San Delfino

The Sinking of the San Delfino:

Prior to the war, the San Delfino made numerous trips from Mexico, through the Gulf of Mexico, up the East Coast, and then across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom. Since England had been at war for three years prior to the United States, the San Delfino had been well-armed to defend against U-boat attacks. The tanker carried one 4-inch gun, one 12lb. HA gun, four Marlin .30 caliber machine guns, two Hotchkiss.303 caliber machine guns, and a Lewis machine gun.

The tanker left Houston, Texas, and was headed to England, heading up the east coast to New York, Halifax, and then across the Atlantic with a convoy of ships. The tanker was carrying 11,000 tons of aviation gas and ammunition for the war effort.

In the meantime, since Germany declared war on the United States on December 11, 1942, Vizadmiral Karl Dönitz, a German U-boat commander, had planned a strategy to devastate any efforts to keep the allies supplied along the East coast route of the United States. He called his plan, Operation Paukenschlag (aka, Operation Drumbeat). In late December of 1941, five U-boats headed towards the East coast. Its first strike occurred on January 11, 1942. By early April of 1942,  this strategy continued with its fourth wave of U-boats, including U-203, which was commandeered by Kapitanleutnant Mutzleberg. The U-boat arrived off the East Coast after a fuel stop in the Azores.

According to which source is followed, various times are indicated when the San Delfino was attacked.  Monitor National Marine Sanctuary states that the date lost to be April 10, 1942. But in its description, indicates the early hours of April 9, 1942. In Gary Gentile's Shipwrecks of North Carolina: From the Diamond Shoals North, he indicates 10:00 PM on April 9, 1942. Finally, on, they indicate at 3:47 AM on April 10, 1942, as the date of the attack.

Both Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and Gary Gentile agree it was one torpedo that sunk the tanker. However, states that a second torpedo was fired at 3:51 AM and missed. They state that a third torpedo was launched at 5:08 AM was the torpedo that struck the fatal blow and sunk the San Delfino.

Apparently, when the tanker was hit it was along the starboard side near the #2 and #3 tank. The explosion sent the 11,000 tons of fuel aflame. A second explosion occurred shortly thereafter and it is thought to have been the ammunition that was aboard which created the second explosion. Captain Elbert Gumbleton immediately called for the crew to abandon the ship. Two lifeboats were lowered. Unfortunately, one of the lifeboats got caught in the current and was dragged to a pool of fuel. All men (24 crew members and four gunners)  aboard that lifeboat were burnt to death.

The second lifeboat was able to stay clear of the burning ship yet stayed near the burning tanker in hopes that another ship the blaze would bring help. According to Gary Gentile's book, six miles away a fishing trawler, Two Sisters heard the explosion and spotted the flames which rose a hundred feet into the air. The captain of the trawler, Cornelius Sanders, radioed into the Coast Guard of the attack and quickly headed towards the disaster. He picked up the remaining twenty-one crew members in the second lifeboat. Many of the men were suffering from burns and injuries.

Other sources indicate that the surviving members were rescued by the HMS Norwich City and were taken to Morehead City, North Carolina.


Built: 1938 Sunk: April 9, 1942
Type of Vessel: Tanker Owner: Eagle Oil and Shipping Company, Ltd.
Builder: Furness Ship Building Company, Haverton Hill-on-Tess, England Power: Twin Diesel Engines
Port of registry: London, Englan Dimensions: 463'  x 61'  x 33' 
Previous Names: None  


Here is the location of the sinking: 35° 35'N, 75° 06'W



Total Lost: 28, Survivors: 22

LastFirstDate of DeathPositionHomeAge
 Allan George April 10, 1942 Ordinary Seaman Bo'ness, West Lothian 20
Allan Malcolm April 10, 1942 Mess Room Boy Banknock, Stirlingshire 17
Borin Giuseppe April 10, 1942 Junior Engineer Officer   35
Bruce Angus Beveridge April 10, 1942 Sailor   29
Buist Robert Cummins April 10, 1942 Pumpman Eastham, Cheshire 29
Bunyan John Hume April 10, 1942 Able Seaman Edinburgh 32
Cairns Michael April 10, 1942 Fourth Engineer Officer Dundee 28
Connachie Archibald April 10, 1942 Ordinary Seaman   16
Crawford Leslie April 10, 1942 Greaser   29
Cross John April 10, 1942 Cook   25
Fisher John Latto April 10, 1942 Sailor Edinburgh, Scotland 25
Grant John April 10, 1942 Greaser   50
Grey William April 10, 1942 Steward Old Polmont, Stirlingshire 21
Jones Maldwyn April 10, 1942 DEMS Gunner Glamorgan, Wales 21
Keenan John April 10, 1942 Storekeeper Kirkdale, Liverpool 37
Kelly Ernest Raymond April 10, 1942 Able Seaman/DEMS Gunner Middleborough, Yorkshire 20
*Michelson Adolf Michael April 10, 1942 Carpenter North Shields, Northumberland 58
Mitchell George Henry David April 10, 1942 Boatswain Mitcham, Surrey 36
Paterson Alexander April 10, 1942 Fireman Grangemouth, Stirlingshire 24
Peakman Henry April 10, 1942 Pumpman South Shields, Co. Durham 46
Picken Richard April 10, 1942 Fireman   43
Richards William Reid April 10, 1942 Sailor Rosyth, Fife 21
Robertson James Andrew April 10, 1942 Greaser   51
Shaw Francis April 10, 1942 Sailor   17
Turnbull George April 10, 1942 Fourth Engineer Officer   22
Turner Arnold April 10, 1942 DEMS Gunner   30
Watt James Robinson April 10, 1942 Able Seaman Edinburgh 25
White John April 10, 1942 Able Seaman/DEMS Gunner Haddington, East Lothian 19

* Survived a torpedo attack by German U-boat U-111 while aboard the San Felix when attacked on May 20, 1941.


A  listing of the surviving crew: 

Chalmers  Thomas Donald Radio Officer July 15, 1923 Manchester 18
Gumbleton Albert Edward Master/Captain      
Smith William Shaw Engineer Officer July 4, 1920   21


Photos of San Delfino:

San Delfino


Propellor at the stern. Photo courtesy of Hoyt, NOAA
Fantail stem with deck gun visible. Photo courtesy of  Hoyt, NOAA
Deck gun at stern. Photo courtesy of  Hoyt, NOAA.
 Low-frequency sonar image of the presumed San Delfino wreck site. Photo courtesy of  NOAA.
San Delfino wreck site. Photo courtesy of  Hoyt, NOAA.

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