Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
On the bitter cold morning of February 3, 1943, the passenger ship, S.S. Dorchester, was steaming in convoy nearing the frozen coast of Greenland. The 902 souls aboard depended on convoy procedure and three small Coast Guard cutters to protect them from the ravening wolf packs of U-boats, still dominating the North Atlantic. The servicemen, merchant seamen, and civilian workers were destined for a critical support base in Greenland, so were only 150 miles from safe harbor. It was then, in the pre-dawn darkness, that a torpedo slammed into the hull, deep below the waterline.
A diligent sonar operator on a sister ship, the Tampa, had alerted the convoy of suspicious sonar contact. Dorchester’s civilian captain had ordered everyone into life vests, but too many of the young men failed to act, lacking effective unit leadership. The U-boat surfaced and fired a spread of three torpedoes, one of which struck home with devastating effect. We know of this from post-war records from the U-boat command. The ship, an old coastal steamer, was going down rapidly. The ship’s radio was knocked out, but one cutter saw the blast and came charging to the rescue with another, while the third shepherded the rest of the convoy to safe harbor.
The convoy had been short enough, or the civilian captain insufficiently steeped in the need for military emergency drills, that the crew and passengers were stumbling and panicky in their response. Life vests still needed to be handed out, and the limited lifeboats needed to be successfully lowered and filled. Into the chaos stepped four men, not one of them a combat officer. Indeed, they were all four junior Army chaplains, holding the military rank of lieutenant: Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed. The four men must have berthed together, as they suddenly acted as a unit.