Auke Visser's Famous T - Tankers Pages     |   home
Gettysburg / Esso Gettysburg
SS Esso Gettysburg
    The ship loss recorded in this chapter ended the timely and important war supply service of a new tanker, completed early in 1942, which for more than a year had voyaged unharmed, mainly overseas, during the most dangerous period of submarine attacks.
    The Esso Gettysburg was the first of 198 T-2-SE-A1 tankers constructed for the Maritime Commission by the Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company under the supervision of the Standard Oil Company (N.J.) .
    On June 10, 1943, following Allied victory in North Africa and a month before the invasion of Sicily, the Esso Gettysburg, after a number of voyages to Gibraltar and one to Oran, was struck by two torpedoes while en route from the Gulf to Philadelphia.

Fifteen Survivors
    The vessel burst into flames and almost immediately settled stern first - the second torpedo having hit her engineroom and stopped the ship. From two cargo tanks shattered by the first torpedo, blazing crude oil spread over the surface of the water for a
considerable distance. The fifteen survivors, who jumped quickly into the sea in places where it was at  first clear of flames, swam desperately ahead of the advancing fire and finally succeeded in reaching a partly burned and still smouldering lifeboat containing the bodies of several members of the crew. From this damaged and oarless lifeboat they were rescued by a passing ship, guided by a patrol plane, the next day.
    The tanker's total complement was 72 officers and men, of whom 57 perished - 37 of the ship's crew of 45 and 20 of her armed guard of 27.
    Among the 57 lost were the master of the ship, her chief engineer, the three assistant engineers, and the radio operator.

    The Esso Gettysburg was purchased from the Maritime Commission on February 28, 1942, the day after the disastrous Battle of the Java Sea. Enemy submarines had already destroyed 11 of the original 100 Esso and Panama Transport tankers in existence on September 3, 1939.
    The Esso Gettysburg made safe voyages from March 5, 1942 to May 27, 1943 - a period of 1 year, 2 months and 23 days. Within that time, no less than 26 Esso and Panama Transport tankers were lost and 11 were  damaged; of the latter, 8 were repaired and had returned to service by May 27.
    In a relative sense, therefore, the Esso Gettysburg was more fortunate than many other ships and successfully carried cargoes during a period of the war when a number of great military and naval decisions were made on land and sea.

The SS Esso Gettysburg, ex SS Gettysburg (U.S.M.C.), was built in 1942 by the Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, at Chester, Penna. Her sisterships were the Esso Manhattan, Esso Washiiigton, Esso Wilmington, Esso Paterson, and Esso Norfolk.
    A single-screw tanker of 16,765 deadweight tons capacity on international summer draft of 80 feet, 2 inches, the Esso Gettysburg had an overall length of 523 feet, 6 inches, a length between perpendiculars of 503 feet, a moulded breadth of 68 feet, and a depth moulded of 39 feet, 3 inches. With a cargo carrying capacity of 138.335 barrels, she had an assigned pumping rate of 7.000 barrels an hour.
    Her turbine engine, supplied with steam by two water-tube boilers, developed 7,240 shaft horsepower and gave her a classification certified speed of 14.6 knots.

The wartime transportation record of the Esso Gettysburg was in summary as follows:


    The masters of the Esso Gettysburg were Captains Adolv Larson, Andrew Weiler, James S. LeCain, Andrew L. Mellgard, and Peder A. Johnson.
    Her chief engineers were Daniel C. Dunn and Joseph E. Jacobs. The latter was chief engineer of the George G. Henry during her famous war adventures in the Far East.

    On her first voyage, under the command of Captain Adolv Larson, the Esso Gettysburg, with her engineroom in charge of Chief Engineer Daniel C. Dunn, left Philadelphia on March 5, 1942, for Baton Rouge, where she loaded 104,764 barrels of fuel oil to be discharged at Boston. After two coastwise voyages she was requisitioned by the War Shipping Administration on April 20, 1942, and thereafter most of her voyages were overseas.
    In all, the Esso Gettysburg made 16 voyages, of which 9 were foreign. She took one cargo each to Belfast, Ppnta Delgada, Cristobal, and Oran, and five cargoes to Gibraltar. The 16 cargoes she carried amounted to 1,667,936 barrels, or 70,053,312 gallons, mainly fuel oil for the fighting fronts.

    Under the command of Captain Andrew L. Mellgard, the Esso Gettysburg was the first American tanker to go into Gibraltar during the war, arriving on August 29, 1942 - more than two months before the invasion of North Africa.

