Thanks To The Infamous Fred Buck We Have Two Accounts From the Sinking Of Our Grandfather’s Boat The Ben and Josephine By German Sub in 1942
Article by Charles Dana Gibson, undated-
On June 2,1942, the Ben and Josephine, an otter trawl dragger, left Gloucester, Massachusetts, at 7 p.m., in company with another dragger, the Aeolus. Both were bound for the Seal Island fishing grounds off Nova Scotia. By 3 p.m. the next day, the two draggers were about 170 miles east of Cape Ann when the man at the wheel of the Ben and Josephine spotted a submarine on the surface proceeding on what appeared to be a parallel course.
Although concerned, the wheelsman later stated that the opinion among his fellow crew members at the time was that the submarine was probably friendly. Whoever was up and about on the Aeolus, then four or five miles astern, seems to have had the same thoughts, since it also made no attempt to alter course. But friendly the submarine definitely was not: it was the U432, the same sub which had sunk Foam some days earlier.
When later describing to naval authorities what had transpired, the crew members of both the Ben and Josephine and the Aeolus stated that for an hour a number had periodically studied the submarine through binoculars.
During that time, nothing was seen to indicate that it spelled trouble; yet, the fact that its course and speed were continually altered to match the draggers produced a menacing atmosphere. Around 4 p.m., the submarine suddenly changed its course as if to cross the bow of the Ben and Josephine, increasing its speed as it drew nearer. When approximately five hundred feet away, it swung parallel and a machine gun opened fire, bullets striking the water close to its prey. Guiseppe Ciarmitaro (Captain Joe our Grandfather), the Ben and Josephine’s skipper, had been taking a nap. Suddenly shocked awake, he ran for the pilot house to radio for help.
The Germans, spotting Ciarmitaro moving across the deck and apparently guessing what he was about, sprayed machine gun fire in his path. Escaping narrowly, Ciarmitaro decided against any further heroics and shouted the order to cut away both dories. At this point, U-432’s commander began showing solicitude for the fishermen’s safety, ordering further fire withheld until the dories were clear. When that was accomplished, the shooting recommenced in earnest. The crew of the Ben and Josephine would later estimate that between thirty-eight and forty-eight rounds were fired from the sub’s main deck gun. But the marksmanship was poor, and despite the short range few made contact. Enough did hit, though, to start the craft going down at the bow.
At this point the fishermen saw what the Foam’s survivors had also witnessed – someone aboard the submarine was taking their photographs for posterity. Thirty-six hours later, the dories landed at the light station on Mount Desert Rock, an island off Maine’s Acadia National Park. Aside from being hungry and suffering from mild exposure, all hands were well.
The Aeolus had been on a parallel course about five miles astern of the Ben and Josephine when the latter was attacked. Upon hearing the fire directed against the other trawler, the master, John Johnson, altered his course to put as much distance as possible between himself and the submarine. However, as soon as the sub had finished with the Ben and Josephine, it rapidly overhauled Aeolus. Upon closing, the Germans fired a warning shot, quickly followed by shouted orders to stop engines and put over dories. By way of emphasis, the U-boat’s deck gunners fired off two rounds, one of which struck Aeolus squarely forward on her whale back. Since all the fishermen were aft at the time engaged in lowering the dories, this was probably meant only as a threat to dampen any idea of sending off a radio warning.
It was when the fishermen had pulled clear that the Germans reopened fire, with most rounds missing as they had earlier with the Ben and Josephine. When enough hits were made to start Aeolus sinking, the U-432 headed away. Taking stock of the situation, the survivors decided on a course for Seal Island, the closest land. But before long a brisk breeze came up, raising enough of a head sea to force a change of plan. They then reversed direction, heading this time for the coast of Maine. They arrived a day and a half later, also landing on Mount Desert Rock close on the heels of the crew from the Ben and Josephine.
