The Only Survivor Tells the Story of the Torpedoing of the ATLANTIC SUN
 
    Standing at the crowded rail of the MS GRIPSHOLM on February 20,
1945 as it entered New York Harbor was William Golobich, 23, ordinary
seaman. He gazed at the Statue of Liberty. He was silent and emotion
showed on his face. The men who lined the rail weren't his old
shipmates and the ship wasn't the vessel on which he left America. He
had left on the ATLANTIC SUN. He alone survived. This is his story.

   I came off watch at 0400 on Monday, February 15 and went to my
quarters on the port side, aft, to get some sleep. About 1000 that
morning, I was awakened by a jarring sensation as if an extra large
wave had hit the ship. The ship seemed to quiver, i got up, dressed
and put on my life preserver. The engines had slowed down and the ship
was very silent. I raced up on deck and when I arrived I saw a sight
I'll never forget. The ship was cut in half with the forward end
inclined about 60 degrees with the surface of the water. There was a
large gash in the extreme end of the bow. The midship house was
already almost entirely submerged. The men there never had a chance
to escape.

    The after half of the vessel remained on an even keel. The
starboard boat was safely launched in charge of the Chief Mate. This
boat contained 22 men both Navy and crew members. The rest of us
remained on board. We did not try to launch the port boat because it
was on the weather side and would have been difficult to launch. About
25 minutes after i got on deck, the bow reached a perpendicular
position and slowly sank. About 2 hours later, the men in the lifeboat
returned aboard, cold and wet from spray. They went below to change
their clothes and drink hot coffee. The Chief Engineer and others
inspected the engines and there was talk of backing the stern section
to the nearest port.

    About a half hour after the lifeboat returned, the steward spotted
another torpedo headed directly toward us on the port side. We raced
to the starboard rail and braced ourselves. The torpedo struck about
15 feet forward of the stern post on the port side. The ship started
down by the stern. I ran to the port lifeboat and started to do what i
could to launch it. By this time some men were coming up from below.
Somebody tried to help me but we could not get the boat launched. Then
I thought of my exposure suit which I had brought up on deck with me.
When I went to look for it, the suit was gone, blown away by the
explosion. Suddenly the sea threw me against the starboard rail. As
there was no chance of getting back to the port lifeboat and we were
sinking fast, I went over the side. As I swam away from the ship, I
figured I had about 2 hours to live and I mentally said good-bye to my
folks and friends at home.

    Then a ring buoy floated by and I grabbed it and attached it to my
shoulders. When i was about 30 yards from the stern section, it began
to turn over. Soon after, it turned over and lay keel up before it
sank. I also caught a glimpse of the port lifeboat. Somehow they had
gotten away from the ship.

    The water was cold -- about 32 degrees and the air about 25
degrees. I made for the lifeboat and when I reached it I found 8 men
aboard. The boat had no oars and was waterlogged. Their situation was
pretty desperate as they were sitting in water waist high and they
were soaking wet. The eight men in the boat were: Henry Miller, 1st
Engineer; Wallace Horton, 3rd Engineer; Robert Burger, AB; William
Guilford, Steward; Donald Winey, OS; Louis Rose, Fireman; Andrew
Kokoska, Oiler; and Harry Belfer, Wiper.

    After about a half hour in the water, I was exhausted so I
grasped the side of the boat and rested. Then I noticed my legs were
growing numb. Suddenly the sub surfaced about 25 yards away. Out of
the conning tower popped a German officer and four or five of the
crew. The officer was pointing a machine gun at us. For a moment we
thought he was going to use it. He asked the name of our ship. He was
told and then the men in the lifeboat asked for oars and help from the
sub, to make the lifeboat more seaworthy. But the sub left and began
cruising around where the tanker had gone down. After a few minutes
the sub returned and came to within 25 yards of the boat. The men in
the boat again pleaded for oars and some help.

    In desperation I let go of the boat and swam toward the sub. I was
nearly all in but I had in mind getting close to the sub and asking
for assistance that might have meant life for our surviving band.
I recall reaching the sub, climbing aboard, and walking toward the
conning tower. Then I blacked out. When i came to, I was below deck on
the sub with some of the German crew taking off my soaked clothes and
massaging me. As I gradually regained my senses, I asked the captain
of the sub about the 8 men in the boat. He told me he couldn't do
anything for them. He informed me i was going to Germany as a
prisoner of war.

    During my 23 days on the sub I was not mistreated. The captain
revealed to me that his first torpedo missed my ship. The second
struck the bow and the third crashed into the tanker at or near the
pump room, just aft of midship. The fourth sank the stern section.

    I was put ashore on March 9 at St. Nazaire, France and sent by
rail to Wilhelmshaven where I was kept 12 days. I spent the next 22
months at Milag Nord, about 20 miles northeast of Bremen. It was a
detention camp for merchant seamen. Of the 3000 prisoners there, about
60 were Americans.

    On January 15, 1945 I was on my way to freedom with most of the
other Americans and some British seamen. We were sent home by way of
Geneva, Switzerland and Marseilles, France.At Marseilles, we boarded
the GRIPSHOLM and left on February 9 and arrived at New York on
February 21, 1945.

    The men of the ATLANTIC SUN went to their end with calmness and
great bravery. They died in the service of their country.

William Golobich

 As published in OUR SUN May 1, 1945.
 
 

Copyright 2007 by Minor W. Kates, Jr. - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED