Curacao

It’s a well known picture: a soldier on the beach of Aruba, guarding a stranded torpedo fired by the German submarine U-156. In the background the crippled Laketanker SS. Pedernales being towed away. The caption says:

(NY13-Feb.24) TORPEDOED TANKER AND UNEXPLODED MISSILE—A Dutch marine stands guard near an unexploded torpedo on the beach at Aruba, Dutch West Indies, Feb 16, while tugs tow back to port a British tanker which was struck by another torpedo during a submarine raid on shipping in the area. The beached torpedo later exploded while being dismantled, killing four marines and injuring three other persons. (AP Wirephoto)(js b31850cor)1942.

This torpedo was fired by U-156, under the command of kapitänleutnant Werner Hartenstein on the night of February 16, 1942 during a coordinated attack by 5 U-boats, known as Operation Neuland. The torpedo missed it’s target (the Esso tanker Arkansas) and subsequently ran up the beach. See also: Pedernales the Phoenix of Aruba

During the research for his book “De Antillen in de Tweede Wereldoorlog” (“The Antilles in the Second World War”), the author Jos Rozenburg discovered some very interesting pictures in the National Archives of Curaçao, a report from the Military commander of Curaçao and  info in the warlog of U-67 that shed new light on this picture and reveals, besides the beached torpedo of Eagle beach Aruba, the existence of a second German torpedo stranded on the reef of Curaçao.

Curacao-Aruba

(left: G7e-torpedo U-67 on reef Curaçao, source: AP/www.Lago-colony.com, right: G7e-torpedo U-156 on Eagle Beach Aruba, source: Life Magazine/www.Lago-colony.com)

The pictures:

When taking a closer look at the AP picture, several items raise suspicion. Should this picture be taken on Eagle beach (as the caption says), the photographer is facing westward. The location where the previously torpedoed and crippled Pedernales was run aground to prevent it from sinking (Palm Beach) is North of Eagle Beach (in other words to the right in the picture). Therefore vessel in the background should have been towed in the opposite direction.

There is also another picture of the torpedo on Eagle Beach published in Life Magazine, March 2, 1942. In this picture the torpedo is situated on the beach and in the background the Eagle Pier is visible. The beach in this picture is pristine white. In the AP picture there’s no sandy white beach but a beach with a reef like texture.

The pictures found in the National Archives of Curaçao of the beached torpedo, as well as the crippled tanker being towed in the background, show unmistakenly similarities with the AP picture. According to the National Archives these picture where taken on the reef in Curaçao on February 16, 1942.

Torpedo (1)   Torpedo (2)   Torpedo (3)

(left & middle, February 16, 1942 G7e-torpedo on reef in Curaçao, right, SS. Rafaela being towed to the Anna bay by tugboat Parmo: source National Archives Curaçao)

Torpedo on Curacao:

Up till now there had only been sketchy bits of unconfirmed information that after the Neuland attacks a German torpedo had also been found on the shores of Curaçao. Confirmation for this has recently been found in the warlog (also known as KTB, Kriegs Tage Buch) and the firing reports (Schussmeldungen) of U-67, operating near Curaçao. In the early morning hours of February 16, 1942 the U-67, commanded by kapitänleutnant Gunther Muller-Stockheim, fired in total five torpedoes at the tanker SS. Rafaela and reported four of them (G7 Electric propulsed torpedoes) as inexplicable misses. Only the fourth torpedo, a G7 Air propulsed topedo,  was a hit. Muller-Stockheim mentioned the possibility of the fifth torpedo (which was meant to be the coup de grace) having run up the beach near Willemstad. After the attack the damaged Rafaela was towed by the tug “Parmo” to the Anna Baai. Additionally, more confirmation has been found in a report of the Militairy Commander of Curaçao Captain Von Asbeck to the Governor Mr. Kasteel in which he mentions the demolition of a German torpedo on the beach of Curaçao on February 16.

KTB-U67   Schussmeldung-1    schussmelding-2

(left, KTB U-67, source: US National Archives,  middle & right Schussmeldung U-67 torpedo nr.5 source: Wurttembergische landesbibliothek Stuttgart)

The caption:

All this information confirms without doubt there was a beached torpedo on the shores of Curaçao. It has been staring us in the face since February 24, 1942 in an AP picture. The AP picture was not taken on Eagle Beach, Aruba but in Curaçao. The morale of the story: never trust a caption blindly.

More background information on (WW II) wrecks in Aruba can be found at http://willemsubmerged.wordpress.com/)

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Debbie II, true to her name

She’s the second ship having been deliberately sunk in Aruba to become an artificial reef and a dive object. Since 1991 her final resting place is in front of the High-rise hotels (Palm Beach) near the wreck of the Star Gerren. This is her history;

Coralshell:

The 207 tons oil tanker is launched on 15 June 1961 by shipbuilder J. Bolson & Son at Hamworthy (United Kingdom) and completed in July 1961. She measures 40 mtrs/120 ft in length and is named Coralshell. Her first owner is Shell Co. Of Bahamas Ltd. Nassau and she sails under British flag until 1972. In 1972 Coralshell is sold to Shell N.A. Willemstad (Dutch Antilles) and renamed Debbie II (call sign: PJSS) sailing under the flag of the Dutch Antilles. Debbie II is transporting oil and gasoline from Curacao to the nearby island of Bonaire two or three times a week.

