Ships hit by U-boats

John Witherspoon

American Steam merchant

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NameJohn Witherspoon
Type:Steam merchant (Liberty)
Tonnage7,191 tons
Completed1942 - Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards Inc, Baltimore MD 
OwnerSeas Shipping Co Inc, New York 
Date of attack6 Jul 1942Nationality:      American
FateSunk by U-255 (Reinhart Reche)
Position72° 05'N, 48° 30'E - Grid AT 7216
Complement50 (1 dead and 49 survivors).
ConvoyPQ-17 (dispersed)
RouteBaltimore - Iceland - Archangel 
Cargo8575 tons of ammunition and tanks 
History Completed April 1942 
Notes on event

At 16.38 hours on 6 July 1942 the John Witherspoon (Master John Stewart Clark) was torpedoed by U-255 about 20 miles from the shore of Novaya Zemlya. The ship had been in convoy PQ-17 which was dispersed on Admiralty orders in the Barents Sea on 4 July 1942. One torpedo struck on the starboard side between the #4 and #5 holds, followed by a second torpedo about one minute later underneath the bridge. At 16.55 hours, two coups de grĂ¢ce were fired, which struck on the port side amidships and broke the ship in two, causing her to sink within minutes. At this time, the eight officers, 31 crewmen and 11 armed guards (the ship was armed with one 4in, four .50cal and two .30cal guns) already abandoned ship in three lifeboats and one raft. One seaman fell overboard and drowned. The U-boat approached the boat of the master and asked for the master and about the cargo, offered food and water, promised to send a message for the survivors, gave directions to the nearest land and then left.

On 9 July, the most survivors were picked up by HMS La Malouine (K 46) (Lt V.D.H. Bidwell, RNR), but 16 crew members and three armed guards in another boat had been trapped in the ice for 53 hours and had been unable to get free. They were picked up in a heavy fog by the El Capitan, after the chief mate spotted the boat after hearing the tone of a bosun pipe. On 9 July, this ship was bombed by a German aircraft and later sunk by U-251 (Timm). The survivors from the John Witherspoon had to abandon ship again and were picked up by HMS Lord Austin (FY 220) and taken to Archangel.

On boardWe have details of 15 people who were on board

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