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|01||LTJG Charles A. Tobin, USNR||1944|
In early December of 1944, SC-1059 was assigned to Task Unit (T.U.) 03.1.8 along with four other vessels; PCS-1425 which was the lead ship and “radio guard”, PC-1564, SC-1057, and SC-1058. The composition of the other vessels in the Task Unit varied - on the 11th of December it was composed of PC-1564, SC-1058, SC-1059 and SC-1295. They were assigned to escort a 14-knot convoy known as YAG-32 between Miami and Nassau.
The pilot of convoy YAG-32 reported a radar contact which was disappearing. This was evaluated as “possible” even though it is now known that the last German submarine left the region in early September 1944, and therefore it could not have been an enemy craft. At 2:44 am T.U. 03.1.8 was told to scramble for an anti-submarine patrol in the Northeast Providence Channel.
The group, led by PC-1564 was under way by 4:35 am. PC-1564 was a considerably larger vessel, at 174 feet length, it was manned by 65 men and displaced 450 tons. The weather was fair, with a low pressure expected over Miami around midnight, flying conditions were poor over Jacksonville, and the temperature was between 44 and 47 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning - typical cold front conditions
Lt. (J.G.) Tobin had his crew cast off before sunlight on Monday the 11th of December. By 5:15 am SC-1059 was abeam the sea buoy off Miami and accelerated eastwards at 12.5 knots, in company with the other four ships in the task unit. Between 7:30 and 08:00 am SC-1059 was sent to investigate a light, then it rejoined the group. By 9:35 am they were eight miles north of Great Isaac Light at the entrance to the Northwest Providence Channel in the Bahamas, again heading east. The radar unit was on and at 10:20 am Tobin also activated the sound gear under water, allowing the SC to detect enemy submarines beneath the sea.
At 4:00 pm the group headed southeast to clear the southern coast of Great Abaco Island, resuming an eastward course at 7:00 pm. At 10:15 that night the naval convoy had Hole-in-the-Wall Light, Abaco to the northwards, or off the port beam, and Little Egg Light in northern Eleuthera bearing to the southeast, or off the starboard beam. They were right in the middle of the 30-mile-wide Northeast
At 10:20 the group was ordered to turn to the right and head due south, passing not far west of the islands off North Eleuthera. Their speed was 12 knots. Less than an hour later, at 11:32 pm, the course was changed again to 139 degrees, or southeast. As a precaution, speed was reduced to 5 knots. Since SC-1059 was not the point vessel, it steered by the “wake light” or stern light, of its sister, SC-1058.
Then disaster struck. At twenty minutes before midnight SC-1059 ran hard aground on Six Shilling Cay, at the entrance to the Fleeming Channel. Emergency soundings revealed that there was 4 feet of water under the bow and 6 feet aft. Since the keel of SC-1059 extended 6.5 feet from the waterline, the sub chaser was hard aground.
Six Shilling Cay is a shallow islet less than a mile long (including off-lying rocks) and 50 feet wide. It marks the northern end of the The Fleeming Channel, which itself is only a mile wide at its narrowest. The Fleeming Channel connects the deep water of the navigable channels with the shallow sand banks in the bight of Eluethera. In daylight shallow-draft vessels can utilize the Fleeming Channel to access Eleuthera, the Exuma Islands, and the southern Bahamas generally. Even then great care in navigation must be taken due to the sand banks which are shoal in places, and numerous coral heads.
Based on the location of the wreck (25° 16' 24.43" N., 76° 54' 27.38" W., though Tobin erroneously placed it at 25° 14’ 50" N., 76° 57' W., placing it 23 miles to the southeast on the sand banks west of Eleuthera), it can be inferred that SC-1059 was on the port, or eastern flank of the Task Unit. It can also safely be assumed that the lights which presently mark the channel were not then in place, or they would have been seen.
Where the commander of PC-1564 thought he was, or was trying to go, is a matter of conjecture. What is known is that he led his formation into a trap of cays and reefs, and rather than turn west or north away from danger, he turned further east and south. SC-1059 merely followed its leader right onto the rocks.