Debbie, the granddaughter:

Bonaire had previously (since 1962) been supplied with oil and gasoline by the 100 tons tanker Debbie owned by Bonaire Shipping Company. This 24 mtrs/82 ft long tanker was built in Vlaardingen (The Netherlands) and originally owned by Shell Maracaibo. She was renamed “Debbie” after the granddaughter of the Shell trade representative on Bonaire mr. L.D. Gerharts. 

debbie

(Debbie, picture courtesy of Boi Antoin)

Increasing demands:

By 1981 it becomes clear that Debbie II can no longer meet the ever increasing need for fuel of Bonaire. The number of cars on the island rises and Bonaire is frequented by bigger airplanes. Any disruption in the fuel supply is felt immediately on the island and leaves Bonairean motorists without gasoline for several days. In November 1981 Debbie II is replaced by the 818 tons tanker Macvie.

Wind breaker:

After that it gets quiet around Debbie II until March 1983. Debbie II is the first ship to enter the newly built dry dock of the Company Aruba Shiplift NV at Barcadera Harbor in Aruba. She will be welded shut and is meant to serve as a water and wind breaker for the dock. Again it gets quiet around her until 1991.

True to her name:

DebbieII march 91 - 1 DebbieII march 91 - 2  Debbie II march 91 - 3

(March 1991, scuttling of Debbie II. Source: Amigoe 26 March 1991)

In March 1991 Debbie II reaches her final destination. The former oil tanker, which provided the Bonairean people with fuel for many years and shielded the Aruban shiplift against wind and swells, is to become an artificial reef and serve as a dive object. She is scuttled in front of the High-rise hotels (Palm Beach) in 21 mtrs/70 ft of water by the Aruba Ports Authority (APA) in coordination with local dive operator Pelican Divers and assisted by Peter Divers.

Debbie II is the second of three ships in Aruba that are scuttled for divers; preceded by Jane Sea (September 1988) and followed by Star Gerren (August 2000). She’s therewith staying true to her name: “Debbie II”.

More background information on other (WW II) wrecks in Aruba can be found at http://willemsubmerged.wordpress.com/)

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True story of es. Antilla (1939) and her crew

After having listened to the many stories that are being told about the Antilla and her crew, I decided to do some research on this vessel, initially through internet sources and later on through sources like the Dutch National Archive, the National Library and the Dutch Institute for Military History. I have tried to separate facts from fiction and found out about the real story.

Build and launch:

Es. (electroship) Antilla (international code signal DKBA) was built in 1939 by Deutsche Werft in the Finkenwarder area of Hamburg. She was launched on 21 March 1939 and her date of completion was 11 July 1939. The ship (121,4 mtrs/ 400ft, 4363 tons) was built for the German firm Hamburg Amerikanische Packetfahrt Actien Gesellschaft (HAPAG) and had two sisterships; es. Arauca (DKBG) and es. Orizaba (DKAK),  also built in 1939. The Antilla left Germany for her maidenvoyage  on 15 July 1939.

(note: according to LLoyd’s register 1939-1940 the Antilla was fitted with two steam turbines connected to an electricmotor built by the Allgemeine Elektricitats Gesellschaft Berlin (AEG), therefore she has the designation “es.”). 

 

 (Lloyd’s register  1939-1940)

Maiden voyage:

Shipping ads by HAPAG in the local newspaper Amigoe di Curacao show that the Antilla left Curacao on 9 August, 1939, heading for Colombia (Puerto Colombia as well as Cartagena) followed by ports in Panama, Costa Rica en Guatemala to offload cargo from Germany. On 25 August 1939, as the Antilla was in the port of Galveston (Texas) and had loaded sulpur destined for Europe, captain Schmidt received a radio message from the German authorities to all German merchant ships which added the code word “Essberger”. This code word was a signal for all merchantfleet captains to open a sealed envelope  with instructions. All German ships were ordered to leave the main shipping lanes. Shortly after this message the ships received a second message, also with the code word “Essberger”, which was a signal for the captains to alter their ships name and appearance, only communicate in code  and set course for Germany asap.  Captain Schmidt decided to set course for Cartagena (Colombia) to take in fuel. But before the Antilla reached Cartagena a new (coded) message was received on 28 August 1939 instructing all merchant ships that could not reach a German harbour within four days to seek refuge in neutral harbours.  On 1 September 1939 the Antilla refueled in Cartagena and left immediately for the neutral waters of Curacao. On his way to Curacao captain Schmidt was informed that the harbour of Curacao was packed with German ships forcing him to seek refuge in Aruban waters along with three other German cargoships (Consul Horn, Heidelberg and Troja). That same morning (1 September 1939) Germany had invaded Poland.

        
                                                     (Es. Antilla)                   ( Amigoe di Curacao 8 August 1939)

                                                                                   (source: www.kb.nl

In neutral waters:

Between 1 September 1939 and 29 February 1940 captain Schmidt made no attempt to break the blockade of French and British warships arguing that because of engine trouble that occured during her maidentrip, the Antilla could never outrun the fast British warships (note: the Antilla and her sisterships had a highly sophisticated and complex propulsionsystem, and both the Antilla and her sistership Arauca experienced technical failures ). On 9 January 1940, ten crewmembers of the Antilla signed up on the German cargovessel Consul Horn. That same evening the Consul Horn made a successful  escape from Aruba  to Germany. On 29 February 1940 Heidelberg and Troja made a fruitless attempt to break through the blockade (both ships were intercepted by British warships and scuttled by their own crew). According to a NY Times article of March 3 , 1940 the Antilla tried to escape together with Heidelberg and Troja but returned to her anchorage grounds at Malmok Bay as soon as she was confronted with an allied warship outside the three miles zone. (note: in the report of Dutch submarine O14 that was dispatched to monitor the ships movements, the Antilla is not mentioned. Allegedly the Antilla (again) attempted to escape on March 4 ). 

