Top News

Down Memory Lane

 ..
..

To the sad sound of a tolling bell family members came forward to light a candle in memory of loved ones that were lost at sea and also to remember those who still challenge the ocean to provide for their families.

With ALLAN STOODLEY

They were crew of the USS destroyers ‘Truxtun’ and ‘Pollux’ that rammed into the cliffs of the Burin Peninsula during a blinding snowstorm.

People, old and young, are still saddened when they try to picture what happened on that cold, stormy winter’s day in 1942 but to the men who took part in the rescue of the 186 other sailors the scenes they witnessed were etched in their memories and hearts forever.

The Truxtun and Pollux were part of a convoy of vessels bringing men and supplies to Argentia from the Canadian mainland. Their route was to sail along the southwest coast of Newfoundland, then skirt the tip of the Burin Peninsula and head for Argentia.

A blinding snowstorm was at its height during the early morning of Feb. 18, 1942, when the Truxtun and Pollux together with another destroyer, the Wilkes, went astray from the other ships in the convoy.

At 5 a.m. the Pollux struck Lawn Point and 30 minutes later, the Truxtun rammed into the 400 feet high cliffs of Chamber Cove, three and a half miles from St. Lawrence.

The Captain of the Truxtun, thinking the cliffs were an iceberg, tried to maneuver the vessel back away from the pinnacle, only to have the destroyer catch fast on a reef about 200 feet from land.

Meanwhile, the Wilkes had struck between the Truxtun and Pollux but her water tight compartments kept her afloat until she freed herself.

HEROIC RESCUE

In 1965 Allan Stoodley interviewed Rennie Slaney and Adam Mullins, two men who took a very active part in the rescue efforts on that fateful day.

That morning Rennie Slaney was in charge of a crew of miners working below ground at the Iron Springs Mine, two and a half miles from St. Lawrence. Around 9 a.m. he heard the watchman shouting from the top of the mine shaft.

When I interviewed Rennie in 1965 he told me “shouting at the mine was uncommon unless there had been an accident,” and so without wasting any time he hurriedly exited the mine shaft and got up to the surface.

The sight that met his eyes was a man covered with oil hurrying away from him towards the seashore. Mr. Slaney, together with three other miners, caught up with the grease covered human being.

From him they pieced together the story of the ‘USS destroyer Truxtun’ aground on a reef in Chamber Cove about a mile away.

The sailor somehow had managed to make it to land when he, together with several other crew members, had taken to a life raft. The stormy seas, even in the partially sheltered cove had thrown them all into the Atlantic, but the man before them had been tossed ashore amongst the rocks and was able to drag himself to safety.

Mr. Slaney quickly organized rescue operations and sent one man back to close down the mine and inform the town.

Leaving another man to take care of the one known survivor, Mr. Slaney and three other miners hurriedly left for Chamber Cove. When they arrived there, the Truxtun was still intact but aground on a reef just off Chamber Point at the entrance to the cove.

At that moment there were three rafts in the water between the vessel and the shoreline.

While the men onshore watched from the hundred foot high cliff, the heavy seas tumbled the rubber rafts over and over but most of the sailors were hanging on. The miners, after sizing up the situation, managed to crawl down over the slippery, ice-covered cliffs with ropes and drag most of the men to safety. Thankfully, by this time dozens of other miners had arrived and fishermen’s shacks, just a few hundred yards away, were made ready for treating the survivors.

The wind soon shifted to easterly, blowing right in Chamber Cove and the waters there began to twist and heave more than before.

At 11 a.m. the Truxtun broke off across the reef and immediately half of the ship sank. The other section stayed afloat and in Rennie Slaney’s own words “at that moment to see a hundred men clinging to that greasy overturned hull with no life line, and the seas breaking over them, was the most awful spectacle of the day.”

The water in Chamber Cove was covered with bunker oil and men trying to swim towards shore were blinded by it. Some sailors were thrown up 50 feet by the now mountainous seas and smashed against the cliffs, while others, blinded by the oil, were swept out around the point and into the raging Atlantic.

And so as much as humanly possible, rescue operations continued … oil covered survivors and bodies of dead sailors were hauled up over the icy sleet-covered cliffs.

Then at 2:30 in the afternoon a dory was brought from St. Lawrence by horse and slide. There were still four sailors clinging to what was left of the Truxtun.

