On 12 April 1942, the German U-boat U-558 stood out from Brest, France, to begin her seventh war patrol. Exactly one month later, her reign of terror began when she sank the British armed trawler HMT Bedfordshire, which was assisting the United States Navy with antisubmarine patrols off the coast of North Carolina. Between 18 and 21 May, U-558 sank three more vessels, all steamers; the first belonged to Holland, the second to Canada, and the third to the United States. She tried to sink a fifth vessel, an American tanker, near Jamaica on the twenty-third, but the target survived despite being torpedoed. Two days later the submarine was more successful, sinking an American merchant with her deck gun. On 27 May, U-558 set her sights on the United States Army transport ship JACK, sending her quickly to the bottom. She sank her final victim, a Dutch steamer, on 2 June before returning to Brest.
Meanwhile, USS GRUNION (SS-216), launched on 22 December 1941 and commissioned on 11 April 1942, was completing her shakedown off the coast of New London, CT. On 24 May, testing complete, she stood out to sea on her way to Pearl Harbor. The first entries in her patrol report are fairly routine, describing contacts with other ships. Then, on 31 May, as the boat was crossing the Caribbean Sea toward the Panama Canal: “At 1355 (Lat. 15-55 N., Long. 75-05 W.) sighted life boat with sixteen survivors from U.S.A.T JACK, reported by them to have been sunk in latitude 17-36 N., longitude 74-42 W., at 0448, Wednesday 27 May 1942, by a submarine. Survivors picked up by this vessel reported thirteen others adrift in two life rafts. At 1445, 16 survivors aboard, changed course to investigate reported area of sinking in an effort to pick up remaining survivors. …At 2200 arrived at scene of sinking and commenced search for survivors….”
The thirteen men would never be found, although GRUNION crisscrossed the waters around the site of the sinking for more than ten hours. The boat continued on, arriving at Coco Solo, an American submarine base in the Panama Canal Zone, on 3 June. She left JACK’s survivors there and proceeded to Pearl Harbor, arriving seventeen days later.
Sadly, GRUNION would follow JACK to the bottom less than two months after the transport went down. Learn more about her loss in tomorrow’s “Tidbit.”