Germany invades Holland:

Since 12 April 1940 her crew had been confined to the ship by order of the local authorities because of the ever increasing  threat of war and on 10 May 1940 German forces invaded Holland. At that time the Antilla was anchored in front of Malmok Beach (Aruba).  As the German invasion was considered an act of war the Dutch government ordered all German merchant ships in the Dutch Antilles (being part of the Dutch Kingdom) to be confiscated and the German crews to be arrested.

                              
 
   (l. crewlist Antilla, r. list of the captain’s personal belongings which were left behind on the Antilla, signed by Schmidt, source: Dutch National Archive)
 

The boarding:

That morning, at 01.40 hrs a section of 22 marines and their commanding officer (a captain) left the barracks at Savaneta to embark on a sloop and a flat-boat  in Oranjestad with the objective to confiscate the Antilla. They arrived at the Antilla in Malmok Bay at 03.10 hrs but after the marines had hailed the German captain Ferdinand Schmidt he refused to lower the gangway. According to his own account the captain of the marines expected fierce resistance from the German crew and he assessed that cover from a machinegun that was positioned  on shore was needed to succesfully board the Antilla. Unfortunately, due to the dark conditions that night, use of the machinegun was not possible and he decided to postpone the operation until first light, a decision he was heavily criticized for afterwards.

At 05.00 hrs the marines boarded the Antilla and took  the 35 crewmembers  prisoner.  By postponing the boarding operation the German crew had been given more than a sufficient amount of time to prepare the ship for scuttling. One crewmember had locked himself in the engineroom where he opened the outside valves to flood it and afterwards escaped the engineroom through the funnel. Other crewmembers had started several fires on the ship. At 05.30 hrs the crew was assembled on the poop deck  and later placed in a lifeboat. By that time thick smoke was pouring out of the ship. Escorted by the marines the crew was put ashore and handed over to the military police.

H.M. Practico and H.M. Aruba:

At 06.00 hrs that morning the coastguardvessels “H.M. Aruba” and “H.M. Practico” arrived at Malmok bay. According to her shipsjournal the crew of H.M. Aruba estimated that the Antilla had already been burning for at least an hour. Two crewmembers of  H.M. Aruba boarded the Antilla and established that the engineroom and cargohole 4 and 5 were on fire and that the valves that were opened by the German crew could not be reached and closed. After the crewmembers of  H.M. Aruba had abandoned the Antilla they fired two rounds with their 3,7 cm deckgun at the Antilla to make sure no German crewmember had stayed behind. At 06.50 hrs the Antilla was reported to be on fire from bow to stern and listing to port by 20 degrees.  When H.M. Aruba left Malmok bay at 11.30 hrs that morning the Antilla was listing to port by 30 degrees and sinking.

Cause of sinking:

It’s often suggested that the crew overheated the boilers and deliberately caused a huge explosion by letting seawater flow in. In the official documents there is no mention at all of the crew heating up the boilers and no explosion was reported by the crew members or the Dutch marines. According to a report written after inspection of the wreck by divers between May en August 1940 the superstructure of the ship was damaged by fire but the hull of the ship was undamaged and in one piece. The report concluded the sinking was caused by opening the valves of the vessel. The breaking up of the wreck is a result of heavy swells and was first noticed during an inspection in 1953.

     

 (internmentcamp Bonaire. source: Dutch National Archive)

Transport to Bonaire:

Throughout the Dutch Antilles a total of 220 German merchant sailors were arrested from 15 ships. (note: As well as the crew of the Antilla the crew of the German ship Goslar that was berthed in Dutch Suriname managed to scuttle their vessel before she was confiscated). These merchant sailors were all transported to Bonaire (from Curacao on the Lake tankers ss. Casandra and ss. Maximina, from Aruba on the Lake tanker ss. Bachaquero). On arrival the sailors were detained in a school building. Next to these sailors 200 German and Austrian civilians (amongst them also civilians that fled the threat of Nazi Germany, as well as approximately 20 persons that were considered a threat to national security because of being alleged Nazi supporters) were being detained in several school buildings.

                      
 
   (l.. report on the number of detained German sailors and their ships, r. ration scale for German internees in Jamaica, source: Dutch National Archive)
  

Fate of the Antilla crew:

Already on 11 May 1940 an agreement was reached between the Dutch Authorities on Curacao and the British Consul that Great Britain would accept the 220 German merchant sailors and detain them in an internmentcamp in British Jamaica (presumably Up Park Camp). In the period between their arrival on Bonaire and their shipment to Jamaica the sailors had to build an internmentcamp in Bonaire to house the other civilian internees. They finished building the camp early July 1940 and on 5 July 1940 the crew of the Antilla together with their 185 colleagues were escorted to the vessel Jamaica Producer and transported to the camp in British Jamaica where they spent the rest of the war. According to the death registrations of St. Andrews (Jamaica) at least one of the crewmembers of the Antilla died in detention; on 16 february 1943 engineer Willy Schwennosen perished as result of an illnes at the age of 59.

(note: the internmentcamp in Bonaire was not bought by Captain Schmidt of the Antilla after the war, as has been widely suggested, but by a local entrepreneur, Mr. Lodewijk Gerharts. On the spot of the camp at first Hotel Zeebad was built and later on Divi Flamingo Hotel, which is still there).

