Second World War: German Submarine Torpedoed 'Pan Mass' tanker

A German submarine torpedoed the 'Pan Mass,' an American tanker off the coast of florieda, during the early days of the second World War.


| Good Old Days



This is the story of a German submarine torpedoing the tanker Pan Massachusetts during the second World War, 18 miles from shore at St. Augustine, Florida, on February 19, 1942. A Jacksonville newspaper described it as "the most dramatic ship-sinking of the War." 

The ship, commonly known at "The Pan Mass" to mariners of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts, was blown apart by two torpedoes, while loaded with over 100,000 barrels of gasoline, kerosene and diesel fuel. It went down in a lake of fire.

Twenty of the crew of 38 perished in the inferno aboard ship or attempting to escape the flaming cargo that spread out over the water. Eighteen others, including the writer, miraculously escaped by diving or jumping off the ship - some without life preservers - making their way past the fire on the water, then swimming in a cold, rough, wind-and rain-swept sea until rescued.

December 3, 1941, to late February 1942 were the first few perilous weeks of the second World War, when our merchant ships were obliged to travel our coastal routes unarmed and unescorted. Enemy V-boats lie in wait much of the way; it was a time that came to be described as "the Atlantic coast massacre" and Suicide Alley.

The ship was the first to be sunk by enemy action so near shore during daylight hours; the first to be attacked south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina - marking the extension of the V-boat menace southward - and the 31st of more than 270 cargo ships that would be sunk in our Atlantic coastal waters before the War's end.

Torpedoes from the German V-boat transformed the ship into a roaring inferno, the surrounding sea into a lake of fire. Six of us were trapped far below in the engine room by flame and smoke. Three perished; three escaped.





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