Mariners and Armed Guard Together at the Guns

SS Antoine Saugraine Crew Downs 7 Japanese Dive Bombers

Odlin - Maritime 62

PR 2130 (W)


Advance Release For

 Cleared and Released

Sunday Morning Papers

 Through Facilities of the

January 14, 1945

 Office of War Information


American merchant seamen, who manned the guns when nearly all members of the Navy armed guard were wounded, successfully defended a war freighter against 35 Japanese dive bombers and shot down seven before an aerial torpedo sent the vessel down in Leyte harbor recently, the War Shipping Administration reported today. A report from Lt. John Macauley, USMS, WSA representative in the Southwest Pacific, showed that after 30 minutes of intense attack, guns were still firing as the ship went to the bottom.

Most of the Navy gunners were wounded when the first Japanese Betty -- fast low-level bomber strafer -- missed the merchantman with a stick of bombs by 20 yards, the explosion also badly strained the vessel's plates. The plane then made a tight turn and strafed the vessel from end to end.

Reserve groups of merchant seamen who then took over shot down two Bettys a few seconds later.

The action started about 8:30 a.m., and within half an hour the seamen and unwounded Navy gunners were fighting off simultaneous and repeated attacks from every angle by fighter bombers. While their attention was thus occupied, a Japanese torpedo plane slipped in low over the water and scored a hit in No. 4 hatch. There was a terrific explosion and the freighter went down in about five minutes.

Lifeboats had been launched before the ship sank but gunners stayed aboard and fought on until the decks were under water and then, weeping with rage, swam off, giving up the fight.

It was a costly victory for the Japanese, Lieutenant Macauley reports, for the ship's guns certainly downed seven attacking planes, got five probables, and scored hits on twelve others. Most amazing of all was the fact that when the merchant seamen and Navy gunners were fished out of the water it was found not one of the ship's company had been lost.

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We were able to determine the ship was SS Antoine Saugraine, Master Anthony Van Cromphaut, date December 5, 1944. During the war, much information about merchant ships was censored.

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