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Survivor recalls torpedo hit

Posted: Friday, August 24, 2001

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The 902 soldiers, sailors and civilian engineers aboard the U.S. troop transport Dorchester left Staten Island, N.Y., on Jan. 23, 1943. They waited for stormy seas at St. John's, Newfoundland, because bad weather would be better for them at Torpedo Junction.

''If you go in a storm, you're not going to get hit,'' recalled Michael Warish, 1st sergeant aboard the Dorchester.

Many believed St. John's was an evil trade-off because of its reputation as a hub of German espionage. They might pick up a storm there, but their departure would be reported to the Germans, just as Dorchester's arrival was widely known in advance.

''That place was infested with spies,'' Warish, 89, said in an interview from his home in Taunton, Mass. When the Dorchester put in at St. John's, he said, ''the paper boy says to me, 'Where were you guys? You were supposed to be here yesterday.'''

After four days, a storm arrived and the Dorchester took off.

''We went through an awful storm,'' Warish said. ''It banged up the ship bad. ... It couldn't keep up with the convoy.''

The Dorchester was doomed once caught at Torpedo Junction -- the mouth of Davis Strait between Baffin Island and Greenland, ''where the Germans used to hang out,'' Warish said.

The storm ended Feb. 2, he said. Coast Guard cutters began dropping depth charges. But around 1 a.m. Feb. 3, Warish said, a German U-boat sank the Dorchester about 100 miles from Greenland.

''When the torpedo hit, at first it was like a crash,'' Warish said. ''Then about one second later, the torpedo exploded. You could smell the gunpowder, burnt. Everything went -- the lights, the steam pipes, and then came the distress whistle, boop-boop-boop.''

The blast sent a bed frame across the room, pinning Warish to the wall and injuring his right leg and his head. He had to pull his shoes off because his leg started swelling. By the time he crawled out, he said, the nearly deserted Dorchester ''looked like a ghost ship.''

He wandered around a few minutes looking for people, then noticed the evacuees out in the water, the little red lights on their lifejackets clustered.

''It looked like a city out there.''

And what was left of the bad weather was no longer their friend.

''It was cold. The tide was coming into Greenland and separated the men, but the longer the men stayed in the water -- 20 minutes, you were gone. You'd get weaker and weaker.''

Then he found the ship's four chaplains -- Clark Poling, Alexander Goode, George Fox and John Washington -- standing together on deck, praying.

''One chaplain (Goode) went to put the life preserver on this injured guy,'' Warish said. ''That was the chaplain's life preserver. Fox, Poling and Washington had already given theirs away.''

A new book, ''Sea of Glory,'' is co-written by Poling's cousin, David Poling, also a clergyman, and by film-TV producer Ken Wales.

Warish says he made his way to the stern and jumped in the water alone. Breathing through his mouth because his nostrils were frozen, he got oil in his mouth and started coughing and after floating a while, he said, he had to struggle to stay awake.

''Because that's what happens -- you just go to sleep.''

Eventually, he was lifted into a lifeboat.

Among the survivors was a boy, about 14, who had stowed away at Staten Island. Warish said the boy had carried his uncle's duffel bags aboard and just stayed.

Most of the Dorchester's 14 lifeboats were damaged or frozen to their fittings and only two were operational, but the Coast Guard did much of the rescue work.

''It was the greatest rescue a pair of eyes could see,'' Warish said.

But 672 of the 902 died.

End Adv for Aug 23-26



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