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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.
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
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