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 Underdogs II, Ships I: Two Merchant Ships at War 
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 Post subject: Underdogs II, Ships I: Two Merchant Ships at War
Unread postPosted: 09 Sep 2014, 14:27 
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The Underdog series:

Everyone loves a good underdog story, and we at In a Nutshell do as well. This series will be a journey though some of the greatest battlefield stories of all time exploring the nations, the leaders, the weapons and the armies considered to be past it or a poor match. However, as you'll see, very often these underdogs have a real surprise in store for everyone, and often give their aggressor or target a damn good thrashing!


Ships

By John Ash

For over 3000 years of recorded history, the ship has proven to be an indispensable asset. Although some historians jokingly refer to naval vessels as "only any good when they sink", few will deny the significance of the warship and arguably, more than anything else, warships, such as HMS Victory or the USS Constitution are often the objects preserved for future commemoration. Warships have built empires, innovations in naval technology have almost strangled nations, and ships have been the vocal point for some of histories greatest events such as the signing of the Japanese surrender in World War Two. It is therefore not surprising that there are numerous stories to tell, and a good number of those are underdog stories. However, the true backbone of any war has been the merchant ships. The British were totally dependent on merchant shipping in the Falklands War, and both the British and the Soviet Union/Russia in particular relied on convoys of merchant ships in both world wars to sustain their campaigns, armies, and populations. In the Second World War, the importance of the merchant ship was greater than ever, with many serving as various forms of aircraft carriers vital for convoy escort, and the thousands of liberty ships produced were instrumental in the Allied war effort. Merchant ships also served as convenient weapons as surface raiders and submarine hunters. This article will present the tales of two merchant ships involved in true underdog situations from the Second World War. First, the HMS Rawalpindi, a weaponised liner involved in a famous and epic duel against the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and second the tale of the SS Ohio will be relived, the tanker which which brought hope to Malta after completing a long and perilous journey and coming under attack multiple times a day.

HMS Rawalpindi

We’ll fight them both, they’ll sink us, and that will be that. - Captain Edward Coverley Kennedy, Royal Navy, 23rd November 1939.

HMS (originally SS) Rawalpindi was launched on the 26th March 1925. She was powered by a pair of quadruple expansion four cylinder steam engines which enabled the 167 metre long, 16,600/16,700 registered tonne ship to travel at up to 15 knots (although in her 1925 trials she averaged 19.5). She had a crew of 276.

She is famous for losing a battle with the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, where she was sunk on the 23rd November 1939, in an expanse of ocean known as the Iceland Gap with the loss of the vast majority of her crew.

Why is she here then?

Rawalpindi was an ocean liner.

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Supplied by Paul Strathdee, from the collection of the late Donald Robertson - http://www.clydesite.co.uk/

Built by Harland and Wolff in Greenock, from 1923-1925, and launched by Lady Birkenhead, the wife of F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead, the British registered ship operated out of London. She ran the London-Bombay passenger and mail service route and was owned by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (better known in today's day and age as P&O). The SS Rawalpindi was named after Rawalpindi City, a British garrison town in what is now modern day Pakistan. an R class liner (the first P&O ships able to carry cold goods) she was designed to carry 307 First Class and 288 Second Class passengers.

And until 1939 this is what she did.

SS Rawalpindi was requisitioned by the Admiralty on 26th August 1939 and converted by R&H Green & Silley Weir at the Royal Albert Dock in London into an Armed Merchant Cruiser. Many Commonwealth Navy's as well as the German Navy used armed merchant cruisers to disrupt trade or protect themselves or other merchant shipping in both World Wars. Allied armed merchant cruisers were made by requisitioning large ships and providing them with guns and other equipment to enable them to engage shipping. The type of ships taken up was extreme varied, ranging from 6,100 to 22,400 tonnes and although their armament was also varied, they typically carried six 6 inch guns as a primary weapon and used 3 inch guns as a secondary gun. The torpedoing of the 13,500 ton passenger ship Athenia in 1939 signalled that the German Navy and its U-Boats would target civilian shipping without discrimination. In a blatant disregard for international law, the Germans had sunk 21 British merchant ships in the first 3 weeks of the war, and 'sink at sight' without warning attacks were common. The British decided to arm their merchant vessels with small anti-aircraft guns and a handful of smaller ship guns to fend off submarines. Whilst this slightly toothless armament had the potential to see off a lone aircraft or a surfaced submarine, these armed ships had little chance against a destroyer, cruiser, surface raider, or submerged U-boat. What arming these ships did do, was allow the German media to justify attacks on civilian shipping, stating that these 'auxiliary cruisers' could be attacked without recrimination!