Though the grounding must have been both terrifying and sobering, the men on SC-1059 were not idle. At first the situation seemed salvageable. At 15 minutes after midnight on the 12th of December the men moved the heavy ammunition aft, and for a little while the vessel came off the shoal. A quarter hour later she was again aground, and ten minutes after that the port anchor was let go to secure SC-1059 against being moved by the tide and waves. The engines were shut off at 40 minutes after midnight on Tuesday morning.
By 2:00 am SC-1059 lost power when the generators were flooded and shut down. The crew of 25 officers and men were mustered and all accounted for. By that time the sub chaser was heeling over 20 degrees to starboard, or on its right side. In the words of Tobin, “water [was] slowly entering ship.”The bilge pumps would have been designed to keep a moderate amount of water at bay, but not a deluge.
By 15 minutes after midnight, just 35 minutes after the casualty PC-1564 radioed the Gulf Sea Frontier to report that SC-1059 was aground broadside in shallow water and that both the engine and rudder were damaged. They requested a tug be sent from Nassau. They reported that SC-1059 was not taking on water yet, but that they were standing by, as were the other vessels of the Task Unit. The darkness and shallow water were preventing them from providing aid.
Fifteen minutes later PC-1564 informed Miami that the situation had deteriorated and that the sub chaser was then pounding badly and taking on water in the engine room. They requested that a shallow-draft tug be sent in order to rescue the crew. Less than three hours later the U.S. Navy tug ATR-29 was dispatched from Miami and told to make all speed to the scene of SC-1059’s demise. The Gulf Sea Frontier dispatcher in Miami contacted the Royal Air Force base in Nassau to render assistance in extracting the 25-man crew. They were informed that an RAF crash boat, a high-speed rescue boat similar to a motor torpedo boat (MTB) and used to rescue downed aviators, would be on scene by 8:20 am. The distance from Nassau was some 25 miles, or two hours at 12 knots boat speed.
Hope came after sunrise. The RAF crash boat arrived presumably around 9:00 am and delicately launched a wherry, or small boat, which a member of its crew rowed over to the stricken sub chaser. By 11:40 am the wherry had taken off five American sailors: Suslow, Zarnick, Pascoe, Pikul, and Harris, leaving 20 officers and men aboard. According to the Miami headquarters, these men were shuttled over to PC-1564, which apparently lacked the means of retrieving the men itself.
Half an hour later two RAF men returned in the wherry, this time removing sailors Trezza, Brown, Jacobs, and Richards, and leaving 16 men on board SC-1059. With the benefit of experience it only took five minutes for the second batch of survivors to reach the nearby PC-1564. At 1:46 pm the RAF crash boat reported having removed 11 men from the sub chaser. It returned to base, arriving back at Nassau at 3:30 pm. From all reports, the 11 survivors were taken back to Nassau, and the balance of the men remained with PC-1564, though it is not entirely clear.
Rescue of the sailors - but not the officers - continued through the afternoon of the first day of the ordeal. At 1:30 pm Brown and an RAF sailor returned to the grounded ship and took off Coxswain Szoke, Fisher, Tremblay, and Brown. It took them 15 minutes to return to the patrol craft. Only Brown and Tremblay remained on PC-1564, leaving a total of 14 men aboard the U.S. craft. These men settled in to an anxious night of cold food, no light, and constant discomfort as their ship ground away on the sharp coral, exposed to the swells from nearby deep water.
Local help arrived again the next day, Wednesday, the 13th of December, in the form of a Bahamian sloop named BA 79. The origins of this vessel are unknown, however the Symonette Shipyard in Nassau had constructed two 120-foot wooden minesweepers earlier in the war, and it is possible that this was one of them (the other became the inter-island mail-boat Stede Bonnet, mostly serving Abaco).
The Bahamians in the sloop dropped anchor a mere 200 yards from the stern of SC-1059, which supports the impression that the wreck occurred near deep water. They sent over two small boats, and offered assistance. This grand gesture was not taken up, as the boats were cast off by 9:00 am, just ten minutes after tying up alongside. The sloop may have been a local fishing craft doing what they could to offer local knowledge and assistance.
