1,000 Yanks die in Nazi sinking of troopship (2-18-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (February 18, 1944)

1,000 Yanks die in Nazi sinking of troopship

Disaster is worst of kind in military history of the U.S.
By Joseph L. Myler, United Press staff writer

Washington –
The good fortune which faithfully accompanied American soldiers to France in the last war, and to dozens of far-flung embarkation ports in this one, deserted a shipload of U.S. troops for a fateful moment “on an undisclosed date” in European waters.

The result was 1,000 men lost in the worst disaster of its kind in U.S. military history.

The War Department announced the tragedy in a 90-word statement late yesterday.

‘Due to enemy action’

It happened at night in a heavy sea and was “due to enemy action.” The ship, carrying American soldiers “in substantial numbers,” sank rapidly, the announcement said. Rescue efforts resulted in the saving of about as many men as were lost.

Because there is reason to believe the enemy does not know the magnitude of his success on this occasion, “the date is withheld.”

The fact the enemy did not know indicated that the attacking vessel itself had been sunk by other Allied ships. The announcement gave no other details, not even the name of the ship.

None in World War I

The only comparable disaster of this war was announced a year ago Feb. 20. The Navy then disclosed that “more than” 850 civilians and Army, Navy and Marine Corps personnel were lost when two medium-sized passenger-cargo ships were torpedoed and sunk in the North Atlantic four days apart.

Thus far in this war, the United States has lost 12 transports – not counting the latest victim – but in all previous instances, the loss of life was relatively light.

World War I produced no great transport tragedies. So successful was the job of transferring men to France that Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy in that conflict, was able to report in this book, Our Navy at War, that:

Not one American troopship was sunk on the way to France, and not one soldier aboard a troop transport manned by the U.S. Navy lost his life through enemy action.

The transports President Lincoln and Covington were sunk in World War I while returning from Europe, as was the Antilles, an Army-chartered transport not manned by the Navy. The British ships Tuscania and Moldavia were sunk while carrying U.S. troops to Europe, and the British-chartered Dwinsk was sunk while returning.

But losses in those sinkings were comparatively light as indicated by these figures from the World Almanac: Antilles, 70 lives lost; Tuscania, 213; Moldavia, 53, and President Lincoln, 26.

One of the larger transports thus far lost in this war was the President Coolidge, which struck a mine in the South Pacific on Oct. 26, 1942, and sank in a matter of minutes.

Of more than 4,500 officers, men and crew members aboard, only four were lost.

Editorial: The losses and the gains

News of the worst military disaster at sea in our history, and news of the most daring naval action of the war, come on the same day. After this, no American in his senses can talk glibly of a soft war and easy victory.

To the thousand families who have received official notice of the loss of their loved ones on a troopship sunk by the enemy in European waters, the nation extends its deepest sympathy.

The same American Navy which has held such transport losses to a minimum now has sent a fleet in another ocean into the very jaws of the dragon. Truk is the main Jap base outside home waters. Repeatedly the enemy’s Pacific fleet has refused to come out and fight, even to defend its Marshalls bastion. Now Adm. Nimitz has thrown in a mighty task force of surface and airpower. If the enemy fleet is there, a decisive naval battle is in progress; if that fleet has fled, our forces will destroy its bases.

Regardless of hazard, the U.S. Navy will continue to press its offensive in the Pacific and continue to convoy more and more troopships across the oceans until this war is won.