Rawalpindi, now HMS, and under Captain Kennedy, was modified with the addition of eight ageing 6 inch guns and two 3 inch guns and the aft funnel removed, she was repainted in order to camouflage her as a warship but no armour was added and there was little difference in her physical appearance. Her crew was formed from reservists from the Royal Navy's three reserve formations, and although they were experienced, excellent, and enthusiastic sailors, they were not given the arms or the ship to be that effective. Nevertheless, from November 1939 she was part of the Northern Patrol covering the area around Iceland with at least 5 cruisers and 7 more armed merchant cruisers and a number of destroyers. Large ships such as the battlecruiser HMS Hood and the carrier HMS Furious were also frequently seen. HMS Rawalpindi had some success, as on the 19th October in the Denmark Strait, she intercepted Gonzenheim, a German oil tanker of some 4500 tonnes travelling from Argentina back to Germany, and forced her crew to scuttle the ship (although a boarding was attempted).

Such success was short lived however.

On the 23rd November 1939, north of the Faroe Islands, the Rawalpindi, ordered to investigate a sighting of a German ship, sighted a large surface vessel on the horizon, which was erroneously identified as the heavy cruiser/pocket battleship Deutschland, but the ship actually turned out to be the larger Scharnhorst (not like it would have made much difference, Deutschland could deliver an 8,000 pounds broadside with its 11 inch guns, while Rawalpindi could only respond with 400 pounds). Scharnhorst was returning by sailing south of Iceland and through the Baltic to home. She had been conducting a sweep of the sea between Iceland and the Faroes when she found the Rawalpindi, and upon sighting the Rawalpindi began to chase her down, at around 16:00 the German battleship signalled to the Rawalpindi "heave to", so she can be boarded.

Captain Kennedy was under no illusions, he knew how outgunned his ship was, and he knew that the Scharnhorst was much faster and was moving to intercept her heading. Nevertheless, he altered course, released smoke, and refused to slow down, in order to try and buy some time by heading for the cover of nearby sea fog and icebergs. This allowed Kennedy to signal the Scharnhorst's location back to base. The Scharnhorst repeated her order to "heave to", and fired a warning shot from her 11 inch guns.

Another large silhouette emerged from the horizon. In Kennedy's mind, there was no doubt that this was a large Royal Navy vessel which had heard his messages, unfortunately the ship which emerged from the rain was the Scharnhorst's sister-ship - Gneisenau. His escape route cut, all Kennedy and the Rawalpindi could do was to surrender or fight. Despite being hopelessly outgunned, the 60-year old Captain Edward Coverley Kennedy decided to fight. His orders, "We’ll fight them both, they’ll sink us, and that will be that. Good-bye".

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Rawalpindi aflame and sinking

For a third time the Scharnhorst ordered the Rawalpindi to stop. Rawalpindi resisted, the ship replying with a salvo from her 6-inch guns, which hit the Gneisenau. Scharnhorst destroyed the Rawalpindi's electric ammunition winches, and all the lights were put out.She also destroyed the bridge and the wireless room. Gneisenau hit one of the starboard batteries and set the ships deck on fire. Within 40 minutes the Rawalpindi was aflame and sinking, despite this she kept firing, scoring a damaging hit on the Scharnhorst, and the German ships were forced to silence the Rawalpindi's guns one by one as the Rawalpindi's crew fought on unto the entire length of the ship was ablaze and until all it's armament was destroyed. The German ships ceased firing once they spotted the Rawalpindi's lifeboats being lowered - they picked up 2 of the 3 boats. The engagement, from first sightings to the moment the Rawalpindi sank, lasted less than 4 hours. Captain Kennedy and 237 crew died aboard the HMS Rawalpindi, and 37 survivors were picked up by the two German ships with a further 11 survivors were picked up by HMS Chitral. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were sighted that same day by the British light cruiser HMS Newcastle, they fled, most likely fearing (and correctly so) fearing that she was a scout.

