THE DAY AFTER
Thanksgiving in 1943, the HMT Rohna, a British transport ship carrying
American soldiers, was hit by a German-guided bomb and sank off the coast
of North Africa.
One thousand fifteen
American troops died that afternoon. The memories haunt the survivors of
the greatest loss at sea of U.S. personnel in World War II.
“I was glancing over where the bomb had hit and where
there had been soldiers there was just a pile of ashes,” said Al
Stephanoni who had never learned to swim and fought to stay afloat. “There
were bodies strewn here and there.”
Caskey lost his five closest friends.
of them were yelling for their mothers, ‘Mama, mama,’” he said, “and a lot
of them were yelling, praying.”
The packed ship - almost
2,000 on board altogether — was part of a convoy bringing troops to Burma
when 35 enemy aircraft attacked.
arsenal included a secret weapon.
this projectile coming toward us,” said survivor Bob Brewer. “It looked
like a kamikaze-type thing happening, but of course it was a guided
missile being controlled by the bombardier on the aircraft above.”
The blast tore
truck-sized holes on both sides of the ship and knocked out the engine
room. More than 300 men died instantly.
did arrive - an incredible rescue effort under constant air attack. In
15-foot seas the USS Pioneer, a minesweeper, rescued 606
“Out of nowhere that ship could
have risen from the deep sea,” said Stephanoni, “or fallen out of the sky
and a sailor threw me a rope.”
sinking ranks as one of the worst maritime disasters in history, but
wartime censorship blacked out the news.
“Hundreds never knew of their sons, their husbands, their brothers,
their uncles,” said Brewer.
prevent the Germans from knowing just how successful their guided bomb had
been, the blackout kept the tragedy shrouded in secrecy for 57
“We are survivors,” Brewer said. “We
lived to tell about it, to tell the public at large that it happened. A
lot of people don’t believe it ever happened.”
Brewer and other survivors mounted a crusade to remember the men on
Finally, in October this year,
Congress officially recognized the heroes of the Rohna, a tragedy in which
1,015 GIs lost their lives 57 years ago.