Gibraltar Voyages
    Incidents and sidelights of the Esso Gettysburg's voyages to Gibraltar were described for this history by Herman Kastberg, former chief mate and a member of the winning Standard Oil Company of New Jersey lifeboat crews in the international lifeboat races of 1935 and 1939.
    "I was assigned to the Esso Gettysburg as a second mate," he said, "on November 29, 1942. We made several trips to Gibraltar in heavily guarded 15-knot convoys. At one time we were in a convoy of 6 ships escorted by 3 destroyers.
    "We also went to Oran and made a trip to the Azores, during which I became chief mate. Going to Ponta Delgada, Azores, we joined the famous Task Force 25, consisting of the battleship USS Texas, flag ship, the cruiser USS Brooklyn, and transports.

Enemy Sub Tried to Crash Tanker
    "At one time, while the Esso Gettysburg was at Gibraltar, the German consul at Algeciras told the British that she would never get back to the States. On the morning of her departure, she was escorted out of Gibraltar. An enemy submarine surfaced and tried to crash the Gettysburg but was driven off by the escort vessels.
    "On another trip to Gibraltar, the Esso Gettysburg missed her escorts and steamed down the middle of the Strait, flying a 9' x 14' American flag to dispel any doubt of her nationality.
    "At Gibraltar we were told to be very careful not to let bumboats come alongside, as in time of peace, to sell wine, etc. In several cases the enemy had used a bumboat which put a man overboard to attach a time bomb to the bilge keel of a ship in the bay. We
had orders to warn any bumboat away and then fire a shot across her bow. If this failed, we were to drop an anti-personnel depth charge -strong enough to blow a man out of the water within a radius of 50 feet, but not sufficiently powerful to harm the tanker.
    "Early in November, 1942, before I joined the ship, the Esso Gettysburg, on her way back from Gibraltar, ran into the Allied armada steaming to invade North Africa. The Gettysburg had to change course and go around the great fleet, 15 hours out of her way."

    On June 6, 1943, the Esso Gettysburg, commanded by Captain Peder A. Johnson and with Chief Engineer Joseph E. Jacobs in charge of her engineroom, left Atreco, near Port Arthur, Texas, bound for Philadelphia with a cargo of 1,19,726 barrels of crude oil.
    Her Navy gun crew was commanded by Ensign John S. Arnold. II, USNR, and she was armed with a 3-inch gun on the bow, two 20-mm. anti-aircraft guns forward, two more on the top of the bridge house, four aft, and a 4-inch stern gun.
    As stated in the joint report of Chief Mate Herman Kastberg, Second Mate Thomas H. Chapman, and Third Mate Victor Crescenzo:
    "On the vessel's departure and during the run across the Gulf of Mexico, the weather was good with smooth seas. From Sabine Pass, Texas, the vessel's course was run in accordance with prescribed naval zigzag plans.
    "From the time the ship left Sabine Pass, she was unescorted until, at a point about 200 miles west of Dry Tortugas, on June 7, 1943, a U. S. Navy bombing plane was sighted. The plane circled the ship and flew off in an easterly direction.

Proceeding with Caution
    "About 7 p.m. on June 8 a radio code message was received instructing the Esso Gettysburg to proceed with caution, owing to the possible presence of a submarine in the vicinity of Dry Tortugas. The vessel's course was then changed to take us about 25 milles south. At about 10:25 p.m. on the night of June 8, before the ship arrived at the aforementioned point south of Dry Tortugas, a flashing white light was observed off the tanker's port beam; this light was blinking a series of A's in International Morse code.
Third Mate Crescenzo was officer in charge of the bridge. Captain Johnson was called. He ordered emergency speed and the vessel continued on her course, resuming normal speed about midnight."
    Chief Mate Kastberg later said in an interview: "We thought we saw a submarine disguised as a fishing boat."
    "On the morning of June 9," the report continued, "soon after daybreak, an air escort was picked up, consisting of several planes and a blimp. The escort was observed at intervals throughout the day and was again in contact on June 10, until about 1 p.m."
    Shortly before 2 p.m., the Esso Gettysburg was approaching Latitude 31°02' North, Longitude 79° 17' West, about 100 miles southeast of Savannah, Ga., and about 90 miles off the coast. The weather was clear, the sea calm with a moderate swell, and the visibility unlimited.
    Second Mate Chapman was on watch with Able Seaman Jessie D. McDonald as helmsman. The lookouts on the signal bridge were Able Seaman Clyde W. Adams and a Navy gunner. Four other gunners were also stationed as lookouts - two at the forward gun and two at the after gun.
    The officer in charge of the engineroom watch was Second Assistant Engineer Lloyd H. Fullerton.
    Captain Johnson, Chief Mate Kastberg. and Third Mate Crescenzo were in their quarters.

