In Loving Memory of Henry Thomas von Vange

Henry Thomas von Vange, Gunners Mate 1/C

                      SIXTY HOURS ON A RAFT

During World War II, Henry Thomas von Vange served in the United States
Navy as a Gunner's Mate First Class. He was aboard the S.S. Pennmar when
disaster struck.

The ship, crippled by damage to its rudder, dropped out of its convoy
and was later sunk by a torpedo, but not before von Vange had bested one
submarine in a surface gun battle. Other events of the voyage included
the difficult repair of the rudder by the ship's crew, a terrific storm
which battered the deck cargo into splinters, and a daylight torpedo
attack in which badly aimed "tin fish" sped harmlessly past the ship.

Three men were lost on the voyage. One was a heroic 17-year-old Navy man
who was lost overboard while helping to repair the rudder. The other
two, merchant seaman, were fatally injured while abandoning the vessel
after a torpedo struck it amidships. One of them was killed by the
ship's propellor, which was still turning, and the other, thrown
overboard by the torpedo blast, was struck by a life raft launched from
the shrouds.

The others aboard the ship floated for 60 hours on rafts until they were
picked up by a Coast Guard ship and taken to Nova Scotia, from where the
Navy men were sent home on furlough.

The sinking occurred in September, 1942. The ship was in a large convoy,
and the trip was uneventful until the rudder wrenched loose."We knew
we'd be in for it as soon as we had to drop out of the convoy," said von
Vange, who had manned a gun on the ship. "We call the place where we
were sunk 'Torpedo Junction' because it's infested with U-boats." As the
convoy disappeared in the distance, the crew rigged booms to handle the
heavy rudder. Cargo was shifted to raise the stern of the ship out of
the water. A small boat was put over the side and part of the crew
worked from the boat, while the others manned the auxilary rigging.

A heavy sea was running, and the repair job was heart-breaking. Many of
the crew collapsed from exhaustion, and the Navy gunners took their
places. The 17-year-old youth who lost his life was working over the
side and was carried away by a large wave which struck the stern.

When the rudder was finally repaired, the ship got under way again and
ran under forced draft to try to rejoin the convoy; but it never reached
the other ships.

The storm which struck the ship was of such intensity that it was
impossible for anyone to remain on the ship's deck. Solid green walls of
water crashed against the bow and thundered along the decks. The Navy
gunners and deck crew had to take refuge on the bridge during the gale.

No evidence of enemy action was sighted until the last day of the ship's
run, and then things happened quickly. At 3 P.M., a lookout spotted the
wake of a torpedo speeding toward the ship. An instant later, a second
torpedo was sighted. As the crew members held their breath, the two
torpedoes grazed past, a little wide of the mark.

The gunners manned their posts and lookouts scanned the sea for a sign
of the submarine. No more torpedoes were fired, but at 3:30 P.M., the
submarine surfaced and von Vange and his mates blazed away at it with
their five-inch rifle. The submarine returned their fire, but failed to
score. The merchant ship's captain said that he saw one shell hit the
submarine and then it disappeared beneath the waves.

The ship steamed on through the afternoon with no further sign of the
enemy. The ship's fatal blow came without warning, at 10 P.M. A torpedo
struck amidships with a terrific jolt. The ship settled fast and the men
had hardly time to get off before it sank.

There was one lifeboat that held forty-five men, and there were rafts
that held eight men each. The lifeboat was leaking badly and required
constant bailing out by six men at one time. The men were afraid to
sleep; for if they did, they may have never awakened. Although the men
were cold, hungry, and miserable, the first day passed uneventfully.

A torrential rain had been beating down on them ever since they had
abandoned ship. The only protection and warmth, besides the clothing
that they were wearing, was afforded by one blanket to each raft. As the
rain continued and the waves became rough, the men lashed themselves to
the rafts and huddled together under the blankets.

As night came, one of the men became emotional and began yelling and
pleading to von Vange, " Give me some food ---some cigarettes! I'm
freezing to death! Oh, my feet --- they're going to fall off --- I can't
feel them. The waves are hitting me, Navy, help, help!" Then he started
to cry, and he carried on like that throughout the night.

The first day's menu consisted of three malted milk tablets, a half-bar
of chocolate and one whole-wheat cookie for each man. One the second
day, they had the same fare, with the addition of half a cup of water.
For the third day, they had only the three malted milk tablets and a
half-bar of chocolate.

"The man who took charge of the rationing thought that he'd pull a fast
one on us," said von Vange. "He began by slipping himself a share and
giving the rest of us ours and then ended off with another share for
himself, thinking none of us had noticed. But he should have known we'd
all have our eyes glued on him when it came to food. One of the fellows
got so mad he wanted to throw him overboard, but the rest of us didn't
want anything like that. We took care of him later, though, on the ship
that rescued us. I think he got the general idea that none of us
approved of his ration method, and we don't think he'll pull a stunt
like that again."

