Figure 1: S.S. Henry R. Mallory (American Passenger Ship, 1916). This is a halftone reproduction of artwork showing the ship prior to her service in the US Navy. She was USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No. 1280) from 1918 to 1919. This image is one of ten photographs published circa 1918-1919 in a "Souvenir Folder" of views of and on board USS Henry R. Mallory. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No. 1280) at the New York Navy Yard, 6 September 1918, while painted in pattern camouflage. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No. 1280). Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1918 or 1919 showing the ship's foredeck, as seen from her bridge. Note the life rafts on deck and hanging from the rigging, winch, cargo-handling booms and ventilation cowls. This image is one of ten photographs published in a "Souvenir Folder" of views of and on board USS Henry R. Mallory. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No. 1280). Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1918 or 1919, showing the ship's foremast and "crows' nest" lookout position. This image is one of ten photographs published in a "Souvenir Folder" of views of and on board USS Henry R. Mallory. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No. 1280). Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1918 or 1919, showing the ship's after deck house, looking aft from her amidships’ superstructure. Note the life rafts on deck and hanging from the rigging, cargo booms and ventilation cowls, with her after port five-inch gun in the middle distance. This image is one of ten photographs published in a "Souvenir Folder" of views of and on board USS Henry R. Mallory. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No.1280). Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1918 or 1919, showing one of the ship's after five-inch guns. Note that the sights are aligned horizontally, while the gun barrel is elevated. This image is one of ten photographs published in a "Souvenir Folder" of views of and on board USS Henry R. Mallory. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No. 1280). Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1918 or 1919, showing the interior of the ship's wheel house. Note the steering wheel, binnacle and engine order telegraph. This image is one of ten photographs published in a "Souvenir Folder" of views of and on board USS Henry R. Mallory. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No. 1280). Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1918 or 1919, showing the ship's officers' mess room ready for a meal. Note the tiled deck and fluted columns around the exterior of the room. This image is one of ten photographs published in a "Souvenir Folder" of views of and on board USS Henry R. Mallory. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No. 1280) arriving in New York Harbor from France in 1919 with her decks crowded with homeward bound troops. Photographed by J. W. Allison, 42 West 39th St., New York, New York. Donation of Robert W. Fisher, February 1974. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No. 1280) in port in 1919, while employed bringing troops home from Europe. Location not listed. Donation of Captain Stephen S. Roberts, USNR (Retired), 2008. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No. 1280) in port, circa 1918 or 1919. Location unknown. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 12: S.S. Henry R. Mallory (American Passenger Steamship, 1916). Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken while the ship was in port, circa 1942 or early 1943, while she was serving as a civilian-operated troopship. This ship served as USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No. 1280) from 1918 to 1919. Copied from the book Troopships of World War II, by Roland W. Charles. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 13: US Coast Guard Cutter Bibb (WPG-31), date and place unknown. Bibb, her crew, and her indomitable captain, Commander Roy L. Raney, USCG, were the true heroes of convoy SC-118. US Coast Guard photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
The 10,910-ton Henry R. Mallory was a commercial passenger transport that was built in 1916 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company at Newport News, Virginia. The ship was owned and operated by the Mallory Lines and was named after its president, Henry R. Mallory. The ship was acquired by the US Navy on 13 April 1918 for use as a troop transport during World War I. The ocean liner was subsequently converted into a military transport and was commissioned on 17 April 1918 as USS Henry R. Mallory (ID No. 1280). The ship was approximately 440 feet long and 54 feet wide, had a top speed 15 knots, and had a crew of 80 officers and men. Henry R. Mallory could carry almost 2,200 troops and was armed with four 5-inch guns for self-defense.
Soon after being commissioned, Henry R. Mallory was used to transport American troops to Europe. The ship brought a total of 9,756 soldiers to France during World War I and once the conflict was over, Henry R. Mallory brought thousands of troops back to the United States. The ship was decommissioned in mid-September 1919 and transferred to the War Department roughly a month later. Henry R. Mallory was returned to her owners and resumed service as a civilian ocean liner until the start of World War II.
After the United States entered World War II, Henry R. Mallory was once again used as a troop ship. Only this time, the ship was under US Army direction and had primarily a civilian crew, although the ship also had a Naval Armed Guard detachment on board. Henry R. Mallory made several voyages to Ireland; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Iceland from July 1942 to January 1943.
On 24 January 1943, Henry R. Mallory left New York City as part of Convoy SC-118, which was headed for England. Although Henry R. Mallory was loaded with troops and equipment, her final destination was the American base at Iceland. Convoy SC-118 consisted of 63 merchant ships but was only escorted by eight Allied warships (three British destroyers, three British corvettes, the Free French corvette Lobelia, and the US Coast Guard Cutter Bibb). SC-118 was a slow-moving convoy and the German Navy, which had received intelligence reports that the convoy was headed towards Iceland, sent approximately 21 U-boats to intercept it. The convoy was at sea for several days before encountering the dreaded “wolf pack” of German submarines. During the very early morning hours of 4 February, the fighting began in earnest.
