Seven Years With the U.S. Merchant Marine
Charles Louis Seerveld recalls his time at sea

Charles Louis Seerveld grew up on New York's Long Island. Many of his relatives had made their living as fishermen. He first went to sea in July of 1938, shortly after graduating high school, Charles Seerveld was serving aboard a tanker, the SS India Arrow, when the United States was attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941. Less than eight weeks later, the India Arrow was torpedoed off the New Jersey coast, with the loss of 26 men, Charles Seerveld being one of just 12 survivors. One of those lost was Nicholas Hetz, of Camden NJ.

Charles Seerveld returned to service with the Merchant Marine, and by war's end had earned a chief mate's license. His travels took him literally around the world. Charles L. Seerveld retired from the Merchant Marine after the Japanese surrender in August of 1945, returning home to West Sayville, New York.

Charles Seerveld recently wrote of his experiences at sea, and this website is honored to be able to share them with you.

If you served aboard ship with Mr. Seerveld, please contact  me by e-mail.

Phil Cohen
Camden NJ
November 2005

In his own words.....
Click on images for enlarged and LEGIBLE views
Click on images for enlarged and LEGIBLE views
Click on images for enlarged and LEGIBLE views
Click on images for enlarged and LEGIBLE views
Click on images for enlarged and LEGIBLE views

The Sinking of the SS India Arrow - February 4, 1942


A 468' long tanker (sister ship to the Dixie Arrow, China Arrow -- also lost during WWII), the India Arrow was built at the Fore River Shipyard at Quincy MA in 1921. She was torpedoed by the U-103 and sunk on 4 February 1942 at position 38.48 N / 73.40 W. She was carrying a full load of 88.369 barrels of diesel oil to New York when the submarine ambushed the vessel late at night. While part of the Arrow immediately rested on the bottom, the ship refused to sink until the next day. 
    She now sits in 180' of water, intact and upside down, though canted to one side with a debris field strewn across the sand. Artifacts are abundant around the forward and stern superstructure areas. The India Arrow is an impressive wreck that has only been dove a few times recently. 

   The India Arrow was owned by the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company and operated out of New York. She was a 8,327 ton tanker with a draft of 38' 6". Her master on that voyage was Captain  Carl Samuel Johnson. She was not armed, and had no way of defending herself from attack.

   The India Arrow sailed from Corpus Christi, Texas, en route to Carteret, New Jersey. About thirty-five miles due east of Five Fathom Bank, the U-103 (Winter) intercepted the tanker. The India Arrow was steering a non-evasive course when the torpedo struck the starboard quarter at about the # 10 bunker. The ship caught fire and began to sink by the stem at a rapid rate. The radio operator sent a distress signal but not a position before the dynamo failed. Within three minutes the crew of nine officers and twenty-nine men began abandoning ship. Minutes later the U-103 started shelling the vessel from a distance of approximately 250 yards. The submarine fired seven shells at two- minute intervals, setting the after portion of the ship afire. The crew managed to launch successfully only one of the ship's four lifeboats. In a sea of blazing oil two other boats swamped, and the rapidly sinking tanker pulled the #2 boat beneath the water. Only one officer and eleven men survived, rescued by the twenty-four foot fishing skiff Gitana twelve miles off Atlantic City. Two men died as a result of the shelling, and the remaining men apparently drowned when the two boats swamped.


From the pages of
The Morning Post - Camden, N.J.  - Saturday February 7, 1942
Morning edition of the Camden Courier-Post

Survivors Picked Up by 2 Fisherman and Taken to Atlantic City 

       Atlantic City, Feb. 6- After more than 24 hours in a lifeboat, 12 survivors of the India Arrow, 8327 ton oil tanker that was torpedoed by an Axis submarine and sank 35 miles off the coast, were rescued and brought here today.
       Twenty-six other members of the crew, including Nicholas Hetz, 23, of 690 Ferry Avenue, are reported missing and believed to have been lost when the ship sank within 5 minutes after the U-boat fired its lethal charge into the engine room.
       So quickly did the India Arrow list and ship water that the radio operator had time only to flash one "SOS" before the dynamo went dead and the stern settled for the final plunge, as oil scattered by the explosion spread over the water and ignited, turning the scene into a veritable inferno.
       Captain Carl S. Johnson, 48, of New Port, Staten Island, told Coast Guards on his arrival here the submarine fired 5 shells into the tanker after the torpedo struck. He said, however, that the lifeboat in which the 12 men escaped was not molested. 

