I wrote this draft post in September 2009, but I never got around to post it before today.
Full speed ahead!
The sole survivor of the St. Croix, Stoker W. A. Fisher, told his story in a newspaper account:
(Winnipeg Free Press 1 October 1943)
Survivor Of St. Croix Tells Of Destruction
By LLEWELLYN McKENZIE
New York, Oct. 1 (Special) The sole survivor of a torpedo attack in the Atlantic, which claimed the lives of 146 Canadian seamen in the sinking of the Canadian destroyer St. Croix during a 10-day running fight with a pack of enemy U-boats, told his story today. He is William Allan Fisher, 23, former Turner Valley, Alberta, oil driller.
Able Seaman Fisher told his story from a British naval receiving station in Brooklyn. He was brought there in a merchant ship which rescued him after his first first rescue ship was sent to the bottom. Fisher is waiting a 30-day leave which will him back to his 20-year old wife, Marie Louise, in Black Diamond, Alberta. His left foot was hurt during the sea battle.
“We were part of an escort detailed to a large convoy,” Stoker W. A. Fisher related. “We received a signal that submarines were about. We stayed astern of the convoy, but on September 20, we had to come up and take on oil from a tanker in the convoy. On our way back to our position we saw a Canadian four-motored Liberator signalling us. We were told that they had spotted a submarine and dropped depth charges. We flashed two boilers and made for the spot at 24 knots. As we neared, we had to reduce speed. As we slowed up we were hit in the screws.” Fisher said there was no panic and no one thought of abandoning ship. “But in two minutes another torpedo struck, this time near the mess deck, and water began to pour in,” he went on. “The captain, Lieutenant Commander Dobson, then issued orders to abandon ship.” That was just before 8 o’clock and dusk was gathering and a slight wind blew even though the sea was calm.
Some men were injured by the explosions which followed the torpedoes, some were burned and cut. They were put in the motor launch before it was lowered over the side. The motor boat pulled away. Meanwhile attempts were made to lower a 60-passenger oar-driven whaler. Two attempts resulted in two large holes being gouged into the bottom of the whaler. Carley floats were dumped over the side and the men began jumping into the water. “No one seemed worried then,” Fisher related. “Many of the crew laughed that they would be due for 29 day survivors’ leave.” The rowboat pulled away from the sinking destroyer, and picked men out of the water. “Even then I thought the ship would be saved,” Fisher said. “Then I saw the captain dive off the boat. I knew everyone was off then and that the captain had given up hope.”
As Lieutenant Commander Dobson headed for the motor boat, he saw two men struggling in the water. He towed them to Carley floats and then made for the rowboat. Fisher was in charge of the motor boat. “No one in the boats died during the night,” the survivor went on. “It was morning that everything happened. Men on the Carley floats insisted on getting into the rowboat. As the men got in. it settled lower in the water. Just before the rescue ship came along, it sank. The whaler did not have any injured men aboard. They were oil-grimed and cold. I saw men who were tough, big men. They hung out all night in the hope a boat would pick them up. Then when the boat did not come into view they died. I guess they couldn’t hang out any longer. We dropped them into the sea.”
Sixty men were still alive on the whaler. The ship which headed to their rescue was the Royal Navy frigate ITCHEN, completed last September. As the frigate steamed through the lifting morning mist, the men in the whaler received the signal that the ITCHEN would come directly to their rescue. As the ITCHEN neared, a torpedo was seen to explode 30 yards to her stern. A message was flashed to the Polyanthus, a corvette of the Flower class, to come out of the convoy escort and circle the ITCHEN while the men were taken aboard. “The Polyanthus was just coming in and she was struck,” Fisher said. “I guess she went down in about 10 minutes. We rescued 10 men in our whaler. The ITCHEN headed for the convoy,” Fisher went on. “Some of us were given jobs to do. I did watch. On September 2, two days after we were rescued, we were ordered to our action stations because submarines were around. We had three orders. The first started at 6 at night. There was another one at 7 and again at 9. At 9 o’clock I was standing beside the funnel when a torpedo struck. I was knocked 30 feet and landed against a gun platform. As I crawled toward the rail I kept yelling for my pal, Stoker Rod MacKenzie, of Sydney. MacKenzie had been torpedoed six times before. He didn’t answer and I jumped over the side. As I hit the water there was another explosion and I felt that my stomach was being squeezed through my ears. The water just cracked,” said Fisher. When he reached down to tug off his boots, his left boot was missing. It had been blown off. Fisher grabbed a board and looked to see other men jumping from the ship. Most of them drowned. A Carley float drifted by and Fisher jumped on. During the night others jumped on, but most of them died.
©1996-2004 – The Naval Museum of Manitoba – 1 Navy Way – Winnipeg Manitoba – R3C 4J7