Daily Event for June 6, 2012

The Liberty ship William King was built in 1942 at New England Shipbuilding in South Portland, Maine. Launched on Oct. 21, 1942 and when completed ten days later, on Halloween day, she was handed over to the Marine Transport Lines Inc. of New York. After making voyages to Cuba she worked her way into the Indian Ocean. Her last voyage began at Bahrain on May 14, 1943 where she loaded 18,000 barrels of fuel oil, she departed that day for Cape Town unescorted.

During the voyage she was redirected to Durban by the Admiralty, a second signal redirecting her again was not picked up by her radio operator (he heard his call sign, but interference prevented him from understanding the message, the ship's master, Owen H. Reed, did not want to break radio silence to have the message resent).

During a daylight attack on June 6, 1943 about 200 miles east of Durban the William King was hit by a torpedo on her port side, the explosion ripped open her hull, destroyed two lifeboats and killed thee men, a forth was blown overboard and never seen again. It also destroyed the port boiler, wrecked the wheel and disabled the radio therefore no distress signal could be sent. A second torpedo fired about 30 minutes later was observed passing just astern of the ship.

The crew abandoned the ship in two lifeboats and a couple of rafts, but according to some sources the master and the U.S. Navy Armed Guard remained aboard to take the attacker under fire. The submarine fired a third eel about 20 minutes later which sank the ship stern first just a couple of minutes after hitting her. Because of the cargo of oil the ship had been on fire since the first torpedo struck, flames had even erupted from the ventilation system. Several of the crew had been injured and two would die from their wounds in the boats. Before the ship sank the master and the twenty-three U.S. Navy Armed Guard got off and into the boats and rafts, from one of the lifeboats a distress signal was sent using the auxiliary radio.

Shortly after the ship went down Kapitän zur See Werner Hartmann surfaced in U-198 to interrogate the survivors. He hailed the lifeboats and ordered them to come alongside the submarine, a few rounds from the machine gun fired in the direction of the lifeboats sent a stern warning to the survivors that they were to obey his orders with haste. Hartmann spoke English and ordered the master aboard the U-boat, he asked the normal questions, ship's name, cargo and destination, the papers had of course been tossed overboard in a weighted box so as not to fall into the hands of the enemy. The fifty-seven survivors were released and left to their fate, Captain Reed remained a prisoner on U-198. Reed joined Chief Engineer Henry T. Graham of the British freighter Dumra, and Second Officer Alexander S. Flett of the British freighter Hopetarn, both sunk earlier by Hartmann, as prisoners of the German Reich.

The men in the boats could do nothing but hope that they would be picked up, and before they were found one of the lifeboats had become separated. The anti-submarine trawler HMS Northern Chief picked up one lifeboat and the two rafts a day and a half later, the remaining lifeboat was not found until June 12 when it was picked up by HMS Relentless H-85. One man, the Chief Engineer, died of burns before reaching shore, the remaining survivors were landed at Durban.

Captain Reed however was not so lucky, he and the two others were transferred to the supply ship Charlotte Schliemann on June 26 and in August were handed over to the Japanese at Batavia, Java. Reed and Graham were both killed in the hell ship Junyo Maru on Sept. 18, 1944 when it was sunk by HMS Tradewind P-329. Flett survived the war and in May of 1946 was awarded the M.B.E., some sources claim he was taken to
France in U-198 and was held at Milag Nord, but this seems to be incorrect.

Hartmann, following this patrol, went on to become Chief of U-boats Mediterranean, during his career he sent 26 ships (over 115,000 tons) to the bottom. He was awarded the Ritterkreuz and later Oak Leaves were added, he died in 1963. U-198 was sunk with all hands on her next patrol.
© 2012 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Honor
In memory of those who lost their lives in
SS William King
"Their names are forever etched into history as American Patriots"

Barbour, Frank P.
2nd Engineer
Bogardus, Henry J.
Engine Cadet
Boston, Raymond
Fireman / Watertender
Dow, Ferinand P.
Chief Engineer
Eatherton, Robert D.
Ordinary Seaman
Novack, William S.
Ordinary Seaman
Reed, Owen H.
Died of wounds June 9 in HMS Northern Chief.
Died in Junyo Maru Sept. 18, 1944.

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July 10, 2020

I recently read with interest the posting about the SS William King. It mentions a cruise to the Caribbean and then into the Indian Ocean. I would like to find more details on the operational history of the William King. Do you have any suggestions of where I might find information about sailing details. I realize that any ships logs would have been lost in the sinking, but perhaps there are resources of sailing orders.

My particular interest in this ship is because one of the six casualties was my uncle, Raymond Boston. I am currently building a model of a Liberty ship in his memory. Although almost all males on both sides of my parents families served in WWII, thankfully there was only the one fatality.

Thank you for any help,
Dudley Foster