USCGC MOHAWK: The Last Of Her Tribe©

(Part One)

by J.C. Carney

“She sat nestled to a refuge-strewn dock located at the waters edge of Grandview Avenue on Staten Island, New York. The former Coast Guard Cutter MOHAWK, a veteran of the Battle for the North Atlantic in World War Two, shows little of her past glory. Her hull, superstructure, and single tall stack are slowly being ravaged by the age-old curse paramount to all steel-built vessels -- rust. Yet, even in her forlorn state, she rides proud. Her 3” main gun batteries are still mounted: albeit incapable of discharging a round. Moreover, to further the impression that this old ship saw action at one time, her “Battle Ribbons” still adorn her bridge wings. Despite her lack-luster appearance, this grand old Lady cries out to be saved. . . .”

“I Christen you, MOHAWK!” With those words, on the morning of 23 October, 1934, Miss Anne Gibbons, daughter of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Steven B, Gibbons, sent the champagne flying across the ship’s massive ice-breaking bow. The vessel then slid stern-first into the Christina River for her first bath. Newsmen snapped photos, whilst workmen onboard peered over her bows, watching the vessel’s anchor chains [sans anchors] ease her backward progress. Hull #1062 was now [designate], USCGC MOHAWK.

Built by Pusey & Jones Corporation at their shipyard in Wilmington, Delaware, the 165’ long hull, measuring 36 feet abeam, with a 13.7’ draft, and a gross tonnage of 1005 tons, was one of three “Tribal-Class” cutters assigned to this Yard by the U.S. Coast Guard. All would have a fuel oil capacity of 43,600 gallons and a range of about 3,300 miles as cruising speed of 13 knots. The ships employed twin boilers, which could convert fuel into steam for propulsion and shipboard power. The system could super heat water to 410 degrees Fahrenheit producing steam pressure of 310 psi., whereupon a double-reduction geared turbine (this was the first time the “CG” utilized such a system) converted it into 1,500 shaft power. Ordinarily, only one boiler would be “online” for cruising, while both were employed for emergencies, i.e., “flank” speed runs during rescue work.

As the Mohawk took shape, the “CG” [Coast Guard] busily considered “ship deployment.” The Commander, New York Division [5th Dist.], inaugurated a need for a cutter of either 125 foot or the new 165’dimensions, and submitted a request for a cutter, post haste! The CG’s primary anti-smuggling activity was located in the New York area. But, as it had other responsibilities as well, the District Commander believed that: “It would be advantageous to station a patrol boat at Cape May, New Jersey to handle any distress and/or emergencies in the vicinity.” Ergo, Cape May would be an ideal location for a medium-sized cutter. Thusly, the Commander Eastern Area [ComEastArea] forwarded these recommendations to the Commandant in Washington. The Commandant immediately answered the request, stating: “Cutter #78 [Mohawk] has been assigned to Cape May for station[ing] when completed.”

As it turned out, the speculation of her commissioning in December 1934 proved unequivocally optimistic. The superstructure, masts, and accumulating gear took until January 1935 to erect. The ships first Commanding Officer (CO), LCDR. John Trebes, her Executive Officer, Lt. G.N. Bernier (XO), and her Engineering Officer, Ens. A.M. Root (EO), were at the shipyard during her “fitting out” period, whilst acclimating to the ship and her equipment. In a short time the other officers and crewmembers reported aboard. It was Ensign Root, on Saturday 19 January 1935, who scribed the first log entry: “Mustered all hands on quarterdeck; CDR. J. F. Hahn, Coast Guard Inspector, turned Mohawk over to LCDR. John Trebes, who read his orders . . . to assume command. Vessel placed in commission with appropriate ceremonies.” MOHAWK (WPG-78), was now a Coast Guard Cutter. The new cutter, however, remained dockside for another two weeks while adjustments were made to her gear. Finally, on 2 February 1935, she took in her lines and stood out to sea. Heading for Cape May, while breaking channel ice “six inches thick.”

