HENRY ELROD WAS A GOOD ENGINEER. HE DIED IN 1975. HIS NEPHEW, HERMAN ELROD, GAVE THE STORY BELOW TO LOUIS CAFIERO. MID - 1941 ROBIN MOOR SURVIVOR, ON VISIT IN COUNTY, TELLS A VIVID STORY OF INCIDENT. Henry Elrod, Chief Engineer Of Ill-Fated Vessel, Visiting Sister In Cramerton; Plans To Return To Sea In Two Weeks; Was Last Man To Leave Ship Before It Went Down. -BY STEWART ATKINS-~ To drift In a lifeboat for 13 days in the open sea, with a tin of hardtack and 10 gallons of water for 12 people, baking under the tropic sun by day and drenched by freezing equatorial rains by night-and always facing the possibility that tomorrow might be your last day of earthly existence-is, to put it mildly, a harrowing experience It is, undoubted1y, an experience that would make most people. determine never to get their feet off dry ground again as long as they lived. But Henry Elrod, chief englneer of the torpedoed Robin Moor, who had just such an experience, was not discouraged by it and his love for the sea has not waned because of it. In fact, Chief Engineer Elrod, who is now visiting his sister; Mrs. Ella Stevens, at Cramerton is going back to sea again in about two weeks. "It will take more than the little man with the mustache in Berlin to keep me off the sea," the chief engineer of the torpedoed American ship declared in an interview yesterday, as he sat comfortably perched in a rocker on the front porch of the home of another sister, Mrs. Metta Evatt, who lives near Cramerton behind Hoffman's Pines, just off Wilkinson boulevard. "I'm figuring on shipping out again in a couple of weeks from now." "I've followed the sea all my adult life," declared Engineer Elrod, pointing out he has been at sea the past 24 years, since shipping aboard his first vessel as a coal- passer at the age of 20. "I'm too old to change now," he commented. "The sea is all I know. And if it wasn't, I don't think I'd want to change, anyhow. It gets you. Once you go to sea, you never want to do anything else." TALKED TO CAPTAIN There was no doubt whatever that the submarine which torpedoed the Robin Moor about 1,200 miles off the coast of South America early on the morning of May 21st was a German underseas craft, Mr. Elrod said. The sinking of the Robin Moor, as you recall, created an interntional incident and is even believed by some quarters in Washington to have been the turning point in the shaping of American foreign policy climaxed in the recent anti-Japanese measures as the U. S. government began an apparent all-out economic campaign against the Axis. Mr. Elrod himself talked to the captain of the submarine. He was beyond doubt a German, the veteran seaman said, and though he talked excellent English he had a heavy German accent. Conclusive evidence that the U-boat that sank the Robin Moor was a German craft was contained in pictures of the submarine taken by members of the crew of the Robin Moor (without the knowledge of' the German submarine crew, of course.) "Some of the members of our crew had excellent cameras", Mr. Elrod disclosed. They took several pictures of the submarine, which was on the surface when it launched its torpedo and stayed on the surface all the time it was at the scene, about two hours in all. They left before daylight, apparently trying to get away before dawn to avoid us getting a good look at the submarine. But several of our boys got pictures of it. These were turned over to the United States Navy Department, and Navy technicians familiar with sea construction were able immediately to identify the raider from these pictures as a German. submarine." As is always the case, the submarine flew no flag and had no name painted on it, being painted black all over, Mr. Elrod disclosed. `The only thing painted over its dark color at all was a mascot's Insignia, a bull's head, he. said. SUDDEN SINKING Only about 20 minutes elapsed from the time the Robin Moor's commanding officer. Captain W. E. Myers, received notification he would be sunk, and the time the torpedo was launched, crippling his ship and starting it toward Davy Jones locker, Chief Engineer Elrod said. "I was asleep when the submarine first sighted us," Engineer Elrod recalled. "The first I knew about it I learned the officer on the bridge had received the signal to stop. "We stopped, and the submarine signaled us to send a boat over. Our commanding officer went over to them in a boat. He was told by the submarine captain: `You are carrying motors for the enemy of my country.' Our captain told him we were carrying no motors except what motors were in several trucks and tractors which were a part of our cargo, and this was correct. We were carrying a general cargo- trucks, tractors, tin plate, rails, refrigerators and other commercial items-and we didn't have any airplane motors, and no munitions or armament supplies of any kind aboard. "But the submarine captain told Captain Myers he was going to sink us nevertheless. He told Captain Myers he would give us 20 minutes to get over the side and into our lifeboats. We had not been allowed to use our radio to send out any distress signals at all. The first message we got from the submarine was: Don't touch your wireless.' "If our radio operator had tried to send out an SOS, they would have blown us out of the water immediately, giving