Papoose dated April 19, 1942. Photo courtesy of The Mariners' Museum

The Sinking of the Papoose:

Some might consider that the Papoose as a bad-luck ship. Why? It was once destroyed by fire on April 8, 1926, about forty miles south of New Orleans. At the time the ship was known as the Silvanus. It was owned by the Dutch Shell Company. The ship was rounding a bend in the Mississippi River when it ran into the Standard Oil tanker, Thomas H. Wheeler. Steel plates that had buckled generated sparks that ignited the highly flammable benzene cargo. This was followed by a series of explosions across the deck. Twenty-six men died and the ship was declared a total loss.

Lawsuits followed this disaster and the hull was put up for sale at auction by a federal marshall. Petroleum Navigation Company won the bid for the hull. The hull was then towed to Beaumont, Texas, where the Pennsylvania Shipyards maintained a facility on the Neches River. Three hundred men were put to work reconstructing the ship. Fortunately, the engine and boilers were undamaged but were overhauled nonetheless. The decks were all rebuilt at a cost of a half-million dollars. Also, new quarters for the officers and crew were rebuilt.

After five months of construction, the Silvanus was sea-worthy again. On March 31, 1927, the ship was renamed the Papoose. Its first trip was to Galveston and was a success. It returned to Beaumont, Texas and was loaded with 67,000 barrels of gasoline, and was on its voyage to New York. The Papoose continued to make voyages up and down the east coast to deliver fuel.

On March 18, 1942, the Papoose had offloaded its cargo tanks in Providence, Rhode Island, and was returning to Corpus Christi, Texas with an empty tank to pick up the next load. Because of all of the activity off the coast with German u-boats patrolling the area, the Navy Routing Office recommended the ship stay close to the coastline. Especially since the month of March was the most dangerous month so far of the year. They left and headed through the Long Island Sound, along the East River, then through the New York Bay, and down the coast. It was nighttime when the ship rounded the Diamond Shoals at eleven knots. Captain Zalnick decided to take a straight course rather than zig-zag his way south to get through "torpedo junction: as fast as possible.

With tensions high, there seemed to be some confusion as to the course of events. Several crew members on the Papoose said that they could see a ship in flames on the horizon. The ship in flames was thought to be the W.E. Hutton. The W.E. Hutton was the only other ship torpedoed that night. The ships were most likely less than five miles apart. And here is when the confusion begins. It was reported that the W.E. Hutton wasn't torpedoed until thirty minutes after the Papoose was hit.

The log of the German U-boat, U-124, recorded two attacks on that night but no indication of which ship was hit first. That week the U-124 was particularly busy having sunk seven ships (E.M. Clark, Esso Nashville, Noaeco, W.E. Hutton, Kassandra Louloudis, and the Ceiba) and damaging two others.

At 10:35 PM on March 18, 1942, the Papoose was hit aft on the port side by a torpedo that penetrated the fuel tank, damaged interior bulkheads, and caused flooding by oil and water from the fire and engine rooms. The water and oil rose quickly and within four minutes it reached the height of the tops of the cylinder heads. At this point, the two men (Peters and Kreuger) that died were presumed drowned in the flooding.

At the time they were approximately fifteen miles southwest of Cape Lookout light. The captain ordered the wheel to turn hard right, toward the shore. However, the engine was without power and the engine was disabled. At the time the radio operator sent out a distress call. Fortunately, their distress call was acknowledged so they knew help was on the way. As the Papoose sat there without power, Captain Zalnick gave the order to abandon the ship. No 3 lifeboat was launched five minutes after the initial explosion. No sooner had the boat cleared the ship than a second torpedo barely missed the lifeboat. The torpedo hit the starboard side nearly opposite of the first hit. The second hit ripped open a hole in the hull eight feet above the waterline. As No. 1 lifeboat attempted to get underway (located starboard side, amidships) debris from a wooden awning over the amidships deckhouse and the radio shack that was partially demolished rained down upon them. Some of the men were injured but were able to get away in the lifeboat.

According to what Gary Gentle wrote in his book, Shipwrecks of North Carolina from Hatteras Inlet South, "Now a curious event occurred. An amber light appeared some thirty feet above the water, a couple of hundred yards off the stern of the Papoose. Everyone saw it; everyone had an opinion about it. Was it the U-boat's searchlight meant to blind the survivors or to observe damage to the vessel? Was it a decoy buoy released by the U-boat in order to lure another ship to her destruction? Or was it an angel from Heaven to come to take the U-boat's victims to a better world? It hovered mysteriously in the neighborhood for an hour, or an hour and a half, following the attack, never revealing what lay behind it in the darkness before it finally disappeared."

