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Arthur Whittaker's account of a German submarine attack on M/V Esso Bolivar
Arthur Whittaker's account of a German submarine attack on M/V
Esso Bolivar, 8 - 9 March, 1942
(Handwritten, Discovered in old papers September 1999)
"I had been making a bracket of angle iron to change the ladder to the air bottles since we
had had a new cooler and pump installed in the way of the old arrangement. My oiler,
Wilson had given me a hand on replacing the platform on the fire pump which the
machinist had just finished working on. At midnight we went off watch and the Second
Assistant took over. Went topside and spoke with the gunners watch. Moon just up.
I donít remember whether or not I took a shower before turning in, although it was
Saturday night. I know I got my boiler suit out of the fiddley, folded it neatly and put it
in the bureau by the bunk and then went to sleep naked.
About 2:20am I was awakened by sharp explosions overhead. I thought perhaps it was
those damned gunners practicing with a machine gun - one shot at a time but arose,
donned my clean boiler suit, and went out in the passage to investigate.
The First Assistant, Sorensen, evidently similarly actuated, was coming out his room clad
in pajamas, and as we spoke, the electrician, Stoller, emerged from his room with a
questioning expression. I noticed then that Sorensen had his life preserver on so I went
back and put mine on. The electrician put on his rubber life-saving suit.
From somewhere the word came "This is it, boys" followed by the first hit and Sorensen
and I went around to the starboard side through the passages to see if McTaggart, the
Chief Engineer was up. He was; and gone, so Sorensen went below too.
The crew was gathering from below and several of us were in the port upper deck
passage when a shell hit somewhere above us on the boat deck - I guessed it was the
lifeboat. Paint showered down on us and the light in the First Assistant's room went out.
Some of us then went out on deck just forward of the after house and ducked from one
door to another according to how the flashes indicated the position of the submarine.
Sorensen reappeared sometime during this sequence and asked me to stick around in case
communications from the bridge were disrupted, and he promptly disappeared again.
Three of us ducked into the starboard upper deck doorway by the Chief's room when we
were warned of another shell by the reflection of the flash against the mast. It felt like
the biggest kick on my butt I'd ever received. The other two with me cried out. One had
lost his hand and the other's leg was broken close to the ankle. The mess man who lost
his hand walked away while I went over to the port side again. The pump man and
someone else brought the wounded ordinary over and I took him, rubber suit and all,
through the baffles into the passage and laid him on Bowen's bed. Skadoura, another
ordinary came in and we took the rubber suit off Vaught and discovered a hole in his leg
about the size of a half dollar in circumference. Both bones were broken and grated
when we moved the foot. The wound wasn't bleeding as badly as I though a wound like
that would, but I made a tourniquet of a towel and a folding rule.
Skadoura held the tourniquet while I went on deck again. The ship was being shelled
regularly with never a miss. I thought maybe Skadoura would be safer if he didn't stay in
the room with Vaught, there being only one bulkhead between him and the sub, so I went
back and with another towel, secured the tourniquet. Vaught was in much pain, but never
Skadoura and I went back on deck as a bunch of crew members surged across the deck
laughing and joking so we joined their direction and hit the deck around the corner of the
bulkhead as a shell burst on the port side. There were several members dressed in the
ungainly rubber suits already quietly sitting, backs against the house, knees drawn up and
smoking cigarettes with embers, cones about three quarters of and inch long. I wonder
now how the boys in the suits managed to smoke for once you're in the suits, you're in -
no using your gloved hands for any intricate work like striking a match.
We kept running from side to side until the port side of the deck house caught afire. I
tried to go in to get Vaught out but Peterson, our mess man, wedged himself in the baffles
and wouldn't let me by. I remember thinking he must have killed Vaught to keep him
from burning to death for he made me believe the boy was dead.
I had been watching the stars as we zigzagged so I would know the relative position of
the sub even before the flashes warned me. The engines had stopped and I saw a flash
forward of abeam. We were describing a large circle when, although I don't remember it,
the cry to abandon ship came. Some of the boys were gathered around the port raft on
the after well deck when I went aft to get the men out of the engine room. I met Sorensen
on the way and as we continued aft a bright orange flash showed up thru the door to the
deck. "There goes the bunkers" I thought. We hollered from the upper grating until
answered. The Second Assistant started up and Sorensen and I went forward. Sorensen
leisurely led the way along the cat-walk and the electrician, who followed me was
stepping on my heels pushed by other men behind him. I was amazed that the grating
didn't hurt my bare feet.
We all hit the deck amidships as soon as we made it, for a shell that hit aft somewhere. It
looked like the port lifeboat had left, for the falls were down, so despite the fact that the
sub was on the starboard side we tried to lower the starboard boat, only to be halted by
another flash. Giving the boat up, the 1st, electrician and I went down to the forward well
deck just as the port raft went overboard.
One of the men was futilely trying to open the pelican hook to release the starboard raft
when the Chief Mate backed him off and knocked the link down with a piece of wood.
Overboard went the raft.
I went over to the rail and watched it rising and falling alongside. Fearing I should miss
it if I jumped, I went farther forward and climbed down the painter. Just as I was getting
aboard, a Norwegian A.B., Bjorne Johnson, jumped from deck and was cutting the lines
when I hollered and let him pull me aboard first."
(This story was not discovered until September, 1999 when I found an old portfolio of my father's in
some of his papers. This was handwritten and obviously quite old. I suspect it was written shortly
after the event.)