Although badly outnumbered, the Allied escorts put up a remarkable fight. At least two U-boats were sunk during the battle and many more were damaged, some severely. But the plain fact of the matter was that there were too many U-boats and too few escorts. In addition, U-boat “Ace” Kapitanleutnant Baron Siegfried von Forstner on board U-402 had just arrived in the area and was attacking merchant ships almost at will. A wild melee ensued, with tankers and merchant ships being torpedoed left and right as escorts pounced on various submarine contacts, whether the U-boats were submerged or running on the surface. And most of this was happening at night and in bad winter weather. A few more Allied escorts joined the battle (one of them being the US Coast Guard cutter Ingham), but like a school of sharks attacking a vulnerable seal, the U-boats swarmed in for the kill.
At 0600 Greenwich Time on the morning of 7 February 1943, Henry R. Mallory was for some unknown reason straggling at slow speed all alone astern of convoy SC-118. She also was not steaming in a zigzag pattern. Had she been moving in a zigzag pattern, the ship would have been a much more difficult target for a U-boat to hit. Although at the time she was capable of doing 14 knots, which was quite fast for a troop ship, Henry R. Mallory was assigned to a slow-moving convoy going at roughly seven knots, even though she could have gone at high speed to Iceland on her own and probably avoided all contact with German submarines. So on the morning of 7 February 1943, Henry R. Mallory was a big, fat, slow-moving target that was steaming in a straight line and not taking any precautions by sailing in a zigzag pattern.
All of these facts were not lost on Siegfried von Forstner on board U-402, which suddenly crept into the area and spotted Henry R. Mallory that fateful morning. By that time, Forstner’s ship had sunk four merchant vessels during the battle as Henry R. Mallory lumbered into view. He was surprised that such a large and valuable target was going so slow and not moving in a zigzag pattern, but he wasn’t about to question his good luck. There were no Allied escorts in the area, so when U-402 came to within 900 yards of Henry R. Mallory, Forstner fired a single torpedo that hit the unsuspecting troop ship squarely in the No. 3 hold on the starboard side. U-402 only had three torpedoes left, so Forstner saw no need in wasting another torpedo on a ship that was clearly sinking.Meanwhile, panic, lack of discipline, and sheer inexperience on board Henry R. Mallory turned a bad situation into a disaster. No general alarm was sounded after the torpedo hit. Some of the passengers and crew were jarred from their sleep by the explosion, while others slept through it, being unable to distinguish the blast from the pounding of the waves hitting the side of the ship in the rough seas. Many men were trapped in compartments by jammed doors and steel that was twisted and deformed by the explosion. No commands came from the bridge after the attack, no emergency flares were fired, no radio distress calls were sent out, and no orders were given to abandon ship. As Henry R. Mallory slowly sank, individual lifeboats and rafts were sent over the side, evidently at the initiative of the men gathered around each lifeboat.
Although the seas were rough, the lifeboats and rafts should have been able to get away safely because the ship was sinking so slowly. But the inexperienced wartime crew simply could not handle the deadly situation. Only five of the nine undamaged lifeboats managed to get away from the ship. One of these was partially swamped with water and another was badly overloaded. A third was only partially loaded and capsized soon after hitting the water. A fourth was launched with the seacock open, which caused the boat to flood as soon as it was in the water. Three boats capsized as they were lowered, one of them loaded with injured men. Another lifeboat got hung up while being lowered and was cut from the falls, sending it crashing into the water where dozens of men were swimming.
Only 175 men got away in the lifeboats. Almost all of the men were inexperienced in launching the rafts, many of which were frozen to their supports, making them impossible to pull off. A number of the rafts that were launched were secured alongside the ship by one-inch thick ropes, but there were no knives or axes to cut them loose. As a result, when the ship went down, it pulled many of the rafts down with it, along with the men that were on them. No passengers had been taught how to lower the floor of the rafts for greater stability and, as a result, many rafts repeatedly turned over in the heavy seas.
An hour after being torpedoed, Henry R. Mallory took a heavy list to port and then went down steeply by the stern. Many survivors were crowded on the bow and, as it rose higher, men began jumping into the icy water. After the ship sank, the sea was covered with wreckage, boats, rafts, swimmers, and bodies. Most of the men died within a few minutes from exposure to the cold water. Those who were fully clothed lasted a big longer. But many were so ill-prepared for the sinking that they had little clothing on and suffered terribly before being frozen to death in the water or on the wet rafts. The men who were fortunate enough to find one of the few box-type merchant marine rafts fared better. And most of the few lifeboats that remained floating were swamped with water while their freezing occupants tried to bail out the water with their hands. After roughly 30 minutes, the cries of the men swimming in lifejackets ended and an eerie silence settled over the darkness and the waves.
