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U-486 second torpedo finds its target

January 15, 2015

The best version I have of our uncle Carl’s demise would place him in a lower compartment near the stern of the SS Leopoldville, compartment F4, according to survivor Bill Loughborough.  When the torpedo detonated  many died outright.  Those who survived faced the wall of seawater that flooded their compartment to the ceiling.  The wooden decks that had been constructed in the hold collapsed and timbers, men and equipment ended up tangled together.  Men were trapped, pinned down by the weight of the remains of compartments overhead.  Some screamed with pain.  A witness said one in his company washed out the side of the ship through the hole made by the torpedo and subsequently rescued.  Sounds apocryphal, but entertaining.

Back to my story of Carl and his death December 24, 1944.  Nobody said they saw what happened to him, although his friend Bill Moomey had been with him in compartment F4 where Compan

Bill Moomey

Bill Moomey, who died last year, was a close friend of Carl’s. He credited Carl with saving his life because the 66th Division had been devastated by the torpedo that struck the SS Leopoldville Christmas Eve, 1944. The 66th was assigned to the cost of France to contain German submariners in their bunkers.

y E, 262nd Infantry Regiment, was quartered.  Bill did not say whether Carl was one of those vomiting after the unappetizing meal of “slop,” but the nauseated ones went up on deck.  Perhaps Carl was still exhausted from the all-night travel to Southampton Port.  Perhaps his vomiting drove Bill topside for air.

in 2006 Bill, his wife Doris, and their friends treated me gently and kindly when I met them at their reunion in Sarasota, Florida.  Because of their extremely considerate behavior towards me and each other, I had to wonder if they kept hard information from me.  Many published first-hand accounts of the torpedo attack said soldiers cried in pain as the seawater level rose, stopping their suffering.  Possibly our Uncle Carl died that way if the blast didn’t kill him.  According to the stories those in pain did not necessarily die quickly because the ship didn’t sink for about 2 hours.  Less likely, perhaps Uncle Carl somehow swam to a ladder and made it to an upper deck with the hundreds of other soldiers.  Some of these would later drown when the ship sunk, some would die of hypothermia.  A few would die from getting cut by the props of the few rescue boats that eventually reached the freezing soldiers.  A survivor told how he saw a body floating in his life vest with a bloody stump of a neck with tubes sticking out.  Possibly that person—he was somebody’s son!  I won’t finish this thought.  Together, nearly 400 died in the water Christmas Eve.  These were soldiers who survived the blast but were not rescued when the ship sunk.

When I interviewed Carl’s buddies in Sarasota Al Salata said that he escaped the sinking Leo by climbing down a rope net and stepping onto a rescue ship, the SS Brilliant.  Mr. Salata was a senior enlisted man in 1944, about 10 years older than the others.  He was older than 90 when I met him, but his memory seemed sharp.  The other survivors, Hank Anderson and Bill Moomey, both jumped 20 feet down to the Brilliant.  Other published accounts said the sailors below piled canvas hammocks and some broke their fall by catching them somehow, team fashion.

Al Salata was memorable to me for a number of reasons besides his age.  The second day of the Company E reunion Bob Carroll, a soldier who crossed the channel on the HMS Cheshire, took us to a museum in a passenger van that he had rented.  Al was the front passenger and I watched him buckle his seatbelt.  His hand held the male end of the buckle for perhaps 10 seconds, poised to put it home.  He didn’t move.  And he didn’t move.  I asked Al if he wanted me to help him.  “No.”  Then he clicked it shut in one smooth action.  Al’s wife Mary accompanied him to the reunion.  Bob, Al, and Mary all died within two years after I met them.

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