Captain Kennedy was posthumously Mentioned in Dispatches and was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The sinking of the Rawalpindi, the first armed merchant cruiser to be sunk in World War Two, showed that arming these ships and expecting them to fight off raiders was not workable. The sinking partly led to improved measures in protecting the tenuously stretched Atlantic convoys from America and Canada, but importantly it led to the development of a scheme to monitor and patrol break-out areas for German warships using RAF Coastal Command and Royal Navy warships and not armed merchant ships. These meant that if large raiders were found by the British leaving their home ports through the Baltic, then the assets involved were more able to defend themselves and damage the German vessel.

SS Ohio

"Oh that's nothing. We've had a Junkers 88 on the foredeck for nearly half an hour."Captain Dudley W. Mason, circa 12th August 1942.

Ohio, perhaps the greatest naval underdog of them all. Below is an epic tail of hardship and strife about a ship which on it's only voyage with the British was the subject of as many attacks in 4 days as most active capital ships would see in a 40 year life time. And she wasn't even a warship.

The SS Ohio was an oil tanker built for the Texas Oil Company (now better known as Texaco), launched on the 20th April 1940 in the Sun Shipbuilding Yard in Chester, Pennsylvania. At the time the Ohio was the largest oil tanker in the world and was capable of carrying 170,000 barrels of oil, she was a design compromise intended to feature both large carrying capacity and high speed and stability. Her construction began in September 1939 and her design had been influenced by the threat posed by a rearming Germany and Japan. Constructed in the unusually quick time of seven months and fifteen days, the 157 metre long vessel weighed nearly 10,000 tonnes and could manage 16 knots (although in her sea trials she achieved a speed of 19). Her Westinghouse turbine engines developed 9,000 horsepower and made the Ohio the fastest screw tanker at the time. She was constructed in a new, revolutionary, and controversial method, utilising welding, and it was hoped that the ship would prove the viability of the welding method.

The ship was launched a day late, on the 20th April 1940, which prompted superstitious fear amongst the ship builders. Ohio was christened in a ceremony presided over by the mother of the President of the Texas Oil Company, a Mrs. Florence E. Rodgers.

Initially Ohio would have an uneventful and ordinary career, sailing between Port Arthur and other American harbours, setting a speed record in the process, covering the 1,882 miles from Bayonne to Port Arthur in four and a half days, averaging 17 knots.

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Ohio in peacetime colours

In May 1942, the Ohio sailed into the Clyde, in Britain, and unloaded a huge cargo of petrol. Upon arrival the ship's captain received a telegram from Lord Leathers, the head of the British Ministry of War Transport, bidding the ship a personal welcome and congratulated "...your safe arrival in the Clyde with the first cargo of oil carried in a United States tanker." However, the joy the message brought to the crew was soon shattered, and turned into anger... The same day Texaco received a telegram from the War Shipping Administration, announcing that the Ohio was being requisitioned 'pursuant to the law' by the Admiralty. Within 2 weeks, following intense negotiations, the Ohio had been confiscated and a new British crew went aboard. The American crew and the captain were exasperated by what they and their bosses had considered a seemingly outrageous order, but had no other option but to turn the ship over to the British on the 10th July, there was no formal ceremony, and little goodwill.

The British had requisitioned Ohio to re-supply the island fortress of Malta. Malta was critical in the war in the Mediterranean and North Africa against Italian and German forces as it sat in the middle of Axis supply lines and was therefore capable of causing severe shortages to German and Italian Armies in the theatre. Malta, if properly supplied appropriately, would be a thorn in the Axis side. Aircraft and ammunition was readily available to the island, and air defences had been recently boosted by a detachment of 38 Spitfire Mk V's from HMS Furious. However, food and aviation fuel remained in critically short supply. Previous attempts to resupply the island by convoys had met with disaster, as most of the merchant vessels, including SS Kentucky, Ohio's sister ship, had been sunk.

The Admiralty had decided the tanker would be required as part of Operation Pedestal, a massive convoy which aimed to resupply Malta. Had Pedestal failed, Malta would have been ordered to surrender. Ohio, the only tanker in the convoy, left with the rest of the convoy left on the 2nd August 1943 carrying a full load of diesel and kerosene. Before leaving, the Ohio was fitted with a single 5 inch gun on its stern, a 3 inch AA on her bow, a single 40mm Bofors gun positioned behind the funnel, and 6 20mm Oerlikon cannon. Special strengthening was also given to the tanker to protect her against the shockwave from bombs exploding close to her, as this problem had set off the chain of events which sank the SS Kentucky. The Ohio's new captain was Captain Dudley Mason, an experienced officer who had held many commands prior to Operation Pedestal, and the crew numbered 77, which included 24 sailors and soldiers to man the guns following her refit in the King George V Dock in Glasgow.

The Ohio set sail on the 2nd August 1942, along with the rest of the convoy led by included HMS Nigeria, a Crown Colony-class light cruiser. The convoy would in total involve 4 carriers: Eagle, Victorious, Indomitable, and Furious. The battleships Nelson and Rodney, the cruisers: Phoebe, Sirius, Charybdis, Nigeria, Kenya, Manchester and Cairo, and between 21 and 33 destroyers. These were to protect the 14 merchant ships: SS Almeria Lykes, MV Brisbane Star, MV Clan Ferguson, MV Deucalion, MV Dorset, MV Empire Hope, MV Glenorchy, MV Melbourne Star, SS Ohio, MV Port Chalmers, MV Rochester Castle, and the freighters SS Santa Elisa, SS Waimarama and MV Wairangi. Ohio was the only tanker involved in the operation. On the 10th August 1942, the convoy reached Gibraltar, and this is where things took a turn for the worse.

On the 11th August, the carrier HMS Eagle (which had made multiple trips to Malta ferrying aircraft prior to escorting Pedastal) was torpedoed four times by the German submarine U-73 and sank in 4 minutes (most of the crew was rescued). Much of her air wing was lost, but 4 aircraft were saved and landed on the other carriers. The 4th carrier Furious, dispatched its load of Spitfires for Malta and turned back as planned. A Italian submarine was spotted and sunk by ramming, and 40 German aircraft attacked the convoy.

On the 12th August 120 Axis aircraft attacked the convoy, as this happened the Italian submarine Axum torpedoed the Ohio, the hit to her amidships set her aflame. The ship and fire were soon out of control, and captain Mason ordered the engines shut down. Despite leaks from the kerosene tanks, the entire crew pitched together to fight the fire and extinguished the flames, after some repairs, the tanker limped along at 13 knots. Her steering gear and compass were disabled forcing the crew to steer with the emergency gear from aft, a 24 feet by 27 feet hole had been blown into both sides of the ship and the deck had been broken open, and it was possible to look down into the ship. The Ohio held together, despite her buckled deck. The convoy is attacked by a further 50 aircraft, and multiple submarines. 3 convoy ships are sunk, and another, the Cairo, abandoned, many other ships were damaged that day.

She was attacked by a 60 Stuka dive bombers on the 13th August which focused on Ohio. She was not hit, but the near misses flooded some sections of the ship and knocked out the 3 inch AA gun. Ohio fought off yet another attack from 5 Junkers Ju 88's, once of which crashed into the ship. In another attack, the Ohio shot down a Stuka, but the aircraft crashed into the Ohio's starboard side, ahead of the bridge, and exploded, damaging the bridge. The chief officer told Mason that the plane had crashed into the sea and then bounced onto the ship, to which Mason apparently curtly responded with: "Oh that's nothing. We've had a Junkers 88 on the foredeck for nearly half an hour." Glenorchy was sunk with the loss of all hands, the cruiser HMS Manchester was also sunk as were 2 other vessels in 15 attacks from 8 Italian torpedo boats. Another ship is sunk in a raid by 12 Ju 88s.

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Axum's torpedo hits Ohio - Russell, J E (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer

The Ohio continued to dodge attacks, in one attack a stick of bombs fell on either side of the tanker, which lifted her cleanly out of the water and crashed her back into the sea. She was hit again in another of the continual attacks, and was largely unable to defend herself as all 6 Oerlikon cannon had been worn out and disabled due to heavy use. The tanker was immobilised by an explosion to starboard which sent her reeling to port and had knocked out the electrics, and the boiler fires were blown out by the blast. Within 20 minutes the Ohio was steaming at sixteen knots again, until another stick of bombs hit the ship. The engines stopped and the electric fuel pumps had been broken by the concussion. The crew desperately tried to restart the engines, but the engine room was filled with black smoke, the ship was making alternate black and white smoke, there was now oil in the water pipes, and the condenser lost it's vacuum. Ohio came to a stop at 10.50am, and the crew boarded HMS Penn, a destroyer which, alongside HMS Ledbury, had come to aid the stricken tanker.

After searching for the HMS Manchester, a stricken cruiser, the HMS Penn's commanding officer, a Commander J.H. Swain RN, offered Captain Mason of the Ohio a tow. With the heavy ten inch hemp rope tow line in place, the destroyer Penn attempted to move the ship but the two ships were not making any progress and were in reality drifting backwards. Both ships were sitting ducks, and the Penn was forced to break the tow line in order to escape the Ohio and dodge the another serious attack, where Ohio's gunners shot down another bomber, but only after the plane had released her bombs which hit almost exactly where she had been hit by the Italian torpedo previously. The bomb hit broke Ohio's back and the ship was abandoned for a second time overnight.

The crews of the Penn, Ledbury, and Ohio had gone without sleep for 72 hours, but morale was maintained by an issue of extra rum as the first surviving ships of Pedestal fell under Malta's fighter cover. Many of the warships head west to assist the Ohio, while Port Chalmers, Rochester Castle and Melbourne Star enter Malta's Grand Harbour at 6:18pm. They were greeted by cheers of the islands inhabitants lining the ramparts - the food had arrived, Malta will sustain the siege. However, Ohio and her critical cargo was still at least 70 miles away. Ohio was again re-boarded and the ship was again slowly under-way. However at 18:30 the Luftwaffe returned and were able to hit the boilers, destroying the engine room completely. Ohio was again abandoned. That evening, Mason and Swain discussed the situation, they have to get the Ohio to Malta before she floods and sinks, "We'll do everything we can," Swain says.

On the 14th August, the HMS Penn was joined by minesweeper HMS Rye, a minesweeper. Together, the two ships were able to successfully tow the stricken tanker at 5 knots and stopped her swinging wildly to port. They were attacked yet again, and the attack snapped the tow lines and immobilised the Ohio's rudder. A hit on the tankers bow forced captain Mason to abandon the ship for a fourth time. A further pair of air attacks narrowly missed the tanker. Penn and Rye were joined by HMS Bramham and by Ledbury, (the Ledbury returning from her search for Manchester). Rye began to tow the Ohio while Ledbury acted as a stern tug. A decent speed was achieved, but steering the tanker was proving impossible. Penn nudged the starboard side of Ohio while Rye and Bramham towed the Ohio and Ledbury steered the tanker. Another air attack missed the Ohio that morning. That afternoon, three more attacks attempted to hit the Ohio, but the convoy, moving at a steady 6 knots, was now within the range of Malta's fighters, which broke up two attacks before they sighted the Ohio. One Junkers Ju 88 made it through, and although its 1,000lb bomb missed, falling behind the ship, it forced the Ohio forward, breaking the tow line with Rye and forming a large hole in the stern of the ship.

Ohio, still sinking, was just under 45 miles west of Malta and now under protection of Malta's Spitfires. Although the tow line was severed, the Ohio was still wired to the Ledbury, but the tanker had gone off course and was now alongside Penn, facing west. It was decided to couple the Penn to the Ohio, like Ledbury, and tow her to port with a destroyer on either side. HMS Bramham was ordered to make for Malta ahead of the convoy. Although the Ohio was now doing 5 knots again, her deck was now underwater amidships.

