Esso Providence

SS Esso Providence


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

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:

      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

"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

"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

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

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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