THE SINKING OF THE S.S. PORT NICHOLSON
AND THE S.S. CHEROKEE
The following is an actual recount of one of the convoy sailings we were
involved in during the war. The story recounts the sinking of two ships,
both by a German U-Boat with a tragic loss of life.
June 14 1942 found us in convoy outbound from the port of Halifax
Nova Scotia, Canada. We were joined with a group of six merchant ships
on their first leg of their journey headed south for Boston. The ships
were arranged in two columns of three. One column was led by the
merchant ship S.S. Cathart, with S.S. Port Nicholson and Pan York
behind. The other column of merchant ships was led by S.S. Malcrest,
with Norlago and Cherokee behind.
Port Nicholson was carrying war supplies and trucks bound for the
Pacific. The Cherokee was a fast freighter just down from Iceland
carrying 41 army enlisted men, 4 Russian naval officers, and an army air
force pilot, all headed for the US.
The convoy had a large escort with a Destroyer in the lead and
four Corvettes. Nanaimo was positioned on the starboard side of the
We were frequently called to practice action stations during the day. Around
midnight on June 15th we were again called to action
stations. My station is on the aft anti-aircraft gun. I grumble as I
rise to answer the call and the thought of another practice. Only this
time things are different. Our main 4-inch deck gun is firing Star
shells into the center of the Merchant convoy. The other escorts are
doing the same. The scene is as light as day. Iím very scared. We
search the seas desperately for a sign of a U-Boat. Two torpedoes have
hit the S.S. Port Nicholson and she is firing flares.
The Nanaimo is on the starboard side of the convoy and we turn to
cross the convoy to search for the U-Boat. As I look astern I spot the
troopship S.S. Cherokee passing 500 yards astern. Suddenly a load boom
followed by two huge explosions can be seen on the troopship. Two
torpedoes have hit her. The color of the explosions is a brilliant red
and blue light as the torpedoes hit. The trooper ship sinks almost
immediately taking half of her ships crew and the soldiers down with
her. The Nicholson remains afloat and her crew abandons ship using the
Jacob ladders and lifeboats. It is all a very eerie sight 100 miles out
and backlight by the lights of Boston.
We were detailed to stay and pick up survivors from the
Nicholson. The rest of the convoy was ordered to sail on. We rescued her
whole crew, including the shipís captain and the convoyís commodore.
The rest of the convoy was ordered to sail on. The next morning found
the Nicholson still afloat. It was decided to send a boarding party over
to see if she could be salvaged. Included in the boarding party were our
1st Lieutenant, 1st Petty officer seaman, a
regular seaman and our 2nd signalman. From the crew of the
merchantman we sent the shipís chief engineer and the convoy
commodore. The Nicholson was easy to board as the Jacobs ladders were
still over the side of the ship. We were signaled to radio for a tug to
take the Nicholson in tow. We could see the boarding party walking the
open decks of the Nicholson.
At about the same time the wind came up and whipped up the seas.
The rough seas proved too much for her weakened bulkheads and she
suddenly took the death plunge for the bottom. The boarding party rushed
for the ladders and got into the lifeboat. We close in tight to rescue
the boarding party. The suction of the Nicholson going under overturned
the lifeboat. We lost our first Lieutenant and two members of the
merchant ship. Our signalman (from Truro Nova Scotia) went down with the
ship when his legs got caught in the rigging. Fortunately he was wearing
rubbers boots and these were blown off him when the ships boilers
exploded. He struggled to the surface and was saved. Iíll never forget
the death rattle of a ship when it goes down. We auctioned off our first
lieutenantsí kit a few days latter, as was the custom. We landed all
of Nicholsonís survivors in Boston the next day.
About two weeks later we retraced our route over that same track.
A US navy blimp was dropping flares and there were bodies floating in
the water. They were bloated bodies of uniformed US soldiers wearing
life jackets, some partially eaten. We didnít any pick up. Such were
the casualties of the war at sea.
The crew looks over the rail as S.S. Port Nicholson takes the death plunge.
For related reading, U-Boats Offshore / When Hitler Struck America by Edwin
P Hoyt; Stein
& Day publishers copyright 1978;