us no time to get off. So naturally we had to obey the order to leave our wireless alone. "Well, it took the greater part of the 20-minute period of grace for our captain's boat to get back from the submarine. But as soon as he got back within hailing distance he shouted to the other officers to get everybody over the side right away, and we immediately began rounding up our crew, 38 men in all, and our passengers, of whom we had seven, and getting them over the side. "We barely made it over the side and into our life boats when the submarine fired its torpedo. Then it fired a number of shells from its five-inch guns into our torpedoed ship, just to make sure they sunk The Nazis certainly do a thorough job of sinking. After they had made sure they had sunk the ship, they stayed on the scene and machine-gunned numerous big wooden crates in which trucks were packed, to be sure tney sunk all the cargo as well.'' 13 LONG DAYS While Elrod will always remember the 13 days they drifted at sea as perhaps the longest days of his life, he never gave up hope and figured that at least he and Chief Officer Mervin Mundy, who was in command of his lifeboat, would make it to shore. Most of the Robin Moor's seven passengers, all of whom were in Elrod's boat, were nearing the point of complete exhaustion and would have died in a short time when, on the 13th day, they were rescued by a British freighter, The City of Wellington. The British ship took them on to Capetown, South Africa, original destination of the Robin Moor when it sailed from New York. We were 15 days out of New York when we got bumped," said Elrod, referring to the sinking. But, though practically all the passengers (except a two-year-old boy) and some of the crew members in Elrod's boat were nearing the point of exhaustion and death when they were finally picked up, Elrod said he and Chief Officer Mundy were still in pretty good condition, though weak, and he believes they might have made it to the South American coast If they hadn't been picked up. He didn't think the rest of the lifeboat's passengers would have made it, though. 600 MILES AT SEA They were still about 600 miles off the coast of South America when the British freighter picked them up, having come in some 600 miles with the wind, in the 13 days they had drifted. For the first 24 hours all the Robin Moor's four lifeboats stayed tied together. Then, figuring they would have a better chance separately- since the only chance they had, if they weren't picked up, was to ride the wind to shore-they cut loose from each other. They had stayed tied together the first day, hoping to be picked up right away, since the German submarine captain had promised them he would send out a radio message as soon as he left the scene. They thought some ships might have been nearby in the Brazil-to-Capetown sea lanes and might get the message and pick them up within a few hours. But luck was against them and the message, if ever sent, produced no immediate results. So at the end of the first day, the boats cut loose from each other. Each boat had one small sail-nothing like a regular sailboat rigging but enough canvas to catch some wind-and they struck out with the somewhat forlorn hope that they might drift; with the wind to South America, more than a thousand miles away. Elrod's boat soon lost sight of some of the other boats, but every day or two would see one of the others. They had a supply of hardtack and 10 gallons of water in each boat and the only food they had was a tin of Danish butter which the submarine commander had ordered issued to each lifeboat. The butter, of course, soon ran out. Water was naturally strictly rationed and though some of the lifeboat's passengers begged piteously for a little extra water, it cou1dn't be given them. For the seasoned seamen in the boat knew that if they had any chance at all to reach shore, they would have to conserve their water. Elrod recalled they managed to catch a little fresh rainwater when it rained by using their sail as a water-catcher and pouring rainwater off the sail into a container. They got very little extia water this way, of course, but in their situation every drop counted and it was worth the effort to catch all they could. The trouble was that it usual1y rained when it was freezing cold and this added to the hardships of the lifeboat's passengers. It rained frequently, since they were in waters very near the equator, but usually at night, and they dreaded the freezing night rains. Occasionally it rained in the daytime, being welcome relief from the burning tropic sun and a few extra drops of drinking water, caught in the sail. Despite their terrible situation most of the lifeboat's passengers remained fairly cheerful, Elrod said. First to reach the point of exhaustion was an elderly couple from the West Indies-a retired West Indies planter and his wife who had boarded the Robin Moor to go to Africa to live out the remainder of their years in peace there. Among the other passengers were a Mr. and Mrs. Conti who were in show business and were en route to Capetown to play a theatrical engagement at a Cape town theatre. Surprisingly,:the most hardy of the passengers proved to be a litt1e boy scarcely more than two years old, who was traveling with his