10. THE "STANVAC MANILA"
While the Niagara was being attacked, the SS Stanvac Manila, a merchant tanker, was approaching Noumea en route from Panama with the second division of Squadron 10 loaded in cradles on deck. PT's 167 and 172 were just forward of the bridge, headed forward. PT's 173 and 171 were just abaft the bridge, headed aft, and PT's 174 and 165 were just aft of them, headed forward.
At 0407 May 24 the Stanvac Manila, 100 miles south of Noumea, was hit by a torpedo in the port quarter. The events that followed were recounted by the squadron commander, Lt. Comdr. Thomas G. Warfield.
About 2 minutes after the explosion, the stern was so low that the after portion of the well deck was awash. Apparently the engine room and fire room were flooded as all steam, light and power, and communications were lost. One of the Manila's engineering officers had sounded abandon ship on a hand horn. The crews of the PT's 165 and 174 had freed their boats from the cradles and had then abandoned ship in compliance. The signal had not, however, been heard forward of the after section, so the remaining personnel busied themselves in casting their boats free and broadcasting on their radios. During this interval Ensign [Thomas E.] Falvey had noticed no crews aboard the after two boats and had made his way aft to check on their holding down gear in addition to freeing his own boat [PT 173]. Lt. (jg.) [Russel W.] Rome (Senior PT officer) had countermanded the abandon ship order. . . .
Until daylight the PT crews and the armed guards stood by their guns while the Manila's officers and crew abandoned ship. . . . The forward 3-inch gun crew fired five rounds. About one hour after dawn the wind was freshening and the ship's bow had swung downwind. The stern had settled so that the stern of the PT 174 (lee side) had some buoyancy and was pounding lightly in her cradle. Ensign Falvey at considerable risk made his way to her, led her anchor cable from her sampson post to the stern of the PT 171 and then to the Manila's bridge deck. Between 0800 and 0900 the PT 174 was pounding heavily in her cradle. Lt. (jg.) Rome, Ensign [Edward H.] Kruse (Boat Captain of the PT 171), and Ens. [Malcolm R.] McArdle were able to board her but being unable to cut the Manila's shrouds the anchor cable was passed outboard of the shrouds. The bottom was sound under engine room and lazarette but gas fumes were extremely strong. The anchor cable was made fast to the 174's starboard quarter and all hands heaved from the Manila's bridge deck until the boat was slewed around and lay athwartships. Her bow held fast to some of the Manila's superstructure which prevented further outboard movement. It was apparent that her engines would have to be started, despite the loose gasoline, if she were to be saved. [Homer] Banks and [Harold E.] Hershey, both MoMM1c, and from other boat crews, volunteered to go below and to attempt starting the engines. Without hesitation they started both wing engines and Ensign Kruse was able to back her clear. The effect upon morale was tremendous. A cheer from all hands went up.
The stern of the PT 165 was beginning to slap against the after deckhouse of the Manila. Her batteries had become wet as she had been damaged below the engine room but her engines were started with the auxiliary generator and by pushing her stern out she was backed clear. The water immediately rose to stop the engines. All attempts to stop the leaks and bail were unable to prevent her sinking. Even though watertight doors had been secured she had received too much bottom damage to remain afloat.
The first plane seen by boat crews reached the scene shortly after 1000. The possibility of launching additional boats seemed remote. Nevertheless, the boat crews busied themselves breaking loose shoring to prevent damage to the after hulls and fittings, and throwing off strongbacks.7 Records, chronometers, binoculars, small arms, etc., were gathered from the remaining four boats and put in a lifeboat which had returned with the Chief Mate . . .
Waves breaking over the well deck lifted the PT 173 and set her down on two boat davits. Lt. (jg.) Rome and Ensign Falvey boarded her in spite of her precarious position, found her gas tanks and bottom ruptured beyond hope and flooded her with CO2. The bow of the Manila now lifted to 45 or 50 degs. and she commenced to slip aft. The PT 173 broke loose and sank by the stern just as the two officers jumped clear. The PT 171 simultaneously broke loose and floated clear. Her engine room was taking water more rapidly and transverse bulkheads were probably rupturing. Abandon ship was ordered and carried out quickly and calmly.
As Lt. (jg.) Rome went down the falls into the last lifeboat a sea capsized it, pinning him underneath. He had a glimpse of the ship's master standing on the bridge and, when extricated from under the lifeboat and brought back to consciousness, he went back aboard the sinking Manila to save the Captain. He did not know that the Master had been taken off while he was beneath the lifeboat. The bridge of the ship was at this time awash and Rome was tossed about by the sea there but finally managed to swim clear as the tanker took her final plunge.
The Manila sank, slipping aft, at about 1205, corkscrewing to starboard as her bow heaved up. The motion threw the PT 172 clear but she broke her stem on the yardarm as she cleared. The PT 167 cleared from under the tanker's foremast in a remarkable manner, having been carried down with the ship. She shot clear of the water completely but stripped her topsides on the mast. Her hull was least damaged of any boat.
About 1300 a destroyer arrived taking the PT's 167, 171, and 174 in tow. The PT 172 made Noumea under her own power. During that day, all night, and the following day, exhaustive effort was displayed by the officers and men in keeping the damaged boats afloat.
Two boats (PT's 165 and 173) and one man were lost. The other four boats, with their crews, found haven in Noumea the following day.
: In case of torpedoing, was there a way the
: tugs could be floated off?
: --Previous Message--
: I have come across several photos of
: and USN ships with interesting cross
: Atlantic cargos in the 80-G collection at
: NARA. However, this UK Liberty Ship SS
: SAMFORTH, looks odd with two US Army Yard
: Tugs onboard.