"Here's a cheerful little bit that did brighten things," said von Vange.
"The day before the rescue, one of the boys told us the next day was his
birthday, and he wondered what he'd get for a birthday present way-out
there in the middle of nowhere. We all assured him he'd get the best
present of his life. Somehow we believed it, too; and, sure enough, at
noon of the following day we were boarding the rescue ship! At 10 A.M.
of "the great day," we saw the tip of its mast come slowly into view;
and we sent up two flares, which they spotted; and we were finally taken
aboard, as I say, about noontime. The part that affected me most of all
at the time of the rescue was how we boys couldn't go wild with the
excitement we felt, but we all realized that the important thing was to
hold tight to the raft until we actually were climbing aboard,or be
swept into the ocean, as the waves were still very rough."

The cheers rang out as soon as the men were on the rescue ship's deck.
Then they ate, and slept, slept, slept!!!

Welcome Home, Henry!!!!


SS Pennmar



SS Pennmar

Home Port: New York, NY
Company: Calmar Steamship Corp. New York, NY
Master: Sigmond C. Krolikowski
Built: 1920 @ Kobe, Japan
Dimensions: 385' x 51' x 26'
Gross Tons: 5868

The Freighter, SS PENNMAR, was torpecloed by the German
submarine U-432 (Eckhardt) at 2.351 GCT on September 23,
1942 in the North Atlantic (58-12 North/34.35 West) while en
route alone, from New York to Liverpool, England via Halifax,
Nova Scotia with 7500 tons of general cargo. The ship had been
in Convoy SC-lO0 but was a straggler at the time she was at-
tacked. Her complement was 38 crew mernbers and 25 Naval
Armed Guard. Two crew members were lost. Photo courtesy of
Mariners Museum. Newport News, VA.

    The PENNMAR had escaped two earlier at-
tacks. The first at 1655 on September 23, in posi-
tion 58-25 North/32-15 West when a torpedo was
seen approaching the ship from the starboard
quarter. This torpedo was avoided by a hard left
rudder. Another torpedo then passed ahead of the
ship. The attack was apparently the work of two
subs. At 1756, a sub surfaced on the starboard
quarter about 2 miles away. The Gun Crew fired
four rounds from the 4" stern gun and the sub

    At 2351 GCT, a torpedo struck on the port side
about 30 feet from the bow near the fore peak oil
tank. There was considerable leakage of oil at the
point of impact. All damage was well below the
waterline. The engines were put full astern to get
the headway off the ship. She sank in 11 minutes.

    The ship was abandoned by all hands at 2355
GCT in one lifeboat and two life rafts. Those on
the rafts had to jump overboard in order to get
aboard them. One crew member was crushed be-
tween a raft and the ship. Another crew member
drowned near the ship's propeller. The 61 sur-
vivors were rescued by the USCG BIBB between
1200 and 1230 GCT on September 24, 1942. A
distress call had been answered by Lands End,
England (GLT). The survivors were taken to Reyk-
javik, Iceland arriving there on October 2, 1942.

    On September 21, an Armed Guard member
was washed overboard by heavy seas while assist-
ing to hand steer the ship from the emergency
steering station on the stern. The steering gear
mechanism had been broken when a truck,
stowed on deck near the steering gear, had
shifted in the heavy seas and rolled against the

    The U-432 (Eckhardt) was sunk in Mid Atlantic
on March 11, 1943 by the French corvette



Date: 9-23-42
Year Built: 1920
Time: 2151
Tonnage: 5,868
Position: 58.12N/34.35W
Draft:   27ft. ll 1/2in.
Owner: Caimar SS Corp. 
Cargo:    7,500 tons steel, food, trucks
Operator: WSA 
Power:    steam
Master: Sigmund Charles Krolikowski 
Speed:    9.0
Armament:    1-4"; 1-3"; 4-20 mm; 4-50 cal.; 2-30 cal.

The Penmar sailed with Convoy SC-100 from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to the
United Kingdom. During the trip the ship suffered mechanical difficulties
and straggled from the convoy. The freighter proceeded toward Cape Farewell
for repairs. The U-432 (Schultze) spotted the lone vessel and fired a
torpedo that missed because of the heavy seas. The U-boat fired three more
shots, one of which struck the port side thirty feet from the bow at the
forepeak oil tank. A lookout spotted one of the two torpedoes passing under
the ship. The watch below put the engines astern without orders from the
bridge. The ship began to settle by the bow rapidly, and the ship's
complement of eight officers, thirty-one men, and twenty-two armed guards
abandoned ship in one lifeboat and two rafts. One man died after being
crushed between a life raft and the ship. The USCG cutter Bibb (WPG-31)
rescued sixty men and landed them in Reykjavik, Iceland.

One armed guard had previously washed overboard in a storm. NSS; WACR;
WCSR; AG; WJ; Rohwer, p. 125, places the attack at 58.25 N / 32.15 W.

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