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L. J. Drake - (1918-1942)
SS L.J. Drake
On the morning of June 4, 1942 - second day of the historic Battle of Midway in the Central Pacific - the Esso tanker L.J. Drake and the Panamanian flag tanker C.O. Stillman sailed together from Aruba, Netherlands West Indies.
These merchant ships, deeply engaged in the long and decisive Battle of the Atlantic, carried cargoes which amounted to 8,348,466 gallons of petroleum products of high military and economic value. About half an hour after sunrise the two heavy laden oil carriers passed the breakwater, left the strongly guarded harbor of San Nicolas, and put to sea.

41 Men Aboard
The Drake was commanded by Captain Peder Nielsen. Her engincroom was in charge of Chief Engineer Joseph F. Lafo. With a crew of 35 officers and men and 6 U. S. Navy gunners, she had a total complement of 41. The vessel was armed with a 4-inch gun and four 30-caliber machine guns. Her cargo of 72,961 barrels, consisting of three grades of gasoline, was consigned to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Stillman, which had loaded 125,812 barrels of fuel oil at Aruba, was bound for New York.
To quote from the report of Captain Daniel H. Larsen, master of the C.O. Stillman (which was torpedoed at 9:15 p.m. on June 5, 1942) :

Last Report
"In conformity with instructions received from the British Naval Routing Officer at Aruba, we sailed on June 4, at 6 a.m., in company with the U. S. tanker L.J. Drake. However, owing to the fact that our speed was 9 1/2 knots, whereas the speed of the L.J. Drake was 9 knots, the latter gradually dropped astern and went out of sight at nightfall.
"On June 5, at 7 p.m., we received several coded messages warning us of the presence of enemy submarines in the vicinity and instructing us to change our course. Accordingly, at 8 p.m., our course was altered 95° and from then until about 9:10 p.m., I stood in the chart room decoding messages with the assistance of Chief Officer Harry Bansen. I figured out that at this time the L.J. Drake was about 20 miles astern.
"The sea was moderate, the sky overcast, night pitch dark, wind southeast. Force 4."
Captain Larsen's report, in describing the sinking of the Stillman, stated that "Our position at the time we were hit by the torpedo was Longitude 68°20' West and Latitude 17°30' North."
The L.J. Drake, last seen, as reported by the master of the C.O. Stillman, at nightfall on June 4, 1942, was never heard from again.

Officially Presumed Lost
A letter received from the War Shipping Administration, dated July 21, 1942, stated on authority of the Navy that "The L.J. Drake and her crew are long overdue and presumed lost as a result of enemy action."

The SS L.J. Drake was built in 1918 by the Ames Shipbuilding & Dry Docking Company at Seattle, Washington.
A single-screw vessel of 9,845 deadweight tons capacity on international summer draft of 26 feet, 1 1/4 inches, the L.J. Drake had an overall length of 435 feet, 6 inches, a length between perpendiculars of 420 feet, a moulded breadth of 57 feet, and a depth moulded of 31 feet, 7 inches. With a cargo carrying capacity of 75,078 barrels, she had an assigned pumping rate of 3,500 barrels an hour.
Her triple expansion engine, with steam supplied by three Scotch boilers, developed 2,800 indicated horsepower and gave her a classification certified speed of 10.2 knots.

On September 3, 1939, the L.J. Drake was in the Patuxent River, where she had been in the tied-up fleet since August 13. Soon after the outbreak of war she was overhauled for active service and sailed from Baltimore on September 27 under the command of Captain Elden M. MacCabe, with her engineroom in charge of Chief Engineer Earl Williams. Proceeding to Baton Rouge, La., the Drake loaded her first wartime cargo, 59,751 barrels of Esso fuel, which she discharged at Tampa, Fla. During the rest of the year she made five more coastwise voyages.
In 1940, with cargoes of fuel oil, heating oil, and gasoline, the Drake made 21 voyages, chiefly in the Gulf-east coast service but including three loadings at Aruba and visits to Mayaguez, Ponce, and Havana.
Transporting mixed petroleum products during most of the year 1941, the vessel continued coastwise voyages with one exception. On July 14, 1941, commanded by Captain Patrick J. Reidy, with Chief Engineer James L. Gibbs in charge of her engine-room, the L.J. Drake left New York with a mixed cargo of 67,330 barrels, mainly Pool gas oil, for the U. S. Naval Base, Iceland. United States Marines had landed at Reykjavik on July 7, 1941. The Drake arrived there less than three weeks later.
In 1942 the L.J. Drake completed 6 voyages before she sailed from Aruba on June 4. Her last delivered cargo, loaded at Beaumont, Texas, was 74,454 barrels of gasoline and kerosene for the Panama Canal Zone. Sailing first to New Orleans, where she took on bunkers and awaited Navy orders, the Drake proceeded to Gristobal and Balboa and after discharging all cargo returned through the Canal to Aruba, where she arrived on June 1.

The wartime transportation record of the L.J. Drake was in summary as follows:

Voyages (Cargoes)

During the war years the masters of the L.J. Drake were Captains Elden M. MacCabe, Leslie D. Gushman, Arnulf Hartman, Albert J. Thomas, Chester S. Swanner, Charles M. Crowell, Patrick J. Reidy, and Peder Nielsen.
For the same period her engineroom was in charge of Chief Engineers Earl Williams, William Schwindt, Sigurd Steffensen, Reginald S. Patten, James L. Gibbs, Paul Christ, Carl F. Eickhoff, and Joseph F. Lafo.

Captain Peder Nielsen joined the Company on August 14, 1924. With continuous service as a licensed officer from January 24, 1925, he had been a master since September 4, 1939. Commissioned a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve on June 19, 1939, he was promoted to lieutenant commander on September 3, 1941. Captain Nielsen was assigned to the L.J. Drake on September 15, 1941.
Chief Engineer Joseph F. Lafo, who joined the Company as a third assistant engineer on February 13, 1928, had had continuous service as a chief engineer since July 15, 1933. He was assigned to the L.J. Drake on May 20, 1942.
Mr. Lafo was the only member of the Drake's crew on June 4, 1942 who had experienced the torpedoing of another tanker. He was chief engineer of the E.M. Clark when that vessel was lost by enemy action on March 18, 1942.

Merchant Crew Lost on the "L.J. Drake" - June, 1942 :

Peder Nielsen
James E. Dorian
Ch. Mate
Tom W. Goodman
Andrew Kravlen
2nd Mate
Floyd Mercer
Francis X. Urban
3rd Mate
James V. Meehan
Joseph F. Lafo
Ch. Engr.
Jimmie Carter
Ira W. Billinger
1st Asst.
Eduardo Otero
Frank A. Zamora
3rd Asst.
Joseph M. Devitt
Fred C. Hanson
Radio Op.
Juan F. Rodrieuez
Walter H. Newton
Georg C. Fricke
Tulio Cortez
Ch. Cook
William Merritt
Sostenes B. Garcia
George F. Usbeck, Jr.
Jack C. Wilson
Joseph Husteck
Epenetus W. Dalrymple
Christopher L. Potter
Herman P. Miller
Lucilo Maravel
2nd Cook
James H. Collier
William W. Summers
Claude D. Powell
R. J. Ferris
Edward J. Gaines
Catalino Kimpis
Richard T. O'Reilly
Luther L. Crow

U. S. Navy Armed Guard Lost on the "L.J. Drake" :

Velton L. Dearmond
Mark Pollard, Jr.
Joseph Harmon, Jr.
Reuben Schierman
Howard A. Nesbitt
Willie C. Stewart