Supply ship myth:

it is often said that the Antilla was a disguised auxiliary ship for U-boats. I have not been able to find any confirmation for this, nor for the presence of ammunition, torpedoes, fuel etc. in the wreck when salvage was considered. Furthermore, prior to May 10, 1940 the ship was repeatedly searched by the military authorities for weapons and nothing was found.  It’s also clear that the captain of the Antilla followed the orders that were given by the German authorities to the merchantfleet. The Antilla carried 3000 tons sulphur  from Galveston (Texas) destined for Europe which was eventually unloaded in San Nicolas harbour in October 1939. Therefore the “U boat supply story” can be ruled out.

The “supply ship rumour” could well have originated from the visits of German tankers to Aruba in December 1938 and January 1939. According to a Dutch intelligence report the tanker Rudolf Albrecht arrived in Aruba in December 1938 and loaded fuel that, the Dutch authorities suspected, was destined for the cruiser Schlesien. The Rudolf Albrecht crew however stated that the fuel was for their own use and that her next port of call would be Cartagena (Colombia). Later on it was confirmed that the Rudolf Albrecht had replenished the cruiser Schlesien in the Caribbean Sea. In Januari 1939 the tanker Julius Schindler visited Aruba. Prior to her visit she was observed while replenishing the cruiser Schleswig-Holstein on the high seas. In Aruba the Julius Schindler loaded several types of fuel. According to the intelligence report one of these fuel types could only be used by U-boats. 

(see also: Prelude for the scuttling of the Antilla, the lost wreck of the Troja)

(More background information on other (WW II) wrecks in Aruba can be found at  http://willemsubmerged.wordpress.com/)

 (The author has not been able to identify and/or contact the owners of some of the pictures used in this article. If you feel that the author is using data that should not belong in this article due to copyright violations please notify the author. The author of this article does not claim to be the owner of the information within and shall therefore remove all content that is copyrighted if the owner of the material requests so. Anybody who claims a copyright however should make it reasonably clear that such a copyright legally exists).  
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Pedernales, the Phoenix of Aruba

In the early morning hours of February 16, 1942 war reached the shores of Aruba, delivered by the German U boat U-156. With the detonation of the first torpedo the idea that the war might leave Aruba undisturbed was literally blown to pieces. The first victim was the Lake tanker Pedernales and more tankers would follow that night. In total 52 people (including a German submariner and four Dutch marines) lost their lives and five tankers in the region were sunk or damaged by several U-boats. The Pedernales however, despite the fact she was heavily damaged, was repaired and eventually returned to service, she more or less rose from the ashes. So when you dive the mid-section of the Pedernales you actually dive the remnants of the Phoenix of Aruba.

          

(kapitanleutnant Werner Hartenstein)

The Neuland Group:

On January 19, 1942 the German type IX-C (long range) U-boat U-156 commanded by the 33-year old Kapitanleutnant (commander) Werner Hartenstein left the concrete bunkers of Lorient (France) for its second war patrol and set course for the Dutch Antilles. U-156 was part of a group of five U-boats (included were also U-67, U-129, U-161 and U-502) known as the “Neuland Gruppe”. Their objective was, according to Operational Order 51, No. 10 from German U-boat Command, to disrupt oil transport and oil refining roughly in the area around the Dutch Antilles (Aruba and Curacao), Maracaibo (Venezuela) and Trinidad by attacking the refineries and oil tankers in a coordinated attack. The Lago refinery in Aruba was a main supplier of fuel for allied aircraft and therefore considered by the Germans a target of strategic importance. U-156 was designated to attack this refinery and its tankers in and around Aruba (an area indicated by the codename “Bregenz”).

Neulandgruppe complete 150242-180242   Neulandgruppe ABC Islands 150242-180242

(positions U boats of the Neulandgruppe between February 15 and 18, 1942) 

Reconnaisance and target selection: 

According to it’s warlog (also known as KTB, Kriegs Tage Buch) U-156  approached Aruba and started a reconnaissance on its potential targets on the Western side of the island. The location of the refinery was identified as well as several tankers, including one at the Eagle pier, North of Oranjestad. The following two days the crew of U-156 practiced manoeuvres and continued their observations.  In the late evening of February 15, 1942 the U-156 approached the Lago refinery and the captain selected the targets: two lake tankers in front of the refinery, the Pedernales and the Oranjestad. Ss. Pedernales (international code signal GNGN) was a 4317 tons, 355 ft steam tanker built in 1938 in Italy at Cantiere Riunti dell Adriatico and owned by Lago Shipping Co. Ltd. (Esso) in London and had a crew of 26. Her master was Herbert McCall. Ss. Oranjestad was a 2396 tons steam tanker Built in 1927 in Northern Ireland (Belfast) at Harland & Wolff Ltd. and also owned by Lago Shipping Co. Ltd. (Esso) in London, she had a crew of 25. Her master was Herbert Morgan. Both ships were so called “lake tankers” with a flat bottom hull specially designed to be able to enter Lake Maracaibo (Venezuela) where the crude oil was taken in. Pedernales would be the first victim.

