BOMBED AT AUGUSTA SS Esso Providence On August 20, 1943, three days after completion of the Allied conquest of Sicily, the Esso Providence arrived at Augusta, on the island's southeast coast, and was ordered to anchor pending receipt of further instructions. On the night of August 17, American warships shelled the Italian mainland for the first time--at the "toe of the boot". The Esso Providence, while anchored in the harbor on August 23, between 8 a.m. and 1:20 p.m. bunkered HMS Prince Charles, Orion, and Prince Leopold. At 7 o'clock on Tuesday morning, August 24, the port of Augusta was attacked by enemy aircraft which came in from the east. A direct hit was scored on the Esso Providence. Despite this, and the fact that two near misses jarred her from stem to stern, the vessel was able to complete discharging her important cargo of special Navy fuel oil and to unload the 241 belly tanks she carried in her forward hold. Four Air Attacks in 2 1/2 Hours On Sunday, August 29, enemy planes attacked four times between 5 and 7:30 p.m. and were overhead continuously from 8:50 until 9:25 p.m., but the Esso Providence was not further damaged. She was, however, badly in need of repairs and it was decided, after an estimate by Navy divers, to carry out temporary repairs at Malta. Departing at 5:30 p.m. on September 5, the vessel entered Mellieha Bay the next morning. Here at Malta--the most bombed spot in the world-she was destined to stay for a period of 94 days. At Valletta, Malta, on October 19, when one of the ship's ammunition lockers caught fire from an unknown cause, the chief mate of the Esso Providence performed a deed of great heroism. Without the slightest hesitation and in complete disregard of the terrible danger, he turned the flame-heated flood valve with his bare hands, saving his shipmates and their vessel from disaster. The Esso Providence was one of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey tankers renamed under a new Company policy-to give vessels the names of cities, preceded by "Esso". During the early months of the war in Europe she was still known as the Cerro Azul. She received the name Esso Providence on February 23,1940. The SS Esso Providence, ex Cerro Azul, was built in 1921 by the Sun Shipbuilding Company at Chester, Penna. She is a sistership of the Esso Dover, ex Cerro Ebano. A single-screw vessel of 13,860 deadweight tons capacity on international summer draft of 28 feet, 1 1/2 inches, the Esso Providence has an overall length of 498 feet, 6 inches, a length between perpendiculars of 480 feet, a moulded breadth of 65 feet, 9 inches, and a depth moulded of 37 feet. With a cargo carrying capacity of 111,382 barrels, she has an assigned pumping rate of 4,000 barrels an hour. Her quadruple expansion engine, supplied with steam by four Scotch boilers, develops 4,300 indicated horsepower and gives her a classification certified speed of 11.7 knots. The outbreak of hostilities on September 3, 1939 found the Esso Providence en route from Baytown to Philadelphia. Under the command of Captain Olav Olsen, with Chief Engineer Aksel E. Lundin in charge of her engineroom, she carried her first wartime cargo, 104,432 barrels of mixed petroleum products. During the rest of the year she made six coastwise voyages and, in all, delivered 738,701 barrels-31,025,442 gallons. In 1940 she made 21 voyages, loading 18 times at Baytown, twice at Corpus Christi, and once at Baton Rouge. This proved to be her largest delivery year in World War II. She transported 2,213,122 barrels to east coast ports. The Esso Providence, diverted from her Gulf loading ports to South American and Caribbean terminals, in the latter part of 1941 took on 89,587 barrels of fuel oil at Aruba for discharge at Cristobal. Then followed Cartagena, Las Piedras twice, Cartagena again, and Aruba. The year ended while the vessel was en route to Buenos Aires. Survived Atlantic Blitz In the dangerous year 1942, when all sinking records were broken, the Esso Providence braved the North and South Atlantic as well as the Caribbean. On January 13 she sailed from Buenos Aires under the command of Captain Frank E. Wirtanen, with Chief Engineer Sigurd Steffensen in charge of her engine department, and arrived on January 27 at Caripito where her tanks were filled with 93,281 barrels of crude oil. She went back to Buenos Aires and then proceeded to Caripito, loading 90,401 barrels of crude oil for Halifax, via New York. On April 20, 1942, she was time chartered to the War Shipping Administration and returned to South American service for the rest of the year and the early part of 1943. On March 31, 1943, the Esso Providence arrived at New York for a repair period and on April 24 left for Ellesmere, England, on her first wartime Atlantic crossing. In June she made another trip to England-this time to Barry Roads in Bristol Channel. On July 24 the vessel left New York for the Mediterranean trip during which she was bombed. On February 15, 1944, after her temporary repairs at Malta and Gibraltar, the Esso Providence arrived in New York, where she was immediately sent to dry dock in the Staten Island yard of the Bethlehem Steel Company, Shipbuilding Division, for extensive repairs of the damage done to her by enemy bombers the previous August at Augusta, Sicily. When she returned to service in the Esso fleet on May 16, 1944, the Esso Providence was