Nobody in convoy SC-118 even knew Henry R. Mallory had been torpedoed, let alone sunk. By sheer accident, the US Coast Guard Cutter Bibb stumbled on some of the survivors in a lifeboat. At approximately 0950 hours, Bibb spotted a red flare in the distance and steamed towards it. At 1000 hours, a lifeboat was sighted and it was loaded with survivors and small lights were seen scattered over a large area of water. These lights were probably attached to the life jackets of the dead men floating in the ocean. Dawn at that far northern latitude was still nearly an hour away. Bibb picked up the first survivors, discovered that they were from Henry R. Mallory, and notified the rest of the ships in the convoy. Bibb’s skipper, Commander Roy L. Raney, USCG, sent out an urgent message requesting help to pick up the survivors that he now could see were floating all around him. But time was short. Raney knew that a man could only survive in the icy waters of the North Atlantic for a few minutes and the longer he waited for permission to pick up all of the survivors, the more men would die from exposure. But Raney also understood the risk of a warship stopping to pick up survivors in darkness in an area crawling with enemy submarines. Bibb ran the very real risk of being torpedoed while trying to rescue the men that were dying in the sea.
Soon Raney received a radio message from the officer in command of the convoy’s escorts, British naval Commander F. B. Proudfoot, Royal Navy, on board HMS Vanessa. Proudfoot, who evidently did not want to risk losing one of his few escorts to a submarine attack, ordered Bibb to “Rejoin [the convoy] at best speed!” When the message was shown to Raney, he reportedly cursed softly under his breath and then looked out at the water covered with hundreds of American troops. He felt certain that the escort commander was not aware of the magnitude of the disaster. So Roy L. Raney crumpled the message in his fist, stepped out to the wing of the bridge, and told his executive officer to “Stand down on the next boat. We are going to pick up these men.” Raney well understood the risk to his own ship, but he continued picking up survivors. With precious minutes slipping by, Raney intended to rescue as many men as possible and said he would take full responsibility for his actions.
Moving their ship carefully among the rafts and lifeboats, Bibb’s crew began a frantic race against time. In the 50-degree water four hours after Henry R. Mallory went down, nearly all of the swimmers were dead and many of the men on the rafts were either dead or dying. Crew members from the Coast Guard cutter went over the side on cargo nets to help survivors that were too weak to help themselves. It soon became evident that too much time was being used to get dying or badly injured men aboard and that these delays would prevent other uninjured men in the water a chance for survival. When Raney discovered that two men had died after being brought on board his ship, he ordered that rescue efforts be concentrated on men who were at least able to pass a line under their own arms to be hoisted on board the ship. It was a terrible choice to have to make, but it ended up saving many lives of men who otherwise would have died.
As more time passed, fewer and fewer men were found alive. More dead men than live ones were now being found on board the rafts and the dead were left as they were. By noon, Bibb was still finding a few more survivors clinging to wreckage. The US Coast Guard cutter Ingham then arrived on the scene and began assisting Bibb with rescue operations. When the search for survivors was finally ended, the results were staggering. Of the roughly 494 men on board Henry R. Mallory when she left New York City, Bibb rescued 205 men, three of whom later died from their wounds. Ingham was able to rescue another 22 men, two of whom later died. Lost among the 272 men who died that horrible night were the ship’s captain, 48 crewmen, 15 US Naval Armed Guards, and 208 passengers. It was one of the worst Allied troop ship disasters of the war.
Henry R. Mallory didn’t have to sink. Questionable planning by naval authorities, allowing such a valuable target to straggle outside the protection of the convoy and steam slowly without moving in a zigzag pattern, an inadequately trained captain and crew, lack of leadership, and panic all contributed to the initial disaster. This was made worse by the fact that, even after being hit, the loss of life need not have been heavy had the ship been calmly and properly abandoned since there was more than enough time before the ship actually went down. The only major bright spot in this whole tragic story was the heroic rescue effort made by Commander Roy L. Raney and the crew of the USCGC Bibb. Had it not been for them, the loss of life would have been far worse than it was.
The story of Henry R. Mallory is also an object lesson of how unprepared we were to fight a major submarine war in early 1943. We simply did not have enough ocean escorts to protect the vast number of merchant ships headed for Europe. Being so unprepared for this war cost the lives of many men, proving once again that the lack of preparedness for military conflict never ends well.
Please Note: Perhaps the most thorough account of the battle of convoy SC-118 and the loss of Henry R. Mallory can be found in the book Bloody Winter, by Captain John M. Waters, Jr., USCG, and published by the Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1984.