SS Black Point - Last U-boat Victim
On May 4th, 1945, U-boat Headquarters sent a signal to all U-boats ordering the end of attacks on Allied shipping effective 8 AM May 5th.
At 5:40 PM on May 5, 1945, the lookout at the Coast Guard Station at Point Judith, Rhode Island noted the SS Black Point as she passed the lighthouse while carrying coal to Boston. He was about to enter his sighting in a logbook when he heard an explosion and saw the SS Black Point had stopped.
SS Black Point
A torpedo had blown off the last 50 feet of the 396 foot ship. Within one minute the water was waist deep in the engine room and Captain Charles Prior gave the order to "Abandon Ship." The Captain was the last one in the lifeboats at 6:05 PM. Within minutes the SS Black Point rolled over.
Twelve men, including one Naval Armed Guard, went down with the ship; four of them were killed instantly when the ship was hit. Thirty four men were saved.
At 7:20 PM the Coast Guard frigate Moberly and two Navy destroyer escorts Amick and Atherton arrived in the area and began a systematic search using their sonar equipment. Keeping in mind the U-boat's limited speed and range while submerged, they guessed the German submarine would likely hide in a steeply rising shoal known as East Ground, about 9 miles from the sinking. The Amick was ordered away to escort another merchant ship, but the destroyer Ericsson joined the search, and 7 other ships arrived to box in the U-boat.
At 11:43 PM the Atherton and Moberly made sonar contact at a depth of 100 feet. Depth charges brought up some air, oil, pieces of wood, and eventually life jackets. In spite of that, sonar operators saw the submarine moving at 5 knots across their path. More depth charges reduced her speed to 2 knots. In the morning two Navy blimps spotted an oil slick. The three ships dropped more depth charge and the blimps used rocket bombs in order to crack the pressure hull.
At 10:45 AM the commander of the Ericsson declared the U-boat sunk. A diver was sent to check the wreck and identified her as U-853. She had holes in the bow and bodies were strewn about inside.
U.S. authorities wondered why veteran Captain Helmut Fromsdorf risked an attack in shallow water, close to shore, and why he remained in the area for 90 minutes before arrival of the search boats. At no time did the German sub attempt to surface, abandon ship, or try to torpedo her attackers.
It is not known whether Captain Fromsdorf received the message to cease fire. Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.
SS Black Point Casualties
- William Antilley, F/W
- George Balser, A.B.
- Leo H. Beck, F/W
- Laurel F. Clark, F/W
- Cleo Hand, F/W
- Robert Lord Korb, A.B.
- Reino Lindstrom, F/W
- Milton L. Mathews, F/W
- Marvin A. Mertinek, Coal Passer
- Ainsey L. Morgan, O.S.
- Richard Shepson, Coal Passer
Naval Armed Guard
Lonnie Whitson Lloyd
(brother of C.A. Lloyd, Chairman of USN Armed Guard World War II Veterans)
Note from former President of C.H. Sprague & Son Co. which operated the SS Black Point:
Her Captain at the time she was sunk was Charles Prior, now deceased, from South Portland, Maine. It was a little after 1800, and he had just come onto the Bridge. The ship was coming out of Long Island sound, about 3 miles from Point Judith, Rhode Island headed for Boston Edison with 8,000 tons of coal. He had just reached in his pocket for a cigarette when the explosion occurred. He told us later, "I can't remember whether I lit that cigarette, or swallowed it!"
Browning, Robert M. U.S. Merchant Vessel War Casualties of World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1996
Communication from Henry M. Powers, former President of C.H. Sprague & Son Co.
Moore, Arthur R. 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. American Merchant Marine Museum, Kings Point, NY; Eighth Edition 2006 published by Dennis Roland Chapter of American Merchant Marine Veterans, New Jersey.
Powers, Henry M. C. H. Sprague & Son Company: A New England Colossus. The Newcomen Society of the United States, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986
Merchant Marine in WW II
Men and Ships in World War II
06/05/00 Revised 01/17/08
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