Guiseppe Ciarmitaro later recalled the effect that the sinkings of the Ben and Josephine and the Aeolus had on the morale of Gloucester’s fishing community. When the full news became known, enthusiasm for the offshore fisheries declined sharply. It would be some weeks before the men of Gloucester again extended their voyages east of Cape Porpoise, Maine.
from the "Sou’west Harbor" Maine newsletter, Feb. 2010
This is a letter we received from Doug Norwood, who grew up in Southwest Harbor and is now a resident of Birch Bay in Bar Harbor. We felt you would all enjoy reading it as much as we did. Thanks Doug
Sixty-seven years ago I was a freshman in Pemetic High School in Southwest Harbor. It was June 4th, 1942. We were in World War II. German U-Boats were all over the Atlantic Ocean. Some historians have called that time “The Deadly Summer of 1942’. German submarines were sinking many allied ships on their way to Europe carrying food, supplies, oil. They were sinking any boat that was on the waters of the Atlantic.
On June 4th, 1942, my father came home early from work. He came into the house and told me not to go out anywhere as he wanted me to help him. He went to the phone and he called several people. I heard some of his conversation which wasn’t making much sense to me. He was talking about feeding fourteen fishermen, and getting some cots for men to sleep on, and dry clothes. When he finished his conversations, he told me to grab my jacket and follow him.
We got into his pickup truck and on the way to the high school he told me we were going to set up cots in the high school gym for fourteen fisherman who had had their boats shelled by a German submarine and watched them sink. He told me that the men were at the coast guard station in the Village. As the chairman of the American red Cross the Coast Guard had called my father to put into action a rescue operation.
When we got to the high school there was lots of activity by men and women of the community. Men were taking cots into the school gym, women were carrying baskets of food into the home economics class room. Women
were at work making fish chowder and biscuits, hot coffee and dessert. Some women were making up the cots for these fishermen to sleep on.
The fishermen arrived at the school. They were taken to the showers in the school, given fresh towels and then some men and women gave them clean clothing to put on. They were on their way to a fisherman’s
The fishermen were from two different trawlers which had been fishing in Nova Scotia waters. The first trawler was the Ben & Josephine. She had a crew of eight men. The boat’s home port was Gloucester in Massachusetts. The boat had been built in Thomaston in 1941. The German Submarine U-432 surfaced close to the fishing boat. The spokesman for the sub told the crew to get into a dory and row away. Then the sub shelled the boat until it sank. Those eight crewmen watched their boat until it sank. Those eight crewmen saw their boat sink out of sight.
Four miles away on the same day the same German submarine U-432 surfaced beside the trawler Aeolus. The spokesman for the submarine told the six man crew trawler to get into a dory and row away. The sub shelled the trawler seventeen times until it sank. The sub took moving pictures of the shelling and sinking of the Aeolus which sank in about twenty minutes. The Aeolus was 41 tons and had been built in Friendship, Maine in 1922. Its home port was Gloucester, Massachusetts.
The fishermen rowed their dories for 36 hours and twelve hours were rowed in a rain storm, arriving at Mt. Desert Rock Lighthouse. From the Rock the men were taken to the Southwest Harbor Coast Guard Station. My father arranged transportation for the fishermen to Gloucester. After one night at the high school the fishermen boarded a bus the next day for home.
As a young fourteen year old I was very impressed by the men and women who worked so cooperatively in taking care of those fishermen who had escaped with their lives. I had a great sense of being proud of my community as I watched them taking care of those who needed clothing, food, and encouragement.
I don’t know if any of the adults who worked on this project of giving are still alive today. Perhaps there are one or two. I do not know.
A letter received from the engineer of the Aeolus sent to my father is attached to this writing.
I think that the members and friends of the Southwest Harbor Historical Society will be interested in reading about the sinking of the Ben and Josephine and the Aeolus. More important, I think, is the response of men and women from Southwest Harbor who gave of themselves for their neighbors.
Sincerely, Douglas M. Norwood
The original letter is on the following page.
