A Pan Massachusetts Sailor's Story 

Reprinted Courtesy of Mr. William Cook of the Bangor Public Library Bangor, Maine

Recently SeaWolf Productions and the Association of Underwater Explorers assisted the Bangor Public Library with a special exhibit to place Mr. Aubrey Withee in the Bangor Book of Honor.  The book honors Bangor, Maine citizens who sacrificed their lives in action in World War II.

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         Atlantic War Zone Medal

 

 

 

 

 

 

        

 

 

 

        World War II Victory Medal

                    Merchant Marine Service Medal

US Merchant Marine Combat Bar

Awarded to Merchant Seamen who served on a ship attacked or damaged during WW II.  A silver star is attached each time the seaman was forced to abandon ship.

  "BATTLIN' PETE" Walt Disney Merchant Marine Emblem-designed 1944. 

 

AUBREY WITHEE

  U. S. Merchant Marine  

                         Killed in Action 19 February 1942                        

 

Aubrey Francis Withee was born in Milo Junction in 1908.  The family moved to Bangor, Maine and Aubrey lived there until the 1930’s.  He attended Bangor High School and later worked as a truck driver.  He moved to Brooklyn, NY, married Lena Walsh and on 20 April 1940 joined the Merchant Marine.  On the 23rd of April he signed on board the Tanker S.S. Watertown as a mess steward.  He sailed on the Watertown for seven voyages in 1940.  In January 1941 He signed aboard the S.S. Halo as a Wiper.  A wiper is a rating in the “black gang” or engine room.  A wiper was responsible for keeping the Engine room clean and free from oil or fuel that might cause a fire or an accident on the metal floors or stairs.  On 3 March 1941 Withee shipped aboard the S.S. Agrvidale for one voyage, then at the end March went to the S.S. Choluteca.  He joined the crew of the S.S. Uruguay on the 8th of April.  He sailed on the Uruguay till 30 June; he was promoted to Fireman at the end of the voyage. 

In February of 1942 Aubrey Withee signed on with National Bulk Carriers, Inc. and was assigned aboard the S.S. Pan Massachusetts as a wiper.  The Ship left New York for Texas on or about 5 Feb 1942.  She landed at Texas City, Texas and took on a load of gasoline and oil, then embarked on the return voyage to New York.  At 1344 hours on 19 February, about 20 miles east of Cape Canaveral (28.27N x 80.08W) two torpedoes from the U-128 hit the ship amidships just forward of the engine room. Working in the engine room, Withee probably never knew what hit him.  The ship did not explode because the tanks were full, however the explosion showered the ship with flaming gasoline.  All the lifeboats and rafts were burned either in the water or at their davits.  The survivors made their way forward where they lowered a heavy hawser over the bow.  The crewman would slide down the hawser whenever there was a space in the flaming sea, and swim underwater till they were free of the flames.  Many of the crewmen never came up.  The British tanker “Elizabeth Massey” was nearby and came to the rescue.  She lowered a lifeboat and it was making way towards the stricken tanker when the U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender FORWARD arrived on the scene.  The Forward took on the lifeboat and picked up survivors and bodies.  The bodies were taken aboard the Forward and the survivors aboard the Elizabeth Massey.  The rescues ships put in at Jacksonville.  There were 18 survivors and 20 were lost.  

On 19 January 1988, American Merchant Marine sailors during the period December 7, 1941 to August 15, 1945 were officially recognized as active duty veterans by the Department of Veterans affairs.  Aubrey Withee was awarded:  Atlantic War Zone Bar, Combat Bar (with star), Honorable Service Button, Mariners Medal, Merchant Marine Service Emblem, Presidential Testimonial Letter and the Victory Medal, all posthumously. 

 

THE SHIP 

S.S. PAN MASSACHUSETTS

Built 1919 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation, Union Iron Works, Alameda, California. 

Originally laid down as the WAR CAPE, Launched as the TRIUMPH in January 1919 for the U.S. Shipping Board. 

In 1929 the TRIUMPH was modernized and converted for the U. S. Maritime Commission.  An additional 16 feet were added to the vessel. 

In 1938 the TRIUMPH was purchased by National Bulk Carriers Inc. of New York City, and converted to serve as a tanker.  The conversion moved her engines aft making room for the tanks amidships.  Her gross tonnage increased to 8,202gt.  At this time she was renamed the PAN MASSACHUSETTS. 

                        Displacement:  Originally 7,588 gross tons, as Pan Massachusetts 8,202 gross tons.                          Dimensions:  Length: Originally 440 ft, Later 456.1 ft, Beam 56 ft, Depth 35.4 ft.. 

Crew: 38                            Captain:  Robert E Christy

 

THE U-BOAT 

U-128    

Built:  Laid down 10 July 1940, AG Wesser, Bremen , commissioned  May 12 1941.   

Type IXc -  Long range attack boat.  54 commissioned.  Displacement: 1120 tons surface, 1232 tons submerged.  Length 252 ft, beam22.3 ft, draught,15.4ft.  Engines: two MAN Diesel 2,200 HP, two electric SSW 500 hp.  Speed 18.3 kts surfaced, 7.3 kt submerged. Range: 11,000 nm surfaced, 63nm submerged.  Armament:  4 bow tubes, two stern tubes, 22 torpedoes. 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

The U-128 was based at Lorient, in the South of France and made six wartime patrols.  From 12 May 1941 to 30 November 1941 the U-128 was part of 2 Flottille (Training) then  from 1 Dec 1941 to 17 May 1943 operated with 2 Flottille as the front boat. 

LCDR Ulrich Heyse was U-128 first Commanding Officer.  Korvettenkapitan Ulrich Heyse was born in 1906.  He assumed command of the U-128 upon commissioning and was commander until 28 Feb 1943.  He was awarded the Knights Cross on 21 January 1943, and assigned to shore duties.  He died in 1970.  On the U-128’s second patrol they sighted the Pan Massachusetts off the Florida coast and sank her with two torpedoes.  The gasoline laden tanker was Heyse’s first kill.  Two days later he sank the “CITIES SERVICE EMPIRE” not far from his first kill.  These were the first of many sinkings off the Florida Coast.

On 1 March 1943 Kapitanleutenant Hermann Steinert was given command of the 128.  Under his command the   U-boat was sunk May 17, 1943  south of Pernambuco Brazil by a Martin Mariner aircraft from VP-74, the USS Moffet (DD-362) and the USS Jouett (DD-396).  Seven of the crew were lost and forty-seven captured.  

THE WRECK  

On June 16, 2001 the wreck of the Pan Massachusetts was found by AUE (Association of Underwater Explorers) divers.  The wreck is locally known as the “copper wreck”.  She lies in about 300 feet of water off Port Canaveral, Florida.  The wreck is in two pieces, the bow is flush with the sand and is upside-down, and the anchor is tight in its hawse pipe.  There are a number of large holes in the port side that allow entry into the holds.  The interior is adorned with Oculina coral.  The stern section has not been visited as yet. 

Copyright SeaWolf Productions 2002