The two lifeboats with the thirty-four men aboard rowed away from the Papoose towards the shore. At 7:30 A.M. the next morning they were picked up by the U.S. destroyer Stringham (APD-6). Even with all the panic surrounding the attack, Captain Zalnick remembered to grab all his code books and confidential papers. He immediately turned them over to the Commanding Officer of the Stringham. 

When last seen the Papoose was settling by the stern but was still afloat with the deck awash. Eventually, the ship capsized and now lies upside down on the ocean floor.


Built: 1921 Sunk: March 19, 1942
Type of Vessel: Tanker Owner: Petroleum Navigation Co., Houston, TX
Builder: South-Western Shipbuilding Co., San Pedro, CA Power: Oil-fired steam
Port of registry: Houston, TX Dimensions:412' long x53' wide x 31' deep
Previously Known: Silvanus  


Here is the location of the sinking: 34° 17'N, 76° 39'W

papoose sinking


Total Lost: 2, Survivors: 32

LastFirstDate of DeathPositionHomeAge
 Krueger George Xavier March 19, 1942 Oiler New Braunfels, TX 28
Peters Edward Walter March 19, 1942 Fireman Brooklyn, NY 23


A partial listing of the surviving crew:

Alvarez Manuel Fireman 1898 Spain  44
Anderson Alf Fireman 1886 Norway  56
Babineaux Paul Alfred Messman Jan. 11, 1919 Port Arthur, TX 23
Bargeron Andrew Messman      
Barron Thomas C. Wiper      
Bass Pablo Steward   Phillippines  
*Blair Charles Emil Able Seaman      
Bokett Albert Cook      
**Bush Denham Verley Boatswain Feb. 16, 1900 Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands  
Coyle Joseph P. Wiper 1904 Massachusetts 38
Digernes Paul Johan Chief Mate Mar. 2, 1896 Houston, TX 46
Graham Harold B. Messman 1918 Texas 26
Hamm Stanley Joseph Able Seaman June 25, 1914 Lynnfield, MA 27
Johnson Harold Chief Engineer Nov. 26, 1885 Fredrksvaern, Norway 56
Leamey August Ordinary Seaman 1902 Newfoundland 40
Leveritt Clarence Marion First Assistant Engineer Oct. 12, 1897 Vidalia, GA 44
McNab Eddielue Coe Third Assistant Engineer May 19, 1907 New Orleans, LA 34
Nottosen Alfred Quartermaster Oct. 14, 1894 Providence, RI 47
Pennington Howard M. Oiler 1914 Texas 28
Pomeroy James Messman 1899 Pennsylvania 43
Prenitz George Ordinary Seaman      
Pryor Carl Edgar Second Assistant Engineer 1909 Alabama 33
Russell, Jr. Frank Keach Radio Operator June 29, 1905 Harris County, TX 36
Shearman James Arthur Oiler Dec. 15, 1906 Rhode Island 35
Shuty Raymond Quartermaster      
Sostack Frederick Adolf Able Seaman Aug. 9, 1903 New York, NY 38
Staedtler Herbert Henry Messman Aug. 8, 1900 St. Louis, MO 41
Tufweson Walter O. Able Seaman March 15, 1909 Warwick, RI 33
Wenning Robert Mayer Third Mate Sept. 19, 1913 Galveston, TX 28
Whittington Henry Pumpman Jan. 6, 1901 Beauregard, LA 41
Wikstrom John Anton Second Mate Oct. 3, 1879 Baltimore, MD 62
Zalnick Raymond Master/Captain July 30, 1897 Pasadena, TX 44

* After Papoose was sunk, he was on the William C. McTarnahan and died when it was torpedoed on May 16, 1942

** After Papoose was sunk, he was on the Gurney E. Newlin  and died when it was torpedoed on October 28, 1942

Photos of the Australian:

Low-frequency sonar image of the Papoose wreck site. Photo courtesy of NOAA



Photos below courtesy of Paul M. Hudy

The bow and one of the bow anchors. Photo courtesy of Paul M. Hudy
Sandtiger shark swims in front of the bow anchor. Photo courtesy of Paul M. Hudy 

The stern - before and after the rudder broke free. Photo courtesy of Paul. M Hudy.
Breaks in the upside-down hull. Photo courtesy of Paul M. Hudy
The rudder and propeller shaft at the stern. Photo courtesy of Paul M. Hudy
Remains of the bow. Photo courtesy of Paul M. Hudy


A diver swims along an upside-down hull. Photo courtesy of Paul M. Hudy
The featureless surface of the hull bottom. Photo courtesy of Paul M. Hudy
Part of the deck/superstructure crushed under the upside hull. Photo courtesy of Paul M. Hudy

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