Adam Mullins, who was then 46-years-old, asked for two volunteers to go with him in the dory to try to get the four remaining sailors off the overturned hull.

Without a moment’s hesitation Charles Pike of St. Lawrence and David Edwards of Lawn volunteered to go. The dory had to be lowered by a 350 feet long rope down over the cliff into the water.

In Mr. Mullin’s words, “there was a foot of bunker oil in the water, so much that you could hardly lift your paddle oar.”

At that time the winds were estimated to be reaching a whistling 70 miles per hour and it was drifting snow. For minutes at a time, the people onshore couldn’t see the men, or the dory.

Mr. Mullins told me he couldn’t understand how their boat didn’t sink, because for a solid hour the seas continually smashed over them.

Finally they reached the Truxtun and threw a line aboard. At that moment the four American sailors were swept overboard.

One man grabbed the lifeline but two had disappeared from sight. By a miracle the fourth sailor fell right into the dory.

The dory finally made it back to shore with the three Newfoundlanders still intact, although one of them had been swept into the sea and hauled onboard again. The sailor, who had grabbed the lifeline, was found to be dead but the young man who fell into the dory survived.

During this heroic feat of challenging the Atlantic in an open dory, neither Adam Mullins, David Edwards nor Charles Pike wore lifejackets.

From 3 p.m. until dark, the bodies of dead seamen were hauled ashore.

Meanwhile, a man on a horse and slide who had been three or four miles west of the scene of the Truxtun wreck found four more shipwrecked sailors. They were from the ‘USS Pollux’, ashore on Lawn Point.

The rescuers, some of them who by this time were in worse shape than many of the survivors, immediately left for Lawn Point to try to help there. However, when they arrived they found some men from Lawn were already on the scene and carrying out rescue operations.

Note: Rennie Slaney died in 1969, four years after my interview at the age of 62. Adam Mullins passed away at the Blue Crest Home in Grand Bank in 1980. He was 84-years-old.

Allan Stoodley is a well-known long time resident of Grand Bank and a former reporter with the St. John’s Evening Telegram. He can be reached at ‘amstoodley@hotmail.com’, and he welcomes any comments on this article or any other story he has written.

With ALLAN STOODLEY

They were crew of the USS destroyers ‘Truxtun’ and ‘Pollux’ that rammed into the cliffs of the Burin Peninsula during a blinding snowstorm.

People, old and young, are still saddened when they try to picture what happened on that cold, stormy winter’s day in 1942 but to the men who took part in the rescue of the 186 other sailors the scenes they witnessed were etched in their memories and hearts forever.

The Truxtun and Pollux were part of a convoy of vessels bringing men and supplies to Argentia from the Canadian mainland. Their route was to sail along the southwest coast of Newfoundland, then skirt the tip of the Burin Peninsula and head for Argentia.

A blinding snowstorm was at its height during the early morning of Feb. 18, 1942, when the Truxtun and Pollux together with another destroyer, the Wilkes, went astray from the other ships in the convoy.

At 5 a.m. the Pollux struck Lawn Point and 30 minutes later, the Truxtun rammed into the 400 feet high cliffs of Chamber Cove, three and a half miles from St. Lawrence.

The Captain of the Truxtun, thinking the cliffs were an iceberg, tried to maneuver the vessel back away from the pinnacle, only to have the destroyer catch fast on a reef about 200 feet from land.

Meanwhile, the Wilkes had struck between the Truxtun and Pollux but her water tight compartments kept her afloat until she freed herself.

HEROIC RESCUE

In 1965 Allan Stoodley interviewed Rennie Slaney and Adam Mullins, two men who took a very active part in the rescue efforts on that fateful day.

That morning Rennie Slaney was in charge of a crew of miners working below ground at the Iron Springs Mine, two and a half miles from St. Lawrence. Around 9 a.m. he heard the watchman shouting from the top of the mine shaft.

When I interviewed Rennie in 1965 he told me “shouting at the mine was uncommon unless there had been an accident,” and so without wasting any time he hurriedly exited the mine shaft and got up to the surface.

The sight that met his eyes was a man covered with oil hurrying away from him towards the seashore. Mr. Slaney, together with three other miners, caught up with the grease covered human being.

