"NEVER SEEN OR HEARD FROM AGAIN" By: Capt. Arthur R. Moore RFD 1 Box 210 Hallowell, ME 04347 AUTHOR'S NOTE November 1, 2000, I received a phone call from M. Emerson Wiles III, a civilian worker at the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory located at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, asking my help in locating the crew list for the SS Fort Lee, an American flag tanker lost during World War II. I advised him to contact the U.S. Coast Guard-Marine Personnel Section in Arlington, Virginia. At the same time, informing him of the Naval Armed Guard records at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and inquiring why he was looking for this information. He said that an Australian researcher, Major Tom Hall (Ret), had discovered documents relating to the SS Fort Lee among some war crime trial records and they were trying to identify one of the three men from a lifeboat belonging to the SS Fort Lee that had landed on Soemba (Sumba) Island, Indonesia, in January 1945. These records showed that these men were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Since that conversation, I have received a great deal of written material from Mr. Wiles & Major Hall on this subject and this is what we know to date. PROLOGUE During World War II, over 800 American flag merchant vessels were lost as a result of direct or indirect enemy action which resulted in hundreds of Merchant Seamen and Naval Armed Guard personnel being accounted for as lost when their lifeboats or rafts disappeared without a trace. The final line from these accounts will read "never seen or heard from again." The SS Fort Lee was one of those ships. The final word being, "Number four lifeboat with 16 men aboard was never seen or heard from again." New information has been uncovered regarding the fate of this lifeboat after it had been safely launched from the sinking SS Fort Lee. TEXT According to official U.S. Naval Intelligence records the American tanker SS Fort Lee was torpedoed and sunk in the Indian Ocean by the German U-181 under the command of Kurt Friewald on November 2, 1944, at 2000 hours local time. The attack took place in position 27-55 S./83-11 E. (about 1700 miles from Western Australia) while en route from Abadan, Iran, to Brisbane, Australia, sailing alone with a cargo of 93,000 barrels of Navy Bunker C fuel. On board was a complement of 46 merchant crew including the Master, Ottar M. Andersen and a Naval Armed Guard crew of 26 men including the Officer in Charge, Lt. James. W. Milne. At 2000 hours, a torpedo struck on the port quarter directly under the boilers which blew up stopping the engines and flooding the fire room killing both the Fireman and a Wiper on watch in the engine room. At 2018, a second torpedo struck the ship in the engine room at the starboard quarter right under #3 and #5 lifeboats. These two boats were in the process of being lowered when this torpedo struck. Boat #3 was completely demolished killing 6 of the 7 men on board and #5 was broken in two spilling the 7 men occupying it into the water. The men in boat #5 were later picked up by other lifeboats. An Ordinary Seaman, who had returned to his room to retrieve his papers, was killed when the second torpedo exploded directly below his room. The Wiper, who was only 18 years old, was standing the regular Oiler's watch when he was killed. The SS Fort Lee sank about 1 « hours after being hit by the first torpedo. Numbers 1, 2, 4, and 6 lifeboats were safely launched. Survivors in boats #'s 1, 2 and 6 were rescued by other ships days later and are identified in the attached Appendices. On November 5th, boat #4 was lost to sight of the other 3 boats. The 10 crew members and 6 Naval Armed Guard on board #4 "were never seen or heard from again." After 57 years, Major Tom Hall has uncovered the fate of the men in the missing #4 lifeboat. He is a retired Australian Army and Vietnam veteran very interested in history and in honoring the men who died in World War II. His research has concentrated on Japanese war crimes committed against Allied prisoners of war in the Indonesia area. He has found written records revealing that a lifeboat from the SS Fort Lee made a landing on Soemba (Sumba) Island, Indonesia, which is about 450 miles ESE of Surabaya, Java, on January 13, 1945. Amazingly, this boat had traveled approximately 2850 miles from the position where the SS Fort Lee was sunk. That this boat ever reached land is a miracle in itself.