The original orders had been to “when in all respects ready vacate the Yard and head straight for Cape May.” Unfortunately, on the very day Mohawk had been commissioned, her sister-ship USCGC Comanche (commissioned earlier), struck a rock in the Hudson River, and after calling in her dilemma, staggered homeward. The untried Mohawk was then ordered to takeover Comanche’s duties. The Hudson and its ice-clogged channels then became “Mo’s” sea trial area. (Note: “MO” and “MIGHTY MO” were to become her nicknames -- still in effect today). The ship moored at Staten Island, New York, at 0930 the 3rd of February.

On her trip down the Delaware Mohawk experienced her first rescue when she freed the Norwegian freighter Braa from ice one foot thick; later stopping to repair a minor steering casualty. Her first run down the Delaware was to be her only “sea trial.” And, outside of the steering problem, all went well.

On 5 February, at 0800, Mohawk was found struggling up the Hudson River breaking ice 6” thick. The channel itself -- previously opened by steamers Poughkeepsie and Benjamin O’Dell -- was littered with broken ice which the cutter forced its way through at speeds of 3 knots. The horrid slicing wind again froze the channel in record time, causing small ice-chunks to clog the ship’s condensers; thereafter the cutter stopped numberless times to clear her intake valves. The next day found the Pougkeepsie stuck in ice 15” thick. The Mohawk broke her free at around 1315, and again numerous times that day. Earlier, “Mo” had picked-up a river pilot [required], who wound-up staying aboard the entire week! Needless to say, this rescue work -- coupled with ice breaking -- continued all through the remainder of the winter. Captain Trebes, in his bi-weekly report of 3rd March, summed up the futility of the assignment: “Because of the continuing low temperatures the steamboat channel remains thickly clogged. . . ” Adding, “Only after a prolonged thaw . . . temperatures [of] 50 to 60 degrees, will there be a perceptible diminution of the ice hazard. . . .” Surprisingly, the thaw commenced the very next day. And, outside of a annunciator failure, wherein she almost rammed CG-203 -- and did neatly ram the concrete bulkhead at the pier’s end with little damage to herself -- the winter ice-breaking fiasco came to an end. “Mighty Mo” had done her job well. . . . On the morning of 23 March 1935, Mohawk finally arrived at her designated duty station, Cape May, New Jersey.

Prohibition had ended on 5 December 1933. Yet there was still a profit in illegal booze in 1935: Ergo, a “quasi-Rum War” continued. Unfortunately, Congress took the repeal as a cue to drastically reduce Coast Guard appropriations, and -- much like today -- the service had to do a  lot more with less. “Rum Row,” was located off the New York-New Jersey coast where liquor-laden “mother” ships (“blacks” in “CG” [Coast Guard] jargon) drifted just outside of U.S. waters and off-loaded to speedboats for the run ashore. The “blacks” hailed from Canada and British West Indies; U.S. owned ships, foreign-flagged to complicate apprehension. Hence, a new deployment for little “Mo.”

On 2 April 1935, Mohawk was ordered underway, New York. By evening she was anchored off Sandy Hook Light shopping for smugglers. The first night proved uneventful. The mid-watch logged: “No rum running activity observed by watch aboard.” Not so the next day! On the morning of the 7th, Mohawk (positioned 60 miles east of Cape May), closed to identify her first black. By noon, “Mo” was trailing the British West Indies ship, Popacatpelt. As the suspect vessel lay in international waters, all the cutter could do was shadow her whilst rolling in a moderate sea with no contest evident. It wasn’t until darkness fell that a “hide-and-seek” game began. At 2137, the black -- while under the cutters searchlight beam -- attempted to escape. At 2145, she abruptly stopped. At 0320, the suspect shut off all her lights and, again, tried to run. Popacatpelt gave-up trying one half hour later. By this time the weather had turned nasty with “Mare’s Manes” cresting the waves in a full gale. Yet, all through that day the cutter trailed the black, and by 1730, with the storm yet unabated, fog rolled in. And, as those were the days before radar, the game per se ended. The cutter swung into the Northeast gale, spending the night, “making bare steerageway with head to sea.”

Although that case was local, there were a number of cases where “Mo” trailed blacks goodly distances. Case-in-point: Dreamgirl, a British black out of St. Johns, Newfoundland. Mohawk shadowed her for 3 days, finally dropping the trail southwest of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia on 27th May. And, on her return to Cape May, the cutter picked-up a valuable new direction finder. Yet, outside of shadowing a few more “mother ships,” the pickings were getting slim. The “CG” had improved its game, while on the other hand, the smugglers were being forced to quit as the American breweries were coming back into production. The profitability of rum running had ebbed. And, by the end of 1935, the cutters would be deployed elsewhere.

