SS Hagan Sinking report - Courtesy of Captain Arthur Moore, "A Careless Word -- A Needless Sinking"


                 The SS Hagan Incident

I was stationed on the SS Hagan as a member of the USN Armed guard crew.
Our duties were to man the guns in case of an enemy attack. The armed guard
crew consisted of six men, five were gunners mate seaman and one was a
second class gunner's mate in charge of the gun crew. We reported aboard
the SS Hagan on 3-16-1942. Our destination was to proceed to Neuvitas Cuba
to take on a load of molasses. The return trip was to New Orleans
Louisiana. The captain was Brazier Calloway.

On June 10 1942 [my recollection] we had received a load of molasses and
were on our way to Louisiana when we were attacked by the German submarine
U 157. The time was 2000 hours. The first torpedo struck the SS Hagan in
the engine room. All hands in the engine room were killed. The armed guard
crew immediately manned their gun positions. As soon as I put on my phones
and loaded the 50 caliber guns, which were above the bridge and pilothouse,
I contacted the second class gunner's mate whose gun station was the 5-inch
gun on the stern of the ship. I asked him if he had his gun loaded? His
reply was that he did not have it loaded. I then asked him why not. His
reply was that the muzzle of the gun barrel was poking in the water. I said
that it could not be and get the gun loaded. His reply again was that the
muzzle was in the water. At that time I lost communications with him. The
only other person that I could communicate with was the gunner in the
forward crow's nest acting as a lookout. As I was amidships and above the
bridge I did not realize that the ship was sinking by the stern. [ The
reason the 5 inch gun barrel was under water] When the ship took the first
torpedo we lost all power and the ship drifted in a circle. When we were
broadside to the submarine it fired the second torpedo which struck the
ships fuel tank and resulted in a huge explosion. The SS Hagan began to
list to starboard and was sinking rapidly. I was very concerned about the
man in the forward crowsnest. In order to get in the crowsnest you had to
climb up the ladder and push up on the hatch and climb up past the hatch
and then let it drop down so you could stand on it. This was a tricky
maneuver. With this in mind I told the lookout to get out of there and come
up where I was. He did as I instructed and joined me above the bridge. At
this time the ship was in danger of sinking and the Captain gave the order
to abandon ship. I immediately started to run off the bridge and in the
excitement forgot to remove the headphones and when I came to the end of
the phone cord it yanked my feet out from under me and I lost one of my
shoes. I calmed myself and removed the phones and proceeded to my stateroom
which was directly below my gun station. I grabbed my gun belt, which
consisted of a 45-caliber pistol, ammunition and a knife. I strapped this
around my waist and then saw a carton of cigarettes which I stuck under my
arm [even though I do not smoke] and proceeded to the lifeboat. The
merchant seaman, I believe the Ships Bosun was very calmly lowering the
lifeboat. When he got the lifeboat swung over the side he ordered us to get
in it. The ships cook was standing next to me and seemed to be in a daze.
Instead of jumping into the lifeboat he jumped in between the ship and the
lifeboat. As he went down he struck his head on the side of the lifeboat
and fell into the water. We never saw him again. When the ships cook went to
the lifeboat a little dog followed him. I reached down and picked up the
dog and threw him in the lifeboat and I got in the lifeboat. The Merchant
Marine Bosun calmly lowered the boat to the water. When we were alongside
the SS Hagan started to up end and go down by the stern. We had what is
called a sea painter attached to the bow of the lifeboat, which lead
forward and was secured to the SS Hagan. It was to prevent the lifeboat
from drifting away from the ship. As the Hagan continued to sink the sea
painter tightened up and was in danger of pulling us under .The wooden peg
that releases the sea painter was so tight it could not be pulled out and
we were in danger of being pulled under. I grabbed the knife I had around
my waist and cut the sea painter just in time.

The SS Hagan at this time was nearly vertical in the water. There was
another huge explosion and the SS Hagan lurched upward and then down and
slid under the water. We were sitting in the lifeboat and it seemed so
quiet. Then we could hear the water lapping at the side of the boat. It
seemed strangely loud.

