SS Topa Topa
|SS Topa Topa|
Includes information from "A Careless Word --- A Needless Sinking" by Capt Art Moore
and "US Merchant Vessel War Casualties of World War II" by Robert M Browning Jr.
These pages are dedicated to the memory of Gail Wayne Heckman, Armed Guard killed
when the Topa Topa was sunk, and to his Armed Guard and Merchant Marine comrades.
Gail enlisted in the Navy in December 1941 and received his boot training at
Great Lakes Training Station and his gunnery training at Little Creek, Virginia.
His ship left home port 14 July 1942.
S.S. TOPA TOPA AMERICAN TORPEDOED AND SUNK 29 AUGUST 0100Z. POSITION 10-16
NORHT 51-30 WEST. 35 SURVIVORS OF 61 CREW PASSENGERS AND ARMED GUARD LANDED
HERE ALL AMERICAN. 7 ARMED GUARD AMERICAN, 18 CREW AMERICAN, 1 BRITISH MISSING
AND PRESUMED DEAD. CODES IN LOCKER DOWN WITH SHIP. ATTACKED BY 2 SUBMARINES.
U.S. Naval Operating Base
Serial September 6, 1942
From: The Commandant.
To: Commander in Chief, United States Fleet.
Via: Commandant, Tenth Naval District.
Subject: S.S. Topa Topa, Sinking of.
2. It is suggested that paragraph 8 of basic letter be brought to the
attention of the Navy Department Permanent Board of Awards.
TENTH NAVAL DISTRICT
San Juan, P.R.
Serial CCSF 0279
SECOND ENDORSEMENT 10 September 1942.
From: Commander, Caribbean Sea Frontier
To: Commander in Chief, United States Fleet
Subject: S.S. Topa Topa, sinking of
2. The Commandant Caribbean Sea Frontier concurs in paragraph two of the
3. It will be noted that paragraph 8 of the basic letter states that
statements of Hyatt's actions shall be turned over to the proper authorities.
No mention of statements in regard to actions of other personnel is made.
Chief of Staff
U.S. NAVAL OPERATING BASE
NB33/A16-3 September, 4, 1942
From: Armed Guard Commander, S.S. Topa Topa.
To: Commander in Chief, United States Fleet.
Via: (1) Commandant, Tenth Naval District.
(2) Commandant, N.O.B. Trinidad.
Subject: S.S. Topa Topa, sinking of.
1. The S.S Topa Topa was torpedoed without warning at 2100 August 28, 1942,
60th Meridian Time, while enroute from New York to Takoradi, West Africa, in
position approximately 10-16-30 North and 51-30 West.
2. The Topa Topa departed Port of Spain, in convoy, on morning of August 26.
Depth charges were dropped by escort during the day and night of August 27th.
At approximately 0600, August 28th, the escort departed and the convoy dispersed.
We then started zig-zagging with a mean course 091 true. We increased speed
to about 11.5 knots and started smoking heavily. In the afternoon the smoking
continued, extremely dense and black, and I, personally went to the Captain,
telling him that we would be hit that night if there were a submarine within
a 35 mile radius. I even suggested slowing to 10 knots on the morrow if the
smoke were not discontinued.
3. At about 1900 we stopped zig-zagging and hauled left 30( on an evasive
course. At about 2000 we again went to 091( true and the Captain was waiting
for moonrise to resume zig-zagging.
4. At about 2100 we were hit in the #2 hold on starboard side, in which
there was about 2000 drums of aviation gasoline. The starboard side of the
bridge was blown off and the ship was engulfed in flames forward. I was
knocked down and dazed in the wheelhouse, which was a steel box (splinter
protection). Incidentally, this saved the lives of the helmsman and myself.
At about 10 seconds later a second torpedo hit in No. 5 hold on starboard side,
in which there was also aviation gas in large quantity. This caused the after
half of the ship to be engulfed in flames. There was no time for any orders
nor was there any means of issuing any. The Captain and officer on watch had
been killed on the starboard wing of the bridge instantly.
5. Only one boat was lowered without mishap and this must have been done
in 10 seconds. As we were pulling clear of the flames, we heard screams of
those burning on the ship and in the water. We looked for anyone who might
be seen, but saw no one. It was a dark cloudy night and had commenced to
rain just prior to the first torpedo. It was also lightening.
6. As we drifted away from the blazing wreck a large sub bumped our boat
and circled and came back and asked for the Captain. As he wasn't in the boat,
the Officer said, "One of you come aboard". The Chief Mate went on board and
we were told to remain alongside. Three of the officers, in southwesters,
hip boots, and rain clothes made various remarks. One told us in a question
that we were out of Trinidad bound for Freetown. One said we would now get
$500 and a month's rest! Another asked if we had water and could make land.
This was all spoken in English with a German accent. I took particular note
of the submarine, which had what I believe to have been a 6: gun forward and
a 4" gun aft. I am positive that the after gun was larger than any 3" gun we
have. The submarine was painted silver. Many members of the boat saw a
second submarine. I did not.
7. Of fourteen members of the Armed Guard and myself, seven were killed
or drowned and two were injured (burned). We were in the boats until around
1200, August 30, at which time we were picked up by the Clan Macinnes, Captain
A. Lynch, Commanding. Of the merchant personnel, eighteen were lost.
8. The U.S.N personnel acquitted themselves well in every instance. One
Navy man, Hyatt, who was clear of the flames and in the water, swam back to a
drowning gun crew member, Evans, took off his life jacket and a third man,
evidently drowning, took hold. In the ensuing struggle all were drowned.
I recommend and award for this man whose previous conduct was unexcelled.
Another member of the naval gun crew let a merchant seaman hang onto him until
they found a boat. Another naval gunner, George Hoy, tried to save Cox Smith
and was severely burned. However, there were no witnesses to this. In the
boats, Hoy and Patton, both badly burned, never complained once. This should
go into their records. I have signed statements as to Hyatt's actions which
shall be turned over to the proper Naval Authorities.
LT. (jg) John L. Ridenour
|SS Topa Topa sinking report from Captain Moore's book|
|SS Topa Topa sinking report from Robert M Browning Jr's book|
|SS Topa Topa Armed Guard death and wounded list from US Navy|
|SS Topa Topa Merchant Marine death list from Captain Moore's book|
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