The Seaweed

USS Champlin DD-601  

Fall 2000

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"Just then, Allain decided to go look for his coat. He came back straight away and we slid down a rope so fast that I skinned my hands. The water was freezing! We quickly swam away from the sinking ship. At fifty meters I looked back. Allain was behind me hampered by his coat."

"The scene was tragically moving. The ship's stern raised up slowly at first, and then faster and faster, the propellers appeared. The raft's hawser broke. We were benumbed by the scene; just floated up an down on the swells."

"A touching, sad detail: the steam whistle began to sound all by itself, giving out a hopeless note which didn't stop until the funnel had disappeared."

"A few seconds had passed, then we saw a large amount of debris rise to the surface. Allain and I looked at each other. Just a few minutes ago we were in the lounge sitting at a table which was well anchored to a solid floor. And now it was resting several thousand meters below."

"One of the lifeboats came toward us and strong arms hoisted us aboard. Allain began to sing that famous song that British seamen traditionally sing when sinking: 'Roll out the barrel, we'll have a barrel of rum. Roll out the barrel, we'll have the blues on the run. . .'

"In the meantime, the convoy was vanishing into the horizon as night approached. We were in the middle of the ocean bobbing up and down on the swells."

"We were more than 120 miles from the nearest Azores. We saw one of our escort torpedo boats (USS Champlin) breaking away and heading toward us. Our four lifeboats immediately got together in order to make the rescue easier. No doubt the enemy submarines were in close proximity and the escort ship was an easy prey."

"The operation was carried out very well. The Champlin skillfully drew up alongside us. They draped rescue nets along her side which enabled us to climb aboard easily. The Champlin fired several machine gun burst to sink the lifeboats. And then she sped ahead to catch up with the convoy, which had disappeared into the darkness."

"Once on board we were served hot coffee. They offered Allain and I a glass of rum which we willingly accepted because we were shivering in our wet clothes."

"Our first responsibility was to call the roll. The Purser had the crew and passenger register. Out of the 140 people, no one was missing! The Champlin had a crew of 300 men, so conditions were cramped. For five nights I slept directly on the deck."

"The following day around 1900 hours we were all on deck. It was the prophetic hour of torpedo attacks. This evening would be no exception. It was dark when we saw an immense spray alongside an American cargo ship, the 'Molly Pitcher'. The Champlin and another escort ship came to the rescue of the shipwrecked."

"On the morning of the 17th we got a warning; the Champlin had broken down. It was a desperate situation because she was at the mercy of the three wolfpacks which surrounded us. Anxiously we stayed on deck watching for the fatal wakes of a torpedo. Fortunately the Champlin got underway before being attacked."

"On March 19th the Champlin left the convoy and proceeded at great speed to Casablanca. At noon the 20th she drew alongside and docked in the exact same place where the Wyoming had been. The Authorities welcomed us on the quay."

"Thus ended an unfortunate journey which could have ended more tragically. The month of March 1943 was one of the worst for the Allied Fleet."

"P.S. The Wyoming was torpedoed point blank. The torpedoes did not have time to reach their normal depth. The men on watch saw them running on the surface. The Champlin confirmed that the ship sunk in just 7 or 8 minutes after the first torpedo had struck."

Army Ar Force 2nd Lt. Richard Roseman, survivor of the SS Wyoming, remembers the event this way. "I was ordered to AAB Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, FL, which was an Air Transport Command base, in order to fly to Accra, Gold Coast (now Ghana) as a replacement administrative officer. Since there was not enough airlift available, I was then ordered to Camp Kilmer, NJ. At Camp Kilmer we could not be told our destination since it was 'secret' (Accra). From Camp Kilmer we 30 Army Air Corps officers (24 flying and 6 ground) then shipped out of New York harbor on March 4th."

"At the time of the torpedo attack, a large number of us were in the main salon playing blackjack. Prior to the attack on the SS Wyoming, our convoy, UGS-6, had not been attacked. I was seated next to another player who was between me and the door leading to the cabins. Before the sound of the first torpedo died away I had jumped over my fellow player and was the first one out of the door. No one ever gave orders to the American passengers. Most of the AAF passengers were staying in cabins for two people. I was in a cabin, aft, that had a four person capacity. I had packed a musette bag for just such a contingency along with my gunbelt holding my Colt 45 and canteen, but when I arrived at my cabin I found a mass of clothing and equipment on top of my belongings. As I was struggling to free my equipment, the second torpedo hit and I told myself, 'the hell with it'."

"It was Harvard against Yale in my lifeboat. I got hit on the head with a big oar and almost got knocked out. I do vividly remember that I was the last one out of the lifeboat. I do not remember who grabbed my arm. On board the Champlin, I recall that someone turned the wrong valve and got seawater into the fuel system. Another destroyer screened us but I was told it was all out of depth charges. I hot-bunked with (as I recently found out) RADM Robert Baughan."

"When we arrived at Casablanca an MP said I was out of uniform since I was not wearing a cap. Oh well, there was war on."

Survivor Samuel L. Looney, Jr., another Army Air Force passenger aboard the SS Wyoming recalled in an article in the Saturday Evening Post many years ago: "German U-boats were ravaging Atlantic shipping in March, 1943, when I, along with a number of other officers, sailed from New York as passengers aboard the SS Wyoming. For some days the passage was uneventful, save for a couple of occasions when we heard our escort destroyers dropping depth charges. But one evening just before seven o'clock...

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