August 17, 2018

1941. American Red Cross Nurses Recall U-Boat Attack on Dutch Ship

The Sinking of the SS Maasdam
Nazi Commander Reinhard Suhren aboard the U-564 submarine which sank the SS Maasdam in 1941 (source)
United Press article from July 1941:
Nurses Agree Sea Disaster Isn't Fun
Americans Whose Ship Was Torpedoed Say They've Had Enough Adventure
United Press Staff Correspondent

London — (UP) Excitement and adventure are all right if that's what you want, a group of American Red Cross nurses agreed last night, but being cast into the heaving Atlantic in life jackets during a cold rainstorm is "too much of a good thing."

The nurses were among the survivors of the Dutch steamer Maasdam, torpedoed in mid-Atlantic late last month by a German submarine.

Nine of the American nurses have arrived in London and six others were known to be safe.

Dr. John Gordon, head of the American Red Cross-Harvard hospital, disclosed that two nurses were still missing but said "we are not alarmed because in the confusion there is a possibility they are all right.

Lifeboat Sunk

Wearing borrowed Red Cross field uniforms, five of the nine nurses brought here told how their lifeboat sank in the rough seas, how eleven American marines en route to duty at the American embassy took care of them, and how they were "scared to death" by the sea battle they witnessed.

Shirley Rolph of Jamaica, N. Y., however, was not scared at first.

"Too much was happening to be frightened," she said. "We knew that trouble was around because depth charges were being dropped. Then I was knocked off my feet when the torpedo hit. Debris showered down and dazed me. I looked a mess. All of our faces were black."

Miss Rolph said the captain of another ship in the convoy which picked them up was "the most startled man in the seven seas" when he learned that a "bunch of women were swarming over the rails like pirates."

Praises Marines

Lillian Evans of Cambridge, Mass., told how "a big wave capsized our boat" and reported that "the marines were really wonderful, keeping calm and helping row the other boats." Her life jacket kept her afloat and she swam 200 yards to the ship which picked her up.

Lavinia Fulton of Amherst, Mass., in the same boat, didn't try to swim but hung on until she was picked up. When the torpedo hit, she said, the nurses put on their life jackets first and then secured their money and passports, "which we all saved." She said "We didn't hear the explosion but rather felt it."

Her experience aboard the overcrowded ship which picked them up, Miss Fulton said, made her more appreciative of some of the comforts she had always taken for granted.

"I slept in a real bed last night," she said. "It certainly looked good."