We assume the boat was in charge of the 3rd Mate, Salem M. Stine, 35 years old from Baltimore, Maryland, as he was the senior deck officer on board. When the boat landed there were three men still alive. According to Japanese and native accounts, one man died immediately after the boat landed and the other two were taken as prisoners and transferred to the Surabaya branch of the 102nd Japanese Naval Stockade. These records indicate that one of the two prisoners was sent to the 102nd Naval Hospital a week after his arrival at the stockade where it is said he later died. Japanese sources claim the other man also died in the hospital. War crimes investigation reports suggest the two survivors were probably taken from the stockade to another place, where it is believed they were executed in March or April of 1945 along with two British seamen who had been captured in Java sometime in early 1945. In addition, numerous statements were found in these reports indicating that the two survivors may have been executed in September 1945 following the Japanese surrender in August 1945. The following is an excerpt from the Goslett Report titled, "War Crimes-Surabaya, Java", Appendix A, Sheets #3 & #9, Serial #2: "The seaman who died on Soemba Island shortly after landing may be identical with an entry on Page #84 of an investigative report titled, "Celebes Island-Atrocities Against Allied Personnel", made by Lt. Richard H. Clark (Infantry) of the U.S. Army War Crimes Section." This entry reads as follows: RAINING, R. F. (Initials only) Able bodied seaman, U.S. Merchant Navy. Died Memora, Soemba Island, 13 January 1945. Name of this man known to natives. Grave CD-13. The Goslett report notes the seaman's death occurred in Membora, Soemba Island, on January 13, 1945 which is located on the northwest shore of the island. It is believed the lifeboat landed initially on the south shore and if so, then this seaman died after being taken over land or by water to Membora from where they came ashore. His death may not have only been due to his physical condition on landing but hastened by the treatment of the Japanese. In checking the official crew list of the SS Fort Lee, we were unable to find a name closely resembling "R.F. Raining" but the Naval Armed Guard roster from official Navy records listed a Robert Franklin Lanning. There is no doubt in my mind that this is one and the same person. According to Navy records, Lanning was one of 6 Navy personnel in the #4 boat. By changing the "R" to "L" and the "I" to "N" the last name would be Lanning. With reliance on native witnesses and translation of Japanese records, it would have been very easy to misspell or mispronounce a man's name. Both Japanese and island natives supplying such testimony and information could have easily mistaken identities and events under these circumstances. No record as to how the name R. F. Raining was obtained has been found. Robert Franklin Lanning was 20 years old from Chicago. His mother and father were listed as his next of kin living in Chicago, as well. The U.S. Navy death certificate for Lanning and the other 5 Armed Guards in #4 boat reads, "Bodies non-recoverable." As the war drew to a close it is officially recorded that Japanese officers and their troops went on rampages in the POW camps in the Indonesia area, Japan and other occupied countries where Allied prisoners were being held. They executed many prisoners in an effort to cover up their inhumane treatment of these prisoners. History attests to these atrocities. There is also documentation describing the actions of one Japanese officer in Surabaya who mutilated some of the bodies and cremated at least one. Japanese Navy Captain Tamao Shinohara was found guilty of War-Crimes in Indonesia. He was hanged by the Australian Army at Manus Island on June 10, 1951. It is unfortunate and sad that we may never learn the names of the other two men in the lifeboat with Lanning. One can only imagine the horrible ordeal these men faced in #4 lifeboat. They traveled over 2800 miles over a period of 72 days -- an amazing endurance. They survived their ship being torpedoed, suffered from hunger and thirst, and witnessed the suffering and death of their fellow shipmates only to face their own death at the hands of the Japanese. THE END IN APPRECIATION We Merchant Marine and Naval Armed Guard veterans of World War II owe Emerson Wiles III and Major Tom Hall a debt of gratitude for all the information in the above article. In researching material for my book "A Careless Word . A Needless Sinking" I found there were several occupied lifeboats whose fate is unknown. The information discovered on the SS Fort Lee's lifeboat #4 is the first explanation as to what happened to any of these missing boats and their occupants. "Tripp" Wiles is a former active duty U.S. Army officer working as a civilian for the Army Identification Lab as a