Patrol spurred by new sinking (9-23-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 23, 1941)


Axis base in Arctic hunted by U.S. Navy; fate of 34 crew members remains blank; Berlin says vessel may be one of convoy sunk

Washington, Sept. 23 (UP) –
The Navy maintained wartime secrecy today regarding the operations in which planes and warships, their crews at battle stations, were searching the Iceland sealanes for an Axis raider which presumably sank the government-owned SS Pink Star.

The newest incident was regarded as the first challenge to President Roosevelt’s “shoot-on-sight” policy.

The Pink Star was generally believed to be the victim of a German submarine, but there was no precise information on that point.

The Navy’s search for the craft that sunk the Pink Star was believed centered on submarine activity and a search for a possible Axis base on Greenland. It was assumed here that the sinking was by an underwater craft, possibly based in Norway, but the possibility of an Arctic base was not ruled out.

The Pink Star incident was the third in an area of less than 100 miles diameter in a lane running past the southern tip of Greenland, which, like Iceland, is protected by the United States.

The Pink Star was the former Danish vessel Lundby taken over by the United States and sailing for the United States Lines under Panamanian registry. She carried a crew of 34; none was American.

Only meager details were available at the State Department. Its information, relayed from the Navy Department, failed to state whether the crew had been rescued. Nor did it state whether the ship had been bombed, torpedoed or shelled.

Authorized Nazi quarters said in Berlin today that the Pink Star might have been among the ships reported in yesterday’s High Command communiqué on the sinking of 13 merchantmen from two Atlantic convoys. It was added that:

…no specific report on this ship has yet been received.

An authorized spokesman expressed no concern over the sinking of the Pink Star, pointing out that it occurred “in our area of operations.” A spokesman asserted that the Pink Star was flying the Panamanian flag and the United States cannot speak for Panama.

The announcement revealed only that the Pink Star carried a “general cargo” and was sunk last Saturday 45 miles northwest of the point at which the SS Sessa was torpedoed and shelled on Aug. 17 with the loss of all but three of her crew. It was also in that same general area where the SS Montana was sunk Sept. 11 just a few hours before President Roosevelt announced his “shoot-on-sight” policy and where the United States destroyer Greer was attacked by a submarine.

No convoy details

The Pink Star was en route to a United Kingdom port via Iceland, having left New York Sept. 3. She was built in 1926 and was of 6,850 tons deadweight.

American warships are convoying ships of all flags over the North Atlantic sealanes at least as far as Iceland. Whether the Pink Star was being escorted by warships when attacked was not revealed.

The area in which the Pink Star, Sessa and Montana went down is well within the combat zone defined by Germany which follows along the three-mile line of Greenland’s eastern shores. The President has refused to recognize this zone since Germany has given the United States no warning of its existence and because it interferes with the avowed U.S. policy of freedom of the seas.

It likewise fails to comply, it is said, with the recognized principle that a blockade need not be recognized unless it is effective. Germany, it was believed, would find it difficult to blockade either Iceland or Greenland both because it is not at war with the United States and because Greenland is considered to be within the Western Hemisphere. All three sinkings took place within the hemisphere as commonly defined.

A Navy Department spokesman explained that while Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox had given shooting orders to his subordinates a week ago, it took some time to arrange the disposition of Navy vessels.

Mr. Knox told 12,000 United Aircraft workers at East Hartford, Conn., yesterday that “no shooting had been reported to the Navy Department” since Mr. Roosevelt issued hios orders.

Shelling described

Belated reports contained in the affidavit of the first officer of the Sessa, H. K. Bjerregaard, a 37-year-old Dane, indicated that it had been a submarine which sent that ship to the bottom. He described the explosion of the torpedo and, for the first time, the shelling of the ship as survivors attempted to take to the sea in open boats.

Caught in the chief engineer’s cabin when the torpedo hit, Bjerregaard told how he tried to get to his office and how shells struck the bunker house and the bridge. He was thrown into the water, he said, before he could reach his lifeboat.

He doubted the submarine could determine the Sessa’s nationality, pointing out it was:

…dark-deep twilight but not night darkness.

He said:

I think that outline of the ship could have been seen at 500 yards. Vessel was running with dimmed navigation lights and was otherwise blacked out… I do not believe submarine could have made out ship’s markings.

He grasped a floating telegraph pole – the vessel had a partial cargo of lumber – and clung to it. Later he reached a capsized lifeboat from which he transferred to a floating liferaft. He and several companions stayed there but all except three were dead when picked up 19 days later by the USS Lansdale. Water had run out 40 hours earlier.

Earlier American-owned ship casualties in the present war:

  • SS City of Bayville (struck mine in Australian waters, Nov. 8, 1940).

  • Standard Oil tanker Charles Pratt, Panamanian registry (torpedoed off Freetown, Sierra Leone, Dec. 21, 1940).

  • SS Robin Moor, U.S. registry (torpedoed in South Atlantic between Dakar and Natal, May 21, 1941).

  • SS Sessa, Panamanian registry (torpedoed and sunk off Iceland, Aug. 17, 1941).

  • SS Steel Seafarer (sunk by aerial bomb in Red Sea, Sept. 5, 1941).

  • SS Montana (torpedoed off Iceland, sister ship of Sessa, Sept. 11, 1941).

  • SS Arkansan (damaged in air raid at Suez, Egypt, Sept. 11, 1941).