Astrolabe

TCI in World War II

The Fauna, Part II 1942

By Captain Eric Wiberg

In the Summer 2020 issue of the Astrolabe, the author detailed the first part of the tale of the Fauna, a 1,272-ton Dutch steamship. The Fauna left New York on May 6, 1942 destined for Grand Turk with a crew of 29 men and a load of cargo, including 23 bags of mail! She was less than a day from her destination on May 17 when she was found and intercepted by U-558 under Güther Krech in the Caicos Passage.

The German submarine U-558 was in the service of Nazi Germany during WW II.

The boat was torpedoed and eventually sunk at 12:42 AM on May 18. A total of 27 men survived and made their way by lifeboat to the unpopulated island of West Caicos at 11:00 AM on May 18. Finding no one there, they set off to the north, rounded Northwest Point, and were eventually discovered by two local fishing boats. Captain Ralph A. Ewing brought half of the crew back to Blue Hills on his schooner Sister E. (also known as The Sisters), while Captain William Ewing returned with the rest of the crew aboard his boat The Flirt. The men were found in poor condition and were cared for by Islanders.

The complete first part is available at: https://www.timespub.tc/2020/06/tci-in-world-war-ii/ 

During their overnight stay in Blue Hills, the Dutch sailors were put up in the local schoolhouse, then were offered a local sailing boat for onward passage. At the time, the government in the colonial capital of Cockburn Town, Grand Turk reimbursed local sailors for providing assistance to stranded sailors. They also reimbursed Islanders for returning items salvaged from torpedoed shipwrecks on the coast, though in some instances, items like tinned food and clothing were simply taken and used.

This old schoolhouse in Blue Hills is where Fauna survivors were tended to in 1942.

The Islanders faced great difficulty finding a market for the salt they harvested, due to the danger to ships in exporting it. “Although demand was up, delivery of salt became difficult. With an enemy presence in the Caribbean and North American waters, steamers stopped their business and export of salt to the eastern seaboard dramatically declined.” As a result, skippers in Blue Hills were eager to take the survivors east to the capital, with or without direct payment from the Fauna captain.

The men set out for a longer voyage to South Caicos Island. After two days, in daylight on May 21 they reached Cockburn Harbour, South Caicos, which is also known as East Harbour. Historian H. E. Sadler, in his study Turks Islands Landfall confirms that, “The K.N.M.S. Steamer Fauna, bound for Grand Turk with supplies, was a victim of submarine attack, but her crew of 27 landed safely at South Caicos.” The men remained on South Caicos for a week. During that time, three of them—Rab, who had an injured leg, Noordveld, who was burned, and Oiler Johannes Stroomberg, who had a cut foot, were treated for their wounds. After a period of recuperation, the men all set off again on about May 27 for Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, which was their original destination. Again, the three injured men were treated, and again they opted to remain and recover for a week.

In the capital town, some of the Fauna sailors were put up in a guest house named the Dora Do Do on Middle Street on Grand Turk. Built in the 19th century, its matron was Dora Williams. Because she was believed to practice Obeah, or Voodoo, her nickname was “Dora Do Do.” Another establishment where they stayed was the Coverley boarding house, owned and operated by Felicia Grant and her husband Vincent Coverley. Probably den Heyer and his officers stayed at the Coverley house, as Sherlin Williams adds that it was “where VIPs visiting the island lived.” The waterfront building, between the Anglican Church and the sea, has since been demolished.

In Grand Turk, some of the Fauna sailors were put up in a guest house named the Dora Do Do on Middle Street.

Despite taking pride in assisting the stricken seamen, and also in harvesting the goods of value that washed up on their shores as a result of submarine depredations, the fact remains that the impoverished Islanders still very much needed ships like Fauna to arrive with their cargos intact. It was essential for their survival. During the war, “staples such as rice, beans, hominy and lard became scarce. Rice and grits that arrived had to be washed and flour sifted to remove the weevils. [People] gardened, although water was scarce due to the drought, and the family fished, trolling along the Edge of the Deep. . . . Sails were patched until the patches had patches.”

