The explosion and sinking happened within three minutes, so rapidly in fact that the Escanaba never signaled its plight. ... The Storis, two miles away, heard no explosion but saw a large sheet of flame and dense black and yellow smoke rise from the Escanaba. The Storis, at the back of the convoy, received orders to investigate and the tug Raritan was ordered to pick up survivors. Storis began a sound search for a U-boat as the Raritan steamed to the last known position of Escanaba. ... The men clinging to the wreckage had been in the water for only minutes when Raritan arrived to pick them up. BM2 Melvin Baldwin, and Raymond O'Malley, however, were the only men rescued alive. The rest of the crew died in the explosion or from hypothermia in the 39 degree water. In fact, both Baldwin and O'Malley had passed out before the Raritan could rescue them. It is likely that the sole reason that these two lived is that their clothing froze to the strongback, keeping them from slipping into the water and sure death. O'Malley, who was helmsman at the time stated that a noise which sounded like three or four bursts of 20 mm machine gun fire was clearly heard in the pilot house immediately preceding the explosion. He further stated that such firing on Escanaba was virtually impossible and no other ship was sufficiently close at the time to have done such firing. ... One remote but possible explanation would be the hydrophone effect of a torpedo heard thru the loud speaker, which was connected and clearly audible in the pilothouse. The most probable explanation is that a mine, torpedo or internal explosion of magazine and depth charges caused the loss, but the evidence is not sufficiently conclusive to attach a cause directly or even remotely to any of these.Baldwin, lay asleep two decks below when the explosion occurred. Blown out of his bunk he headed topside but found it difficult due to the extensive structural damage. ... Baldwin was one of the few lucky men from below to reach the deck. He reached the main deck but the ship settled so fast that as he headed forward, water struck him from behind and sucked him down with the ship. He managed to swim to the surface and saw a few men on a strongback a hundred yards away.
Sunday, June 13, 1943
Explosion off coast of Greenland