Information on SS Oneida - Courtesy of Captain Arthur Moore, "A Careless Word -- A Needless Sinking"


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STATEMENT REGARDING THE SINKING OF S.S. ONEIDA

 

On June 14, 1943 I interviewed Captain Carl E. Flygare, 220 – 72nd Street, Brooklyn NY, Apt B-2, relative to the sinking of the S.S. Oneida, Army Transport.

Captain Flygare said that he recognized me immediately when I entered his apartment and he proceeded to relate the details of the sinking of the Oneida. The Oneida left early on May 2, 1943 and no one on board had been permitted to leave the ship a day or so prior to sailing. The ships complement consisted of 64 men including the Navy Gun Crew. Just before sailing the members of the crew were allowed to give mail to an American Express man and that is when Joseph made up the letter enclosing his valuables which was dated May 1, 1943, 12 midnight. The express man was the last man to leave the ship for land.

The trip was through heavy seas and on May 3, 1943 the Captain signaled the commander of the convoy that he could not keep up with it and was dropping out. Behind the Oneida were two other ships that also could not keep up with the convoy. (Captain Meere stated that the testimony of survivors at the inquiry at Philadelphia was to the effect that the ship sprang a leak and the Captain was heading for land and that the Chief Engineer delayed this trip to land by giving his opinion that the leak was not too bad to continue on the trip. However, Captain Flygare, on being questioned by me, stated that there was a small leak in the gland of the ship that was not serious, as all ships leak somewhat.) The Captain stated that on the evening of May 3, 1943 he observed a mysterious ship which he almost rammed barely missing by 20 feet and that he believes that this ship was the submarine that later sunk the Oneida as she was almost as large as a Corvette which covers more than 250 feet in length. The Oneida herself was only 261 feet in length, so it can be realized the immense size of some of the U-Boats.

The Captain claims that upon becoming alarmed at the sight of this strange ship which was travelling from east to west across the Gulf Stream off the Carolinas and therefore presumed to be an enemy craft as no Government craft would be travelling in that direction, he gave the order for all hands to don life equipment and stand by on deck. After all hands had been in the life equipment for many hours, the Captain gave the order to return to their posts but to be on the alert and keep their life saving equipment handy and if they went to bed to sleep in same. The Captain feels that he made a mistake when he relented and let the men have their smokes and opened the bar. He claims no none overindulged and feels that almost all that were green in the crew and some others who were careless failed to take the proper precautions with their life equipment.

Early in the morning of May 4, 1943, perhaps about 1:00AM, a terrific thunderstorm broke and the sea was very heavy. About 2:30 AM in the inky darkness two quick thumps were heard on shipboard that shook the ship from stem to stern. The Captain gave the alarm to the engine room and then passed Joseph’s room and found Joseph at his official station taking the ship’s funds which were in his custody and which he was to guard in case of such an emergency, from the safe and placing them in his pockets. The Captain claims that Joseph was wearing a tan overcoat into which he was stuffing the money, but he did not see him in any life saving equipment, and it is believed that Joseph would not have time to get into same if he did not have the life saving equipment on at that time. Joseph’s assistant, Merton Kays, of Sidney, NY (14 Grand Street), was in the next room to Joseph and he was saved. The Captain claims that Kays assisted the Chief Engineer off the ship as far as he knows.

The last the Captain saw of Joseph was when as he stated Joseph was trying to get the ship’s funds into his pockets as was his duty as ship’s transportation agent. The last words that the Captain heard Joseph speak was "I don’t think I will be able to take the silver" to which the Captain claims he told Joseph "the hell with the silver, get off the ship". The Captain stated that he barely had time to give a few superficial orders to get clear of the ship when the ship went down headfirst. The Captain claims he held fast to the ship on the outside hatch to avoid being sucked in, and that he believes his experience with the sea in this manner saved his life as he claims he went down with the ship and when the ship broke through the water again, he let go of her and swam to a raft. That he was badly injured when the ship went down due to what he believes was the timber which broke from the ship when she sank scraping all over his body. When he was taken on the raft he gave directions to the survivors on the raft as to the saving of the others in the water and claims he saved a Negro who hollered he was drowning because his life saving unit was not tightly zippered up the front. The raft holds 18 men and after sometime a full load of 18 men were on the raft and they could see a boatload of other survivors in a lifeboat from the S.S. Oneida that most likely had broken away. Due to heavy seas this lifeboat could not see them. While the survivors were on the raft, the Captain and the rest saw this mysterious ship or U-Boat which the captain claims was as large as a Corvette and which had its searchlight lit very dimly and was about two hundred feet away. This searchlight was described by the Captain as having a circumference of about one and one-half feet. This mysterious ship or submarine disappeared and was not seen again. At the time the ship was hit it did not explode but rather just seemed to burst in two, which leads the Captain to believe that they have a new type torpedo made of gas that when it strikes it bursts like compressed air breaking the ship apart. As this ship has a cargo of steel, explosives and machinery it is possible the Captain is right as there was no fire in the ship or smoke.

