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Built 1913

Tonnage 1125 tons

Cargo. Troops, clapboard and crates with parquet flooring

Armament: 2 L/40 47 mm. guns

Speed 9 kts.

Sunk 19 Jul 44 by U- 861 in pos. 22º29"S 41º09"W

100 Dead

145 Survivors

The Brazilian Navy transport ship Vital de Oliveira was sunk by torpedoes launched from U-861 under KorvettenKapitan Jurgen  Oesten on 19/Jul/44. 99 military died in the sinking, some of them on leave from bases in Northern Brazil. The ship had 245 men, and she had suspended from Vitoria at 10:00 AM that same day at 03:00 PM, she went on firing drill with her small 47 mm guns. She was escorted by sub chaser Javari and  at 08:00 PM  she was passing abeam of Sao Tome lighthouse with a speed of 10 knots with all crew and passengers already in their bunks.

At 11:55 PM a strong impact was heard at the stern. A large gash made the water flood the compartments, the main mast collapsed on the davits and also damaging the lifeboats rendering them useless. Master Joao Batista aided by his quartermaster Lieutenant Osmar Alonso, sounded the general alarm and fired a few signal rockets trying to call the attention of the escort Javari. Sub chase Javari conducted a search in the area but the attacker managed to slip through the darkness and evaded. Survivors said that the sinking occurred within 3 minutes giving no time to lower all lifeboats. Engines came to stop when the water flooded the engine room.

Meanwhile Master Joao Batista rushed to the foredeck, ordered general quarters however the situation was out of control with the ship listing badly to port, fire raging and water at that moment washed over the bridge with deafening noise. The pressurized mains disrupted expelling hot steam which burned several men and turning the scene into a chaos. With dismay, Master Joao Batista realizing he was losing his ship ordered the abandonment in the presence of his quartermaster.

During the crucial moments the calm and decisive voice of the captain could be heard directing their men to the task of salvaging and searching for any available life boat but only a few ones could be boarded in. Several men jumped overboard swimming and clinging desperately to the flotsam strewn in a large area. Everyone struggled desperately trying to get away from the suction when the doomed vessel began to plunge with crunching noise. Despite the sea was not rough, the moonless night made things worse and dozens succumbed to the last disaster involving one Brazilian ship caused by an act of war.

The last scene witnessed by the survivors in the water was that of Master and his Quartermaster still on the forecastle as they were the last men to abandon ship. Upon the vessel plummeted all sort of flotsam strewn over a large area;  crates, deck plates, burning oil, parts of ship structure ablaze and debris among capsized Carley floats. A site of anguish despair and shock; the injured mourning, some with mangled bodies and the fear for the ever presence of the vicious sharks.

That made the scene even more dramatic, a true nightmare. On the coastline a few miles away, the monotonous and silent beam of Sao Tome lighthouse as a beacon of hope to those hopeless men to nose the land.Very few Carley floats could be hauled out to sea. With the explosion and subsequent collapse of the mast at the stern several boats suffered damage by fire and most survivors spent that cold night of July struggling to their limits to stay afloat clinging to everything that could float.

When the morning came, then the real extent of the tragedy could be seen in its real dimension. The men cramped in few lifeboats steered to land and despite their appalling condition showed resilience. Master Joao Batista after spending hours clung to debris was picked up by men in one life boat already cramped with 33 survivors. The first officer and chief mate Lieutenant Joao Luis who was badly injured was assisted by ship’s doctor Lieutenant Murilo who administered artificial breathing in an effort to recover consciousness

The doctor himself and 13 more survivors struggled to remain afloat in one small corked raft. In another raft 20 men gathered the last forces and rowed desperately to land being followed by another with 17 survivors. At 9:00 AM one black dot hove in sight and later was identified as the fishing boat Guanabara which almost simultaneously was spotted by 2 American planes.

One sailor stood up and with two fragments of cork and ingeniously improvised a visual signaling apparatus when transmitted an S.O.S. One plane headed land while the other circled over. Soon later the motor boat Guanabara arrived on scene and began to rescue the survivors, and when nearly all had been fished out the sub chaser J-1 arrived and picked up the Master and other survivors. The men in critical conditions were taken into the chaser which dashed up to port while the motor boat rescued for its turn 82 men. Later these men were transferred to the escort destroyer Mariz & Barros.

Both arrived at Rio de Janeiro where adequate medical treatment existed. In the morning of 22/Jul/44, Mariz & Barros crossed the mouth of Guanabara Bay with 82 survivors. In all 99 men perished among officers and sailors.  Transport ship Vital de Oliveira also carried sailors and Brazilian Army soldiers from northern bases. The same traveled to Rio on liberty, license or medical care. 100 out of 245 of  the ship’s complement died in the sinking



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