Survivors of U-Boats: Vineland in 1942, Part II

By Captain Eric Wiberg

In the Fall 2019 issue of Astrolabe, the author detailed the sinking of the Canadian dry-bulk ship Vineland, on April 20, 1942 by the German submarine U-154 while it was roughly 90 miles north of North Caicos. The survivors voyaged in three lifeboats until they were picked up by fishermen in the Caicos sloop Emily Conway and towed to Chalk Sound, Providenciales. The story continues as follows . . .


Vineland survivors were initially taken to tiny Salt Cay by fishermen, and hosted by the leading Harriott family and in other homes for several days. After supplies became taxed the men were moved a short distance north, where they staying in guest houses awaiting a north-bound ship. Their erstwhile hosts, the Harriotts, accompanied them to Grand Turk to ensure their onward passage.

The White House on Salt Cay is still owned by descendants of Daniel Harriott. The Harriott family, along with other families who could, took in Vineland survivors until they could be transported back to the United States.

The Harriotts originally emigrated from Bermuda in the 1830s and with profits from salt harvests built the largest building on Salt Cay, wedged between the salt pans and the ocean. Named the White House, it still stands today. Family lore has been well kept by Georgina Dunn Belk. She shared family anecdotes about Captain Ralph Williams and the Vineland crew. Her aunt writes that “as children, we saw evidence of the torpedoing of ships by the German submarines when some of the survivors of a torpedoed merchant ship were brought to East Harbour by fishermen who discovered them drifting in lifeboats. Our family, along with other families who could, took them in until they could be transported back to the United States.” One of the Vineland survivors says that “on Grand Turk the women made clothes for some of us.”

Life on shore was bleak, but not as bad as for others surviving wartime winter in Canada: “Ships from the [Canadian] Maritimes had even poorer food to feed the crew and for them a meal ashore at the White House, where [the hostess] would have a chicken killed for them as honored guests, was memorable.” The Islanders had become, by necessity, adept at scavenging the bounty of wartime submarine attacks. “Essentially, anything that floated ended up on a beach, and Turks Islanders would come to the door of the White House selling items they had found including life boats, life rafts, oil drums, ropes and tarps, timber and furniture. But the most treasured finds were the crates of dried tinned food, so when large tins of white powder washed up the beach [we] brought it from the salvager. It has the appearance and consistency of porridge. Cooked and eaten for breakfast, it had the consistency of glue but was more or less edible.” 

One of the Harriotts continues: “We had five seamen in our home from the sunken British merchant ship with supplies that left New York for South America to pick up raw rubber. The rescued men were picked up one afternoon by our fishermen. (Daddy told us later that the men were covered in oil and some were burned quite badly). Five of them were settled into our home after Cleo and I had gone to bed. We didn’t know about our guests until we came down the next morning for breakfast and there they were at the dining room table with my father and mother having their morning tea.” She continued: “Our torpedoed British seamen stayed with us and the other families four or five days until a ship came for them. We borrowed additional cots from family, and they took over our bedroom upstairs, and we moved into our parent’s room and slept on the floor.” 

Presumably the officers stayed at the White House. Eight of the men were later accommodated at the Louise Ariza boarding house in Grand Turk. Osvaldo Ariza remembers that his mother “put up survivors there” and that “most were Canadian.” He remembers hearing that a young boy from the ship said he had been torpedoed three times, and that Captain Williams was fond of telling local school children that the “V” in Vineland stood for Victory. Another of Mrs. Ariza’s sons remembers one of the cooks aboard the Vineland, a man named Hutter. The Arizas and Mr. Hutter remained in contact for years after the war. 

This image shows the Vineland at dock loading or discharging newsprint for the Liverpool Steamship Company of Canada. Note the temporary neutral Panama markings which followed her to the bottom.

During their stay in Grand Turk, Captain Williams managed to get word through to the Naval Officer in Charge in Trinidad. Through that channel, the British Admiralty in Jamaica learned that Vineland had been lost. After thirteen days on Grand Turk, or about May 10, a Dutch inter-island passenger ship took them to Curaçao. Their farewell was poignant and a community event. One of the Harriotts recounts how “When arrangements were made for them to return on a ship that came to pick them up, Daddy, Cleo and I went down to the waterfront where all the survivors had congregated, as did most of the men of the island. They were loaded into small boats and taken out to the ship . . . and they were returned to the United States where they were to be assigned to another ship carrying supplies to England.”

Despite nearly being torpedoed a second time, they made it and were given “shaving equipment, suits, socks, underwear, you name it. And they even gave us money to spend,” wrote Mess Boy Ralph Kelly. The harrowing repatriation of Vineland’s men was not over. After less than a week in Curaçao they boarded a German-built, Dutch-run ship laden with ammunition, bound to Halifax. Fortunately for all involved, it was an uneventful voyage of fourteen days during which “everybody was scared stiff” wrote Kelly. They didn’t arrive back until early June, over six weeks after their torpedoing.

That autumn Ralph Kelly joined the Royal Canadian Navy. He and his brother Captain Charlie remained admired fixtures in the Nova Scotia maritime community. On the same patrol, U-154 sank five ships worth 28,715 tons. Aged 34 at the time (he would live to 1992 and the age of 84), German Commander Walther Kölle “made his career” in a single patrol through the Bahamas. Having earlier survived the scuttling of the Graf Spee off Uruguay, he surrendered command of U-154 to Heinrich Shuch after his third patrol, and moved ashore.

Eric Wiberg has operated over 100 yachts, many of them as captain. A licensed master since 1995, he is qualified as a maritime lawyer, with a Master’s in Marine Affairs, a year at Oxford, and a certificate in screenwriting. He commercially operated nine tankers from Singapore for three years, and worked briefly for two salvage firms. Other jobs have included executive head-hunting, shipping newspaper salesman, and marketer of a tug-boat fleet. Besides U-Boats in the Bahamas, he has published over a dozen other books of nautical non-fiction. A citizen of US and Sweden who grew up in the Bahamas, he lives in Boston. Contact:

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