Stanvac Calcutta: the Gallant Ship that Fought a German Raider
The Stanvac Calcutta left Montevideo, Uruguay on May 29, 1942 in ballast, for Caripito, Venezuela with 51 men aboard -- 42 Merchant Marine crew and 9 Naval Armed Guard. She was a custom built tanker owned by the Socony-Vacuum Company, now Mobil Shipping and Transportation, registered in Panama. She was 487 feet long, with a 68 foot beam, 10,169 gross tons, propelled by a steam turbine. She was built April 1941 by the Bethlehem Steel Company shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts.
On the morning of June 6, while about 500 miles off Recife, Brazil, a ship flying the German flag came out of a rain squall firing at the Stanvac Calcutta. On the bridge, both Captain Gustaf Karlsson and First Mate Aage Knudsen recognized the International Code signal flags she was flying: "Stop your engines."
Captain Karlsson ordered full speed ahead and a hard right to put the Stanvac Calcutta in the best position to fire at her attacker. The Nazi raider Stier continued firing all 4 guns which could bear on the American ship. Each broadside from the Stier fired a total of 400 pounds of shells. They struck the bridge, the fo'c'sle, and all along the water line. During the battle the Stier fired 148 rounds at the Stanvac Calcutta and one torpedo.
The Calcutta began to list badly, so the first mate went down to the main deck to attempt to shift ballast to correct the list. Soon the engine stopped and the ship was dead in the water.
The Naval Armed Guard at the 4 inch stern gun (31 pound shells) and Merchant Marine crew manning the forward 3 inch gun each fired about 25 shells at the Nazi raider. They knocked out one of her 15 cm (5.9 inch) guns, wounding two men, but the next shells from the raider shattered the gun pointer's scope and sight bar. The gun crews kept firing until the ammunition magazine was hit and the ship began to sink.
First Mate Knudsen returned to the bridge to find Captain Karlsson and Able Bodied Seaman Neldon Okander, who had been at the wheel, dead at their posts, and Radio Operator Philip Heath dead outside the radio room. Of the 51 on board, 14 were dead and 14 seriously injured. The ship was settling rapidly by the stern. Knudsen gave the order to abandon ship, and the men were taken prisoner aboard the Stier.
The Stier, formerly the merchant ship Cairo, was armed with six 15cm (5.9-inch) guns and two forward torpedo tubes. She was built by Krupp in 1936, at 434 feet long, 56.5 feet broad, with a speed rated at 14 knots. The Allied code name for this auxiliary cruiser was "Raider J." She began operation as a raider in May 1942 under the command of Horst Gerlach.
|False panels hide the Stier's guns||Horst Gerlach, captain of the Stier|
SS Stanvac Calcutta was just the second victim of the Stier. The Stier had taken advantage of the position of the sun, and her first victim, the British Gemstone, had not seen her until it was too late. Her crew suffered no casualties and were taken prisoner.
Ordinary Seaman Martin Hyde died of his wounds the following day aboard the Stier, and was buried with an American flag over his body while a shipmate recited a prayer commending him to the deep.
One June 12, the Stier met a supply tanker, the MS Charlotte Schliemann and 17 members of the crew and 7 Armed Guard (all who were not wounded) were transferred to the tanker. Later, they were transferred to the German freighter Doggerbank, which took them to Japan. They spent the remainder of the war at Camp Fukuoka.
On July 27, 10 of the men were transferred to the Charlotte Schliemann which had returned with more fuel. These men landed at Yokohama in October 1942, and were imprisoned at Camp Osaka.
The most seriously wounded member of the crew, Saedie Ben Hassan, was still aboard the Stier on September 27, when the Stier met the supply ship Tannenfels. The Liberty ship SS Stephen Hopkins stumbled upon that rendezvous, and a now historic sea battle took place, resulting in the sinking of both the Hopkins and the Stier. Saedie Hassan was among those rescued by the Tannenfels from the Stier.
The Tannenfels took Hassan to France where he continued to recover from his wounds at Val de Grace hospital. Hassan wrote to the Socony-Vacuum Company from the hospital asking for shoes and cigarettes, and the company and War Shipping Administration thus learned that there were survivors of a ship that failed to arrive as expected and the crew had been declared dead.
The SS Stanvac Calcutta was named a Gallant Ship.
