Mistaken identity leads to deadly attack
The following report on the Caribou sinking appeared in the Saturday, Oct. 24, 1942 edition of The Grand Falls Advertiser. SURVIVOR RELATES STORY OF WHAT TOOK PLACE AFTER ILL-FATED SHIP SANK IN CABOT STRAIT
Lorenzo Gosse, a resident of Grand Falls who was a passenger on the illfated Railway ship Caribou at the time of its torpedoing in the Cabot Strait by a German submarine on last Wednesday morning, tells his story of the last hours of the Caribou and its tragic fate in the waters of the North Atlantic.
IAs told to P. J. Ryan was visiting my aunt in Sydney and was among the people who filed up the gangway and entered the Caribou on the eve of its final journey across the Cabot Strait in another of its well-known runs to this country.
As we lined up and completed the necessary registering on the ship, I am sure no one imagined that a terrible chapter was to be written about the famous Caribou before the dawn of another day.
It was about 10 or perhaps 11 o’clock on Wednesday night when the registration of all passengers was completed and the Caribou nosed its way out into the chilly waters of the North Atlantic from a Nova Scotia port, on what was to be the last voyage of its long and illustrious career.
The night was not very cold with practically no wind, and a beautiful starry sky looked down on this little ship as she ploughed her way from a Canadian port. According to wartime regulations, the ship was completely blacked out with the exception of a few emergency lights.
There was quite a number of passengers on at the time; in fact, I heard about 236 people all told. I was travelling first class and, soon after sailing, I entered the saloon with a number of other people and was told I would have to wait until a berth was found for me as the women and children were being taken care of first.
There was men from various branches of the armed forces aboard and, like myself, they were waiting for berths.
In one corner of the saloon, an airman was sitting at the piano. He was soon joined by another airman and together they played some kind of a duet – the air of which was familiar to me, although I just can’t remember the right name of the piece. After a while other men of the forces joined in and started to sing – other people just lay around on the lounges.
As the night wore along into morning, the musicians tired and strolled away to their berths. The song and jolly tune settled into a silence that was broken only by the incessant throbbing of the ship’s engines.
About five or six people were dozing in the saloon, and owing to not being informed of a berth at my disposal I settled away on one of the lounges in the saloon… I nodded, dozed, and awoke, then dozed off again for a little while. And it was in this manner of rest that I passed the night away until the merciless arm of the Nazi bestiality crept out of the darkness and plunged our ship into doom.
I saw the time at 3:30 a.m. and did not sleep after that. I felt rather drowsy. At about three minutes to four, the ship experienced a sudden dull, staggering movement followed by an explosion.
I ran out on the deck and I heard a sailor shout, “She’s hit!”
The Caribou stopped dead. I saw two seamen run up to the lifeboat deck, and I unconsciously followed them. When I came up to where they were trying to get the lifeboats away, I remembered I had no business up there as I was only a passenger; so, I
I saw two women with small babies in their arms stagger up to the side of the doomed ship and shout to us to save them. A man near me sat silent as if he were paralyzed. I reached out from the side of the lifeboat and grabbed both women into my arms, and then fell back into the lifeboat. and succeeded in reaching it and seizing hold of it with a determined grip.
All around me I saw heads bobbing up out of the waves and seemed to reach about six feet into the air. Some were shouting, others had their cries for help stifled with water when they were caught in the grip of boat.
The night was very dark and as I looked back at the old Caribou I saw a small, lurid flame leap from her sinking form and stab viciously into the inky darkness. Soon the gallant little ship slipped from sight to the bottom of the North Atlantic. I heard some moans in the darkness, occasionally, when the wind would subside, and then I was told that we had a sick soldier in our boat.
With dawn we found some biscuits and a tin of malted milk tablets in our boat. These were distributed. At that hour we were about twenty hours from Channel Head. We had four sets of oars and there were no women in our boat. Dawn and Cheer
A bleak dawn broke over our Newfoundland coast and the most poignant marine tragedy of our Atlantic Sea – survivors, most of whom I noticed were merchant seamen.
The surface was littered with drifting debris and pieces of wreckage. Everything was strangely silent, apart from the methodical splashing of our oars in the water and the occasional whine of wind. I counted 20 people in our boat.
We judged the time to be about 8 o’clock, and we were tossing around on the surface when we noticed the smoke of a ship on the horizon and then a plane flying high in the distance – the boat proved later to be a minesweeper.
Then we saw four planes, one of which came over us and the pilot opened a door and waved to us. We felt he was telling us help was coming. Then the plane dropped emergency flares that burst into flames when they hit the water, and from which a thick column of smoke crept skywards. The planes went away, and returned again. We then had an old canvas bag tied to the end of an oar and raised into the air.
Almost an hour later we saw the minesweeper and we rowed toward it. The sweeper stopped as we approached and we were taken aboard. I was fatigued and dazed as someone pushed me through a door on the minesweeper and a gush of warm air enveloped me.
We were given a hot drink, coffee and sandwiches. On the minesweeper we saw a sailor with his arm broken, also we saw other survivors. I heard that two soldiers had died of exposure and that another sailor had plunged into the sea and rescued three other people.
We were on the minesweeper about six hours and all was pleasant and cheerful in comparison to the trying night we had spent. Saw No U-Boat
One minesweeper threw 13 depth charges, we were told, after it had reached the scene where the Caribou went down. I saw no German submarine, although I did meet a male survivor in a Canadian Port who told me that he saw the Nazi UBoat come up and upset some of the lifeboats, throwing people into the water – and that also the U-Boat had sprayed the swimmers with machine gun fire and then disappeared.
Arriving at an Eastern Canadian Port we registered, and I saw some dead bodies being taken ashore. They were wrapped in grey blankets on stretchers.
In port I met W. J. Lundrigan of Corner Brook; he later came home by plane. I understand he was sick and was treated by doctors for a touch of pneumonia which was the result of being chilled in the water.
I was placed in a taxi and taken to a hotel. The proprietor told me food was coming. Five hours later the food was still coming, but I got none. I was wet, chilled and very tired. I asked a girl to phone my aunt. She did and my aunt came and got me some food at a nearby store. I was spent out and exhausted. I fell asleep as soon as I hit the bed, and awoke the next morning about 8:30.
I saw no one in the hotel, and waited a while but still saw no sign of anyone around, so I went out and met a gentleman who took me in his car to where my aunt lived, and he never charged me a cent.
I had lost everything I possessed on the Caribou and before starting home I had to be fitted out by my aunt. I left Canada on Saturday night on another ship and on reaching a port in this country I was treated well and given meal tickets and a sleeper to my home destination.
SS Caribou: Tonnage: 2,200 short tons (2,000 t) Length: 265 ft (81 m) Speed: 14.5 knots (26.9 km/h; 16.7 mph)