Gets Tanker to Malta Under Blazing Attacks
By Cadet-Midshipman W. J. Pepping
Sketch by Cadet-Midshipman John Daly Hart
For heroism above and beyond the call of duty, Cadet-Midshipman Francis A. Dales received the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal from Deputy Administrator Captain Edward Macauley, USN, (Ret.) during National Maritime Day ceremonies, May 22, 1943, the first formal function held in the newly constructed O'Hara Hall at the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
Before 2300 cadet-midshipmen assembled in honor of National Maritime Day, Dales shared honors with Third Officer Frederick Larsen of the ship on which Dales was doing his sea duty. He also received the Distinguished Service Medal.
Dales is the third Cadet-Midshipman to be presented the Merchant Marine medal. Edwin J. O'Hara who received the award posthumously and after whom O'Hara Hall was named and William M. Thomas Jr. are the other Cadet-Midshipmen to have received the Distinguished Service Medal.
Beginning his basic training in February of 1942 at Fort Schuyler, Dales completed his basic training among the first Cadet-Midshipmen at the Academy's present location in Kings Point. He shipped out in late April of the same year.
Dales' ship, a freighter [SS Santa Elisa*] carrying drums of high-octane gasoline and one of two American ships in a small British convoy, was proceeding to Malta under orders to "get through at all costs." The heavily escorted convoy moved into the Mediterranean Sea and was under constant attack until arrival at Malta.
Commanding an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the bridge, Dales contributed to the successful defense of his ship for three days. At 0400 of the fourth day, torpedo boats succeeded in breaking through the convoy's defense and two attacked Dales' ship from opposite sides.
Under the cover of the early morning darkness, the two torpedo boats launched their attack. One racked Dales' position with .50 caliber machine gun fire killing three of his crew, the other sent its torpedo into the opposite side of the freighter.
Despite the heavy machine gun fire and the explosion of the torpedo, Dales and his crew continued their brave defense. Guided only by the flashes of the first boat's gun fire, Dales found his target. Amid flames, one of the attacking torpedo boats sank.
The torpedo from the second attacking boat had exploded with fearful detonation and ignited the high-test gasoline. The American ship, engulfed in the heat and flames of burning gasoline, forced her crew to abandon her.
Two hours later, the survivors were rescued by a British destroyer [HMS Penn (G77)*]. The destroyer then took in tow a tanker which was bombed and out of control. Five hours of dive-bombing attack and another hit caused the tanker's crew to abandon her and the destroyer to cut her loose.
The defense of Malta demanded the tanker's precious cargo; she had to reach port. Determined to get her through, the rescue destroyer and another destroyer steamed in, lashed themselves to either side of the stricken tanker, and dragged her along under constant enemy attack.
Cadet-Midshipman Dales and four others volunteered to go aboard the crippled tanker [SS Ohio*] and man her guns in an effort to increase the fire power in defense of the struggling trio of ships.
Wave after wave of German and Italian bombers dived on the shackled ships and were beaten off by a heavy barrage of anti-aircraft fire. Concentrated enemy airpower continued the attack all that day, dropping bombs in patterns, scoring near misses. No direct hits were registered until noon of the next day when finally the tanker received a bomb down her stack which blew out the bottom of her engine room.
Though the tanker continued to settle until her decks were awash, the defenders fought her through until dusk that day brought them under the protection of the hard fighting air force out of Malta.
* Names of ships were not reported during wartime due to censorship.
Polaris, Cadet Corps Publication, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, July 1943
Operation Pedestal and SS Ohio save Malta
Distinguished Service Medal Awarded to Cadets
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