Early in the afternoon of the same day ATR-29 arrived. ATR-29 was a rescue tug built by Wheeler Shipbuilding of Brooklyn, NY and delivered only a few months before, in April, 1944. Designed for heavy duty, deep-water work, the vessel displaced 852 tons, was 165 feet overall, 33 feet wide and drew 15.5 feet - not exactly shallow draft. Though it only had one propeller, the ship could develop 1,600 horsepower and motor at 12 knots.
By 4:05pm on the 13th the ATR had completed its 220-mile voyage and launched a power vessel which boarded the SC-1059 to appraise the damage. When the launch returned to the tug five minutes later it took with it Hearn, Denhardt, Fisher and Kern, leaving ten of the original crew aboard the sub chaser. At 5:10 pm the tug’s power launch returned with gasoline and a handy billy, a portable pump used by ships. By 6:15 ATR-29’s launch and its crew had left the sub chaser for the night. The ship was grinding less and now the men had a tool with which to fight the ingress of water.
The following morning, Thursday December 14th the sea had changed direction to come from the southeast, and hit SC-1059 on the port bow. At 9:10 am the tug’s power launch arrived with a salvage crew. By 10:30 the men were using the handy billy pump as well as a 3-inch pump to discharge water from the sub chaser. By fifteen minutes after noon a lead patch was secured over a hole in the officer’s wardroom. By 1:30 the same kind of patch was applied to the hole in the engine room.
By 4:00 pm the launch had returned to the tug, taking with it Kline. This means that there were nine men left on board SC-1059. No doubt these men had no means of cooking hot meals, no lights except torches, and no plumbing via which to relieve themselves. The interior of the vessel must have been soaked with sea spray and rather uncomfortable.
That afternoon the commanders at Gulf Sea Frontier ordered the other members of Task Unit 03.1.8 - PC 1564, SC-1058 and SC-1295 to return to Miami, as their services would no longer be needed. Presumably the SC-1059 crew remained on the scene aboard ATR-29. The Task Unit wisely decided to wait until daylight and left the following day, Friday 15th December. Based on the rather languid work-days of ATR-29 and the departure of the escorts, it can be inferred that the SC-1059 was deemed salvageable, and that they rescuers were settling in for more of a siege than a pitched battle against the elements. In any event, this was to be the case.
On Friday the 15th the Task Unit departed and at 8:45 am ATR-29’s salvors arrived aboard SC-1059. By 11:00 ammunition had been moved from the magazine to the deck. A whale boat from ATR-29 completed the delicate task of moving eighteen depth charges from the sub chaser to the tug. By 4:00 pm the salvors had left the stricken ship. At 5:07 ATR-29 took up strain on a hawser connected to the sub chaser in the hopes of moving it off the reef, however the tow line parted. At 8:00 pm the pumps were shut down for the day. Apparently SC 1059 was not in immediate danger of sinking.
Saturday 16th of December at 6:00 am began with starting two three-inch pumps. For the first time in five days they were able to get the ship on an even keel, in other words, got the water out of the starboard side to the point that the ship was balanced. This happened at 8:20 am. Unfortunately five minutes later the ship heeled five degrees to port. Ammunition was moved from the port side to mid-ships, but then SC-1059 tilted ten degrees to starboard again - this was still ten degrees less than it had been at the outset.
While the ship leaned to either side the tug was arranging to pull her off the rocks. At 10:50 am a second attempt was made to pull SC-1059 clear of the coast, however by 11:45 the attempt had failed and the tow line was cast off and brought aboard the tug. At 2:00 pm Hearn, Denhardt, and Kern returned to their ship, meaning there were now a dozen of the original complement aboard. That night a 3-inch pump was operated from 8:00 pm. At five minutes before midnight two whale boats from ATR-29 managed to haul SC-1059 over on its port side.
At 8:10 am on the morning of Sunday 17th December the life-rafts were found to be missing from SC-1059. They must have been on the port side and poorly lashed, and washed overboard in the darkness. There appears to have been no effort to pull the ship off the rocks on that day, perhaps in observance of the Sabbath.
