Last ship sunk by the Luftwaffe in WWII
Posted by Russ Webb on February 15, 2009, 10:01 pm
The Liberty Ship Henry Bacon was attacked by about 20 German planes while straggling from a convoy returning from Northern Russia in February of 1945. The Armed Guard gunners fought off the planes for about an hour, downing at least 3 planes and damaging 2 others, but the ship finally took a torpedo hit in number five hold, setting off an explosion in the rear ammunition magazine. The ship was carrying 19 Norwegian civilians, including women and children, who had been rescued with others by British destroyers from an island being bombed by the Luftwaffe. |
As the ship started to sink it was found that only two lifeboats could be launched and the ship's captain, Alfred Carini, directed that all the Norwegians be placed in a boat with crew members and Armed Guard to fill it up. The other boat was also filled with some of the crew and Armed Guard. The Chief Engineer, Donald Haviland, gave up his seat in one of the boats to a young gunner and stayed with the Captain and Armed Guard officer Lt(jg) John Sippola on the ship. All but one of the ship's rafts had been prematurely set free and had drifted away, but the ship's Bos'un rigged up a raft from onboard dunnage and some of the men got on it.
Apparently a ship's radioman, "Spud" Campbell, in the boat with the Norwegians rigged up an aerial and was able to send out an "SOS" and some of the British destroyers with the convoy about fifty miles ahead, heard it and returned and picked up the survivors in the boats and also the survivors on the dunnage raft. The sea was violent and the temperature was way,way below zero so that British sailors in rescuing the people jumped in the water with ropes around their waists and helped lift up the survivors. Len Phillips, a British sailor, was shocked when the people in the boat carrying the Norwegians handed him "just a bundle of clothes" with so many of them lifeless, but he heard a noise in the clothes and looked in and discovered a two-year old girl.
Sixty years later, the little girl, now sixty-two years old, came aboard our Project Liberty Ship to meet Lyn Phillips in person. Lyn had come all the way from England to be part of the ceremony the Norwegian Government puts on annually to honor the actions of Captain Carini and the people aboard the Henry Bacon. Years ago Norway awarded it highest decoration for valor to Captain Carini and the Merchant Marine awarded Chief Haviland a high decoration for heroism. I do not know what awards, if any, might have been awarded to Lt Sippola or the Armed Guard gunners. Nine gunnners and two navy signalmen perished, as did 22 Merchant seamen.