Stanvac Calcutta Crew Killed in Action
|DuFault||Louis E.||Jr. 3rd Mate|
|Dewhurst||Charles E.||2nd Mate|
|Heath||Philip A.||Radio Officer|
Stanvac Calcutta Merchant Marine Crew Prisoners of War
|Bernstein||Joseph Jacob||Wiper||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Brown||Macon St. Paul||Steward||Charlotte Schliemann; Camp Osaka||Released|
|Clark||Wilmer Joseph||Messman||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|De La Houssaye||Jared W.||2nd Cook||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|De Long||Alvin Eugene||F/W||Charlotte Schliemann; Camp Osaka||Released|
|Elliot||Phillip Colby||A.B.||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Frederick||Jean||Messman||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Grimm||George H.||3rd Engineer||Charlotte Schliemann; Camp Osaka||Released|
|Harris||Dick||O.S.||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Hassan||Sahadi (Saedie)||A.B.||Tannenfels, Val de Grace hospital France, Milag Nord Germany||Released 4/28/45|
|Inge||Edress Bert||Wiper||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Johnson||Albert Ernest||O.S.||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Killough||Morris Glenn||Oiler||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Knudsen||Aage Harreby||Chief Mate||Charlotte Schliemann; Camp Osaka||Released|
|Langston||Herschel||Oiler||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Lastra||Jose Marquez||Utility||Charlotte Schliemann; Camp Osaka||Released|
|Manley||John William||F/W||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Maynard||George Robert||3rd Mate||Charlotte Schliemann; Camp Osaka||Released|
|Mont||Arthur Howard||1st Engineer||Charlotte Schliemann; Camp Fukuoka||Died Japan 3/44|
|Polk||Paul Laverne||A.B.||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Reed||James Carl||A.B.||Charlotte Schliemann; Camp Osaka||Released|
|Sarrazin||Hatswol E.||Pumpman||Charlotte Schliemann; Camp Osaka||Released|
|Siejak||Frank Theodore||F/W||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Small||Robert James||Chief Engineer||Charlotte Schliemann; Camp Osaka||Released|
|Smith||Westcott||Bosun||Charlotte Schliemann; Camp Osaka||Released|
|Stillwell||Fred Gilbert||Messman||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Walker||Richard Joseph||2nd Engineer||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
|Williams||Hoyt||3rd Engineer||Charlotte Schliemann, Doggerbank; Camp Fukuoka||Released|
Stanvac Calcutta Armed Guard Prisoners of War
|Anderson||Edward Lee||Ens||Charlotte Schliemann; Japan: Singapore; Yokahama; Osaka Main Camp Chikko Osaka||Released||97722|
|Cox||Thomas Paul||S2c||Doggerbank; Japan: Fukuoka POW Camp #1 - Kashii (Pine Tree Camp) Kyushu Island||Released||2635168|
|Muldrow||James Carol Jr.||S2c||Charlotte Schliemann; Japan: Singapore; Yokahama; Osaka Main Camp Chikko Osaka||Released||2635204|
|Pettit||James William||S2c||Doggerbank; Japan: Fukuoka POW Camp #1 - Kashii (Pine Tree Camp) Kyushu Island||Released||2690593|
|Robertson||Joseph G.||S2c||Doggerbank; Japan: Fukuoka POW Camp #1 - Kashii (Pine Tree Camp) Kyushu Island||Released||6581094|
|Schwab||Arthur George||Coxswain||Doggerbank; Japan: Fukuoka POW Camp #1 - Kashii (Pine Tree Camp) Kyushu Island||Released||3372757|
|Stafford||Earl||S2c||Doggerbank; Japan: Fukuoka POW Camp #1 - Kashii (Pine Tree Camp) Kyushu Island||Released||2665630|
|Vinson||Lonnie||S2c||Doggerbank; Japan: Fukuoka POW Camp #1 - Kashii (Pine Tree Camp) Kyushu Island||Released||2635194|
|Winnell||Emery Eady||S2c||Doggerbank; Japan: Fukuoka POW Camp #1 - Kashii (Pine Tree Camp) Kyushu Island||Released||2665636|
The Years of Peril, Cdr. Arthur Gordon, New York: Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. (Mobil Shipping and Transportation Company), 1954, 1994
A Careless Word - A Needless Sinking: A History of the Staggering Losses Suffered by the U.S. Merchant Marine, both in Ships and Personnel, during World War II, Captain Arthur R. Moore, American Merchant Marine Museum, Kings Point, NY: 1998
Photo of Gerlach and Stier -- Sea Classics, "Duel to the Death," William Mueller, November 1984
Map adapted from http://www.lib.utexas.edu/Libs/PCL/Map_collection/south_america_pol98.jpg
Center for Research Allied Pows under the Japanese by Roger Mansell
Milag Nord POW camp
Ship Casualties of the Socony Vacuum Company During World War II
9/3/01 revised 02/03/07
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