SEARCH AND RESCUE

20 August 1935 found Mohawk at Fort Paul Bay on the end of Long Island, engaged in training exercises, when she received orders to proceed to the Nantucket Lightship area to search for survivors of the fishing vessel Juneal. By 2100 she was searching for wreckage in “pea soup” fog. The search was unsuccessful until 1230 the following day wherein 12 hours of rigorous searching netted: one gray hatch cover; one white machinery cover and seven lesser planks. She ceased her search at 1530; thereupon returning to New York. On 6 February, she rescued the fishing vessel Elva and Estelle which ran aground at Skunk Sound in Cape May harbor; towing her to freedom after refloating the vessel. Still, with that said, “Mo” was once called to two rescues in one day! On 3 December 1938, she was called to aid the SS Alabaman -- grounded in the Delaware River -- but the ship re-floated herself before “Mo” arrived. The cutter then turned, rushing to sea to the aid of a fishing vessel Leonora C, only to lose that rescue to the old USCGC Pontchartrain, which was closer.

Many would think that all the Mohawk ever did was perform rescues and such. Not so! She, like most cutters, entertained various dignitaries on short cruises; one was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury . There were many more press-related activities she became involved in: too numerous to mention here. Moreover, she had to be kept “ship-shape,” requiring endless maintenance. Her machinery had to be overhauled and at times repaired. Also, for the deck force, it was an endless round of scraping, sanding, and painting. Keeping the vessel in good repair was -- and still is -- a necessary part of shipboard life. Luckily, she was in good condition when she met the devastating Hurricane of 1938. The winds climbed to Force 11; the seas Force 8. By 0230, on 22 September, after the storm had abated, she was underway New London, Connecticut on emergency relief. She, along the way, was ordered to search for “persons in the water” after the sinking of the steamer Ocean View. The search proved fruitless. The cutter anchored at New London at 1520. There she put over her boats to refloat CG-171 and CG-156; both of which had been beached by the storm. Repairing personal hurricane damage took more of the ship’s time.

In January 1939, the Mohawk stood by the disabled freighter Arlyn until a tugboat arrived. (It would not be the last time they met. The Arlyn would be sunk while in convoy with Mohawk on 27 August 1942). On the 20th January, the #1 monomoy was sent ashore for repairs and a “loaner” was hoisted to the davits. The following day, the ship received radio data regarding the crash of British Airways Cavalier off the Delaware coast. She, however, remained in port; two cutters were already “on-scene.” At 1648, she, howbeit, was ordered underway enroute the scene with a reporter (George R. Burns) and two photographers aboard. Burns penned: “It was as nice a night as you would want . . . when we left Saturday at 6 p.m.” (He would later eat those words). The ship’s mascot “Millie” [black cat], and 9 crewmembers, didn’t answer the ship’s horn and were left ashore. Mohawk answering “ahead full” pounded to sea. Yet, at 0620 the next morning, the ship was ordered to return home. The cutter reversed course and reduced to 115 rpm’s. But the weather -- pleasant at midnight -- soon changed. Mohawk was heading into the teeth of a full gale and the ride of her life. . . .

At 0720, Boat # 1 (the loaned boat from Cape May) was carried away in heavy seas. The log read: “Boat hung by forward fall . . . until stem pulled out revealing a rotten structure . . . a very rough sea and strong southwest gale made salvage [of boat] . . . . impractical.” At 0730 the deck force had cut the sea painter and cast the wreck adrift. The loss of #1 boat proved only one crisis, for at 1325 monomoy #2 worked herself loose in the belly gripe. By 1339, the crew managed to secure the small boat, but five times more the deck force heard the cry: “All hands on deck; make fast the lifeboat.” The men held on to the lifelines, as, according to Boatswains Mate, Harry F. Adamak, “they threw additional lines around the boat.” They held on as five feet of green water, resembling a grasping hand, kept smashing at the bows, reaching for the bridge, and sluicing around the deck. The inclinometer read 51 degree rolls, reciprocally port and starboard. (Theoretically, the most a ship of her size and design could safely roll was 58 degrees, after which, she could easily capsize.)