Struck by Two Torpedoes
    "Without warning," to emote the report, "the ship was suddenly struck by two torpedoes on the port side, about four seconds apart. The first torpedo struck in the vicinity of Nos. 6 and 7 tanks and the second torpedo at the forward part of the engineroom space. Immediately the vessel burst into flames and almnvi instantly settled by the stern.
    "When the torpedoes struck, Second Mate Chapman left the bridge to put the sextant and chronometer in No. 2 port lifeboat. He hurried back to the bridge, from where it was observed that the fire was sweeping rapidly forward.
    "The second mate then launched Nos. 1 and 2 liferafts and proceeded toward No. 1 lifeboat, which was being lowered into the water with the assistance of Chief Mate Kastberg and Third Mate Crescenzo. The second mate joined them to lend a hand and the boat was about a foot above the water when the falls suddenly jammed and the heat and flames became so intense that the men in this group were forced to leave and run forward. They dived from the bow into the water. Two other men dived from the stern of the ship.
    "After swimming about- for nearly three hours, Chief Mate Kastberg and Second Mate Chapman boarded a charred and gutted lifeboat which had drifted clear of the flames. They later picked up six other men of the crew and seven Navy gunners.
    "The fifteen survivors drifted for about 19 hours until 10:50 a.m., June 11, when rescue was accomplished by the SS George Washington, commanded bv Captain T. H. Park, who landed us at Charleston, S. C., at 6 p.m. that day.
    "We were taken in charge by the Navy authorities and interviewed, after which Chief Mate Kastberg and six other members of the vessel's crew went to New York by rail to report to the owners. Able Seaman McDonald was given permission to proceed to
his home at Huntsville, Texas.

Sinking, When Last Seen
    "When the Esso Gettysburg was last seen, only about 10 to 15 feet of the bow projected from the water and this was gradually settling down as darkness fell, on the night of June 10, 1943."
    fn an interview given in 1945 to furnish additional information. Chief Mate Kastberg said: "We afterward learned that Deck Cadet Eugene C. Quidort was on the monkey bridge at the time of the attack. He started to count the seconds after the first torpedo struck. He had reached four when he saw the wake of the second torpedo.
    "The first topedo started small fires; the flames did not reach higher than the cabin deck. When the second torpedo hit. the ship burst into flames abaft of the midship house and over the stern.
    "I was asleep when the first topedo crashed. I got up and looked out the porthole. The Gettysburg had taken a list to port. After the second torpedo, I got fully dressed - shoes, cap, and life jacket included. I had a flashlight and a knife on a table in my room.
In broad daylight I grabbed the flashlight. It ran through my mind that I might need it for signaling.
    "I tried to use the regular passageway from my room, but saw a mass of flames. Then I went up to the boat deck by the inside stairway and came out by the radio room. Seeing fire and smoke near my lifeboat, No. 2, 1 crossed over to the starboard side,
where I saw the captain and a number of men gathered around No. 1."

Ensign Awarded Navy Cross
    Just before the explosions, Ensign Arnold had been on the foc'sle head drilling the gun crew. When the first torpedo hit, he was sprayed with flaming oil, receiving third degree burns on his face, neck, and arms. Despite these injuries, however, Ensign Arnold
directed the firing of the forward 3-inch gun at the enemy submarine. He was later awarded the Navy Cross.
    To quote the report of Steward Isaac Weissman: "When the first torpedo struck I was off duty in my quarters. I knew immediately what had happened because I was aboard the Panamanian flag tanker MS Heinrich v. Riedemann when that vessel was torpedoed off the Venezuelan coast, April 16, 1942. I grabbed my kapok life preserver, put on pants and shoes, and went to the port alleyway, where I observed a sheet of flame sweeping rapidly forward. Then I back towards the starboard alleyway and up
through the captain's quarters to the forward part of the vessel and towards No. 1 lifeboatwent.

Men Dived Over Bow
"I assisted the chief officer and others in lowering the boat towards the water. The heat and flames be came so intense, however, that the men in this location were forced to run forward and dive over the bow of the ship."
    Acting Able Seaman James R. Lane, in his statement, said that when the torpedoes struck, he was on the after end of the vessel on the starboard side, painting a bulkhead. "It seemed to me," he reported, "that when the first torpedo struck there was just a
loud crash with oil and debris scattered and sprayed all about the ship: the second torpedo seemed to give rise to the flames which shot high in the air and enveloped the whole end of the ship. The Esso Gettysburg began settling fast by the stern and listing
to port.
    "I saw groups of men running back and forth on the stern of the vessel and heard Bos'n Albion K. Shaw holler 'Jump!' The flames and the heat were becoming so severe that I dived over the stern into the water and was followed by one of the Navy gunners, Sherman L. Doucette. Neither of us had time to get life perservers, and we swam for about five hours before being picked up by the chief mate and the other men in the charred lifeboat.
    "About five minutes alter Doucette and I had dived into the water and got out of the oil, we saw about 15 to 20 sharks constantly circling around us, at times disappearing and then reappearing; they kept with us all the while we were in the water, until we
reached the boat."