The Captain stated that all hands in the engine room were lost as was the Lt. of the Navy Gun Crew whose office adjoined Joseph’s. The last seen of the Lt. of the Navy Gun Crew was that he and two others were on a doughnut raft and nothing had been seen of them since according to the Captain. Of a crew of 62 men, only 31 were saved. While the Captain was on the raft he and the others heard some of the others hollering "over here fellows" which makes him believe that they either were in a boat or near the mysterious ship. After being on the raft 17 hours, they were picked up by a new destroyer and taken to Norfolk Navy Yard, Norfolk, VA.

If Joe and the rest were not picked up by the mysterious ship, or some other ship plying that lane which would mean a ship going to Russia, the Captain believes that Joe and the rest were either sucked in by the ship or hit with the timber that was swirling around in the vicinity of where the ship went down. The Captain claims the ship went down in about one and one-half minutes and it is possible that Joe went down with the ship. If he was picked up by the sub, it is just a question of who was in command, if it is an old time sub commander he would get reasonably good treatment, if not very poor treatment and his life would not be worth much to the Germans to lug along. Another bad point about the sinking was that it took place in the Gulf Steam and the water was warm and must have been shard infested and if that be the case, the bodies would be done away in this manner.

The Captain stated that Joseph was employed by the Army Transport Service as a civil service appointee for the war service duration and that he had received a commission of Lt. (j.g.) in the U.S. Maritime Service, but actually was employed by the U.S. Army Transport Service and the Commission in the U.S. Maritime Service was membership that entitled him his uniform and future assignments in that Service. Joe never had a chance to serve in actual service with the maritime service as he was on the S.S. Oneida, which was bound for Australia and was to stay there for the duration as a shuttle ship between the islands. This ship, the Oneida, had been refitted and over $800,000 spent on the refrigeration facilities.

The Captain stated that all that is due Joe is three days pay, reimbursement for his belongings and the $5,000 blanket insurance covering all personnel of the ship.

The Captain speaks very highly of Joseph as does Major Meere who gave him his position of Ships Transportation Agent on the Oneida. Hs record all through his service on ships since he left school is excellent and to all accounts which I examined was well above the average in his work and had complete charge of all personnel on the ship making up the payroll, ship complement, etc. He was rated a very likable chap by all who knew him at the Army Base in Brooklyn, NY.

Captain Flygare is an old-time type sea captain who stated he used to go with Joe to O’Brien’s Tavern on Fourth Avenue and 59th Street and have a few drinks but to his knowledge never knew of Joe to take a drink on board. Joe’s closest friend on board was Houghton, a young steward who is also listed as missing.

It is possible from the account I received from Captain Flygare that many precautions could have been taken to avoid this tragedy, such as each member of the ship, including Joe making sure that their life saving equipment was on and safely zippered and that when the ship was not able to keep up with the convoy to make for port when the leak in the ship was discovered. It seems from the Captain’s statement that Joe could have had more of a chance of being saved if he had left the ship immediately when the torpedo hit and also put on his life saving equipment. The rafts upon which most of the crew were saved leaves the ship automatically when the ship hits the water on the dive into the sea.

More details are hoped from other survivors in the unpredictable future.

 

(Author unnamed and statement unsigned)

SUPPLEMENTAL STATEMENT REGARDING THE SINKING OF S.S. ONEIDA

 

 

Went to Port of Embarkation, 58th Street, Brooklyn, NY. Saw Lt. Col. Davis of G2 Intelligence, then to Capt. Pailley and then to Lt. Col. Fillmore who directed me to Major Harry Meere, Pier No. 2, Dock Level on North Room 202WI 9-5400, ext 495.

Major Meere knows all the details of the sinking of the S.S. Oneida. Claims it was sunk off Norfolk about 100 miles out to sea. Ships complement 64 men including Navy Gun Crew. 31 survivors. Captain E. Flygare was saved but was injured and is recuperating at his home, 220 – 72nd Street, Brooklyn, NY. Merton H. Kays, Assistant Ships Transportation Agent, address 14 Grand Street, Sidney, NY who was in office with J. V. McKenny was also saved. He is reported out to sea again. Appears to be something mysterious about the sinking of the ship. The ship sprung a leak and Captain Flygare signaled head of convoy that he was heading for land. On the advice of the Captain’s assistant that the leak was not beyond repair they continued on the trip but lagging greatly behind the convoy. The next occurrence was two loud thumps and the ship was either torpedoed or broke up. Last heard of Joe was a mysterious boat appeared and they heard Joe yelling "over here fellows". The survivors were brought into Norfolk and then to Philadelphia where the inquiry took place. The Navy crew was not interrogated at this inquiry as they were interviewed by the Navy Intelligence. Major Meere attended the inquiry and it seems quite a mystery yet as to whether Joe survived or not.

Captain Flygare’s telephone number is Shore Road 5-5085.

 

(Author unnamed and statement unsigned)

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