The Sou’West Voyage
June 3, 1942 a German Submarine sunk a boat names Aeolus and also a boat named Ben and Josephine, they were sunk about 30 miles from Seal Island, N.S. I was engineer on the Aeolus. This boat was sent to the bottom in broad daylight by 17 shells from a deck gun and two Germans on the sub, had a moving picture machine. One fellow pointed it and the other cranked it. That boat was sunk just to get the pictures. The crews of both boats rowed for 36 hours to the Mt Desert Rock, we was taken from there to the Coast Guard Station in South West Harbor. The Coast Guard and the Red Cross sure took good care of us down there, we slept in the High School one night and we got our eats and the crew of both boats got a full outfit of clothes and on top of that the Red Cross hired a bus to take us to Gloucester and we sure appreciated it.
I was talking to a soildier that was over in Germany a short while ago and he said he would not be surprised if those moving pictures could be found somewhere in Germany, they may be hidaway and some Red Cross department over there may locate them. They would sure be valuable to you
Chapter if you could capture them. That boat Aeolus was built in Maine and I think if your Chapter could get hold of these pictures they would belong to your Chapter.
The sinking of an American boat by a foreighn Battleship just to get moving pictures was sure a Historical event. I got crippled up on this memorial day. I hurt my hip when I fell into the dory from the rail of the boat and I had to do my turn at the oars for 36 hours and the last 12 hours we was in a pouring rain.
I got a 90% disability out of that racket and the Government has not done anything yet towards financial aid, but I think they are going to soon as they have confiscated German and Japanese assets in the U S and are going to pay some claims to persons that was not in the U S Service.
A letter from your Chapter to the Red Cross in Germany may capture those moving picture reels.
What do you think If they are located and the Government grabs them we can put up a battle for them I remember that fish chowder I got down there from the Red Cross ladies. It sure was good. We never even got a cup of hot coffee from the Red Cross when we arrived in Gloucester from that memorial trip. Yours Truly, Everett Gallagher
There were two men from the Intelligence department from Washington that laughed when we told them the Germans took moving pictures of the sinking of the boat, a stenographer took down all the stories from the crews of those two boats and they must have it in Washington. I had a card from those two
fellows that they give me down there but I have lost it.
Editor‟s note: I feel we still have the same community caring that we had back then. When there is a time of need, the people of our town are there to help as they can. Whether it be to provide clothing, food, Christmas gifts, a temporary home and or other things that are needed. We take great pride in
our community and the people who reside in it. If anyone knows of this event and the names of people who helped in the effort, please let us know so we can preserve their names, along with the stories.
Thank you very much Doug for sharing this with us.
Ron Gilson Adds This-
Joey, concerning your grandfather’s experience with the German sub and the sinking of his vessel Ben & Josephine in 1942, I submit the following postscript:
In 1950 I sailed as a crewmember on the F/V Little Joe with Capt. John O. Johnson out of New Bedford, yellow tailing that summer. It was my first site as a full share crewmember and it was an experience I vividly remember!
Capt. John Johnson was skipper/owner of the F/V Aeolus, also having been sunk with your grandfather’s F/V Ben & Josephine. During one of our trips, Johnson related the WW II experience off Seal Island, Nova Scotia, when the German sub came up on the Aeolus. The German commander ordered Johnson and his crew off the boat. In their haste to leave in the dory, they realized they had left the compass behind…in the vessel’s pilot house only a few feet away. They rowed back to the starboard side of the rolling Aeolus and Johnson boarded his boat and ripped the compass out of the wheelhouse, throwing it into the nearby dory. He then scrambled back into the dory as the German’s deck gun let fire, sending rounds diagonally into the pilot house that Johnson had exited only moments before.
Returning to Gloucester, Johnson, who held an unlimited (any tonnage) captain’s license in the U.S. Merchant Marine service, immediately enlisted in the Navy, vowing to GET HITLER! Johnson was promised a Navy command but instead spent his entire WW II enlistment teaching navigation to naval officers at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station!