About this time we heard a voice in the water yelling for help. The voice
said he was drowning and needed help. I removed my gun belt and dove over
the side and swam towards the voice in the water. When I reached the man I
discovered it was our gun captain. He had put on a survival suit and jumped
over board. [That was the reason I could no longer contact him on the
phone] If you did not put this suit on properly they could fill with water
and pull you under. In his haste to abandon ship that was what he had done
and he was in danger of drowning. I got a hold of him and pulled him over
to the lifeboat. We tried to get him in the lifeboat but could not because
his suit was full of water and also the fact he was a very large man. I
asked someone in the boat to hand me my knife. At this time another armed
guard jumped in to assist me. I cut a hole in the survival suit and as we
lifted him and drained water out we finally got him in the boat.

When I got in the boat I had heavy crude oil on me.. About this time the
submarine surfaced nearby and the forward hatch started to open. I
immediately grabbed my 45 cal pistol And loaded it. [Which was a stupid
idea] The Merchant Marine Bosun asked me what the heck was I doing. He said
put that gun away before you get us all killed. I complied and hid the gun
under my seat. [This turned out to be a very smart move] When the subs
hatch was fully open out came a search light and machine gun followed by a
German sailor. He spoke very good English and wanted to know the name of
our ship and what our cargo was. He then asked if we had any wounded on
board. He then said he was sorry for sinking us and that this is war. He
then went down below and the hatch closed and the submarine submerged.

One other life boat had managed to get launched and one of the merchant
sailors in it was dead. The Captain of the SS Hagan decided that the best
thing for us to do was try to row to an island nearby. So we manned these
huge oars and started rowing. We rowed all night and the next day. Right
after dark of the next day we saw land. Being as it was dark we were afraid
to go ashore so we decided to lay too until daylight the next morning. The
morning arrived and we located a beach where we could go ashore safely. I
will never forget the little dog when I put him on the beach. He was so
happy. He would run and slide on his belly. The beach was crawling with
little crabs and the dog was having a ball chasing them. This Island had a
Cuban radio station on it. We contacted them and they sent out a message to
an old 4 piper Destroyer that the US had given the Cubans. It came over and
picked us up and took us to Neuvitas Cuba. When the Cuban destroyer picked
us up they put the body of the merchant seaman on the fantail and covered
it with an American flag.

The next day we were put on an old train and taken to Camaguay Cuba where
there was an airport. While we were in Camaguay we buried the dead merchant
marine sailor. I will never forget that day. When they dug the hole to bury
him they did not make the hole long enough. As a result the man was buried
in a partially standing position. That still bothers me to this day.

We were a grubby looking bunch, some with shorts and T-shirts and sun
burnt. There was a photographer there that took our picture and had us all
give him our names and address and he promised to send us a copy of the
picture. I never did receive one. We were put on a plane and sent to Miami
Florida The name of the 2nd class gunners mate is of no significance.

This ends the saga of the SS Hagan This was many years ago and believe this
is a true rendition of the events to the best of my recollection.

Richard J Curtis


                    Now the rest of the story.

Several days later we were ordered to fall out in dress blues and watch the
presentation of awards. When the name of the 2nd class gunner's mate, the
one that was on the SS Hagan was called out I told the fellow next to me
that I know that man. I wonder what he had done to deserve a medal? I could
not believe what I heard, it was for the way he had performed on the SS

Several months later I was stationed on the Mine sweeper YMS 75. I told the
yeoman on the minesweeper the story about the award that was given to the
2nd class gunner's mate. The yeoman told me that he could get me the Bronze
Star for my actions on the sinking of the SS Hagan. He recommended that we
put in the papers. I reluctantly agreed. The letter was typed up and sent
off. It was returned at a later date disapproved. The reason I do not
recall. I did see the letter and remember it being a part of my service
record. I just cannot remember its content. After I retired from the US
Navy I requested the letter from the Navy Department. Evidently it had been
misplaced, as the letter never materialized

Richard J Curtis


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