There was no let-up during the day. The log read: “heading into a whole west-north-west gale and mountainous seas. Vessel laboring greatly and pitching deeply and heavily.” Solid water pounding the deck, sounding like a big base drum. Anything not rightly-secured became a “missile hazard.” “The anchor chains in the chain locker clanged like a tone-deaf bell (wrote Burns), with every swing and pitch of the ship.” The ferocity of the storm didn’t lessen until 0745. The Mohawk had ridden it well, and, surprisingly, there were no major injuries to the crew. “Mo” was proving to be one tough customer.

WINDS OF WAR

By the end of the 1930’s, war against Nazi Germany was slowly drawing nigh. One of the Mohawk’s new duties was the “Neutrality Patrol,” consisting of running back and forth off Sandy Hook, identifying everything moving on the water; furnishing the District Office with details of anything suspicious; breaking now and then to attend to an actual distress. One of those rescues involved the British freighter M/V Ramon De Larringa, which had departed Philadelphia bound for England with a cargo of 8,500 tons of pig iron and scrap metal. Suddenly, about 75 miles east of Atlantic City, in mounting seas, her cargo shifted. The freighter’s crew worked feverishly to re-align the cargo while the Captain, F. P. Ryan, sent an SOS. The Mohawk sped east all night arriving on-scene at dawn, to find the Ramon De Larringa crawling along westward at 4 knots with a 35 degree port list. A steamer -- the Talamanca -- escorted the stricken vessel. “Mo” took over escort at 0530. At 0830, CGC Comanche joined escort. The slow parade continued throughout the day and night while aboard the cripple the crew struggled to “right ship” as the engineroom slowly flooded and, by early morning [9th], the Larringa had lost headway. Mohawk then attempted a tow. By 1125, “Mo” and her tow were moving; heading west-southwest. At 1650, the tug, H. C. Jefferson, arrived, putting a second towline aboard. This caused a new dilemma, as the tug started pulling the tow away from the cutter, and at 1724, to avoid a mishap, Mohawk cut her own towline. And, as the list increased -- even with a second tug now towing -- the “CG” ordered her beached at Harbor of Refuge, Lewes, Delaware. Mohawk then sent a working party aboard to help shift cargo. At 2300, the exhausted working party returned from the grounded ship. And, as during the night the wind increased and the waters grew choppy , the cutter radioed for help. Unfortunately, at approximately 0531, even with help alongside, the freighter “turned turtle.” Mohawk, promptly sent her small boats, finding all but three of the Larringa’s crew sitting on the upturned hull. All but one, Archibald McLean, were eventually rescued. McLean was never found. (End note: The Larringa was later salvaged only to be sunk by a U-boat on 14 October 1942.)

Less than one month after the Ramon De Larringa episode, Mohawk assisted the Norwegian freighter, Olaf Berg, which had run aground off Fenwick Island. “Mo” and two tugs struggled with the grounded vessel for two days. However, once “Berg” was afloat, Mohawk departed for other duties.

Moreover, by early 1941, the U.S. was slowly being drawn into the abominable war on the side of the Allies. Still, the Roosevelt Administration was trying to eschew breaking neutrality, whilst secretly supplying Great Britain. First came “Cash and Carry;” then “Lent-Lease,” wherein ammo and supplies were granted to Britain, whose defense was intrinsically vital to America’s interests. Coupled with 50 old “flush deck” destroyers, the US loaned the British our older 250 foot “Lake Class” Coast Guard cutters. Yet warships without weaponry were of little use in combat: Hence, an unusual errand for Mohawk. On 14 March 1941, the Mohawk quietly tied-up at the Naval Mine Depot at Yorktown, Virginia, where the crew spent the day loading depth charges. Every available space aboard was utilized, including most of the main deck, and, by 1830, she was enroute Boston. Upon her arrival [1400, the 16th] the crew off-loaded some of her dangerous cargo to a (now British) Lake Class cutter. Underway the following day, she unloaded the rest at Brooklyn Navy Yard.