parents. For one thing, he didn`t have the additional problem of mental worry heaped on top of physical fatigue and exhaustion, like the adult passengers had. "He was the most cheerful of the bunch, and had more staying power than any of the others," Elrod recalled. He even ate hardtack, he really liked it, and could contlnue to eat it with relish long after most of the rest of us had gotten to where the sight of it would almost make us sick." RESCUE AT LAST Toward the end of the nightmarish 13 days, though, most of the lifeboat's passengers were near the end of their rope, some of them almost too weak to move. It became necessary to watch some of them closely to keep them from trying to scoop up salt water and drink it. "Salt water, of course, said Elrod, "would have killed them. "When you're nearly dying of thirst and once drink salt you can't quit drinking It. You'll keep on, for even salt water will taste so good that you'll keep on drinking it, even though warned against it. It will kill you In less than 24 hours. ALL RECOVER Though some of the lifeboat's passengers were nearly dead from exhaustion and exposure when they were finally picked up by the British freighter on the 13th day, all of them recovered. Under the expert care aboard the British ship, and with plenty of food and fresh waiter to drlnk once more, they soon revived. Incidentally, all of the crew and passengers of the Robin Moor was saved as you probably remember. Elrod and those in his boat were taken on to Africa, and passengers in other boats, were picked up by another ship which took them on to South America. However, one of the members of the Robin Moor's crew, evidently still unnerved and crazed from the nightmare of drifting so long at sea before being rescued, committed suicide later, while en route home on an American ship from Africa to the United States. He jumped overboard and was lost at sea, Elrod said. He was the only casualty, but there seems little doubt that he was as surely a victim of the Robin Moor's sinking' as though he had been struck by a shell from the German submarine, since the ordeal he went through so unnerved him that he committed suicide. 24 YEARS AT SEA The ill-fated trip of the Robin Moor was the most recent of many voyages for Henry Elrod. Born and reared near Clemson College in South Carolina, he went to sea nearly a quarter of a century ago at the age of 20 and has followed the sea ever since. He first shipped as a lowly coal passer. From this lowest rung on the ladder of merchant seamanship he has climbed through the successive stages of fireman, oiler, watertender, third engineer and second engineer to his present position of chief engineer, which is a good job and one of the most important positions on any ship. "I've got a good Job now" but I had to work plenty hard to get It," Elrod commented. A seaman moves through the successive stages of promotion by seniority and, each time there is an opening above his position, he has to stand an examination, very much like a civil service examination, to get the new and higher position. In his 24 years Henry Elrod has seen most of the world and has been in most of it's ports many times. He has shipped across the Atlantic to Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean ports of Africa, through the Dardanelles to Istanbul and to the Rumanian ports (now German-dominated) on the Black Sea. He has shipped across the Pacific to Japan and China and India, to Australia and the many islands of the oceans and the seas all over the world.
AMMV. St Johns River Chapter Jacksonville Florida March 2003 In Honor of the Late James Muldrow James Muldrow, Gunners Mate, Navy Armed Guard This is a partial story of James Muldrow's Gun Fight and Capture by the German Raider Stier in 1942 After attending Navy Gunner's School, Jim was assigned to the Fast Tanker Stanvac Calcutta which flew the Panamanian Flag but the crew of this ship were all U.S. citizens except one. Sailing the Stanvac Calcutta wound up in Aruba where she loaded refined products and sailed for Montevideo, Uruguay. Arriving there and while discharging cargo the crew found that most of the population were pro German and there may have been a German spy there who set them up. Upon sailing they did not know their destination but the stars at night told them they were sailing North. The Story continues. On Saturday, June 6, 1942 at 10:00 AM some 500 miles off the Coast of Brazil, out of a hard rain squall and about 2.5 miles off the Starboard a ship approached. General Quarters were sounded and Gun crews manned their stations As the ship drew near the British merchant ensign was seen flying and the ships blinkers were talking in Morse code. Captain Karlsson ordered hard left rudder and full speed. Suddenly the British Flag came down and the Nazi flag went up as the cargo crates on it's deck dropped down revealing two 6 inch gun turrets. The Nazi ship opened fire on the Stanvac Calcutta with 4 six inch guns and lots of smaller size including 20 mm's. The Stanvac Calcutta returned the fire with the aft 4 inch 50 firing approximately 44 rounds. One of the rounds took the tip off of the mast on the raider and more rounds were having an effect on the raider but the Calcutta was hopelessly out gunned. It was later learned that the