historian/analyst in the World War II Section. He and his wife are originally from Fayetteville, Tennessee. He is a 1995 graduate of the Citadel and will graduate from Hawaii Pacific University with a Masters Degree in Diplomacy and Military Studies in May. Major Tom Hall, a retired Australian Army and Vietnam veteran, whose research led to the discovery of what happened to Lifeboat #4 of the SS Fort Lee. Only through his perseverance have these facts been made public. He discovered these documents in 1981 but was unable to get them released into the public domain until 1989. In 1992, he began contacting U.S. authorities about his findings and in 2000, the U.S. began its review. NOTE: It is possible that more information will be forthcoming on this subject we will keep you posted. However, I did want to share this information with all the Merchant Marine and Naval Armed Guard veterans who care what happened to their shipmates lost during World War II and others who may be interested. APPENDIX I Merchant Crew and Naval Armed Guard lost in the explosions of the first and second torpedoes. Killed in #3 Lifeboat ARTHUR, James L. (20) A.B. Baltimore, MD FRELS, John F. (31) 3rd Engineer Austin, TX MCLAMORE, James W. (18) O.S. Baltimore, MD DUMAS, Herman C. * S 1/c ** CARRINGTON, Leon L. * S 1/c ** STORM, Bernard G. * GM 3/c ** Killed in Room MCCOY, George A. Utility Fort Worth, TX Killed in Engine Room VAIN, Thomas F. (19) Wiper Baltimore, MD YOHE, Frank L. (21) Fireman Harrisburg, IL Note: Figures in parentheses denote age of the seamen. *Age of Navy personnel unknown at this time **Hometown of Navy personnel unknown at this time APPENDIX II Merchant Crew and Naval Armed Guard Lost in #4 Lifeboat BROEDLIN, Rudolph E. * Oiler Bridgeport, CT CRAIG, Robert J. (19) F/WT Fredonia, PA FRALEIGH, Harold R. (18) Messman Bronx, NY HOFFMAN, Jack R. (21) A.B. Wauwatosa, WI SAVOLSKY, Max (31) Electrician New York City, NY SIMMS, Edward K. (21) F/WT Lockwood, WV SORACE, Joseph J. (45) 2nd Engineer New York City, NY STINE, Salem H. (35) 3rd Mate Baltimore, MD STOKELY, Frederick R. (39) Messman Del Rio, ____ WOOD, Frank B. (39) A.B. Edgefield, SC EATON, Herbert A. * S 1/c ** FINCH, Warren S. * S 1/c ** HOLDON, Harold J. * S 1/c ** LANNING, Robert F. * S 1/c ** DEL MONTE, Victor * S 1/c ** MELLERT, William J. * GM 3/c ** Note: Figures in parentheses denote age of the seamen. *Age of Navy personnel unknown at this time **Hometown of Navy personnel unknown at this time APPENDIX III Merchant Crew and Naval Armed Guard survivors in #'s1, 2 and 6 lifeboats. Lifeboat #1 ASHER, Leslie (29) 2nd Mate Baltimore, MD CHAFFIN, James T. (18) Deck Cadet Monticello, GA COCHRANE, Lawrence O.S. KNAUTH, Cecil B. (30) Oiler Vernon, TX LOPEZ, Frank (24) A.B. Waysum, WV REEVES, Ernest Wiper SHENBERG, Charles (46) Ch. Mate Baltimore, MD TARNOWSKI, Max J. (20) Messman Garfield, NJ BIRD, Jerome RM 2/c CROWE, Rowland R. S 1/c GORGA, Joseph W. S 1/c JOHNSSEN, Gottfred BM 2/c KASPER, George F. S 1/c LEVIN, Bernard SM 3/c PETERSON, Russell B. S 1/c MILNE, James W. LT. PREWITT, Lee Roy S 1/c Survivors in this boat were rescued by the SS Mary Ball (U.S.) on November 16 and landed at Colombo, Ceylon on November 24, 1944. Lifeboat #2 ANDERSEN, Ottar M. Master Houston, TX BANKS, Robert J. (28) Purser St. James, MN BURIC, I. Ch. Steward DUFFY, John W. (23) A.B. Fall River, MA FARRINGTON, Bradley R. (18) 2nd Cook Mt. Rainier, MD GROVES, Earl A. (18) O.S. Chanute, KA HAMILTON, Joseph T. (20) Ch. Pumpman Glidden, IA HART, William S. (23) Ch. Radio Oper. Hickory, NC JOHNSTON, Hugh D. (35) 2nd Pumpman Parkersburg, PA LEE, Jr., John J. (20) 2nd Radio Oper. Plymouth, NH SEARLE, Walter J. O.S. Washington, DC APPENDIX III (contd) Merchant Crew and Naval Armed Guard survivors in #'s1, 2 and 6 lifeboats. Lifeboat #2 ATKINSON, Lyle J. S 1/c KIRWIN, James J. S 1/c LEMANSKI, Andrew A. S 1/c SWANK, Thomas C. S 1/c WINN, Leonard SM 1/c Survivors in this boat were rescued by the British freighter MS Ernebank on November 7th and landed at Fremantle, Australia on November 14th. Lifeboat #6 BROOKINS, Robert C. (18) Messman Sioux City, IA DAVIS, John (38) Messman Baltimore, MD HENNESSEY, John L. Oiler Minneapolis, MN HOFFLER, Augustus (20) Galleyman Brooklyn, NY MALEC, John (17) Wiper Baltimore, MD MARCUM, Jessie C. (22) Bosun Big Stone Gap, WV MOOTZ, William F. Utility PAGE, Zeb (25) Jr. Engineer Durham, NC SHAFFER, Roy (28) 1st Engineer Seattle, WA SHARE, Gilbert C. (18) 3rd Cook Norfolk, VA SHERRY, Michael (37) Messman Summit, NJ SMITH, Earl B.B. (37) Messman Washington, DC SMITH, Francis J. (42) A.B. New York City, NY STAUFFER, Paul (51) Ch. Engineer Houston, TX ADAMS, Orville D. S 1/c KING, William M. S 1/c WILSON, James M. GM 3/c This boat was rescued by the tanker SS Tumacacori (U.S.) on November 9th and landed at Albany, Australia on November 14th.
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