KTBU156140242-150242    KTBU156160242-1    KTBU156160242-2

(U-156 kriegs tagebuch (warjournal) 14 – 16 February 1942, Courtesy of Stan Norcom)(source: the National Archives and Records Administration)

Neuland Day, the attack at Lago:

In the early morning of February 16, 1942 (Neuland Day) at 01.31 hrs (local time) the surfaced U-156 fired a single (G7-a) torpedo from one of the bow tubes at the Pedernales and hit her amidships. Pedernales was loaded with crude oil and caught fire immediately. Eight crew members died as a result of the explosion and the following inferno. Two minutes later, at 01.33 hrs a second (G7-e) torpedo was fired by U-156 from one of the bow tubes and hit the Oranjestad amidships. She also caught fire and sank approximately an hour later in front of the refinery in 230 ft of water. 15 crew members died. After the initial attack the crew of U-156 was ordered to prepare the 105 mm deckgun to start shelling the refinery. The crew however, forgot the remove the watertight cap that was mounted on the barrel and as soon as the first shell was fired, the gun exploded. Gunnery officer Von dem Borne lost a foot but survived, sailor Businger died hours later as a result of his wounds. (note: this version of events was disputed in the years afterwards by gunnery officer Von dem Borne in a fruitless attempt to get rehabilitated by Navy Command. He claimed the cap had been removed from the barrel and a premature detonation of the grenade caused the barrel to explode). After firing a few rounds with the 37 mm deck gun commander Hartenstein decided to withdraw from his position and moved up North, leaving the refinery only slightly damaged.

  arkansas-attack-160242 overview  plot arkansas attack 160813  Eagle Beach February 16, 1942    (picture beached torpedo; Life Magazine March 2, 1942)

(L.&M. overview torpedo attack at Arkansas based on the U156 schussmeldungen (firing reports),  R. G7e torpedo at Eagle Beach )

The attack at the ss Arkansas:

At 02.46 and 03.00 hrs the surfaced U-156 fired two torpedos from her bow tubes at the 6452 tons Texaco owned American tanker ss. Arkansas berthed at Eagle Pier. Both torpedoes missed their target which Hartenstein noted in his log as “inexplicable”. (note: a study of the firingreports of U-156 reveals the miss of the first torpedo was caused by a miscalculation in the firing solution, causing the torpedo to run up on the beach).

A third torpedo was then fired at 03.13 hrs from one of the stern tubes. Although Hartenstein initially assessed this one as a miss also, believing it had exploded on the beach, it did hit the the Arkansas at her starboardside causing a hole just ahead of midships. Because the Arkansas didn’t carry oil, the hit only caused a small fire and she stayed afloat.  After firing the third torpedo the U-156 broke off the attack due to an aircraft alarm and left the area in a northerly direction heading for the Island of Martinique. U-156 returned to Lorient on March 17, 1942.

      (source: Dutch National Archive)

(L. Warhead of the G7e torpedo with pistol, picture taken by Lt. Joosse shortly before the fatal explosion. It was retrieved from his heavily damaged camera. M. Tail section of the torpedo, picture taken by police inspector Van Driel after the incident, R. investigations at Eagle Beach, the beach is located on the right, “X” marks the location of the truck )

The torpedo accident at Eagle Beach:

The first of the G7-e torpedoes ended up on the beach near the Eagle pier and was found by a marine patrol after the attack  on the morning of February 16.  After the find two navy demolition specialists ( a lieutenant and a sergeant major) arrived from Curacao. On the morning of February 17 a demolition attempt was made. According to eyewitness statements made to the military police, the men first separated the tail section of the torpedo  from the warhead and towed the tail section further up the beach. Then they tried to blow up the warhead with dynamite. Although the dynamite did explode, the warhead did not. The Lieutenant in charge then decided to remove the pistol (which is in the nose of the warhead and detonates it) from the warhead by pulling it out with a truck. They attached a metal wire and a long rope to the pistol of the torpedo but before they could take a safe distance from the warhead it unexpectedly exploded, killing Sergeant Major D.A.C. de Maagd and Marines 1st and 3rd class L. Kooijman and J. Vogelezang instantly. Lieutenant 2nd class P. Joosse died as a result of his injuries several hours later in hospital. Three bystanders got wounded.

(For a more detailed account of events see article “Alle Hens januari 2012″ in Dutch)   

  

 (Graves of the four men on the Dutch National War Cemetery in Loenen, The Netherlands)

 

(Center: headstones of Joosse and De Maagd, Left in background:  headstones of Vogelezang and Kooijman)

Salving ss Pedernales:

Despite the fact that Pedernales was heavily  damaged and burned fiercely she stayed afloat and drifted away from the location where she was hit. The following day she was located and tugboats towed her to shallow water where she was deliberately run aground to enable a salvage effort. The salvaging was abruptly halted after workers found, what looked like, an aerial bomb on the submerged center deck. A quick investigation learned that a US Army plane apparently had used the wrecked Pedernales as a target for bombing practice. The bomb on the center deck turned out to be a sand filled dummy bomb. The still intact front and aft section of Pedernales were separated from the damaged midsection and both were towed to the Lago drydocks where they were welded together. A make shift bridge was put on to the 124 ft. shorter hull and the ship left Aruba on July 30, 1942 for Curacao with final destination Baltimore for further repairs. It’s said that the midsection that was left was later on used as a target for shooting practice by the Dutch Navy. (note: there’s no confirmation for this. The wreck parts have been used by the US Army Air Force for bombing practice; the only munition parts found near the wreck were AN-MK43 aerial dummy bombs, used by the US military since 1942).