Ship Listed Quickly

       The India Arrow, owned by the Socony-Vacuum Company, was struck on the starboard side and quickly listed. Captain Johnson said that he was on the bridge at the time and gave the order to abandon ship. The crew sought the lifeboats, but only one was successfully launched.
       The tanker, northward bound, was the 17th ship to go down since the beginning of the war. The tanker was Malay was attacked but managed to make port. Thus far the U-boats have claimed more than 400 lives. 
       The men in the lifeboats were sighted by Frank D. Marshall, of 501 Carson Avenue, who operates a produce stand in Stratford in the Summer, and John Shorn of 2219 Fairmount Avenue, who were on a cod-fishing trip in Marshall's boat, the Gitana. Marshall took the survivors aboard and brought them to the Coast Guard station where, through the activities of Alexander Bolduc, chairman of the disaster committee, they were supplied with dry clothing. 
       The men in the lifeboat which Johnson commanded rigged a sail but they neither saw rescue craft nor were seen until just after dawn this morning- 24 hours after the striking- when Marshall's boat was sighted 20 miles south-southwest of Atlantic City light. 
      Johnson said that the lifeboat was well-supplied with water and biscuits, and the survivors had not been alarmed at anytime over the possibility of mot being found. 

Philadelphia Man Lost

      The Socony-Vacuum Company tonight listed the following members of the crew as missing:

Joseph Davis
Bronx, NY
Chief Officer
Arthur Lowe Brouillet
Holyoke, MA
Second Officer
James Winn
Brighton MA
Third officer
Erich Suderow
Staten Island, NY
Chief Engineer
Thomas E. Brittingham
Long Island, NY
First Assistant Engineer
Walter White
Staten Island, NY
Second Asst. Engineer
George Truitt
New York City, NY
Third Asst. Engineer
  Stanton E. Heater MMC
Cleveland, OH
Jr. Third Asst. Engineer
James S. Kerr
Arkabutla, MS
Edward P. Simonson
Philadelphia, PA
Robert Tucker
Riverside, RI
  Ernest D. Baldwin
Huntingdon Station, NY
Michael Schwartz
Brooklyn, NY
Harris Elinekas
New York City NY
Anthony Simon
Scranton, PA
  Henry J. Moody
Beaumont, TX
Joseph B. Anger
Port Arthur, TX
Oliver LeJeaune
Frisco, LA
Ira H. Buhrman
Baltimore, MD
  Karl F. Huhnergarth
Hoboken, NJ
Thomas F. Harris
Port Arthur, TX
Chief Cook
Thomas Nielson
Brooklyn, NY
Second Cook
Michael A. Finn
New York City, NY
  Nicholas Hetz
Camden, NJ
Rufus Alston
Corpus Christi, TX

        The list of survivors follows:

Dale I. Montgomery
Englewood, CA
N.J. Baugh
Alpaus, NY
Officer's Steward
Gordon Chambers
Bronx, NY
Edward Proehl
Jersey City, NJ
Officer's Steward
Michael Kusy
New York City, NY
Able Bodied Seaman
Fred Baker
Johns Island, SC
Sam Coulquitt
Madisonville, TX
Officer's Messman
A.C. Bradford, Jr.
Pine Bluff, AR
Charles Seerveld
Center Moriches, NY
Able Bodied Seaman
Edward J. Shear
Hammonton, IN
Bert Palmer
Sayville, NY
Carl S. Johnson
Staten Island, NY

Ready to Resume Jobs       

        The 12 survivors, after receiving care at the Coast Guard station, returned to New York. Arrangements for the transfer were made by a representative of the Socony-Vacuum Company, who arrived here this afternoon.
        Without exception, the men declared they were ready to return to sea on tankers as soon as new berths could be found for them.
        "On Wednesday night we were struck by a torpedo at 7 o'clock off the Jersey coast," said the captain.
        "I was on the bridge at the time. We launched a lifeboat and abandoned ship. The ship was struck on the starboard quarter and went down in five minutes. The torpedo hit in the No. 10 tank. I went off in the No. 1 lifeboat, and No. 2 may have been launched. There were four lifeboats on the ship, two of which did not get off."
        "Some men got out of the fire and the engine room. There were 12 men in my boat, including myself. I never saw anymore of the No. 2 lifeboat."

Sub Shelled Ship        

      "The submarine shelled the ship, but gave us a chance to get off. I did not see the submarine. there was no moon and it was a dark night. There were 38 men in our crew."
      "We were covered in oil. It was the first mate's watch when the torpedo struck. He went down to take charge of a lifeboat."
      "I think the engine room was flooded right away. Some of the men possibly could not get up the hatch."
      "The ship caught on fire before she went down. We sailed for shore, and 12 miles off Ocean City at 5:00 AM a fisherman brought us to the Coast Guard station at 8:55 this morning."
      "When we were in the lifeboat the sea was heavy and we had to fight the water and bail it out. On February 5th we set off flares but they were not noticed. A heavy fog hung across the ocean when we were rescued."

