U-BOAT SHOOTS SHIPWRECK SURVIVORS

U-852 in Mid-Atlantic Ocean · March 13, 1944

On this date in 1944 German U‑boat 852, skippered by 28‑year‑old Heinz-Wilhelm Eck, tor­pe­doed the Brit­ish-chartered Greek freigh­ter SS Pe­leus as it steamed west across the Atlantic from Free­town, Sierra Leone, to Buenos Aires, Argen­tina. After the Peleus sank, U‑852 patrolled the large debris field for five hours. Crew mem­bers used hand gre­nades and auto­matic wea­pons to shoot sur­vivors and de­stroy evi­dence of the Peleus’s demise. Of the 35 men aboard the Greek ves­sel, in­cluding eight Brit­ish sea­men, three sailors managed to sur­vive.

Less than a month later, on May 2, Eck him­self sur­vived the loss of his sub­marine when six Brit­ish bombers forced it onto a reef off the Somali coast. After the war, Eck was tried, con­victed, and con­demned to death, along with his engi­neering offi­cer and the ship’s doc­tor, by a Brit­ish mili­tary court in Ham­burg for ordering his crew to shoot the sur­vivors of the Greek steamer. (The Hague Con­ven­tion of 1907 banned the killing of ship­wreck sur­vi­vors under any cir­cum­stances.) The three Ger­mans were the only sub­ma­riners exe­cuted for war crimes com­mitted during World War II.

An event simi­lar to the fate that be­fell the Peleus sur­vivors be­smirched the repu­ta­tion of Dud­ley “Mush” Mor­ton, the U.S. Navy’s most famous sub­marine skip­per. On Janu­ary 26, 1943, the USS Wahoo tor­pe­doed a Japa­nese trans­port ship, the Buyo Maru, north of New Gui­nea. Sur­facing, crew mem­bers of the Wahoo used their 4‑in (102mm) deck gun, two 20mm guns, rifles, and pis­tols to fire on sur­vi­vors, some floating in the ocean, some in roughly 20 life­boats. Morton’s exe­cu­tive offi­cer, Rich­ard O’Kane, claimed that the sur­vi­vors opened fire first and the crew re­sponded with every­thing they had for the next 20 min­utes instead of leaving the area and con­signing the esti­mated 600‑plus Japa­nese troops and nearly 500 In­dian pri­soners of war to a watery grave. According to one account used to ex­plain Mor­ton’s be­hav­ior, the skipper was en­raged by stories of Japa­nese planes strafing sur­vi­vors of an Aus­tra­lian hos­pi­tal ship, the AHS Ma­nun­da, damaged during their attack on Dar­win’s harbor in Febru­ary 1942. “The Japs fight hard and use all the tricks,” Morton reportedly said, “and we’ve got to shoot, shoot, shoot.”





USS Wahoo and Submarine Skipper Dudley “Mush” Morton.
His Watchword Was “Shoot the Sunza Bitches”

"Wahoo" at Mare Island, California, n.d.

Above: USS Wahoo, sunk October 11, 1943, by Japanese ships and aircraft in the strait that separates the Russian island of Sakhalin and the Japanese island of Hokkaidō.

O'Kane and Morton on USS "Wahoo" AHS "Manunda," Sydney, August 1940

Left: Skipper Dudley “Mush” Morton (right in photo) speaks with his exe­cu­tive offi­cer, Rich­ard O’Kane, on the bridge of the Wahoo days after sinking the Japa­nese troop trans­port Buyo Maru on Janu­ary 26, 1943. During his four pat­rols com­manding the Wahoo, Morton became one of the most-cele­brated sub­mariners of World War II, sinking at least 19 Japa­nese cargo and trans­port ships for a com­bined total of 55,000 tons, more than any other commander of the time.

Right: The newly fitted hospital ship AHS Manunda in Darling Harbor, Sydney, Australia, August 1940. The Manunda made four trips to the Middle East and the Mediterranean between November 1940 and September 1941. The hospi­tal ship was one of 55 ships caught in the harbor during two Japa­nese air raids on Darwin, Northern Terri­tory, on Febru­ary 19, 1942. Despite her highly prominent Red Cross markings, the ship was damaged by a near miss, then a direct hit. Eleven members of the ship’s crew and hospital staff were killed, nineteen others were seriously wounded, and another forty or so received minor wounds. The hospi­tal ship was able to deliver its wounded and other Darwin casual­ties to Free­mantle, the port of Perth, Western Aus­tra­lia, eight days later. During the war she carried roughly 30,000 casualties to safety.

History Channel’s Submarine Warriors: Dudley “Mush” Morton and Rich­ard O’Kane