The following day, Monday the 18th of December was an active one. By 9:45 am a series of confidential technical items were removed from SC-1059. This must have been in the event the sub chaser sank after being pulled off the rocks, but it was also to lighten the vessel and increase the chances of being pulled off. Equipment removed included radar receivers and transmitters, switch boxes, and magnetron tubes.
Then good news. At 10:20 am ATR-29 began its third and final attempt at salvaging SC-1059. This took place almost exactly 48 hours after the last attempt. Laying the sub chaser on its port side and removing equipment must have helped, because by 11:10 am SC-1059 was again afloat, for the first time in a week. By 11:45 the smaller ship was alongside the tug and being prepared for the long voyage back to Miami, across the tempestuous Gulf Stream.
Soon the SC-1059 would be outside the Bahamas. At 1:45 the voyage commenced at 5.5 knots, with the sub chaser alongside the starboard side of the tug. At 3:20, ATR-29 stopped to transfer gasoline for the pumps. Twenty minutes later they were moving again. By 5:30 it was decided that SC-1059 was stout enough to be towed roughly 300 feet behind the tug. By 6:30 pm this was affected. At 10:05 pm, whilst constantly checking the bilges and the hawsers, the duo passed south and west of Hole-in-the-Wall Light, Great Abaco. They were homeward bound.
With both 3-inch pumps running SC-1059 was towed westward throughout the duration of Tuesday the 19th of December. At 8:15 am the crew came alongside the tug for breakfast, which Lt. Tobin refers to as “chow”. It appears the crew on the smaller boat literally pulled themselves along the hawser to reach the mother ship - tiring work, even when both were stopped, given the respective tonnages of each ship.
At 12:25 pm more chow, this time lunch, was passed over by the helpful crew of ATR-29. At 3:30 that afternoon the small convoy passed Great Isaac Light to port and began crossing the Gulf Stream for Miami, some 70 miles distant. The sub chaser men appear to have gone without hot dinner that night
By Wednesday the 20th of December SC-1059 was close to Florida again. By mid-morning they were back at Pier 3, Miami, moored port-side-to at the very dock their voyage had begun eight days earlier. Shortly afterwards the crew were transferred from ATR-29 back to SC-1059 and muster was held. If any of the men had indeed voyaged to Nassau on the RAF crash boat, then they must have returned to Miami by air or ship in the interim, as Tobin proudly states “all present or accounted for.”
Special mention is made that “morning colors” were flown, indicating that the ship was back in shape and able to fly the national ensign. It must have been a great relief for some degree of normalcy to have been restored and for the crew to have reunited in home waters. Just before noon SC-1059 cast off for the cross-harbor voyage to Merrill Stevens dry dock, which was at the time doing booming business converting and repairing civilian and military vessels. By early afternoon SC-1059 was moored at the Marine Railway, or slipway at Merrill Stevens.
By Thursday the 21st of December Lt. Tobin was able to report not only morning colors and crew muster, but that the men had resumed “daily work routine.” After lunch Lieutenant Commanders Winslow and Falls paid a visit to SC-1059 to inspect the ship. Early that afternoon the sub chaser left the dry dock and tied up alongside the machine shop, still at Merrill Stevents. The vessel was no longer in the emergency room, and her crew were home for Christmas. That evening colors were executed. So ends the wreck and salvage of USS SC-1059.
SC-1059 was decommissioned from the U.S. Navy on 14 May 1946 and transferred to the United States Maritime Commission. Little is known of the vessel’s ultimate fate.
Charles A. Tobin excelled in civilian life. He obtained a degree in law from Boston College in 1949 and married Jane Herlihy two years later. By the early 1950’s he had begun a 30-year career as an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Tobin rose from managing consumer protection concerns such as food labeling and funeral services to become Secretary of the FTC by the early 1970’s. By the time he retired he had also served as acting Executive Director or an organization which in 2012 handled nearly half a million consumer complaints. He passed away in May of 2007, leaving three children, one of them also an attorney.
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