ready to resume her war duty. From Curacao she took 84,712 barrels of fuel and Diesel oils to Cristobal, Canal Zone. Later she passed through the Panama Canal and received her next cargo of crude oil at La Libertad, Ecuador, for delivery to Montevideo, with a stopover at Talara, Peru, for bunkers. This schedule was repeated on two more voyages, from the last of which she returned, via Rio de Janeiro, to Caripito. In 1945 the Esso Providence loaded four times at Caripito and once each at Texas City, Curacao, and Aruba. She discharged four times at Rio de Janeiro, and her other terminals were Fortaleza, Curacao, and Philadelphia. On February 13, 1945, while the vessel was sailing out of Caripito, her rudder was damaged. Captain Walter F. Andrews was in command, and the engine department was in charge of Chief Engineer James A. Johnston. The Esso Providence was forced to anchor off Mucuripe Point, near Fortalez, on the northeast coast of Brazil, and transfer her cargo into the Esso Dover, commanded at that time by Captain Harold Griffiths, with her engineroom in charge of Chief Engineer Karl B. Nelson. Cargo Transfer Job The two tankers were moored with anchors and mooring lines to keep them well apart and to prevent their striking together when rolling in the seaway. The salvage tug USS Chain was anchored off the port quarter of the Esso Dover so that a mooring line could be used to keep the sterns of the vessel's apart. However, when the sterns of both ships swung toward the tug, this line could not be used and the sterns came together heavily several times. Weather conditions were favorable throughout the entire operation. Six lengths (each 30 feet) of four- inch U. S. Navy fueling hose were used to transfer the cargo--90 feet of hose for each grade of oil. Discharge of 80,789 barrels was made in 35 hours, 45 minutes. The Esso Providence left Fortaleza on April 2, 1945, in ballast, under tow of the tug Bodie Island and arrived at Newport News on April 21. From then until V-J Day, September 2, she carried five cargoes, three of them from Caribbean ports to Rio de Janeiro. The wartime transportation record of the Esso Providence was in summary as follows: Voyages Year (Cargoes) Barrels 1939 7 738,701 1940 21 2,213,122 1941 19 1,895,061 1942 8 681,719 1943 5 414,781 1944 7 554,949 1945 7 575,617 74 7,073,950 Her masters during World War II were Captains Olav Olsen, James S. LeCain, Peder A. Johnson, Frank E. Wirtanen, August Randall, Walter F. Andrews, Andrew L. Mellgard, and Andrew Weiler. In charge of her engineroom in the same period were Chief Engineers Aksel E. Lundin, Robert W. Gunn, James A. Johnston, Horace L. Wilson, Sigurd Steffensen, Stephen Chucalo, Edward Snyder, Alexander J. G. Maitland, and Raymond Shannon. Captain Walter F. Andrews was in command of the Esso Providence and her engineroom was in charge of Chief Engineer Stephen Chucalo when she was hit by a bomb at Augusta, Sicily, on August 24, 1943. The vessel was manned by a merchant crew of 44 officers and men and carried a U. S. Navy armed guard of 34. The Bombing Attack The following story of the bombing attack is quoted from Captain Andrews' report: "The bomb--estimated to be of the 250 pound class, armor-piercing type-exploded in No. 9 port main tank after passing at an angle of about 45 degrees through No. 9 starboard main cargo tank top and penetrating the side of the hatch coaming, the deck, amd the center line bulkhead. At about the same time, one of the near misses exploded under water on the starboard side, throwing the vessel's stern out enough to buckle the deck and bulge tile shell plating between frames 26 and 27. The other near miss caused no severe damage. "The explosion in No. 9 main cargo tank on the port side threw both transverse bulkheads of this tank into Nos. 8 and 10 port main tanks and ripped the bottoms of Nos. 4 and 5 summer tanks into a distorted mass. The force of the blast tore plates and frames from keel to bilge, left a gaping hole extending considerably above and below the water line, and exposed three cargo tanks in all, to a fore and aft length of more than 40 feet. "The fire alarm was sounded and fire hoses were played in way of all damage, with the result that there was no fire; however, the vessel took a slight starboard list. "Port naval officials boarded the Esso Providence at about 7:30 a.m., right after the bomb hit, and arrangements were made to dock the vessel as soon as a berth was available, but it was first necessary to discharge 150 tons of fresh water from the after peak and engine tanks to lighten the after end of the ship. "By 12:15 p.m. the vessel was secured to the berth without any assistance other than the usual tug required by the pilot. Hoses were connected and discharge of cargo not contaminated as a result of the explosion was completed at 10:30 a.m. on August 25." Wires Held Wreckage in Place By way of emergency repairs, wire cables were passed around the Esso Providence to hold the wreckage in place and the ship was ordered to Malta for temporary repairs; she left on Sunday, September 5. Captain Andrews made the following report of the voyage: "After leaving Augusta, we encountered a fresh northwest wind, Force 5, and a long rolling ground swell with a moderately rough sea. All the emergency repairs made at Augusta carried away. I had to order the speed reduced from 7 to 5 knots, as loose