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COMMANDER SOUTH ATLANTIC FORCE AT RECIFE - COMMANDER SOUTH ATLANTIC

15)THE ANNELIESE ESSBERGER


NOTE: The source document text quality on this page was very poor, making some sections very difficult to read. Every effort was made to accurately transcribe the content, but some inaccuracies are likely to exist. Text that was completely unreadable is flagged with the following notation: "[???]".

- HyperWar Editor


During October, the Destroyers Greene and Osmond Ingram, and the Cruiser Marblehead reported for duty with the South Atlantic Force, while the Roe and Eberle, both Destroyers, were detached and left.


Of great importance was the arrival of Rear Admiral O. M. Read, USN, to assume command of Cruiser Division Two. This, at the time, consisted of the Memphis, Marblehead, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Omaha; Admiral Ingram's original command, save for the recently added Marblehead. The scope of operations and the size of the responsibility had grown so fast that the Commander South Atlantic Force could no longer advantageously exercise the command of Cruiser Division Two in person.


October was a light month as far as enemy raiders were concerned. No actual sub contacts were reported by ships of the South Atlantic Force, and both commerce and convoys moved freely. The Brazilian Navy and Air Force valiantly performed their allotted tasks, and each won the Admiral's congratulations for its effective work in convoy operations. Toward the end of the month, the Navy purchased the Brazilian tug Almirante Noronha. She was redesignated YT-362, but kept her Brazilian civilian crew, though under the operational supervision of the Admiral.


The month of November was noteworthy for the interception of the first surface blockade runner seen in South Atlantic waters since the Odenwald, a year previously. The Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Somers departed from Recife on November 8, forming Task Group 23.2 with Admiral Read in person sailing in the Milwaukee. The purpose was to conduct a search to the south of the Equator, clear of Ascension Island, and eastward to twelve degrees west longitude. Four days later information came from the Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet (Admiral Ingersoll) regarding the possible appearance of the blockade runners Anneliese Essberger and Kota Nopan and the possible route of advance of others along a middle Atlantic route south of 01º 00”S.


The Task Group made air searches for several days, maintaining a screening line for blockade runners from the north which might be advancing at 10 to 15 knots. All steps were taken to conserve fuel, in order to remain at sea as long as possible. Likewise, aviation gasoline was used sparingly. On November 16, word came from Admiral Ingram that the Anneliese Essberger and Kota Nopan might arrive in the Equatorial area around November 19. Later a despatch from the Commander-in-Chief U. S. Fleet (Admiral King) warned of the possible arrival from the south of a blockade runner with an accompanying submarine. The day at which these two might enter the Equatorial area was also estimated at about November 19. The task group, consisting of that ship plus the Marblehead and Jouett, was searching the area, and Admiral Ingram sent instructions to search in coordination with Admiral Read's Command but with some scouting forces [???].


The morning of November 21 saw contact made. At 0516, Task Group 23.2 was in position Latitude 01º 30”N, Longitude 22° 00' W. on base course [???], speed 15 knots. The ships were sailing toward the point of [???] the day's search, which was Latitude 01° 05' N, Longitude 23° 30' W. The Somers led, followed by the Milwaukee, with the Cincinnati in the rear.


At 0531 the Cincinnati reported a radar contact bearing 302° (T), distance [???] yards, and in a minute was able to state that the stranger was [???]. Five minutes later, the Milwaukee sighted the suspicious vessel by high position lookout on bearing 309° (T), and went to general quarters. By 0545, fourteen minutes after the first contact, the distance had closed to 11,500 yards. Next the Task Group Commander ordered an emergency turn of all ships to the right to course 315° (T), and directed the Somers to investigate the stranger, while the Milwaukee and Cincinnati were maneuvered at a distance to cover the Destroyer's activities. As the Somers drew near she challenged, using the right blinker gun, and for an answer finally got the letters L-J-P-V, the international call sign of the steamship Skjelbred, a Norwegian freighter. The stranger, however, did not seem to make responses willingly, and an order to repeat her letters went unheeded. She could be seen clearly now, and proved to be a freighter of about 5,000 tons, painted medium gray with light gray superstructure.