Fighting Off Sharks
    Chief Mate Kastberg described his experience: "While swimming away from the ship, six of us got together. The others were Second Mate Chapman, Steward Weissman, Able Seaman McDonald, Deck Cadet Quidort, and Navy gunner Julian B. Day, Jr.
Suddenly a shark was among us. As I had previously got rid of my shoes, I felt him brush past my bare feet. Only three of us had life jackets, and we were supporting the other men. The shark circled off toward the ship, but came back again and charged.
Chapman grabbed a knife, but we cautioned him against using it except as a last resort. We all kicked and splashed and the shark again swerved away, but a few minutes later he made a second charge. We repeated the kicking and thrashing in the water and he
went off.
    "When well clear of the flames we saw some other men swimming to the north of us; we hailed them and told them to join us so that we could all keep together. Soon afterward we saw Third Mate Crescenzo towing Ensign Arnold. Finally several other men
joined us. We decided to swim closer to the burned out area, figuring that the oil would keep the sharks away.
    "This decision was fortunate, as it resulted in our finding two lifeboats that had drifted clear of the flames. Chapman and I swam toward the boat which seemed usable - lifeboat No. 3. On the way I picked up a Navy issue first-aid kit; it belonged in the flare
box and had apparently been blown overboard. The metal lifeboat was so hot that we had to splash water on it to cool it off. In reality it was just a burned-out hull and it had shipped a considerable quantity of water. The water saved submerged material from the flames. We found the remains of three bodies in the boat. Largely untouched by the fire were three tanks of water and, in the gear box, a compass and a waterproof case containing a flare pistol and three Hares.
There was also a piece of tarpaulin.
    "We got in, put the bodies overboard, and started to bail the boat out so that she would ride higher in the water. Ten other survivors joined us and got into the boat. Soon afterward, we saw two men approaching; they were Able Seaman Lane and Navy
gunner Doucette. The Navy man was blinded by oil and we guided him by our voices. This was about 4 1/2 hours after the torpedoing. There were then fourteen men in the boat.
    "Half an hour later we picked up another Navy man, Gunner's Mate Third Class Edward S. Graves. He was hanging on to a fog buoy which had drifted away from the ship. His chest hurt him painfully; he had three fractured ribs. This was about 7 p.m., five
hours after the disaster.
    "From available pieces of gratings we started to cut crude paddles. We organized ourselves and decided to stay near the scene of the attack until daylight.
    The bow of the Esso Gettysburg was still above the surface. Her tanks were exploding under water. Then the ammunition magazines exploded.
     "We decided that if help did not come by daybreak, we would start for shore. Believing we were 100 miles off the coast, we figured it would take us 15 days of paddling to reach land and that bv rationing the drinking water we would have enough for 30
    "We feared sharks and set watches for the night. Each man was given a drink of water and told he could not have another until daylight. We were drifing in the Gulf Stream faster than the wreck of the Esso Gettysburg.

First Aid
    "Navy gunner Oliver G. Lepscier kept the time with his shockproof, waterproof watch. We made a bed for Ensign Arnold to keep him as comfortable as possible. He was stoical and uncomplaining, waiting until daybreak for treatment of his burns. When there was light enough for me to see clearly, he asked me to cut some of the hanging flesh away from the burns. I did this carefully and applied a dressing from the first-aid kit. 1 also applied it to two other men.
    "We continued to make paddles, finally finished them, and set off in a westerly direction. Allowing for a known error of the compass, we laid out a course that would land us at Point Lookout.
    "About 8:30 a.m., we sighted a plane. It was flving as if to make a grid search, about 15 miles awav. We iried a dare, but it was not usable. We succeeded in firing the second flare, but the plane did not see it and disappeared.