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Ohio and the destroyers - Deakin (Sgt) War Office official photographer

The group of ships were slowly moving around the island, and as they were approaching the Grand Harbour a U-Boat was spotted. The convoy, having sent off its last free destroyer, was powerless to act. Fortunately, Malta's 9.2 inch gun coastal batteries were within range of the U-Boat and forced it to flee, as was a group of E-Boats. More E-boats were forced back by a minefield near Zonqor Point. At 6.00am, Ohio encountered the same minefield, but was further assisted by tugs which were dispatched from Malta, between the tugs and the destroyers, the Ohio, barely afloat, navigated the minefield and entered the Grand Harbour on the 15th August.

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Ohio arrives at Malta - Hampton, J A (Lt) Russell, J E (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer

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Ohio in Malta's Grand Harbour

A fabulous welcome was waiting. Crowds waved and cheered as a brass band played for the crew of the Ohio. However, there was no celebration from the crews or the garrison as the Ohio was audibly creaking ship could snap and sink instantly at any moment. Almost instantly after her arrival, the valuable fuel was pumped off, as the fuel drained, the Ohio sank, and as the last bit of oil left her she simultaneously settled on the bottom of the harbour - in two halves. The tanker SS Ohio played a fundamental role in Operation Pedestal, which became famous for being one of the most heavily contested of the Malta Convoys. Ohio reached Malta successfully but she never sailed again.

Quote:
The epic attempt to run some 80 ships past bombers, minefields and u-boats has gone down in military history as one of the most important British victories of the Second World War - though at a cost of more than 400 lives. - BBC News


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Unloading Oil - Russell, J E (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer

Aftermath & gathered thoughts about the Ohio.

Quote:
It was one of the small number of operations of the Second World War where you can say, without a doubt, that it alone made a difference... If Malta had fallen, the first impact would have been that General Rommel in north Africa would have been able to ship in supplies... He may have taken the Suez canal and opened the route for Hitler to the oil fields.... The whole nature of the war would have changed. Malta was a lynchpin. After Pedestal's success, the taking of Sicily was easy by comparison." - Peter Smith, military author


Of the 14 merchant ships involved in Pedestal, only 5 arrived in Malta. 1 carrier, 2 cruisers, and a destroyer were sunk, with many more ships damaged. The ship could not be repaired in Malta, so what was left of it was used for storage and to house Yugoslavian troops. On the 19th September 1946, the two halves of the Ohio were raised and towed ten miles offshore to be scuttled by a destroyer. In September 1942, Allied forces, largely from Malta, sank over 100,000 tons of Axis shipping, including 24,000 tons of fuel destined for Rommel in North Africa, some 35% of Axis convoys did not get through. The Ohio's nameplate and wheel are preserved in the National War Museum in Valletta, and the Ohio is fondly remembered in Malta, where she is considered to be the island's saviour. Operation Pedestal is known in Malta as "Il-Konvoj ta Santa Marija" because it arrived on St. Mary's day, a traditional feast day.

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Ohio is scuttled, 1946.

Burrough, the British convoy commander messaged Mason: "To Ohio stop I'm proud to have met you message ends." The Ohio's captain, Dudley William Mason, was awarded the George Cross. The Ledbury's captain, Commander Hill, received a "Well Done!" telegram from Churchill. Two American merchantmen, Larsen and Dales, were awarded the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal. Below are the citations.

Quote:
The KING has been graciously pleased to award the GEORGE CROSS to Captain Dudley William Mason, Master, SS Ohio. During the passage to Malta of an important convoy Captain Mason’s ship suffered most violent onslaught. She was a focus of attack throughout and was torpedoed early one night. Although gravely damaged, her engines were kept going and the Master made a magnificent passage by hand-steering and without a compass.

The ship’s gunners helped to bring down one of the attacking aircraft. The vessel was hit again before morning, but though she did not sink, her engine room was wrecked. She was then towed. The unwieldy condition of the vessel and persistent enemy attacks made progress slow, and it was uncertain whether she would remain afloat.

All next day progress somehow continued and the ship reached Malta after a further night at sea. The violence of the enemy could not deter the Master from his purpose. Throughout he showed skill and courage of the highest order and it was due to his determination that, in spite of the most persistent enemy opposition, the vessel, with her valuable cargo, eventually reached Malta and was safely berthed.


Quote:


SS Santa Elisa/SS Ohio
08/11 to 08/15/42

For heroism above and beyond the call of duty.