         

(ss Pedernales at her trial run – Italy 1938 and in front of Palm Beach – Aruba 1942)

(source:  www.aukevisser.nl )                          (source: www.lago-colony.com)

Pathe Newsreel 1942

Newsreel British Pathe 1942, source: http://www.britishpathe.com – YouTube

 Aftermath:

U-156 did a total of five war patrols sinking 20 ships for a total of 97.504 tons. In September 1942 U-156 was involved in the “Laconia incident” (which led to the order by the German command not to assist castaways anymore). On March 8, 1943 U-156 was taken by surprise at the surface East of Barbados by a PBY-5 Catalina bomber commanded by LTJG Dryden. Four depth charges sunk the U-156. Despite the fact that eleven survivors were sighted from the plane no one was found by surface ships. All 53 crew members were lost.

                            
 

(L. PBY pilot  LTJG Dryden, R. five survivors of U-156 clinging to a raft dropped by the PBY crew)

(pictures courtesy of www.uboatarchive.net)

Operation Torch (1942) and the Normandy landing (1944): 

Some sources say Pedernales returned to Aruba, other sources suggest she participated in the African campaign, more in particular Operation Torch which took place in November 1942 (even participation in the Normandy landings in 1944 has been mentioned). Indeed three Lake tankers were converted to Tank Landing Ships (TLS). Ss. Misoa, Ss. Tasajera and Ss. Bachaquero participated in the Allied landings in Africa (1942), Sicily (1943) and Normandy (1944).

Records on allied convoys in 1942 and 1943 and information from the British National Archives reveal that Pedernales was in Baltimore in 1942. Between August 1942 and January 1943 Pedernales was part of five convoys (to get to Baltimore and back to Aruba) and visited the ports of Curacao, Key West, Baltimore, New York and Guantanamo. On August 16, 1942 she arrived via Hampton Roads in Baltimore for repairs which took until January 4, 1943. Pedernales arrived in New York on January 10, 1943 and left one day later en route to Guantanamo. She arrived in Aruba on January 25, 1943 and resumed her transportactivities between Aruba and Venezuela for the remainder of the war.  After the war Pedernales was renamed Esso Pedernales (1957) and Katendrecht (1958). She was scrapped in October 1959 in Rotterdam, Holland. In October 2011 the Dutch Navy conducted a search for the torpedo that was missing after the attack on the ss. Arkansas but it was not located.

 

(More background information on other (WW II) wrecks in Aruba can be found at  http://willemsubmerged.wordpress.com/)

(The author has not been able to identify and/or contact the owners of some of the pictures used in this article. If you feel that the author is using data that should not belong in this article due to copyright violations please notify the author. The author of this article does not claim to be the owner of the information within and shall therefore remove all content that is copyrighted if the owner of the material requests so. Anybody who claims a copyright however should make it reasonably clear that such a copyright legally exists).  

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Star Gerren, Cinderella of the Aruban shipwrecks

 She’s in front of the High Rise area, she’s not visited often, she’s German and she always has to compete with her larger, older and more popular countrywoman Antilla and therefore you could think of her as the Cinderella of the Aruban shipwrecks. Her name: Star Gerren.

Santa Maria:

The Star Gerren was built at J.L. Meyer Shipyard in Papenburg, Germany and launched on September 22, 1965. The 499 tons cargoship measures 73.49 mtrs/245 ft in length and was named Santa Maria. The first owners were Hermann & Engelbert Lohmann from Haren in Germany. Between 1965 and 1994 she changed owners four times and from 1985 she was named Anna Maria.  In 1991 her name was changed back to Santa Maria again. Between 1965 and 1994 she sailed under German, Singaporean and Honduran flag. In 1994 the Santa Maria was sold to the Valeron Corporation N.V in Curacao. She was renamed Star Gerren and registered at home port Belize City, Belize.  

(Picture courtesy of F.J. Olinga – Delfzijl)

Engine failure:

On July 12, 1996, as the Star Gerren (call sign V3PK) was in the coastal waters of Aruba, captain Blackman reported having engine trouble to the Aruban Authorities. Not long after the first message of the captain however it looked like the crew of the Star Gerren had managed to overcome her engine problems and was able to continue her journey. The optimism of the captain was short lived: not long after the second report the five man crew was confronted with engine failure beyond repair. The Aruba Ports Authority responded by sending a tugboat to the Star Gerren to tow her into the harbor but bad luck seemed to accompany the captain of the Star Gerren. During the attempt to salvage the Star Gerren one of the hawsers got entangled in the propeller of the tugboat which had to limp back to the harbor. Eventually the Star Gerren was salvaged on July 15 and berthed in Barcadera harbor on July 16, 1996. Not long after being towed into Barcadera harbor the crew, due to the deplorable state of the ship, abandoned her.

    

(Star Gerren sinking – pictures courtesy of Aruba Ports Authority)

Environmental hazard:

Attempts to contact the owner of the ship failed and the Star Gerren remained in Barcadera harbor until August 2000. In July and August 2000 the Star Gerren was reported to list to starboard due to leakage thus turning it into an environmental hazard. These events speeded up the decision to convert the ship into a dive object for scuba divers. On August 31, 2000 the Star Gerren was towed to a location in front of the High Rise hotel area (Palm Beach) where she was sunk in 21 mtrs/70 ft of water.

 (More background information on other (WW II) wrecks in Aruba can be found at  http://willemsubmerged.wordpress.com/)

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A closer look at the Jane Sea

Aruba is well known for its wrecks, more in particular the World War II wrecks of the German freighter Antilla and the Lake tanker Pedernales. Another illusive wreck however is the wreck of the coaster Jane Sea. When divers approach the wreck her almost sinister shape is rising above the divers and a comparison with the bow of the Titanic is often made. Her location and date of sinking are well known but her previous history is a mystery to many. Did you know the Jane Sea (sometimes referred to as “Jane C.”) was built in Holland and wasn’t named Jane Sea from the beginning? Time to take a closer look.