raider fired 157 rounds and later two torpedoes. A round had hit the midships deck house killing the Master, the Radio Operator and the AB at the wheel. The Stanvac Calcutta being in heavy ballast sank very fast. The raider departed very fast. Probably knowing that the Calcutta had gotten a radio message out that it was being attacked, It wanted to be gone if there was a retaliation. The survivors of the Calcutta were in the water for what seemed a very long time before the German raider came back after dark and picked them up. Many of the Calcutta's Gun and Merchant crew were badly wounded. James had a bad wound on his hand and arm. The Calcutta’s rounds had injured some of the German crew and they received most of the medical attention while the Calcutta's crew got very little. James was given rough brown paper toweling to wrap his wounds in. James was in and out of consciousness and his hand and arm swelled to twice the size of his shoulder, In about 7 or 8 weeks the swelling went down and they as prisoners were on a deck far below. They found out that they were on the German raider Stier. The same raider that later was sunk by the Liberty ship SS Stephen Hopkins. Somewhere off the coast of Africa the German Raider Stier rendezvoused with another German ship, a Tanker that had been captured and they all were put aboard it except for one of their fellow crewman from the Calcutta who was so badly injured that the Stier did not transfer him to the German Tanker Supply-Prison ship. This member was lucky, he eventually recovered enough and was sent to a POW camp in Germany where the Germans were much more humane than the Japanese. It was this crewman prisoner in Germany who managed to get a letter out and passed by the German censors that clued the Americans that there were possibly other survivors from the Stanvac Calcutta. With no way of keeping track of time and dates these prisoners estimated they had been in the hell hole for three and a half months when this tanker-provision-Prison ship called into Singapore. Some of the prisoners were taken off there, then a few more ports were made and more of the prisoners were taken off. The Japanese then took the remaining prisoners and placed them on another ship in a cargo hold and it sailed for Japan. Arriving there they were loaded and carried to a prison camp near Yokohama and from there via train to Osaka. They were marched from the train to the POW camp. All the Japanese soldier Guards had rifles with fixed bayonets. The prisoners were all weak from dysentery and possibly in early stages of scurvy from lack of fresh vegetables. If a prisoner lagged he was probed with a bayonet to speed up. The prisoners were forced to work 12 hours a day for the most part and this was for 7 days a week with no time off. The Japs had them working in Lumber yards, shipyards, steel mills and foundries. For their pay they were fed one small bowl of rice in the morning and one small bowl at night. There was never a time when they were not hungry and tired. If they did not work, they did not eat. There is much more to James Muldrow's story, how the prisoners were under fed, How they survived by catching snakes and throwing them in their boiling rice pots, by becoming adept at stealing food while being forced to work unloading ships at the docks. As it was they still all lost weight as the meager rice rations were not enough to survive on. The living conditions were terrible, sanitation unknown in the prison camps. Some way James and other prisoners survived. As the war became progressively worse for Japan and American planes were seen on Bombing raids by the prisoners, the Guards let it be known that upon an invasion by the Americans, all of the prisoners would be killed. The prisoners were able to tell when the war was over, They Guards silently slipped away with out letting the prisoners know anything. Jim and some other prisoners slipped away and found a town with a hotel, Now the shoe was on the other foot. They were given food and drink, had clean beds by the Japanese so they waited. Eventually an American reporter arrived on the scene, the first liberating American they had seen. From there Jim made his way to the U.S. Navy where he was taken care of and after some medical care and preliminary medical check up, new uniform, flown to an American hospital in Guam and eventually back to the states after three long years and several months he was home again but there was more surgical and medical care for his wounded hand, a medical Honorable discharge and he finally arrived home. This is a very condensed part of Jim Muldrow's story, Your editor meeting and getting to know James Muldrow found that he was a fine upstanding man, a Hero that we can all be proud of It is ironic that Jim was able to survive those horrible three years and months and finally lost his life here at home in an automobile accident. Jim had related to your editor how the forward gun on the Stanvac Calcutta was completely manned by men of the merchant crew and Jim gave us a list of merchant crew names. We understand that one of our Northern chapters has a survivor from the Stanvac Calcutta. It would be interesting to know how he was treated after the prisoner ordeal.
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