On 30 March, Mohawk, now under command of LCDR George Carstedt (CO), got “underway enroute Philadelphia” on a secret mission. She, and a few of her sister-ships were to prevent the crews of 28 Italian [Axis] merchant ships from sabotaging their vessels, blockaded in US ports by the British. A number of these ships had already been heavily damaged: 20 were completely ruined. Roosevelt soon authorized the seizure of said vessels. The “CG” was ordered to snatch, nationwide, a total of 69 Italian registered ships: The crews being, subsequently, detained and treated as prisoners-of-war.

The winds of war commenced howling. Gunnery practice increased as did the routine with small arms. Perhaps the first true inkling that war was on the horizon, was an order from Headquarters to repaint the entire ship, Navy gray, right after the Commandant’s visit on 4 August 1940. Soon after, the brilliant white hull and buff-colored stack (identifying “CG” cutters), were painted over by all hands. And, on 1 November, Executive Order #8929 transferred the Mohawk (and all cutters) to the control of the U.S. Navy.

“Mo” entered the Staten Island Yard in December 1940 for the first of her many conversions. Both ship’s masts were removed and the foremast was re-situated aft of the wheelhouse in front of the stack where it is yet found today. The main mast was discarded. A “Y” gun was implanted where the mainmast used to sit. Sadly, the two 3”/50 caliber guns were removed for use elsewhere, and replaced with archaic 3”/23 cal. cannons, which would later prove useless. (Ensign Fraser, later termed them, “Spanish-American Era pea-shooters”). The only other additions to her armament in early 1941 were two portable .30 caliber Lewis guns which were mounted on the fore-deck aft of the pea-shooters. Nevertheless, Mohawk, refurbished, went back to her usual routine, as it wasn’t Carstedt’s wont to sit around when there were duties to perform.

In April 1941, the now USS/USCGC Mohawk was back in the Yard where her first sonar [Asdic] system was installed. The other project-installation was a “degaussing system” to neutralize the ship’s magnetic field. Degaussing was done to help foil magnetically activated mines and torpedoes, which the Nazis had aplenty. All this work was accomplished in time for the Jap’s sneak-attack at Pearl Harbor -- 7 December 1941. “Mo,” returned to the Yard, again, in mid-December; wherein dual depth charge racks were installed on her fantail. Needless-to-say, she was beginning to resemble a “miniature battlewagon.”

On 16 January 1942, Mohawk took yard workers and equipment to aid M/V Oldham, which had sustained a steering casualty 35 miles east of Daytona Beach, Florida. Upon arrival, some 26 hours later, the cutter transferred yard personnel to Oldham. In the process, # 1 boat was damaged so # 2 was put over. Still, at 1710, the repairs were deficient, so “Mo” put over a shotline and by 1745 had the cripple in tow. This was no ordinary tow job as the Germans had opened their offensive along America’s east coast -- four days before! Captain Carlstedt realized that Mohawk and Oldham (two slow-moving targets), would be easy prey for any U-boat lurking in the area. Meanwhile, the “yardbirds” still labored aboard Oldham, trying to get the steering problem corrected. Finally, on the 21st, the repair crew announced that they had succeeded. The yardmen and towline were reclaimed and Mohawk steamed for Charleston: all crewmen breathing a sigh of relief. On 3 February 1942, “Mo” was tied to Pier 8, Boston Navy Yard, where more alterations were made, such as: welding over all hull portholes; small battle ports installed after removing the plate glass windows from the bridge, a machine gun tub welded in front of the bridge amidships, two10 man balsa liferafts installed, and a vast number of supplies and ammo were taken aboard. On 18th February the CO held muster; “issued winter clothing [Arctic gear] and secured ship for sea.” The crew now had a good idea of where they were headed -- Greenland!

GREENLAND PATROL AND CONVOYS

Greenland had been a territorial possession of Denmark’s. America, wanting to deny the Axis use of the land-mass for weather stations, struck a deal with the exiled Danish King, wherein the U.S. would utilize Greenland for its own military use, keeping it from German occupation. Later, on 9 April 1941, the Danes signed an agreement making Greenland a protectorate of the United States. Besides, our “cousin” [Britain] had occupied its neighbor, Iceland, since early May 1940. In the summer of ‘41 the Greenland Patrol had been formed. Coast Guard duties involved: patrol and break ice for supply ships, maintain communications, initiate weather patrols, continue surveys, and destroy any (and all) German installations found on Greenland. Predominantly, into all this sailed -- Mohawk. . . .

