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  SS Fort Lee
T2 Tanker

10,198 Tons

Click For Enlargement

Ship History
Built for the United States Maritime Commission. Laid down on October 24, 1942 at Sun Shipbuilding in Chester, Pennsylvania. Launched on February 25, 1943. Delivered on March 15, 1943. Assigned by the War Shipping Administration for operation by the Bernuth Lembcke Company.

Wartime History
On May 28, 1943, departed New York for Gibraltar, arriving in mid-June. In July, Fort Lee left Gibraltar and steamed for Avonmouth, arriving later in the month. In mid-August, the tanker sailed from Liverpool and arrived at New York on August 28.

Sinking History
During late October 1944, Fort Lee left Abadan, Iran bound for Brisbane with 93,000 barrels of Navy Bunker C fuel plus rubber and some ores.

During November 1, 1944 in the Indian Ocean, U-181 under Kapitän zur See Kurt Freiwald spotted the tanker, sailing alone in a zig-zag pattern. U-181 was able to get ahead of Fort Lee and in a position to fire upon her. On November 2, 1944 at 20:02, the submarine fired one torpedo that hit the port quarter and destroyed her boilers, stopping her engines and flooding the fire room.

At 20:18, as lifeboats #3 and #5 were being lowered into the water, a second torpedo hit the starboard quarter, destorying lifeboat #3 and broke #5 in half. Lifeboats #1, #2, #4, and #6 were successfully launched and recovered the survivors from #3 and #5. A total of nine were killed in the attack and the ship sank at 21:10.

U-181 surfaced and interrogated the crew about their cargo and destination. They refused to answer any questions, but accepted a flare gun, food, blankets and medicine, then departed.

For several days, the four boats traveled together, but #4 disappeared on November 5. On November 7, five days after the tanker went down, 16 men in lifeboat #2 including Master Ottar Andersen were rescued by the British freighter MS Ernebank and landed at Fremantle on November 14.

Two days later, November 9, American tanker SS Tumacacori rescued the 17 men in lifeboat #6 and landed them at Albany on November 14.

On November 16, two weeks after Fort Lee went down, the men in lifeboat #1 were sighted by SS Mary Ball, whose gunners fired upon the lifeboat before identifying it. None of the 17 men aboard were injured and survivors at Colombo, Ceylon on November 24.

Fates of Lifeboat #4
This lifeboat with 16 men aboard drifted 2,850 miles before reaching the south side of Sumba Island on January 13, 1945, with only three men left alive. All three were captured by the Japanese and died in captivity. One was Robert F. Lanning, who died the next day. The other two (identity unknown) died in Japanese Navy hospital within two weeks, but others claim they survived until executed by the Japanese during September 1945.

"Never Seen Or Heard From Again" by Arthur R. Moore includes list of lifeboat crews

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Last Updated
August 10, 2019


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