Daily Event for November 2, 2005

Beginning on Oct. 7, 1942 when the first ship sunk by U-boats off South Africa was hit. The Chickasaw City, a US merchant ship was torpedoed by U-172 and sank in under five minuets. Seven men on board were killed while the forty two survivors were questioned by the U-boat commander, Carl Emmermann, and released. They were rescued by the HMS Rockrose K-51 thirty eight hours later.

Only a few hours later the U-172 found the Panamanian flagged, US owned freighter  Firethorn. Firethorn was hit by two torpedoes and sank in two minuets leaving no time to launch boats.  Even so forty nine of the sixty one men on board managed to recover several life rafts which had floated free from the ship. Six of the men in a Yawl boat were picked up by the HMS Rockrose K-51 on the eighth and the rest by the same ship on the ninth. Along with the survivors of the Chickasaw City the Rockrose took them to Cape Town where they recovered from their ordeal.

The seamen sailing from South Africa now knew the U-boat war had come to them. The next day (Oct. 8) the US tanker Swiftsure was located off Cape Town and sunk by the U-68 but, this time all on board managed to escape the ship alive and returned to Cape Town. The U-68 sank three other ships off the coast on the 8th. On the 9th the U-68 sank two more, the Belgian Fighter and the Examelia.

The US Examelia, a Hog Island freighter, was hit the early morning hours by one torpedo near the engine room, stopping the engines and sinking the ship in less than ten minuets. The forty survivors were questioned by the U-boat captain and released. Later that day all forty were rescued by the SS John Lykes but, eleven others went to the bottom with the ship. The Lykes landed the men at Port Elizabeth, South Africa and they traveled by train to Cape Town.

In the same waters off South Africa the, U-159 had been operating. On Oct. 7 she had sunk the Boringia, a British passenger/cargo ship killing thirty two. The twenty eight survivors were rescued by the SS Clan Mactavish but, the Clan Mactavish was sent to the bottom at 9am on the 8th by the same U-boat (U-159). Seven of the men from the Boringia and fifty four from the Clan Mactavish were lost while sixty who survived were rescued by the Matheran and taken to Cape Town.

On the 9th the U-159 found an American freighter named Coloradan sailing unescorted some 200 miles southwest of Cape Town and torpedoed the ship. She sank in about four minuets taking six men with her. One of the boats containing half of the forty eight survivors was stopped and questioned by the U-boat captain, Helmut Witte. After Witte was finished he gave the men their coordinates and wished them a " pleasant voyage and good liberty". The two boats headed for the coast and remained together until the 10th when they became separated. On the 11th one of the boats was found by the HMS Active H-14 while the other boat was not located until the 19th when it was towed in by a fishing boat. All forty eight men finally ended up in Cape Town where some of them were hospitalized.

The survivors of all these ships were now in Cape Town, the British crewmen would join other British ships or be sent back to Britain but, the Americans were all put on one ship for the voyage home.

The survivors of the American ships Chickasaw City, Firethorn, Swiftsure, Examelia and Coloradan boarded the MV Zaandam on Oct. 21, 1942 and departed Cape Town for the USA. Zaandam was built in Holland in 1938, a 10,000 ton 502' long passenger/ cargo ship with a speed of 16 knots, converted for transport use in early 1942. On Nov. 2 she sailed into the waters north of Brazil unaware that the enemy was waiting. The U-174 had already attacked and sank two ships in the area. The SS Marylin, a British freighter on the 31st of Oct. and the SS Elmdale, another British freighter, on the 1st of Nov. The Zaandam would be her third victim.

On Nov. 2, 1942 as the Zaandam sailed about 400 miles north of Brazil the U-174 fired a torpedo and struck the ship near the engine room. Ten minuets later a second fish slammed into the ship and she went down two minuets later. When Zaandam went down there were 299 people on board which included survivors from the five US ships sunk previously. One hundred and thirty people were killed in the attack and sinking this included 18 from the Chickasaw City, 8 from Firethorn, 17 from Swiftsure, 21 from Examelia and 15 from Coloradan. Two of the boats containing 106 survivors were picked up on Nov. 7 by the US tanker SS Gulfstate but, 2 men who were badly injured died aboard the ship. One boat with 60 survivors made it to land near Barreirinhas, Brazil where two of the survivors died of exposure.

Three men were unaccounted for and were presumed lost however, eighty four days after the Zaandam was sunk these three men, including one from the Firethorn, were picked up by the USS PC-576. Astonishingly all three survived, being in an open boat at sea for one of the longest periods of time in history. After they were put ashore they spent over six weeks in hospital.

Ulrich and U-174 only sank two more ships, MV Besholt on Dec 2, 1942 and the SS Alcoa Rambler on Dec. 15, 1942, Thilo was replaced as commanding officer of U-174 after this patrol, he died in 1980. U-174 went to the bottom during her next patrol on Apr. 27, 1943 south of Newfoundland when they depth charged by US aircraft, her new captain and the whole crew went with her.
© 2005 Michael W. Pocock

Zaandam, date and location unknown.