Ships hit by U-boats

El Capitan

Panamanian Steam merchant

US Naval Historical Center Photograph #NH 70476

NameEl Capitan
Type:Steam merchant
Tonnage5,255 tons
Completed1917 - Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co, Newport News VA 
OwnerUS Lines Inc, New York 
Date of attack10 Jul 1942Nationality:      Panamanian
FateSunk by U-251 (Heinrich Timm)
Position69° 23'N, 40° 50'E - Grid AC 9554
Complement67 (0 dead and 67 survivors).
ConvoyPQ-17 (dispersed)
RouteNew York - Reykjavik - Archangel 
CargoMachinery, food, leather, ammunition and a deck cargo of tanks 
History Completed in September 1917 as El Capitan for Southern Pacific Co Inc, New York. On 21 March 1918 acquired by the US Navy as cargo transport USS El Capitan (ID # 1407) for the Naval Overseas Transportation Service, making four transatlantic voyages between 29 March and 23 November 1918. On her second voyage, one day out of Philadelphia, she sighted a U-boat abeam and forced it to dive with her guns before it could attack. Decommissioned and returned to her owners on 1 February 1919.

Purchased by the US Government on 26 June 1941 and turned over to US Lines under a GAA agreement at New York. Changed registry to Panama on 1 October 1941. 
Notes on event

The El Capitan (Master John E. Therik) had been in convoy PQ-17 that was dispersed on Admiralty orders in the Barents Sea on 4 July 1942. On 8 July, she picked up 19 survivors from the John Witherspoon which had been sunk by U-255 (Reche) two days earlier. She reached Novaya Zemlya where she joined five other merchants and eight escort vessels from convoy in the Matochkin Strait. Commodore Dowding assembled a small convoy out of them and then proceeded to Murmansk and Archangel.

On 9 July the small convoy was attacked by several German Junkers Ju 88 aircraft of II. and III./KG 30 about 65 miles northeast of Iokanka. A Ju 88 from II./KG 30 dropped three bombs which detonated close to the El Capitan in 70°10N/41°40W. The concussion caused the after peak compartment to break open, the bulkhead at #4 hold was ruptured and the starboard side of the engine room was demolished. Holds #4 and #5 began to take water and the ship settled by the stern. Soon it became clear that the ship was in sinking condition and all 37 crew members, 11 armed guards and the 19 passengers safely abandoned ship. They were all picked up by HMS Lord Austin (FY 220) (T/Lt E.L. Wathen, RNR) and taken to Archangel. They were later taken to Glasgow and repatriated on the steam passenger ship Queen Mary, arriving in Boston on 15 October.

The armed trawler tried to scuttle the wreck with gunfire after rescuing the crew but apparently she stayed afloat and was sunk by U-251 with a coup de grâce at 00.45 hours on 10 July.

On boardWe have details of 7 people who were on board

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