Janesea1

(Jane Sea)

(courtesy of chemicalmankingsdown)

From Blackthorn to Jane Sea

The 749 tons and 57 mtrs/190 ft long cargo ship was launched on December 30, 1959, from Westerbroek SW shipyard in Westerbroek in the North of Holland and was named Blackthorn. Her date of completion was March 1960. The Blackthorn sailed in British waters under the UK flag  and was owned by the firm S. William Coe. & Co. Ltd. . The Blackthorn was later renamed Rudyard and in 1976 she was converted into a aggregates carrier. In 1980 the Rudyard was sold to S&D Shipping Ltd. in Bembridge, registered in Shoreham (UK) and renamed Jane Sea.

Cement or cocaine ?:

Between 1980 and her sinking by local dive operators in 1988 her whereabouts were a kind of a mystery. The story is that in her final days Jane Sea was owned by a Venezuelan company transporting cement between Venezuela and Aruba. It turned out that one day besides cement the Jane Sea transported some other white powder also known to the general public as cocaine. As a result of this drugs bust the ship was confiscated by authorities. When the owners did not reclaim the ship local dive operators took the initiative to make the vessel easily accessible for divers and scuttled it in September 1988 turning it into one of the most spectacular wrecks in Aruba. The rest is history …… but is it really?

After being abandoned by the crew:

The files in the archives of the Aruba Ports Authority (APA) tell a different story ……. The Jane Sea (call sign GGCH) arrived in September 1984 in Barcadera Harbor (Aruba) carrying a load of cement from Costa Rica. She was still registered in Shoreham (UK) but now owned by Deroche Enterprises Ltd. seated in Trinidad. During berthing in Barcadera harbor she experienced major engine trouble and shortly after she was abandoned by her entire crew. When harbor dues weren’t paid an embargo was laid on the ship and when attempts to get in contact with the owner, and two attempts to auction the vessel in 1985 failed, the decision was made to lift the embargo in December 1987 and prepare the ship to become a dive object. She was scuttled on September 4, 1988 just south of Barcadera harbor.

 (notice public auction. Source: Amigoe 4 May 1985)

It’s obvious the truth is not as exciting as the story that has been told for many years now and it’s maybe even somewhat disappointing. Therefore, and because every wreck deserves a bit of mystery or an exciting story, it’s up to the readers what story they prefer to remember.

(More background information on other (WW II) wrecks in Aruba can be found at  http://willemsubmerged.wordpress.com/)

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Prelude for the scuttling of the Antilla, the lost wreck of the Troja

Stories and wrecks unknown to the general public because they are forgotten by most people are the best. This is such a story about a forgotten wreck near Aruba, the hunt for German freighters, how one of them deceived the hunters and the ultimate act of a captain.

Codeword Essberger:

It’s August 1939 and as the German merchantfleet is dispersed all over the world Germany prepares for war. On 25 August 1939, all German merchant ships worldwide receive a radio message from the German ministry of transport which has the code word “Essberger” in it. This code word is a signal for all merchantfleet captains to open a sealed envelope  with instructions. All German ships are ordered to leave the main shipping lanes. Shortly after this message the ships receive a second message, also with the code word “Essberger”, which is a signal for the captains to alter their ships name and appearance, only communicate in code  and set course for Germany asap. On 28 August 1939 a coded message is sent instructing all merchant ships that can not reach a German harbour within four days to seek refuge in neutral harbours.

The captains of the Hapag (Hamburg Amerikanische Packetfahrt Actien Gesellschaft) ships ss. TROJA, ms. HEIDELBERG  and es. ANTILLA and Horn Linie vessel ms. CONSUL HORN decide to seek refuge in the harbour of Curacao. As Holland, and therefore also Curacao and Aruba as part of the Kingdom, take a neutral position at the beginning of  WWII, the German ships are relatively safe in neutral waters. When the ships reach Curacao they are informed that the harbour is packed with other German ships which forces them to divert to Aruba.

Arrival in Aruba:

On 31 August 1939  ss. TROJA (built in 1922 by Howaldtswerke at Kiel, lenght 309 ft. 2390 brt. Int. code signal DHYB) and the ms. CONSUL HORN, (a German cargo and passenger ship built in 1904 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast, lenght 453 ft. 8384 brt, Int. code signal DHIY), arrive in front of the harbour of San Nicolas, Aruba. One day later ms. HEIDELBERG (built in 1925 by Vulcanwerke at Hamburg, length 450 ft. 6530 brt Int. code signal DCIB) and es. ANTILLA (built 1939, 4363 brt) also anchor in front of  San Nicolas harbour. That same day Germany  has invaded Poland, the start of World War II.   On 15 September 1939 all four ships are allowed by the government to anchor on the more quiet North West side of the Island opposite Malmok beach.

 (Jan/Feb 1940, l. to r. Antilla, Troja and Heidelberg anchored at Malmok) 

(source: Les Seekins’ scrapbook, courtesy of  www.lago-colony.com)

Consul Horn evades the blockade:

Since the allies (French and British forces) patrol the waters around Aruba, all four ships remain in neutral waters. Early January 1940 however the captain of the CONSUL HORN Johannes Roer decides it’s time to try a daring escape.  On 9 January 1940 several crewmembers of  the ANTILLA, HEIDELBERG and TROJA transfer to the CONSUL HORN. Under the cover of night the CONSUL HORN  with a valuable cargo of tobacco and sugar heaves anchor and leaves the three miles zone of  Aruba. After the captain is convinced his escape has not been detected he orders his crew to repaint the ship with markings making it look like a Russian freighter with the name “Molodets” and home-port Odessa, and sets course for Europe.