From him they pieced together the story of the ‘USS destroyer Truxtun’ aground on a reef in Chamber Cove about a mile away.

The sailor somehow had managed to make it to land when he, together with several other crew members, had taken to a life raft. The stormy seas, even in the partially sheltered cove had thrown them all into the Atlantic, but the man before them had been tossed ashore amongst the rocks and was able to drag himself to safety.

Mr. Slaney quickly organized rescue operations and sent one man back to close down the mine and inform the town.

Leaving another man to take care of the one known survivor, Mr. Slaney and three other miners hurriedly left for Chamber Cove. When they arrived there, the Truxtun was still intact but aground on a reef just off Chamber Point at the entrance to the cove.

At that moment there were three rafts in the water between the vessel and the shoreline.

While the men onshore watched from the hundred foot high cliff, the heavy seas tumbled the rubber rafts over and over but most of the sailors were hanging on. The miners, after sizing up the situation, managed to crawl down over the slippery, ice-covered cliffs with ropes and drag most of the men to safety. Thankfully, by this time dozens of other miners had arrived and fishermen’s shacks, just a few hundred yards away, were made ready for treating the survivors.

The wind soon shifted to easterly, blowing right in Chamber Cove and the waters there began to twist and heave more than before.

At 11 a.m. the Truxtun broke off across the reef and immediately half of the ship sank. The other section stayed afloat and in Rennie Slaney’s own words “at that moment to see a hundred men clinging to that greasy overturned hull with no life line, and the seas breaking over them, was the most awful spectacle of the day.”

The water in Chamber Cove was covered with bunker oil and men trying to swim towards shore were blinded by it. Some sailors were thrown up 50 feet by the now mountainous seas and smashed against the cliffs, while others, blinded by the oil, were swept out around the point and into the raging Atlantic.

And so as much as humanly possible, rescue operations continued … oil covered survivors and bodies of dead sailors were hauled up over the icy sleet-covered cliffs.

Then at 2:30 in the afternoon a dory was brought from St. Lawrence by horse and slide. There were still four sailors clinging to what was left of the Truxtun.

Adam Mullins, who was then 46-years-old, asked for two volunteers to go with him in the dory to try to get the four remaining sailors off the overturned hull.

Without a moment’s hesitation Charles Pike of St. Lawrence and David Edwards of Lawn volunteered to go. The dory had to be lowered by a 350 feet long rope down over the cliff into the water.

In Mr. Mullin’s words, “there was a foot of bunker oil in the water, so much that you could hardly lift your paddle oar.”

At that time the winds were estimated to be reaching a whistling 70 miles per hour and it was drifting snow. For minutes at a time, the people onshore couldn’t see the men, or the dory.

Mr. Mullins told me he couldn’t understand how their boat didn’t sink, because for a solid hour the seas continually smashed over them.

Finally they reached the Truxtun and threw a line aboard. At that moment the four American sailors were swept overboard.

One man grabbed the lifeline but two had disappeared from sight. By a miracle the fourth sailor fell right into the dory.

The dory finally made it back to shore with the three Newfoundlanders still intact, although one of them had been swept into the sea and hauled onboard again. The sailor, who had grabbed the lifeline, was found to be dead but the young man who fell into the dory survived.

During this heroic feat of challenging the Atlantic in an open dory, neither Adam Mullins, David Edwards nor Charles Pike wore lifejackets.

From 3 p.m. until dark, the bodies of dead seamen were hauled ashore.

Meanwhile, a man on a horse and slide who had been three or four miles west of the scene of the Truxtun wreck found four more shipwrecked sailors. They were from the ‘USS Pollux’, ashore on Lawn Point.

The rescuers, some of them who by this time were in worse shape than many of the survivors, immediately left for Lawn Point to try to help there. However, when they arrived they found some men from Lawn were already on the scene and carrying out rescue operations.

Note: Rennie Slaney died in 1969, four years after my interview at the age of 62. Adam Mullins passed away at the Blue Crest Home in Grand Bank in 1980. He was 84-years-old.

Allan Stoodley is a well-known long time resident of Grand Bank and a former reporter with the St. John’s Evening Telegram. He can be reached at ‘amstoodley@hotmail.com’, and he welcomes any comments on this article or any other story he has written.

Recent Stories