His ship was a freighter carrying drums of high-octane gasoline, one of two American ships, in a small British convoy to Malta. Orders were to “get through at all costs.” Heavily escorted, the convoy moved into the Mediterranean, and before noon of that day the enemy’s attack began. From then on the entire convoy was under constant attack from Axis planes and submarines. Assigned the command of an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the bridge, Dales contributed to the successful defense of his ship for three days.

At 4:00 A.M. on the morning of the fourth day, torpedo boats succeeded in breaking through and two attacked from opposite sides. Sneaking in close under cover of the darkness one opened point-blank fire on Dales’s position with four .50 caliber machine guns, sweeping the bridge and killing three of his gun crew in the first bursts. The other sent its deadly torpedo into the opposite side of the freighter. Neither the heavy fire from the first torpedo boat nor the torpedo from the second drove Dales and his crew from their gun. With only flashes to fire at in the darkness, he found the target and the first boat burst into flames and sank. But the torpedo launched by the other had done its deadly work. The high-test gasoline cargo ignited and the American ship was engulfed in flames. Reluctantly, orders were given to abandon her.

Two hours later, the survivors were picked up by a British destroyer, which then proceeded to take in tow a tanker [SS Ohio] that had been bombed and could not maneuver. After five hours constant dive-bombing, the tanker was hit again–her crew abandoned her–and the destroyer was forced to cut her loose. But the cargo she carried was most important to the defense of Malta, and it had to get through. The rescue destroyer and another destroyer steamed in– lashed themselves on either side of the stricken tanker–and dragged her along in a determined attempt to get her to port.

Dales and four others volunteered to go aboard the tanker and man her guns in order to bring more fire power to their defense. The shackled ships, inching along and making a perfect target, were assailed by concentrated enemy airpower. All that day wave after wave of German and Italian bombers dived at them and were beaten off by a heavy barrage. Bombs straddled them, scoring near misses, but no direct hits were made until noon the next day, when the tanker finally received a bomb down her stack which blew out the bottom of her engine room. Though she continued to settle until her decks were awash, they fought her through until dusk that day brought them under the protection of the hard fighting air force out of Malta.

The magnificent courage of this young cadet constitutes a degree of heroism which will be an enduring inspiration to seamen of the United States Merchant Marine everywhere.


Bibliography

Rawalpindi

http://www.clydesite.co.uk/clydebuilt/v ... p?id=15391

http://www.naval-history.net/xDKWW2-3910-07OCT02.htm

Thomas Foster, Sea Battles (Marshall Cavendish, London: 1974)

Ohio

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2289714.stm - Operation Pedestal: Saving Malta

http://www.usmm.org/malta.html - American Merchant Marine at War

http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/Wor ... -Malta.htm - World War II: Operation Pedestal - Relief of Malta

http://web.archive.org/web/200608221055 ... /ohio.html

http://www.mainlinetoday.com/Main-Line- ... e=0#artanc - Delaware County's S.S. Ohio Tanker Saves Malta in World War II

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 Post subject: Re: Underdogs II, Ships I: Two Merchant Ships at War
Unread postPosted: 28 Sep 2014, 15:40 
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I had never heard of the Rawalpindi before, what an amazing tale of bravery.

Also, how on earth did the Ohio stay afloat? Stronger ships have taken less of a beating and sunk first time.

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 Post subject: Re: Underdogs II, Ships I: Two Merchant Ships at War
Unread postPosted: 30 Sep 2014, 14:21 
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Considering how she sank as the oil was being taken off of her, I'd suggest that Ohio was kept afloat by her cargo.

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 Post subject: Re: Underdogs II, Ships I: Two Merchant Ships at War
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are there any reports of how bad the damage sustained by Scharnhorst was, she seemed to have quite a few problems in her short career (especially with fire control systems)?

going up against 2 battlecruisers in a converted passenger liner, is crazy!

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 Post subject: Re: Underdogs II, Ships I: Two Merchant Ships at War
Unread postPosted: 30 Sep 2014, 20:31 
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She was hit once, and sustained light splinter damage and nothing more.

She was damaged more by the bad weather when she fled the scene, evading Newcastle, Hood, Nelson, Rodney, and Dunkerque

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