She carried two small cargo masts at the break of the forecastle deck, a heavy foremast, two large cargo masts just forward to the bridge superstructure, and a heavy mainmast. She had a boom rigged forward to a 40 or 50 foot motor boat, which by its appearance was believed to have been a small torpedo boat. A little later a four or five inch gun was seen aft. The stranger was then on a course of 145° (T), speed 15 knots. By the time the Somers had closed to 4,000 yards astern, a Norwegian flag could be seen at the freighter's staff, and from the port yardarm flew the signal letters L-J-P-V. at 0640 the Somers drew alongside the starboard side of the stranger, while the latter turned sharply to port and stopped.


She lowered two lifeboats from the starboard side, and, when a door on the bridge suddenly opened, flames could be seen enveloping the pilot house. The Somers repeatedly flashed the international signal A-J, meaning "You Should Not Abandon You Ship" but this accomplished nothing. The Somers armed boat party was then ordered to go onboard, and the salvage party received orders to stand by to follow if necessary. While the armed boat party, under Lieutenant R. H. White, traversed the distance between the two ships, three heavy explosions were heard in the stranger, one forward and two aft. These blew debris several hundred feet into the air and surrounding waters. Immediately after the blasts someone raised the German Merchant Swastika at the mainmast, and then lowered the Norwegian flag at the staff.


Evidently the explosions blew the bottom out of the German vessel, since before the boarding party could reach the ship she was sinking rapidly by the stern. Lieutenant White's armed boat party went alongside one of the survivors' boats, of which there were now four in the water, and took a German junior officer, the coxswain, back on board the injured ship. With him went two officers and six men of the armed boat party. Heat from the fire prevented any thorough search; nevertheless, Lieutenant (jg) C. H. Vale managed to reach the bulletin board to rip off the ship's Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill. He then went into the room of an officer, from which he retrieved a notebook and several propaganda booklets. The remainder of the boarding party scoured the parts of the ship they could reach, mainly the after part of the main deck, and picked up several items, including a swastika, a Norwegian flag, a machine gun with ammunition, and a four inch high explosion shell.


By 0714 the ship had settled astern to such a degree that the armed boat party got the order to leave. A few minutes later the Cincinnati reported sighting a periscope, which sent the Somers at 25 knots to take position for an attack. Soon it was seen that the object was a piece of debris with the appearance of a periscope, so the Somers returned to pick up the boat party. In the meantime, at 0722, the German ship sank, position 00° 54' North, 22° 34' west. There was still a chance that submarines might lurk in the neighborhood; so the Somers went on with her search. The Milwaukee and Cincinnati drew off a little to launch aircraft and to carry on a hunt for another blockade runner thought to be in the vicinity. Neither surface ship not submarine was ever seen. On returning to the Somers, the armed boat party handed over the few objects retrieved and made several observations about the sunken vessel.


The engine room had evidently been flooded with oil and ignited, and the after hold flooded by the explosion, perhaps also by the opening of the seacocks. The armament of the German Freighter consisted of one four inch double purpose gun on the fantail with excellent optics, and four light machine guns, all aft. Along the rail were stanchions for more machine guns, which, however, were not installed if they existed. There seemed to be a new interior communication system aboard the ship, including a loudspeaker announcing unit. Fire had prevented a thorough inspection of the cargo, but what had been seen consisted of white powder, possibly lime, samples of medicine, made by Saberling and Company of Berlin, coils of two inch wire rope, drums and poxes of paint pigments, and rope made of cocoant fibre.


In addition to the armament already noted there was a motor torpedo boat rigged on a boom for instant lowering. The Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill, taken from the bulletin board, showed that one officer was in charge of a crew for manning the torpedo boat cutter. The Somers, Milwaukee and Cincinnati spent most of the day in searching for a submarine. Toward evening they returned to the scene of where the Milwaukee took aboard the prisoners from the four German lifeboats. Altogether they numbered 62, including 12 Merchant Marine Officers, a Naval Doctor, a Naval Warrant Gunner, and 22 enlisted men. Task Group 23.2 soon departed from the operating area for Recife, as it had been at sea for nearly two weeks and was running short of fuel and aviation gasoline.


From the investigation conducted aboard the Milwaukee as soon as the prisoners arrived, there seemed no reasonable doubt that the scuttled ship was the Anneliese Essberger, belonging to the John T. Essberger Shipping Company. Only one dissenting voice was raised, that of Commander F. F. Feint, R. N. R., who was on board the Milwaukee, as liaison officer fro the staff of the Commander South Atlantic Force. A brief report submitted by him pointed out that among the effects of Adalbert Friesecke, fourth officer of the German ship, a copy of a store indent had been found, bearing the name S.S. Herstein and dated October 31, 1942. According to Commander Feint, the sketch of the Herstein in Talbot-Booth's Merchant Ships agreed with the appearance of the scuttled blockade runner.