    

(l. Ms. Consul Horn, r. presumably German sailors disembarking at Malmok for shore leave, in the background Ms. Consul Horn )

The plan works out perfectly and the captain manages to deceive the French submarine AUGOSTA and US air reconnaissance. The choice is made to avoid the British channel and the CONSUL HORN takes the westerly route around Great Britain. Things almost go wrong when the CONSUL HORN is passing the Orkneys and is hailed by the British Emerald class cruiser HMS ENTERPRISE. The reply by “the Molodets” is apparently not very convincing and Captain Egerton of  HMS ENTERPRISE decides to escort “the Molodets” to a nearby harbour. Fortune however is still with the crew of CONSUL HORN as HMS ENTERPRISE is called away for another more urgent assignment. (note: another source claims the vessel couldn’t be boarded because of bad weather). In February 1940 the CONSUL HORN arrives in Europe. (note: eventually the Consul Horn struck a sea mine near the German island of Borkum on the 20th of July 1942 and sank).

The scuttling of Heidelberg and Troja:

For the remaining ships the story works out somewhat different. Despite the fact that the allies increase their naval presence in the area the captains of the freighters HEIDELBERG (H. Spreckels) and TROJA (Adolf Boendel) decide to attempt an escape in the evening of  29 February 1940. Both ships leave Aruban neutral water under the cover of darkness and try to avoid any contact with allied naval vessels. Given the fact that the allies were previously deceived by the CONSUL HORN they have no intention of making that same mistake. As a result of that their escape does not go unnoticed.

(Ss. Troja, source: www.maritimes-archiv.com )

The TROJA is quickly detected by the British Danae class Light Cruiser HMS DESPATCH under the command of Captain Poland. 11 nautical miles West of Aruba the ship is intercepted. As soon as the captain of the TROJA realizes there is no escape he orders the crew to set fire to the ship to avoid capture of his ship and abandon her. The glow of the burning ship can be seen from Aruba. The TROJA, still carrying her cargo of bags with cement, sinks in the early morning hours of 1  March 1940. The Dutch submarine O14 that was dispatched from Aruba after the departure of Troja and Heidelberg, and remained in the vicinity of Troja, reports her sinking at 01.45 AM.   The crew is picked up by HMS DESPATCH .

(HMS Despatch)

The HEIDELBERG manages to evade the allies one more day. However on 2 March 1940 she is intercepted by another D-class Light Cruiser HMS DUNEDIN, commanded by Captain Lambe sixty miles west, southwest of the Windward Passage. As ordered by Berlin the captain of the HEIDELBERG is forced to scuttle his ship. The HEIDELBERG disappears beneath the waves around 5 P.M., the crewmembers are picked up by HMS DUNEDIN. The crewmembers of the HEIDELBERG as well as the TROJA are being detained in an internmentcamp in  Britsh Jamaica. (note: according to an eyewitness on HMS Dunedin the Heidelberg was carrying the name HEEMSKERK – Holland which suggests the Heidelberg also tried to escape using a false identity).  

The fuel trap: 

What the German crews didn’t know was that the time of their departure in fact was directed behind the scenes by the British Admiralty. Because of the limited amount of allied ships in the region the allied patrols could not constantly be present in the area. Therefore it was necessary to know when there would be a heightened chance of German vessels trying to outrun the blockade.  A cunning plan was made in order to tempt the German merchant ships to try to escape: the head office of the Arend Petroleum Company in London was instructed to lift the oil embargo imposed on German ships in Curacao and Aruba. Shortly after the HEIDELBERG was allowed to take in fuel at Aruba she made an attempt to escape together with the TROJA, only to be intercepted by British warships that “coincidentally happened to be in the neighborhood”.

 

(March 2, 1940: l. M.S. Heidelberg ablaze, m&r. crew member of Heidelberg picked up by HMS Dunedin) (courtesy of www.hmsdunedin.co.uk)

Antilla stays behind:

According to a NY Times article of March 3 , 1940 the Antilla tried to escape together with Heidelberg and Troja but returned to her anchorage grounds at Malmok Bay as soon as she was confronted with an allied warship outside the three miles zone. (note: in the report of Dutch submarine O14 that was dispatched to monitor the ships movements, the Antilla is not mentioned. Allegedly the Antilla (again) attempted to escape on March 4 ). 

From that moment on the Antilla remains anchored in front of Malmok beach until the 10th of May 1940. That day German forces invade Holland and the ANTILLA is no longer in safe neutral waters. To prevent the ANTILLA from falling into enemy hands the captain scuttles her as ordered.

(see also: True story of es. Antilla (1939) and her crew ).

(More background information on other (WW II) wrecks in Aruba can be found at  http://willemsubmerged.wordpress.com/)

(The author has not been able to identify and/or contact the owners of some of the pictures used in this article. If you feel that the author is using data that should not belong in this article due to copyright violations please notify the author. The author of this article does not claim to be the owner of the information within and shall therefore remove all content that is copyrighted if the owner of the material requests so. Anybody who claims a copyright however should make it reasonably clear that such a copyright legally exists).
 

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