Ship Sent Out SOS

       "We transferred to the fishing boat. We had water and biscuits in the lifeboats. We got off an SOS before abandoning ship. Edward Shear was the radio operator. He is from Niagara Falls."
       "The ship went down stern first. I do not know if any of the crew was left on board. We could not see No. 2 lifeboat after the launching."
       "The ship caught fire immediately after the torpedo struck her from the starboard side. Oil spread out over the water and caught on fire for three or four hundred yards around when the ship sank. Fortunately we were clear of the fire on the water. I do not think No. 2 lifeboat got out at all. I saw four of the crew swimming in the water and then picked them up."
       "I have three children, two girls and a boy. One girl's name is Josephine and she is 9. Charlotte is 4. The boy, Carl, is 8. My wife's name is Charlotte."

In Navy In Last War

       "In have been with the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company since 1928. In the last war I was a lieutenant in the Navy and served overseas with the naval transport service.".
       "I have been a master of the Socony tankers for the last eight years and on the India Arrow for three weeks."
       "As soon as I get another ship I am going right out to sea again. I have been at sea for 34 years. I lost a ship in a hurricane south of Cuba in 1917. She was the Admiral Clark. I was second mate. Six of us got away on a life raft and after sitting on it for seven days and nights were finally picked up by a Swedish sailing ship. We lost 26 men." 
      "In 1926 I was second mate on another ship and rescued 23 men on a U.S. dredger that sank in New York harbor."

Saw U-Boat Surface

      Kusy, one of the survivors, gave a graphic description.
      "I was at the wheel when I first saw the outline or shadow of the submarine as the conning tower surfaced. Almost immediately the torpedo struck and I was knocked off my feet. I made my way to lifeboat No. 2 that had 20 men in it, but was not able to board it. I eluded the grasp of one of the mates and jumped overboard. Another fellow followed me. I barely left the ship when it heeled over to port and trapped all the men in that lifeboat."
       "I saw the bridge fall o0n the boat as the ship listed and took the men with it. I grabbed a floating hatch cover and was out of the way of the tanker when it sank. I saw my buddies go down."
       Montgomery declared the fog lifted for a short time while they were floating and they were able to see lights on the shore. He had been in the water 45 minutes before being picked up by the lifeboat.

Clung to Hatch Cover

        Baker declared:
        "I was in my cabin when the torpedo hit. It knocked me out of my chair. I waded through oil and bilge water, knee deep. The ship already was sinking. I jumped overboard, right after Kusy and by that time the gunwales were within four feet of the water. I came up 300 feet from the ship and found a floating hatch cover to which I clung until Captain Johnson and the lifeboat found me."
       Shear, the radio operator, recounted his attempts to get a call for help on the air.
       "I was reading when I felt the blow of the torpedo," he said. "I dashed to the radio room and sent out a message 'SOS-KDHP-Torpedo.' KDHP were my call letters and that was all I could get on the air. The captain yelled the position of the ship to me, but I could not hear him and I tried to radio the last known position, but I guess the radio was dead."
      "By that time the ship was sinking astern and water hit the dynamo. The lights went out and I tried to use the emergency radio set but that would not work, either. I rushed to the deck and met Captain Johnson , who threw the ship's papers to me. I dashed to lifeboat No. 1 where the Captain was trying to free one of the davits and I tossed the papers into the boat. Water was pouring into the lifeboat by that time due to the list of the ship. I jumped overboard and was picked up."

Rescue Described

       "Marshall, who is 60 years old, and has two daughters, Helen, 25, and Maud, 22, said he has been fishing out of Atlantic City for five years. He served an enlistment in the Navy from 1910 to 1914.
      "About 6:20 a.m. today while Jack Shore and I were fishing we saw what we thought was a flare through the fog'" he said. "We ported our helm for the position of the flash and 20 minutes later we found the lifeboat. Some of the men were barefooted, but when we took them on our boat, it was necessary to cut the shoes from two of them."
       "Three times this year I have had unusual experiences in fishing," Marshall continued. "The first time I was at sea when the Naval Patrol called for my papers and I found I left them ashore. I had to return for them. The second time, it began to snow and drove me to shore. But on this trip, although I didn't get any fish, I picked up the most valuable cargo my little boat has ever carried."
       Shore said when they managed to get the survivors aboard the Gitana, they gave them hot coffee and whiskey, but the sailors refused to eat, preferring to wait until they landed. They smoked five packs of cigarettes on the way to shore, he said.
       Captain Johnson, Shore said, would not permit them to assist him until each of his men was given care. 
      The India Arrow's home port was New York, She was 458 feet long with a beam of 63 feet and was built in 1921 at Quincy, Mass.

        Left are shown survivors of the torpedoed tanker, India Arrow, after they were given food and clothing at the Atlantic City Coast Guard station. In front is N.J. Baugh. Seated, left to right are A.C. Bradford, Jr., D.I. Montgomery, Captain Carl S. Johnson, Michael Kusy, Bert Palmer; standing, left to  right, Edward Proehl, Fred H. Baker, Edward J. Shear, Sam Coulquitt, Gordon Chambers. The twelfth survivor, Charles Seerveld, is not in the picture.