Daily Event for February 20, 2014

She was laid down as Comobabi, but renamed Lorraine Cross before she was launched on Apr. 28, 1920 at American International Corp., Hog Island, Pennsylvania. Built for the United States Shipping Board the "Hog Islander" sailed for the U.S. Government until 1929 when she was sold to the Mississippi Shipping Company of New Orleans, Louisiana. She was renamed by the company in 1936 and held the new name Delplata for the rest of her career.

That career ended on February 20, 1942 while the ship was en route from Rio de Janeiro to New Orleans via St. Thomas with a cargo of coffee. On that day she was found by Kapitänleutnant Werner Hartenstein and his U-156 about 75 miles east by north of Fort de France, Martinique. The boat was on the surface and at 0935 (GCT) (1131 per the KTB) fired a single torpedo at the ship.

On the bridge of the Delplata the master, Roelaf Brouver (who was making his first voyage in this ship as maser) and Second Mate William Cornforth were standing together when Brouver saw a bright flash and asked Cornforth "what was that?" Cornforth replied "it's the real thing". Seconds later the torpedo hit the starboard side amidships and Cornforth was blown off the bridge on to the the deck below injuring his legs. The ship took on a list to starboard and Brouver surveyed the damage. The damage to the amidships section of the ship was pretty bad, it included the chartroom, wheelhouse, masters quarters and much of the superstructure. Something also caused the steam whistle to be stuck wide open and it remained blowing through the entire ordeal. This caused much confusion amongst the crew, many of who abandoned the ship immediately. Only 15 of the 53 men in the ship remained on board, including eight men of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard who manned the gun on the stern and took the submarine under fire. Hartenstein wrote in his war diary that the "aim was good, but the shots fell short" so no damage was inflicted on U-156 from the 12 shots fired at her.

A distress signal was sent and it was picked up by the U.S. Navy and a seaplane was dispatched to the area. In the meantime Hartenstein submerged and at 1200 (U-boat time) fired a second torpedo which missed, but was seen by Brouver on the Delplata. A third torpedo was fired and it also missed so Hartenstein moved around to the opposite side of the ship. Still submerged he fired another torpedo which struck the port side and caused severe flooding in the engine room. Soon Brouver ordered the ship abandoned and the 15 men took to the last remaining life raft.

Hartenstein fired one more torpedo, which missed, after which he spotted the seaplane and decided to leave the area even though the ship had not sunk. All 53 men were picked up by USS Lapwing AVP-1, but the next day it was decided to reboard the ship in an attempt to salvage her. This proved to be impossible and she was scuttled by Lapwing. There were accounts given by the crew that after reboarding the ship a submarine surfaced nearby. The claim was made that they fired on her and possibly sank the boat, however U-156 had gone and there was no other U-Boat was in the area. This may have been the phantom second submarine reported by Brouver, who believed that he had been attacked by two boats. The survivors were landed at San Juan, Puerto Rico on Feb. 23, while the ship was lost, no lives were.

Werner Hartenstein is not one of the best known of the U-Boat commanders, even though he sank almost 100,000 tons of shipping and was awarded the Ritterkreuz. However he inadvertently played a pivotal role in how the U-Boat war would be conducted. It was Hartenstein who torpedoed and sank the Laconia on Sept. 12, 1942. The sinking of the Laconia and the subsequent Laconia order issued by Admiral Dönitz changed how U-Boat commanders would react after sinking a ship. This order was used against Dönitz at Nürnberg in 1946 and almost put his neck in the hangman's noose.

Hartenstein and U-156 did not survive the war, the boat was sunk by a U.S. Catalina PBY on Mar. 8, 1943 off Barbados with all hands, just a little more than a year after sinking Delplata.
© 2014 Michael W. Pocock

2005 Daily Event
2007 Daily Event
2009 Daily Event
2010 Daily Event
2011 Daily Event