The Lost Boarding Party, 10 March 1943. By 1942, the Allied blockade of Germany was pinching Hitler. Increasingly, Germany had to rely on trade with distant lands in the Far East. Thus, the Kriegsmarine commissioned blockade runners, who operated from occupied French Atlantic ports.
Between 1940 and 1944, a total of 21 Asia-bound freighters attempted the breakout.
Six of these fell victim to Allied warships, but the rest delivered 111,490 tons of cargo to Germany. One notable runner was the 7,323-ton Karin, the former Dutch passenger/cargo ship Kota Nopan. Armed with a 105-mm gun aft and four 20-mm cannon, she ran the blockade outbound in late 1942.
In Malaysia, she loaded 4,000 tons of rubber and tin, and, on 4 February 1943, she put to sea for the return to Germany. Flying Dutch flags identifying her as Kota Tjandi, she coursed through the South Atlantic.
However, the entry of Brazil into the war on 22 August 1942 had shifted control of the “Atlantic Narrows” between Brazil and Western Africa to the Allies.
On 10 March 1943, Task Group 23.1, consisting of USS Savannah (CL-42), Santee (ACV-29), Livermore (DD-429), and Eberle (DD-430), was cruising just south of the Equator.
An SOC-3 Seagull from Santee spotted a solitary ship cruising at 12 knots near the St. Peter and St. Paul archipelago. At 1633, Savannah, embarking task group commander Rear Admiral Oliver M. Read, Jr., fired warning shots across the freighter’s bows. She hove to and signaled “FM” (“I am sinking”).
Eberle ignored the Dutch flag and closed. Suddenly, explosions echoed across the waves and smoke began rising from the freighter. The vessel proved to be Karin, whose crew lowered boats and threw papers overboard.
Eberle’s skipper, Commander Karl F. Poehlmann, dispatched 12 volunteers.
By 1649, heavy flames issued from the freighter. Lieutenant Junior Grade Frederick L. Edwards, leading the boarding party, gained the burning deck and ran for the bridge.
Coxswain Joseph E.H. Metivier, Fireman First Class Dennis J. Buckley, Seaman Third Class William J. Pattison, Watertender Second Class Alex M. Diachenko, and three shipmates headed below decks to remove scuttling charges. The others fought fires in a gallant attempt to save Karin.
However, the work of the 72 German crewmen had been too efficient.
Poehlmann ordered the boarding party off just as three large explosions racked the bridge and after deckhouse. Holes were blown in Karin‘s hull and Metivier, Buckley, Diachenko, and Pattison took the full force of the blasts. All below decks were killed instantly. Eberle’s whaleboat disintegrated into splinters.
A second boat recovered Edwards and the injured Seaman First Class Alexander J. Bisheimer and Seaman Second Class Louis J. Doll—the only members of the boarding party to survive.
Karin sank, the valorous attempt of the boarders having failed.
The entire German crew was rescued from their lifeboats and held as POWs. Edwards, Bisheimer, and Pattison received the Navy Cross; the remaining boarders were posthumously awarded the Silver Star. Signalman Pattison was subsequently remembered with USS William J. Pattison (DD-594).
The World War II warships Diachenko (APD-123), Dennis J. Buckley (DD-808), Metivier (DE-582), Tinsman (DE-589), and Myers (DE-595) remember others who made the ultimate sacrifice with this fearless boarding party.
The remaining boarders who lost their lives were: Fireman First Class William J. Jones; Carpenter’s Mate First Class Robert M. Shockley; Machinist Mate First Class Merton B. Myers; and Seaman Second Class Wilbur G. Davis.
Written by US Navy Admiral Sam Cox
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Bruhn, David. “Sailing Under False Colors.” At: http://www.davidbruhn.com/9thBookChapter1.pdf, retrieved 9 September 2017.
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