Last Flare - and Rescue
    "Continuing to paddle, we sighted a ship on the horizon, about 8 miles away. Then we saw another plane and fired our third and last flare. The plane saw us and approached. We waved everything we could and I blinked my flashlight. The plane's lights blinked in recognition and flew on to report to the ship - the SS George Washington - which turned toward us.
    "When the George Washington came within hailing distance, we were asked what ship we were from and where she was attacked. The skipper did not want to risk stopping and told us to come over, but I called out that it would take us too long to paddle that far. The George Washington then stopped, lowered a boat, and picked us up.
    "The doctor on board treated the injured men and saved those who were burned from having severe scars. The skipper, Captain Park, asked us whether we wanted to be taken to the nearest port or to the ship's destination, New York. I told him we wanted to be landed as soon as possible on account of the injured men. The George Washington put us ashore in Charleston, S. C, that night. The Navy took care of the seven survivors of the gun crew and the United Seamen's Service took charge of the eight survivors of the Gettysburg: they were fine, giving each of us a complete new outfit and a free telephone call to his home. In the morning the Companv agent arrived and took care of us."

    Captain Peder A. Johnson entered the Company's service as a second mate on June 10, 1917, and was promoted to chief mate on October 13, 1918. With continuous service as a master from May 5, 1920. He was assigned to the Esso Gettysburg on November 26, 1942. Captain Johnson was a lieutenant commander in the United States Naval Reserve.
    Chief Engineer Joseph E. Jacobs joined the Company as an oiler on March 29, 1929. He had had continuous service as a licensed officer from October 25, 1932. As previously stated, he was chief engineer of the George G. Henry during her adventures in the Far East in the early months of the war. When the Henry was renamed the USS Victoria and commissioned as a Navy oiler, on April 15, 1942, at Melbourne, Australia, Chief Engineer Jacobs remainedon board until May 20 to assist the Navy engineering officers in overhauling and repairing the ship's machinery.
He was assigned to the Esso Gettysburg on December 1, 1942.

    Three of the crew of the Esso Gettysburg on June 10, 1943 - including two of the survivors - had been on other torpedoed tankers. First Assistant Engineer Tenant L. Fleming, who lost his life on the Gettysburg, had survived the sinking of the R. W. Gallagher on July 13, 1942; Steward Isaac Weissman, as we have seen, was a survivor of the Heinrich v. Riedemann, lost on April 16, 1942; and Able Seaman Jessie D. McDonald survived the sinking of the Wm. Rockefeller on June 28, 1942.

Merchant Crew Lost on the "Esso Gettysburg"- June 10, 1943:

Peder A. Johnson
Joseph La France
Joseph E. Jacobs
Ch. Engr.
Edward T. Bryson
Tenant L. Fleming
1st Asst.
Jack E. Corbin
Lloyd H. Fullerton
2nd Asst.
William J. Bryant
Daniel D. Dunn
3rd Asst.
Stanley J. Wetart
Fire.-W.l .
Weston C. Pound
Radio Op.
Martin D. Irvin
James H. Sharkey
Sh. Clk.
Orie G. Rose
Albert R. Chalker
Ch. Cook
Francis Parlatore
Albion K. Shaw
Thorlief Lassen
2nd Cook
Frank Ahquai
Glenn A. Zink
Charles L. Teater
Alfred Flanagan.
Walter P. Petring
Ivan S. Doughty
Chester Bulawa
Alfred N. Zgoda
C M.
Edgar H. Blaisdell
Marvin Argust
Kalle Eerola
Francis Mason.
Paul E. Murphy
Arthur L. Harris
Willard J. Hopper
Alphonse I. Miller
Deck Cadet
Michael Sadlon
John McC. Carter
Eng. Cadet
Joseph Landron, Jr.
Eng. Cadet

Merchant Crew Survivors of the "Esso Gettysburg :

Herman Kastberg
Ch. Mate
Jessie D. McDonald
Thomas H. Chapman
2nd Mate
James R. Lane
Victor Crescenzo
3rd Mate
Clyde W. Adams
Isaac Weissman
Eugene C. Quidort
Deck Cadet

U. S. Navy Armed Guard Lost on the "Esso Gettysburg" - June 10, 1943

Orlando C. Bowen
Howard I. Emery
Charles J. Boyaji
L. D. Fowler
John J. Brother
Donald S. Gillespie
John Brown
Vincent J. Graziano
Harold J. Carnes
John R. Hannigan
Julius E. Whitley
Walter F. Kalody
Lester P. Decker
Warren J. Livdahl
John R. Eary
Rolfe S. Mayer
Anthony Encinas
Frederick L. Price
Leroy A. Engstrom
Romand M. Rojek

U. S. Navy Armed Guard Survivors of the "Esso Gettysburg" :

John S. Arnold, II
Sherman L. Doucette
Donald J. Cain
Edward S. Graves
Sabastiano Caruso
Oliver G. Lepscier
Julian B. Day, Jr.