I would like to thank, Ted Treacher, Tom Kelso, Peter Raymond, Derek Ings, John Robertson and finally Dave Mitchell who all assisted in collating much of the material used.
In attempt to reach a balanced opinion on events, which took place on The 26th of November 1943, I think it imperative that all available information is accessible, therefore as more documentation is sent to our Merchant Navy Officers site I feel it must be seen in its entirety as opposed to selected items. The pursuant of profit and manipulation of the truth have clouded the issue for far too long, needless suffering being the only tangible result.
What follows are various statements and interviews conducted by the relative American authorities in 1943, 1945 (at the time these were deemed TOP SECRET ) and the House of Congress, 10th October 2000.
On the morning of the 26th boat drill was not satisfactory. Another boat drill was held at 4 p.m., it was satisfactory, and men reported to the proper stations. At about 4.30 p.m., a ship buzzer sounded one long blast indicating an air raid. All men, instructed by Officers, went below deck that being the standard ships orders. I was on the Promenade Deck and observed a number of near misses on other ships in the convoy.
At about 5.15 I noticed what I thought was a disabled pursuit ship ( plane? ) heading towards our ship. It looked as though it was going to fly ahead of us and above the ship. Suddenly it made a turn to the right and then I commenced to run from the Port Side to the Starboard Side of the ship. When I reached the Starboard Side debris was falling all over. I went back Aft and looked into No. 6 troop deck. Badly injured men were coming out of the troop deck, the hold seemed to be on fire and some of the stairway had been knocked down. I went to the bridge and asked the Captain of the ship if we should go to boat stations. He states, " Yes ", and I passed the word along by word of mouth because the ships signal system was out of order. I then went to the Master asking him if we should abandon ship, he stated to hold on for awhile we might float yet.
Someone Aft of the ship gave the order to throw over life rafts while the ship was still moving.( This could not have been a Ships Officer, the order from an Officer would have been, first to abandon ship verbally and then it would have been the lifeboats that were lowered first, the crew only spoke Hindustani or Goanese, some English was spoken, limited in its extreme ) Finally the Captain of the ship gave the order to abandon ship. The Indian Seamen aboard lowered the lifeboat (note one, and this would have contained a small percentage of the crew, the action though still unforgivable) and rowed away. I did not see them lower any others. Some of the Enlisted Men tried to lower the lifeboats. (This act had an affect on how many of the G.I.'s were to drown) A number lowered one end first and it capsized when they hit the water (Four in all ) I tried to get all the men over board with their life jackets on, and not to bother with the boats after I saw what was happening.
When approximately all of the men had left the ship from the forward deck and the Promenade deck I went back Aft. Practically all of the men except Medical Personnel who were attending the wounded had abandoned ship.
There were a great many wounded laying on the deck and below in the troop deck which were afire. I went down the cargo net and swam to the minesweeper Pioneer which was standing about five hundred yards to the Port side, the leeward side of the Rohna. When I arrived there were a number of men fighting to get aboard and pushing heads of others under the water. The minesweeper Pioneer continued to pick up personnel till about 2 o'clock in the morning when Commander Rogers told me he had orders to proceed and rejoin the convoy with the SS Glencampbell and the British destroyer Atherstone.
When we arrived at Port the Pioneer and the Atherstone docked approximately 11 o'clock. 602 survivors were taken off of the Pioneer, five of them were dead. Approximately 70 survivors taken off of the Atherstone, approximately 110 off the Glencampbell which docked at 2:30. British had ambulances waiting to take away the wounded. Fed the rest of the men tea, cookies and cigarettes.
Glencampbell had aboard 1,000 emergency kits, through the British STO I was able to draw 500 kits to clothe the men warmly. Men were moved to a British transit camp, fed by the British, given British clothing, some mess gear and both American and British blankets.
It is my opinion that the high death rate caused by the sinking of Rohna was due to several causes:
a) The blast itself killed a number of men on troop decks 6,7,8 and in the troop galley.
REPORT GIVEN BY
b) The ship signal system was knocked out and there should have been kind of an emergency signal system to inform the men what to do. ( In the event of a complete power loss as in this case and many others the signals are given verbally)
c) Boat drills were given only to the point of going to boat stations. It is my opinion that during Boat Drills, boats should actually be lowered and personnel put in them at least once during the voyage. ( Even today this is not practiced because of its impracticalities too numerous to mention here. Worthy of mention however is that Rohna had double banked lifeboats, as was common practice, the lower bank being lowered to the embarkation deck, fourteen out of a total of twenty two were in the lowered position when the bomb struck)
d) Men did not seem to have confidence in the inflated type belt preserver that was issued them. They seemed to grow panicky when they got into the water because the preserver did not hold their head up. When one life boat was lowered I saw about forty men clambering on it and capsize it in the water. ( The ships Second Officer stated that this happened on more than one occasion )
e) The Glencampbell, which had been, designated rescue ship for the convoy was about 30 feet out of the water to the top deck. It was almost impossible for the men who had been in the water from three to five hours to climb that high on a cargo net. The Chief Officer aboard told me that they had to pull the cargo net up with winches while the men clung to the cargo net. ( Sad to say, but vessels with a lower freeboard of the type of ship used were not available )
f) While the men were in the water and rescue ships were picking up survivors one of the German planes returned to low altitude so that destroyers had to make headway to keep from getting hit themselves.
g) The seas were quite heavy 15 to 20 feet swells, so that none of the rescue ships could land their small boats to pick up survivors
Lt. Col. Frolich, Alexander J.
Except for what appears in brackets that are my observations, the text is an exact copy.