The last information concerning the Herstein reported her arrival in Rabaul in January 1942, a little before the Japanese occupied that port. "It may be assumed, therefore", wrote Commander Feint, "that she has been taken a prize, and I suggest that she may have been switched with the Anneliese Essberger in January.

The objection offered by the British Commander was evidently not valid. Friesecke himself, when confronted with the "indent" referred to, voluntarily explained it. He had been assigned to the S.S. Herstein prior to joining the Anneliese Essberger, and had only reported to the latter the day before she sailed. The paper to which Commander Feint had attached so much importance had been used to line the sweatband of his cap. Another explanation of the Herstein label was that German authorities had selected a "Nom de Guerre" for the Essberger for security purposes and that the name was Herstein.


All in all, there never has been a satisfactory reason for thinking the German ship was other than what she seemed to be. The Essberger had had several adventures since the outbreak of the war in 1939. That first September she had been at Kobe, and there laid up while many of her crews returned to Germany via the Trans-Siberian Railway. In July, 1941, with a crew made up from several other German ships at Kobe, and loaded with several thousand tons of crude rubber, she had made the run to Bordeaux around Cape Horn, arriving in September after an uneventful cruise. Since then she had several times acted as a decoy for blockade runners, her appearance changing on each occasion.


For her last voyage, the Anneliese Essberger had slipped out of the Gironde at dusk on November 5, 2942, and she had been unmolested until her encounter with the South Atlantic Force ships. Wether she was intended to act as a supply ship for U-Boats or was bound again for Japan could hardly be decided. The fact that she carried a large amount of provisions and diesel oil, as well as hoses, indicated that the supplying of submarines was part of her mission. Even so, interrogators of the German prisoners believed that the main object of the ship was to run the Allied blockade. The Naval ratings on board had a low standard of efficiency, and there seemed no possibility of their being reserve crews for U-Boats.


The prisoners, on arrival at Recife, with all the personal effects they had brought off of their ship, were turned over to General Mascarenhas de Morais, the Brazilian Commander. They were all of German Nationality, though several had Polish or Czech names.


The officers in charge of this operation were well pleased with the way their officers and men handled themselves. Captain Wood of the Somers recommended Lieutenant Wite of the boarding party for the Navy Cross, and Lieutenant (jg) Vale, who accompanied White, for a Letter of Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy. Four men from the armed boat party were also recommended for Letters of Commendation from the Secretary. Admiral Read, from his own report, suggested modifications to a Secretary of the Navy Commendation for Lieutenant White, and a Commendation from Commander South Atlantic Force for Lieutenant (jg) Vale. The four enlisted men were recommended for Commander South Atlantic Force Commendations and promotions of one grade each.


Submarine contacts during November again were few. The most conspicuous action took place on the third of the month, when a plane of squadron VP-83 from Natal, piloted by Lieutenant (jg) G. E. Waugh, sighted a submarine fully surfaced in latitude 00° 47' S., Longitude 31° 36' W. No instruments were used, the radar being out of commission, and it was the white wake that attracted the attention of Lieutenant (jg) W. G. Taylor, the 2nd pilot. The submarine was cruising at a speed of 12 knots, on course 95° (T). The enemy lookouts were certainly not concentrating on aircraft, for they allowed the plane to approach to within a short distance before crash diving. Immediately on sighting, he pilot turned toward the sub and pushed over into a power glide, developing a speed of about 140 knots.


The enemy completed his submergence about five seconds before the plane reached the release point for bombs. The projectiles, once dropped, the pilot turned right to observe results. There was nothing further to be seen of the U-Boat. As for evidence of damage, slight oil slick could e seen five minutes after the bomb explosions, and in the same spot there were boiling air bubbles, continuing for a period of five minutes. The plane remained in the vicinity for about four hours and then went back to base because of low fuel. Other planes of the squadron had meanwhile reached the scene and continued the patrol for 36 hours without sighting anything else.


Though some damage may have been dealt the submarine, the observed evidence did not justify claiming a kill. From the brief glimpse of the sub-surface craft gained by the plane crew, there was some reason to think she might be Italian.


HyperWar Commander South Atlantic Force. U.S. Naval Administration in WW II


 

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