The Mohawk arrived off Greenland on 5 March 1942, and anchored at Bluie West One [Narsarssuak] on the evening of the 8th. Both Narsarssuak and Ivigtut [Bluie West Seven] contained large army airfields, while Simiutak Island [Bluie West Three] and Soudre Stromfjord [Bluie West Eight], were later visited by “Mo.” There were, incidentally, bases on the east coast of Greenland [“Bluie East.”], Mohawk, however, never visited them. Furthermore, by the time of the cutter’s arrival, the Germans had, for the most part, been driven from Greenland: Yet, the CG was alert to any German activity, as this anomaly still existed.

It was on this first voyage to Greenland that Mohawk was introduced to ice-breaking -- Greenland style! The captain learned quickly to either search for openings (with the aid of a airplane), or go around the ice flows as the ice was, in some areas, 8 feet thick! Nonetheless, ice-breaking itself was taking a toll on the cutters. On 30th April 1942, Mohawk took the USS/USCGC Raritan, in tow as the ocean-going tug had sacrificed her propeller to the ice. Mohawk, herself, later experienced a similar dilemma when she accidentally backed into heavy ice. Captain C.C. Von Paulson, (SOPA-Greenland), on the 9th of May; after investigating damages, announced a bent “prop” as one problem. Investigation also revealed that -- due to ice damage -- the forepeak tank rivets were loose and leaking; ergo, “Mo” was sent home for repairs. Needless-to-say, the crew was overjoyed as the ship was ordered to Boston Navy Yard and good liberty!

Upon her arrival at the Yard; whilst prop and forepeak repairs were underway, 4 “K-Guns” were added to her arsenal, as were .50 caliber machine guns. Accordingly, a loud cheer arose when the antiquated 3”/23 “popguns” were removed and new 3”/50 cannons installed. To quote her jubilant gunnery officer: “Now, we can do some damage!” The “Mo” now really approximated a battleship in microcosm. Still, as a result of this improved armament, the older hands equated these new installations with just one thing -- convoy duty!

The morning of 25 August 1942, saw Mohawk, under a new commanding officer, LCDR Robert T. Alexander, anchored in Sydney, Nova Scotia. At 1430 the ship was ordered underway to form convoy (SG-6) in company USS/USCGC Algonquin. By now “Mo” had two convoys under her belt; her crew were getting to be old hands at this convoy business. They escorted freighters: Arlyn (of earlier fame), Alcoa Guard, Biscaya, and collier Harjurand, with tanker Laramie carrying the convoy Commodore. Because the collier could only average 7 knots, the fast troop transport, USAT Chatham, with its single escort USS/USCGC Mojave, were disengaged to sail on ahead. (It was to become a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse; the U-boat commander’s playing the cat). Thusly, for the next two days the slow convoy steamed towards the Strait of Belle Isle, while receiving protection from Canadian warplanes. On 27th August Mohawk’s lookout “sighted Mojave [plus charge] standing to westward.” All was indeed going well. . . .

Nevertheless, on the morning of the 26th, U-517, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Paul Hartwig (and two other U-boats), arrived off the coast of Canada with orders to “open a campaign against the St. Lawrence River.” At 0230, the 27th, U-517, “turned into the southern entrance to the Strait of Belle Isle,” where she remained surfaced until 0530. Action was soon to take place, for at 0800, U-517 spied two steamers: “One [an] escort of the type Cayuga (actually USS/USCGC Tampa), the other a steamship . . . shot two torpedoes [fanned] . . . one hit amidships . . . the other missed. Steamer began to burn immediately after being hit in the side.” At that point, U-517 dove deep.

At around 0830, U-517 located the Chatham and Mojave, heading 51 degrees true. Hartwig had found another prey! . . . They caught Chatham by surprise! And, at 0846, the USAT Chatham was struck by a torpedo [starboard side], and began listing immediately. At 0911, Chatham sank. Mojave sought the “death-dealer,” until 1100; thereafter giving-up the search. Throughout the day, Mojave, with the aid of Canadian Corvette K-174, which had arrived after hearing of the attack, pulled survivors -- packed into seven boats and five rafts -- from the water. Miraculously, only 13 of the 562 men of the troopship had been lost. All the while, U-517, having witnessed the sinking via periscope, headed to sea to recharge batteries.

