Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Battle Of Point Judith




It was May 5, 1945. Adolph Hitler was dead, and the European campaign of the second World War was drawing to a close.  The Nazi government had issued a cease-fire for all U-boats patrolling the North Atlantic. German submarine U-853 never received the order.
Twelve days earlier, U-853 had fatally torpedoed PE-56, a patrol boat working off Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Only 13 of the 67 crewmembers survived*. To avoid detection, U-853 moved south and remained submerged as often as possible, with no communication. 
Meanwhile, the U.S. collier Black Point was transporting 7500 tons of coal from Norfolk to Boston. Built in 1918, the 369 foot ship had left her convoy in New York Harbor, and proceeded eastward through Long Island and Block Island Sound.  At approximately 5:40 pm, 3 miles south of Point Judith, a torpedo ripped into her stern, sending her to the bottom within minutes. Twelve crewman lost their lives.
An SOS signal was immediately sent out by the Pt Judith lightkeeper, and the Yugoslavian freighter Kamen, which had witnessed the explosion. The anti-submarine warships USS Ericsson, Amick, Atherton, and Moberly had just left New York, bound for Charleston, and were redirected to Pt Judith. On the morning of May 6, two blimps arrived from Lakehurst, New Jersey to assist in the pursuit.
After a 16 hour attack of hedgehogs and depth charges, a liferaft, chart table and officers cap floated to the surface, seven miles east of Block Island.
The wreck sits in 130 feet of water, with its periscope still extended, and the remains of the 55 crewmembers  aboard.
On May 7, less than 48 hours after the sinking of the Black Point, Germany surrendered. 

Ralph DiCarpio: Battle Of Pt Judith (well researched)
Providence Journal: Nazi Sub Sunk Off Block Island
Providence Journal: Vets Honor Merchant Ship Crew
Wreckhunter (go to Wrecks Of Rhode Island)
AquaExplorers: U-853 & Black Point
Wikipedia: Battle of the Atlantic 1939-1945

* The sinking of PE-56 is an entire story unto itself. For decades, the US Navy denied that she had been torpedoed. Only in 2001 were the crewmembers awarded Purple Hearts.
Boston Globe: The Truth About PE-56

photo credits: USS Moberly launching hedgehogs (top) Wikipedia
U-Boat 853 (middle) AquaExplorers
USS Black Point (bottom) Ahoy-Mac's Weblog

10 comments:

mari said...

This was very interesting, but German capitulation is on May 8th - at least this is when it is celebrated.

matthew houskeeper said...

mari, you are always keeping me honest. There is a lot of information in this post and I am sure I have some of the details wrong.
However, while May 8 is the official day, the surrender took place the day before. The surrender papers were then signed on May 8. I could be wrong, but that is how I understand it.

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,1577141,00.html

Disagree all you want. I could be wrong about this. I have been wrong lots of times.

Mari said...

No, sorry I was obviously referring to the official celebration, didn't mean it as a smart ass comment, it was just my German husband pointed out he had his own surrender on May 8th, what a joke for our wedding!

Bursledon Blogger said...

That's quite a story, from an English perspective we don't tend to think of U Boats aggressively attacking the US coast,

matthew houskeeper said...

Mari,
How symbolic! LOL

Bursledon,
It was nothing like what Britain endured, but shipping was under a constant threat of submarine warfare. There were blackouts in coastal towns, and Narragansett Bay was closed off with a cable netting to protect the Navy yard in Newport.
Maybe they are exagerating, but I have met people who claim they saw German subs off the beaches of New Jersey, Coney Island etc

Mari said...

thanks for the details and choosing a topic different from stars and stripes (at least for now...)

Ed O'Malley said...

Great story, Matt. It reminded me of the infamous Amagansett landing by German saboteurs, who were discovered by a Coast Guardsman out for a late night stroll!

http://www.montauklife.com/history/history_night_of_the_nazis.html

matthew houskeeper said...

Thanks Ed. I am only somewhat familiar with that story, so I appreciate the link. Glad you stopped by.

jeannette said...

Some emotional events -we never should forget the price of our freedom.

matthew houskeeper said...

Well put Jeannette