In a letter addressed to “The Commissioner of Turks Island, Grand Turk, B.W.I.” from the Dutch Central Transport Workers Union in exile in New York, dated 24 July 1942 and signed by P. J. van der Berge, Secretary, the union thanked the Islanders “for the help rendered them by your good office and the good people of West Caicos and East Harbour.” The union was asked by the Fauna men to “express their sincere and heartfelt thanks.” The letter went on to tell the commissioner that “their assistance to shipwrecked Dutch seamen will always be remembered by the Dutch people and the Dutch labour movement.  . . . Our warmest thanks goes to the people of Turks Island and your good self, who left nothing undone to mitigate the hardships of our men and help them recover from the ordeal to which they were subjected after the sinking of their ship by enemy submarines.”

On or about June 3, 1942, the survivors set off for Cape Haitian, a port city on the northwest coast of Haiti separated from Grand Turk by 115 miles of open ocean. The two British sailors, Dickenson and Eve, opted to remain behind. Perhaps they didn’t feel up to another open boat voyage. It is not clear whether the rest of the survivors used the same local sailing craft or obtained transit on another vessel—probably the latter, which would have been safer. Taking another ship to Haiti would also help explain the delay of a week, since they would have been reliant on another skipper’s schedule.

Once they landed in Cape Haitian and reported their predicament, the men were transported by automobile to the capital, Port-au-Prince. Captain den Heyer was debriefed by the US Naval Attache in Port au Prince. From there, they were given another ride to the city of Saint Marc. This meant a car journey over the mountains of at least 75 miles and many hours. Again, two men opted to remain behind: a Dutch fireman named Francisca, age 40, and the English “servant” John White, age 42.

On June 11 1942, the 23 remaining men, led by Captain den Heyer, boarded the ship Gatun bound for New Orleans, where they arrived on the 20th of June. The refrigerated steamship Gatun was built in 1926. She was owned and operated by the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company and her master at the time was Captain MacLean. Aside from carrying bananas from Haiti and other islands to its home base in New Orleans, she was utilized by the US Army during the war. Presumably, the Gatun was part of convoy that travelled via Guantanamo and Key West. On arrival in New Orleans, Captain den Heyer was interviewed by W. S. Hogg of the US Navy. He then proceeded post-haste to New York, in order to report on the loss of his ship to the owners. Presumably, the remaining 21 Dutch crew were re-assigned to other Dutch vessels by the Dutch consulate. Sam Sanny, the English fireman, made it home to his wife Cornelia in Brooklyn. 

Günther Krech was amongst the first U-boat skippers to utilize the Mona Passage between Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic) and Puerto Rico, which he did on May 29. Over the next four days he steamed northeast until the sub left the region north of St. Martin on June 1, 1942 bound for Brest, where the boat was based with the First Flotilla. Günther Krech, 27 at the time, became one of the better-known U-boat skippers of the war, made famous in part by his over 20 ships and over 100,000 tons sunk and his activity off the American coast. He is also remarkable for his youth and early recognition: he earned the Knights Cross shortly after this patrol four days before his 28th birthday on September 17, 1942. In April 1941 he had achieved the rank of Kapitänleutnant. 

On July 20, 1943 U-558 was sunk by Allied aircraft in the Bay of Biscay, with Krech and four others surviving and being kept in captivity by the Allies during the balance of the war and sometime thereafter. Günther Krech survived and lived until age 85, and died in 2000. A member of the crew of 1933, he had served in the Luftwaffe for four years before returning to the U-boat arm in November 1939. Over ten patrols of 437 days, Krech sank seventeen ships of 93,186 tons and damaged two others for 15,070 tons, as well as effectively destroying a further ship of 6,672 tons.

Eric Wiberg has published over a dozen books of nautical non-fiction. Contact him at: eric@ericwiberg.com.



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