Mojave, while racing to port with her disheveled Chatham survivors, passed convoy SG-6 at 1800; whereupon she provided the two escorts with information of the attack and sinking. The grim-faced crew of the Mohawk and Algonquin steamed on in heightened awareness of dangers that lay ahead.

From the beginning, SG-6 harbored no luck. And, to make matters worse, at 2030 a full moon arose; silhouetting the entire convoy. At 2058 Laramie sounded her whistle, causing both escorts to sound “GQ.” Algonquin rushed to investigate, only to be informed that Laramie’s whistle sounded to indicate a turn. Ironically, all the milling around had helped the convoy as it confused the captain of U-163. Yet, Korvetten Kapitan, Eberhard Hoffman (U-163’s CO), finally, after the confusion abated, worked his way into a perfect attack position. Hoffman launched 4 torpedoes [in a double fan] and “saw three broadside detonations on 2 steamers, each 5000 tons.” Hoffman also reported hearing five detonations.

Algonquin immediately swung hard aport attempting to make contact with the enemy. A short while later, Algonquin observed Alcoa Guard, Biscaya, and Harjurand heading toward the southern entrance of the Strait. She pursued them, remaining north and west to cover their escape; later logging: “ No contact made on enemy at any time with sonar apparatus.” Midnight found the cutter escorting the three remaining vessels to the northeast.

Aboard Mohawk: “2133 Heard torpedo explosion, observed faint white glow vicinity [tankers] port bow. Sighted second white glow about two seconds after first.” Either the Laramie or Alcoa Guard was hit. At 2134 Mohawk heard third explosion and, whilst ringing-up full-speed, headed portside of convoy. At that time, Laramie began firing star shells [stern 5”] and “Mo” sailed in direction of projectile illumination. In passing Laramie, Mohawk noted that “vessel was down by the head; listing to port; no fire, just a strong odor of gasoline.” Paul M. Pritchard, QM2, remembered that: “everyone on the bridge were half punchy from the fumes.” Mohawk continued taking sonar soundings north of Laramie, and at 2232 broke off to devote attention to the cripple.

Hoffman’s attack on the tanker was, however, less successful than he had hoped. His first torpedo had missed; the second had only struck the forward section of the 446 foot tanker. Laramie was carrying -- beside her cargo of oil and depth charges -- 361,000 gallons of unbelievably volatile aviation gasoline! The hit had blasted a 41 foot hole, 34 feet high [freeboard], wrecking crews quarters and killing four men. Worst still, the list had opened the port gasoline tank and the in-rushing sea sprayed “Avgas” everywhere. The ship was down 30 feet by the bow, yet, for some unknown reason, there was no explosion. The Laramie’s Captain, P.C. Moncy (later awarded the Navy Cross), saved the stricken ship by utilizing her fire-suppression system to protect the undamaged holds, while pumping cargo to correct the list. By the time Moncy finished, he had less then one-third of the Avgas remaining -- the rest had washed out to sea. Laramie, escorted by Mohawk, made straight for Sydney, Nova Scotia. God was sailing with Laramie that day.

If Laramie was a lesson in how to save a ship, Mohawk’s old friend Arlyn was just the opposite. Hoffman’s third and fourth torpedoes hit the Arlyn and she sank in less than an hour. She had been carrying 400 tons of Avgas, explosives, and food stores. The crew panicked, leaving the Naval gunners to swim for it. Thirteen of her crew had been killed whilst attempting to escape, but the gun crew swam the10 miles to shore, where they were picked-up the following day. Sadly, these gutsy men were to be lost in a barracks fire shortly after their heroic swim.

And what of the errant torpedo; the first one fired? The “fish” -- meant to hit the tanker drawing 25 feet of water -- had passed directly under the keel of Mohawk. Talk about luck! In conclusion: the sinking of the Arlyn was the last assault on SG-6 and the last U-boat assault on Belle Isle Strait!

(End/Part 1)

 

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