wreckage was pounding heavily. There was a tremendous strain on the damaged area because the unequal distribution of weight in the affected tanks caused a starboard list whenever the seaway lifted the vessel's stern. In order to steer the Esso Providence at all, I had to carry 15 to 20 degrees right rudder. "We were off Malta on the morning of September 6 and I applied to the senior convoy escort for permission to enter a harbor to get out of the seaway. I received a reply to beach the vessel if necessary, as I would not be permitted to enter Grand Harbor at Valletta. However, that same afternoon, shore authorities granted us permission to anchor in Mellieha Bay, on the northeast coast of the island. I requested a complete survey of needed repairs, but only a limited one was possible in the Bay roadstead. Accordingly, the salvage officer there authorized the vessel to proceed to Grand Harbor for an underwater survey and some form of temporary strengthening. "On October 9, with a tug standing by, we proceeded from Mellieha Bay to Grand Harbor. As there was no dry dock available, the Esso Providence tied up alongside the wrecked motorship Talabot while preparations were made to remove loose wreckage and strengthen the port side above water sufficiently to enable her, under favorable weather conditions, to proceed to Taranto, Italy, via a coastal route, for further repairs." Magazine Afire While the Esso Providence was at Grand Harbor, Valletta, on October 19, a fire broke out in her after ammunition magazine for reasons unknown to the officers and crew of the Esso Providence or to her Navy gun crew. The magazine, a steel structure, was stored with a practically full quota of 5-inch gunpowder bags, 5-inch shells for anti-submarine guns, and 20-millimeter ammunition for anti-aircraft guns. Fortunately, the powder gases blew open the heavy steel entrance door of the magazine and thus had an outlet, instead of being confined and possibly destroying the stern of the ship. But the blazing fire threatened the detonation of the fifty 5-inch shells in the magazine and such an occurrence would have had grave consequences to the vessel and the 78 merchant seamen and Navy gunners who were aboard at 1:30 p.m. when the fire was reported. Disaster was averted by Chief Mate Leslie H. Winder, who was supervising crew work forward on the main deck. When Second Mate John D. Hall sounded the general alarm, Chief Mate Winder rushed aft to the boat deck to open the magazine's flood valve. At the same time, Second Mate Hall, with Captain Andrews and Third Mate Douglas L. Masin, ran to rally the crew aft and get the hoses to the fire. First Assistant Engineer Steve M. English instantly started the fire pump, putting 100 pounds of water pressure on the fireline. Fast Work As the nearest fire plug was too close to the magazine, it was necessary to connect several lengths of hose amidships and lead them aft to the magazine door. This was done in three minutes! The flood valve of the ammunition magazine was in a steel protection box, secured with a padlock. It was almost above and close to the magazine doorway. When the door was forced open by the pressure of powder gases, a solid mass of flame shot upward and out to a distance of 200 feet and the fire was blazing from the magazine ventilators. When Chief Mate Winder approached the burning magazine, hundreds of 20-millimeter projectiles were hurtling through the flaming entrance, some of them starting a fire on the submerged hulk of the Talabot, to which the Esso Providence was moored. All paintwork on the tanker's deck and on the structures aft near the magazine was ablaze; the flames were destroying gear and equipment, including several life rings, 100 feet of armored electric cable, and three 8-inch manila mooring lines. The chief mate found that the lid and padlock of the flood valve box were red hot. He ran to the nearest lifeboat, returned with the boat's hatchet, struck the lock off, pried open the lid, and turned the valve, severely burning both hands. As Captain Andrews and the second and third mates had brought the fire hoses near the scene, Chief Mate Winder took time out to go to the medicine chest and give his injuries first aid. He then returned, anxious to help in any way possible. All of the 50 powder containers burned and the 20-millimeter ammunition was discharged, but none of the 5-inch shells exploded. The fire on the Esso Providence was completely out by 1:55 p.m., with no loss of life. Then the fire on the hulk was extinguished by Third Mate Masin, who boarded it with one of the hoses. On October 22, original orders for the Esso Providence to proceed to Taranto, Italy, were cancelled and she was directed to prepare to leave for Gibraltar. By 4 p.m. on December 1, temporary repairs were completed at Valletta. They consisted of fitting a steel and concrete cofferdam, with interior bracing, over the large opening in the hull. The Esso Providence left Valletta on December 8, arriving at Gibraltar on the 17th. After dry docking and further repairs, the vessel sailed from Gibraltar on January 26, 1944, and reached New York on February 15. After a bombing in one port and a very dangerous magazine fire in another, Chief Mate Winder had this to say: "Nothing interesting happened on this voyage. There was a fire and it was put out."
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